This past week I had the honor and the privilege of speaking to a group of college students about the not-so-light topic of heartbreak. I found myself excited in the preparation, like I had a specific message to share. Not that I’m an expert on handling the storms of life; just that I’ve experienced these storms and have lived to tell about them. I have found life on the other side of a broken heart.
My initial definition of heartbreak was “increased sorrow by loss” (…did I just quote myself in my own blog? I guess we’re there). But then I decided to cast my net a little wider and see what others had to say on the topic…
Heartbreak (as quoted by various Facebook participants):
-An uncontrollable sense that feels, in the moment, as if it cannot be alleviated
-Amplified by idolatry
-Unmet expectations and hopes that threaten to destroy beyond repair
-Your world collapsing and you have to idly watch
-Emotional separation where there once was closeness
-The bigger the expectation the bigger the heartbreak
-Can’t breathe, can’t stop crying, can’t imagine the pain going away
-A loss that no one else can fully understand. Personal.
Loss. Rejection. Separation. Rejection.
The painful truth is that if you live long enough, you will experience heartbreak. Everyone does. Has. Is. And heartbreak looks different for every person in each season that they’re in. Your heartbreak can not be compared to mine; and similarly, my heartbreak at age 6 cannot be compared to my heartbreak at ago 25. They’re very different. Yet both have a heartbreak identity all their own.
Often times we try to console heartbreak by comparison, don’t we? “It could be worse.” “At least you still have _____.” “Can you imagine how much harder THAT would be?”
Count your blessings talk is only helpful when it’s self discovery. While spoken with the best of intentions, comparison really just waters down something that is very, painfully real. It tells someone they shouldn’t feel as bad as they do because of whatever silver lining you’re trying to help them see. But if they have never experienced their parent’s divorce, your parent’s divorce won’t be helpful. You can’t feel what you haven’t lived.
You are entitled to your own heartbreak.
Blessings should be counted and perspective is a helpful lens to look through, but in due time.
So now that we’ve defined it, let’s deal with it. I came up with a 4 step process that I’ve titled “How To Deal.” This is not a method proven to work, or even one endorsed by anyone in the psychology field. This is simply a formula drawn from my personal life experiences. A “mile marker” of progress, a “how to” keep moving, keep fighting, keep living when life gets unbearable.
Throw Yourself A Party
That’s right, a good, self-centered pity party. Something just happened to rock your world, and you deserve to celebrate. You’re sad, so be sad! Wear the same pants for 3 days in a row. Cut your showering regimen in half. Hide away in your shell, or cause a scene…whichever is your style. Listen to some sad music….if post-break up, I recommend some T Swift (sorry, girl. I really do enjoy your angsty songs). Whatever you want, it’s your party.
What I’m trying to say is that after disaster strikes, we want to quickly usher others out of sadness into happiness because sad people are, well, kind of downers to be around. We want to see our friends smile and enjoying life again. But I think sadness is an important step of healing from heartache and it can’t be skipped. So give freedom to those around you to sit in their sadness and likewise, allow yourself to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting because your emotions are all over the charts and for tonight, that’s okay.
A pity party can, however, go on for far too long. Eventually the party needs to end, you need to start participating as a functioning member of society again and talking about other things. You deserve your moment, but I caution you from letting this moment turn into a lifestyle of self-pity.
Secure An Anchor
The storm is about to hit. The waves are about to get rough, and as you process and walk through what has just happened, you need to find a way to hang on. This is something steady, stable, and dependable. This also something that can keep you accountable and prevent you from clinging to an “escape”.
A temporary distraction masquerading as a solution. An escape.
Something that takes the pain away right now. Something that numbs. Something that makes you feel better without much effort. Something carnal, sensual. This could be any number of good things used in the wrong way. A relationship. Food. Romantic movies. Video games. A weekend packed full of activities so that not a moment is spent alone. Drinking. Excessive anything.
An anchor keeps you sane when you feel your sanity starting to slip away. An anchor reminds you why you’re fighting. An anchor gives you peace a midst chaos and helps you put one foot in front of the other when you’re not even sure how you got out of bed that morning. It gives you a glimmer of hope in the darkness.
Say It Out Loud
The storm is here. Your nerves are raw. The pain has set it and it feels like nothing you’ve ever felt before.
Don’t look for an escape.
Feel. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let the waves crash over you. Fight to live in the reality of your heartbreak. Because there are some things only time will heal. And that does not just mean days on a calendar, but time spent living, breathing and feeling the full spectrum of emotions that come with a broken heart.
In the darkest moments of my life, I had to speak my reality out loud.
“We have no future together; it’s over.”
“Our friendship will never be the same.”
“This side of heaven, I will never again see my sister. She is gone.”
It feels harsh, intense, and sometimes trivial by boiling it down to a mere sentence; however, it’s part of the embrace. I could feel myself wanting to drift to a place of numbness, a place where the pain wasn’t so intense. But speaking truth out loud was like shoving my head under water, only to surface for a gasp of air–air that filled my lungs with life.
Embrace it. Process it. And seek help, if need be. Maybe you feel like you’re drowning and just cannot keep your head above water. I’ve been there. Many of us have. So in those times I sought counseling and intervention which can lead to medication–a chemical balance when your body is out of whack. All good things for a time at the right time. Depression, grief, anxiety, addiction, and many other emotional wildernesses can be bigger than we can tackle alone. So don’t. Call in reinforcements and get someone to fight with you.
The storm is breaking. It may still be raining, but the thunder and lightening have subsided and the worst of it is over. Emotions are no longer in the drivers seat and sound choices are being made for next steps. Life after will look different, and that’s okay. It will happen one step at a time. At your own pace.
“You can’t drive forward looking in the rear-view mirror.”
You will find life on the other side. You will be okay. Two things heal: time and talk. These lead to acceptance, and you will begin to walk forward in life after heartbreak.
During times of heartache, I wanted things to be the way they were before. I wanted back what was gone. But more than that, I wanted hope. I wanted someone in my life to say something that would fix it, but I would be left wanting.
“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” – Psalms 147:3
For me, the words of God were my hope and my anchor. Words that lead me from death to life. Words that gave me hope in the darkest days of my life. My story cannot be told without those simple and powerful words. They saved me.
In circumstances that are devastating and in situations that won’t change, how will you deal?
Through your loss and your heartbreak, what will you cling to?
What’s your anchor?