“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. “ - Mitch Albom
Unless you married your high school sweetheart, you have experienced heartbreak. Grief is the reflection of a connection that has been lost. It feels like the worst kind of rejection, the ultimate devastation, when the person with whom you wanted to spend your life, for example, suddenly ends the relationship. We can feel blind-sided and search endlessly for answers… “Did I miss the clues? How could he break up with me when just a week ago, we were having a great time on vacation?” Such thoughts rummage through our brain, seeking for and yet rejecting all answers as no explanation could possibly justify our hurt.
Psychologists say that withdrawal from love is similar to the effects of withdrawal from a drug. Love is a powerful force. Before I share specific ways to mend your broken heart, let me first be very clear. Grief and loss are complex. The process of overcoming loss is as unique as each of you. You may have heard of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) but none of this is linear and some people skip steps. All this is to say that there is no wrong way to experience what you’re feeling. There are, however, some steps to help you to accept and move forward.
First, recognize that you need to cut ties with your ex. Stalking him on social media, trying to reconnect in any way, real or imagined, will only delay your healing and serve as a drug. You’ll keep wanting more. These tactics are a way for us to keep the hope alive. Stop searching for answers to why it didn’t work out. We think the answers have to be as complex, magnificent and proportional to the pain we’re feeling. But often the truth is very simple and can be extremely hard to accept. No one can provide closure for you except you. Instead of idealizing the person and remembering only the good times, make a list of the bad times and the bad qualities – he is not perfect. Keep your relationship in perspective. Use this time to learn something new about you. What red flags did you miss? What are the lessons? These steps will help you to move toward accepting and letting go.
1. Self Care: I don’t know about you but I feel emotionally drained from a heavy feeling in my heart. I get really tired, physically and mentally. I want to crawl under my comforter and sleep for hours. Your body is telling you to slow down. Make sure to sleep. Sleep is the best medicine. You regenerate your cells while sleeping. Nourish yourself. Eat good food even when you don’t feel hungry. Get a massage and a mani-pedi. Meditate for 10 minutes. Learn to spend time alone, reflecting and honoring your feelings. Start a gratitude journal, I swear by it. At the end of each day, before you go to sleep, write down just three things that made you happy today. It could be as simple as the coffee you had on way to work in 10-degree weather or the adorable dog that ran up to you or that someone held the door of the subway for you during rush hour. Simple things add a whole lot of joy. And eventually, they change our perspective. It really works. Try it. Check out “Simple Abundance” by Sara Ban Breathnach.
2. Lean into your emotions: Don’t minimize your own feelings. You feel what you do and there’s no wrong way to grieve. Grief is personal. Don’t be afraid to feel your feelings. Honor your feelings. The only way out of the pain is through the pain. Anne Lamott wisely noted, “Only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.” Go ahead and cry if you feel sad. We can’t bypass those feelings by ignoring or suppressing them. That is your way of healing. Give yourself the time to grieve. Otherwise, “what we resist persists.”
3. Talk about your feelings: Talk to a trusted friend, mentor or therapist. If you have a hard time opening up, then start journaling every day. Write about the negative feelings that come up. If you need closure, then write a letter to your ex stating everything you want to express. Putting pen to paper is a remarkably easy but productive and cathartic process. By the way, I would advise not mailing the letter. For those of us on the listening end, don’t try to fix or judge your friend’s grief. Being present is the best gift you can give.
4. Reflect: Reflect on the parts of you that you did not honor in your relationship. Reflect on the lessons and what you learned about yourself. We repeat what we don’t repair. What has your last relationship taught you? What was your part in the relationship? I encourage you to take some real time (weeks not days) for yourself instead of hopping from one relationship to the next. Unless you process your feelings and your experience, you’ll only jump into another relationship prematurely, bringing all of your emotional baggage with you. If you want the next relationship to have a fighting chance, then take some time for yourself. Read uplifting books. Read about grief and loss. “How to fix a broken heart” by Guy Winch or “When things fall apart” by Pema Chodron are two excellent resources. Listen to Ted Talks or podcasts. There are many free, good resources available.
5. Take new action: Cultivate the parts of yourself that have a void from the loss. The loss is a part of your identity and a loss of the social life you may have shared as a couple. Are you making new friends or joining a new group? Perhaps you like to cook and there’s a monthly cooking group nearby. What habits and hobbies have you neglected during your relationship? How can you become more interesting? Exercise is another excellent endorphin booster. Take a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. Go outside and get some sun – vitamin D has been shown to boost your happiness and health. Go to the gym if there is one nearby. Keep your body moving and engaging. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help lift you out of a depression. If you find that your depression is getting worse and you’re feeling helpless, please see your doctor or a therapist.
There’s no quick fix for a broken heart. There’s also no wrong way to grieve. Learning to accept and let go, instead of holding on to the idealized version of what was, are goals you can work toward. As devastated as you may be feeling today, know that you are not alone. Honor your feelings and lean into them. You matter. No matter how painful this feels today; believe that you will be okay. Have faith in your resilience and your ability to love again. Nothing happens to us but for us. I know that I am one step closer to what is meant for me. “My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.” Iman Al-Shafi’l