Cry Heart, But Don’t Break (How To Heal A Broken Heart)
A breaking heart turns out to be the daddy of feeling bad. I’ve run the gamut of tricky emotions over the years, like we all have; fear and anxiety chief among them. But heartache sits high above the others with it’s sheer, overwhelming presence.
For me, writing things down allows me to put some order to the thoughts that swirl not just through my mind but up and down the neural pathways from head to knotty, nauseous gut. At first I thought; like an angry puppy. But have you ever seen one? It must be more like a large, predating cat, stealthily padding about my insides, gnawing at the raw bits, smelling blood.
Writing things down lets it all spill out onto the page, loosing it’s sticky grip on my brain walls and shaking out the chaos into the outer world, where sense and hope can take a kindly look at things and try to light a small warm fire, enough to stave the chills for a while.
I didn’t think my breaking heart would make for anything public. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m very private with things of that type, I’m not a sad Facebook status sort of person. My pain is mine alone and definitely not to be publicly lamented and analysed.
But what if it helps? What if this is, in fact, the perfect place for it? This is a risky, potentially very embarrassing experiment with two goals. Firstly, it’s a kind of journal, so for me it will help just to wallow, write and share; to spill my aching guts onto the page so it can dry off and stain the pavement instead of washing around in my head all day.
The second goal is to use this opportunity to help. That’s the point of my blog; I try stuff, see what works and share anything useful. Hearts break all the time, unrequited love (mine), death of a loved one, even losing a job or moving away from a loved home. The heart can break in all sorts of ways; it’s who we all are and it’s what we all do and it’s as inevitable as love itself, you don’t get one without the other, eventually. I believe that when you can’t be kind to yourself, being kind to someone else is a great way to go. When you feel like crap, looking for ways to make others feel safe, happy or stronger can work wonders so if you’ve stumbled on this blog post because your heart hurts so much you feel like you can hardly breathe and your world feels suddenly different in a very scary way then maybe we’ll find a few answers together and chuck a few extra logs on that tiny fire; the one that’s burning just enough to see by and dispel a few shivers. We’ll find more fuel as we go and the fire will get brighter and hotter, it’s what tended fires do, it’s inevitable.
There are a gazillion books and blog posts on mending broken hearts. Self helpers have been trading off them for as long as there have been hearts and words. Crooners have thrown words at minor chords and told us stories of love and loss for our whole lives and at almost any point in our lives we’ll know someone who’s working at mending something painful. But mine is mine and yours is yours and I’m pretty sure that we should stick with that. No comparisons. There is no heart, before or after that will break as hard as yours right now. Everybody bashes their funny bone at some point, we all know it hurts. But at the moment of most pain, nobody can really appreciate what you’re going though. We forget the sensation of pain after a while, we remember that it felt bad, but not how it really felt. One of the songs was right; at this moment: Nobody knows.
So this post is all I will do; I won’t be reading about anybody else’s experience or advice or 5 step program to mend a broken heart. It must already be inside me, I know enough to get through this. Time to be the experiment.
I’m writing this right now, while my heart is hurting. Everything is fresh and raw. This isn’t a post experience summary with the takeaway actionables and the self help solutions. If you’re hurting, we’re both hurting in this moment. You’re not alone.
I’m not going to air laundry obviously, but just for context: I was in a relationship with a girl with whom I was completely in love. By that I mean she was my lover, my best friend and the person with whom I enjoyed sharing life’s everyday little adventures with, my travel companion and world explorer buddy. We were together for nearly five years and over that time I learned that love could grow. My feelings for her grew steadily over that time, into a deep affection. I felt very proud of our relationship. Intimacy, attraction, trust and laughing all stayed strong and actually continued to grow. I feel so grateful to have been on that journey.
I started slow. Having been in a ten year marriage previously and having two children already, the landscape was slightly different. But it’s worth remembering that everything we do is for the first time, none of us are experts at anything new, and everything is always new, no matter how it first appears. I was wary that she might want kids and I might not. She might want more than I could give. But things didn’t happen like that. There was never any pressure, we just got on with life and I was very happy. I think she was too.
Of course we had ups and downs. A few arguments, but nothing serious. Because we didn’t conflict very much, we had to learn how to communicate about that sort of thing. Funny how the more you come to blows, the better you get at resolving things. We didn’t have the tools for that, we had to work at it. And we did.
There was a time just before Christmas last year where I was having some difficulties expressing how I felt about some things. Frustration crept in and communication slipped out the back door carrying it’s coat and a spade (to bury it’ head in the sand with I imagine). I did what I can only describe (because I read about it once in that book about Mars & Venus) as disappeared into my cave. Probably the worst thing I could have done. But I didn’t have the tools.
