Staying Steady in the Swirl: Heartbreak and honoring complexity

I have experienced immense heartbreak in the last month. To be clear, I can barely consume television without getting my heart broken. Just this week, I found myself with alligator tears as I watched the last episode of season three of Dead to Me.

I knew Christina Applegate was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I could not help but feel the raw expression of her pain as her character Jen, hugged her television best friend, Judy, in a very emotional scene about death.

To be fair, I also find myself crying alligator tears when I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and love. One Thanksgiving, after spending a week with my nieces, I stood in my sister’s laundry room folding sheets and cried. My sister stumbled upon me and asked “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?”

“I just feel so much love, I cannot believe I could ever have this much love in my life.”

I think I was feeling both the magnitude of that love and, the heart wrenching fear that when I stepped on the plane to go back to my own life, I would be leaving it behind. (My mother used to cry as we left my grandmother’s each Thanksgiving, I now understand her better).

I often feel torn by the parts of me that want something different. The part of me, who wants to spend hours sitting with her four year-old niece on a porch swing as she processes her school bully and shares about her heart, is in direct conflict with the part of me who wants to build floral cafe franchises that fund women’s shelters. Then there is my writer self, who wants to one day publish that book but is in conflict with the part of me who is sure we will never amount to anything. The latter often requires a lot of attention.

But even in these polarizations I feel heartbreak. The “this or that” conundrum.

This or that is such a reflection of a society built on its refusal to embrace complexity. “You must choose one direction to be successful, happy…(fill in the blank with your word of choice)”.

Well, I am not a dang robot. I am a deeply feeling complex human being!

Can I be a writer and a franchise owner? Can I open hundreds of floral cafes and finish the book? Can I be an aunt, daughter, and sister and still pursue my own destiny?

I’m just going to drop the definition of “heartbreak” that I am using because I find context extremely important.

overwhelming distress

This dance with heartbreak, at times, can absolutely cause me distress. I’m with Brené Brown when she says, “When I get afraid, I get scary”. I can feel myself wanting to move right into white knuckling and controlling, and often really need to reduce situations to one thing so, I can get to a resolution rather than, embracing the uncomfortable emotions of complexity.

Maybe I do cry every time I say goodbye to my nieces, do I really need to do something about that? Does it really mean something is wrong?

This year I have really tried to stay steady in the swirl of heartbreak trying not to take action right away. Ie: decide to move home immediately as to avoid having to feel this uncomfortable heartbreak again the next time I visit.

Each time I have watched myself swirl, almost as if I have no say over what the characters are going to do next, I think, “Dang girl, can you just get steady? Can we just toss a little patience into this boiling pot of water and take a beat?”

So, if I am being really honest, I have experienced heartbreak a lot in 2022.

My internal self, the one I tap into during meditation and contemplation, she needed me to do some really hard things so we could pursue our true destiny. Things that were gnawing at her. And, as I continued to ignore taking action, those things began to kind of rot me from the inside out.

This included saying goodbye to someone I love. Not because the love dwindled, but because our destinies were suddenly in conflict and our pursuit of a relationship was hindering the success of our personal quests.

That kind of heartbreak can be devastating. No one to blame, nothing to point to, just a loss of a real friend.

I had to say goodbye to a city I didn’t really feel like I gave a thorough chance to because I wanted to put all of my resources into my vision for this company and my life-venture, Love, Lizzy.

And in the last few weeks, I have had to watch as someone I love navigates a really hard time and figures out how to rebuild after devastating and life altering loss. I can certainly do my white knuckling and logistical controlling by providing resources and support, but I cannot undo the emotional and physical pain she has had, and will have to endure.

Which brings us to steadiness when we are swirling. This is a practiced skill, and I am proud to report that the woman who writes this is much better at this than younger versions of her.

Younger me used to judge all of this crying and wonder what was wrong with me. Wiser me knows that this is who I am. I am the woman who cries tears of joy when her niece colors her a picture of a unicorn and, I am the woman who cries tears of sorrow when made up characters on television played by women I do not know face hardship.

I am also a woman who is hard on herself. Who takes any opportunity for growth by the horns, sets expectations of herself that are herculean so, when she stumbles and falls, she goes through weeks, if not months, of internal analysis of her contribution to her failures.

“I can’t believe you never responded to that text…”

What I have learned is that it is most important for me to be a woman who can find confidence and steadiness in my way of being. Steadiness for me is feeling the emotion, honoring it, allowing it, and accepting how I feel.

It is also really important that I do not apologize to anyone for my way of being. That I do not defend my intuitive feeling nature to those that do not understand. And most importantly, to stop entering into relationships or environments where I am forced to defend or apologize for my way of being.

Would I like a life with less heartbreak? I don’t know. It teaches me. It clarifies my path. It highlights the meaning of my life. I think it’s hard to be a human navigating these modern times and not feel a little, if not a lot of heartbreak.

When you feel all the things it’s hard not to take on all of the things. In these last months and years I have learned that taking on things that are not mine is not often that helpful to anyone.

Hard lesson.

Scary me wants that control of the situation. She wants to white knuckle the shit out of pain and take it away for everyone, even when she didn’t cause it. But if heartbreak has been so instrumental to my life, how dare I be someone who tries to remove it for others?

So I choose my attempt at steadiness. In steadiness I can stay in my lane and still be incredibly supportive and helpful. In steadiness I can stay on track to my destiny and allow the emotions to be what they are – an invitation to pay closer attention.

I can also avoid my attempts to abandon my own self in order to “fix how people feel” and just allow them to feel and experience what they are feeling and experiencing.

It feels kind of nice to honor where people really are, to mirror back to them that what they feel is valid and important without trying to rescue them from their own experience. Including myself.

Candidly, this requires a lot of time. It takes time to sit with how you feel, it takes time to process your feelings, it takes time to not allow heartbreak to make you feel broken, damaged, weak. This judgement can create urgency that isn’t necessary.

The way I have been able to sit with my loved one’s pain is to take time for myself. And when I am present with her, I try to remind her when she speaks in absolutes that she is actually existing in complexity and duality. This thing has happened, yet you are not just this thing. You can feel heartbreak and not be a broken person.

You can take responsibility for your actions and put down the things that are not yours to carry.

You can both be a good person and unintentionally hurt someone.

You can both be a writer and a CEO.

You can sit with your niece for hours and also get on the plane to pursue your own dreams.

And in that middle space, where things aren’t so absolute, you can begin to integrate all of the parts of you. Pepper in a little aunt when you need it, add a dash of writer when you feel called, and embrace the rescuer who wants to fix it all and give her space to feel before acting.

I encourage you to embrace the middle. You can both be extremely annoyed by your cousin Phylis and have a deep love for her. You can both be someone who loves to be around family but chooses to stay home for her own mental health.

You can both feel heartbreak and immense joy.

I felt all the things, I cried all the alligator tears, I did the hard stuff. And at every turn, I did my best to stay true to and proud of who I am, to love my emotionality and intuitive nature. It may have meant I left some things I really loved behind, but at least I didn’t abandon myself.

For that, I am incredibly grateful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© ts coaching & consulting

design by maggie isley