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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 030 ~ a year on

Updated: Apr 17

It came to me a little while ago now that I simply have to share about the year that has been. Because it has been a year now. The year of heartbreak. The year of the break up. The year of yearning. The year of growing. The year of learning. The year of processing. The year of feeling. The year of exploring. The year of renewing. I have sat on this post for the past few weeks, unsure if I should share it because it doesn't look the way I might have hoped my sharing about this would look at this point. This post is hard in all the ways that unfolding from grief might be. It is not wildly positive, I'm warning you now. This is not an easy breezy break up story. I certainly have glimmers of radiant hope, but there is still a heaviness to this precise moment in time that felt necessary to share. Part of me wants to be completely realistic with you and share that I really thought by now I'd be in a different place than I am, and part of me wants to only share all the joys and wins of this year. So here is an unfolding of my brain, an honest one.  


I have had the very dual and common experience in the past year of doubting I would ever get through it, and yet knowing without doubt that I have so many years of love and joy ahead of me. Breakups are a constantly paradoxical experience. The highs so high, the lows so low. There is simultaneously a dizzyingly fast-paced growth cycle propelling you, and a heaviness draped across your body smothering you in existential sorrow. If I could go back to Sarah a year ago and tell her all the things that have happened this past year, I can't tell if it would have comforted or scared her. Probably both.   


A year ago, I could hardly function for the grief raging through my body. More than grief, disbelief. My brain understood the tangible reality, but my body had been engraved, permanently altered into being someone else's. As I've written about before, the withdrawals of love very suddenly being removed from the folds of my presence, felt undeniably physiological. It really is akin to drug withdrawals. The pattern of dopamine release so tied to the existence of another, becomes a gaping hole. I soaked up every ounce of love from my friends that I could, exercised prolifically, journaled constantly. I comforted myself with cliches. Time heals all. There is no pain greater than that which I could handle. I cried endless times to Angie Stone, Sza and Etta James (fuck me up gals), comforting myself with the knowledge that if I could just get through a little more time, it would eventually stop hurting. And for periods of time, it did get significantly easier. I would breathe deep, smiling with my entire body, grateful for the moon in the sky, the biblical ocean, this precise moment in my life so dominated by growth. Sure it all meant something. I am on a path! And then, the pain would revisit me with such a sudden vengeance I would feel alive only in heart palpitations, stomach dropping recollections.  


I listened to a podcast recently that said that every time you think of an ex-partner with the lens of nostalgia, warmth, and love, you release a very small and yet addictive amount of dopamine. Whether you like it or not, some part of you feels something we align with reward, when we have even the most fleeting reminder of that person. Reward feels like completely the wrong word though. In many ways, the last year has felt punishing, frustratingly that I must suffer to grow. I have felt trapped in a brain that so swirls with nostalgia, sentimentality, sensitivity and anxiety. I have been so curious and conscious of the ways in which it is a cruel strength of mine to be able to love so fiercely from afar. If I wasn't already aware, this year showed me that my ability to love people is infinite. I can survive without a morsel of reciprocity, with only memories and a body that recalls and embeds love in its cells. I have realised it is actually incredibly hard for me to stop loving someone, whether there is logic in that expression or not, whether it harms me or not. Perhaps this will shift as it has done historically for me when there is another person I feel prepared to shift the momentous love towards, and until then, it will rest in a memory of someone that may or may not have any resemblance to the truth of a person. The somatic and corporeal feelings linked to being loved romantically are still clinging to parts of my body where they can, where my brain needs it to be.  


My year has been incredibly deliberate in its explorations, albeit emotional. I have calculated moments of readiness to leap into uncertainty, contemplating timing and potential outcomes. I have not allowed myself any recklessness in this break up, so driven as I have been by care and love. There have been no regretful text messages, not a skerrick of disrespect, spitefulness or anger directed at each other. It has been an absurdly uneventful and undramatic break up, boundaries immediately drawn, never to be crossed again. I didn't really know it could be like this. Some days I've wished for even a trace of emotion to be hurled at each other, my brain seeing this as linked to depth of sorrow and entanglement. But I am deeply grateful for the ways in which we have been spared of additional pain from each other.  


I can't tell you exactly when I shifted from celebrating the concept of time heals all, to despising it. I think frustration popped up firstly around the three month mark, before returning in a panic over the coming months, and sinking in completely a little after. Perhaps it was naïve of me, but I really, truly thought I would be on the other side of this by now. Before my experience, I would tell anyone else in my life that there is no timeline for grief, no rule book, no date at which you can expect it to all be okay. There is no other side, you have been forever changed by this love. But as we all do, I have been infinitely harder on myself than I would be on anyone I love.  


