If you know anything about me, you know that heartbreak and I are familiar friends at this point. Somewhat sadly, I have become extremely well-acquainted with the feeling of waking up the day after a heartbreak, feeling it hit me all over again, and promptly either sobbing my eyes out or going back to sleep to shut out the noise. It is a feeling most of us will come to experience at least once in our lives, and yet, it is a feeling I would never wish on another person (especially if they are anywhere near as emotional as I am).
So, what makes me an expert on heartbreak? Just because I have experienced it, does that make me qualified to preach truths and myths about it? Probably not. There are probably worse heartbreaks than the ones I have experienced and quite frankly, I, myself, am well aware of the fact that my most recent heartbreak is unlikely to be the last one in my life. At the end of the day, to love is to open yourself up to the inevitability of pain and I, for one, do not intend to ever stop loving. What I believe gives me the credentials to give any sort of advice on this topic is that I can confidently say I am one of the only people I know who can feel heartbreak to its full extent, let in every ounce of pain, and still bounce back. I know lots of people who bounce back and lots of people who feel their heartbreak fully, but it is rarely both – which makes sense. Heartbreak is a cruel, unforgiving feeling; it is human nature to want to repress something as visceral as the gut-wrenching pain of a broken heart and simply get back to normal life. However, its cruel and unforgiving qualities are also what makes it so difficult to move past – to feel it fully is to succumb to a seemingly bottomless pit of sorrow that seems inescapable. It’s possible to do both, though, to feel it all and to survive. To truly heal. Having done it myself (and having undergone yet another heartbreak in the last week), I am going to tell you what you should and should not believe about what you hear. If anything, I hope this list is a reminder (for me, as well) that life goes on and no matter what path you take, you will heal. If there is one thing that all heartbreaks have in common, they cannot last forever, just like anything else in life.
Myth #1: Healing is a linear process.
I am sure we have all heard this one by now, but healing is not linear. You could be doing fine for months, then see something that is a reminder of your heartbreak and need to start from square one again. Life, in this regard, is not like the movies; after a heartbreak, you do not get a montage where you pick up yoga, reconnect with nature, make amends with those you have wronged, and suddenly, become a new person. The rather frustrating part of healing is the fact that a lot of the time, right when you think you have reached the end, there will be a new setback. Your ex will come back, or you will find an old photograph with a friend who is not in your life anymore, or a family member. None of us were innately equipped with the skills to handle or even fathom loss. It can take months or years to move past an event that to another person, may seem insignificant, but if you need to heal from it, then it is not insignificant and you should put your time and energy into processing it and learning from it, and then eventually moving on. It is okay if you try and fail. As long as you keep trying.
Myth #2: There’s a right way to heal.
I would argue that there is a wrong way to heal. In one of my brushes with heartbreak, I, admittedly, picked up a few bad habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms to get me through the hurt. For what are hopefully obvious reasons, I would strongly advise against that. Coping mechanisms in general, are just that. Mechanisms to cope, not to heal, not to move on, not to make peace. They are temporary and while it is okay to lean on some of the healthier ones briefly, the truth is that the relief they provide is also temporary. Eventually, you will have to face your pain, and prolonging the process makes it much more difficult. However, even though I adamantly believe in the concept of wrong ways to heal, I refuse to believe that there is a right way to. If there was an effective five or twelve-step program to healing, there would not be nearly as many heartbroken people in the world, because let’s face it: there is nothing appealing about being heartbroken. It sucks. Heal in whatever healthy way feels right to you – mope if you must, put your life on hold, take a spontaneous trip to the beach, talk about it and cry about it and do whatever you need to do to feel it. The last step in the five stages of grief is acceptance; you have the right to do whatever it takes for you to get there.
Myth #3: Once you’ve healed, you can’t be sad about it anymore.
Some heartbreaks are bound to be heavier than others. Some have you down for the count for just a few days and some take years to move past. Either way, it is perfectly normal to be sad about them. If it broke your heart, it is, by default, a sad thing. You are allowed to feel sad about how you were treated or how you treated another person before either of you knew any better (bearing in mind the fact that most heartbreak is unintentional). Be compassionate with yourself. You are a human being who got hurt, deeply hurt – that, in and of itself, is something you have every right to be sad about, even after getting over it.
Truth: Healing looks different for every person.
So, what have we learned? Healing is not linear, there is no right way to do it, and you can always be sad about the pain you healed from, right? Well, the reason why the reverse of all of that can be true is because healing is genuinely not the same for any two people in the world. Heartbreak affects every person differently, so how can any two people’s healing processes look the same? It can’t. That is part of what is both terrifying and beautiful about healing; it is your road to go down, not anyone else’s. While it is scary to think about the fact that no one can give you the perfect cure-all or remedy to patch up your broken heart, it is also completely liberating. There is no right way to do this and no universal method. You should feel a little frightened, but mostly, I hope you delight in the fact that what happens from here is completely up to you. Unlike most things in life, you have total control over this element of your narrative. You get to do this your way. I hope knowing that brings you the same peace it has brought me.
If there is anything I have learned from my various experiences with heartbreak, it is that all of this is temporary. The joys before you even knew what heartbreak tasted like were momentary, but so was the pain of losing someone or losing yourself, which is usually what causes a broken heart. But heartbreak, just like joy, does not last forever, and are we not, in a way, lucky to have the capacity for either of those things? Is it not a gift to be able to feel at all, let alone so deeply? Every time I get heartbroken, I initially wallow and mope and blame myself for not having known better and I wish that I wasn’t feeling the way that I’m feeling. Only recently did I realize that to feel everything is always the better option over feeling nothing – to feel and to love, these are the reasons we are alive. These are the things that make life so special.
Wherever you are in your healing process, whether you have just started or you are several months or years in, know that you are not alone and it will not last forever. Finally, remind yourself that no matter how hard it is to accept the loss, and accept the fact that it is probably the first of many, you will get there eventually. Perhaps another universal truth about healing I should have included is that if we want to, we will all get there. No one is beyond saving and regardless of how dire it feels in the moment, me and you both will heal – no matter what it looks like or how long it takes.