When you accidentally touch a hot pan, your immediate instinct is to pull your hand away from the source of pain. This is a useful instinct. We have many reflexes that prevent us from serious physical injury.
How do you react when you experience an emotionally painful situation? Often times we react the same, we pull away. We find a distraction. We push the pain deep down, assuming if we don’t face it, we don’t have to deal with it.
I recently went through a painful emotional experience. I felt deep sadness, and ultimately heartbreak after a friend chose to end our relationship. As fate should have it, this situation almost exactly mirrors a difficult and painful experience from 10 years ago. Why did the universe bring this old lesson up again? And, perhaps a better question, what did I learn this time?
I believe that suffering offers us the opportunity to grow and expand. When we can find healthy ways to cope with stress, trauma, and emotional rough patches, we build resiliency for the future. It also gives us the ability to share that healing path with others. The drastic difference I noticed between Sofia 10 years ago and Sofia today was my ability to recover and rebound much more quickly.
10 years ago, I didn’t have any healthy coping tools aside from writing. I overwhelmingly used alcohol, drugs and other destructive distractions. I spent months in a debilitating depression after this first heartbreak. The only thing that eventually pulled me out of a downward spiral was beginning another college semester and getting caught up in the new workload. Maybe I never truly dealt with it.
Today, I have many helpful tools. It doesn’t mean that I’m not affected by the fluctuations in my life, but I found the same situation had me down, but not as low, and not for as long. The practices of mindfulness and yoga have given me many ways to maneuver my emotional world with more skill and ease.
If you notice repeating patterns of “lessons” popping up in your life, it might be time to ask yourself if you’re handling your emotions in healthy or destructive ways.
I’m going to offer a few ways that I have been able to un-stuck myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. When seeking to heal from heartbreak, whether it’s from a friend, a lover, a family member, or perhaps due to current events, we must address the entire dynamic human organism.
Embrace your sadness. It needs a big hug, not the cold shoulder
It sucks being sad! It’s not a fun place to be, and certainly not for long. Which is why most of us try to spend as little time with sadness as possible. There are so many fun and easy distractions to take its place. It’s counter-intuitive to say that you need to be truly, deeply sad before you can be truly, deeply happy.
There are prescription pills to help alleviate sadness. There are illicit drugs to help you forget about sadness. Alcohol and sex can be great ways to separate us from our sadness. Filling our schedule with social commitments and work obligations is a great way to take our mind off our troubles. These are all temporary. They don’t offer deep healing, and can create or encourage unhealthy coping mechanisms in the future.
Perhaps the most challenging approach is to stay sober, pull that sadness in real close, staying as long as it takes, and get to know its story. Treat sadness like a friend that needs help. Truly listening, we might find that sadness getting smaller and smaller.
Be in your body, Be with your breath
The most readily available, and in my opinion, most important tool we have is already within our Self. It is important to acknowledge the physical manifestations that our emotional states have upon us. Allowing ourselves to be present with sensation, whether that’s a pit in the stomach, a tight throat, or a painful heart, already begins to lessen the grip of sadness. The practice of yoga offers an opportunity to be present in our body and with our breath. It creates a unique mind/body experience of unfolding.
Practice: Taking the simplest postures of child’s pose or legs up the wall can be powerful places to “sit with” emotions. When we return to the simplicity of our body moving, and our breath supporting our body, we create space to feel deeply and honestly.
Sit with what is: Separate fact from fiction
I can cause myself much undue suffering by creating stories in my head. I replay hurtful scenarios that happened in the past over and over, going over conversations that I’ve had and ruminating. Then, I make-up scenarios that I can see playing out, imagining what potential arguments or encounters might unfold in the future. None of this is real. It’s all fiction created in my mind. But the emotional and physical stress that I experience from this fiction is real, it can be felt.
Practice: Finding a comfortable seat, or lying in a resting position, invite the breath into your body. Feel the areas of your body that move with your breath. As the body sinks into stillness, notice the stories that are circulating in your mind. Notice how real and convincing they are. Ask yourself if you’re conjuring up the past, or predicting the future, and know that this isn’t real. Allow yourself to rest within the stillness of your body, and the steadiness of your breath. Know that whatever you’re feeling in your body is real. Reality is in constant flux. When we can lessen our attachment to past and future, we allow ourselves to enter into the limitless present, where we simply rest and breathe. Let thoughts, projections, and emotions wash over you.
You’re not alone, but no one else is going to heal you
When I am at my lowest, it’s easy to feel lonely and helpless. My tendency is to isolate myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Striking a balance between taking time to your Self to process and seeking the counsel of trusted friends is essential.
When we stay closed off, it’s easy for depression to set in, to continue to feel alone. But in the end, no amount of gossiping, retelling of your story, or badmouthing is going to lead to healing. We have to do the real work, while others can offer a shoulder to cry on, and a warm embrace when we need it.
Over the past few weeks, I have had countless friends tell me of their own heartbreak, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to forget that there are people around us going through difficult times. Suffering is not unique; it’s part of being human. Widening our lens, we see that we are never truly alone in our experience, no matter how dark or scary it might seem, unless we choose to be alone.
I truly believe that we are all doing the best that we can in each moment with whatever tools we have. It is really easy to point fingers and make other people the culprit and our Self the victim. We are all responsible for managing our own emotions, and continuing to expand our toolbox for healing. This will continue to benefit our broader community and us.
There is a tender place in our heart that breaks open during sadness. It is painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. We have a choice to wall up and be alone with that sadness, which in my experience doesn’t lead to anything beneficial. Or, we can push into that tenderness, and let our love grow deeper.
with compassionate love,