It’s the way it sometimes catches you by surprise, isn’t it? You’re living your life, getting on with things, and then you get an e-mail or hear word from your ex. Your chest constricts, your head starts reeling, all those thoughts and feelings of pain wash in and you wonder… will I ever get him out of my head?
Wouldn’t it be great if – a la Harry Potter – I could just put a wand to my temple, extract all the painful memories and feelings my ex has left me with, and put them in a jar, which I could revisit only if and when I wanted to? (Which would be rarely, if ever!!)
I’ve felt things building the past week, so I decided to make an appointment with the counsellor I saw back in 2016, when I was at my lowest. Kind of catch things before they got too bad.
I wrote to him beforehand – told him that on the outside of my life I’m doing fine, but sometimes the inside hurts really badly – and asked him for some strategies to help on days I find things really really hard.
This is what he suggested.
(Please remember I was in an upset state when I met with him, so I might not have remembered everything 100% as he said it. This is my interpretation of his advice.)
The first thing he suggested was to actively stop when a thought about my ex comes into my head. He says some of his clients will actually raise their hand in a stopping gesture. Stop and turn your thoughts around.
For example, think about the good things in your life now. Things that you couldn’t do when you were married to him. For me, that includes the amount of travel I’m able to do now.
But…it still makes me think about ‘him’. (He’s currently on a holiday with ‘her’. A holiday he refused to take with me. So this suggestion doesn’t work for me.)
The second thing he suggested, was to find a quote you like; something inspiring which speaks to you. Write it down and carry it in your wallet, so it’s there if/when you need it.
Not long after my ex left me, I was talking to a friend I’ve known for over 30 years, but whom I only see occasionally. He never liked my ex – the feeling was mutual – and his advice was to not to look back. Keep looking forward. Always keep looking forward.
I read recently that you feel sad when you look back and anxious when you look forward, so I’m going to try and stop doing both. But the most important thing is not looking back into the past. Don’t look back. Don’t you ever look back!
Which is ironic given that…
The third thing my counsellor suggested was something that really calmed me down. He told me to think about walking into a house Upstairs, there’s a corridor with four doors; two on the left and two on the right.
Go through the first door, and step into the room. It’s a lovely room. In that room, think of all the good things people have ever said about you in your life. Times when people have enjoyed being with you. All things that are personal.
Then go into the second beautiful room. This room holds all your ‘professional’ achievements; things like your high school diploma, badges from scouts or guides, music exams, university or college degree, professional qualifications. Things you have achieved through hard work.
From there, cross the hall and go into the third room. This space contains your positive dreams for the person you want to be. Do you want to be compassionate? Brave? A good friend? A good grandparent? A painter? Climb a mountain? Run a mile in 10 minutes?
The fourth door opens into the bathroom. This is where you get rid of all the s–t that you are still carrying around.
This is the strategy that I think will be most effective for me, and it got me thinking about a project my daughter did for my 60th birthday, just a few months after my husband walked out. She contacted various friends, asked them what their memories were of me, and collected them in a box.
Here’s one from a friend from my nursing days. Memories include the terrified look on our faces when we found ourselves sharing a bedroom for four having never shared a room with anyone in our lives on January 8th, 1973. Sitting in our tiny flat in the sunshine listening to Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks. Being able to pick up where we left off without any difficulty no matter how long we have been apart.
I think I’m going to add to that ‘birthday’ box. I’m going to make a second one of all my ‘achievements’; my nursing diploma, my university degree, a speech award, my army ‘pips’, photos of my kids as babies, etc.
In a third box, I’m going to fill it with words like compassion, courage, laughter, love, sunshine, mother, travel, music, grandmother, reading, rainbows, etc. All things that bring joy into my life.
And then when those bad days come – as they do – when I can’t get my ex and his new wife out of my head, I will open those boxes and think of the people who mean so much to me, the things I have achieved in my life, and the person I want to become.
So yes, even though I’ve chosen my quote as – ‘Don’t look back. Don’t you ever look back.’ – I am going to look back. But only at the good stuff. Because who I was then is who I am now.
But I am going to look forward too. Because forward is where I’m going.
Where we’re going.