Last summer, I went through the most devastating, emotionally difficult period of my life. This is not an understatement. It wasn’t the kind that could be cured a few weeks later after a dozen pints of ice cream. Those are gentle (not on your waistline, but at least on your recovery process). It stood as a proper noun: this was The Break-Up.
I don’t know how I went from the girl who had it together, who lived Pinterest in real life, to one who sat in the corner of empty bookstores to cry. All I know is that I both welcomed and dreaded sleep. Although those twilight hours of blessed unconsciousness became the only place I saw him anymore, reality dropped down on me again and again when I left the hazy fog of nightmares and dreams. “He. Isn’t. Here.” The process of waking up, blanketed in warmth that wasn’t his, should be patented and made into a method of torture because I would tell you any secrets you wanted to hear, just to keep my heart from screaming his name.
My coping mechanisms became destructive. I found myself with my scrapbooking Exacto knife, poised over long, angry, red lines scratched into my forearms by my own nails. Some part of me thought that I could stop hurting emotionally if I could divert it into physical hurt instead. This is the reasoning and reality of self-harm.
I threw up every day for a week straight. The day I kept down half a bowl of soup was an accomplishment. When I realized I had lost ten pounds in ten days, I began to see the damage clearly. So I took myself to therapy. She was wonderful and reminded me of things I already knew, like my capacity to love and be loved. That hadn’t changed. I just had to learn to love differently now.
Three months after The Break-Up, as I settled into Hong Kong for a year-long study abroad program, I began to pick myself and my grief off the floor. I realized the only thing left to me, after the exhaustion of depression and purging, was to forgive myself. So I let myself eat foods again that reminded me of him. I put on my pretty dresses. I traveled to countries and created experiences that he could never imagine, and thus, had no claim to. Without him, or even the hope of him, I had to learn to live for myself again.
For those of you who have read along with every line and thought, “That’s me. That’s me again. She’s speaking my pain,” this is what you have to do. This is your call to heal, that you are worth investing in.
Healing is not linear. I spent drunken nights crouched in bar bathrooms, the only thought I could spew out, “I miss him. I miss him.” I don’t have a list for you of how to remember that your scarred hands are still capable of holding the beauty your life has to offer. You just have to trust that they are.
I am with someone else now. He loves me and takes me for all that I am, the introvert to his extrovert, the moments when I crack and let him see me raw and vulnerable. But I didn’t forgive myself because I expected someone to be there for me at the end of it. I did it because I deserved it. The bravest part of moving on is not the stubborn belief that the future holds something better, but rather, moving forward without answers of what went wrong, why, and when, and still unambiguously loving yourself through moments when you’re not sure you’re worth loving.
Someday, last summer will stop being last summer. He’ll stop being The Break-Up. This’ll became just another hurdle I overcame.