Guest post by Siena AKA The Thrifty Freelancer
Breakups. They suck. And let’s face it: all the well-meaning advice in the world (‘you’re such a catch’, ‘he wasn’t good for you’, ‘you’ll find something better in no time’) means nothing because it feels like it’s the end of the world when you lose someone you love.
So, it’s spring, and for some reason (maybe the universe hates me, IDK) I always end up breaking up with guys I’ve met pre-cuffing season around April; also unfortunate timing of right before my birthday, so a double whammy of crapness.
I’ve ‘got through’ many an unwanted breakup, and something I learned from approaching the grand old age of 36 is that there is a ‘better way’ to cope with all the painful emotions you’re experiencing. Like a physical injury, your brain does this awesome thing of going ‘hey… hey… remember… it hurts’ every time you try to forget about it. Brain’s methods may include: going over all the good times like the most depressing movie on Earth, playing over and over on loop with a Skeeter Davis soundtrack, or reminding you to think of them whenever you pass anything even remotely related – ‘Bread. He used to love bread.’ Your brain will give you physical pain too, you know, just in case you forgot to feel in pain all the time, right around the middle so you can’t breathe and all the getting drunk in the world can’t outrun or numb this feeling.
I watched this movie on iPlayer the other week and decided it characterised the nature of a breakup perfectly. Bear with me, this is relevant, promise.
‘It Follows’ is about a curse that’s transmitted when you hook up with someone. Kind of like an STD but the only symptom is a creepy-ass ghoul that looks like a dead person and walks REALLY slowly towards you. The trick is outrunning it or passing it on. So anyway, this girl gets the ‘curse’ and her guy (right after they sleep together), is all ‘this is the deal’ and basically leaves her with this naked freaky curse walking slowly but angrily towards her. The curse can appear as anyone and if it touches you… tag, you’re dead.
This is what breakup feels like. It’s a grotesque horror-show that literally follows you… dragging its horrid feet behind it, looking like the person you used to love… the faster you run (towards alcohol, food, hookups) the better you dodge it, so you make plans, keep busy…. literally run, anything to keep it from catching up with you.
So here’s how you confront this curse instead of outrunning it. I can’t make your pain go away, but I can tell that you can get through it in a way that’s kind to your body (you need kindness right now), and maybe even look at it in a different way, a change of perspective is sometimes all it takes. Ok, so after my essay of an introduction, here’s the juicy stuff…
Stage 1 – Shock and denial
This bit is the absolute worst. You feel like you’ve been hit by a 100 ton weight right in your stomach. The shock sometimes actually makes you double over, speechless. Because psychological pain is just as painful as physical pain, the shock of the breakup will send cortisol levels racing through your body, stimulating your fight or flight response.
You’ll find yourself circling, just wandering around in a daze, picking things up pointlessly, you maybe download Bumble, you maybe try calling him (or her) 100 times, then your nearest and dearest to inform them of the death of your relationship. You’re in action mode here because the shock hasn’t quite sunk in yet and you want to do something. This is the point, for me when I usually get blind drunk, I’ll go out and convince myself that it meant nothing, that this wasn’t so bad at all and I’d be over him in a hot second.
The healthy way to deal with shock:
My gran would say have a splash of brandy, and it actually does help! But getting blind drunk will only leave you facing your feelings and the hangover in the morning. Our instant reaction as humans when we feel pain is to avoid that pain, to do anything to make it go away, to outrun that curse. But it’s a far better approach to observe it instead of fighting it. Try Yoga Nidra (or sleep yoga) to calm down your busy mind before bed, and even though being alone with your thoughts might seem scary, it’s liberating to make peace with them. Notice what you’re feeling, really feel the pain if you need to. Acknowledge it, notice where it stems from. Ask yourself proactive questions like ‘why do I feel sad?’, ‘Was it even right if it ended like this?’, instead of ‘why is this happening?’. This will set you down a different path, one where you are in control of what’s happening. You can’t change the event but you can change how you react to it, you can change how you feel about it.
Stage 2: Utter despair
It feels like your world has ended and everything reminds you of him. You can’t focus on any task for longer than like 30 seconds, because your mind keeps reminding you (in case you forgot) that you’re still grieving. So you wallow, you watch sad movies, you get into your trackies and vow to never leave the house again. There have been times when my manager sent me home for work because I was really not fit to be anywhere other than an enclosed environment, probably with someone feeding me soup through a straw because a side effect of this stage, for me is ‘stop eating entirely’. Self hatred might pop up: ‘how could someone love me, I’m hideous’ and self pity: ‘how could they do this to us’. Sometimes it actually feels good to feel bad. The Notebook is a favourite when I want to feel extra crap after a breakup “If I’m a bird, you’re a bird” …cue tears. Unconditional love! It’s not asking much… why couldn’t you just love me unconditionally, like Noah?!!
A healthier way to deal with utter despair:
Feel it, fully! Whatever emotions pop up, embrace them, it’s your body purging. Cry until your face is red, feel that anger and then let it go. It’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to not feel like eating and not function at work so give yourself time to grieve, but try to heal your physical self as much as you can. Once you’ve cried your eyes out, start healing, actively. Your body is going through a process of withdrawal, its ‘happy tap’ has been turned off, so you need to replace it with other things (not alcohol or Bumble), things that are going to really fill that void.
