The Art of Letting Go (to Heal a Broken Heart)

THE ART OF LETTING GO (TO HEAL A BROKEN HEART)

Angel Chernoff

“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.”
― Dorothy Allison

I loved him like a brother, and he treated me as such. He told me I was a genius and that the world needed to hear my music. He was a ball of passion, and when he spoke it always felt like a battle cry to fight for a better life. I was working as a teacher, spending my summers with struggling artists who gave me that energy and community I craved. When I met him in Toronto, I felt like I found new family in my own hometown.

His family wasn’t so abundant—his parents struggled with addiction and were trying to take the earnings he made producing music. It was killing his spirit, and I could sense it. So without consulting my parents, I invited him to live with me. He was the brother I never had.

We got matching tattoos and promised each other that there would always be two of everything. We hustled the music, threw shoes, networked, and talked about what we could do artistically and for the scene in the city. The summer had ended and now I was back to grinding the 8-5 shift. It was killing my soul to be working knowing there was so much to create. Then he came to me with an opportunity that changed my life forever.

It was a songwriting deal, worth $120,000, to write 10 songs for an unknown artist who apparently had major connections. We’d get paid to write the songs, and with that money we could be full-time artists. Without much thought, due diligence or reflection, I took a leave of absence from work, and we moved into a rental property that I purchased as a responsible adult. Then we got straight to creating.

They Never Did

He explained the money would come soon, but weeks went by with no word. Weeks turned to months, and with no income, I was quickly accumulating debt by swiping credit cards, and negotiating a bigger line of credit. I wasn’t worried, when the money came in, it would wipe the debt clean, and we’d have plenty to play with.

He told me about all the friends that owed him money, and how we could start collecting to cover the bills, but he wasn’t finding much luck. As the months went on, I began to ask him more questions, and he became more and more defensive. One day he went out of town to collect some money from a family member. A mutual friend disclosed to me that he had been asking people to lend him money, and that in fact, no one owed him anything. I called him to clarify this, and he immediately hung up, and I never heard from him again.

He literally left his belongings in the apartment and never came back for anything. Clothes, a computer, keepsakes, it was as if he fell off the face of the earth. I was confused, devastated, and heartbroken. I had never had my heart broken by a friend before; it was a foreign kind of betrayal I couldn’t wrap my head around. Beyond the betrayal was the slow sinking reality that I was in deep trouble with my finances. I had accumulated over $80,000 in debt and had no way to pay it off. It turns out the songwriting deal was never real—he had forged documents, changed names, and was planning on borrowing money from others to cover it. When that didn’t work, he ran out of options and ran away.

That was seven years ago. The years that  followed were the hardest years of my life. I fell into deep despair and turned to NyQuil and muscle relaxers to numb the pain. I blamed the world and everyone around me for not warning me of his sleazy ways. I stayed in bed for weeks, and ate very little, hoping the cavalry would come to save the day.

They never did.

A Challenging Time

During the worst moments, I thought the worst thoughts about him. How dare he do this to me, after I let him in my home, and allowed him to live with me for a year rent-free. I was nothing but amazing to him! I treated him like a brother! And this is what I got in return?

But I learned to let it go, gradually.

Of course, I didn’t let it go because I thought what he did was OK. I let it go because I could not afford to carry such a heavy burden of resentment and regret with me. If I was ever going to get myself out of the mess I was in, I needed less baggage…

I needed a different mindset.

He wasn’t evil, he was scared. He bit off more than he could chew, and instead of facing the consequences of his actions, he ran away. All of that was out of my control. And for me to maintain my sanity I had to focus on what was in my control.

What was always in my control was my thinking and expectations. I expected him to be honest with me, because I was honest with him. But that’s not how things work. As I write this story, I am at a friend’s house in Austin, TX. I can hear the neighbour’s dog barking really loud. If I went over and stuck my hand through the fence, that dog would probably bite me. I can’t assume or expect him not to, just because I don’t plan to bite him. Dogs do what dogs do. Scared people do what scared people do.

