October 13th, 2009

we are all mad

article: haunted by past relationships

This article was edited & published in the October issue of 'dialog' - the college paper for George Brown in Toronto, Ontario. The last two paragraphs were cut and perhaps there were some other changes (I haven't done a side-by-side comparison) but yay, it was published. It was a suggested topic by the paper and I figured I could contribute on the topic. They changed my title to "Pesky exes and messes" (???) but hey, who am I to say that's any worse than my original title, eh? At least the piece was printed!

So, here's the original...


It isn’t Autumn that gives you that chill. It’s what you feel when the end of a relationship feels fresh (like dead bodies still warm) and thoughts follow you around the city: like the last time you felt alive with that person who once was so much a part of your life.

The end of an intimate relationship is a death. The more intensity - the more of yourself, your time, your feelings, your life - that you shared with that person, all of that increases your chances of you being haunted.

Maybe you were the one who ended it. Maybe it was mutual. Maybe you didn't end it but you knew that it wasn't the right situation for you and the person actually did you a favour.

Yet, there you are, avoiding anywhere you went with them (if possible) and doing what you can to make it through. You're standing at the corner of John & Richmond. Your breathing stops. You actually feel the hair on the back of your neck lift exactly as described in cliché campfire stories. You start to shake, thinking, "OMG, is that (insert ex) across the street?" until you realize the person at the crosswalk is NOT your ex but vaguely resembles... no, in fact looks absolutely NOTHING like them! Your heartrate doesn't slow until well after you've rounded the next corner.

Congratulations! You've been haunted by a past relationship.

I'm no Ghost Whisperer, but I have a theory that may help. I think these particular hauntings are less about the person we're trying to move on from and have more to do with the ghosts we keep inside ourselves. I’m talking about lingering apparitions of the relationship, of what we felt for our lover, of what we gave to them and all that we aren't able to let go of.

If you're feeling haunted, you could be haunting yourself.

Positive rituals:
* reconnect with friends - remember those people you used to hang out with before you lost yourself in that relationship that was the end all & be all? well, you might be surprised at how glad your pals will be to have you back - and how helpful they are in your healing process.
* no friends? make new ones. get involved in the community. volunteer. seek out meet-ups and events that interest you - especially the activities you were interested in that your ex wasn't!
* be alone. i know this contradicts the first point but in order to rediscover who you are without the person you were involved with, you need to take some time for yourself. you may remember how awesome you are which is a great way to scare ghosts away.
* create. write in a paper journal. read books. make collages. take photos. (a friend of mine decided she would paint every time she was tempted to phone her ex. her paintings are beautiful).
* find something else to believe in. believe in yourself.

Not ready to let go?
* talk to someone. if you don't want to burden your friends or family with yet another tale of your ghost sighting, get in touch with a counselor for ways on how to deal.
* no contact. don't email them or send instant messages. delete them from facebook, unfollow from twitter, etc. take their number out of your phone. if you've slipped up, you're not the only one. be mindful of what you were feeling at the time you contacted them. find a way to distract yourself the next time you feel the urge to summon the dead.
* give yourself enough time and you'll be okay. countless other survivors who've been haunted by past relationships promise you this.

On a personal note, I avoided listening to any music that would make me think of my ex. My radio stations were set to classical and jazz for two months. Once, when a pop song ('Womanizer') started playing at the beach, I high-tailed it back to my apartment before the second verse and blared Bach. Within a couple months, I'd re-discovered my vinyl collection and my passion for music of all genres. You don't need to stay static forever but sometimes it helps to tune out for awhile.

Despite the memories or flickers of ghostly sightings, you are still alive. Whether you think of this as good news or not: if you felt so deeply that you were haunted by them, then there's a good chance you'll find yourself opening your heart to someone else again someday (sometimes sooner than you think).

Imagined or not, the shivers are real when you feel haunted. Remind yourself that your life is yours and that you need to be a part of it. Hauntings happen but you should put the ghost of that past relationship (respectively & perspectively) to rest.

12 September 2009