Friday, November 21, 2008


Ryan is a handsome, intelligent, articulate, twenty-something reporter. He joined the SYBD community when his three-year relationship ended. Not long after, I managed a meal out with him where I was able to hear his story first hand. As is so often the case, I was sad that such a kind, attractive sensitive soul found himself cast aside. Ryan met his ex girlfriend while at school.

I first met my ex while in college, when I was at the immediate end of a relationship. She and I had become friends and co-workers at the college newspaper, and she had dated a friend of mine. After six months as close friends, talking passionately about journalism, politics, relationships and mutual friends, shooting pool together and commiserating often over lunch and beers, with her editing a controversial column I was writing, we became close. We made the transition one night while in a bar, talking over a trip together. She fell for me, unexpectedly. I hadn't considered her as more than a friend and was blind-sided. But I decided I was interested, and that night in the bar, as we were talking, she came over, sat on my lap, and kissed me. We stumbled home, falling into a flower bed, before spending some time in her parked car, since she lived with a roommate.

Ryan's relationship that blossomed was tempestuous and passionate from the get go.

We fought almost as often as we had sex, and we drank almost as often as we fought. We were young and experimenting, and we roped friends into our dramas. Still, I felt we were soul mates, and should make a go of things. We liked to indulge ourselves - staying out late, eating bad food, sleeping in, dashing off during the day for our own escapes. It seemed we had great chemistry. We were passionate writers, fervent capitalists, and when we graduated the economy was such that we could both pursue business writing in tandem, relatively lucratively.

Eventually, our tendencies caught up with us. We gained weight, became a bit nastier - turning debates into full-fledged fights, and our passion curdled into jealousy. Even my male friends, if they were gay, could arouse her mistrust, and I was ridiculously paranoid about her friends as well. The relationship veered into a dysfunctional spiral.

After several years together, Ryan's ex had travelled abroad and the pair had arguments over the phone whilst she was away, so it wasn't a huge surprise when his ex finally said the words, "I don't think we should stay together anymore." As they' fought a fair amount, Ryan tried to persuade himself that they would work through it, but deep down, he knew his ex would be ending the relationship the day she returned. Even sensing its ending, Ryan still panicked.

I had become utterly dependent - or, more importantly, had come to believe I was utterly dependent on my ex. The terrible thing about a relationship with lots of jealousy is that it can cut you off from outside sources of support. Also, when you're young, you don't even realize your life is terribly out of balance, that you need more of your own activities, and your own emotional center independent of others.

I would cry throughout the day, several times per day. I had no appetite whatsoever for at least a month, and diminished appetite for the next six months. Sleeping was difficult, but I had no qualms about using sleeping aids, ranging from over the counter sleeping pills to binge drinking. I didn't think life could be worth living any more. I did not think I would find anyone like that again. It seems bizarre in retrospect, but it was very real, and I certainly believe I had a certain innocence and full-bore massive infatuation complex then that I will not ever have again.

Later Ryan recalled hitting rock bottom at a party when he was having a good time with friends...and in an instant, he tuned out of the party and spaced out.
I felt like I was sort of floating above everyone. There was then an overwhelming flood of emotion, of sadness and a bit of anger, and of hopelessness. The times when I felt hopeless were always the worst. I ran outside, late at night, down the street, and tripped and collapsed on the sidewalk in the cold night. I was sobbing uncontrollably and had cut my arms open. Two friends came out and saw me there, and I was blabbing about how pitiful I felt. They could tell what it was about. But, to their credit, they walked me back to the party, and comforted me, and turned out to be great friends.

Eventually life began to feel like it was worth living again for Ryan and one day while in a rented cabin at a lake, on a warm evening with plenty of stars - he felt a turning point.
It occurred to me I wouldn't have chosen to be anywhere else in the world with anyone else, or to be anyone else, or to be anything other than single, right at that moment. I felt lucky and blessed and like I would be OK, like the world would take care of me, like maybe there is a God.
The break up prompted Ryan to make new friends, try new activities, and to take responsibility for himself. He had come to care for and love himself, found new self confidence and started travel and have more fun.

I swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco (in a wetsuit) after just a few months of training, and repeated the feat the next year. Now it has become an annual activity. While in the relationship, I did not have the energy or motivation or encouragement to try that sort of thing. I wrote a 150-page novel in a month about a tough-talking tabloid reporter. I learned to cook, assembling risottos and stews and sea bass and barbeque – which I would never have attempted before. Socialising more, I went to parties all over town. Hitting the gym improved my mental health, but in the process I lost 40 pounds! After losing all that weight, I had to buy myself nice new clothes, including two, smart suits.

There are many things that surprised Ryan about his break-up the biggest is that he's now glad the break up happened.

I never believed anyone who told me that I'd eventually feel that way - least of all my ex, who when she broke up with me said I might be happy about it some day. I have come to learn it is true, however. I am glad it happened. Being single for an extended period forces a sort of personal growth that is self-sustaining and enriching. It also encourages you to stay away from (or break out of) any other bad relationships that come your way. If you survive a horrible break up, there is not much in life that intimidates you. Physically, socially, culturally, intellectually, professionally -- you become tuned for bigger challenges, and braver. You also learn to savour and enjoy happiness when it comes, and to appreciate the positive relationships you form, romantic or otherwise.

I am also surprised I was able to get past feelings of guilt and blame. I really felt guilty at first, that I ruined something great, and then would veer into periods of angrily blaming my ex. But I was able to arrive at a more balanced view, to see us both as human, and thus as both faulty and loving. It was going to happen and needed to happen, and I am happy to put life behind us.

Ryan feels that the best advice given after a break up is to cut off contact with an ex to the greatest extent possible.

I didn't get this from my friends or my therapist but from Thea. Once I truly applied this axiom, my emotional healing and growth began to accelerate quite a bit. In that case, I was not the one who decided to end the relationship, but I think whether one is dumped or dumping, this is a good rule. The end of a relationship is a clear signal that you need to reflect and change. Your problem might be as simple as not recognizing certain serious incompatibilities in others, or as complex as internal self esteem and acting out issues. Whatever your individual problems, you need to focus on yourself. I found that as long as I had any contact or potential contact with my ex, I was not able to focus on myself very well. Not calling, emailing, writing or even forwarding mail allowed me to get my priorities straight.

Ryan has learned to effectively and positively harness all of his potential since his break-up. He's an inspiration to others in this boat.

I am an example of how courage can be synthesized by even a shivering, frightened man who feels like a shell of his former self and all alone in the world. I was not brave -- I became brave. Also, I think my case underscores the power of physical exercise and counseling/therapy. Physical exercise gave me the internal chemicals to reduce stress, increase energy level and even induce happiness. (Antidepressant drugs can help with this as well, although I did not have the chance to get a prescription.) Therapy gave me the weekly or bi-weekly opportunity to chop off bad lines of thought before they turned sour, and to initiate new positive lines of thought that had the chance of producing great benefits.

Finally, being part of Thea's online community and listening to her excellent and generously frequent advice helped me feel less alone in the world and gave me the most important and practical tips for keeping my head above water and on the track to a happier future.

These days Ryan is a new man. He is less afriad in the world and possesses confidence to do anything and trust that things will be OK.

My to-do list is a mile long and I love it. I want to become a freestyle snowboarder, proficient and frequent surfer, daily open water swimmer, cyclist, tri-athlete, author, award-winning journalist, publisher, world traveller, learner of new languages, entrepreneur, gourmet chef, filmmaker and artist.

Ryan has moved on from his break-up with forgiveness of both himself and of his ex. He's turned his pain into something positive – whether swimming with Sharks or simply through his new outlook on life. He has even moved on to a new healthy and happy relationship and is now married and regardless of what happens in his future - he knows how to turn his pain into gain.

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