As the year passed, I became increasingly frustrated at not reaching this imaginary utopian space I had conjured in which I was completely healed. Some days it felt like I was on a path of no end. I unraveled, journaled, and meditated desperately through the humanising of a person and time so loved. I have berated myself for not being able to entirely extrapolate him from my body. In many ways, I see now, the memory of him will be a constant companion to me. The love has wound its way into my existence, and it is not this that I would like to softly farewell. As much as I cherish the way I love, this way I love has in this instance, made me feel like the secondary character in my own life. It has felt bizarrely as if there was not a time before him that could have been happy and not a time after him that could be meaningful. Despite, and in spite, of my constant ability to counter this with evidence of the wonder of my life, a stronger voice roared with insistence that I will always painfully love him, no matter where my life goes. I have spent a year countering that voice, doing everything I can to soak myself in reminders of life's inherent joy and hope. I have pushed myself into achieving things I have always dreamt about, and bolstered my heart with a deep love for myself and compassion for my path. All while simultaneously feeling infuriated by the reality that months later, I still rarely go a day without thinking of him in some way.  


The past few months, out of patience with the seemingly impossible way you just 'get over' someone, I have felt that my progress must jarringly be being halted by my own brain, an enemy within. Thinking of him has felt completely and infuriatingly out of my hands.  In all other ways, I had made significant leaps towards formulating a life that is mine: dreamy and hopeful. But within the confines of my body, in rapid arrival and impact, I have felt powerless over the way my brain shoves reminders of the relationship in my face, despite my desire to think about anything but this. I have felt trapped in my subconscious that woke and slept to thoughts of resurrecting a ghost of impossibility. 


So obviously I was horrified when a sudden devilish thought floated into my brain: just maybe I'd like to go back to the start of this painful year and do it all again.  

Sorry what? Have I not DAILY hoped to be free of this feeling? What sadistic part of me could possibly want to go back to the beginning of the devastating grief that has floored me with such frustrating endurance? I dug into this feeling of betrayal from myself and noticed further splitting between the self determined to heal and a self yanking me towards greater hurt. In amongst my musings about my brain as both belonging to my kind conscious and scorching subconscious, I was awakened to another option to explain this embarrassing knowledge: could some part of me be frightened, and hesitant to let go of my suffering?Perhaps, in some unhelpful and ill-informed reality I have been existing in, I have been responsible for the continuation of my pain, my subconscious responding to the signals I have been unknowingly sending. Could I be addicted to suffering? Is it possible that I don't actually remember how to just be without pining? I continued dissecting my confusion, until I hesitantly opened space to hear from the fears I had been protecting without acknowledging. What if the suffering and pain is all I have left of that time? What if the suffering and pain represents the very last morsels of memories my body has of him in this reality in which we don't speak or see each other. Is heartbreak better than lovelessness?  


The agony of this year, I realised, is somehow less frightening to me than completely accepting the other side of this: no connection. Pain is the last fraying thread connecting me to an impossible idea of a magical love. If I truly let go of this, does any of that stand? I know intuitively and logically that longevity plays only a small role in the significance of a relationship. No matter what happens from here, this relationship will forever mean a huge amount to me. And yet, the reality of being completely on the other side of this, feels oddly, disturbingly disrespectful to the magnitude of what that time was. The longer I have been in pain, the truer it feels that the relationship was monumental. Surely only an unimportant love could wash through you hastily. What if I am scared of entering a new era in which I am completely and tangibly my own person? What the fuck do I do with that? While ever this grief takes up space in my body, I am still existing in a world occupied with love, albeit a dark and painful edge of love. Without that, I am just me. I am unattached, I am excluded from the world I am most comfortable in. I have, once again, constructed an entire identity that revolves around loving someone. So who I am beyond this break up?  


Not only had my brain crafted a way to hold onto the last version of me that reflected my infatuation with infatuation, I had found an absolutely fool proof method of hurting myself. Whenever I drop into tiredness, overwhelm, lowness generally, I had a wealth of material to drill into myself that I am unworthy, unlovable, forgettable. More than any other experience I had before me, the symbolism I unconsciously created around this break up, was ripe for reinforcing narratives of self-hatred. Conscious parts of my brain have shooed away these thoughts when they arise, but witnessed their edges with panic. Some days, I have been able to hold myself with adoration and deep care, but some days, I have felt a self-hating monster looming that I cannot handle and run from.  

