I understand I self-sabotage from time to time. And while not everything necessarily works out, I like to think that the things I do are ultimately in my best interest; at least when I’m in the process of doing them.
Sometimes though, you just go ahead and do something purely because you think it would be a good idea.
Immersion therapy is just what it sounds like. Immersing yourself in something that gives you fear, anxiety, or just something you dislike or need to get over. People who fear snakes, for example, often participate in having harmless garden snakes wrap around their arms in the hope of conquering such a fear.
Call it immersion therapy, exposure therapy, or conditioning therapy. But the idea is to meet your fear head-on, not stopping until said fear goes dormant or recedes into the back, never to be heard from again.
And this is what I did for the past two days— but with music.
“No shit, Chris.”
My break-up wasn’t messy. Sure, it was difficult but regardless of how it happens, every break-up is difficult on some level. Even if it’s just acclimating back to single life again.
But my break-up was kind of a surprise to me. Which kind of makes things even more difficult.
I was recently dumped. For whatever reason I’ve found solace in publicly writing about it (I don’t mention names or specifics), which is weird because I’m generally pretty guarded. I actually don’t know if I’ve gone a day without crying during the past month. Maybe I have, I don’t know. The point is that I don’t know because I’ve basically been a zombie for the past four or five weeks.
But as with any fresh separation, the checklist of things needing to get crossed off has either begun in earnest, or (as is the case with me) tragically been put off in the naive hope of never doing it because doing it means finality.
I purged every photograph I took this year, because literally every photograph I took was with her. I mailed her a flash drive of the photos in an attempt to keep some record of us should us ever cross romantic paths again.
I’ve muted her on Twitter, ad-blocked the entire site of Instagram because I don’t trust myself (and it would be torture), and I deleted her number from my contacts. Though it made little difference because I know her number and iMessage in OS X won’t delete numbers for some reason.
I also— perhaps prematurely— deleted every song that reminded me of her.
Which brings me back to music.
Music and love have always been connected to each other. The basic structures of music and music composition produce high levels of dopamine in the brain — the chemical behind our desires, wants, needs, and sexual cravings. It’s what makes sex joyful, and your addiction to gambling unbreakable, among other things. The chemical dopamine is an opiate, after all. Yes, just like heroin and morphine.
When two people fall in love, dopamine is released in huge quantities. And to the contrary, when you break-up, and dopamine isn’t flowing, you’re essentially going into withdrawal, left only with a pint of ice cream and that feeling in the pit of your stomach like you’re going to puke. When you stop an opiate, when you stop the dopamine, you experience the opposite of pleasure— you’re anxious, you’re irritable, and prone to being depressed.
Understanding this can help you move on.
When we say, “I’ll love you forever,” what we really mean is, “I don’t want this high to end.”
Love is great. But music makes love better, and to be fair, exponentially worse because it engages the most ancient and primitive parts of our brains— the regions responsible for emotions. It’s why when we hear Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby,” we’re IMMEDIATELY SENT BACK TO SATURDAY NIGHT 8TH GRADE DANCE. And why listening to Ed Sheehan makes us weep like a willow tree after a thunderstorm.
Because she and I had remarkably similar taste in music, most of what I listened to with her during our time together, I loved, and still love. Which means they’re all songs and artists I want to hear frequently. Which means… right… I obviously had to delete a bunch of songs that I love because I couldn’t bear the sound of them.
So I deleted a bunch of songs. One entire album, too. (Sorry, Leon Bridges. Love you. Miss you.)
But perhaps I jumped the gun. “What doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger,” right? Songs can’t kill anyway (only maim).
So… under the supervision of nobody and on the advice of no one, I thought that if I wanted to love these songs again, I must endure a day or two of torture. Hey, life ain’t easy. The goal is to erase the associations I have when I hear these songs and replace them with new memories.
Already though, I’m realizing this probably wasn’t that good of an idea.
I found the eight songs that reminded me most of her. There are probably twenty or thirty, but for the experiment, eight will do. I then played them back, over and over again, and took note of how I felt.
I don’t know what the failure rate of immersion therapy is on the first attempt, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it hovered around 10 percent. And I’m pretty sure I can’t call any of this a success. Maybe you could say that it was a success because I didn’t completely turn into a puddle when I listened to each song, but that would be a rather low bar to set.
Understand that when you fall in love, maybe for the first time, you’re experiencing and getting inundated with emotions that you’ve never felt before— like getting high for the first time. And that first high can never be replicated, duplicated, or cloned.
This is why our first love is so powerful (and painful).
The brain sucks. This all sucks.