It was a sad time for a while. In all of this, THIS is the hard bit. This is the part that is making the lump in my throat, and the knot in my stomach and the wet eyes make it hard to see the screen, because this is the part about regret. This is where it went wrong, and I could have stopped it.
But we didn’t. Notice the ‘we’.
Now let’s be clear, there is no blame, no fault and there really shouldn’t be any regret. No matter how obvious the “BUT IT’S ALL MY FAULT BECAUSE I XYZ…..” screams at you. It isn’t. Let me tell you what it is:
Love is never perfectly requited. Not the most romantic notion in the world but here’s the truth; the love you think you need to receive will only very rarely be given. Love rarely aligns and the inevitability of most love is that it will hurt somebody.
What if I had a time machine, would I go back and do things differently? Yes, of course. If I could stop this feeling in me right now by changing the past then I’d probably happily lose an arm for the chance. But what about the inevitability I just mentioned? Doesn’t that make wishful thinking pointless? Yes it absolutely does, but there’s no sense or logic in heartache, just a longing for the pain to go away. Healed is healed and the fastest route is the most tempting, whatever the cost.
Eventually we talked. It hit me like a ton of bricks how I’d made her feel, and I really didn’t know because she went into her cave too. We both suffered in silence because we didn’t talk.
Out of that came my epiphany. I loved her and she was the one. I would have married her and made a family (or changed the shape of our existing one!). Or not, whatever way we would be together was cool with me. Together was the important bit, but I was amazed at how sure I was. I felt like a long journey had reached this point, that getting here WAS the point, that we’d hit a low point so that we could go forwards strongly.
But here’s where love wasn’t aligned. Sometimes, in the sad times, love, like communication before him, packs a bag and quietly leaves, barely making a sound. You might not even hear him leave. This isn’t anybody’s fault, you don’t get to blame love for going. And where he goes is no concern of yours. You can stand at the door, calling out for him to come back; he may hear you and keep walking. He may get lonely himself and come back in his own time, or he may find somewhere else to go and stay and flourish. But it’s up to him and you have no control over it. And things over which we have no control are the things we should worry about the least. In other words, let him go.
Our epiphanies were different; and that’s ok, they are allowed to be, they are supposed to be. We can only follow where our own hearts lead us, we’re so very far away from being able to follow the heart of another. If luck and timing and stars align, you’ll nail it for as long as you can. But I’ve learned that love isn’t one thing shared by two people. There are two loves in a relationship and they ride alongside each other. Sometimes together, mostly one just slightly pulling ahead and eventually, most of the time, one lags behind just enough for them to lose their way. It’s normal. You’re normal, this is OK.
I’m a romantic fool. I’d stand on a rooftop with a mega-phone, screaming about how hard I’d work, how everything could change, how I believe in us and simply KNOW that we should fight for this, not give up. Of course I would, that’s what any of us would do. Every bone in my body aches to forgo cool and ego and do whatever it takes to win her heart back. But (why is there always a damn but??) if the outcome you want from that is possible, it’ll happen in it’s own time and in it’s own way. Most break ups are for good and what you think of as ‘fighting’ for it, can sometimes just turn into begging. Don’t beg.
I don’t want to spout some cheesey four step process at you, designed to hack heartache and make all the pain go away. There isn’t one. But this is what I’m going to do and given the utter despair in my heart (yes, I know how dramatic that sounds but it’s accurate) I know these things will work because if I didn’t believe in that I certainly wouldn’t have the motivation to do much more than wallow.
Let my heart hurt.
It’s going to anyway so just let it; there’s no point trying to hold things back or keep them in, you need to expunge all the tears, say all the words and feel all the pain. I heard a wonderful phrase that came from a children’s book about dealing with grief:
Cry heart, but don’t break.
Remember that. It’s ok to let it all out; to feel everything but your heart is designed to cope with this. It knows how to heal.
Ask for help.
This was the first thing I did. I was very lucky and stupidly grateful that the first friend I reached out for was there in a flash with hugs, just listening, telling me how amazing I am and that he’d be there for me. People are amazing; we forget this daily, going about our business, taking everything for granted, but people know because we’re all the same and I’d warrant even a complete stranger would down tools and put an arm around your shoulder if you looked like you needed it. Trust your people, they love you and they’ll be there for you.
