Healing a Broken Heart

Getting your heart broken is a painful experience many endure at some point in their lives, though to different magnitudes and in different ways. I’ve had my heart shattered in high school by my first “love,” in my early 20s when my longterm boyfriend and I realized we were growing apart, and recently when the guy I thought was my person for life let me go.

Heartbreak does not get easier as you age. In fact, it feels more painful each time it happens. Like a nail in the coffin, it just adds to the turmoil that already exists — especially if you don’t take the time to properly heal.

That’s where I am right now. Sitting in my pain, waking — each day — to the realization that I lost someone I shared a home with, someone who told me he wanted to get married, wanted to have children with me, wanted to grow old together. I am grieving the memories we made as well as the future we promised each other.

And it fucking hurts. There’s no way around it, no better way to put it. It is devastating and gut-wrenching and physically painful. 

But people have the right to change their minds. They have the right to say, “This isn’t working for me anymore.” They have the right to put themselves first, no matter how much it might hurt you.

That is a risk we all take when we get romantically involved with another person. And it’s terrifying, but it’s worth it. I wouldn’t take back a single second spent with any of my past partners, because in those moments, I truly witnessed and experienced deep love. And for that, I am so grateful.

But to heal from these intense emotions and bonds, you can’t run away from the pain. You can’t numb it with substances or distract yourself with other people. You can try, but you won’t actually make any progress unless you really let yourself grieve. You’ll only find yourself repeating the same patterns, just with new people. You won’t be giving yourself the chance to find out just how beautiful the other side of it can be. The experience you gain. The insight you can someday share with your children when they’re enduring loss. The independence and resilience you discover within yourself.

The only way out of heartbreak is through it. To fully feel and embrace it.

The week after my breakup, I didn’t think I would recover. As dramatic as that sounds, I couldn’t seem to stop panicking and crying and pacing my new apartment. I thought I would feel this way forever. I thought it would destroy me.

But as the days passed, as I reached out to loved ones, as I told my side of the story and shared the emotions I’d been repressing with my closest people, as I formed bonds with new friends and reconnected with old ones, I started to see it more clearly. I started to walk with my head held high again, started to carry myself with the confidence I’d somehow lost over the past year.

One morning, after a night out with my college friends, I began tearing up in the diner during breakfast. My friend looked me in the eyes and told me, “Look how beautiful it is you are able to feel so deeply and freely. That is a true gift.” 

Then, he opened up about his own experiences with heartbreak, and we only spoke highly of the people we once loved, because no amount of anger or resentment will bring them back. No amount of blaming or hatred will make them change their minds. And anyway, we wouldn’t even wish for that. Because at the end of the day, we all deserve someone who is willing to stay. We all deserve a love that does not expire.

We spent the rest of the day exploring my new town, replacing old painful memories I’d once made when I first moved here, during the thick of the split, and we sipped our coffees and shared music and wrote poetry in chalk by the river. We talked about spirituality and how the universe works in wondrous ways, and we fueled our hope and faith in the future.

When I got home, back to my solitude, I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I didn’t curse the quiet or sink to the floor in sobs. I took it all in: the whole picture, not just the one part of my life that was in turmoil. I looked around the apartment I was now renting on my own, with its high ceilings, large windows, and charming view. I thought about the new novel I’m writing for my publisher, and how I now had even more inspiration to draw from. I heard the text tones on my phone going off with countless loved ones offering their words of encouragement and support. Then, I drove to the beach to meet my soul sister for a long stroll along the water, making plans to possibly move there in the springtime, because my life was now whatever the hell I wanted it to be.

And in just this past month, I’ve done things I hadn’t in a long while, and might never have if I was still leading my past life — the life that truly wasn’t even my own. I went to dive bars where my cousin somehow turned a fight between two middle-aged men into a round of free shots. I danced to live music played by some of my closest friends. I sang “Happy Birthday” to my pop-pop, who finally recovered from COVID after being hospitalized. I felt my nephew kicking in my sister-in-law’s stomach. I laughed until I cried, and cried until I laughed, my closest friends and family members sleeping over when I didn’t want to be alone, my mom and dad holding me in their arms as I quite literally fell apart. I reconnected with an old friend at our hometown bar, afterward sharing paragraphs of deep conversations we never would have gotten to have if I hadn’t been authentically me — the me I had been hiding because I didn’t feel she could be loved as her most genuine self. 

There are tears streaming down my face as I write this blog post in my new go-to cafe downtown, because I am so fucking grateful for everything and everyone I have, but I still miss that person. I miss our life together. I miss the restaurants where we’d eat appetizers, dinner, dessert, then go to CVS to buy even more snacks for our movie night. I miss the mornings we’d spend sipping coffee under the covers in bed, the roadtrips with our shared Spotify playlist shuffled in the car, even the silly arguments we’d have over the dishes in the sink or the laundry on the floor.

And that’s okay. Because that means I have someone to miss. I had someone in my life for quite some time, who I was able to feel so deeply for that living without them right now is excruciating. And that is a beautiful problem to have. The fact that our hearts and our souls can hold the capacity for that much love will never cease to amaze me, and I will always be thankful to have experienced that kind of connection with another human. I will always think of him and smile — even if that’s with tears in my eyes.

Grief can be unbearable. It can feel like you will never survive. Like you couldn’t possibly get to the other side of this. Like you will never feel okay again.

Grieving someone who is still alive, but simply no longer in your life, brings a cruel kind of pain. It’s especially hard when the person you’re grieving once represented love and safety — when they felt like home. But you have to build a home within yourself first, or you will always be searching for it in someone else.

When someone chooses not to stay, your only choice is to let them go. It isn’t personal; it isn’t about you. Remember how much of a privilege it is for someone else to have access to you, to be in your life. Focus on what you are gaining, not what you are losing. Just because someone doesn’t see your light doesn’t mean you don’t shine, or that someone else won’t be absolutely enamored by it.

Healing isn’t easy, or linear, or even logical. It’s complicated and confusing and feels agonizing and unfair at times. But it is the only way to survive. It is the only way to get where you deserve to be. To meet the people you’re meant to meet, do the things you are meant to do.

So write that book. Reach out to that old friend you’re always wondering about. Sit alone in a cafe and cry while sipping hot coffee. Explore your town like a tourist. Dance and sing like no one is around you. Take your power back, and never sacrifice it to make someone else happy. You are so important and worthy, just as you are.

I was recently catching up with a close friend from middle school, someone I’ve always shared a special bond with, when he brought up an article I wrote on this very blog and said: “You helped me without even knowing it.”

He’s right: I had no idea. I never even knew he’d been reading my work, or that anyone took the time to actually digest my words and give a shit about what I had to say and share. I mostly write for my own healing, but to know I have helped others gives me an unmatched sense of purpose that gets me out of bed every day.

You really never do know who you’re impacting and the purpose your mere existence has in this world. It is enough to just be who you are. To the right people, you will be seen as a light shedding hope in even the darkest moments.

And, if you are reading this, if this has impacted you in some way, even if we are strangers or long-lost friends or just people who creep on each other on the internet (we’ve all been there, haven’t we?), don’t be afraid to reach out. To connect. To say, “Hey, I’ve felt this, too” or “I’m really struggling with this right now. Can we talk about it?”

Life is all about connecting with others. Humans are wired to crave that connection, albeit some more than others. That’s why it is so painful when we lose a relationship with someone — romantic or not. But there will always be more bonds to form, and we don’t have to look back with anger or sadness about what we’ve lost (but it’s okay to do that for a while, too), rather with gratitude for what we once had. 

We’re all just trying our best, and that is enough. You are enough. And to the right people, you will be the sun.

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