Something interesting I learned during my last breakup from one of the many articles my friends sent (if you can understand it, you can make it go away kinda mentality… it did work though) is that the part of the brain that’s activated when you’re in love is the same part that feels ambition, that makes you feel like you’ve ‘achieved’. So when you take love away, the sadness we feel is as much a product of feeling worthless as it is of the loss itself. You can totally do something about this! So find a new hobby, something you’ve always wanted to do, write that screenplay, take that trip. Anything that fuels your ambition and gives your brain something new to feel good about. See this time as a potential, after all, destruction is a necessary part of creation. One cannot exist without the other.
Stage 3 – ‘I’m so happy’
When the sadness fever breaks you’ll go through a false positive, and then keep yo-yoing back from happy to sad, to happy again. Your happy stage will see you madly swiping, updating your profile with new pictures, contacting old dates and feverishly self-improving. You’ll buy self help books – I have one for every breakup. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Attached are my two latest reads. You get a new haircut, some new nails, max out your credit card on shopping and wonder why you were even so upset. The future looks bright and you’re SO over them.
A healthy way to enjoy the ‘happy’ stage:
Like sadness, you need to embrace this feeling but with the healthy knowledge that this is part of the process. Ride this high because you probably will be back to sadness at some point; see this like the sun poking through the clouds, a hint of what’s to come when you eventually get through this, and you will! So book that holiday if you want to. Buy that new dress, but try not hurt yourself or your credit rating; remember you’re still grieving, so baby steps! If you’re feeling happy, start juicing, exercise, wash your hair! If you go back to stage 2, don’t worry, you’ll see-saw a lot, so just embrace and know that sooner or later, the happy will prevail. Your sad periods will get shorter and you’ll find it easier to let go.
Stage 4 – You’ll miss them like crazy and probably call
It feels like it’s been years (in reality it’s probably been like a week), but a week of no contact, or minimal contact, feels like a lifetime in breakup ‘time’ (which moves both slower and faster than regular time). Sometimes ‘breakup you’ feels like it’s in some alternate dimension, moving at lightning speed in the happy stages, but each hour of the day feeling like years in the sad stages. You wonder if he’s going through the same thing, you’ll maybe feel sorry for him because he was ‘so messed up’, you even wonder if he’s ok and fantasise that he’s going to come running over to your place begging you to come back. Every car you hear might be him pulling up outside. Every time your phone goes, you jump and sink in disappointment when it’s just your mum checking in to see you’re still alive.
You will, at some point try to contact him or her, and there’s no point in me telling you not to because chances are, you’ll do it anyway.
The healthy way to get through this:
Do what you feel like doing. If you’ve questioned your motivation in the previous stages, if you’ve done enough self-growth and realised it’s not good for you, you might call and then realise he’s still the same person. Or if you feel there’s still some closure that you need, maybe you need to go through this stage. I watched this Ted Talk by Dessa about how it’s possible to switch off your love for someone. Not on an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of scale, but… watch the TED talk. This lady called Dessa was in love with this guy for like 15 years. 2 years of trying to make it work, 5 of on-and-off and then another 10 of on-and-off. She knew he was bad for her but had no idea how to stop going back for more. So she got a team of neuroscientists to study her brain. They identified the part of her brain that was in love – it looked like an upside down wishbone. This is the part that lit up when she looked at a picture of him. Then they did some neuro hocus pocus (which I admit I didn’t fully understand) to turn it off.
I can’t afford a neuroscientist to reprogram my brain every time I have a breakup, but thinking about it in terms of a physical ‘switch’ that can be turned off makes it easier to gain some perspective on the situation. Your ‘love’ was triggered when you thought this person was the one, you got attached and then forgot to turn off the light. So don’t beat yourself up if you call them, or find it hard to let go, because your brain might be physically stopping you from letting go. It’s ok to relapse, just be aware of why you’re doing it and be honest with yourself about what you want from this contact.
Stage 5. Acceptance OR total relapse
It will go one way or another chickadee. And even though you might (at some of your worst moments) imagine you’ll end up like some croaky Miss Havisham (miserable Dickensian hag known for never taking off the wedding dress she was jilted in… Aside; Great Expectations is the only Dickens worth reading and the BBC adaptation with Douglas Booth is smokin’). But I digress… you won’t end up like Miss Havisham, you won’t end up plotting the demise of some future generation because ‘love is dead’, and you won’t go up in smoke still wearing the outfit you wore when he broke up with you.
Libido is latin for life – did you know? Without passion, there is no life and without love, we could not survive (The Dali Lama said that). So you will move on and love again or you’ll go back to the person you parted ways with. There is no healthy way to approach this except through renewed self-awareness. Ask yourself why, then ask again, are you coming from a place of fear or a healthy desire for someone who fulfills you?
Sending oodles of love to anyone going through a breakup, I know it’s hard. I also know you will be ok.
Stay strong and keep growing xx
Siena AKA The Thrifty Freelancer