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The Ex-orcist
or, A Guide to Slaying Demonicus Ex

by Colin Lingle

It happens to the best of us. It's late at night; you're walking down a dark alley alone. The moon is full. You feel the hair on the back of your neck twitch. And then it happens: your worst nightmare. Somewhere in your mind's eye, from the sulphurous depths it stirs, lurches toward you, and then:

You remember that you and your ex used to hang out a wine bar that had an alley exactly like this behind it!

Aw, crap, not again.

You're being stalked by the demons of relationships past.

You've tried everything, but still -- through no fault of your own -- you're haunted. Plenty of time has elapsed... you've moved on in body and spirit... you may even be in a great new relationship! And yet, sometimes, it happens: a fetid hand reaches out of a moldy grave; an oozing recollection staggers into view.

You're cursed.

And the worst part? There's nothing to stake. It would be great if you could chop your problems into a nice Demon Stroganoff. But these are the nastiest kind of evil critters; they live in your head. They sink their tendrils into your logical brain and -- just when you settle into a nice bath -- drag your rational thought under the clear, warm surface of reason.

To conquer these gremlins, you're going to need some empathy, some good advice, and a couple of magic tricks. We know you can do it. Let's go slaying.

Breaking Up in the Twilight Zone

They always say, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" But we all know "they" are full of bat droppings. What doesn't kill you hurts like a sonofabitch and makes you walk with a limp. Almost everyone has romance horror stories; what normal person doesn't? Unfortunately, having horror stories of their own doesn't keep the people you date from creating new horror stories at your expense.

Nobody wants to be plagued with thoughts of their ex. And it's natural to feel emotionally battered after a breakup, especially if you're the breakee. But we do our best to move on. We try new things, meet new people, and "get out there." And, lo and behold, it works. Life, however much we doubt it at times, does go on. And thank heavens! What kind of bizarre nether realm would it be if we were all perpetually stuck in the same relationship?

But sometimes, when everything goes wrong in just the right way, something short circuits, and the natural order of breaking-up-and-getting-over is disturbed. Fortunately, it doesn't happen with every minor fling. Rather, it's the person who really got under your skin who makes it so difficult when they go all Willow-versus-Warren on you.

And especially around this time of year, when the saccharine machines are pumping out pungent, viscous, industrial-grade Cutesy(TM) everywhere, it can be doubly difficult. If you got dumped anywhere near or, God forbid, on Valentine's Day, forget it. You might as well be splitting up and going off into the woods to "see what that sound was."

When someone you really trusted suddenly sprouts wings, fangs, and a scabby, pseudo-fungal dermis, that's when you get a lasting shock. The cognitive dissonance pops like a flashbulb, imprinting your brain with a bizarre, broken image: what you thought was reality on the one hand, and what now appears to be reality on the other. No wonder we all go a little mad sometimes. Here's Johnny, indeed.

So to make sure you don't become a venom-spitting zombie, here are a few strategies to soften up your personal Big Bad, plus a spell that is guaranteed to give you visions of another, better world.

I Just Need My TimeSpace

One way to undercut the problem of demonic possession is to reclaim ownership over time and space. Don't worry; easier than it sounds. By this, we mean that it is crucial to separate your ex from both specific dates and physical spaces. You need to reclaim both the calendar and the map. If you can do this, you'll stop thinking "oh, this is the day we..." and "oh, that's the place we..." and "oh, this is the train track where I could lay my...."

To begin, it's useful to understand the Theory of Breakup Time. This theory states that, once the "we need to talk" clock has started, you are in Breakup Time, and BT is not measured in hours, days, and months. Rather, BT runs in events. So, if you experience some horrific dumpage and then, in short order, go to Prague, learn Tae Kwan Do, write a novel, and start playing bass in a rock band, you will be four events away from your breakup. If you lie on the sofa for six years, you will still be only one event away (individual episodes of "Ellen" don't count as separate events, nor do "Real World" marathons).

The problem with Valentine's Day -- and other annoying things like dates, seasons, and holidays -- is that it only comes around once a year or so. Thus, when you encounter it, you get hurled back through Breakup Time: this is the first Valentine's Day since... the first Westminster Dog Show since... the first Harry Potter book since...

Same with "your" favorite restaurant, flower shop, putting green, runway, etc. Anytime you go back there, and especially the first time, Bam! You Quantum Leap back to the dark days. And even if you've made major progress in every other area of your life, you'll be susceptible to evil memories that want to eat your head.

So what do you do? If you recall any favorite horror film -- "Day of the Triffids," anyone? -- there's always something that the heroes discover at the last moment that beats back the monsters. Salt water, sunlight, Slim Whitman. In this case, your Slim Whitman is "exposure therapy."

Had a crappy Valentine's Day last year? Make sure you have a frickin' blast this year. Go snowshoeing, go to Vegas, rush the stage. If you're with someone new, and you think you'll be haunted by old memories, do something romantic on a different day and something insanely fun on that day. Do something you've always wanted to do, or just stay home and watch every episode of "Firefly" on DVD. Want to reclaim the Oscars? Throw a party and invent a slew of new traditions. Every day is an opportunity to change your thinking from "last year I was doing this..." to "next year, I'll be doing that!"

Same with your personal spaces. Do you walk six blocks out of your way to avoid that burrito place? Consider getting a pack of your best friends and taking the joint over. Renovate its memory. Do this with your whole neighborhood; make it a game. Go down your checklist until you've reclaimed the places you want. By the time you get to the last one, you'll have your confidence back, along with quite a bit of a social life.

The key, with things in both time and space, is to face them head on and reclaim them as your own. If you pussyfoot around, you'll get snapped up like a snack, time and again. Right now, right here, you start fighting back. Before long, you'll be master of your universe again.

Next: Strength in Numbers, Mind Games, and Truth or Consequences


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