I used to wonder if my heart had been broken as a child and I spent the rest of my life trying to put it back together again, looking for a way to patch up cracks that had been there forever. This type of melancholy seems to be with me in a tragic romance sort of way. I wondered if I would spend my life going from one love (or what I thought was love) to another, none looking like what I was told was good (or stable and acceptable) but opting for it anyway and perpetuating a cycle of pain I didn't know if I even could live without.
This lead to an adulthood of more quick experiences than long, that were similar in their intensity and inability to sustain themselves, but none the less, they never felt good ending. My heart would again be broken. Secretly, of course. Part of my MO, was never telling anyone how I really felt and thus believed that I would never have to truly hurt if I didn't get too close or acknowledge how I truly felt about anyone. Oh, that is not how it works. In this way, I would suffer alone and in suffering alone it would be far more painful. Being a hopeful romantic (or wildly dysfunctional) I was quick to tell myself it was in that beautifully painful way, as if the only way to truly feel the depth of love was to open yourself up to the possibility of being destroyed. I always felt that I could take the risk of choosing love over fear, and if it worked well I would have something many can never achieve as they closed themselves off out of fear. And if it failed? Well. I would have the privileged rapture of having felt the all the “love.”
Maybe I became a glutton for the punishment of a hurting heart or maybe the broken heart I believed I had as a child was all too familiar and instead of picking what was healthy and sane, I picked what was familiar. Mired in pain being a comfort zone.
There was the time I had to accept that even with all my efforts of keeping someone, I had already lost them. There were times lovers chose others. There were summer flings that got too serious. There was long distance (my particular flavor of choice) that keeps you in an almost perpetual state of longing that is only matched by the hope you continue to hold onto that it *could* be great some day. And then there were times I broke my own heart by creating and staying in environments that could never fill my soul the way I needed.
One particular experience hurt in a different way. As it turned into silence, as many had before, with nothing substantial enough to warrant a proper closer, I was left with no answers. No words. Nothing to hold onto. In those days, I turned totally inwards and took my writing, but I’ll tell you, when there is no one to talk to and the only hand you have to hold is your own…it is easy to damn love and all the feelings it comes with, yet I continued to believe that love is never lost. I started viewing it not as how much it hurt, but as a privilege to be able to feel. I don’t regret throwing my heart into certain situations. Nor do I regret the love I was able to explore otherwise.
I was recently asked how to handle a break up in a stable way. As much as I could make a list of things to do to soothe oneself, I believe that everything is always in a state of creation, maintenance, or destruction. (Sounds dark, but it just means that everything is cyclical. There are beginnings and ends.) With love, there may be no end, but you cannot be fully present without understanding you might lose it. Quite the conundrum to be so scared of losing something you can’t enjoy it while you have. Like flies stuck in honey, as Alan Watts said.**
A broken heart is a humbling reminder of just how human we are. It’s also a reminder of how much emotional pain can turn into physical pain. Though situations vary and there are justifications for everything, there is no denying the pain that can exist in the midst of trying to figure out a new normal when everything you knew is no more. There is shock, grief, anger, nostalgia, or even moments of clarity, as confusing as they are comforting. Some relationships have hurt all along in smaller ways. Disappointment, lapses in communication, differing life goals, time, space, connection or the lack there of, jealousy, etc. We are feeling creatures. To experience the high highs, there are also some low lows.
Through my adult years, I’ve learned that I can show when things hurt. I can show when I’m in pain over something as tender as the human heart. Where I used to think it was weak to admit caring, I have learned that my big ole heart was not a perceived flaw but a gift that continues to confirm just how human I am and how deeply and fully I can love someone. A nod to my empathy that leaves me vulnerable and exposed but also fully present and connected to another person’s feelings. I try to exist in a space where relationships are not about owning one another or being a whole person who comes together with another whole person to try something great that we both accept might not always feel amazing. In accepting myself for who I am, I am more free to explore love but it at the same cost, more free to feel loss along the way.
I would love to say we break up and it just takes some good food and sunshine for the whole thing to feel better, but that’s really not the case. Our self esteem can take a massive hit. We can start spiraling about everything in our lives not going right. Jealousy can come up. Possessiveness. Delusional thinking or romanizing our once partners. If this or if that, we could be ok. In our delicate state, we can internal societal messages we believe, start the negative talk to ourselves, and wonder if we will ever get over said person.
Broken hearts always hurt. Whether they are mutually agreed upon partings or betrayals you didn’t even see coming that pack a solid punch to your insides. There is a pain that sits with you, eats away at your thoughts, causes you to frantically or methodically seek out any forms of coping you can get your hands on and can even leave you crying to strangers.
I think getting perspective is important. I think being sad and feeling like shit is part of it. I think acknowledging and talking about your feelings, no matter how conflicted, confusing, or embarrassing they might be will help you begin to heal. I think distracting yourself is a part of it, too. Not in lieu of feeling, but in addition to. We go on vacation. We chat up anyone remotely cute. We hit up old flings to remind of us our desirability or access. Or maybe we sink into a dark spot and damn everyone who dares flirt with us. I think we have to be open to the support of friends and family who are there for us. I also think we should avoid truly self destructive habits and change the way we look at things in the previous relationship or during the break up.
It isn’t always about what you’re losing, but what you gained or are gaining. Do everything and anything you really loved and didn’t get to fully do (or missed) while you were in the relationship. Journal. Write letters (that you don’t send, or maybe you do, but they should be written for you.) Get on some affirmations and start to feel good about you again.
Lead with acceptance of yourself, your human-ness and life on life’s terms. And don’t feel bad for feeling bad. Shit hurts and yet it happens to all of us at one point or another. Though we can carry that with us to future relationships, we can also use it as a window into something deeper. I once read that “catastrophe has a way of propelling us into the essence of things.” I hope any one of you dealing with a broken heart or a troubling break up, can use the experience to find the essence of self, of where your heart is or what it’s made of, and experience more inward growth as a result.
** "We seem to be like flies caught in honey. Because life is sweet we do not want to give it up, and yet the more we become involved in it, the more we are trapped, limited, and frustrated. We love it and hate it at the same time. We fall in love with people and possessions only to be tortured by anxiety for them. The conflict is not only between ourselves and the surrounding universe; it is between ourselves and ourselves. For intractable nature is both around and within us. The exasperating “life” which is at once lovable and perishable, pleasant and painful, a blessing and a curse, is also the life of our own bodies."