One of the laws of life is that, eventually, you’re going to take it square in the face.
No matter how you prepare yourself, no matter what you do, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to end up with a broken heart. It may be romantic, or it may be that life just kicks you square in your soul’s nuts. Your perfect lover dumps you. You get fired from your perfect job. You may lose someone close to you. Doesn’t matter how it happens; all you need to know is that sometime, in some place, you’re going to get hit and hard. And it’s going to drop you to your goddamn knees.
But while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Life may beat you down. You may get your heart broken. But if you know how to pull yourself back together, you can get the strength to stand right back up, broken heart and all. And you’ll be stronger than you were before.
First Rule of Healing A Broken Heart: Get Back Up Again
There is one rule to healing a broken heart that’s more important than any other: get up. Yeah, you’ve just taken the worst hit of your life. Get up. You’ve just watched all of your dreams turn to dust before your eyes. Get up. You hurt more than you ever realized you could.
As soon as your face touches the canvas (or the rug, or the porcelain for that matter), it becomes immensely harder to get back to your feet again. If you lay down, it’s over. You want to heal? Then you need to get up. If you want to come back from this, you need to get up.
Yes, I know. Your heart hurts in ways that you never knew were possible. You want nothing more than to just hole up in your apartment, build a fort out of those empty pizza boxes and Chinese take-out and wait until the pain goes away. But it won’t. One of the most insidious things about a broken heart is how very easily it compounds your misery from everything around you. As unfair as it is, life is going to go on without stopping for your pain. The more you let your life fall apart around you, the worse you’re going to feel. So you need to get up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you aren’t going to get back to life like you didn’t just have your soul destroyed. You don’t need to “get right back on the horse”, as it were; in fact, that tends to be a spectacularly bad idea. You need time to feel the fuck out of your feels. But you also have to take care of yourself. Self-care is about more than curling up under blankets with comfort food, it’s about handling your shit.
You need to clean your apartment because the stink and the trash is going to weigh on your mind, even if you don’t realize it. You need water and decent food because sweating grease and soda is just going to make you feel bloated and slug-like. You need to move, because our bodies are built for movement and exercise is a natural antidepressant. Even a little exercise is going to get your blood going. If you just can’t make it to the gym, then go for a run. If you can’t bring yourself to run, then walk. You don’t need to have a plan or a destination – you just need to move. Getting out of your apartment and into the world will also get you out of your head.
You will feel like ten pounds of ass crammed into a five pound sack. That’s to be expected. You’ll probably feel like ass for a while. You’ve had your heart broken; that takes time to heal. Shuffle around like a zombie if you have to. That’s fine.
But. Get. Up.
Those actions have symbolic value. Our brains tend to take how we act as gospel. If you let yourself wallow, you’re going to emphasize your loss and pain. Your brain will look at your actions and say “See? SEE? Look at you sitting in your own filth like some garbage person. You deserve this.” By getting back on your feet, you’ll have sent an important message: you may be down, but you’re not out. Simply refusing to let despair drag you down is a huge step, and one that will make everything else that much easier.
So get up.
Who Tells Your Story?
Speaking of symbolism…
Words have power. Words, quite literally, define how we see the world. And that’s why the words you use are important.
See, we’re all storytellers within our own lives. We weave narratives about our lives based around what we assume to be true, and then take those stories as being the Word of God.
The problem is that the way we tell ourselves those stories affects how we see ourselves and the world around us. The words we choose – or don’t choose – can drastically change the story. So, if you want to recover from your broken heart, you need to start paying attention to the story you’re telling yourself.
Start with identifying those negative emotions you’re feeling. As wizards of old1 can tell you: knowing something’s true name gives you power over it. So start examining those emotions and applying labels to them. Describe those emotions in a couple of words – are you feeling guilty? Angry? Betrayed? Lost? Good. Feel them. Label them. And as you do so, you’ll notice how much they’re losing power over you. That’s not accidental; labeling and being mindful of you emotions diminishes the impact they have – this has long been a key component of mindfulness meditation.
It may well help to spend time actively writing down how you feel – literally writing it out, on paper. Psychologists and researchers like James Pennebaker have found that the act of writing out your situation can improve your mood. By simply putting words down on paper, you’re forcing yourself to take a step outside of yourself and adapt the posture of an outsider. Getting that perspective can help give you a better grasp on events, instead of just letting your jerk-brain tell you that you’ve fucked up and now you’re going to die alone and unloved. You don’t need to read what you’ve written afterwards – in fact, it might be nicely cathartic to set it on fire. It’s the act of writing that’s important.
