“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~Iain Thomas
A deep heaviness and uneasiness began to pulsate throughout my body. Warm, salty tears streamed down my face at all hours of the day. It felt like all the best parts of me were gone and would never return.
Heartache can be one of the hardest things to overcome in life. I never wanted to be one of those girls who let guys determine how they feel. But when my first serious relationship ended when I was twenty-seven, I was beyond devastated.
It took me years to overcome my breakup with Tom because he was my first real love. I’m slowly starting to view the despair I experienced as a gift because it’s shaped the person I’m becoming. More importantly, it has taught me to never fear or take advantage of love.
If you’re struggling to overcome heartache, perhaps some of my lessons may be useful to you. Here’s what helped me on my journey to becoming whole again.
1. Allow yourself to feel all your feelings.
Although it may be tempting to numb your feelings, if they aren’t addressed, chances are they will catch up to you.
My relationship blindsided me when it ended because I didn’t see it coming. I felt like I was going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Only, strangely enough, it felt almost worse than most deaths I grieved because in this relationship there was never a clear goodbye or any closure.
It took me years to go through all of these stages. For a good part of it, I was stuck in denial and sadness.
My breakup with Tom taught me that it’s okay to feel things that are uncomfortable because life isn’t always pleasant. It may be hard, but try to allow yourself to experience whatever feelings come up.
I had to strip my emotions down to feel totally raw and vulnerable. If I felt sad and allowed myself to cry, my body felt so much better afterward because I was able to release all the stress and tension that I’d held in for so long. When I felt anger rising in the pit of my stomach, I’d go for a run to burn off that steam.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling, allow it to come and go like waves instead of pretending it doesn’t exist or fighting it.
2. Cut off contact with your ex so that you are able to heal.
One of the reasons it took me so long to get over Tom was because we were still in touch with each other via text. Even though we weren’t dating, deep down I had this romantic notion that we would get back together eventually.
When I would date other guys, I wasn’t emotionally invested in them because part of me that held onto hope that Tom and I could still save our relationship and bring it back to what it was during the first year we dated. The truth was that over the years we both changed and grew apart instead of growing together.
Although it was hard to end contact with Tom, I knew that in order to get over him I had to stop relying on him emotionally. This was the scariest part. Tom was part of my life for five years and knew all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I was terrified to be alone and have him out of my life.
I’m not going to lie, I may have texted him more than a few times after promising myself not to contact him. However, eventually, as time passed without contact, I was able to stay strong. I had to stand on my own and face my fears in order to get back to a healthy emotional state.
It’s different for everybody, but I realized that no matter how much time has passed a part of me will always love my ex. And that’s okay. Because now I’m no longer in love with him, largely because I gave myself the space I needed to finish healing—which means I’ll be able to pursue a relationship with someone else in the future.
3. Have a good tribe of people to talk to.
No one is an island. Admitting that you are going through a hard time and finding friends and family who are willing to listen to your struggles can make a world of a difference.
At the time of my breakup, my best friend was going through something similar. It was helpful to share our experiences with each other since it made us both feel less alone. I was lucky to have my mom to talk to as well. It really was beneficial to get her advice, as she had many years of experience to share.
If you find yourself talking about your breakup excessively, it may be good to contact a counselor. Since my breakup happened during my last semester of graduate school, I decided to take advantage of speaking with a counselor, as they were free to students.
Initially, I had mixed feelings but can say that this assisted me greatly in being able to finish my last semester of school. It also felt good to talk about my feelings to someone who didn’t have a biased view and wouldn’t judge my thoughts.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Remember my best friend I told you about who was going through a breakup? She ended up dating someone a month afterward. Eventually, they got married.
It has taken me about two years to feel ready to date again. Everyone goes through breakups differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are so many different factors involved in recovering from a painful breakup. Maybe your relationship was over way before it officially ended. Maybe you didn’t get any closure after your breakup, or it was your first love you lost.
In order to allow myself to heal, I had to stop comparing myself to others. I also decided to get off of social media for a month.
Yes, I was happy for my friends who were dating, getting married, and having kids. However, being bombarded with joyful couples and babies was just too much. I just knew that it was not the best time for me to be flooded with relationship pictures. It allowed me to spend more time with myself and hit the reset button.
5. Give yourself the time you need before jumping into a new relationship.
Initially, I went on a bunch of dates, sometimes two in one day. Yes, it distracted me from what I was feeling, but it wasn’t healthy. Emotionally, it became exhausting.
It was too early in the game to date, and all I could think about was my ex. Whenever I went on a date, I would start comparing the guy to Tom, and that’s not a good way to jump back on the dating horse.
Take the time you need to feel whole again before dating. I finally told myself that it’s alright to have high standards about what I’m looking for in a relationship. Most importantly, I learned to enjoy being single.
6. Take good care of yourself.
Self-care was never something I was good at. I always cared more about others and never made time for myself. I felt incredibly lost after my breakup because I no longer had Tom to care about.
Without anyone else to focus on, I started to pay more attention to my own needs and wants. It was also an incentive to treat myself to certain services or activities I normally would not even consider such as getting monthly massages and participating in yoga classes regularly.
I stopped saying yes to everyone else just to please them and started saying yes to myself. I travelled to Peru, Iceland, and Thailand. I took a new job and finally felt free.
Go on that vacation you have been waiting for. Take that cooking class you have been putting off. Have a girls’ or guys’ weekend.
Now is the time to focus on yourself. Enjoy it while you’re single because you never know when you’ll have as much time alone to discover your interests and passions.
7. Don’t stop appreciating the beauty in all that surrounds you.
There is joy all around us. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, especially when you’re going through something tough like a breakup.
I started to become engaged more in my surroundings, and it has made a big difference.
I was able to connect to my friends and family on a deeper level and really value these relationships. I started a gratitude journal, which helped me appreciate the little gifts we are given each day. Even something as simple as smiling at others in the street can be a beautiful act and make us feel more connected to those around us.
It took me years to pick up all of the broken pieces and rebuild myself. These seven tips helped me heal from an incredibly painful time in my life. Slowly, my heart started to mend and refill with self-love.
I know I will always love Tom, but now I’m able to continue to go on with my life without feeling trapped or in limbo. Sometimes the past will unexpectedly come up and a flood of sadness will hit me. I allow myself to feel this and then let it go just as fast as it came.
I’m grateful for the person I have become due to my breakup. It has allowed me to realize how rare and wonderful it is to find love. I’ve also learned to become comfortable in solitude and enjoy time alone.
It’s been quite a process, but now my heart is open to love again. Even though you may experience a deep pain and feel broken and angry, know what there is still beauty out in this world for us to experience on a daily basis. And know that through this experience you can become a stronger version of yourself.