Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, a painful break-up hurts so bad that you forget what the happiness really felt like—it becomes more of an abstract memory that you know at least was not feeling completely hopeless, miserable, alone, abandoned, wronged, jealous, hurt, broken, choking, want-to-die, can’t-sleep--"back when we were together and things were decent and life had meaning and things were *happening* and there was someone to enjoy it with and help out if anything went wrong."
Now it’s just you and your pain. Pain that is literally all-consuming and you are absolutely SURE—you’ve never been surer of anything in your life actually—that the pain will never end and life is over.
I’ve been there. I mean on the floor, body contracting and trembling with I-can’t-believe-I-can-feel-this-much-pain pain.
Can’t laugh, can’t eat, can’t sleep, I was-put-on-this-Earth-to-suffer pain.
What do you do?
Well, at that stage, you have to do the only thing you *can* do, which is acknowledge that you are hurting, and let it wash over you so that you can let it go.
Pain, like fear, has to be faced because the only way out is through.
That level of intensity will, eventually pass (because all things do), and what generally is left is what I call “Attrition Pain”.
Attrition Pain is literally that: pain that doesn’t let up and weighs you down no matter where you go or what you do. Doing anything is hard because you literally feel like you are carrying a heavy load. Which, of course, in your heart, you are; but it feels like a real, physical load.
Attrition pain wears you down.
Attrition Pain is all the worse because it is multi-layered: every wound and trauma you ever experienced has been re-opened and activated.
ALL of it is attacking your attention and there is no escape because everywhere you go, look, hear, smell, taste, and touch triggers some memory that is now potently injurious because of the memory involved.
And those memories trigger memories until you’re suffering from a nuclear-chain-reaction-emotional meltdown.
You’re blaming you, you’re blaming them, you’re blaming your parents, you’re blaming your job, you’re blaming your finances, the dog, the weather, the kids today, the public at large…
But mostly you’re blaming you and you’re blaming them, and the resulting negativity/anger/guilt/second-guessing is toxic enough to be bottled and sold as an alternative to nerve gas.
How do you recover from an internal nerve gassing?
The answer is really one sentence, the same advice everyone gave, ever: “Let go and live your life”, but that is insultingly impossible unless you do the following:
1.) The worst (and most persistent—read: never-ending) kind of emotional trauma from a break-up is the kind where your house (identity) is gone because you built it on someone else.
You don’t know who you are (“Hello, my name is Abandoned”), and your source of strength, happiness, validation, stimulation, love, esteem, security, etc. (which was never enough, but at least it was something) is gone because you didn’t deeply and completely give yourself those things.
This happened to me, and I didn’t understand why. I loved with all my might and being, I cheerleaded, I was up for almost literally anything, I worked hard, I forgave unconditionally, I was always there, admitted my mistakes, apologized (oftentimes just to keep the peace), accepted blame, begged, nodded when everything I said was twisted around and used against me…
I gave and gave and gave and gave of myself and took and took and took abuse.
Why didn’t it work?
Because neither of us could give untainted, generous love and esteem because we didn’t love and esteem ourselves.
If you don’t love, validate, respect, value, trust, and esteem yourself, you 1,000% can not healthily or adequately give OR receive those things from others.
You will be a black hole who is never truly satisfied (my inferiority always made me think my ex- was crazy for giving me "the time of day"—but even so, the good they did was never "good enough" for me because only I—not they—could fix my brokenness). All your actions to compensate will be tainted. They will leave you abandoned or depleted, taken for granted, and doormatted.
People who are self-actualized won’t be able to stand being around you (and will leave), and people who are like you will be similarly trying to have their own emotional black holes filled, which of course you can no more do for them than they can do for you.
You have to be your own emotional house, and the only way to do that is to love yourself. And love isn’t a feeling, it’s a verb. An ACTION verb!
Loving yourself is stopping the constant cycle of blame-beatings, self-doubt with no purpose, second-guessing stagnation, my-superhero-name-is-Defeatist-Man-because-I-talk-myself-out-of-any-personal-growth-and-valuable-opportunities, this-person-didn’t-value-me-so-I-must-have-no-value-just-like-I-always-knew-to-be-true that is the mire of internal lack and dependency.
Love is taking the megaphone back from your fears and insecurities and instead encouraging yourself the way you would encourage a student. You are a student of Life.
Love is realizing your worth by using your talents and tools to build your dream life (however long or convoluted the building process might be).
