Two months after going through my first breakup, I wrote a with some advice about dealing with heartbreak. Five months after I published that blog post, I wanted to write this follow-up post with things I learned since then because I think my original post didn’t quite capture all the nuances of heartbreak recovery.
Healing isn’t linear.
This is a lesson that I had to keep reminding myself of after the first two months. There were several times when my overall mood and outlook on life improved a lot, only for me to “regress” when I was exposed to something that triggered memories of the relationship. It was easy to feel frustrated with myself, but my therapist shared an analogy that helped me see things from a different perspective: Going through a breakup is like a giant meteor crashing into the ocean. The initial contact makes huge, frequent waves. After that, the waves become less intense and less frequent, but occasionally, there might still be a big one. I get to choose how to respond to that wave (e.g. surf it, swim around it, temporarily drown in it), but the return of that bigger wave doesn’t mean I’m moving backwards in my progress.
This is how I would describe the phases of my healing process so far:
Phase 2: mission of self-improvement 💪 Phase 3: return to despair 😭 Phase 4 (now): cautious optimism
Even within these four phases, I have had numerous ups and downs on a micro-scale. I share this not because I think everyone heals in the same way but because I wanted to remind anyone going through something similar that especially when it feels like you’re moving backward, it’s important to practice self-compassion even though your first instinct might be to become self-critical.
Part of me was afraid that I’d use up people’s empathy. People can be really supportive in the initial aftermath of a breakup, but as time goes on, it may feel less acceptable to be still healing. It’s unfortunate, but there may be some people in your life whose empathy towards your situation fades. However, don’t let yourself be one of those people. Do your best to continue treating yourself with kindness and compassion no matter how much time has gone by.
I tend to tell myself stories in order to rationalize my experiences. The story I landed on for why I went through these phases was that going from Phase 1 😭 to Phase 2 💪, I actually held some degree of resentment and anger toward my ex in response to the breakup. I had read in a book that focusing on all the negative parts of a relationship helps you move forward faster. In a way it did help, but carrying that resentment and anger was exhausting. When the resentment and anger faded, I was back to feeling the full weight of the loss again, which brought me to Phase 3 😭. I really missed my ex. In all honesty, I’m still pulling myself into Phase 4 , and the rest of the post contains more of my thought process while navigating this transition.
It’s okay not to get through the breakup in “the healthiest way possible.”
I read a lot of books and blog posts on getting through breakups in the hopes that I would heal as fast as possible. Whenever I resorted to old behavior that was in opposition to some advice I had read, I’d feel guilty, which then made me feel even worse about myself. So when my friend told me that sometimes the standard of “I’m going to get through this breakup in the healthiest way” is unreasonable, I felt so relieved. It was like giving myself permission to be imperfect in my recovery process. Over time, I’d figure out a healthy way for myself.
This other affirmation also provided helpful framing:
You’re struggling to make the change because the old behavior is still meeting a need.
Instead of shaming yourself, identify the deeper need and allow it to exist.
Then get curious about a new way to meet it.
I like it because it’s a softer response but still provides a way to move forward.
Do what you need to do to regain your self-confidence.
This will look different for different people. For me, going back to Boston was a surprisingly healing experience for me. While I did have some Boston memories associated with the relationship, I also had many fond memories in Boston from before I met my ex. Walking down familiar streets reminded me of a time in my life when I was single and felt invincible. I’ve changed a lot since my college days, so the goal isn’t to return to the Kelsey I was then, but rather to rekindle that feeling of invincibility and self-confidence.
I’m still trying to figure out what I need to do in order to rebuild that self-confidence. When I thought about why I thought it was so difficult for me to let go, I realized that it was because I still felt very reliant on others. There’s nothing wrong with depending on other people, but for me, there’s a difference between choosing to rely on others and having to rely on others. For me, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice. This is my first time being single as an adult outside of a school setting, and because I’m still living with my parents, it’s hard for me to feel confident in my ability to navigate life on my own. If I were to change one thing about my life to help myself heal, moving out and into a new environment seems the most promising. Moving out requires making a lot of decisions for myself, and with each decision, I’d imagine it would make me feel more confident in myself. Even if I make “mistakes,” it would make me feel more confident in my ability to overcome life’s unexpected moments.
Navigating my first breakup has played a significant role in my life story over the past seven months. While I’m not sure there won’t be any more waves on the horizon, I think I’m ready to reallocate my heartbreak headspace to other life experiences.
The older I get, the more I realize that time doesn’t heal all wounds. There will be things in life that will always hurt or be tender. I am releasing the idea that I must get over things to find happiness. I can be happy and still have some things in my life that hurt.