Healing from Heartbreak

I talk about my educational journey often. But what I don’t often talk about is the specifics surrounding starting my blog and social media channels.

I was feeling super lost after graduating from college, having absolutely no vocational direction. I was floundering. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted in life.

And this was largely due to a break-up that shattered my (albeit at the time, very small) lens and world.

My college love was my first deep love. It was the first place I felt safe and began to like and understand myself. We went through formative years together and it changed my whole world and view (am I dramatic or what??!! read: was I young and naive or what??!)

It’s kind of impossible to describe what it’s like the first time you fall in love. It’s the best and most terrifying feeling. Suddenly all I wanted to do was be with this person. I was completely and utterly (/horrifyingly) obsessed with this person and thought I would spend the rest of my life with him.

When we broke up, not only did I lose this idea of a future, but I felt like a very large part of myself had died. It was a big and devastating and dramatic kind of mourning.

This break-up (and finding out pretty shortly after we broke up that my ex had moved on so quickly…with the person he cheated on me with…) nearly broke me. I couldn’t get out of bed, everything was in slow motion, I developed pretty significant disordered eating behaviors, and felt joyless. I was awful to be around. I felt physically and emotionally ugly and unlovable. I can’t remember a lot of this time in my life and for that I’m thankful. Needless to say, I was extremely depressed, lost and lonely.

(important to note: I have absolutely no regrets about this relationship, though of course wish things ended a bit differently. When relationships end and all of those feelings are raw and fresh, it’s easy to blame a single person. Now that I have the emotional bandwidth to look back critically at my own behavior, I can see how manipulative and toxic (and young!) I was, too. While I know my behavior was a reaction to being so hurt, it’s still not something I’m proud of.)

What made this break-up so painful is that I had zero identity that was my own. Our Venn-diagrams of “self” were entirely overlapping.

And so, the crux of this post is centered on the difficulties and dangers of when your relationship becomes your “everything.” When you lose yourself and your entire identity is wrapped up in another person, especially during your first and most formative relationship. Because this then became the model of how I thought I was supposed to feel in each subsequent relationship (red flag, red flag, red flag!) and it has taken literal years for me to unwrap myself from this extremely unhealthy attachment style.

If I could go back and give myself advice about healing after heartbreak, here’s what I would say:

  1. Feel the pain. You are human. Pain and suffering is so deeply human. Ignoring or repressing it won’t make it go away,  it’ll just evolve and re-present in sneaky ways – ie being short tempered, snapping or crying easily, drinking way more than you need to.
  2. Get in therapy and be really honest with your therapist. You don’t have to pretend you’re doing okay. You’re really not and the sooner you’re honest and ask for help, the sooner you’ll realize you can’t go through any hard thing alone.
  3. Spend some time learning about attachment theories. Things will make things make much more sense. Read or listen to Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find and Keep Love.
  4. I’ve also heard great things about How to Fix a Broken Hear by Guy Winch (or this TedTalk)
  5. You don’t have to go to the gym for 2 hours a day and meticulously count every morsel of nourishment that enters your body. It won’t help. It’ll make you feel more depleted, empty, and unlovable. Go for a walk, take a deep breath, move in way that feels juicy and joyful, not that feels compensatory and exhausting. You’re tired enough. Read or listen to The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love.
  6. Listen to things that make you laugh and cry at the same time, like these episodes on Girls Gotta Eat:
  7. Treat yourself like you’re sick – sleep more, drink water, lay low on caffeine and alcohol and choose comfort foods mindfully.
  8. You’re in a constant state of sympathetic nervous state. Try a few of these things to downshift back to parasympathetic.
  9. INVEST IN YOURSELF. The reason this break-up is so painful is because there is no independent version of you. When you spend all your time loving someone else, and you only love yourself vicariously through the love you give to another person, you cannot heal. Take yourself out on a date, research different jobs that you think may suit you, take a new class, learn a new skill plan how you want your professional life to look, and for that matter start envisioning what you want your entire future to look like without it revolving entirely around someone else. You don’t have to start with a plan, you can start with a feeling.
  10. Keep a folder in your phone of things that make you laugh/smile. Revisit on the tough days.
  11. Whenever you feel a spark of passion, purpose, or joy for/about something, write it down. Come back to this list. Keep writing.
  12. Try something new (I started a blog…ha ha ha ha).
  13. For when the sneaky thoughts of “well what if!” or “when we both change and can think about getting back together!!” thoughts sink in, sometimes it’s helpful to create a list of the reasons you weren’t a good match or the hurt and destruction you caused each other. Not to necessarily perseverate on the bad, but to maybe add some balance and clarity to a situation that was markedly unhealthy.
  14. Spend time with friends and family. It probably won’t feel as good as hanging with your ex. Sigh. But start rebuilding and investing in those relationships. These people will keep you afloat for years to come.
  15. Volunteer and donate. Give to others.
  16. Write down the things you like about yourself that have NOTHING to do with another person. Keep that list and watch it grow.
  17. Cry.
  18. Unfollow/block everything triggering or upsetting on social media (including that person!). Or anything that sparks the comparison monster.
  19. You can start dating even if you’re not really ready. It’ll be rocky and weird but you’ll learn something new about yourself every time.
  20. Forgive. (it literally took me 7 years out of the above relationship to heal and forgive. I had other relationships and still harbored anger. It wasn’t until I truly respected, trusted and deeply knew myself that I had the capacity to forgive someone I felt so wronged by (as above – I did a lot of wronging, too!). Progress isn’t linear and I spent a lot of time being hurt and angry. And then I realized it’s more painful for me to feel those feelings than it is to just let them go. I had so much more space, bandwidth, and capacity to do things that brought me happiness when I let go of the thing that caused me so much pain)
  21. Put yourself in the way of new experiences if they feel safe. Plan one little thing per week that you’re looking forward to. You don’t have to say no SO much (sometimes is okay, especially in the beginning).
  22. It’s okay to accept that a version of you will always love a version of that other person. That doesn’t mean you can’t give and feel other love to another. You will love again!!!
  23. Know that you will learn to stand on your own again, even though it feels really wobbly most of the time.

The most cliche and yet the most true thing is it just takes time. But the above really did help build/re-built my self worth and efficacy.

There is nothing more powerful or radical than authentically choosing and loving yourself for exactly who you are in any given moment. A love dedicated to you alone, with no conditions or strings attached. This book taught me that.

With each subsequent break-up after the first one, I feel less shattered because I have myself, a really strong support network of family and friends, and a therapist to lean on. I have other pillars beyond a single person. I have a big, rich, robust full life that I’ve built, and had so much help building along the way. I know it’s possible to be alone without being gut-wrenchingly lonely. I’m deeply content and okay even when certain moments or days don’t feel okay. I can see the big picture and trust fully in the timing of my life. It took decades to get here but fuck it feels good.

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