For the past hour, I have been sitting on my wood floor, legs splayed about to make room for the bookcase pieces I’m attempting to combine. I stare numbly at the half-put together jumble of particleboard and Swedish instructions in front of me, realizing that half the shelves are facing forward, and half are facing backward. I sigh, deflated. There’s nothing to do but take the whole thing apart and put it back together. I’m a cliché for the first months of my breakup: numb, expressionless, chocolate chip cookie dough-eating, spontaneously bursting into tears, mess. I go through the motions of separating CDs, moving out, and spend weeks continuing to sleep neatly on one side of the bed. I begin reading It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken (Behrendt & Ruotola, 2005). Apparently once you figure out you’re not on the same page it’s time to let go.
One message from the book sinks in so slowly that I don’t notice until it randomly pops up in my mind throughout my days: behavior must precede feelings. Despite my beginning to measure my breakup progress in the number of times I cry during the day decreasing, the message stays at the forefront of my mind. Do good things and eventually you will feel better. I force myself to meditate five minutes a day. It feels useless, as lack of sleep, real food, and a general desire to get up in the morning has me distracted for the entire meditation. I turn off the TV and go to hot yoga. I throw the cookie dough out and have friends over for tacos. I run through the park. And then I go out for my first time since my breakup. I’m uneasy and don’t really want to go. I know I’m supposed to take my new opportunity at life back and find my inner hotness as the authors call it. I feel a lot of things: stupid, unsteady, afraid of becoming a lonely old cat lady. Hotness isn’t on the list.
I tell myself not to bail on my friends and to have just one drink. Behavior must precede feelings. I do drink. And dance. And drink some more. I’m so out of touch with being single that when girls talk to me, I think they are talking to someone else, and look around and behind me. I’m not sure inner hotness ever finds it’s way into my mind that night, but for the first time in a very long time, I can feel my eyes smiling widely along with my lips. Finally get the grays highlighted out of my hair. I start wearing clothes that match again. Behavior must precede feelings. I stumble too. Eat a cupcake every day for a week. Drink too much. Listen to the Indigo Girls and the Fray. Miss a run with my run group. Am drawn to girls who are still in love with their ex, have an athletic swagger, and a tendency to be vaguely disinterested in me. I sob every night, burying my face into a stack of pillows so my neighbors don’t think I’m being beaten to death. And I Namaste. I run. I work. I refrain from drunk dialing.
And then slowly, slowly something begins to lift. Behavior must precede feelings. I cook using real food that doesn’t come in a box or a can. I start returning phone calls. I do hot yoga. I run. I dance. I book an adventure vacation for just me. I start a Meetup. And I slip. I cry. I go out every night. I spend too much money. Eat bar food for a week. And I boogie board. I stay home and watch movies. I engage with people. I work. I run. And then one day, at my normal sob time, I notice that not only am I not crying, I haven’t thought about my breakup or how bad it left me feeling all day. An almost unrecognizable emotions stirs: hope. Since grieving sucks anyway, I’m choosing to bank on the belief that healthy behaviors do indeed lead to feeling better. Namaste.