The Productive Side of Heartbreak Pain

Oh, people. I’ll just come clean. I’ve decided that, 2.5 years post-divorce, and a series of uncomfortable recurring experiences vis-a-vis relationships, it’s high time I started mucking around in my grieving process. Jump for joy, no? Somehow I guess I thought I could effectively mourn the loss of my 10 year relationship + marriage without having to turn to any self-help tomes or read any 10-step “divorce recovery” articles. And, truth be told, I’ve done pretty good on that end so far. But when people start telling you that you talk too much about your ex, and you keep telling yourself and everyone around you “But I’m SO over it!” — something’s gotta give.

Frankly, here’s the deal. It’s not so much the ex that I need to grieve (gasp!) but it’s the dream that I need to get over, and the accepting of the big ol’ empty spot in my heart that I keep trying to fill with quicksand in the form of whatever guy shows me attention. Yikes. I kept banging my head on the wall of me that gushes and fawns over potential suitors so quickly that I convince myself I’m “in love” in a mere matter of weeks/months.

SPOILER ALERT: this is not working for me, people! After much hemming and hawing (I really hawed, I tell you!), I just pulled out my trusty ol’ RWS and after a de rigueur shuffle, dealt out three in a row. I was so desperate about the whole thing that I didn’t even assign any positional meanings. I just was like, “Talk to me, dear cards!” This, in regards specifically to my approach to relationships in general, post-divorce, i.e.: what must I learn and know about heartbreak and moving on?

Oh, tarot. Why are you so direct? You make me laugh, you make me cry! Hell, tarot! You’re like a great rom-com without the big, over-priced tub of fattening buttery popcorn!

So. Here’s what my 3-card extravaganza revealed:


I really love the chronological order of the way these cards came out. The story is so literal, so direct, so “in your face” that there’s really no getting around it. In fact, “getting around it” is what I’ve been trying to do for quite some time, and yet—people: there is no getting around the grieving process. There is no getting around heartbreak. Sooner or later, it has to be processed. Sooner or later, if we want to move forward, we have to go through it.

So, for those of you not well-versed in reading these cards, the story goes a little something like this:

Oh my God, I’m hurt! No, really! I’m super super super super SUPER hurt! Just look at me, for God’s sake! I’ve got not one, not two, not even seven, but TEN damn swords sticking outta my back! I KNOW, RIGHT?! That there is what we call PAIN, people. PAIN PAIN PAIN OUCH OUCH OUCH BLACK BLACK BLACK … and so on.

The 10 of Swords is so done, it’s almost comical. It’s like, DAMN GIRL, that hurts. And yet, the bright side of the 10 of Swords, if you will, is that it really doesn’t get much worse than that. I like to tell clients, there isn’t an 11 of Swords! So, hey, you know, it’s something! Bottom line is: yes, yes, it hurts all right. But, nowhere to go but up. Once you get some help pulling all those sharp objects out of your back, that is. Doesn’t very well look like you’re going to manage to pull them out by yourself, now does it?

And then–oh. Oh, yech. The black mourning phase. Oh, well. You knew it was coming, no? I mean, now you’re standing up again, but, oh, so sad. So so so so so so sad. Just look at those cups, all that precious, colorful liquid spilled out on the ground. Not gonna be getting that liquid back in those cups, no siree! Not possible! It’s seeping into the ground by now. Those cups are SPILLED. It’s OVER. OVER and DONE. And you just keep looking at it, down there. Because who wants it to be like that? No! No! And no! But you don’t have a choice, because: see previous sentences. And so.

I always tell clients with this card that it’s appropriate to mourn. No, it is not enjoyable. No, it is not fun. No, black robes are not enjoyable clothing and no, spilled milk is not fun, it’s spilled. And yet. Yet! We all see those two bright, shiny, mint condition chalices sitting up, all perky-like, just behind there on the ground. Yes, those are the cups you’ll be no doubt filling up, once you turn around from the grief. Important here: grieve. Then turn around. In that order. Or not. But do it, work the process. Don’t skip it. Can’t go around, gotta go through.

And then, the 8 of Cups. Moving on. I asked the folks over at the Tarot Professionals FB group for a few ideas regarding the 8 of Cups (I actually challenged them to tease out the differences between the walking away of the 8 of Cups vs. the walking away of the 6 of Swords, but that’s because I think way too much), and all of my colleagues there seemed to agree more or less on one crucial point regarding the walking away of the 8 of Cups: it’s an emotional loss, but it’s also for the best. That’s bittersweet, and it’s not really a happy ending, but, it’s realistic, and it’s productive and healthy in the bigger scheme of things. What all those stacked up cups represented–all that investment, all that heart–that whole blessed structure is being consciously left behind. This is the card of “I tried my best, but my best just wasn’t good enough” and so, in order to salvage whatever is left to be salvaged for your own well-being, you just have to let go and walk away. The uplifting part of this card is that it represents growth. This walking away is done because there’s a realization that it’s just not going to work, and so it’s better to get going while the getting’s good. Your heart might still be in it, but your body and your mind and the rest of you has to leave it behind, and take what you’ve learned forward with you.

Oh, sigh. That’s sort of a heavy spread. And yet, it’s life! It’s realistic! I think one of the things that draws me most to the tarot is that these cards don’t sugar coat anything. They tell it like it is. They help me to detach from painful experiences and paradoxically, at the same time, engage with them. So much of what we see in pop culture encourages us to “just feel happy” and consumer culture urges us to do whatever we must in order to distract and entertain ourselves. And yet, the business of living requires that we get in touch with what’s really going on, feel our feelings, and then act on what we know to be true for ourselves.

Not too shabby for a little deck of cards! And, still 100% calorie and fat-free after all these years!



  1. OMG, Shelley!! Seriously, you could have drawn these cards and written this for me!! I think I’m finally accepting the spot of the 8 of Cups…after staying way too long in the first two. And it’s been longer for me than 2.5 years. So brava!! I love everything about this reading…well except that I’ve lived it. But there’s hope and something better for both of us now that we are walking away. I may have to revisit this post when I need a reminder to keep walking. 🙂 Thank you!!

  2. Dear Shelley,

    Now that the marriage is over, time to learn about the dreaming in the background, the longing for a dream that was not fulfilled. When we understand our motivations, we can align with healthier ways to fulfill our desires. So, these three cards are just the beginning of the story. I bet the next three cards, if asked to illuminate, can point to a path for embracing your high dream for your life, showing you the next step toward true fulfillment.

    I’m cheering you on as you finish old business and align with your greatest potential.

    In Spirit,

  3. Great post, Shelley. Also, that Eight of Cups – although undeniably full of pathos – carries with it the significance of Eight in Numerology. Movement and change, yes, and that’s clearly pictured in the RWS, but also regeneration, attainment and overcoming limitations through a final effort. And that could be said to self-reflexively apply to the very undertaking of this Tarot reading. Just by doing it at all you enact the message, if that makes sense.

    I’m astonished at the “rightness” of the Tarot: if I had to deliberately and consciously hand-pick three cards representing your question – well, it would probably be these. Amazing.

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s an honour to be entrusted with such a personal story through the cards.

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