When my beloved husband ended our marriage just seven months after our wedding date, so much of what I believed about my life and about the world shifted. After his revelation that he changed his mind about wanting to be my partner, I felt shocked, confused, and bereft, in pretty much equal measure.
I wished there was a magic wand that would take away the heartbreak — anything to get rid of the pool of grief that I sawm in. But there was no magic wand, no pill I could take, no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of memory-erasing journey I could go on that would erase the pain of my lost love.
I knew that the only way through the anguish was to sit in it.
I needed to ride the rollercoaster of grief, seatbelt buckled, support system in place.
Six months after my husband made the announcement that changed my life as I knew it, I arrived at a breakup recovery retreat.
I was willing to try anything that might push me further toward acceptance and healing.
There we were — a dozen heartbroken people sitting around a table in a gorgeous oak-paneled room. Our coach was Sara Davison, the UK’s leading divorce coach, who went through her own brutal divorce. She knew the struggles of “uncoupling” intimately. Davison’s approach focused on goal-setting and shifting your mindset, things I needed to implement.
Though everyone in the group had their own unique stories, we shared some commonalities: sudden endings, infidelities, personality disorders, and mental illnesses. I didn’t meet anyone whose spouse left so soon after getting married, but I found comfort in our collective desire to move forward.
When Sara asked us to identify which stage of the grief cycle represented us, I said that I felt that I worked my way towards acceptance. At the time, though, I was still in the sadness stage. Before that, I’d been in shock, denial, and bargaining for a good few months.
Anger is a stage I seem to have completely bypassed, and Sara reassured me that we often replace the anger stage with sadness. It helped to hear that grief isn’t the same for everyone. We all move through the stages differently, spending longer in some and coming back again and again to others.
When you reach the coveted acceptance stage, you’ve made it to the holy grail of grief stages, the place everyone wants to be. But when you reach that place, there’s a risk of staying there. As the wise Cheryl Strayed once said, “Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”
The challenge is leaving that room – moving past acceptance and to the beginning of a new chapter.
You need to move to something new instead of feeling like your life will always be this way.
I really liked the new friends I made when I met my husband. They’d become a part of my life, and it felt hard to let them go. Sara reminded us to “always do the right thing.” This means writing my husband’s friends an email with an explanation about why I’m unfriending them.
After I returned home from the retreat, I finally hit the “unfriend” button and sent those emails. My friends showed empathy, thanking me for the personal email and explaining they were grateful that I let them know why I unfriended them. Their sweet emails were so lovely that they made me cry.
It hurt to press the unfriend button because another aspect of the life I had with him came to a close. But I know that if I want to move forward, I have to cut ties with people I care about.
The retreat was a gift I gave to myself, the chance to focus on only me for two whole days.
I left on Sunday feeling completely drained. I know that the emotions I feel about my marriage ending will stay with me for a long time, but I’m learning how to live with the sad feelings.
And there was something invigorating about the retreat, too. I carried away an armful of strategies to help me to navigate this new path. As a parting gift, Sara gave us each a mug that reads, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” I’ll drink to that.
Amy Schreibman Walter is an American writer and teacher living in London. Her articles have appeared in Huffington Post and Parent Co, among others.
Originally published on YourTango.