How to heal a broken heart
It took me almost 3 years to recover. I hope I can help reduce the recovery time for someone else by sharing my journey and the notion of practising emotional-first aid
In some of my older posts, I had touched upon the fact that I went through a breakup from the sole relationship I've ever been in. It had a massive effect on my body, heart and mind, rendering me unable to do anything and deeply affecting my mental health. I talked about various habits that changed me over the course of several months, while I was in the recovery phase. However, I never fully recovered. Until a year or so ago.
All the usual bad habits commonly associated with heartbreak kept finding their way back to me, from time to time. And I've succumbed to them, more often than not. However, after an intense process of self-reflection and an enormous amount of support from my family and friends, along with the innumerable experiences that life has offered me, I can confidently say that I have healed. And honestly, it has left me much better off than the person who I was before.
Of course, as they say, if you break a plate, you can’t really fix it. The cracks would always be there. However, the plate can still be used again if the parts are joined together, with patience and care. Those are the two most important ingredients in the journey of self-recovery : patience and care. In this post, I want to share what I've learned over the past few years about heartbreak, and I hope to provide a framework for someone going through the same to aid them in their recovery.
1. Don’t run away from it
The first instinct that I had was to hide from the reality staring at my face. Maybe because I felt that I was not strong enough to face it, maybe because I didn’t want to accept it. Hiding meant literally isolating myself from everyone else and thrusting myself into my work day-in and day-out so that I don’t have time to think about it. And it seemed to work, at least for some time. But, in reality, it crippled me. It took away my freedom of thought because I was always afraid to give myself any free time to think. What finally helped was acknowledging that I was hurt and that I was going through a lot of pain - which is completely logical as well and the first real step towards healing. We have to accept the reality or else we’ll never think about what to actually do about it. You might have already heard a lot of what I will say in this post. And that’s true, I’m probably not saying anything new. The only difference is probably hearing about the experience from someone you know who actually went through the pain and came out of it.
2. Give yourself the chances you would give to someone you love
We tend to always be too hard on ourselves. Especially when we are heartbroken since we already feel responsible for what happened and that inculcates into every aspect of our lives. We start feeling guilty for anything wrong happening around us. Also, we might keep failing in our attempts to recover or build good habits and curse ourselves for not being able to do something simple.
However, we are often very forgiving and considerate when the same mistake is made by someone whom we deeply care about. We keep giving those people a number of chances to make up for their mistakes because we care for them and we want them in our lives. Why can’t we be as considerate and forgiving for our own efforts?
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. There are plenty of people willing to do that for you. Love yourself and be proud of everything that you do. Even mistakes mean you’re trying.”
— Susan Gale
3. Remember what you have now
It’s easy for us to think that shutting ourselves from people who care for us is what we need during this period. But that is precisely the opposite. We might be so obsessed with the heartbreak, that we might downplay the importance of other people in our lives — notably, our family and friends. They are the biggest support system that we have during this phase and our only way to maintain sanity. Even if we don’t share what we are going through, just being around them, going out with them and having a few beautiful moments with them can really help us recognise and appreciate what we still have. It made me value them a lot more than I used to because the thought of them leaving scared the shit out of me. And now, I knew that I can’t them for granted.
Also, and this might seem harsh, it was just a breakup. Not the end of the world. At the moment, that might seem like the biggest tragedy that could’ve ever happened to you. But when you think about the problems that so many people face on a daily basis, you might even consider yourself privileged to have the problems that you do. People are literally dying every day, they don’t have access to food, water, clothing, shelter — the basic human needs, so many people face abuse in so many forms, many people haven’t even seen their family ever since they were born. Acknowledging the privilege that most of us have can go a long way in viewing our situation in the larger scheme of things.
4. Seek help — the power of vulnerability
The biggest mistake, in my opinion, made by people going through any kind of hardship is our unwillingness to seek help from others. It is totally human to not be comfortable talking about our insecurities and wanting to come off as if we’re having a great time. However, we, as humans, have always relied on our community for survival. It is this age of glamour and social media that is forcing us to show a version of ourselves that is just not there. The healing power of simply opening up and talking about our problems to people who genuinely care for us is unmatched and it can only be unlocked by us taking the conscious choice to be vulnerable.
