“I can’t do this anymore.”
The words still ringing in your ears, bouncing around until they land like a punch in the gut. You’re immediately transported to a new world, one you didn’t know existed before this moment. A world and life without your beloved.
It doesn’t feel real. You pinch yourself to wake up from this nightmare, but you’re still here, still spinning from this declaration, this revocation of love.
Warm tears stream down your face until you begin to sob, that terrible uncontrollable sob that leaves you gasping for air. You want to hide away, cry yourself to sleep, and somehow magically feel better tomorrow.
We’ve all been here. Or some variation of it. We’ve all had our hearts broken and stomped on. We’ve all turned over every moment of our relationship in our heads and wondered, “What could I have done differently?”
But we are now transported into a world where the love we felt is snatched away from us and don’t know what to do with ourselves other than grieve and mourn our loss.
I recently read a book that briefly touched upon heartbreak and it’s advice basically amounted to “go out with your girlfriends as much as possible.” WTF? That’s it? That’s how I’m going to heal my heart? Most of my girlfriends are scattered across the globe. Going out with them every night isn’t even a viable option.
How on earth do you turn off those kinds of feelings? What happens to love lost? How do you mend a broken heart? I decided to investigate how to mend my own shattered heart.
In previous breakups, I’ve just idly fallen into my own personal patterns of love lost. For me, I cry, I stay in bed, watch bad tv, eat cookie dough, and hide away from the people who love me. I mostly don’t DO anything. I sit and wait.
Because time heals all wounds, right? Or does it? If time is a construct of our minds, do we really have to wait for the passing of time, something illusory to heal ourselves? Can we speed up the process of healing our wounds? How much can we control our healing through our actions and patterns?
So, instead of blindly falling into my patterns, I started to ask myself some questions about my habits. I’m looking at my patterns with loving curiosity, playing with them a bit, seeing what is actually serving me and seeing what patterns are there strictly because of efficiency, because my mind, body, and heart are too tired for anything but pattern. And here’s what I’ve learned…
1. Lean Into Sensation
Essentially, everything we experience as physical beings comes down to sensation that we label “good” or “bad”. When I began to lean into the sensation in my body, asking what it had to tell me, things began to transform.
I asked where the pain lived in my body. I closed my eyes and imagined personifying my sensation. I described what it felt like in writing, how I had to remind myself to breathe and how interesting the absence of a thing – air and love felt so heavy.
I examined the tightening in my chest, trying not to label it good or bad, just simply as sensation. Human suffering is largely a result of labeling experience as “good” or “bad” and “right” or “wrong”.
The thing about sensation is, it’s always changing. It doesn’t stay forever. When we shift our perspective of experience just being a temporary state of existence, it takes the charge out of it, just through the simple act of observation. In my experience, the sensation itself tends to transform faster the closer I look at it.
By noticing how heavy the absence of air felt, I began to fill my lungs with slower, deeper breaths and saw my entire being become a bit lighter.
2. Frankie Says Relax
Remember those t-shirts from the 80s from Frankie goes to Hollywood? Turns out those guys had a good idea.
While this might seem a bit contradictory to just observing sensation, this practice of relaxing your body has slightly different merits. We hold so much tension in our bodies on a daily basis, and it’s even more amplified in times of high stress.
Make a practice of scanning each part of your body for tension. I like to start out lying down on my back and closing my eyes like I would for savasana. Take a couple of deep breaths, then try to contract and tense up every single muscle in your body at once. Hold this for a couple of seconds, then release the tension in your whole body. Repeat a couple of times. I find it helpful to see the contrast in how my body feels between the tension and the relaxation.
Then take it further by slowly scanning each part of your body from head to toe. Tense up an individual muscle group for a moment, then release it. Crinkle your forehead, and release. Squeeze your eyes tight, and release. Clench your jaw, and release. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth, then let it hang loose in your mouth.
You get the picture. We all know we hold so much tension and stress in our shoulders and backs, but also pay attention to the little areas. Relaxing the smaller muscle groups, particularly in my face, often make the biggest difference in how I feel afterwards.
3. Move It
Rest is important in healing a heart. But I often place too much emphasis on it. Yes, I need to take care of myself with sleep and the grace of stillness. But I now believe it is equally important to move your body too. The medium of movement isn’t important. Just move.
On day one I went to a yin yoga class. While technically moving my body, the demands of yin yoga are much less than say a spin class. Yin allowed me to stretch my body while still allowing me to feel introverted and my presence internalized which was all I could handle.
