Would you believe it? Somehow I made it to the ripe old age of 29 without being broken up with. Don’t get me wrong, I was no stranger to heartache, but all my previous relationships had either ended mutually or by me putting my foot down about something. In early January of this year though (a month and a half before Valentine’s Day & my 30th birthday) my partner of four years broke off our engagement two months before our fully planned wedding. I had no idea it was coming and as you probably could imagine: I was devastated. Before you even THINK about feeling bad for me though, rest assured, I’m way okay now.
It’s been almost four months since the break-up and I feel like I’m back on pretty solid ground. In fact, in many ways, my life has really been upgraded. Upon reflection today, I realized some of the choices I’ve made helped me a great, great deal and I thought: why not share them? So, let’s get into it. Here are a few of the things I did or changed my perspective on, which helped me with the enormous task of healing my heart.
1. Shame is dumb. Let it go.
Besides grief, I was surprised to see that one of the strongest initial emotions I felt was… embarrassment. I guess it makes sense though. I had proclaimed to the world that I found the man I was going to grow old with. 200 of our friends and family members had made arrangements to meet us in Central Florida and witness us commit to each other before them and God. In spite of what I now see as major flaws in our long-term compatibility, I was 100% committed to that man. Generally considering myself a very smart and aware person, being broken up with so suddenly filled me to the core with shame. The idea of having to call those 200 people and tell them the wedding was off made me want to throw myself out a window!
You know what though? I had nothing to be ashamed of, and if you’re currently on the receiving end of a break up, neither do you! Life is hard, relationships are complicated! I say if you’re living a life without occasional heartache, you might want to re-evaluate some things to see if you’re living a truly fulfilling life! Real life often gets messy, and anyone who has lived a little will understand that and not hold it against you. Oh, p.s. anyone who doesn’t understand that? F*CK THEM RIGHT IN THE EAR! (I mean, not literally… Ew! And ow! But…) You don’t need that noise right now! Be kind and gracious with yourself, you deserve it.
2. There is no one right way to grieve!
You’re probably going to have a lot of people offer you a lot of “wisdom” on what to expect. Some of it is going to be spot on. However, much of it is gonna be total horse manure (and / or insensitive.) Take what you like and leave the rest. I consider myself lucky beyond measure to have a wealth of friends and family members, spanning across many ages, races, and backgrounds. Over the last few months I’ve talked with many of them (some of whom had lost a spouse, a child, or were going through cancer treatments) about loss, pain, and how to deal.
One thing that seems universal to me? There’s no one right way to grieve! In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, grief is my least favorite emotion. It can make you feel, literally crazy: suicidal, homicidal, or at the very least, in the midst of a serious existential crisis! And the craziest thing of all? That’s all part of it. When you’re brave enough to truly love a person or thing with all your heart and soul and might, of course it’s going to hurt when that thing or person goes away… but that’s the admission price to a life worth living, I say. I’m not going to lie to you. This next chunk of time? A lot of it is going to suck… so hard. But you WILL be okay… eventually.
3. BE VULNERABLE!
It seems to me that there’s a common (sh*tty) phenomena permeating through our collective minds. It’s as if someone came to see each of us as babies and whispered in our ears, “You better harden your heart, or this world will eat you alive!” If Brene Brown has taught us anything (#FanGirl #LoveYourHeartBrene #GetItMama) it’s that, there is strength in supposed “weakness.” In my experience, those who are capable of sharing their burdens with others, typically bounce back more quickly than those who try to go it alone. Please keep in mind, these are all suggestions, I’d never tell you to push yourself beyond your limits, but I would advise you to question yourself. I have seen countless times, that people are so much stronger – and capable of doing so much more – than they once believed.
4. Let people help you!
Hopefully – if you’re paying attention – you’re going to have a lot of offers for help. Where you feel comfortable… TAKE IT!!! I’ll admit I did hole up in my mom’s house and cry for the first several days after the break-up. However, when I was able to leave the cocoon, to my total delight, I found a wealth of people who wanted to help me. I let them… and it was incredible! Person upon person let me come over to their house and held me as I wailed and screamed and told my tale. Personally? I think each time it hurt just a little bit less. Beyond friends and family though, I found the most incredible thing… the kindness of strangers.
Yes, it was true that for a while I couldn’t go more than an hour or so without crying, but I decided not to let that stop me from going into public. In my experience, there’s just something magical about people who let themselves truly be seen… it moves peoples’ spirits! In my case, time after time, I had people I didn’t know come up to me, hug me, and tell me, “You’re gonna be JUST FINE.”
