My ex and I aren’t friends on Facebook anymore—thank God. But he has an open Instagram and Twitter plus he’s a writer for New York magazine, Slate, etc. Do I check up on all this stuff every day? At one time, the answer was yes. Did I check it a several dozen times a day? Well… not every day…
When we first broke up, I had a temp job at my university’s library over the summer. Strangely, the employee computers had no restrictions and we were allowed to view whatever sites we wanted. (This was not the case at say, Lifestyle Media, my first job out of college—up there on the list of “worst jobs ever.” Can you imagine filling 40 hours a week on the New York Times alone?!) While I worked at the library it was basically a non-stop binge. And not just on his accounts—anyone to whom he was even remotely connected. It was like my own private “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.” His sister, his mother, all his friends, his editors, his co-workers. Stalk, stalk, stalk. It kind of felt good. I was so absent from reality during those binges; the world around me didn’t exist. And when I found him tagged in a new photo, for instance, I got a buzz. At the time, I didn’t question the feeling. I was too deeply entrenched in my addiction.
The library job ended when the school year started. I had fewer hours to spend searching for pics or reading his articles on Bernie Sanders. By this point, I noticed that I wasn’t really having the same response to this break-up as I’d had in the past. I had barely cried and the I rarely felt the urge to dissect my emotions with friends. Strange.
Everything changed the last weekend in September, when I went on a camping trip with friends. NO CELL RECEPTION. When we first arrived, I was distracted by an arduous hike. We pitched our tent, fired up the grill, everything was still fine-ish… until about an hour into chilling out. Suddenly I started feeling really cranky. I hated the too-loud music my friend was playing. Then I flew into a rage because the the little clip-on book light I brought was dead. Then I cried. Then my heart started pounding. Then… how can I put this eloquently? I freaked the eff out.
Thank God I was amongst a couple of my best friends (sorry to the others, whom I’d just met. You understand though, I hope…). I had never experienced a panic attack like that in my entire life. I felt like I was drowning. I literally had to lie down on the ground. My hands were tingling. My body decided that all the crying I had avoided earlier in the break-up process should collect its debt. I cried for roughly three hours. Gross crying, too: snot everywhere, lots of gasping for air.
Once I calmed down a bit, I realized a few things. I had been addicted to “exciting misery” (one of my most favorite terms from my lovely therapist). The reason I was stalking my ex, besides the simple desire to know what he was up to, was that it was easier for me to handle the emotions I felt whilst stalking than the under the grief, sadness, and anger that I wasn’t dealing with. The little jolt I got with each click was my way of keeping my distance from my devastation. I also realized that I was suffering from another delusion—that I could somehow figure out why. I remember the same feeling when my uncle passed away. It was a sudden, tragic death, and after I got the news, I felt like I couldn’t process what had happened. It didn’t make sense, and somehow it could make sense if I could just access that explanation, out there somewhere, that had to exist. I’ve learned that sometimes—often?—there is no explanation for sad, horrible things. I knew why my boyfriend and I broke up—he wasn’t available for the kind of relationship and closeness I wanted; I felt like I was always a burden and on the back burner—but I was haunted by this feeling of things not making sense. I dove into stalking as a way of looking for that mysterious, non-existent piece of information that would make things make sense to me—and salve my pain.
When I got back from camping, I realized I had no choice but to go cold turkey. Whenever I wanted to check his Instagram, I went outside for a walk, texted a friend, took a shower, had a snack, cried—whatever I could think of to get through the craving. I had a few slips, a few of them pretty extensive, but I just picked myself up and gave it another try—one day at a time.
Eventually—I’m not gonna lie, it was more than a few months—my obsession abated. While the whole thing was extremely unpleasant, obviously, I did take away a valuable lesson in the importance of feeling my feelings. I’ll leave you with another gem from therapist, “The only way out is through.”