Finding Sacred Space after Heartbreak

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I’ve been so exhausted lately that I’ve been uncharacteristically static. I’ve felt frozen, partially because I have no comfort zone anymore. I honestly can’t decide which sounds less appealing: the idea of feeling less over time (as everyone assures me I will) and letting go of what it felt like to love and be loved, or the alternative prospect of getting stuck in the defeat of this upside down reality in which I suddenly find myself.

It’s everything. From waking until sleeping — and even sometimes in dreams — I’m surrounded by reminders of what life was like merely a month ago. I’m not used to sleeping alone anymore, and my nighttime tea just isn’t quite right when I’m making it for only myself. Our lives were so intertwined that it’s more like a divorce than a breakup.

Despite all my anger, I’m just sad because I miss my person.

In an effort to put my defeat and exhaustion under a microscope, I created a timeline of my major life events from the past 4 years. I’ll spare you the gory details and paste the non-specific graph below; I gave each event a scaled placement ranging from+10 to -10, depending on the type of impact it had. (That last +10 for 12/2020 is my impending graduation with my master’s degree. I wish I could feel excited about it, but I’m just going through the motions at this point.)

I’m. So. Tired.

That’s a lot for 4 years of any one person’s life. For better or worse, I live intensely. Most of the time, it’s worth it. For every uptick or downtick on that graph, my world was shaken up in some new way, whether that meant starting a job, losing a friend to cancer, falling madly in love, or experiencing the subsequent heartbreak of a lifetime.

I met my now ex in 8/2018, and what’s not pictured in the above graph is the rather fascinating life I lived largely alone before that date — namely, I was a circus sideshow performer who won a Guinness World Record, in addition to just being a generally quirky adventurer who lives hard and moves around plenty. I never imagined during my solo travels that I would later be revisiting so many of those same places with the love of my life, and I certainly couldn’t have imagined losing someone like that afterward.

I suppose that’s why I leaned in fully after we met, and in my fervor, I just wanted to show my person all the best things this life has to offer. I think we all do this to some extent. We dive right into the deep end when we get to the good stuff, because that’s what makes life worth living — shared joy, passion, partnership, exploration, and the pursuit of what makes our hearts happy. When we find someone else who’s riding our same alien wavelength, we become ecstatic and want to make their hearts just as happy.

I shared with him all my favorite restaurants, music, books, places, and anything else I knew he would love. I took him to all the nooks and crannies in this world that I possibly could, and that even meant that I shared my sacred spaces with him.

I used to be quite skilled at creating sacred space for myself: stargazing, letting the mountain air flow through my windows in New Mexico, hiking crazy hikes alone in desolate places so that I could know that thrill and victory, making comfort tea at night, knowing when to just get in the car and drive somewhere new and amazing, singing my heart out in the bathtub, lighting candles for calm, and making sure to let the sun shine on my face at least once a day.

When I met him later, I wanted him to know the magic of all of those things and more. Where I used to let the sand slip between my toes solo, I brought him to those same dunes and took pictures of our footprints under the spiral arm of the Milky Way glistening down at us. I took him on those same hikes, and it meant everything to reach the top together. We scoured the American southwest for adventure in every corner together, and we went from coast to coast to bask in those sacred spaces.

It was my love song.

I look back at these photos, and I see how clearly I was willing and ready for a real partnership with him. Each of these places I first went to alone is so specific, and I brought him back with me. I wanted him to feel all the good things I felt, and it’s so obvious looking at this highlight reel that I was happier having him (and his kids) with me in those spaces too:

If I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I have another love song like that in me. I’ve mostly been accustomed to living solo, and I’m just glad to know I was ever capable of loving someone so much and letting myself be so loved in return.

The trouble is that when someone takes that love and is careless with it, the other person is left completely lost and baffled.
I am, in fact, lost. I’m shattered, confused, and betrayed. I never would’ve thought that something so beautiful could turn out so ugly. It’s hard to want to move, because I have no idea which direction to go.
I used to go to the desert for R&R, but now it all reminds me of him. I can’t even visit my beloved VLA without the pain of memories. Not my favorite restaurant, where we met. Not this city or that state or certain houses, and certainly no national parks or musicals. No tea either.

My sacred spaces don’t belong to me anymore. I shared them with him, and he threw them away like garbage. Maybe I should’ve kept some for myself — or maybe it’s better to share, despite the risk.

When everything you knew to be safe and true gets ripped out from under you, it’s hard to trust your own judgment. Should I get in my car and drive somewhere new? Should I just chill? Should I make tea? Am I supposed to be feeling better by now? Was I too harsh? Where should I go? Maybe I’ll buy a house — am I being impulsive or am I just reaching for solid ground wherever I can find it?
Have I eaten too much fucking fudge? Maybe I should go to the grocery store.
I’m too tired. I’ll just have a handful of peanuts and zone out to Star Trek.

Look, I don’t have the answers — not for myself or for you. All I know is that the most special love I could’ve ever imagined just got yanked away, and my heart went with it. Even going to the grocery store reminds me of our silly outings we used to indulge in, when we’d find the bulk goods and giddily ration out snacks to try later. Everything was an adventure. Now, everything has lost its color, and all the plans I had for my life have been rendered null and void.

The only thing I know to do is let the grieving happen and try to find some new things that can just belong to me. It feels like the rest of my life has been stained by deceit and pain, so I’ve put some stain remover on it, but it needs to sit out in the sun for a while to dry.

Until then, I’m just going to try a new path — any path, really — because the only way to create or reclaim sacred space is to give yourself over to forward momentum. Is it fair that we get hurt and that we have to scar over to heal? No, but what other choice do we have? We could live in an isolated bubble of our own making to avoid pain (and avoid living a meaningful life in the process), or we can keep leaning in. It is a choice to hurt other people. It’s also a choice for those people to dust themselves off and reclaim their sacred spaces. Only when we’ve made peace with those spaces and can show ourselves that we will always find a way to create more will we be fully equipped to care for ourselves and for the hearts of others who grow to love us so dearly.

I have indeed been through hell to get where I am today: to a place wherein I let my head and my heart have equally loud voices, to a place that means I know how to trust and to be unabashedly passionate.

That is going to be lost on some people, and so will the sacredness which surrounds them. I think one reason sacred spaces mean so much to me is that I know all too well what it’s like growing up not having any. To build and share them with someone is truly special. It was special to me, at least. However, those who look past the ripe fruit on the ground next to them and focus on a dead twig in the distance are bound to eternally miss love in order to chase it, blind to the abundant beauty available at their fingertips.

I say keep leaning in anyway. Keep loving at full speed, and let those flames propel you forward. Those who are capable of doing the same will be able to keep up.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. It begins with small steps.
I think I’ll try making some tea tonight. And maybe I will buy a house, and maybe I’ll try something new, like Aikido — it sounds nice to delve into anything that’s about the transference of energy. After all, “the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” (There is never a bad time for Bruce Lee’s wisdom.)

For now, some Stevie Nicks for a weary traveler.

Back to the gypsy that I was

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

-William Ernest Henley

Me discovering Invictus, 2016

Sociologist / mental health blogger / sword swallower []

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