Sometimes life is an absolute car crash. It’s a sunny day and you’re out for a drive, the light turns red but some idiot decides to floor it, and a perfect Friday turns into a dazed trip to the emergency room. Your car is crumpled and both your legs are broken and you had no idea this would happen as you poured milk on your cereal that morning. Sometimes the car crash comes in the form of a broken heart and it might not seem like the worst problem in the world, but it can be one of the hardest things to go through. I was going through one of these when I received one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard:
“Feel it all.”
It was one of the messiest break ups I’ve ever had. It was good in theory. We seemed like the perfect couple and the relationship was a long time coming. Almost a year of flirting and repressed feelings, drunken kisses and confessions, a definite connection and deep conversations that lasted well into the night. What could go wrong? Well, the actual thing itself lasted for a little over a week and was a circus of pushing and pulling, of uncertainty and doubt, but never in my worst case scenarios did I imagine how it would end.
Turned out she fucked her ex-boyfriend twice behind my back even as she was spending nights with me, and still had the guts to tell me she loved me, lying the whole time. She also had a pregnancy scare and in the end, they got back together again. It was a total wreck. The betrayal cut me deeply and tainted all the memories we ever made.
During those times, the initial solutions I turned to were destructive: I wished for a bath tub full of whiskey, self-harmed, didn’t eat, listened to a lot of Adele (always a clear indicator there’s something wrong): I was turning all my hate, sadness and anger inwards, feeding it constantly. If I couldn’t run away from these feelings, I would drown myself in them. But those three words saved me. Feel it all. It was so liberating and made me feel that being weak at that moment did not mean that I wasn’t brave. The moment I heard them, I felt a tight knot inside me loosen up.
So I decided to just let myself feel what I was feeling. It wasn’t easy, but I ignored the instinct to hurt myself more and dismissed the urge to run away from what was happening. I was sad, I was hurting, I was confused and I felt alone. These and more were already churning inside me, and I realized that I can’t keep fighting them. I needed to stop pretending that they didn’t exist because they did.
Pain was a wave and I had to be strong enough to let it wash over me until the tide began to subside. I had to trust that my heart was strong enough to not let me drown even though it got so hard to breathe sometimes.
It took days and days and days. And then one morning I woke up and the pounding in my chest wasn’t so bad anymore. I began to actually think of her as a human being who just made a mistake. It took time and a daily decision to keep myself active despite the unceasing emotional static, but I managed to stop demonizing her and the time we had together. I even found myself wishing her and her boyfriend well, for their relationship to work out this time around. It felt a lot like waking up from a violent nightmare and finding yourself in a comfortable bed with soft sunlight all around you.
Break ups suck and there is no exception to that fact. Take it all the time you need but remember to allow yourself to accept that it hurts right now. Let your heart be as open to the bad things as it is to the good things, and you’ll find that the more familiar you are with how horrible your world can get, the less power it has to take you off guard. There’s a reason why scars are so fascinating: each one is a story of survival, of trials faced and overcome. Sometimes our scars are not visible to anyone else but us, silent reminders of all those times we were broken but not destroyed.
Hearts are extremely resilient. They can take a beating, emerge bruised and bleeding, and still have the strength to stand up to fight another day. So let’s give ourselves more leeway than we usually do: know that choosing to feel it all during those moments when pain threatens to overwhelm is one firm step towards being okay again one day.