A Ritual for Return to Self
for people exiting a codependent relationship
And now you feel simultaneously adrift and still tied to that person who was everything to you for so long. In the last few weeks you’ve gone through the motions of so many rituals, the exchanging of keys, the purposeless drives, the signing of documents. None gave you closure and you’re starting to wonder if closure is something made up by women's magazines.
Maybe it is. Maybe once two people are entangled they can never be truly severed. Maybe a thread connects you to your first love and to a barista who served you bitter coffee once and your beloved dead. Maybe that’s kind of beautiful and tragic and human, but right now it sucks.
You need to let go, not of your ex but of the person you were when you were in that relationship. The person you became when you compromised and adjusted and accommodated them and their needs. You need to return to yourself.
You will need
One who has or can arrange access to a place where you can light a fire and that can prepare a nourishing meal. They will represent the element of earth.
One who is good with words and logistics. And has good taste in music or is a musician themselves. They will represent the element of air.
One who is brave and confident tending a fire. They will represent the element of fire.
One who you have a deep emotional bond with and has witnessed you cry. They will represent the element of water.
A pillowcase (preferably one your ex has slept on)
Four lengths of cord around 6ft long
A knife or large pair of scissors capable of cutting the cord
An outfit your ex liked you in
An outfit you like you in
Your friends will need:
To introspect, Google or journal on the metaphorical meaning of the element they are to represent.
Earth will need to provide a space for the ritual to take place and a delicious meal for afterwards. They will need to choose a specific small food item (an olive, a piece of apple, a slice of bread) for you to eat during the ritual, preferably something grown or made locally that they know you like. They will need to prepare a few short sentences to say to you during the ritual suggested words are included in the ritual directions.
Air will need to review the instructions for the ritual and make sure everyone knows their lines and where they need to stand. A compass (or other method of telling the cardinal directions) might be useful. They will need something that represents air to them (a feather, incense, a pinwheel). They will also need to prepare two playlists or songs they can play, one themed around letting go, one for renewal and the means to play them. The playlists can be funny or weird but must not be depressing (no Sinead O’Connor). They will need to prepare a few short sentences to say to you during the ritual suggested words are included in the ritual directions.
Fire will need to provide firewood, kindling, firelighters and a lighter that is significant to them, that they are willing to part with. They will need to prepare a few short sentences to say to you during the ritual suggested words are included in the ritual directions.
Water will need to bring water from a local source, and probably a bunch of tissues. They will also need to prepare a few short sentences to say to you during the ritual suggested words are included in the ritual directions.
This ritual is to be performed after the last unavoidable encounter with your ex, preferably on a significant date (an anniversary, the day legal separation papers are signed, a dark moon etc).
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Before the Ritual
In the weeks, months or days before the ritual, put the pillowcase in a prominent place in your home. If possible place it on a chair on which your ex used to sit. Over this time fill the pillowcase with items that represent your ex or your relationship that you are willing to destroy.
Before you place each item in the pillowcase take a good long hard look at it and think about what it means to you. What aspect of them or the relationship does it represent? This will be the last time you see them. Do not fill the pillowcase more than half full.
During this time try to remember any key events in the history of your relationship and make a timeline. Do not focus exclusively on the negative. Try to find at least three significant events for each year of your relationship (a hilarious joke, a big argument, a touching gesture) and write them down in order making notes on the location, emotions and context of each event. When complete, put this paper into the pillowcase too.
On the morning of the ritual go to to a place where you can see the sunrise. Collect rocks, dirt or wood (any heavy natural material). As the sun rises, load these items into your pillowcase until it is three quarters full and heavy. It should make a cumbersome load. Place the pillowcase in front of you and turn to the sun, place your hands together in prayer and make this pledge to the rising sun: this is the last day I shall carry this burden. Pick it up. Don’t put it down.
For the rest of the day keep the pillowcase with you as much as possible. You can conceal it in another bag or leave it in the car if you must but ideally you should be carrying or in contact with the pillowcase all day.
Your friends should collect you from wherever you are and take you to the location of the ritual. You should be wearing the outfit your ex liked you in. Upon arrival Fire should prepare and light the fire. Earth should make any finishing touches to the meal and Air should ensure everyone knows what they are doing in what order.
You should measure out a number of steps in a westerly direction from the fire (one step for each year of the relationship, plus three) and place the four cords on the ground in that spot. Then Water should take you to a private place and comfort you with physical touch (a hug, a backrub, hand holding). If you need to talk about your ex, do it now, you will not speak about them to these four friends ever again.
When you are ready Water should walk with you to the spot where you placed the cords and stand behind you so you are both facing the fire, backs to the west. Water should have their water to hand. You may lean on Water or accept their hands on your shoulders for support but they may not help you lift or carry the pillowcase. Place the pillowcase on the ground in front of you. The others should be encircling the fire, close enough to feel its heat. Earth should be standing to the left of you, back to the north with their small food item and the knife or scissors to hand. Air should be standing opposite you, back to the east with their representation of air to hand. And Fire should be standing to your right hand side, back to the south with their lighter handy.
First Earth should approach you, take one of the cords and tie one end around the neck of the pillowcase and the other to your right ankle. Then they should return to their place around the fire.
Then Air should approach you, take one of the cords and tie one end around the neck of the pillowcase and the other to your right wrist. Then they should return to their place around the fire.
Next, Fire should approach you, take one of the cords and tie one end around the neck of the pillowcase and the other to your left wrist. Then they should return to their place around the fire.