Speaking of kindness, the saga of my break-up would not be complete without sharing the generosity of the bush women in the remote, one mile, almost-island I used to live on in the Northwest Arctic region in Alaska. The time I spent there was incredible in many ways, but also difficult. I had intended to stay there about five years total, but many people leave after just a few months. Thus, the local population is very weary of new folks. While this is totally understandable, it makes it very difficult for a person like myself who thrives on social relationships.
All that time there, I thought no one had seen me, no one knew me. But to my impossible delight, in my darkest hour, the people in that place really came together for me!
After leaving the night my ex broke up with me, I needed to go clean out my apartment and office, so I went back in late January. Now, smart or not (NOT!) I knew that this was going to be no easy feat – being in the home and village my former fiancé & I had spent 15 months in, and where he was going to continue to reside – so I’d only given myself two and a half days there. The first kindness given to me came on the layover in Seattle. I had a total melt down in the Sea-Tac airport. Since it was about 2am on East Coast time, I called one of the only people I knew would be awake at that time… a young woman I’d met in my former village in Alaska.
She listened to me gasp and blubber and cry and moan. She asked when I was due back. Then she calmly said, “Listen. Don’t freak out. But it’s -50 degrees here right now (it’d been about 35 above when I left.) But it’s okay! I’ll meet you at the airport with warm-gear. Then we’ll go back to my house and I’ll have some chili waiting for us.” She kept her word. Even more than that, upon seeing me melt down again after walking into my old apartment, she decided to sleep there with me so I wouldn’t be alone.
This wonderful woman? I knew I’d liked her all the time I’d known her, but we’d never gotten to spend much time together. Who on earth woulda thunk she’d show up for me like that? Not me! As if that wasn’t enough, the night before I was slated to leave town (with a million things left to do in the apartment) a small militia of incredible, strong, bush women came over, and helped me transform that apartment to an even cleaner state than I’d found it when I moved in! It was one of the kindest things which had ever done for me. It might sound a little hokey, but I truly believe that when you open up your heart and mind to the possibilities of what could be, and let yourself be authentically seen, you often make room for some wonderful surprises.
5. Take no prisoners. Take no sh*t!
Alright, this might seem a little counter-intuitive when the last two points I made were about being vulnerable and accepting help. The thing is… there are a lot of different kinds of folks out there. I have zero doubts that everyone you’re going to encounter during this time means well and just wants to help. The trouble is, we’re all so different! What works for one does not work for all. My message to you here? Be discerning! See who you want to see, do what you wanna do, and don’t feel bad about it!
Don’t want to talk to Aunt Ethel / your ex / your gossipy friend, Susie / the postman? Guess what? You’re a grown-ass woman (or man!) Don’t answer the phone / the text message / the e-mail / the door. And anyone who gives you guff over this? They can suck it. Seriously, it seems that so often it’s the deeply kind and compassionate people – who stay so busy worrying about how we’re going to effect others – and don’t give ourselves enough grace. But check it: you just had your heart broken! If this isn’t the right time for you to take care of you – getting what you truly want and need, and maybe being a little selfish about it – when the hell is??
6. LIVE OUT LOUD
Okay, this one is not going to be for everyone. I am a special breed of weirdo. The product of an Engineer father and Therapist mother, I see things very clearly and methodically, feel them very, very deeply, and am not afraid to show it. The first week of the break-up I was a hot, hot, HOT mess! Prior to Alaska, I’d lived in Central Florida most my life, so that’s where I went. The flight home (including layovers) took about 17 hours. I cried almost the whole time: in every airport, on every plane, in many bathrooms, etc. Then when I got back to Florida? Once I popped, the fun didn’t stop. When I saw my mom in the Orlando airport, tears poured like rain.
In the weeks to come, I cried in restaurants, coffee shops, ON A FU*KING DANCE-FLOOR! At first I was insecure about this… What would people think, say, do? Do you think anyone laughed or pointed fingers or asked me to stop making a scene though? Absolutely not! Per usual, our fears are so often way worse than reality. People were really cool. Strangers either averted their eyes or lent a kind word. I know this option isn’t for everyone. Some people are shy or conservative, and that is a-okay! But if you can find the strength to let yourself authentically feel what you feel, when you feel it… I say LET. IT. RIP! Cry until you can’t cry anymore. Tell your story until it doesn’t hurt anymore.
