Breaking Up in Sobriety – Learning to Grieve

sober breakup sobriety

I remember going through breakups back when I was drinking. I would fall madly in love in a matter of weeks, and spend every waking moment by the side of my newfound soulmate. Eventually, the reality of my condition would bubble to the surface, and I would find myself unable to successfully feign sanity or stability for any longer. I would get dumped, and because I was utilizing the relationship to fill an agonizing void in the pit of my soul, as soon as it was taken away I would be in just as much pain as I had been to begin with. I would lock myself inside for several days, ordering delivery and watching Netflix in a sad and ratty bathrobe as I cried and drank wine and cried and posted self-pitying and passive aggressive statuses to Facebook.

“Don’t you love it when someone tells you they love you only to break your heart a week later.”

“So glad I’m single again, no more drama.”

Finally, I would reign in my unhinged emotions for long enough to go back to work (making sandwiches). In a matter of days, I would be head-over-heels in love with some other someone, and the process would begin all over again. It was a pretty miserable and discouraging existence, but it was all I knew.

Drinking and Emotional Instability

I used to think that I had pretty good control over my emotions. I had become a true expert when it came to feigning mental and emotional stability. When I was sad (which I was the majority of the time, because I hated myself and my life), I just went about my business, successfully hiding a chaotic mess of psychosis behind a simulated smile. I had everyone fooled. At least, I believed that I had everyone fooled. In reality, the only person I was successfully duping was myself.

“How are you?”

“I’m great – everything is just great!”

The truth of the matter was; I had become exceedingly good at lying to myself about how I was really feeling. I could move through my day successfully, functioning solely on a careful combination of distraction and denial. I was also largely motivated by the knowledge that I could get good and drunk as soon as the workday ended. As soon as the clock struck whatever time, I would crack a lukewarm can of Steel Reserve or pop open a dusty bottle of Sutter Home and instantaneously demolish the filter I had worked to very hard to keep intact. I would send a series of lengthy and outrageous text messages to my most recent ex, perhaps leave a few slovenly voicemails if I was feeling especially blacked out. The drunker I got, the more the underlying crazy bubbled to the surface. My night became one prolonged, pitiful cry for help, as I sat on the kitchen floor in my underwear, with my booze and my phone and my stale box of Cheese-Its.

This was an average night post-breakup. This was as good as it ever got.

Breaking Up in Sobriety

Ending a relationship with a substantial amount of time in recovery, I have come to find out, is an entirely different animal. After spending a prolonged time working exclusively on ourselves, we no longer have to feign emotional stability – we learn to regulate our emotions in a healthy and effective way. We learn how to love ourselves, which is the most important thing that we will probably ever do. We begin to fill that aching void in the pit of our souls with self-acceptance and God and altruism, and we finally feel whole again. When we enter into a romantic relationship, it is because we authentically respect the other person, and we enjoy spending time with them – not because we crave validation or need distraction or hate ourselves so much we can’t stand to be alone. The relationships we form are based on solid foundations of honesty and solidarity and vulnerability, and the bonds we slowly work to create are strong because they are authentic. Sometimes, of course, things will not work out. This is not an indication of failure or defeat, but rather, an indication of self-awareness and willingness. The willingness to be vulnerable and say goodbye if the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial, or if it seems to be causing more harm than good. A willingness to be alone again, despite how painful breakups can be.

Feeling the Pain

It is normal to miss someone that you used to be in a relationship with. Missing is just a part of moving on – it does not indicate that you need to get back together with that person in order to be happy or fulfilled. It hurts to let go; it always does and it always will. But believe me when I say that it hurts more to hold on. To cling and cry and try to make things work when they are not working is the most painful thing of all. Looking back on my life (which has been relatively short thus far), I can clearly see a common theme – when I felt the most rejected, the most defeated, is exactly when I was being redirected to something more amazing and beautiful than I ever could have imagined. Growing hurts and it sucks and it is so, so uncomfortable. The overwhelming and gut-wrenching feeling that goes hand-in-hand with losing someone close is so agonizing and real that it often feels as if it will never go away. But it does go away.

Embracing Grief

When I am entering into a circumstance or situation that I know will be emotional strenuous, I pray for the willingness to feel the pain; to accept it and embrace it, and let it run its course.

Back when I was drinking, I would do everything in my power to numb the pain out as soon as it began to creep in. I would try to drown the pain in cheap beer and vodka. I would try to smother the pain under pounds of greasy food and heavy spending and meaningless sex. I would ignore it and shove it away, cramming it deep deep down into the cavernous depths of my being, where it would fester and grow and thrive in the darkness.

Now, I pray for the willingness to feel the pain and then I brace myself to feel it.

I amp up my meeting attendance and let my friends know that I will be calling them more often. I find someone else to help, and I do the things that make me feel happy and whole – yoga, walks on the beach at night, art, curling up with a good book and a mug of herbal tea. Self-care. And I cry, and I allow myself to be sad. I know that feelings are temporary, and I have complete faith that so long as I continue doing what I have come to understand as ‘the next right thing’ I will be okay. Breaking up is hard, and as human beings, we never look forward to feeling the pain of loss and heartbreak. Of course not. It sucks and it is always going to suck. But we can get through it when we have a strong spiritual foundation, and after we have grown accustomed to loving ourselves in an authentic and unconditional way.

Recovering from the pain of a breakup is more intense today, because I choose not to run from the grief in fear, but rather, to face it head on and feel it with grace. However, feeling the pain does not equate to wallowing in it and allowing it to consume me whole. As I feel it, I do what I know I need to do to keep my head above water. I can cry, and I will cry, and I can feel utterly low and exceedingly sad and eat an entire pint of ice cream while watching The Notebook. But then, I will pick myself up and walk myself to a park, and sit in silence and remember that everything is being taken care of; my only job is to ride the waves as they roll in, and show myself the same love and affection I hope to someday show to another.

Thank God for the pain. Without the pain, we would not fully understand our own progress.