How to Be: Summer Breakup Edition

I know I’m an anomaly when I say that I don’t understand our prioritization when it comes to relationships. We assume that romantic relationships sit on the top of a pyramid of connections, with friendships somewhere below it. I’m a bit backwards and I place friendship at the top of the pyramid, if we even have to have a pyramidal, hierarchical structure at all. This is because my romantic relationships need to be above all things friendships at root. But its more than that, too. It’s also because I assume friendships are more enduring for most people (if done right) and that they are the most consistently life-giving. After all, you need your friends after a romantic breakup. So, it might be correct to say that I’m romantic about friendships. This is why it was such a hard thing for me this summer when my dearest and closest friendship ended.

People are funny things. We love them exactly for who they are and yet, when things go south, we wish they could be different. But relationships are messy at best and when we take on a friendship we also take on that person’s past, a past we were never a part of and have absolutely no control over. To put it simply, people are complex, a product of their past, and we can’t do anything about it.

For my old friend this past was, unfortunately, insurmountable. I had inadvertently done something that upset her and, because of her past, she was unable to move beyond it. At first, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t fix this. I apologized, I explained, I told her how much I loved her and I gave her space. But the lesson for me, it seems, was about how I can’t do anything. This was incredibly difficult for me because I am a doer and I like to show my feelings. But God, in Her wisdom, decided to knock me on my ass with this one. If I hadn’t learned that I can’t fix everything in the world by the age of 39, perhaps this was going to be how She got my attention.

And She did. She sent me on a long holiday the day after this all happened so that I was physically separated from my friend. This proved to be crucial to my healing as I was able to literally get some distance. Holidays abroad have always felt something like retreats to me so I got the added bonus of feeling especially close to God during this time. I used the time to pray and to reflect and what I found was not at all what I was expecting.

In my mind, I was expecting that my friend and I would make up and be close again, that we just needed time. But my time away showed me that perhaps that wasn’t the best outcome, strange as that may seem. When I had time to reflect, I realized that my nature as a doer meant that I had been the person primarily keeping the friendship going. I made dates to go out, I texted her, I reached out when I wanted to talk. Once again, I was doing. This isn’t a bad thing. I’m very proud of the fact that I know what I want and will set out to get it. Again, I’m romantic about friendship and believe that it requires intention and effort. But as I sat on the beach one evening looking out over the North Sea I realized that I had kind of made up the entire friendship, that I had chosen her but she had never really chosen me. Not that my friend was not a fantastic person and not that she didn’t care about me in some way, but when I was able to step back and really look, I saw that she was never going to really be able to choose anyone, that she would always wait to be chosen. I can’t blame her for this. She’s had a really rough time with relationships, both romantic ones and friendships. I understand to a point. But it came home to me with a sudden force that when it came to choosing between everything we shared as friends and the pain she felt from her past, she would choose the pain every time simply because it was safer and required less vulnerability.

This was hard. Like, REALLY hard.  There were nights where I just cried, feeling stupid and blind. How could I have not seen this coming? Why did I reveal so much about myself to this person? But it was also then that I knew deep within myself that I couldn’t let this situation cut me off. I couldn’t let the loss of this friendship threaten to isolate me and keep me from what I do best – sharing my heart with others. So, I prayed. I asked God to please keep my heart open, to let it break spectacularly so that I could stay compassionate. During the day I found myself absently stroking the sacred heart tattoo on my right forearm as if to remind myself to keep my heart broken for a little while yet, to let it be pierced over and over and let my compassion grow.

This might sound all very emotionally morbid to you, dear reader, but I believe firmly that we need to fully explore our emotions, our reactions, for meaning. Doing so allowed me to see that I “do” too much and that this has eroded my sense of self-love. Once I allowed myself to really feel the deep pain of betrayal and rejection, I felt an instinctive need to heal myself and to show myself the compassion I felt I was lacking. So, that’s what I did. I began, first of all, to eat better, something my powerlifting coach no doubt loves. I began making sure I went to bed before midnight. I began to monitor the way I spoke to myself. This all sounds very much like doing still, doesn’t it? But there were other ways I found healing as well.

I sat.

Literally, I just sat. I didn’t even focus on my breathing as I would for my meditation practice. I simply sat. When an emotion threatened me with its insidious waves, I shrugged and allowed it to roll over me. I trusted that God would see me through whatever happened. I trusted. I trusted. I trusted.

I accepted that I would cry for many weeks yet. That I would have days where I felt powerful and loving and days where I felt helpless and sad. I accepted that I may have moments where I felt friendless and times where I was going to have no one but myself and God to see me through. And I refused to talk myself out of loving in spite of it all.


I trusted that I was enough. I trusted that God is about connection and love and communion and that therefore I was on the right path. When in doubt, I spoke to myself.

“Keep your heart open. Let it break. Let it break. Let it break.”

And because I am such a doer and always will be, I repaired what I could in myself and in other relationships. I reached out to someone I had stopped speaking to when I realized I’d never get the apology I deserved. I no longer felt like the apology was necessary. I began to write olde tyme letters to friends. I went on blind “friend dates” that, at this point in time, seem very promising. I even wrote a letter to my biological father, a man who abandoned us thirty years ago. I let go of the expectation that he wanted to know me and gave in instead to the knowledge that I couldn’t let people think that they didn’t matter. Instead of retreating into myself and refusing to love, I decided to throw my heart back into the ring with abandon.


