Let it go, baby.
Hello, my name is Ashley and I’m an emotional hoarder. God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot, blah, blah, blah. You get the idea.
What is an emotional hoarder? I’m so glad you asked.
I keep everything.
Just like a real hoarder, except emotionally. Get it, see what I did there?
When I was younger this meant keeping all the sweatshirts I “borrowed” when I left my boyfriend’s house. It meant locking all our text messages so my flip phone wouldn’t delete them and keeping the cute notes we wrote to each other. I’m showing how old I am here, aren’t I? With the advances in technology, my emotional hoarding has grown leaps and bounds. Now it isn’t just a few shirts that I keep because they still smell like him or her, its every picture, Facebook memory, screenshots of entire conversations for months on end. If it was a relationship that meant anything to me at all, I kept everything. (I also have this weird reverse effect about trysts and things that don’t mean anything. I delete all evidence and forget it ever happen. That is a different essay.)
With one of my more recent relationships, I kept so many things. They sat in a folder my desktop labeled “Do Not Open”. That title practically begged me to open it when I was up late at night and drinking too much. In that folder was exactly 1,216 items. Pictures, emails, messages, snaps, you name it, it was in that folder and sad, sorry, sappy me would love to open it and go through each item. I was a masochist looking for my next painful fix. By the end of the session, I would be dissolved into a puddle of tears on the carpet, crying into my glass of cheap wine.
Soon, it became a kind of addiction. It was my vice, to go through each detail, dissecting exactly when it went wrong. Looking back, this is a pattern that has plagued me after every meaningful break up I have ever had. In my life, I believe that I have had five profound, meaningful relationships. While I wouldn’t say I’ve been in love five times, these were relationships that left an important impact on my life. My top five heartbreaks. After each of these five breakups, I became inconsolable. The grieving period was difficult. I was like an addict without its addiction any longer. I craved the person who had left me.
When I’m in a relationship, that person becomes my sun. They are the center of my entire universe. I begin to mold myself into the person I think they want me to be, ignoring the fact that they fell for the real me in the beginning. My life becomes secondary. Their friends become my friends, their passions become my passions. I am a chameleon, turning into their favorite color just to please them.
My chameleon behavior has never once lead to a successful relationship. After some time passes and I am no longer who they believed me to be, but instead am some warped thing made up of all the things I think they want, they leave, and rightfully so. Why would they want to be in a relationship with someone exactly like them? Diversity is the spice of life, my friends. But alas, it is what I do, and then when my sun leaves and plunges me into a darkness that seems as if it will last forever, what is this addict to do? Why go through all of our pictures, letters, and text messages while wearing their favorite shirt that you stole when you left. Of course!
Typing it out, it sounds pathetic, but we all have some sort of break up rituals. Maybe you go out and get drunk and pick up the first person who bats an eye at you. Maybe you stay home all the time and watch sappy movies. Maybe you throw yourself into work and focus on nothing else. Whatever your addiction is after a breakup, we all have them.
My most recent addictive period has lasted for almost two years. It has never been this hard for me to get over a breakup. I have never spent so long without moving on. Normally, this would lead me to believe that means that I was deeper in love with this person than I have ever been before. Maybe. I honestly don’t think you can compare one love to another. Relationships are different between different people. I know that I felt a strong connection with him and I do believe that at the time I loved him, but I don’t think that completely explains why it has taken me so long to get past this one, brief relationship.
The past two years of my life have been the hardest years I have ever endured. I have faced greater challenges in my life than I ever fathomed I would meet, let alone survive. My past relationship was far from perfect, in fact, it was riddled with many imperfections. Two major things happened to me during that relationship. My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and I had a miscarriage. Both of these events rattled me, breaking my heart to pieces, and my boyfriend at the time was there for me. Through both things, unwavering even when it would have been easier to let my friends handle me. Because he was such a comfort to me through those very trying times, he became the thing I craved when I needed comfort.
Each time I encountered a difficult day or event, he became the thing I needed to get me through. Like an addict who needs drugs or a drunk needs a cocktail, he was my vice. Things ended terribly between us, leaving me with my little folder of memories. After each bad day, I would start my little ritual and find a small amount of comfort. Sometimes in my sorrow, I would try to reach out, try to be friends. This, of course, would just make everything worse, causing more pain, more need for comfort, and the vicious cycle just keeps churning on.
Now if you’re a therapist and you would like to talk to me about my very unhealthy coping behaviors, please just stop reading. I know that how I handle things might not be the best possible way. But here I am, two years later, stronger than I was before. I don’t look to that folder for comfort anymore. That folder doesn’t even exist on my harder drive. Our pictures and conversations are gone. There is no longer a crutch to get me through my bad days. Admittedly, I held on much longer than I ideally should have, but I think I held on just as long as I needed.
Sometimes, not moving on doesn’t have to do so much with the person you aren’t with anymore. Sometimes, it has to do solely with you. There is no rule book about these things. Love is messy and damn, it’s fucking hard. Not to mention, that everyone you know will tell you how you did it wrong and how you need to make it right. But no one knows, not like you do, about the things you truly need. I needed two years. Maybe you only need two months. Or two weeks. Dealing with a break up isn’t something you can just pass over. You have to deal with it however you need to. There are no right or wrong answers to dealing with a breakup.
So put on that baggy sweater and write about your feelings. Drink warm tea and watch romantic movies to your heart’s content. Take care of yourself in the way you need to after your heart is broken. Just remember not to stay in that place for too long. I admit I stayed there longer than I was welcome. I coddled myself until I could hardly stand it. Don’t forget while you are in that place that there is a whole world out there. Please don’t lock away your heart longer than it needs to be and don’t be afraid to fall in love again. Damn, it’s scary, but it’s also fantastic.