In the midst of heartbreak, our judgement isn’t the only thing that’s clouded. The future, our identities, the very fiber of who we are is somehow grossly unclear. It takes a remarkably long time to find yourself standing on solid ground after a dark break up—and an even longer time, it seems, when the relationship was, in and of itself, toxic. I spent a long time over-analyzing and wondering where things went south. I wrote sappy poetry….more than once. I mourned the loss of more than just the relationship, but also the weird little things that I became incapable of doing in its aftermath. Interestingly, I never cared to air the dirty laundry. This relationship broke a lot of things—my heart, my confidence, my concept of self and agency; but I never lost sight of one goal: to maintain respect…both for myself and the sanctity of a relationship that hadn’t always been unhealthy. Relationships are so incredibly intimate, we all need different things to heal and grow—trashing my ex and exposing the ugly, dirty pieces of our life together wasn’t part of my process. I don’t think it ever will be. Perhaps because I still have room to grow or, perhaps, because letting the world know how bad it was makes it feel worse.
Instead, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned over the past two and a half years. I want to share what helped me grow and truths that I’ve confronted. While I’m still gaining back pieces of myself, I know that I’m stronger now than I ever was before. I committed to a lifestyle that’s healthier and happier and I’m better for it.
- Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds—but it sure helps.
We hear a lot about the stages of grief, articles upon articles are written about the aftermath of a failed relationship. Of course one of the most common mantras is the classic “time heals all” and there’s certainly merit to it. Time has wonderfully powerful healing properties. As time passes, our ability to see the relationship realistically becomes clearer. Passing time is a HUGE part of what helped me heal. That said, so many other things were equally valuable: I read blog posts from fellow women who came out on the other side, my mom express mailed me a copy of Peter McWilliams’ book How to Survive the Loss of a Love (which I now swear by and send to all my friends who experience break ups), I developed new hobbies, and I went all in on rekindling the friendships I’d lost. Healing required work. It wasn’t so simple as the passing of days. Which brings me to my next point…
- Healing requires intention—and so does confidence.
Looking back, I hardly recognize that little girl. She was flawed, as we all are, she lacked gumption, she was argumentative and at the same time remarkably easy to influence, but she was also silly, loving and adventurous. In the end, she lost all confidence in herself—where both her physical appearance and personality were concerned. It was horribly degrading to confront how easily another person had molded me into a person I always thought I was too “strong” to become. Even as I was becoming her, I had the audacity to look at others and see them as weak for falling into the same trap as I was. In the aftermath, I knew I wanted to be bright again. I wanted to be confident in myself and heal on my own terms; I didn’t wake up one morning and say “I think I’ll get over this today,” but I did wake up and channel Sara Evans every day. I will get a little bit stronger today. I will get stronger today, and the next day, and the day after that. I decided to push myself more. Go out more. See my friends more. Take on a new activity at work. Cry less, wallow less, worry less. One day I decided that if anyone complimented me I would say thank you and I would mean it. Every. Single. Time. I wouldn’t make excuses. I wouldn’t back track. The first words out of my mouth will always be thank you. Sometimes this is a nuisance (see: when receiving unwanted advances), but most of the time as I internalize the compliments that people give, I grow more confident and sure of myself. Now, it’s second nature.
- There is no glory when a tornado meets a volcano. (Thanks Eminem!)
À la Russell Shiller (New Girl), I now recognize that intensity and passion aren’t always the bee’s knees. Sure, it’s wonderful to feel passionate and excited about a partner—but it isn’t healthy to mistake explosions for fireworks. Mature lovers don’t put you down, pick fights or fail to see your worth. In my relative naiveté, I thought love like ZEDD’s Clarity featuring Foxes was both enviable and admirable. To love someone with such intensity and fire seemed glamorous, adult and inspiring. I failed to see that just because stories and songs are written about tragic loves such as these that does not mean they’re the pinnacle of romance. The ultimate building block of a successful relationship is respect…there’s nothing sexier, more glamorous or more romantic than that.
