Six months ago, I broke up with my best friend.
I don’t mean that in the obligatory-refer-to-your-significant-other-as-your-best-friend-in-a-Facebook-anniversay-post kind of way. I mean that this girl had been my best friend and partner in crime for several years before we starting going out.
Our relationship was a John Green novel waiting to happen. Once we started dating, everyone just assumed it was going to last. It didn’t.
Reflecting on the break-up, there were 7 steps that helped me survive. Think of them like a break-up first aid kit – they aren’t going to give you everything you need long-term, but they might just help you get through that initial period of brain-melting emotional turmoil.
1. Let it suck
A study carried out by Rutgers University found remarkable similarities between the neurological effects of break ups and cocaine addiction. That’s right – cocaine addiction. Your emotional state right now resembles that someone craving a Class-A drug. No wonder the triple-fudge ice-cream doesn’t seem to cut it.
It might be tempting to drawn your sorrows or rebound faster than you can say “Tinder”, but the only (healthy) way to get thorough a break up is straight through the middle.
What’s important is accepting where you’re at, and doing whatever you need to do to let yourself feel it – write it down, talk to a friend, or listen to an Adele album on repeat.
2. Love yourself
A liquid diet of tears and melted ice-cream may be exactly what you need on day one, but to restore some sense of normalcy to your life, it’s important to get into good habits.
Eat healthy. You’re already exhibiting neurological symptoms akin to drug withdrawal; the least you can do is provide your body with basic nutrients.
Get plenty of sleep. By that I mean getting a solid 7+ hours every night, not just falling asleep on the couch with the Princess Bride on repeat.
Exercise. It releases endorphins (the feel-good chemicals) and you’re probably pretty short on those at the moment. Join a gym, buy a punching bag, or even just go for a short walk once a day.
3. Keep busy
After a break-up, I’ve usually felt a significant sense of loss – not (just) because I miss my ex, but because my daily habits were shaped by being in relationship with her.
I hadn’t just broken up with the person, I’d broken up with a significant part of my day-to-day life. In its place was this giant empty space.
To escape the void, keep busy. It probably won’t feel like it straight away, but being single actually rocks. You’ve suddenly got a whole bunch of extra free time to (re)connect with friends and family, improve your culinary prowess, or fix motorcycles. Just whatever you do…
4. Don’t make any drastic life decisions
You might want to remind yourself that This too shall pass by getting the words tattooed in Old English 72pt font on your rib cage, but hold off for a couple of months. The same goes for changing your hairstyle, place of work/study, and country of residence.
If you’re still listening to Adele on repeat, you’re probably not in the best place to make life-lasting decisions.
5. Make a clean break
Even if one of you has dropped the “just friends” bomb, your break up probably isn’t going to lead to a solid friendship. It definitely isn’t going to lead to one right away.
Give yourself some space to work though steps 1-3 and figure out what your life looks like without this relationship. Any contact with your ex can re-open old wounds, so try to go on a total he/she-tox for at least a month. Unfriend them, unfollow them and lose their number.
Finally, getting back together a week after you’ve broken up is a TOTAL violation of Steps 1, 2, and 4. Before you can decide whether it’s worth another shot, or if you should even stay friends, you need to make a clean break for a while.
6. Forgive them
I hope you get to skip this step. Honestly though, for most people, it’s the hardest step of all. This is where the post moves from break-up first-aid to long-term healing.
Forgiveness means letting go of the grievance you’re holding against someone else –letting go of any feelings of bitterness, resentment, and vengeance towards that person.
Forgiving doesn’t doesn’t mean excusing the wrong or saying it doesn’t matter. That’s denial. Forgiveness says, “I know what you did. It hurt. But I’m not going to hold it against you.”
Finally, forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion. You don’t have to feel forgiving to forgive. Heck, most of the time you probably won’t, and the hurt you’re feeling probably won’t just disappear. But regardless of how you’re feeling, forgiving will be a massive step on the road to healing.
7. Stay hopeful
On the whole, I’ve found post-break up me goes for one of two world views:
1) Super jaded – true love is a myth; romance is nothing more than a chemical concoction phenylethylamine, norepinephrine, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin. Besides, I’m a strong independent man who don’t need no woman.
2) Totally devastated – I’ve lost my one true soul-mate. There will never be another (not that it matters, because I’m totally unlovable). Guess I’m doomed to wander alone for all my days.
None of that’s true, but it certainty feels that way when a break-up sends you to rock bottom. Time is the great healer here, and it’s been my experience that the hardest stuff is where we grow the most.
So let it suck, love yourself, keep busy, DON’T make any drastic life decisions, DO make a clean break, forgive them, and through it all, try to stay hopeful.