So I forgave him, little by little, and began taking more responsibility for what happened. It was hard work. But doing so helped me let go of the resentment and regrets that were holding me back

Truth be told, it’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, and cast ourselves as the victims in life. And it’s not only easy, it’s quick and convenient too. It gives us an immediate opportunity to feel connected and significant. We connect with ourselves because we feel like no one else understands what we are going through (as if I was the first guy to ever be betrayed by a friend). It also gives us a subtle high of significance, because we start to convince ourselves that life is conspiring only against us, as we question what we did to deserve its wrath.

This quick fix doesn’t last though, and what accompanies it is a long and drawn out feeling of powerlessness. We have no power because we’ve blamed everyone and everything except ourselves. Thus, for me to find power in my situation, I had to take some of the responsibility, because only in those areas would I find the power to improve my circumstances.

Again, it took plenty of practice, but I gradually became more mindful of my expectations, and instead of kicking myself (with my 20/20 hindsight) for all the danger signs that were right in front of me, I decided to extract the wisdom from my past experience. I promised myself I would use that wisdom until I was glad I went through such a challenging time.

I Am Cavalry

Over time, my broken heart healed, I got stronger, I got back on my feet and spent the next four years getting myself out of the hole. Through selling my possessions, finding odd gigs here and there, touring, and writing my book Unlearn, I finally got to a $0 bank account—no debt.

And gradually, I began to feel sincere gratitude for the journey I was on, and what I went through to get to where I was.

Figuring out how to go from $80,000 in the hole to $0 also helped me grow from $0 to a bank account with decent savings. My struggling days taught me the value of minimalism. I became a dramatically better judge of character, and looking back I realized how resilient I really was.

I no longer hope for a cavalry, I am the cavalry. I am no longer afraid to lose because with loss comes learning. I don’t question whether I need to trust others, because I know I can trust myself. Challenges and resistance make us stronger, so either we make ourselves uncomfortable so we can grow, or life does it for us.

We Can Choose

Although I’ve now completely forgiven my old friend, and even thanked him for the lessons I’ve learned, it all happened internally. I never made any proclamation or tried to contact him. After the passing of a mutual friend, he tried to reach out, but I didn’t need that energy in my life. I had already let it go, and there was no need to re-introduce it back into my life.

We need to let things go and forgive others, not for their sake, but for ours. We need to rid ourselves of the weight we carry around holding grudges, regrets, and the other burdens that try to pile up. We also need to let go so we can create a space where self-love exists, because most likely we’ll need that space to forgive ourselves, too.

I have indeed forgiven. And I am truly grateful.

Had I not gone through such a heartbreaking experience, I would have never dug deep into myself to write Unlearn. I would have never crossed paths with the amazing Marc & Angel, or read their books. And, most importantly, I would not have grown into the person I am today.

We can’t see into the future, but we can choose how much of our past we deliberately carry with us into today.

We can choose to let go and move forward, one day at a time.

Now, it’s YOUR turn…

I would love to hear from YOU in the comments section.

What do you need to let go of (or forgive), to move forward with your life?

Anything else to share?

Please leave me a comment.

Pursue Your Partner at Every Stage of Marriage

PURSUE YOUR PARTNER AT EVERY STAGE OF MARRIAGE

Hannah Eaton

We met Marcy and Jack during our first group dance lesson. Unlike many of the dating or engaged couples we’d danced with, Marcy and Jack had been at this marriage thing for quite some time. Forty years to be exact. They first started dancing in preparation for their daughter’s wedding.

The wedding came and went, but Marcy and Jack kept returning for dance lessons week after week. With practice, they continued to hone and improve their dance skills as a couple.

And yet, they tapped into something far greater than dance. They began to experience and integrate an idea central to healthy relationships—continual, purposeful dating and practice is not only helpful, but is central to cultivating and maintaining meaningful attunement, connection, and intimacy in romantic relationships. 

While healthy marriages require us to put in this intentional effort, and to pursue one another on a continual basis, many dominant paradigms in our culture tell us otherwise.

Myth: Marriage is a destination

“And they lived happily ever after.” Disney’s multi-billion dollar industry thrives on this idea. The message is spoon fed to us as children, and reverberated throughout our culture. It’s confusing when our own romantic experiences fail to live up to this standard, which they almost always do. 