This sounds like a load of old bollocks doesn’t it? Smile? Feeling like this? Just do it. A half smile is fine. Smile at people as you walk past them, smile to yourself in the car or walking to the shops. Do it now for 30 seconds (heart broken or not), even if you’re in public and feel stupid, just do it. The easiest thing in the world and it will make you feel better. Not a million times better, maybe just 2%. But imagine all those 2%’s all day every day. Never. Stop. Smiling. Cry blue murder in the depths of your soul, by all means, but do it with a smile on your face. Trust me.
Give your brain some space to escape and rest awhile
This won’t come easy if you haven’t done this before but it’s a tool already in my box and I can’t recommend it enough. A bit of easy meditation will give you room to find some calm; a tiny bit of peace of mind. Your greatest enemy right now are the constant dialogues you’re having with yourself. The conversations you’re having with someone who isn’t there, the regrets, the loss, the things you were looking forward to that have now gone. You need to take a break from those things and this works for me. A bit of actual sitting meditation, even for just 10 minutes a few times a day will not only give you a brain break but it will teach you how to carry that mindfulness into the rest of your day. A good and very easy place to start is the Headspace app for your phone. It’s very easy, guided meditation and it WILL help you to deal with all the extremely unpleasant thoughts that are rattling through our brains as we go through this.
Right now when I’m driving or trying to work or even just when I’m trying to be with my kids I’m tormented (again, strong word but it feels like torment) with these constant thoughts. Being able to put stoppers on these thoughts is critical. Even if you just start to become aware of the fact that you are engaging with these thoughts and internally wrestling with things you can do nothing about (because they are in the past or the future, two places you are currently not) then you’ll be able to give yourself some peace.
Try as hard as you can to be in the moment. Whatever you are doing, try to be aware of the thoughts taking hold. If you are washing up for example, it’s very easy to be thinking of the next thing; the cup of tea you’ll make when you’ve finished, making a mental shopping list, all sorts of daily internal chit chat. But with heartache, you won’t get the simple thoughts any more. As soon as you feel the thoughts coming, just say stop. Focus instead on the warmth of the water, the smooth surface of the plates, the bubbles, the smell of the soap, the plates going from dirty to clean, just be right there doing that one thing and nowhere else. BE in the car, driving, BE with your kids, playing. Come home to you.
I tend to have a lot going on so I’m very lucky with that. I can focus on my kids, my people, my dog walks and writing, running, working and learning to play music. I can do all that. I know it won’t replace what I’ve lost but that isn’t the intention. Every day I can spend a little (or a lot) of time remembering how great I am and enjoying doing things that make me happy and make me better. I’m not unaware of the strong possibility of actual depression hitting hard. Being tired, demotivated, nutritionally devoid are not only symptoms of a creeping depression but they can speed up the process. If you plan things (any things) into your day, keep it packed with movement, communication and looking after yourself, you will avoid the trap, or at least lessen its impact should things go that way and make the road back that much quicker and less painful.
Let me point out the obvious: Alcohol, drugs, smoking. Just no. Simply will not help you but will make you feel worse in the long run. These are addictive, short term pleasures that hurt you, there’s no win here. I’m not saying don’t indulge a little with control, with friends or try to quit smoking right now if you already smoke. I mean don’t add new, addictive habits where there were none before, or INCREASE your consumption thinking it will dampen the pain. That doesn’t work. IT DOES NOT WORK.
Switch up your compassion and help others
This is possibly the most effective tool I have for dealing with anything I’m finding emotionally tough. There was a wonderful quote I heard and can’t for the life of me remember who said it:
“If you can’t be kind to yourself, be kind to someone else.”
I LOVE that. And it works. Every single day, in between keeping busy, taking brain breaks with mindfulness, feeling the pain, asking for help, not getting drunk and still smiling you need to be AWESOME to other people. Doesn’t matter how; the old folks down your road who might need their lawn cutting, your kids who need some serious mum or dad play time because school is haaaaaard man, your friend who is struggling with work issues but simply wouldn’t trouble you because you’re already having the hardest time. Anyone, anything, just help them, comfort them, reach out to them and be the amazing person that you are. Don’t sweat the science behind it, being wonderful to people is just about the coolest thing you can do. EVERYBODY wins when you play that game, especially you.
Nobody knows what lurks around the corner. Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes it lays you cold and you don’t know how to get back up. Life is awfully hard and awfully amazing. It is both, but it is also everything.
It’s hard to remember how lucky you are when your heart breaks. But you really, really are.
My friend said to me yesterday:
“You know, your life will still be amazing, it’ll just be a slightly different amazing life than the one you had planned.”
I believe him. You should too.
Cry heart, but don’t break.
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