Don’t rush this one (or do it at all if it doesn’t resonate with you.) But for me? After a month of crying and assuring everyone I loved that I was going to take my heart, throw it in a box, and bury it six feet under the sand… I started to feel more like myself again. One day I woke up and said, “I want to flirt with boys!” My ex was generally a pretty stand-up guy. However, like everyone else, he is an imperfect person. Leading to the break-up (I believe as a result of his grief and frustration) he was unknowingly, very hurtful to me. In the last few weeks, among a slew of other issues and complaints, he shared that he hadn’t been attracted to me in a long time (can you say, OUCH?!?)
My self-esteem had really taken a few hits. Now, I’m a big believer in the “you have to love yourself before another can love you” sentiment and that how you feel about yourself is one of the biggest pieces of the self-esteem puzzle! That said… when several people of the gender you’re attracted to are pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down and – in my case – reaffirming that I was in fact the passionate, sensual, free spirited woman I’d always believed myself to be? It feels pretty f*cking good! So when I was ready, being flirty and getting positive feedback from men was a lot of fun. I was makin’ them sweat me on the dance-floor, or at the bar, or in the coffee shop, or wherever the hell I happened to be at that moment. If and when you’re ready, I say go remind yourself that you ARE desirable and possessing of all the wonderful qualities which you surely do!
8. Ground yourself!
When’s the last time you got your hair done? It might be cliché (but sometimes clichés are so common because there’s something to them!) I really feel there’s magic in getting your hair done when the “fit hits the shan.” My little social worky theory is that it is really easy to feel out of control during times of grief, so doing short-term, concrete tasks which you CAN control has a really solid, grounding effect. It doesn’t have to be your hair though! Been meaning to reorganize your bookshelves? Clean your car? Pick something tactile that you can do (and finish relatively quickly) and you just might find a little relief in it.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to do something OUT of the ordinary, maybe for you what will be most grounding is a little more ordinary? In other words, what are some commonplace activities that used to be a big part of your routine pre break-up? For me, it was cooking and exercising. The night my ex broke up with me, I left the home, city, job, and routines I’d been in for 15 months and moved home to Florida. It wasn’t until I took my next job in my next city (Anchorage, Alaska) two months later that I realized I hadn’t been doing these activities which are normally very healing and grounding for me. So, think about it. What can you do to help you take care of you? Find it & do it!
9. Treat yo self!
Girl! (Or boy!) Throw caution to the wind! Eat that chocolate! Get that mani / pedi! Buy yourself that record you’ve been wanting! (Or three of them!) Of course stay within your means… I don’t recommend taking out a new credit line and heading to Vegas, but within reason, I say go nuts! Be careful though, indulgence can be a slippery slope. They don’t keep writing songs about sex, drugs, & booze for no reason. Unfortunately I’ve seen a great deal of people take seemingly harmless comfort in one of these vices and had it (or actions taken while under their influence) be incredibly damaging. If you do end up in the arms of one of the more risqué comforts, don’t beat yourself up, but try not to give yourself a free pass to crawl into a hole, okay? And if you do end up falling in some way in the near future (which you most likely will) just pick yourself back up and keep on movin.
10. Don’t put a timetable on yourself.
I say try hard to let go of the need to instantly bounce back, but resist the temptation to tell yourself that it’s going to hurt this badly forever. Both seem to be fallacies that find many folks during heartache. It might hurt for months, or years, but it won’t burn with the same fire the entire time! The night my ex broke up with me? I started crying instantly and continued to cry almost constantly for the first week (that kind of gut-wrenching, “I can’t brain any time soon,” “Nothing make sense,” “You expect me to eat? Get that food out of my face,” crying) But you know what? Each day it hurt a little less, until one day, I had mostly good days instead of mostly bad.
Four months after? As I mentioned earlier, my life is pretty sweet these days. I’ve got a killer job, am discovering a bright and shiny new city, and am starting the process of applying to PhD programs all over the country. I’m also dating a really incredible man and am actively letting myself fall down the rabbit hole that is love. I won’t lie and say that I am totally healed from my last relationship. Four years worth of birthdays, Christmases, funerals, graduations… It was a long time to spend with someone, so it only makes sense that it’s going to take a while for me to get that person out of my system entirely, and most likely the same will be true for you. Whatever length of time is in store for you though, my biggest piece of advice is this: be gentle with yourself, and try to avoid the need to put your heart on a schedule, because it’s going to heal in its own time.
And that is all she wrote, turtle doves. I hope this might have helped just a pinch, made you smile once or twice, or perhaps given you some things to think about. Still feel like a glass bottle that’s been broken into a million pieces? If so, that’s okay. Rest assured though: nothing in this world – not even our troubles – can last forever. In the meantime, I am whole-heartedly wishing you light, love, and peace to guide your way as you put yourself back together again (and you WILL put yourself back together… you’ll see.)