And I wrote a final text message to my old friend. I told her that I loved her and that if she ever decides she wants us to repair this, I’ll be here. But I no longer have the expectation that she wants this. I no longer need to assume that I was to her what she was to me. Knowing of the deep pain that she has experienced in the past, I don’t expect that she’ll choose me. Instead, I’ll just keep trusting that my love isn’t wasted, even when it isn’t returned.

Resting In Myself


For my birthday, I gave myself the gift of a weekend silent retreat at a local retreat center. I’ve been on many retreats but never a private one so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. My regular spiritual director recommended someone to be my temporary director while I was away and this person was very helpful. She gently recommended that I think about not doing all the writing I was planning on doing during my stay and that instead I consider a silent retreat.

A silent retreat is not quite what you might think it is. It’s about way more than not talking. A silent retreat is also about silence of the mind. So, while I wouldn’t be talking (except for when meeting with my spiritual director  once each day), I would also not be reading or doing anything else that could distract me from interior listening. The only exception I made was for a short period of spiritual reading before bed each night because I’m Autumn and I can’t just not read. When I wasn’t meeting with my spiritual director, I would be in contemplation. Basically, I meditated and drank a ton of tea for three days and it was fucking glorious.

And what did I learn? I learned (with some help from my  temporary spiritual director) that I have a deep, deep tendency to not trust myself, my thoughts, or my experiences.  If something unjust has happened in my life, my reaction is to brush it aside because I don’t want to think that I’m a victim or to sound whiny. I mean, worse things happen to other people, right? And if something great happens, I am cautious, believing that what I’m experiencing is probably not what it seems. When I have ideas, I tend to dismiss them as “stupid”, “weird”, or “crazy” because there have been important people in my life who have pathologized my eccentricity as mental illness and, though I and professionals reject that idea, the pain of it sticks in my mind.  When reflecting on my calling, I cannot hear the voice of what some may call God because why would God speak to me? Surely she’s got better people to talk to, people who aren’t crazy. What I hear must be only the promptings of my own self-interest or nutty ramblings.

The problem with not trusting yourself, aside from the obvious, is that it does block the inner voice that is calling you into being, or, at best, it muffles it. It has been nearly impossible for me to work out my calling, to be able to identify what is genuine from what are simply just thoughts hanging out in my mind. How do I know that I’m onto something if I’m basically just a crazy person with no sense of reality? This lack of trust in myself is not the same thing as Impostor Syndrome but something much deeper and far-ranging. It also extends beyond the mind to my body. I’ve lived my entire life deliberately blocking out the experiences of my body (well, some of them anyway) and this has led to a complete mind/body disconnect that is only now being slowly repaired through meditation and my powerlifting obsession. I’ve had a daily meditation practice for almost three years now. I’ve repaired some small bits of the disconnect between my mind and my body but I still don’t really trust that my uniqueness is not sickness. No matter how many times therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have told me that I’m not ill, the shock of those other memories stays lodged there, allowing me to subtly undermine my best self.

Well, it seems that the medicine for such distrust and disconnection is to spend three days in solitude and silence of both body and mind. To be honest, though I enjoy talking, silence is not difficult or uncomfortable for me, so that aspect of the retreat was pretty easy. After all, I prefer lots of alone time. The harder part was silence of the mind. My brain is pretty much working ALL THE TIME and I am always thinking and reading, two  habits I had to put aside for the weekend. Instead, I spent a lot of time sitting in the chapel on the second floor, just trying to be open, receptive, and compassionate with myself. In the Christian tradition, we call this waiting with openness “contemplation” which may confuse some people who view contemplation as intense thinking. But contemplation as many of us practice it, is simply being able to be present to your internal and external circumstances, open and without judgement. I don’t go into a trance or try to block out thoughts, rather I allow the thoughts to come and I also allow them to float away, much like leaves in a stream, without trying to hold onto them or judge them or myself. This practice, like exterior silence, is also easy for me. That is, it is easy when I am actively in a state of contemplation. It becomes far more difficult for me to transfer all of this to the rest of my day and, especially, to how I see my own worth as an eccentric in a “normal” world. When not sitting in active contemplation, I found myself having small bouts of anxiety that were largely due to my not being able to constantly distract my mind with reading and other things I use to make blending into life easier for myself. But it was because of those moments of anxiety that I knew the work was being done. The anxiety was the point! I needed to learn to be with my anxiety, to feel it, to accept it lovingly as what just is, and then allow it to wash over and beyond me. Then, I simply needed to listen and trust.

The interesting thing was that by the time I met with my temporary director on that last day, I had finally found the courage to trust myself and to make a pretty goddamn huge decision. I hadn’t come to the retreat to make the decision. I figured that the decision would be a long time forming, as they usually are. But what I realized on the night before that last meeting with my director was that I had made the decision long before, but that I just hadn’t trusted myself to really own it. Spending time in active contemplation, facing the issue of my distrust head-on, and working to bring the lovingkindness of contemplation to my everyday life had laid bare to me what should have been obvious had I not been busy undermining and distracting myself, trying to prove to myself and others that I am sane and uninteresting.

And now I’m back home. I have noticed just this week that I am much more confident about my ability to order my inner life without the negative judgments and armchair diagnosing of others. It’s going to be a lifelong journey. After all, I have 38 years of these judgments and diagnosis to exorcise.