Finally Water should take the remaining cord and tie one end around the neck of the pillowcase and the other to your left ankle. Then they should return to their place behind you.
Pick up the pillowcase in your arms gathering up any trailing cord. Stand there feeling its weight and contemplating the fire. Take three very deep breaths pushing your chest and stomach out as you breathe in and sucking them in as you breathe out.
Now begin to walk towards the fire leaving Water behind you. With each slow step reflect on the events you noted for each year. You do not have to remember them all, just use them as anchors to replay your relationship mentally from beginning to end. Consider this a walking meditation, do not rush it. Focus on your breathing and experiencing the awkwardness of carrying the pillowcase. Be careful not to trip on the cords.
When you are within three steps of the fire stop. Take three deep breaths, then signal to Water that you are ready. They should stand in front of you and take the middle of the cord they tied and hold it up to your gaze. Making eye contact with you as they cut it they should firmly and definitively say: This is no longer yours.
Water should pass the knife or scissors to Fire who should take the middle of the cord they tied and hold it up to your gaze. Making eye contact with you as they cut it they should firmly and definitively say: This is no longer yours.
Fire should pass the knife or scissors to Air who should take the middle of the cord they tied and hold it up to your gaze. Making eye contact with you as they cut it they should firmly and definitively say: This is no longer yours.
Finally Earth should take the knife or scissors then take the middle of the cord they tied and hold it up to your gaze. Making eye contact with you as they cut it they should firmly and definitively say: This is no longer yours.
Take three deep breaths and when you are ready, affirm what your friends have told you, the burden of this relationship and all its influence is no longer yours. Say it out loud, as loudly and confidently as you can: This is no longer mine! Throw that damn pillowcase and its contents into the fire.
Air should switch on the letting go playlist and you should all dance anticlockwise around the fire until you are out of breath or doubled over with laughter at the music selection. Then return to your places encircling the fire with Water standing behind you for support.
Gather yourself, take three deep breaths. Enjoy not having that pillowcase weighing you down as it has been all day and when you are ready, signal Earth to approach.
Earth should approach with the small food item and say something like: You are here. Standing on the (clay/sand/soil/chalk) of (whatever region you are in) nourished by the plants, supported by the land. You are of this place. You stand sovereign upon this land. You are free. They should pass you the food to eat and after you’ve finished tell you sincerely: You are yourself again.
Air should approach with the representation of air and say something like: You are here. Breathing the air exhaled by the trees of (local wooded area) refreshed by the (insert current wind direction) wind, inspired and alive.You are of this place. You stand sovereign upon this land. You are free. They should wave their representation of air around you playfully then tell you sincerely: You are yourself again.
Fire should approach with the lighter and say something like: You are here. Feeling the warmth of the fire I lit for us without and the heat of your own bravery within. Will surges through you as it does all living things. You are of this place. You stand sovereign upon this land. You are free.They should pass you the lighter as a gift to remember your own courage when times are tough and say: You are yourself again.
Finally Water should approach with the water and anointing or flicking you with the water say something like: You are here. Blessed by the water of (local water source) that same water that flows through your body and mine and unites us all on this small blue planet. You are of this place. You stand sovereign upon this land. You are free.You are yourself again.
As your friends return to their places you should take three deep breaths then assume the star position legs and arms spread wide making an X taking up as much space as possible. As they whoop and cheer you on shout three times each louder than the last: I am myself again!
Then Air should play the renewal playlist and you should all dance clockwise around the fire until you come to an exhausted halt in the East. Hug each of your friends then walk away from the fire in an easterly direction for at least as many steps as you spent years in the past relationship before turning and going inside to change clothes. While you change your friends should make sure the fire is safe to leave then gather around the dinner table and await your arrival for the feast.
Before eating I suggest saying some sort of grace that expresses gratitude to the source of the food and the person who made it as well as committing to using the energy it provides for a positive purpose.
During dinner your friends may like to take turns toasting you and express their wishes of success and happiness in the next chapter of your life. You may like to toast them in return, and perhaps give them an elementally-inspired gift as a token of appreciation. You should also pledge to never speak of your ex to these people again and ask them to help you maintain that promise.
The Next Morning
You will still have lengths of cord tied around your wrists and ankles, at dawn you should go back alone to the place where you watched the sunrise the morning before. It may feel like a long time has passed.
Dig a hole in the ground, untie or cut the ropes from your wrists and ankles and bury them. Take your shoes off and stamp down the ground over the buried cords. Stamp firmly and vigorously, work up a sweat and then come to stillness. Take three deep breaths and facing the sunrise assume the star position say: This is no longer mine. I am here. I am myself again.
Spend the rest of the day doing whatever the fuck you want. Don’t plan, just ask yourself moment-to-moment what you need, then go and get it.
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Fill pillowcase with relationship items.
At dawn on the day of ritual, top the pillowcase up with heavy natural materials.
At dusk gather with friends around the fire.
Vent to Water for the last time and accept comfort.
Standing an appropriate distance from the fire, allow your friends to tie you to the pillowcase.
Walk towards the fire replaying your relationship.
Upon reaching the fire allow your friends to cut the cords.
Declare This is no longer mine.
Throw the pillowcase into the fire.
Dance anti-clockwise around the fire.
Accept offerings from each of your friends.
Declare I am myself again three times, arms upraised.
Dance clockwise around the fire.
At dawn on the day after the ritual, return to the place you gathered material yesterday morning.
Untie or cut the cords from your ankles and wrists. Bury them.
Arms upraised take three deep breaths and declare: This is no longer mine. I am here. I am myself again.
Go live your life.