On day two I went for a four mile walk in the park. I kept my headphones on and didn’t talk to anyone, but stretched my legs and got plenty of oxygen into my lungs.
This movement is helping me keep some momentum and energy for other aspects of my life I don’t want to put on hold while my heart heals.
4. Reach For A Better Feeling Thought
This one can feel a little tricky. For starters, the thought of joy can feel so far removed from where you are right now. So, start where you are.
If you are depressed, what next best thing can you reach for? Depression is feeling hopeless, despondent, withdrawn. There isn’t even any energy around depression. Happiness and love can feel like a world away from depression.
Can you reach for something that feels slightly better than this powerless despair? Perhaps hope? Or anger or rage? Most emotions have more energy behind them than depression. While anger isn’t a place you want to stay in, it can also spur some movement.
What if each day you worked towards an emotion only one step in the direction you wish to move? Take a look at the Emotional Guidance System scale I created from Ask and it is Given below. Moving up by one emotion a day will put you in a pretty good place in not so long a time.
There is something else to watch out for here. In the midst of my profound grief, I have moments of genuine laughter when I hear something funny. The first few times it happened, I immediately felt guilty.
It was as if my feeling good in any way was a betrayal to my broken heart. My brain was telling me that if I feel good, it’s as if I didn’t value that relationship as much as I thought I did. Well, that is hogwash. That is my hurt ego talking. My relationship meant and still means the world to me. Let me be really clear on this point…
Feeling good in the midst of grief is NOT a betrayal to what you are grieving
If you’re having a hard time reaching for a better feeling thought, try some visualizations. Stay away from thoughts about your relationship and love. They are very charged topics, so start somewhere easy.
Close your eyes, imagine the feeling of the warm sun on your face, and cool breeze on bare shoulders. Imagine the taste of your favorite meal on your tongue. Imagine your abs aching after a good belly laugh. Build on this feeling with experiences from your own life you can draw from. What in your life is full of ease and joy?
5. Surround Yourself With Reminders Of Truth, Beauty, And Love
I have a tattoo on my left arm that says “Love…” Inspired by a blog post called the Beauty of the Ellipsis, it serves as a reminder that love isn’t a finished thought. It is always in motion, always evolving. Love for myself, my family, my friends, and those I’ve lost.
I have a maple seed necklace to remind me that in every moment I’m planting the seeds of my future. I have prisms hanging from my windows for an extra punch of color and rainbows on sunny days. I am slowly building a jungle in my house. I fill empty spaces with plants that remind me of life and vitality even on the grayest of days.
Fill your surroundings and life with little bits that remind you of what you know to be true, beautiful, and joyful. These needn’t be grand or expensive, just simply things that resonate with you. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Flowers from Traders Joe’s. Pinterest board filled with beauty. Follow an inspiring Instagram or Tumblr account. Make or find a mantra. Use Canva to build and print out inspiring quotes to decorate your space. Go for a walk and find the perfect rock to bring home. Find a new favorite scent and spread it around your house liberally. Buy new stationary. Treat yourself to a print from Etsy. Draw images or inspiring quotes with sidewalk chalk in your neighborhood. Find a local place to make a coffee or tea mug. Alternately, find one that strikes your fancy at Society6. Create an altar or sacred space and fill it with crystals, palo santo, and offerings. Spend time with children. Find reminders of your truth and joy.
These may seem to be trivial things that are only on the surface, but I find the more I surround myself with items that feel whimsical and magical in some small way, the more I’m able to remind myself of how I want to feel in each moment. They help me choose to feel joy and magic when I might otherwise choose grief.
6. Self-Care Saturday (Or any day. Or every day!)
We can be quite punishing to ourselves in times of conflict and stress, so take some time to really take care of yourself in some way.
We’re all busy and have responsibilities, but if you don’t take care of yourself first, your responsibilities can begin to suffer as a result. I’m more focused and productive when I’ve taken care of my needs first. I attend to my responsibilities in a bigger and better way when my cup is full, not empty.
There’s a lot of room for interpretation here as to what self-care looks like for each person. While technically, all the suggestions in this article are a form of self-care, I want you to block off some time specifically for self-care, digging deeper into what that means for you.
