Recognizing When to Become Your Own Lifeline

The other day I was talking to a friend, and we were discussing how tired we are. How things cross our paths that we should probably deal with, but we are just too tired to give a crap. Someone walks into the employee area at work and I half-heartedly think, “I should really tell them that they shouldn’t be up there… Screw it, I don’t want to deal with it.” We joked that some day our children would be playing with matches and we would be sitting in the other room reading a book saying in a quiet monotone, “Hey what’s going on in there? Stop that right now… Ahh nevermind, just do whatever you want.” That is how responsibility sometimes feels. Unfortunately for us, ignoring it has the possibility of our work computer being stolen and our house being burnt to the ground.

I think this concept of shirking responsibilities because they cause us too much work or trouble applies most potently to breakups. How do I quit the job, the person, the food, when I know it is just going to suck the time, energy, and life out of me, and that I am going to actually have to work to pick up the pieces and put them back together. It feels like it’ll be a lot less work to just leave things the way they are.

Break ups are tricky because of choice. We made decisions to get to that place, and it really sucks to say that those decisions were wrong and start over from scratch with nothing to show for it. If I have spent five years at a job and I decide it isn’t giving me what I need and it’s time to quit then my automatic first thought is, “I failed. I said yes, I took the job, I worked the hours, and now that time will be picked up and taken out of my life like it was never there. All I will have to show for it is a bruised heart, a pile of bills I can’t afford to pay, and five years of spent calendar pages. How do I quit something that I have so much time invested in?”

That is the fearful part of our brain. It says, “I failed, and I am afraid of what people will think of me.” I think that may count for most of the weight that sits on our chest before a break up. If I quit my job, my coworkers may judge how I am going to make money. If I break up with my boyfriend he is going to hate me and he might never talk to me again. If I go on a diet my friends may give me a hard time about the foods I’m eating. If I quit this comfortable thing and it turns out I want it back, how will I live with myself?

It is called a break up for a reason. Once you make the decision to take the leap and cut the cord it will never go back together the same way again. Humans love options. We love buying both dresses when we only need one, knowing we will return the one we don’t wear; we love having multiple prospects for schools and jobs and a mental list of the datable men or women in our life just in case one falls through. Decisions with unknown outcomes are like bungee jumping into this dark cavern with no sight of the bottom. We really don’t like the idea taking a leap and having it be the wrong one, so we cushion our jump with options at the bottom, just in case our tether breaks and we fall into the darkness.

There’s no type of options to cushion a break up. When you quit the job sometimes it takes a lot longer to find a new one than you thought it would. And your bills do stack up, and your former co-workers do ask why you quit, and you do feel like a failure. When you break the boy’s heart sometimes he really doesn’t ever talk to you again.

Fall. Smack. Ouch.

You willingly severed the cord, you hit a thousand feet down, and it hurts really, really, bad.

I don’t want to be that person that is all positive about this and says, “do what feels right, follow your heart and you’ll be OK.” You should follow your heart and do what feels right, but not because you’ll be OK when it’s over. Because in my experience, you are almost always not OK. The sudden alteration of a break up leaves you comfortable one second, and shattered on the ground the very next. It leaves you blinking and looking around saying, “What the hell just happened? Where am I and how do I pick up the pieces of me scattered all over the bottom of this hole in the ground?”

The most painful thing I have done to this day was break up with a person that I loved, but knew was not right for me. I just had this simmering underlying feeling that was boiling to the surface, and I tried to smother it, I tried to change it, I tried to trick myself into thinking it wasn’t real. But it was. I didn’t want to cut that cord because what I had on the other end felt safe. I was comfortable knowing that I had a best friend up above making sure I didn’t get hurt, and when I realized he wasn’t my person I was afraid to let that go.

Not allowing change to take ahold of your life because you are afraid of the darkness will bleed you dry. You will be a sad husk of a human with a laundry list of “what ifs” and a far too short list of “thankful for’s” and you will effectively ruin the things you sought not to change in the first place. Your decision to let fear drive will turn into resentment. Of yourself, your significant other, your boss, your life. That resentment will put so much weight on you that you will be unable to give what you are capable of to any of the people in your life. Making decisions based on fear feels like failure more than quitting the thing, and it’ll drag you down and trap you.

You’re meant for more. You’re meant for growth and many years of “thankful fors”. Breaking up feels like hitting the bottom and shattering into a thousand little pieces, but it can also feel like freedom. It lifts that weight off your chest and let’s you know you made the right decision, and that you and everyone around you will be better now that you are free.

I don’t know exactly how to give advice about this dichotomous thing, except to say pay attention to yourself. If you feel a general unease in your bones that grows and grows until you can’t ignore it anymore, then don’t ignore it. Don’t be that imaginary parent my friend and I joked about who no longer has a house because they ignored their child playing with matches. You know what’s right for you, so all you have to do is work up the courage and do it. Talk it through with the people you love, form a plan, make a date with your dread, and show up ready to cut the lifeline. It’ll hurt like hell, until it doesn’t. You’ll pick up the pieces, glue yourself back together through your negative self-talk, and fight your way back to the top to view your former lifeline from a new perspective. Finally you’ll see that you were trying to trick yourself and your lifeline wasn’t giving you life anymore. It wasn’t bringing you all the things you needed, and as comfortable as you felt, as much love as you had, you needed to be free so that you could realize that you need the foremost person keeping you safe and alive not to be holding on at the top. You need it to be at the bottom, bouncing up and down within and alongside you. You’re the lifeline. And if anyone or anything wants to join you then they will have to do all the crazy changing, bouncing, and roller coaster screaming right next to you.

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