Loving Yourself into Healing
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Today’s guest post is from my dear friend Ellie. When I think of loving yourself well she is one of the first people who comes to mind. Over the past several months she has gone through what from the outside looks like the beginning of a healing process. Even just this time last year she was married and would have considered herself an atheist after painful years of the church not being the Church. But since May of last year her journey has taken some hard yet beautiful turns as she has learned to walk in the healing power of loving yourself.
One of my favorite parts of her story is how it shows that often, most of the actual healing takes place in unseen places and the very things that are big and public and seem like the reason for needing healing are actually a part of the healing process themselves. I hope that her story encourages you wherever you are in your journey of healing, from whatever the ailment.
You Really Do Seem Healed
I was asked recently how I healed so quickly from my divorce. I left my now ex-husband less than a year ago. “That’s not that long ago,” my friend said to me, “And you really do seem healed.“
Something a lot of people often miss about the truth of how it felt to get divorced is that the healing process didn’t start after we separated. It was actually then that the healing was almost complete. It’s how I was able to drive away the night my relationship ended and not look back.
Where Healing Happens
The work of healing happened behind closed doors, in tear-filled fights where truths at least became free, in long, tired talks with therapists–mine, his, ours, emergency hotlines, and a few references for the kids and the kids’ mom, school counselors even, and a couple of pastors.
Every new approach, conversation, argument, or heartbreak led to feeling a little more sure that the relationship was coming to an end soon. So I drove away not because everything had broken, but because it was finally time to say goodbye.
Of course there were still minefields we would bulldoze without a shred of grace once the separation began. Grieving was a bitch–it still is, sometimes. In some ways we cemented the permanence of our breakup by destroying the beautiful thing we had working on for four years.
All of that dreaming and future-building suddenly became a permanent fixture of my past now. Really, the most pain I felt upon separation was the intense unraveling as I pulled the threads back out of all my future years that I’d woven my ex-husband into. So that was the initial shock, the undoing of dreams that is a part of every breakup–between friends and careers and cities, too.
While a great deal of healing did happen in preparation of impending divorce, I realized after that conversation with my friend that there was in fact more healing that took place afterwards. That’s what I wanted to share today.
Loving Yourself: Here are 3 things I wholeheartedly believe helped heal my broken heart:
1. Go on Solo Road Trips
When you’re on the road, you have to be present. You can’t let yourself get distracted by anything else, and in a lot of ways then it is very similar to meditation. You can’t just distract yourself by pulling up your phone or going to the other room, so you’re forced into some level of introspection whether you like it or not. You’re stuck with little old you so you might as well make the best of it.
It’s also a great space where you can be to hang out alone and check in on yourself–am I hungry? am I tired? do I need to pee? And then you have to make intentional little stops on the road to self-nurture. Grab some grub, stretch a little. Get back on the road and turn the tunes back up.
I believe time alone on the road with many hours ahead of me with nothing but my thoughts and my needs to keep me company forced me into the truth of whatever I was feeling. It didn’t really matter if I was having fun or if I was sad, because all I had to do was just keep moving forward. (Metaphor alert!) It was also an easy way to feel accomplished (I made it! I’ve arrived!). When your heart is as tired as it gets post-breakup, you need some easy wins.
The other thing about my time on the road is that I really feel like I got closer to God during those long drives. I sang, I prayed, I wailed. I listened to podcasts, I devoured audiobooks, I pressed into all my feels. I found myself talking out loud in long-form conversations that sounded more like God and I sat down for a chai latte at Starbucks than actual prayer. It was nice, and kind of broke the ice between me and God when we’d gone a long time without a lot of earnest, honest interaction.
2. Give Yourself Time Off from Work… and Society
I fully acknowledgement that this one I was able to do because I was very privileged. But if you’re able to make it work, from a few days to a few months, I think you should try it.
Take a leave from work–or quit!–and find someone who loves you or knows you well enough to let you stay with them for free or close to it. Exist as though you’re an animal-person: sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, be in touch with and take care of the physical needs and desires that arise in any given moment.
Watch Netflix at 3AM, wander aimlessly, go see people you know or meet new people. Let yourself fall off the grid of AM/PM, Day/Night, Workweek/Weekend. Just be for a while, longer than feels good anymore, even. This will ready your appetite to go be productive and be a part of something again. But try floating for a while. Forget what day it is and stop checking the time.
3. Take a Vow of Silence
Back to that idea of meditation. This is another practical way to practice removing distractions and engaging really intimately with yourself. Here’s how I did it, because I think everyone should do this:
- Tell your mom and/or your best friend (or whoever you talk to more than a few times a week) that you’ll be taking a vow of silence for the next 48-72 hours.
- Tell them you’ll explain why later, because honestly you probably don’t know why yet. (That reveals itself! Yay!) Those people need to know because otherwise you might end up on a missing persons report if they suddenly didn’t hear from you for a few days! It’s also a good idea to assure them you will check in via text to let them know where you are and that you are safe.
- Next, go away. Book a room in a town or two over, where you’re forced out of your comfort zone. I think this part is crucial, so you don’t just go home and fall asleep, or go to familiar places. Time just passes differently when you’re in a new place.
