It happened. You said you’d never start, but you did. You’d heard all the horror stories, seen all the pain and suffering it caused people you knew, and promptly ignored all of it. You’re better, stronger, untouchable. Just because it happened them doesn’t mean it will happen to you. You’re strong-willed, you can control it before it controls you.
That’s right: you fell in love.
You got used to life with that person. You let them change your routine, your clothes, your… laundry detergent? (I don’t know what grown-up relationships look like). But, as often happens, it ended. So you endured the awkward horribleness that is the break-up conversation, with all the “It’s not you, it’s me” and the “I hope we can still be friends,” and the “I think you’re sister is prettier than you, what’s her story?”, and all the other old clichés. And after that mind-bendingly uncomfortable chat came to a close, you might have been fooled into thinking that you’re out of the woods.
But here’s the thing: you’re addicted to that person. Falling in love is a lot like getting hooked on cigarettes – does everyone see why I don’t write greeting cards? – in that you start to incorporate something so fully into your everyday existence. You do and say things without thinking about them and grow accustomed to the way they smell, the way they hold you, the way they say “I love you.” I’m not saying that exes cause cancer (I might be saying that) but I am saying that letting go of love is a lot like trying to quit your daily burns. Honestly, quitting smoking might be easier. If you’re like me – irritable, haggard, restless, and seemingly aging 10 years every week – you might find these tips helpful.
1. Remember why you want to quit.
People quit smoking for a lot of reasons: their family, their friends, and (most often) their own health and well-being. Someone who is trying to quit smoking is encouraged to write these things down and remind himself of them whenever he gets a craving. I have found that this exercise is also helpful when mending a broken heart, especially when that person is still in your life. You’ll be tempted to go back and when you are, just remember why you’re trying to quit this person. Did he cheat? Did she say things that someone who loves you really wouldn’t say? Moreover, think about the probably miserable emotional state you’ve been in since the split. Just like quitting smoking, this is about you and your health.
2. Don’t go cold turkey.
When a romantic relationship in my life comes to end, either by my doing or hers, my first instinct is to go cold turkey. I erase phone numbers, delete photos, unfriend or unfollow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I make sure I don’t have any way to contact her, see what she’s up to, or otherwise have any reason to think about her. And while this is sometimes effective, it often just makes things harder. Just like when you throw out every cigarette in your house and then drive to the gas station and midnight because you can’t beat the craving, quitting a person cold turkey often creates the opportunity for overly dramatic and emotional situations. Remember, you were in love with this person. It’s irrational to expect to be able to cut him or her out of your life altogether. I’ve also found that when you break up, it’s never just a one-and-done conversation. You’ll think of more things you want to say about her, your relationship, and why you think this is a bad (or good) idea; and so will she. You should both have the chance to say those things to each other. Going cold turkey won’t allow you to do that.
3. Find replacement activities.
Many people make a ritual out of their daily cigarettes. They have one after each meal, one of the drive to work and then on the drive home, etc. So when you decide to quit smoking, it’s only natural that those daily activities won’t feel quite right without a smoke. I recently had a friend tell me that he didn’t miss the actual chewing tobacco he is trying to quit as much as he misses the ritual of it. He has found that doing things like chewing gum or hard candies as a replacement for his oral fixation to be extremely helpful.
Life after a break-up is very similar. The last thing I did before I went to bed was text my (ex) girlfriend to tell her I loved her. The first thing she did when she woke up, usually around my lunch time (she worked nights) was text me good morning. Typically on Fridays, she’d come to the hospital where I worked for coffee or lunch. These were rituals that are common in relationships and something we both got used to. For weeks after we broke up, it was weird not to tell her goodnight. I still found myself waiting for her “Good morning, love of my life” text messages around noon. So what did I do when I had these “cravings”? I opened up the notepad on my iPhone and wrote down whatever it was that I wanted to say to her in that moment. It might sound crazy, but the ritual of it was very helpful. I replaced writing to her with writing about her. Finding ways to replace those little relationship rituals will help immensely.
4. Ask your doctor for help.
Guess what? Doctors sometimes know things. And even though you’ve likely been listening to lectures about how your healthcare provider can help you quit tobacco for as long as you’ve been smoking, it’s funny how often people forget to consult the doc when they’re finally ready to hang it up. The same goes for getting over someone. I’m willing to bet there is at least one person in your life who probably won’t shut up about therapy and how awesome it is and how it helped them get over… whatever. I know these people exist because I happen to be one of them. Admitting that you might need professional help to quit smoking doesn’t make you weak and neither does going to a therapist for your broken heart.
5. Avoid alcohol and other triggers.
We have all heard this one, “I only smoke when I’m drinking.” Similar to finding replacement activities, many websites recommend avoiding alcohol when you’re trying to quit, especially if you’re one of those “I smoke when I drink” type of people. When you’re quitting someone, it’s become socially acceptable to go out and get rip-roaring drunk to try and “get over her.” What we all know is that alcohol is a nervous system depressant. It’s not going to help you feel better. And, just like avoiding the bar, after a relationship ends you might find that there are places – and sometimes people – you need to avoid, for fear it will cause a relapse. It takes more than a little self-awareness to be honest about your triggers. It takes even more strength to learn to say no to those things, places, or people.
6. Get (and stay) active.
It’s really amazing what exercising can do. When you’re quitting smoking, it’s recommended for a number of reasons: you’re doing this for your health, so get healthy; it gives you something to do other than smoking; exercise promotes the release of endorphins which, unlike alcohol, actually will help you feel better. The parallels are probably obvious, so I won’t insult your intelligence by going into it. Exercising is good for you, that’s the point.
7. Don’t go it alone.
Whether it’s quitting smoking or getting over your ex, it’s easier when you don’t have to do it alone. Let the people in your life know what your plan is and get them to hold you accountable to it. When the cravings set in, pick up the phone and let someone know about your struggles. The support and encouragement of your friends and family make more difference than any of the previous tips combined. Sometimes all you need to is to hear someone say, “You can do this.”
Remember, you can do this.
You can do this. Really. Getting over someone you loved will be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever be asked to do. But guess what? You can do it. Just like when you put down the lighter and smokes, there will ups and downs, good days and bad. If you relapse, don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember, this takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight. The last year of my life has been nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. But I’m doing it.
And so can you.