When I was 16 years old, I suffered my first deep-cutting heartbreak. I’d been hanging out with Scotty for 3 months by then. We’d gone to the high school dance together, exchanged small clusters of flowers, and even dressed in matching tones of sky blue. Every time I saw him, I’d burst out in a full-bodied smile and delightedly listen to his never-ending, casual stream of jokes. And I called him my boyfriend… until one Friday night at my best friend Corrinne’s house…
I eagerly ran in to the party ready to join my laughing, lounging and drinking group of friends, only to be sharply frozen in place. There at the end of the couch, for all to see, were Scotty and Corrinne, with arms, legs, bodies and mouths entwined and entangled. My boyfriend with my best friend.
My heart was sliced open. Twice. There was pain. There was betrayal. And there were a whole lot of people in the room.
In an instant, I coped. I put on a fake smile, squeezed down the heartache and humiliation, and played the game of not caring very much. Over the years, I would perfect this prideful stance, because somehow it felt safer than allowing the depths of the pain and shame that might come pouring out and engulf me, otherwise.
The burden we hold
In those deeply tender moments of our young hearts, we needed to figure out a way to stay standing, when we wanted to collapse. It felt like a matter of survival. Today, though, these ingrained mechanisms, simply cover our hearts with a protective layer and distance us from our ability to steadily love and be loved.
Over a long period of time, if we don’t un-do the way we’ve formed callouses on top of heartbreak, and if we don’t deeply learn to let go of the old hurts and the conclusions we drew from them, our hearts become burdened and weary.
So what’s needed to unburden our hearts from our history of hurt? How do we let go of the resentment, bitterness and feeling wronged? How to we shift our readiness to be let down, left, or uncared for?
Clearing out old hurt in the body
We all know those heartbreaks that left their mark. The ones that we are still dealing with when we get triggered today. When we remember them, they can flood our chest with sadness, leave us feeling wronged and confused, or numb and cut off.
There is power in these old stories. They are not there to simply leave us sad, weakened or feeling broken. Through our bodies, we can go back to them, open them up and un-do the hold they have on us.
We each have our own particular style of how we hold onto these old hurts. But as with any wound that goes unhealed or untended to, the rest of us has to compensate for it. It’s a weak area that we can’t count on.
Somehow this is easier to comprehend when it’s a sprained ankle or a torn rotator cuff. But when it comes to the wounds of our hearts, we often fail to recognize how we compensate. We may have learned to frame the heartbreak differently by now, but an untended to wound will get re-injured and drag us down again and again.
As with any wound, we can learn where we lodged the hurt in our muscles and how we’ve shaped ourselves around it. We can uncover the beliefs we hold onto around love and trust. We can feel where we stored the pain, the betrayal, the injustice, the unfairness, the hate. We can learn what we show the outside world as opposed to what we feel on the inside.
Even though we have built layers over these original heartbreaks, our bodies allow us to work through these layers honestly and efficiently. We can take one old story, and by thoroughly working through it, clear out many of the others at the same time. This is the beauty of our bodies’ ability to heal.
I go back to an old story. One that feels charged and still alive today. I write about it to bring out more detail, or I can simply sit with it, remember what happened and become increasingly aware of my body as I do so.
When I feel pain in my heart, I squeeze my chest a little bit tighter. When I feel hate and humiliation rising up from my belly, I contract it more. When I feel the swirling of emotions that tell me I was wronged, it was unfair, that should have never happened, I hold onto this and choose to really believe it. And when I find myself arguing in my head or sinking into the belief that it’ll never change, I hold on more tightly in my throat, jaw and forehead.
I do this for a couple of minutes, so I really learn the way I am holding onto my past. I make the old story as alive and textured as possible in my body, and in this way, I wake up more energy.
And then I let go. The letting go happens in stages, as these are old stories, and they often have a deep grip on us. First it may be muscular, and I breathe. Then a wave of old emotions might open up or rush in, so I feel them. Then I may sense that I’m hanging onto self-righteousness and pride, so I soften my jaw, my face, my eyes.
And I breathe. I breathe to expand my chest more and more. I breathe to create space where I usually contract. I breathe to feel the fullness of my rib cage and diaphragm, the container of my heart.
After resting for a bit, I can return to the old story and feel, in my body, if the wound, or a part of it, has healed.
Underneath the wound
A wound to the heart is like any other wound. It needs to be touched, cared for and given the right circumstances to heal. And as with any injury, when the deep healing happens, the heart remembers and gets back some or all of its original abilities, which allows it to strengthen and heal even more.
Over the years, I had hidden the part of my heart that could be entirely delighted by someone I love. It was too mixed with pain and betrayal. As I’ve worked through these old stories, this delight has softly seeped back into my life. I didn’t go looking for it, but as I continue to un-do the past hurts and heal my heart, they show me what I’d covered up and left behind, long ago, at a high school party.
I am curious what else I’ll discover.
Forgiving – A body practice
I offer a guided practice to forgiving through the body. I don’t offer it as a way to seek any moral high ground, but rather as a way for you to heal, to clear out an old wound, to let go of an old grudge.