- Getting back in the saddle helps…sometimes.
When I first started dating (not counting my fake sixth grade “boyfriend”…or any of the other “boyfriends” I may have had when I was a silly adolescent), my mom expressed serious confusion about the millennial courtship habits. Step One: Talking. Step Two: Boyfriend/Girlfriend (or what my mom would call “going steady”). That’s not a ton of steps. Somewhere in between the technology and the poor social skills, millennials have changed the very nature of dating. There’s no more “dating multiple folks at one time”; if you are even TALKING to more than one gent at a time then you’re considered a bit slimy. Despite this fact, I decided to try out casual dating for a bit. I’ll admit that things grew too confusing when I was juggling two gentlemen with the same name and a couple other contenders in my casual dating pool but I also learned a lot from the really great guys I dated. Eventually, I decided that casual dating is exhausting but I also wasn’t ready to be vulnerable with anyone yet. That said, one of the greatest lessons I drew from the whole experience is a stronger grasp of what I want in a partner…and what I don’t. I had the opportunity to express those things and learn how to vocalize not just my needs but also my desires. There are stigmas about casual dating, but it’s a great way to get your toes wet without plunging too deep into a world you’re not sure you’re ready for.
- It’s okay to do some rug sweeping.
In the months prior to being able to look at our pictures fondly, I lost my shit every time I saw his face (or the back of his head…or a shirt that was his that I kept). I never knew what would hurt, why, how or when. Testing myself seemed like pushing my luck. So for a really long time, I just hid from the world. I asked friends not to send me Snapchats if he was in them, I blocked him on Facebook, I deleted and blocked his number, I gave all the pictures of us to my best friend, my co-worker dropped a box of things at his house—I wasn’t ready to see him, hear him or speak to him. Of course I knew that I would eventually be able to handle it, but I had no idea when that would happen and I didn’t want to be put into a situation that made me feel uneasy or weakened. My healing process was paramount and I didn’t let anything get in my way.
- Immaturity is a compass that doesn’t point north.
Certainly, this relationship was toxic and unhealthy for many reasons but one of the biggest problems was that I had not ever been in a mature, committed relationship before. I had no idea what it felt like to be with a real partner and subsequently I didn’t know what to expect. Immaturity and naiveté lead me to a complete lack of understanding about normalcy in romantic relationships. I needed to grow in my own skin or I would never have a solid foundation with another person; as a result, a huge part of my healing process involved introspection.
- Trust your gut and follow your instincts.
My mama always told me to trust my gut; every time I haven’t, I have wished that I did. If something feels wrong…it is. Simple as that.
- Develop a plan.
In addition to internalizing compliments, I also committed to reflecting upon the past and envisioning the future. It doesn’t always feel good to think about the mistakes I made or how I ended up in that situation to begin with, but as part of my road to “healing”, I knew I needed to really understand what happened. So when I felt confident enough, I wrote about the relationship…a LOT. I analyzed it. I delved deep into my influences, personal quirks, strengths and weaknesses and started to think of what I really wanted out of life.
- Celebrate the little steps with the same ferocity as the milestones.
I spent a really long time crying at the drop of a hat after the break up. Sometimes it would be random shit—a smell that brought back intense memories or a song on the radio or a TV show when I was flipping through channels. I felt like I couldn’t control my own experiences and I felt helpless; I really didn’t want to cry anymore and I hated feeling weak. Some months post-break up, I decided to look through my tagged Facebook photos. Instead of tears and turmoil, I found that I was able to smile when I came across pictures from the “good times”. It was a small victory but it felt like I’d scaled Everest. After a while, I was able to listen to songs he’d sung to me…eventually, I could even pinky promise again. I still can’t watch any of the TV shows we used to binge together but with every success, I know I’m growing. Getting over heartbreak isn’t about setting a bar and then reaching it. Healing is about every single day; it’s about each and every step taking you a little further away until you look behind you and you can’t even see where you started.