Love is realizing your worth by no longer seeking validation (such as apologies, better treatment, praise, etc.) from the recalcitrant, impossible, unreformed, unapologetic people who hurt you. Love is voting for those things with your feet, by finding people who give those things whole-heartedly, purely, and generously, no begging or lecturing or millionth-time-explaining required.
Love is cutting all contact (or all emotional attachment/reaction) to those toxic, irascible people in your life who break you and bring you down.
Love is taking care of your body. Love is good manners, including looking and feeling good. It is having a way to feel fulfilled while providing for your bodily needs. If you need a career change, self-love is acting on that need every day until you get where you want to be.
Love is letting go of the poison and pain of past trauma by being aware of and ACCEPTING what you can not change and validating yourself instead of begging those who hurt you to validate your pain by empathizing (which many of them literally can’t even do), or admitting what they did and that it was wrong.
Don’t bother asking the snake that bit you to apply a tourniquet and suck the poison back out.
Living well is the best antivenin I know.
Love is taking care of you no differently than a child needs care.
The more that you SEE that YOU care about YOU, the more that you will actually believe that you are valuable, lovable, worthy, good, and respectable.
The more that you will enjoy the benefits of having your own back and having the truest best friend in the world, who has always been and will always be with you: Yourself.
Think of it this way:
If you constantly:
Stood by and watched as..
Or actively put...
Someone who was constantly emotionally, verbally, and/or physically abused, lied to, and manipulated...
YOU stood by and put them into these situations...
AND continually sabotaged and gossiped about them...
Spread their business all over...
Encouraged or enabled bad habits
If you did all those things to someone who was completely vulnerable and who was going through one of the darkest, lowest points in their life…what would you think and how would you feel about yourself?
No, I want you to re-read that and SEE it happening, as if in a movie.
Well guess what: that person completely at your mercy is YOU. No wonder you have trouble sleeping at night!
You can’t live with yourself if you treat people like that, you will always need something to distract you from the oozing sores on your soul.
*You* are a people.
Don’t treat *you* that way.
2.) Okay, so recovery is impossible without Step 1, but unfortunately, that does not mean that the pain will magically vanish and that you will never self-doubt, feel betrayed, get angry, hurt, etc. ever again.
Loving yourself, and healing, is a life-long CONSISTENT PROCESS, which is a two-word term for:
^^^ Habitually implementing behaviors that always benefit you.
^^^ Working on something that immerses you in euphoria.
^^^ Catching yourself and forgiving yourself when you "fail".
^^^ Catching yourself and snapping out of self-deprecation.
^^^ Catching yourself and trying better.
If Step 1 is like waking up to the fact that you need to change, and then starting anew, Step 2 is like waking up the next day…and the day after that….for all your tomorrows.
Eventually it does become very much a habit; you become a natural at loving (ACTION verb) yourself, but, since we’re human, it does take attention, and there are slip-ups, and that is o.k.
You are not a slip-up. You are YOU: a valuable, loving, worthwhile being of light and joy and sparkles and science-y cosmic magic and rainbows of pluperfectly engineered delight!
3.) But what about, whilst you are working on your dreams (however grand they are and however humble your means, each daily step is a victory), those times you still feel those powerful “pain shockwaves”?
I love what Natasha said, advice that saved my life and my dignity: those “pain contractions” are exactly that: contractions, short-lived bursts that are here to go, never to stay.
In my experience, they usually occur right before the next break-through happens. The weird, “it’s always darkest before dawn” phenomenon.
Acknowledge that you are in pain because the only way you will truly get out of pain is to go *through* the pain. I love what Natasha says, to HONOR your pain: see it as a tool to learn from and use to fuel your recovery so that you can release it instead of letting it poison you. Take these times to be gentle and caring with yourself.
That's the key, Gatekeeper Of Your Own Power!
4.) Sometimes, when the pain is really bad, you have to be in the moment.
I always hated the saying “Live in the moment” because I never understood it. “I don’t have a choice but to live in the moment! It’s this moment, and I’m here whether I want to be or not! And I DON’T WANT TO because it sucks just like the past 20 years of umpteenjillion awful moments I didn’t want to be in!”
But, having had to find ways to cope with intense pain, I understand now.
You have to find something pleasant and focus on that one thing.
This is tied closely with the concept of gratitude, or “counting your blessings”.