So we either destroy this idea, feeling disappointed that it’s not our story, or we hold onto it tightly with the hope and dream that we can harness it if we just find the right person. However, the reality is such that even if we find the “right person,” we soon realize that everything is not simply sunshine and roses. Marriage is not a destination. 

Marcy and Jack know this. They know that marriage, like dance, is a continually unfolding journey in which they are active participants, shaping and molding their shared reality. They know that if they take a few months off from dance, and neglect their practice, it will be apparent in the quality of their dance and interactions. 

Maintaining regular practice not only helps keep them connected and attuned as they dance, but it also allows them to reach new heights and depths with one another. Every time we see Jack and Marcy in our group lessons, we are continually impressed by their new moves, gracefulness, and attunement with one another. 

Whether you’re a newlywed, or have been married for forty years like Marcy and Jack, there is immense value in creating and continuing practices that support the ongoing health and connection of your relationship. As John and Julie Gottman explain in their book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, “Happily ever after is not by chance. It’s by choice.” It takes work.

Myth: Love should always feel organic in marriage

One of the most common narratives we see in Hollywood movies and TV shows is the journey of a couple meeting, with perhaps some turmoil or conflict early on, and then a quick resolution, finished off with a hopeful closure. 

Perhaps this is because the full picture of marriage is not depicted as being as sexy or exciting as the hot pursuit earlier on, or perhaps it’s assumed that the public doesn’t want to see the reality of married life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Either way, it’s doing our culture a disservice.

A second paradigm is ripping through our culture like wildfire—if you don’t feel the love anymore, then why stick around? As a therapist, I hear it all the time: “We just fell out of love.” While love (the noun) may initially bring two people together, it is love (the verb) that makes it last. 

Love is a choice that you make every morning when you wake up. It’s the decision to choose to cherish your partner, especially when you don’t feel like it. It’s in these times, in particular, that your partner likely needs your love the most. In truly healthy marriages, each partner wakes up in the morning, and makes the decision to purposefully practice and cultivate more love for their spouse. 

Marcy and Jack understand this principle. Forty years into their marriage, they are still intentionally “practicing” and choosing one another to keep that connection alive. Like all couples, there have been ample times when they may not have felt the connection or attunement, but nevertheless chose to be there for one another. 

They are proud of their growth and major improvements as a couple on and off the dance floor, and yet they realize that their “work” is never done. They have signed up for a lifetime commitment of pursuing and practicing the art of loving one another, and one way they do this is by their weekly dance lessons.

Myth: Courtship is only for the early years

A third faulty paradigm I see is the notion that courtship and dating is only for the early years. We date, we flirt, we woo, in effort to court one another. And then we’re all set. We know one another, we’ve tied the knot, and suddenly it’s no longer important to date one another as we did early on. 

It’s become so normal for couples to indicate they have grown apart and fallen out of love. Life got busy and suddenly they’re just living with a roommate. It’s understandable how this can easily happen, and yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Find ways to court and pursue your partner daily. We all want to feel loved and desired, regardless of what stage we are at in our relationship. Of course, the ways in which we like to be pursued may evolve over the years, which is why it’s all the more important to continue to update your Love Maps

Take time to remember how your partner likes to feel loved—surprise them with flowers, or bring them coffee in bed in the morning. Take time to experiment and explore new ways you can flirt with them. It’s in these small moments of connection that our relationships flourish.

At 62 and 65, Marcy and Jack are still intentional about planning and having regular date nights together. They’ve established a ritual of carving out sacred time for one another, and dance together on a weekly basis.

They recognize that dancing and date nights aren’t just for the youth—they’re for couples at all stages of their relationship. 

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how long you’ve been married. It always feels good to have your partner pursue you. 

In what ways can you pursue your partner on a daily basis? 

In what ways can you choose your partner every morning when you wake up?

In what ways can you date your partner so that, 40 years into marriage, you’re still dancing like Marcy and Jack?


This is part four of a four-part series on relationships and dance. Here are parts onetwo, and three.

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