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Home / Articles / Culture / There She Goz /  Floating in heartbreak
. . . .
Monday, Mar 10, 2014

Floating in heartbreak

Looking for answers in a sensory-deprivation tank

By Alex Zaragoza
alex-new Alex Zaragoza

Heartbreak is real and inescapable. It doesn't matter how girl-powered you are, how smart you are, how intolerant of bullshit you are or how wise you have become after making shitty life choices in the past. You will get your heart crushed. Your heart will be a bucket of grapes being trampled on like the grape-stomp lady of Internet fame, and you'll most likely fall flat on your face with a resounding "Ow, ow, ow" just like she did. Because another thing about heartbreak: It usually comes with a large helping of embarrassment.

Almost five years ago, I ended my marriage after my husband became a serious drug addict and the situation became abusive. It took years to get over, and every day I'm reminded of that massive bummer when I look at my driver's license or debit card, which still bear his last name.

Still, that wasn't even my first true heartbreak. That honor belongs to my dad, who was a supportive father, just not the greatest husband. When planning his memorial service, my siblings and I joked about how a bunch of weeping women might show up in sexy, black-lace dresses with kids who had his crooked nose or buggy eyes. I miss my dad every single day, but one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn was that he was far from perfect. I would try to find better.

Even with that promise made to myself and some tough-love lessons the universe has sent me, I still recently ended up once again balled up in bed with Moonstruck on TV and tear-soaked tissues scattered all around me. There's no defense against heartbreak, but if there were, I would take it, because this sucks.

Without getting into too many details, I was brought to a crossroads in my current relationship and I have no clue what to do. It's been my best relationship so far, and he was happy, too. We were happy. But relationships aren't black-and-white, and neither is heartbreak or the idea of forgiveness.

In these situations, everyone has an opinion about what you should do or what they would do if they were in your shoes. It becomes overwhelming. There was noise everywhere, and it was no longer helping. It's been a struggle trying to find a balance between what I want to do and what I think is right to do. As my friend Richie told me, it's hard for writers to be fully in any situation because we are always floating above it, examining, analyzing and writing the story of it in our head.

I lay in bed at night wishing for a time-travel machine that would allow me to see the outcome of every choice I could make. Unfortunately, science hasn't gotten its shit together yet to make that happen. Way to blow it, science.

The only thing I could think to do was cancel out the noise. Maybe if I turned everything off, I would have an epiphany. A flash would come and I would just know what to do. But I wanted to cancel everything out quite literally, which led me to floating naked in a sensory-deprivation tank.

I went to Float Spa in Miramar, accompanied by my close friend Shawna. When we arrived, the receptionist showed us to our individual rooms that were outfitted with soft blue mood lighting, new-age flute music, ear plugs, a neck pillow and a giant pod filled with warm water and Epsom salt. I was to strip down naked and get in the pod, closing a hatch door behind me. Once in there, I was instructed to lie down. The salt in the water would make my body completely buoyant and I would just float in total darkness and silence.

Fans of floatation therapy do it for a number of reasons. Some go for stress relief and to achieve total relaxation, others do it to help with pain. I was there for the third reason floatation therapy has become popular: to allow your brain to be completely clear and focus on something with zero distractions.

I stripped down and got in the pod, immediately rolling over because of the water's buoyancy. My skin became itchy and slimy from the salt. I closed the hatch door behind me and lay back into the nothingness.

During my one-hour session, I seemed to slip in and out of complete consciousness. I was never quite awake or really dreaming, and I lost sense of how long I was in there. I just floated and drifted in space and time. Thoughts and memories would pop into my head: my boyfriend's apologetic face; picturing myself in the same position, only in a coffin; sentences I would include in this column; a joke about Jim Morrison's ghost popping up in the pod and offering me a joint. There wasn't a lot of rhyme or reason to these mental snapchats.

Eventually, I stopped feeling the water and I felt like I was in outer space—not that I know what that's like (NASA still hasn't responded to my letters). Here and there, I was reminded of my surroundings, but then I'd drift back into the black again and the pictures and thoughts would resume. The air was thick, and all I could hear was the sound of my heart beating in my chest. I've never felt so weightless yet aware of the mass and heaviness of my body. It was warm and weird.

Shawna would later tell me she experienced the same thing. When my floatation time was up, I stepped into a shower. I stood there, letting the water rinse the salt out of my burning eyes. I wasn't much closer to a solution to my heartbreak, but I probably shouldn't have expected it. Still, that hour of silence and darkness and solitude were a godsend. I'll eventually figure it out. For now, I'll just stay tough and try to continue cancelling out the noise.

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