Maybe it’s taking a long, luxurious bath and spending time pampering yourself with tinctures for your skin that make you feel radiant. It might be spending a couple hours in an animal shelter cuddling with puppies and kittens. Maybe it’s scheduling a hot stone massage. Maybe it’s nourishing your body with vibrant healthy food you’ve cooked yourself. It might be taking a couple hours to read a book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months.
Tailor your self-care and turn it into a weekly or even daily ritual.
7. Invest in Yourself
I’m willing to bet everyone has something new they’d like to try if only they had the time, money, or excuse.
Here is your permission slip to try that something new.
Did you want to pick up knitting, or maybe learn to play the guitar? Maybe learn some knife skills to elevate your cooking? Rock climbing, sky diving, painting, learning another language, the possibilities are endless. You can find a class on just about anything you like online these days.
As children, we try new things all the time. It’s how we learn and grow at an exceptional rate. But this slows down as we grow up and our field of vision becomes smaller as we narrow down our playing field. So expand your horizons, invest in yourself in some way, and learn something new.
The cognitive requirements of learning something new can also serve as a great form of distraction when you need a distraction. Maybe you’ll end up picking up a new hobby, check off another box on your bucket list, or have a good story to tell.
8. The “F” word…Forgiveness
Ahh, a big scary one! The topic of forgiveness can be a novel in itself. Maybe you need to forgive the actions of your ex, or maybe forgive yourself for your own. Or a combination of both.
We don’t always like to forgive people for actions we deem wrong or hurtful because it can feel like we are giving them a free pass. But I’ve learned that holding onto anger and resentment is always worse. It’s a tremendous energy suck and you can’t feel joyful as the same time you are feeling justified in your anger. So, I choose my own happiness over my resentment.
It’s a choice to make over and over again. It’s not easy to forgive in one big sweeping motion. It generally happens in increments. It’s helpful to practice radical empathy, vividly imagining how it feels to be the person who did you wrong. You know most people are essentially doing the best they can with the information they have at each moment. It becomes easier to imagine why they did what they did when you put yourself in their shoes. You begin to feel more compassion for them.
You recognize that the anger you’re holding serves no one. And you slowly begin to let it go, piece by piece.
Because forgiveness is not for them, it’s for YOU.
9. Give what you wish to receive
I was walking around, feeling like no one loves me, which is totally and utterly false, but when you’re heartbroken, your mind says all kinds of irrational things. I saw a friend of mine post about writing a letter of encouragement to a friend, and I wished to be that friend with every fiber of my being. I wanted to open up my mailbox and see letters of love, a validation of the love that exists for me.
I asked myself what could I do to feel that love? I decided to GIVE what I wished to RECEIVE. I started writing letters of encouragement and love to friends and strangers alike. All I had to do was write what I wanted to hear, for myself. It was that easy.
This did two things for me.
One, the brain doesn’t distinguish between giving, receiving, or even witnessing generosity. When you perform an act of kindness, the pleasure and rewards centers light up, releasing feel good chemicals as if you were the recipient, which some psychologists have dubbed the “helper’s high.”
Two, it shows me that we live in a world of abundance. I don’t need to hoard away love and kindness to keep it. It actually grows when I give it away. It’s generative. And often, when you give love and kindness away, others are inspired to mirror your love and kindness back to you as well as pay it forward to others.
We cannot presume to understand the power of the depth of what a few kind words can do for someone and it’s ripple effect on the world. Win win win!
10. Investigate Your Own Patterns
This is by no means a complete list. Merely suggestions of the beginnings of opportunities for your own healing. The biggest thing you can do for yourself is to get curious, examine your own personal patterns in the experience of heartbreak, and question each one.
Hold each one up as they appear and ask “Does this serve me?”
If the answer is truly yes, keep it. If the answer is no, try something new or the opposite of that first instinct. Play with the new reaction, see if that one serves you better, makes you feel better both in the present and the long term.
And most important, be gentle with yourself. There are times to push your boundaries, to examine, and to experiment. But there is also a time for rest and a time to surrender. Give yourself the grace to know you are where you need to be when you need to be.
Use this time to crack your heart open rather than an excuse to just be broken.
Know that you won’t always feel like your heart has been ripped out of your chest. Shorten the distance between a shattered heart and a mended heart by experimenting with these alternatives to your patterns. One day you’ll open your heart again and feel the rush of falling in love. You’ll look into eyes that truly see you and mirror your soul back to you. And you’ll be ready for big love because you’ve already done the work to heal your heart.