My daughter’s father is a fantastic father. If the transition into fatherhood was hard for him, it was only because he had to go back to work so soon after her birth, and didn’t get much of a chance to establish a relationship with her until a year and a half later. That was when we decided to move to Oregon, where he had the opportunity to work significantly less, and be able to become the father he longed to be. As soon as we got in that van to drive the Alaska-Canada Highway, he stepped swiftly into his role of parent, and he hasn’t looked back since. His complete adoration and fierce protectiveness of our child gives me zero regrets that he gets to be her father.
However, the same could not be said of our romantic relationship. Sparing the details, interactions between us were more often toxic than they were healthy. There was something about each other that triggered deep wounds inside both of us, and we frequently interacted with a high degree of defensiveness, hostility, and harsh judgement. Despite half-hearted efforts to heal our relationship for the sake of our daughter, three and a half years showed us that we could not get along for more than a few days at a time. We were, simply put, not good for each other, or each other’s personal healing processes. With heavy hearts, we decided to be co-parents.
Fast forward several months later. Our hypothesis that we would be better co-parents than romantic partners has turned out to be true. If before we were fighting on a weekly basis, now our conversations are almost exclusively about our daughter and her needs, and our interactions are pleasant more often than they’re not.
That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Holy crapola, can it be hard.
Recently, he shared with me that he had found someone new. Barring the fact that this new woman is a strange deviation from his normal dating patterns in a way that baffled me deeply, I hadn’t realized how not-healed my post-break-up wounds were until he plunked that news into my lap.
It fucking hurt.
Every breakup reaches this point sooner or later, of course. Your ex moves on, you move on, whichever comes first, the other person has to deal with those initial feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger, and barrages of “what-if’s.” It hurts even more when it’s the father of your child. I think it’s a caveperson instinct thing–of course we want a successful relationship with our child’s biological parent. It means safety, it means support, it means someone to turn to in the darkest hour before the dawn. But with separations and divorces more thw norm these days, every parent eventually learns that, if a relationship is irreparable (to the point when it’s more unhealthy for the child for the parents to stay together, as was the case for us), then the Next Best Thing is to establish either a good co-parenting relationship (if possible), or create a new support system to fill the hole of that partner in your life and/or your child’s life.
It was really tempting to just get drunk every day and let myself sink into a pit of self-pitying despair. But I’ve got shit to do – a daughter to take care of half the week, a job to go to, college homework to work on, goals to realize. Laying around staring at the ceiling and wishing I could disappear? Nope, sorry, I’ve been there, done that, wrote the metaphorical book on it, and I’m not doing it again.
No more. No more am I letting my happiness be determined by what member of the cisgendered heterosexual male-bodied species thinks or does not think of me. I’ve got a life to live, and I’m not setting the example for my daughter that she needs to mope around when a man doesn’t love her anymore. She’s going to look up to me and see a strong independent creative smart wombyn who can do anything she damn well sets her mind to.
Well, I mean, moping around for a couple of days is okay. But after that, here’s some coping mechanisms I’ve been working on to help me heal. Whether you’re broken up from the father of your child, or just someone you had a long-term relationship with that may or may not have been toxic, here are some self-care techniques to keep yourself sane. Please add your own in the comments section!
- Eat, dammit, but do it healthily. I know how it is when you’re depressed. Depending on how you’re feeling, and depending on your personal history, you’ll either not want to eat at all, or you’ll eat too much. Ultra-focus on your dietary health during this time. Nourish your body with lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as hearty, healthy comfort foods like stews and soups, homemade bread, and stir-fries. Drink green drinks and warm, nourishing herbal infusions. Avoid foods that give you a quick emotional high but sink you even lower as soon as they wear off: processed sugar, chemical-laden bread products, and salty snacks like chips.
Paying particular attention to my health during times of emotional turmoil has carried me through days I don’t think I would have been able to survive otherwise.
- Get outside. I know it’s tempting to lay in bed drifting in and out of sleep. Don’t. Go for at least one walk a day, and try to pay attention to it. Engage your senses. Take a deep breath and taste the air. Listen for any birds. Look at the clouds, the signs of the particular season you’re in, the plants and trees. Pet someone’s dog.
My favorite outdoor activity when I’m depressed is to go into the woods where no one can see me and cry. There’s some sort of fundamental difference between crying in my room and crying in the forest. In my room, only the walls hear me, and I receive no comfort. In the forest, it’s as though I am embraced by the presence of the trees and animals, so that though no humans are near me, I do not feel alone.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Seek other people. I know you probably don’t feel like you can show your face to anyone, but human connection is integral to your healing. Even if all you do is go to a cafe to huddle in the corner and read while you sip some tea or coffee, put yourself in the way of people.
If you have one or two or three close friends (or better yet, a circle of friends you see regularly), seek them out and ask to get together. I am part of a circle that gets together at least twice a month to meditate, conduct energy work, storycatch, and provide each other emotional support. I honestly have no idea how I would have been able to survive my break up without them.
Go to a therapist. I just made my first appointment, after considering it for months and talking with friends about the pros and cons of therapy. I finally decided that I wanted a professional to help me figure out the events in my life that led to me becoming involved in yet another toxic relationship, and how I can heal myself so my future relationships are mutually healthy and supportive.
- Create daily ceremony. I cannot stress the crucial place in my mental health that daily ceremony has placed itself. Without it, I find myself floundering emotionally. Without it, I am off-center and unsure. Without it, I am lost in the clouds of illusion and misperception, rather than grounded in reality and my commitment to my goals. How you create your daily ceremony is up to you.
For me, it involves keeping an altar, at which I go to at some point every day–preferably in the morning–to light a candle, do some deep breathing, give offerings to the Directions and to my Guides, ask for advice and support (usually via my oracle cards), and finally, to set my intention for the day. Whenever I don’t know what to do, I can always come back to ceremony, and even if I haven’t found a solution by the end of it, I always, always, feel more capable, centered, and strong. I may have lost a relationship, but I gained something more: the opportunity to invest in my spiritual connection.
- Start doing all those things you put off because you were in a [possibly toxic] relationship. For me, that was investing time, energy, and money into practical steps that would lead me to my various goals: college, consistent spiritual practice, and entrepreneurial activities like Purium Health Products.
What did you put off? Now is the time to do it. Even if you aren’t emotionally healed from your breakup, you now have the opportunity to do all those things you told yourself you couldn’t do because of your ex. Now, your only excuse is fear. Are you ready to become the role model you look up to? I think you are. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t you?
I believe in you.