- Write on a piece of paper, “I have taken a vow of silence. Thank you for your patience.” Show it to anyone you have to interact with, and give them a big smile. Learn to sign “Thank you.” Most people will almost immediately ask you a question next and then feel silly. Smile be patient with them. Gesturing is OK. The first few interactions you have like this will feel funny, but after a bit I think you’ll get used to it! Carry a notepad for writing out simple needs (“Coffee to-go, please.”).
Silence is well…silent
Whatever big thing is in the news lately, people are going to assume that it is part of your vow. My vow of silence happened during the Charlotte, North Carolina Black Lives Matter protests and I was at the beach just a few hours away from there, so a lot of people assumed I was silent as a part of that movement. I would not worry about others’ assumptions whether you agree or disagree with the politics or religion they think you’re associated with–let them think what they will, because you’re doing this for you. Just to observe yourself and the world, you know? I think it’s really powerful.
So what do you do during your vow? Turn off all your music. No singing or expulsion of sound–the sensation will shock you after a few hours, in a good way I think. Turn off your phone, TV and computer. I think books are okay. I recommend something pertaining to introspection or whatever is jostling around inside of your sweet little mind. Do anything where you can just quietly observe others or the world or yourself while you’re alone. Go out to eat, go for a walk, be in nature, nap, drive, dance, swim, shower, sit.
If your experience is anything like mine, it will feel like nothing is happening and mostly you are bored. “It’s not working,” you’ll think. You’ll accidentally say, “Hi, how are you?” to everybody you walk past and you’ll feel messed up the whole thing. Which means you’re doing fine. 🙂 Just listen, talk to yourself or God in your head, and write, even if you don’t usually write. You’ll be able to come up with things to jot down because your head will be exploding with repressed words! It could just be one tiny truth that will flicker into focus like a stick of incense in a dark stadium, and that will be enough of an outcome for this exercise.
You got this, love.
In closing, healing is weird, grief sucks, and loss is the worst. The running theme in the above 3 things is to just feel your feelings and learn that loving yourself is the first step to healing. You got this, love.
A Followup Interview with Ellie:
Q: You say the divorce was part of your healing journey, where/when do you think the healing really began, and what were you actually healing from?
A: When I talk about healing I’m talking about emotional wounds. I really believe I got married for the wrong reasons (fear, insecurity, immaturity). Like so many people, I had all these old wounds from childhood, bad church experiences, and careless ex-boyfriends. I hoped would find healing by taking on this new, important identity of “wife,” as if that somehow would change something!
I learned how to identify those wounds and the ineffective ways I was trying to heal them through self-reflection, reading books about marriage and self-worth, talking to my own therapist, and seeing a marriage counselor. So, I learned all this while I was married. I tried to work through those old emotional wounds, and in many ways became a stronger, more independent person. I cared for myself in totally new ways, like relying less on others for my physical and emotional needs.
When your independence goes through a dramatic shift in a relationship, I think the whole dynamic changes because you’re essentially rebuilding the whole foundation of why you got together in the first place. Our marriage didn’t survive, but I think we’re both better off apart after learning those things together.
Q: I know faith was actually a huge part of this journey for you as well. How has your relationship with God changed as you have healed?
A: I binge-watched the entirety of the show Game of Thrones last summer right after my ex and I separated. In that show there’s a lot about the theme of family and pride. It sounds silly, but I sort of borrowed that way of thinking about “I am from the house of…” and brought it into my faith. Suddenly, taking pride in myself as a daughter of God really meant something! I am from the house of God! Don’t mess with me! Haha. Like I said, it’s silly, but it really changed my life!
Q: How important has healing in all areas, body-mind-spirit been to your overall healing?
A: I fought a lot of demons the first few weeks of separation. I made pretty sketchy decisions with food and men in a flailing emotional tantrum, and was self-medicating the pain of changing my life by eating lots of fried food and temporarily using men’s attention like a drug. Thank goodness I had a handful of nurturing friends who helped me get clean from all that. I think once my spirit was in a healthier space, my body sort of followed suit, and I stopped craving–and tolerating–bad behavior.
Q: How will you know when you have finished healing?
A: I think there’s this moment when you realize, “Hey, it’s been a while since I thought of my identity in terms of XYZ (divorced lady, etc)” and it means you’re thinking more in the present and aren’t so troubled by those old wounds. When I was married, I constantly thought about all the painful things that happened to me in my adolescence–even writing a whole manuscript trying to process it all! Now I’ve been single almost a year and don’t really think of myself as someone who was a wife or stepmom. I’m just Ellie, the writer in Nashville. 🙂
Q: What would you want someone at the beginning of their healing journey to know?
A: This is kind of an oxymoron, but don’t listen to anybody’s advice. You have to learn to tune everybody else out and listen closely to what’s going on inside you. Is it a physical ailment you’re experiencing due to some stress you’re not dealing with? Are you hurting emotionally because you’re not taking good care of your body in some way?
Pain –and therefore healing– is often compounded into a multi-level issue that is some combination of emotional/spiritual/relational/physical hurt. There’s a lot of great advice out there, but only you can figure out what is really going to work for you. Learn to tune in and practice giving yourself whatever you need, honoring that voice inside that was courageous enough to ask for help.