“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~C.S. Lewis
Shock. That was the first feeling. Shock and disbelief.
This isn’t really happening. Denial.
Look into her eyes. Slow realization. I’m not dreaming. Fear.
Wave upon wave of torrential sadness. Messy.
We’d been in a long-distance relationship, and as far as I was aware, everything was inutterably perfect. I was as happy as I’d ever been; I was in love.
For months, I’d been planning to travel across the country to see her. We talked about it endlessly, fantasized about its possibilities, gazed longingly upon the shimmering sapphire-memories we were sure to make.
It was as if we were already nostalgic for what we imagined would occur, for what we were certain would be one of the best times of our lives.
I waited and waited, and finally, the day came. Brimming with excitement and anticipation, I boarded a plane and flew over 1,200 miles.
Everything seemed to go wonderfully until the third day of my visit. I remember it clearly, how she looked at me with those caring eyes—irises the color of melted caramel—and told me something wasn’t right. She couldn’t explain it, but she didn’t feel the same way anymore.
Blindsided. I could hardly fathom the truth—that our gleaming vision had been fool’s gold, our immaculate castle a house of cards.
Perhaps I overlooked something obvious, some subtle-yet-pronounced signal. I don’t know. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure why she ended it.
What I do know, though, is how it felt. I had invested so much of myself into ideas of a future with her that it was like a piece of my identity had been amputated. The sunlit future I’d treasured had been blacked out before my eyes in a proverbial nuclear holocaust.
I felt purposeless, stamped out, alone.
Thinking back now, it strikes me that all people probably experience grief in relatively the same way. Maybe some feel more anger, while others feel more depression, but in general, a sudden loss is like a tsunami of confusion, regret, and sorrow.
It’s something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but if you live long enough, it’s unavoidable. Chalk it up to this peculiar circus we call the human experience—sometimes gravy, sometimes gauntlet.
I firmly believe that pain is necessary for growth, but that knowledge doesn’t always make it any less crummy when you’re neck-deep in swamp-muck. You mostly just press on, search for hope, and let Father Time do as that old adage says: heal the wounds.
And amazingly, after a while, things do improve. Eventually, you’ll be surprised to notice that you went all day without thinking about it, that you’re enjoying yourself again, that you’re no longer wallowing, that you let go.
But in the early stages of the healing process, day-to-day life feels about like staggering seven miles through three feet of elephant ordure.
If you’re in that place right now, I’m writing this post for you. You’re stronger than you know. Keep going. Things will be better.
7 Ways to Cope With the Grief of Heartbreak
In my experience, there isn’t any magical antidote for that immediate, pressing sensation of grief, but these simple steps will make it all a bit easier to swallow.
1. Know you’re not alone.
When my girlfriend dumped me, I turned to the Internet to read about break-ups. What I found were countless stories of people who had suffered precisely what I had. Reading those stories was therapeutic because I no longer felt so helpless or worthless.
I felt connected to the billions of other people who’d felt equally awful. I gained respect for my ancestors and my contemporaries, for the strength of the human race. I started to have faith that I too could find the resilience to survive and reconstruct my world.
2. Take it one day at a time.
Or, heck, one breath at a time. One moment at a time. When I was down and defeated, I couldn’t imagine how in the world I was going to survive, let alone do all the work that I knew was coming.
Thinking about the future was entirely overwhelming. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I just concentrated on single days.
The present was painful, but I stayed there. I stayed with the pain as it ebbed and flowed through the days. And the days crept by, each one a small victory.
3. Reach out.
Internet stories can be wonderful, but it’s your loved ones who will be a godsend in times of grief. Don’t hesitate to contact your friends and family immediately when something tragic has occurred. This is why we’re here—for supporting one another, or as Ram Dass says, “walking each other home.”
I remember calling my mom, dad, and several of my friends shortly after my break-up. They couldn’t make the pain go away, but they listened and said what they could.
I knew I was cared for. I knew they were concerned. Feeling that love reminded me that I wasn’t worthless. I was still the same me.
After she told me the bad news, I felt an eruption of emotion that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. There was just so much of it. I needed to let it out somehow, so I wrote.
Writing was a rock, something that had been there before and was still there, something I could turn to. I wrote poetry and letters and stories. Translating the experience into art was a type of catharsis.
It was a way to channel the energies, to release them, to cleanse myself. Whether it’s painting, singing, dancing, drawing, or sculpting, perhaps you will find solace in an art form as well.
5. Find comfort in music.
After the split, I remember sitting in an airport, listening to “Hailie’s Song” by Eminem, crying quietly to myself as oblivious people walked by. Sure, that’s a sad image, but it also felt good to let it out. It was part of my healing process.
Music was another constant, something that wouldn’t let me down. I think I probably listened to every sad song I’d ever heard. It wasn’t a way to feel sorry for myself (okay, maybe a little) as much as another means of knowing I wasn’t alone.
It was a way of feeling more poignantly the pain in the songs and lyrics of others, a way of empathizing with them and knowing they understood how I felt too.
6. Maintain your normal routine.
This was perhaps the hardest thing to do after what happened—return to my routine. Honestly, I felt like locking myself in a dark room with ten pounds of ice cream and sucking my thumb for the next few months. It didn’t seem possible to return to my day-to-day life.
But I did, and after a while, I realized that it was my routine that was renewing my sense of purpose. Actually doing things took my mind off of the hole in my chest and reminded me of my value.
It takes a certain measure of faith to fall into a black hole of pain, grope around aimlessly for a while, and eventually emerge. My situation felt devoid of anything positive. It seemed like there was nothing to hang my hat on.
But somewhere, deep within me, I managed to find the courage to believe that things would be better again. I believed that life would not forsake me.
I believed I could weather the storm, and after a few months, the horizon didn’t look so bleak anymore. I began to leave the past where it was meant to be—behind me—and to find satisfaction in the present.
Reflecting on Now and Then
I think about her some days. I read the letters she wrote to me; sometimes a song reminds me of her, and sometimes, for no good reason at all, that face I knew so well inexplicably materializes in my mind’s eye.
I still feel the slightest pangs of sadness, a sort of vague wistfulness for a future that never was with a person who was so dear to me. I imagine her out there somewhere, living out her sunrise-to-sunsets, and I wonder if she remembers me too.
But then I smile, because I’m okay. I experienced the bliss of unconditional love, and it brings me joy to remember it. I’d never take it back, not for anything.
I’m at peace now, with her and with what happened, with myself and with this moment.
I hope she is too. I hope she’s happy and without fear, smiling that beautiful smile.
Photo by Roy Chan