Hmmmm, the blog first post in almost a year, and it happens to be about breakups. What, do you suppose, is going on in Sara’s life right now?
You guessed it.
It’s been two weeks since the boyfriend called it quits. I’m bruised and busted and reading a lot of garbage out there about healing and moving on. Some of it is really helpful, and some is just plain horseshit. Everyone has their own truths during this retched time, and they likely change as the process evolves, but I’m here to share the biggest lies and myths you will feel and hear during a breakup.
Lie #1. The physical pain you feel is in your head.
Alice Cooper said that going through a breakup leaves you feeling like “a man with no skin.” Anyone who has been dumped knows how that feels: it hurts to brush your teeth. You feel wrecked and raw and skinned alive and nothing brings relief. This has to be all emotional, right? Completely psychosomatic? Not at all, and here’s why.
When we are rejected, our instinctual brain reverts back to caveman days when being kicked out of your tribe meant vulnerability to the elements and certain death. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Now, this is not your “fight or flight” guy – that’s the sympathetic system, the one that quickens your pulse and shoots adrenaline through you so you can be brave and kill (or run from) the bear. The parasympathetic system is the one that usually that lets you hang out, rest, and digest food. When this sucker is jabbed, your body gets washed in cortisol (the stress hormone) causing lots of fun and exciting events. That wrench in your gut? That’s all the blood rushing to your belly, activating all those little nerves that aid in digestion. Can’t sleep? Can’t eat? Cortisol and other stress hormones keep you awake and suppress your appetite, potentially setting you up for that post-breakup cold that many people get.
And what about that hollow ache you feel in your chest? That feeling that your heart is quite literally breaking… that’s your heart rate bottoming out, causing it to pump harder to keep you alive. In fact, there’s even a medical term for heartbreak : Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. Over a longer period of time, the bottom of the heart will actually enlarge to compensate for it’s low output. This isn’t typically fatal, but dammit if it doesn’t feel like it might kill you.
Turns out, you are completely hard-wired to avoid rejection. Your body is more stressed out right now than anything you’ve ever felt at work because your brain thinks you’re gonna die without him. Of course we rationally know that’s not true, though it’s near impossible to convince your body of this fact. You just have to ride it out. Go for a run. Listen to meditations on your phone. Just know that it’s perfectly normal to have a physiological response during this time. You’re not crazy.
Lie #2. The amount of time it will take to get over the relationship is half the time of the total time you spent in the relationship.
Who the hell came up with relationship math?
It’s natural to wonder “How long am I going to feel like this?” after ending a relationship. In fact, if you Google that question you’ll get lots of ridiculous and useless advice. Some bloggers insist that the best way to get over a man is to get under another one, while others tell you that you must take a year to “work on yourself” in order to fully heal from the wreckage. I don’t advise either scenario, and what does “working on yourself” even mean anyway? Sure, you will need time to reacquaint yourself with the new single you, but that doesn’t mean you disappear from existence for 12 months.
The truth is, the time it will take to get over a relationship is completely dependent upon how you feel about yourself.
Wow, thanks Sara. That doesn’t help me at all.
I know, I know that’s really abstract and self-helpy, but let me ask you this: when all those well-meaning friends tell you that “you’re a catch” and “he’s an idiot,” do you believe them? Or is that just friendspeak for “shut up about him already and let me tell you about my new handbag?”
Think about your situation objectively for a moment and assess your feelings about yourself in these areas:
-Was I a supportive, faithful, loving girlfriend in a relationship that just didn’t work out?
-Am I refraining from self-damaging activities like stalking his Facebook or sleeping with other exes?
-Am I supporting my physical and emotional health by talking with friends, staying active, and eating decently?
-Do I truly deserve a mutually supportive relationship based on open communication, requited respect, and shared life goals?
If the answers are yes, congratulations. You’re on your way to an expeditious recovery. See if you can come up with more things to feel good about. If you’ve slipped up in one or more of these areas, go easy on yourself. You’re only human. But now that you know, it’s time to amend some of these behaviors. Self esteem comes from esteemable actions.
In reality, the timetables are irrelevant. You don’t have to be “over him” in order to move on with your life. Some loves leave a stamp on your heart so deep that you never fully stop loving them. And this isn’t a bad thing. It means you had the capability to be vulnerable and allow someone into your heart for however long it lasted. And you are a changed person for having been in it. I’ve heard stories of people who met the loves of their lives right after their most devastating breakups, and were married within the year. Does this mean your relationship didn’t matter? Absolutely not.
Lie #3. You need closure
I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve written him (yes I can, exactly 13). They’re filled with burning questions that I’ve felt desperately need answers if I’m to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart and carry on. I ask him to come explain it all to me in person. I tell him I didn’t mean those things I said on the phone that night (yes, he did it on the phone). I politely ask him to dissect the last 6 months of the relationship so I can figure out the exact moment shit went wrong so I can beat myself up for all the signs I didn’t see and justify all the little things and…. And I didn’t send him any of them.
Because none of that stuff matters.
I know it feels like you absolutely must have all the answers to make sense of what happened. It’s our nature want to know the how and the why and to make sense of how in the hell he can turn it off just like that while you’re falling apart. I know you simply have to know what he’s feeling and thinking and doing (especially whom he’s doing it with) but there’s no point. None.
In the plane crash of your breakup (those who know me please excuse the metaphor) he is not the Black Box. He doesn’t have the answers you want, and even if he did, you don’t want to hear it. Take it from someone who has poked that bear too often in the past.
The truth that he will give you is his truth, and is a reflection on him, NOT YOU.
His truth is not your truth and it’s not THE truth. The truth is, something stopped working, it doesn’t matter what, and at this moment there is not a future for this relationship. He ended it. THAT is your closure.
“But Sara, what if there’s a chance we will get back together someday?” Well, that will be a new truth. But today, for now, in this moment, you must accept the current situation. Believe it or not, you CAN heal without understanding. Think of all the senseless things that happen in the world that cause us to lose the ones we love. We constantly ask “why” and yet rarely do those answers ever come… yet people go on living. And so can you.
The Beatles said “Let it Be.” That’s the best advice I can give you right now. It won’t make the pain go away right now, but it will help you get through this time with your dignity and self worth in tact. Because when you get to the other side, those are the things that will help you to move on.
I can’t make it all better for you. I can’t even make it all better for me. But in these rare moments of clarity and strength (between the fits of tears and rage) I’ve chosen to write so I can remember.
Winston Churchill said “When you’re going through hell, keep on going.” Stay strong friends. You will come out of this a changed person… for the better. And that’s no lie.
Pretty soon you’ll be feeling like this: