There’s no one way to do it, no science to the process of healing — or at least I don’t believe so. People will lend you advice as though they’ve figured it all out. And maybe I’m a hypocrite for writing this, maybe my efforts are in vain. After all, I don’t know you. But as a stranger, one who is admittedly hurting and healing, I hope I can share something authentic, something helpful. I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have this all figured out, but maybe we can help each other. This is how you heal.
Imagine your story as someone else’s. A stranger’s maybe, or your best friend’s. Think of the kindness you’d lend that person, the one whose heartbreak is identical to yours. Think of how quick you’d be to forgive, and give yourself that same gift. Treat yourself with compassion, the same kind you offer the people you care about without question. Care about yourself in that same way. Remember the dignity that remains intact, regardless of the mess you think you’ve made of yourself.
Let yourself indulge a little, especially early on when everyone is telling you otherwise. Let your thoughts wander to him when you can’t sleep, let memory be your lullaby. Send that text message you know you’re not supposed to, the one that lets him know you’re not actually the cool girl who can brush off heartbreak like it’s nothing. You don’t want to be her; apathy was never your style. Be honest. Then, forgive yourself for caving. The initial moments of healing may not be pristine, they may not align with the well-intentioned advice of your friends and family. They may be messy and tangled and unclear and confusing and bad for you.
We act as though hurt can be measured in time, that it can be minimized if we follow a certain set of steps. Maybe in some ways it can, but hurting is complex, and healing is fluid. At times it will feel like you take two steps forward only to immediately take ten steps backward, in giving in to weakness and vice. But healing is subtle, it occurs independent of our awareness. Don’t let yourself be defeated by the moments that feel like setbacks along the way.
Recognize that this will happen over and over again, that hurting is part of being human. Sit in a coffee shop, a quiet classroom, or on the steps of your apartment and pay attention for once. Put your headphones away and listen to the words being exchanged around you. Watch the shaky knees and jittery hands, the familiar tired eyes and scraggly hair of restless nights and stressful days, and recognize that living can be really difficult sometimes. Recognize that the hurting connects you in a crazy twisted way.
But know that the healing also connects you. Acknowledge it. Smile at a stranger as he walks into a warm building, shutting out the cold air still filling his lungs. Watch the redness in his ears disappear as they warm to a normal temperature once again. Share in that familiar relief, in that undeniably human moment you know well. Remember that we’re all just trying to survive the cold.
Try to figure out what is good for you each day. Be honest even if it reveals you to be (seemingly) weak. Be authentic even when the world is telling you to keep that stiff upper lip, to hold back tears, to not let them see you when you’re down. Don’t shy away from the moments that make you feel something intensely, don’t be afraid of the reaction, yours or anyone else’s.
Know when to ask for help — this is important. Know when the hurting isn’t normal, when the world gets too heavy. Don’t feel guilty for reaching out. Don’t feel weak for needing someone to hold you until you fall asleep, to stay on the line until the scary feeling passes and you catch your breath, to sit in the passenger seat at two in the morning when you want to run away, to tell you everything will be OK over and over again until you sort of, maybe, kind of, actually believe them.
Ask for hugs, for pep talks, for a friend to brunch with on Sundays, a roommate to go shopping with, a Skype date with your sister, a friend to play in the snow, for time with people who make everything hurt a little less. It takes a certain kind of vulnerability to let yourself need someone. Remind these people how incredible they are. Instead of apologizing for being an inconvenience, thank them until you know—with certainty — that they get it.
Give yourself permission to feel good. After so many days, the consistency of hurting can feel numbingly comfortable. Let you favorite song pick you up when you thought nothing could. Let the warmth of the sun on the back of your hands remind you that this feeling is temporary. Don’t be stubborn to the healing, even if you feel justified in your hurting. Instead, fill every bit of yourself with goodness. Let the healing surprise you when it comes.