One specific type of help that most people don’t talk about is going to a therapist. Going to a therapist doesn’t mean that you are mad. It just means that you are human. We can seek advice from our family or friends but the amount of support that they can provide is limited to the experiences that they have had and it’s often hard for them to imagine what we are feeling. But therapists are actually trained to do this and are probably the best positioned to help us recover. If we have a knee problem, we don’t think twice about consulting a doctor. Then, why do we hesitate so much to consult the right doctor when we are faced with issues of mental health?
5. Don’t change yourself for people who don’t like you
There is a fine line between self-improvement and changing who we are as a person fundamentally. And it’s important to be aware of this difference. In my opinion, we should primarily aim for self-improvement. The traits which make us unique need to be retained. No matter how many times people characterize those traits as flaws. Always remember, they are features. The people who truly matter in our lives will always see them as features. No matter how hard we try, we can never be liked by everyone. And that’s probably the wrong goal to shoot for too. Talking to people close to me to understand what they valued about me really helped me and often left me surprised.
6. Try to make it an opportunity to learn about you
When we’re in the shitstorm, we’re just trying to make sense of it all. At that moment, it’s hard to think of it as anything other than a traumatic experience. However, these moments are really the best opportunities to learn more about ourselves and what we truly value. In the environment that I grew up in, I was not trained to continuously look inward. There was always a voice in my head trying to talk to me. I tried to keep shutting it down as it seemed scary. During those dark periods of intense loneliness, that voice became my closest friend. I realized that it was a version of me who was trying to talk to me. When I finally started conversing with it, I slowly started walking down the path of truly coming in sync with who I am and what I want to be.
There was an equally probable path that I could have taken - down the road of becoming an alcoholic and utterly wasting my potential, but I am grateful that I didn’t. And we all have the choice to not take that path too.
7. Trust me, really, trust me, there is hope.
On a lot of days, there was only one thing which I predominantly used to feel:
I won’t be able to love anyone else ever again.
Since then, I have fallen in love with 2 wonderful women who entered my life. Although I never ended up being together with any one of them, the biggest impact they had in my life was to get rid of that feeling. I know now that one of the primary reasons that I used to feel that way was due to the effect of Bollywood movies as I was growing up. Those movies romanticized the toxic idea of being capable of loving only one person in our entire lifetime, even if we have no hopes of being with them. It’s remarkable how deeply it affected my mental model for the world and how long it took for me to realize it. If you are someone who is feeling the same, I truly wish that this offers you hope too.
8. Maybe, just maybe, it happened for the best
It almost seems criminal to say this. But if I were given the option to travel back in time to undo my break-up, I wouldn’t. I love the person I am today and would change nothing in my past that led me to become this person. Now, when I look back, I almost feel ashamed of the person that I was and am surprised why my ex-partner even tolerated me for the amount of time that she did. I am grateful that we broke up. For me, it indeed happened for the best.
9. Give it time — this too shall pass
Now, this one is really a cliché but it’s true. Time is indeed the best healer of them all. My healing took a lot of time, but after every few months, one of my closest friends kept reminding me how far I had come and how much I had improved. Having someone help me reflect on the progress that I had made really gave me a lot more confidence in the moments when I used to feel very low. Bit by bit, slowly but surely, the scars do get filled. It’s very very hard to visualize this when you’re going through the dark periods, but it will get better. And one day, it will stop affecting you. You need to keep yourself going until it does. But it will. I promise you!
This was a very vulnerable post for me. I started writing this post 2 years back but never completed it. Maybe, I wasn’t confident enough to claim that I had fully healed. I have made a lot of mistakes in this journey and if you’re someone that I’ve hurt in this process, the only thing I can do is to ask for your forgiveness and give you my assurance that I’m putting in my best efforts to learn from my mistakes. If you resonated with anything in this post, I would love to hear from you! :)