You know how if you mash your fingers in the car door, or drop something on your toe, or just plain old sneeze…you pretty much can’t think of anything else at that particular second?
Like there is this *burst* in your brain that momentarily takes all your attention? Well it’s kind of like that, but pleasant, and more deliberate.
Basically, you give yourself permission to take a break from the pain by looking for (or creating) opportunities to enjoy something. And I mean really ENJOY it.
Like, block everything else out but the novelty of how nice (or at least, different) it is!
The best way I know how to do this is to give yourself new experiences (I'm a 6 wing 7 on the Ennegram, so I like to engage in some good old-fashioned escapism!).
New experiences take more attention (because your brain doesn’t entirely know what to expect), and they are exciting!
Sure, a trip somewhere is great if you can do it (do it!), but it doesn’t have to be that grand.
Do *little* special things. I can give you an example: the other day I went to a cool store that specializes in fresh and organic foods (it was Sprouts). This was special for me because instead of the same-old, same-old Wal-Mart routine, I got to see so many new things! They seemed to have everything exotic! Live mint plants in FRUIT-SCENTED varieties (have you ever heard?!) and massive orchids with crazy flowers that could have come from planet Zorbon and PURPLE carrots!
I ended up buying something very simple and (for me, random) because it was on sale, something I never buy and never even think about buying, despite seeing it in cookbooks and magazines and all over the Food Network: a pear.
A simple green pear.
I cut it into thin slices (like I’ve seen people do) and put it on a sandwich. Do you know, I got lost in that sandwich? Just trying to taste the pear, and decide if I liked it…and then realizing how juicy it was, and how it changed/worked with the flavors…I’m still thinking about a sandwich I had a week ago because I put a new fruit on it.
This is why things “trend”: people collectively experience a new thing and share the experience with each other.
I’m not telling you to become a Sheep O’ Basicness, but magic happens when we try to LIVE, to BE, FULLY, in happy moments, whenever we can!
And if everything old is a painful reminder, or you are stuck in a rut, doing something out of your ordinary, or spicing up your ordinary, with new experiences is the antidote.
If you want more ideas, try my THE WONDER WORKS! course!
One reason I admired my ex- so darn much is because they introduced so much newness I never even considered, into my life. It wasn’t in my sad little closed-off well-worn-rut life, so it didn’t cross my mind because I put little energy into making life special or fun. I had been raised (and beaten down) on and a diet of boredom, mediocrity, and “Parent’s Way is the Only Way, All Other Ways Are Morally Evil”…
It was “stuff other people got to do”.
So act with purpose! Think outside the lines you always operate in! Put fresh arugula on your freezer-pizza, try a bath bomb, go out and actually look, really look, at the stars, write a story based on a crazy dream you had…just get joyfully lost in a moment that would otherwise go to waste and be another dull and painful one.
Keep it interesting! Best friends keep things interesting and lively, that’s why we love them so much. And you are your own best friend.
P.S. The best part? Because like attracts like, when you start being happy and independent again, ALL KINDS of good things start meeting you there and naturally happening 😊
5.) Talk to someone. This is another piece of advice that offended me because at the time, the only people I had to talk to were NOT the people to talk to: either completely busy, inexperienced and ignorant, or the very people I needed to talk ABOUT.
If you need a quick fix, a.k.a. SOMEONE to hear your story and be there—(and I feel you because I have so needed that too) 7cups.com has anonymous chat sessions, any time, with other people around the world, for free.
Despite desperately wanting to, I couldn’t magic the effective, humble, and wise (wise from EXPERIENCE) person I needed out of nothing!
I didn’t get the quality someone-to-talk-to that I needed (and, mere mortal that I am, I *still* need someone to talk to) until after I put in time searching for REAL answers and solutions and found a source that resonated strongly, made sense, and WORKED first.
Not from a licensed therapist I didn’t know (tried it and got NOTHING but infantile worksheets and obvious generalities..oh, and a bill, to add injury to insult), not from people/friends/family that I love and enjoy talking to (about other, shallower things)…I only got the help (and ear…and mouth of good advice and encouragement and reassurance) as a result of a search that didn’t end until I found what I needed: The Truth.
The rules to the Care and Keeping of Me.
This is what I hope for you.
The light in your relationship was you all along.
It’s still there.
Treat yourself to your light.
Treat yourself to the joy of knowing you.
BE there for you in the midst of your pain.
BE there for you in the joys that are coming.
We’re all in this together.
All My Love,