Last week I had my first painful breakup in almost three years. Circumstances made the split inevitable, but it was shitty nonetheless.
I decided from the start that I would give myself one week to wallow in my emotions, and wallow is what it I did. It sucked. It hurt. Sleep didn’t come easy for me. But as the days went by, I could feel the worst of the emotions start to subside. My anger was replaced with sadness. Then my sadness started to feel more hollow, a sense of acceptance setting in underneath it.
Now a week has passed and the time for wallowing has ended. I’m still sad, of course, but I realize that this ending represents a new opportunity for me. Not necessarily an opportunity for new romance (that’s not even a thought in my head at this point), but for self-discovery and growth.
I guess the biggest mindfuck for me is that, throughout the relationship I maintained the belief that who I was hadn’t changed, that I was still that ultra-independent person, only to realize I was dead-wrong. And that’s the crazy thing about relationships: how they change you as a person. The way you think about the world shifts from an individual perspective to one that always includes the other person. No matter how independent you try to stay, making yourself vulnerable to someone for a long period of time eventually makes them an integral part of your reality. And when it ends, you’re left feeling like a part of you is gone.
The challenge I face now is not only one of accepting the reality of the situation, but also rebuilding myself. It’s relearning how to view the world from the lense of an individual instead of a part of a relationship. It’s figuring out how to incorporate all the ways I’ve changed during the relationship into a new, independent version of myself.
I’m fortunate in that this relationship changed me in a lot of positive ways. It helped me discover and embrace my creativity. It opened my mind to new ways of looking at the world. And, even though it hurts to think about, it brought me face to face with a lot of the unpleasant parts of myself, parts that I know I need to change if I want to be a happier person in the future.
So I sit here now, feeling as though I’m at the edge of a giant cliff. Past the edge is a whole lot of unknowns. It’s dark and frightening. But going back is not an option. What’s done is done, and trying to live in the past will only lead to pain and bitterness. My only choice is to jump into the unknown and have faith that everything will be alright.
It’s a scary situation, but I’m comforted by this quote from Joseph Campbell:
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
Now it’s time to find my treasure.
On the list of negative emotions that I’ve tried to cope with for most of my life, anger has always been suspect number one. I was angry all the time growing up. That anger was most likely a coping mechanism; I had no idea how to deal with feelings like sadness or rejection, so everything I felt was converted into a seething rage that controlled most of my actions. As you can probably guess, this made life pretty difficult for myself and the people around me.
The past three years for me have largely been about minimizing anger’s control over my life. And through things like mindfulness and meditation, I’ve done a great job of it. Anger has become less and less prevalent in my daily life, and when it does appear, I’m able to let it go quickly.
That is, until now.
This weekend brought with it the end of a relationship that meant a lot to me, and for the first time in what seems like ages, I’m filled with a mixture of pain and anger that rivals even my worse days growing up. The logical part of my brain tells me that this anger is uncalled for. Relationships end, people move on, that’s just part of life. But despite knowing this on an intellectual level, I just can’t stop seeing red.
In the past, I would have looked at my current emotional state as something to be avoided. I know intimately the negative effects that unchecked anger can have, and the last thing I want to do is repeat old patterns. Yet I’ve also learned that trying to resist emotions only makes them stronger. So I’m going to take a different approach this time. I’m going to use the pain and the rage I’m feeling as fuel.
In some ways, this might be exactly what I need at this point in my life. Despite the positive changes I’ve made recently, I still struggle to find the motivation to go all out when it comes to my goals, and one of the side-effects of intense anger is the surge of energy that comes with it. In the past, I would have used that energy to try and break something. I would have channeled it in a destructive way.
While I still feel like breaking things, I know it’s within my power to control how I use that energy. I can use it constructively. I can use it to push myself harder than ever before. I can use it to create an even better life for myself.
Of course, anger isn’t the most healthy or sustainable motivator. It’s definitely not something I want to rely on in the long-term. But it’s what I’m feeling at the moment, and I can either resist it or embrace it.
Last month my roommates reintroduced me to Dragon Ball Z, a show I enjoyed as a kid but hadn’t watched in more than a decade. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and watch the series from the beginning. I’m already 75 episodes in (please don’t judge) and it’s clear that 24-year old me is an even bigger fan of the show than 10-year-old me was.
One of the main things I love about it is its core theme of good vs. evil. I know that’s a theme in most stories, but there’s something about the way Dragon Ball Z portrays it that really resonates with me.
Goku, the protagonist of the show, is one of the most pure-hearted characters I’ve ever seen. He faces every treacherous villain with an underlying attitude of compassion, mercy, and optimism. And despite being one of the strongest people on the planet and a natural born warrior, he always seems reluctant to fight.
Watching Goku in action got me thinking about the battle between good and evil that goes on inside all of us. I don’t mean good and evil in the moralistic sense, but more in terms of our happiness. There are certain thoughts that encourage well-being and those that promote the opposite. In each moment we have to choose which ones we will let control our emotions and actions.
It’s fear, anger, hatred, selfishness, narcissism, insecurity, envy, and jealousy versus….love, empathy, compassion, gratitude, altruism, genuine confidence, patience, peace, and joy. You could say it’s the battle between our egos and our higher-selves. The worst of us against the best of us.
For most of my early life, my ego won those internal battles decisively. Honestly, they were hardly even battles most of the time. My ego was in complete control and negativity seemed to be my natural state. I had no idea there was any other way to live.
Things have changed in the last few years. Through mindfulness and meditation, I’ve become more aware of my ego and its negative tendencies. It no longer automatically controls my every action like it once did. But that increased awareness hasn’t eliminated my ego and its negative effects from my life. If anything, it has made the “good vs. evil” metaphor all the more accurate for me.
Every day my ego struggles to take back control. It wants to find fault in every situation. It wants to indulge in anger and fear. It wants to win arguments at the cost of relationships. My ego hardly ever wins when I’m at my best. I can observe those negative thoughts inside my head and simply push them aside. But when I’m at my worst, well, it often gets the upper hand.
Some might say that viewing the ego as an enemy to be defeated isn’t very healthy, and there’s definitely some truth to that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that awareness and compassion are the best antidotes for the ego’s negativity. “Attacking” the ego in an aggressive way can only serve to strengthen it.
However, there is something inspirational in the concept of good battling evil, the light overpowering the darkness. That kind of imagery reminds me that we have a choice to make in every moment: we can let our egos run the show or give the power to our higher selves. But making the right choice requires discipline. The ego will fight back like the most ferocious enemy we’ve ever encountered. That’s why it can seem like a battle at times.
I think this applies to our external lives as well. All around the world we are seeing a rise in ego-driven behaviors. There is so much fear and hatred getting thrown around that it can often feel like a hopeless situation. But it doesn’t have to be. We can view ourselves almost as warriors, choosing daily to fight back against all the negativity. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting in a physical sense, but fighting back with our attitudes. It means looking at all the fear and hatred and rising above it, showing compassion for others, and, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, making positivity louder.
Of course, it all starts with the battle within ourselves.
I know personally it seems unwinnable at times. The ego is an incredibly persistent foe. But I won’t give up. I won’t let myself slide back into a world of negativity. I’ll keep fighting, and letting even silly things like a cartoon character inspire me to try even harder. I know my efforts will eventually pay off.