As deeply as I recognise the logic behind the web I have built, I simultaneously recognise in writing this that I deserve to be on the other side of it. The other side of this will invariably, while scary, contain less suffering. This is a good thing. When I really envision the freedom and softness that my heart could be sheltering in if I were to truly let this go, it is all I want for myself. I know that I will not be able to genuinely be present with myself and all that my life contains while I ruminate. At this point, I am not even ruminating. I am ruminating on ruminating. I deserve more than this. I deserve peace, the chance of newness, the chance of a new way of relating to myself.  


Witnessing myself continuing to act harmfully has awakened another branch of the infinite love I carry alongside moments of the opposite. Of course I have been scared. Of course I have been clinging to familiarness. Of course I don't yet know how to exist away from the gargantuan mythology I created. The story of this relationship that I sustained myself with has been a life raft. It is harder to create a truly new narrative than to continue to be hurt by the one you recognise. As with so many of my learnings, the answer is actually so blindingly obvious: to meet myself with unconditional love and tenderness through this final process of farewelling. What I am holding onto now, are the very final acts of integrating. I have done so much work this year. I am not un-bolstered. I am surrounded by love, I am overflowing with love. I have carried myself so kindly and maternally through this last year, while under the surface I continued to attach symbolism to pain. I have actually attached far too much symbolism to pain in the hope of creating logic of the unrelenting horror of it. The reality is that I cannot reason or analyse or self-deprecate away the pain that simply must be.  


Perhaps I could see the unending love I possess as a remarkable gift. Is it not even more wonderful to be the one loving than being loved? My heart, its magnitude, its unwavering force, as powerfully directed away as it is inwards. Now, when I recognise myself falsifying memories to become fuel for a petulant fire, I am turning back inwards to my love. I am okay, I am more than okay, I have had the most stunningly memorable and affirming year. And even if all I did for the past year was survive, that would have been more than okay. I have sought out connections which are healthy, kind, pleasurable, and comforting. I am proud of the way I have clawed my way through this year, with a persistence to notice where I have needed an injection of my own love, and an even greater persistence to affirm my dreams. I am so close (two months!!!) to packing up my life in Melbourne and creating a whole new one overseas. I am so proud of the version of me that has created space to enact the things I have always dreamt about, even in the midst of an inescapable grief. In amongst all the pain, I have propelled myself forwards with so much faith in my ability to do hard things, and even more knowledge that I must continue to live fiercely and without fear of the love that fuels me.  

For the past few months, I have been so hard on myself for not being able to move completely through this, away from this. I have felt embarrassed knowing that I am still not 'over' that time. But what grief can be measured with time? The way I have needed to process this year has been completely tied up in spaces of growth I was already inhabiting. They have become intertwined. Perhaps, there is just no clear end to this for me. If you looked at my last year on a graph, it would be filled with sudden dips and dramatic peaks, trending upwards in a way that feels impossibly minute a lot of the time but is still, undeniably, moving forwards. While I still have the odd moment of stomach dropping devastation, they are fewer and further between. I think I might just have to feel this for a little longer, so great the impact of that love. I must need to, there are more lessons to be learned yet. I am trying so hard to accept that I won't feel like this forever, even though I now can't feel in my body how it was before this. I am trying so hard to let the love I have built for myself carry me through. It has already done so much for me.  


I cannot wait to be writing to you from a place of even more acceptance and distance from this feeling. I know that place exists, I know I will be there so soon. But I have to continue remembering first that it's okay that I am not there yet. I have to keep meeting myself with tenderness, and countering the ways in which I have sustained myself with vitriol. Perhaps if we all felt safe to speak more about longer term grief, I wouldn't have felt like such a failure for experiencing long term grief. Have you ever experienced this feeling? Let us not be alone in navigating loss and love. Let us be reminded of coexisting realities: I am in many ways incredibly happy, positive, healthy, grateful, while also feeling my pain. We can and are both things. Love is complex, painful, life giving, and inevitable. Mine has always occupied a seemingly disproportionate part of my brain. What a gift to be able to love so deeply. If this is the pain I must feel to continue to love so fearlessly, I would do it over, and over, and over again.  


My final thoughts for you are these. Firstly, no two griefs are the same. Even if you are currently meddling through heartbreak, everything I've written might feel completely foreign to you in the same way that I've read endless break up narratives that have felt unrelated to anything I've felt. Finally, I want to acknowledge with softness that very little of my processing is actually related to the person I have loved. It is instead, reflective of the meaning and narratives I have attached to moments in time. I will forever cherish that person, whilst knowing it is completely essential that I let go of him and choose my own survival, my own self, my own peace.  



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