“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
I thought I went through my last breakup a few years ago. I thought I had paid my dues, cried my share of tears, and dealt with some deep wounds. I thought I was done. I was happy and in love, and talking about moving in with my boyfriend.
One day we took a little vacation. We laughed and explored the desert excitedly talking about our dreams. Three days later I found myself sobbing on the floor of my tub, hot steam clouding around me.
Our breakup was actually quite beautiful aside from the shock and confusion. We looked into each other’s eyes. We smiled. We cried. We held each other. We said goodbye.
It might sound like we handled this really well, and in many ways we did. We always respected one another. We never said anything hurtful or manipulative. I think that shows how much we loved and cared for one another.
But I was still a mess, deeply heartbroken and deeply depressed. It was the deepest depression I’d ever been in. I could do little more than cry and stare at the ceiling. Nothing in me wanted to stay in bed and nothing in me wanted to get out. It felt like torturous limbo with a crushing weight on my chest.
My mind couldn’t comprehend a day when I wouldn’t feel like this. Each night I fell asleep I prayed the morning would be different. But each day I woke up with a pang in my stomach and a heaviness in my heart.
Until one day I didn’t.
It wasn’t a miracle. My pain didn’t disappear in my sleep. But I started to feel better. The first day I was able to eat a little more. The next day I found myself laughing with a friend. I slowly started to be able to sleep longer hours and function more clearly. It was a snail’s pace, but it was progress.
If you’re going through a breakup right now the truth is that it will get better.
I needed to hear this over and over again from other people. When the pain is so intense it takes over everything. It’s very difficult to believe anything will change. I would call my mom in the mornings sobbing into the phone, “It still hurts. It’s not getting any better. Why does it still hurt?”
It’s supposed to hurt. Your heart is broken. You loved deeply, and now it’s over. One side of the coin is that endings are really sad. The other side is that endings are opportunities for new beginnings, and that’s really exciting, even if you can’t feel the excitement right now.
It was difficult for me to see that I was making any progress so I documented my days over those weeks. I found that there were five key things that helped me begin to heal:
- I felt all the feelings.
- I took advantage of my support system.
- I gave myself love and compassion.
- I took responsibility for my life.
- I focused on me instead of him.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to allow yourself to grieve when your heart is broken.
Our bodies are intelligent. They can hold trauma for a lifetime. When we sob so deeply our chests heave and the tears fly out, our bodies are purging the pain. Allow this to happen. I was so tired of crying, but I would keep on doing it as I needed. I actually cried a little a few hours ago. It lessens. The pain lessens. I assure you this.
There were two or three people who were my everything during my lowest low. I used their support to get me through all of the times when I just wanted to give up on my life. I talked things through incessantly, something that can help us come to terms with the situation. Our minds need to process the change, especially if it was traumatic or sudden.
It’s really important that these are people who understand you, who are capable of being there for you in this way, and who are nonjudgmental. Someone who is going to say to you, “Honey, I am so sorry you feel like this. My heart breaks for you.” Not all of our friends and family are capable of taking on that role, and that’s okay. You just need one or two.
Through these first two steps I started to gain my own strength and identity back. I got to a point where I knew that only I could pull myself up out of it. I had enough moments of clarity through my pain that I was able to see what I needed to do for myself, and I gave myself so much love.
I honored myself and acknowledged that my heart was broken. I didn’t judge myself for being weak or stress out about being low functioning. I just let myself fall into my own arms.
I treated myself like my own daughter. I asked how I was feeling and listened to the response with compassion. I kept telling myself, “I am here for you. I am always here for you.” This type of love for myself helped the pain dissipate. It helped me to feel worthy of life again.
I am also someone, probably very similar to you, who is always looking to better myself. Nothing in life is isolated—we’re all connected and affected by one another, so I knew there were deep things about myself to look at.
Instead of focusing on my ex and why he left, I began to look at myself. I questioned what I was doing in my life that left me in relationships where men chronically abandoned me.
I didn’t put pressure on myself to figure it all out, but I allowed the question to be there. I invited the answers to come in as they needed to. I knew that whatever was most obvious was probably not the full picture — and it wasn’t.
Through a candid conversation with a very close friend, I began to discover some of my deepest fears. I realized that when I get very close to people I become afraid I will lose them, something that occurred repeatedly in my childhood.
When someone I was close to shared a different perspective than mine, on some deep unconscious level I became threatened, terrified this was the beginning of the end for us. Ironically, my own fears of abandonment contributed to my relationship ending.
This kind of revelation is liberating when there is a lack of clarity in a breakup. I saw myself so much more clearly, and then I looked at the relationship through my ex’s perspective. I saw my newfound self through his eyes, and I understood how he felt. It all made sense.
One of the most important things I did that allowed me to heal was to focus on myself each time I thought of him.
This is especially true if you are not the one who wanted to break up. I didn’t reach out to him at all. I gave us each space. I knew seeing him show up on social media would increase the pain so I used all my willpower to stay focused on myself. If I felt the urge to check up on him I reminded myself that I didn’t need to feel any more pain. This was enough.
Getting through a breakup inevitably comes down to letting go. All of the steps I’m describing are about allowing.
We have to allow ourselves to feel everything.
We have to allow our feelings to be okay.
We have to allow ourselves to be supported.
We have to allow ourselves to be worthy of our own love.
We have to allow ourselves to see the truth.
And finally, we have to allow ourselves to move on.
I know it’s hard. I’m right there with you. Just remember that it will get better.
Sad woman image via Shutterstock