And while we’re at it: the words you choose to describe yourself are just as important. There’s a world of difference between “I am sad” and “I feel sad”. The former is a state of being; the latter is a temporary situation. That’s a pretty critical difference. After all, the former implies permanence; adopting that mindset makes it that much harder to overcome that pain. In fact…
Embrace “For Now”
For as much as we like to think of our brains as being sources of untapped potential, they’re actually really bad at some very basic tasks. For example: our brains are downright horrible at predicting the future. We inevitably assume that our future is just a continuation of whatever we have going on right now.
When it comes to dealing with heartbreak and pain, we tend to assume that we’re going to feel bad FOREVERRRR. It’s part of the way we tell stories to ourselves. Our brains extrapolate and exaggerate and take how we’re feeling now and make us believe that this is going to be our default state from now until the stars grow cold. Better buckle up, buttercup, because your broken heart is going to define your life from now own.
Except, not really.
As much as it may feel like your world’s ending, it will fade. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt, mind you. It may even hurt for a while – definitely longer than you’d like. But it will pass. This has nothing to do with how much you’re hurting; your pain is very real. But the human psyche is remarkably resilient. We heal, even from wounds that feel like they’ll cripple us. We may come out with some scars, but even scars fade with time. And as cliche as it may sound, time really does heal all wounds.
That’s why you need to remember that as bad as things are, they’re only bad for now. Your broken heart is only broken for now.
You will get better. It’ll suck in the meantime, but knowing that this is just temporary gives you a beacon to guide you. “For now” is the branch you can cling to when you feel like you’re about to slip and fall. “For now” is the mantra that will get you through those long dark nights of the soul. It’s a constant reminder that you will feel better again and moving towards that day can give you the strength to carry on.
While we’re at it…
Take A Win. Any Win.
One of the hardest things about a broken heart is how it calls everything into question. When I had my first serious heartbreak – one dickpunch to my soul after another – it felt like a repudiation of every belief I ever had. My ideal girlfriend had dumped me, I’d gotten fired from my dream job… the only thing that could have completed the trifecta of suck is if my cats had abandoned me because they couldn’t stand me either.
It left me convinced that I was the shittiest person to walk the Earth. The idea that I had any right to have hopes or dreams was ludicrous. Who the fuck was I to think that any woman could ever love me? What in the name of Zeus’ butthole made me think that I could be an artist?2
I legitimately felt worse than I ever thought I could. You may have felt the same – when you feel lower than a snake’s ass in a drainage ditch and that there’s no point to even trying any more.
That’s when you need a win. Any win. It doesn’t matter how small it is.
Went to the gym? That’s a win. Got dressed and shaved so you don’t look like a walking pile of Wookee clippings? That’s a win. Lifted a little more weight than you did last week? A win. Had a conversation with someone cute, even if she was just serving you coffee? Win. Sent out a job application? Win.
That’s not just feel-good “lower-your-standards” bullshit. Taking those tiny victories are known as “micro-revolutions” and they’re signs that, as bad as things may be right now, you still have some control. Life may have taken a giant, steaming dump on you, but you still have agency. You are still the captain of your destiny – even if it’s a small thing. Because as insignificant as those tiny wins may be, they add up over time. Little wins lead to bigger ones. That small gesture you make now is an investment to the time when the pain is less and you start to remember that life’s worth living after all.
It’s a reminder of the ultimate lesson:
Keep Moving Forward
Once you’ve had a broken heart, there’s really only one thing left to do: move forward. Your life has been changed and change often hurts. It’s good to grieve – a dream has died and it should be mourned. It’s important to take a knee and get your breath back. But you need to keep moving forward. Part of why getting your heart broken seems to cripple you is because it anchors you in the past. You’re left stuck in a morass of “what if’s” and “I should haves”. Sometimes there’s something to be learned. Other times there isn’t. There will be times when your heartbreak is your fault. Other times it will just be because life, and sometimes life sucks and there is no force in the ‘verse that could have stopped it. But you need to move forward.
I want to leave you with something I come back to whenever life takes its shots:
You will get hit. Keep moving forward. You’ll get hit harder than you believed possible. Get up. The pain is just for now. Keep moving forward. You’ll find the strength. Each time, you’ll learn a little bit more. Each time, you’ll come out a little stronger. It will hurt. But just as steel is tempered in fire, you’ll come through tougher and more resilient than before.
You’ve been hurt. But you’ll heal. And you’ll be better.
Just get back up. Keep moving forward. You’ll get there.