How Heartbreak Changed My Life for the Better
December 11 is the biggest breakup day of the year. Here are six ways to heal.
by : Emily Latimer- Dec 9th, 2021
I was dog-sitting at an Airbnb one day this past January and I was freshly heartbroken. I hadn’t spent any time by myself since it happened 21 days prior; I clung to my mom and sister like a lifeline. And then suddenly, I was alone.
In the weeks after the breakup, I had developed a bad habit. I’d click my Instagram profile, find a photo of my ex and me, and check that he was still tagged. It was a compulsive action, fuelled by the misguided idea that I would find information to make me feel better. Finally the tag had disappeared and I dissolved into a pile of tears.
If you’ve ever scrolled through your ex’s feed and hurt your own feelings, you’re not alone. It sucks. It hurts. But a devastating breakup can be the catalyst to a life transformation.
“This is a powerful time,” says Taran Walia, a registered therapist and self-love coach in Vancouver. “This is going to shed all the layers and identities that we know.”
“When people come to me after a breakup, I’m like, ‘Cool, you’re ready.’ You’ve said no, or life has created this no for you. You’re ready to embody another level of you,” Walia says.
In the brutal wake of my breakup, I went on a quest to get better. Sitting in that Airbnb with that dog, I called my friend who said, “All the love you felt came from you. You can redirect it to yourself.” So that’s what I did. I leaned on my support network, moved to my cousin’s farm, and changed my life.
Newly heartbroken readers, I know you probably don’t want tips. You just want your ex back. At first I couldn’t follow any of these tips because I was denying reality. But December 11 is the most popular day of the year to break-up—here are six tips to heal.
Allow yourself to grieve
“We can talk really harshly to ourselves when we’re going through a breakup,” says Natasha Reynolds, a Toronto-based registered psychotherapist specializing in relationship concerns, anxiety and life transitions. “Hold space for yourself, acknowledge the emotions that come up, and accept them as part of the process. “Give yourself permission to just observe those memories and release [them], as opposed to judging and then wrestling with it and feeling more pain.”
Set clear boundaries
At the farm, I went no-contact with my ex. I removed myself from the outer world, deleted social media apps, and focused on spending time in nature. Blocking your ex avoids triggers down the road. Trust me, when you inevitably see that they have a shiny new partner, laughing on a boat together, you will cry. Every piece of information I gleaned would rattle around my brain and delay my healing.
Be mindful of whether you’re causing needless suffering for yourself. Walia calls this the bargaining phase — the most challenging part of a breakup where all the mess happens as you go back and forth to your ex and retraumatize yourself. “It’s a really hard place where people get stuck,” Walia says.
Have a self-care routine
In the bitter cold of February, I’d bundle up and walk down to the ocean to lay on the ice chunks. I let the sunshine hit my face. I’d plunge myself into the March waters, seeking mental fortitude. I’d remind myself that the freezing temperature was just a sensation and it will pass. Your routine doesn’t need to be so extreme but ask yourself: how am I going to take care of myself today?
“Heartbreak can be so debilitating,” Reynolds says. “Be super intentional about setting small goals.” So whether that’s a 10 minute walk, a shower, a nourishing meal, a big ol’ cry, or connecting with a friend who can give you some perspective, it will help you build a foundation to heal.
Soul-search and allow time to pass
To quote the great Taylor Swift, “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it.” No one wants to hear it, but time heals. Distance between yourself and the breakup allows you to gain perspective. Find things to do in the meantime. “Do things that you enjoy, that are part of your interests even prior to the relationship,” Reynolds says. “That helps you get that sense of creativity and normalcy.”
An indefinite list of hobbies I took up in less than one calendar year: doing karate, knitting, playing bass, watercolour painting, doing yoga, carpentry, and tarot reading. Skill building also builds self confidence. You have a lot to offer the world. At the beginning, if you need to do it for revenge, fine. Just be sure to come back to yourself.
Practice radical acceptance
Heartbreak is paradoxical. The hurt we feel is so profound that the answer must be equally so. We chase down memories and live inside them. We complicate the recovery. We lay in bed and just stare at what happened. We try to puzzle together exactly what went wrong, like trying to solve a winding conspiracy. We analyze and intellectualize and try to make sense of something that does not make sense.
In a breakup, hope is your enemy. Let go. Accept the right now, the present moment.
“When you practice radical acceptance, you’re saying this is where I am today. It’s okay. It doesn’t make me a flawed person having this relationship end,” Reynolds says.
On the farm, I looked up at a massive oak tree with its bare winter branches swaying in the wind and I thought, “I surrender.” When I found myself doing elaborate math or searching up horoscopes from months ago, I would interrupt the thought process with an analytical voice that said, “This situation does not require any further examination.”
Eventually, it’s time to find the road home to yourself. Develop your self-worth. Tolerate loneliness. Tolerate pain. Journal. Meditate. Reflect. Be still. Check in with yourself. How am I feeling right now? How can I respond with kindness? Go to therapy if you can afford it, or find a community group you can engage with.
Walia says clients get to the self-love piece when they’re ready for something more. “It can be a process to get there,” she says. But when they find the desire to love themselves, improve their self-worth, and create better tools for life, that’s where the growth happens.
Last winter, I often fell asleep listening to breakup coaches quietly talk through my iPhone speakers. I spent a year in online breakup communities voraciously soaking up everything I could to learn how to move on. This winter, I’m ready to leave them behind.
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