Heart Breaking Open
By Michele McHall
About a month ago I sat down to write this article, assuming there would be something significant that I wanted to share on the nature of relationships. What I discovered instead was a rather bleak relationship to the humming, blank screen on my computer that felt more like a dreaded long silence on a blind date. As I looked over the vast terrain of relationships I’ve experienced, I didn’t know where to begin. Writing something pertinent in a short article felt a bit like trying to bottle air. I stared at that screen for almost an hour convinced that a conversation would begin, but I simply became hypnotized by the purr of my computer. Never having experienced writer’s block, I wondered if this was my first rendezvous with its grip. Eventually, I humbly concluded that Shakespeare had already written the most profound things about relationships and I conceded to shut off my computer.
Having been personally and professionally engaged in the experience and study of human relationships for the majority of my life, I sat there feeling a bit stunned over this silence I had encountered in my voice. As a Life Coach I recognize every day how much our relationships shape the quality of our fulfillment in life. Having a diverse spectrum of relationships with many different people myself, I’m also continually learning about the many possibilities for growth and joy as I practice loving and accepting people for who they really are rather than who I wish they could be. There’s no denying that upon just hearing the word, relationship, a myriad of emotions and sensory responses surface that range from unsettled to blissful. I thought to myself, “surely there must be one atom in this life affirming oxygen that I could focus on!” And there was, it just wasn’t what I had expected it to be.
What finally began to stir inside me was actually a deeply personal experience. I squirmed at the thought of writing about it. However, my heart was not going to let me get away with just espousing some generic information on relationships. What I began to realize was that my so-called writer’s block was really my mind still trying to protect me from exposing the devastating loss of an intimate relationship that resulted in my heart feeling like it had shattered into billions of pieces. The question I now faced was who was I to write an article on relationships after going through a divorce and a major heartbreak in two and a half years?
Clearly I didn’t appear to have any magic keys to the “happily ever after” that most people are seeking. Yet as I reflected upon some of my darkest moments of feeling like I would never heal, I found the courage to share my story in the hopes that someone else might feel less alone and come to recognize their heart is destined for a greater love than they can imagine right now.
About seven months after my relationship ended for the second time, I felt like I just couldn’t take the emotional intensity anymore. Given that I had chosen not to take antidepressants or to see a therapist anymore to analyze my experience, I had managed a tremendous amount of turmoil on my own. While I knew that I had the love and support of my family and friends, I was the one waking up to anxiety, anger and sadness in my chest every day. It didn’t seem fair to expect them to be there and understand what was happening with any sort of objectivity. But the truth was I felt scared and alone in the rushing river of grief.
One day I finally picked up the phone and called the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Northern California and they referred me to a man who was in Venice. I called him immediately and he actually answered the phone. After listening literally to my “sob” story he said, “Michele, you sound very clear.” This perfect stranger had heard me as whole and I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I realized that day that I was not losing my mind, I was not weak, I had not failed but I was grieving and no matter what the circumstances were that triggered this descent into my emotional depths, I was there to learn something important. While things were still up and down for a bit, this phone call was a pivotal turning point in my healing process.
What I came to understand was that neither information alone nor past experience, nor the experiences of others can entirely prepare us for these devastating moments of heart- break. Like childbirth, it’s never the same for any of us. It’s a labor of love and can be messy, really messy. Feelings of powerlessness, heaving sobs, lethargy, panic attacks, emotional breakdowns in public places and fury were some of things I had never experienced and certainly wasn’t prepared for. While I realize that both men and women experience heartbreak, my own mind belittled me with thoughts that I was now one of those “women who loved too much” and would be religiously watching Dr. Phil on Oprah. I just couldn’t understand why someone who had the resources I did could not seem to recover with more grace, ease and SPEED.
At first, it appeared that I would have to live with this pain in my heart forever and that the finality of death would have been easier. Then I became enraged which really made me feel like an evil twin had moved into my soul. Here I had considered myself a strong and independent woman and this lethal combination of despair and fury felt tremendously overwhelming. I had navigated my way through the slings and arrows of a divorce and emerged dear friends with my ex-husband. I had been able to let go of other relationships by trusting simply in the integrity of that ol’ saying, “what is meant to be, will be.” But this loss felt like a deep betrayal in my soul. I had lost trust not only in my most cherished instincts, but my belief in the presence of a loving God.
I often felt ashamed over the deluge of emotions I was feeling because in my mind this loss wasn’t a classified tragedy. I may have been able to justify such intense feelings if a loved one had been suddenly taken, maybe even over the end of my nine-year marriage, but not over a break up with a boyfriend! However, day in and day out, I would find myself exhausted by the depths of emotional pain and therefore uninspired to do anything. If we have surgery, we take time to rest, heal and recover. However, because of its illusive nature, emotional pain is something we often feel compelled to push through and even cover up.
Even though we may feel more free these days to see a therapist to help us look at issues, there’s also more freedom to take anti-depressants to numb the pain. While I sense that antidepressants have clearly helped people with a physiological need to improve their lives, I also question, in some instances, if it’s just another way to a quick fix and we are actually shortcircuiting the deeper healing that is trying to take place. To the best of my ability, I kept choosing to look beyond the shame of my ego for what my soul was wanting me to wake up to with this experience.
What also made it challenging at times was the many iterations of my rather psychologically sophisticated, inner critic. For instance, along with my belief that I create my own reality quite often came the critical inquiry, “ how could you have been so ignorant to have chosen to create this one?” I would get entangled in the thought that I was choosing to suffer and then punish myself for not just choosing to be happy. It became a merry-go- round of hyper vigilant self-responsibility and I learned the hard way that it’s as counter productive and aggravating as blaming others for our unhappiness. I did not begin to find freedom from all of this confusion until I let go of my need for it to be different and simply chose to listen to whatever was surfacing with mindfulness. The more I chose to lovingly and patiently hear and accept myself, the more inner peace and compassion I found.
I believe love is the greatest teacher we’ll ever encounter. When we love deeply, we surrender to what Sobonfu Some’ calls “the song of spirit” in her book “The Spirit of Intimacy.” She claims that Spirit invites people to come together with the purpose of helping us to become better people, as well as to remind us of our connection to that which is greater than us. True intimacy has the power to create great change and this is why it takes great courage to go beyond the opiate of romantic love. In letting go of our needs to control relationships, we awaken to the possibility of having healthier relationships that enrich not only our own lives, but our community.
Easing oneself into the flow of Spirit can take great trust. Most of us, including myself, do not like relinquishing our control over the outcome of things. However, while it may not feel like it immediately, Spirit’s vision for us is greater than we can imagine most of the time. In my own limited vision I did not believe there could ever be a love that would be greater than the one I had lost. Yet the more I dissolved my attachment to the love for this particular person, I found the presence of Spirit waiting to guide me to a place where I realized that true love has no limits. I’ve emerged feeling more able to fully offer my gifts and serve from the depths of my being. I’ve grown in my capacity to love myself and others with less expectations. Most of all, I’m deeply grateful for the relationship that broke my heart open to a far greater love. Within this gratitude, I have found the atom that breathed new life into my relationship with my heart. Shakespeare certainly wasn’t kidding when he wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”
Michele McHall is a Life Coach and founder of the “Life Artist Playground.” She currently works with clients at Ground Level at 220 Pier St. in Santa Monica to discover their Life Artist through art, movement, theatre, poetry and unifying their mind, body and spirit toward creating a fully expressed life. For more information call (310) 340-0004 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Return to the May/June Index page