Heartbreak has been one of the hardest life events for me to cope with in recovery. You go through a process of grief: not only do you grieve the loss of someone you loved dearly, but you also grieve the loss of a future you had planned. What’s more, a broken heart is both physically and emotionally overwhelming; those thoughts, emotions, and loss, come in waves as you try and navigate your newly single life.
You pick up the phone to call or text them, and realize you can’t do that anymore.
You register they’re no longer the first person you see when you wake up in the morning.
You read something you know they’d like and realize you can no longer share it.
You look over at the empty chair in your room where their dog used to sleep, missing them too.
The—what feels like—never-ending tears rolling down your face.
The feeling of emptiness.
The bone-aching loneliness which dampens any opportunity for joy.
The chasm of sadness that permeates your motivation to do anything.
In times of heartbreak we are being punctuated with thoughts of them. Especially waking up, and hitting the pillow to go to sleep—when my brain kindly replayed the happy memories on a big rose-tinted movie screen. It all just served as a reminder of my loss. Of what I can’t have.
I no longer have my person. It is just me. My rock has gone and I found myself unsteady on my feet.
But it is possible to get through it. In fact, it’s an opportunity to grow—even though I didn’t feel like taking that path. A good friend of mine, Veronica Valli, said that pain is an opportunity to learn and prepare for what is coming next. She said:
“The stage you are in right now is necessary. Without this experience, without the feelings you are feeling and without this process, you are going through, then you wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn what you need to learn, for what is about to happen next. You would be unprepared.”
I, like many others who suffer with addiction, am frightened of pain. I want to avoid it at all costs. Slowly, I realized this experience was something I needed to learn and grow from. Upon reflection, I have felt particularly unlucky in matters of the heart. Throughout my five years of recovery, I’ve had a string of unsuccessful relationships that have repeatedly tested my resolve. Each time, I am left heartbroken and devastated it didn’t work out—whatever the reason. I now realize that when I lean into the pain in a breakup, I am uncovering a pattern of behavior.
This most recent time around, I took the opportunity to learn; I didn’t want to keep repeating the painful cycle. In her words of encouragement, Veronica says:
“So do not skip it. It would be such a loss to not have this experience, the one you are having right now. Because even if it’s painful, difficult, uncomfortable. There are riches within it and if you mine the experience you will discover the riches.”
And so I began mining. I went to therapy. I asked for help with my relationships—to learn how to have healthy relationships that are set up for success, rather than pursuing ones doomed to fail.
During the therapy intake meeting, I spilled my heart out—my childhood, my story of addiction, my multiple traumas, the loss of my brother, my harms, my mental illness. The therapist asked me about life today—my coping skills, my recovery, my recent and monumental relocation to the US, and my support network of friends. While she acknowledged that I might need some short-term support in intimate relationships, she called me highly functioning and was astonished at what I had overcome.
That process showed me something that I don’t appreciate enough: If I can triumph over all of that, I can deal with anything—heartbreak included.
I don’t think the end of a relationship is ever painless, you just become accustomed to the motions that you need to go through to heal. You realize you have a choice as to how supportive and compassionate that process can be. For me, that looks like this:
1. Remember why
I made a list of the reasons why I broke up. I had to keep them close to reflect on during moments I wanted to avoid the pain, or when tempted to go back.
2. Come up with a radical self-care plan
Try your best to stick to it (even when you don’t want to):
3. I went to yin (or restorative) yoga three or times a week
4. I worked out three times a week, and cycled or walked every day
5. I ate at least two healthy, nutritious meals every day
Even when I just wanted to eat toast, or nothing.
6. I meditated every morning and evening before bed
I used meditation as a tool to calm painful feelings, for acceptance, and to relax me for sleep.
7. Write/express yourself
I journaled every day to express my thoughts and feelings. I noted what I had achieved that day, even if it was to get up, meditate and journal.
8. Physical touch
Even though I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else touching me, I treated myself to a weekly caring activity like a pedicure and a massage. In my home, I used lots of cushions, throws, and put on an aromatherapy diffuser to create a calm and caring environment.
I spoke to people every day. I told all of my close friends what had happened, asked for their support which included checking in with me regularly, given my propensity to withdraw in times of emotional pain. Sometimes, just being with others helped.
While these activities don’t take away the pain, they do ease it. I found both time, as well as these self-care activities were all I really needed to support me through the process. I am sure this isn’t the end of the pain either; there will be future heartbreaks. But I know now, and I know that in the future, that I’ll be okay. I am strong and resilient and I have overcome far greater.