You’re Not Heartbroken, You’re in Withdrawal
She wailed, recounting the story of her breakup. This woman, who had run a triathlon, was tough as nails and had so much going for her in life — hung up because of some guy.
I didn’t understand it at the time.
How could someone so emotionally well-regulated lose their composure when confronted with heartbreak?
Where did all their coping mechanisms go when they were needed the most?
The answer is less than flattering
It’s true what they say — heartbreak is a lot like being denied your fix of favorite drug.
And I’ve seen rational people fall prey to drug addiction and lose their way.
While there’s rehab for treating drug abuse, it’s interesting to note that people suffering through heartbreak aren’t afforded the equivalent.
More often than not, we’re left to our own devices to make our way out of the intense feelings of frustration that come with heartbreak.
Some of us talk to therapists but that, in isolation, is not enough.
One needs to put in conscious effort to deal with the pain of being heartbroken in its various forms — rejection, fear, uncertainty, and the ensuing loneliness.
Here’s a few ideas to help you work through heartbreak. And it’s something I wish I knew about before I saw my friends lose their sleep over it and before I experienced it myself.
Time won’t fix it
“I’ll be over her in 2 weeks/months/years”.
No you won’t. Before you think I’m being pessimistic here, indulge me this thought experiment — think back to your own experience of heartbreak, have you ever been able to accurately estimate how long you’ll take to recover from the shock? Take this even further, have you ever felt pressured to ‘act normally’ even though you’re not completely over something? Have you obsessed about a breakup for much much longer than you consider reasonable? I know I have. Against all bounds of logic and reasoning, I’ve obsessed about things for way too long. I have caused myself a great deal of pain and suffering without knowing how to let go. And I’ve thought it’ll all get better with time. If anything, my thoughts have gotten much more distorted and agonizing with the passage of time. Just time and distance won’t be enough unless the time is used wisely. Time doesn’t heal wounds, medicine does. Which leads me to my next point
Fight against it
Guy Winch recommends writing down all the reasons why the breakup you’ve suffered is a good thing.
List out all the negative attributes of the relationship that has ended. And whenever you find yourself idealizing the past and overlooking the imperfections, look at your list. It’s easy to remember the good parts of an equation and assume you’ll never find anything like it ever again, but the truth is, you know what you had wasn’t perfect. And it’s time to acknowledge that and objectively look at why this ending is probably a good thing in some ways. As they say, when you’re wearing rose tinted glasses, all the red flags look like regular flags. Take off the rose tinted glasses and collect all the red flags. You’ll need them when you’re fighting against your own mind.
Write a better story
Often it’s not the breakup itself that causes us so much pain. It’s the story we construct around it that does the most damage. We’re so obsessed with interpreting life’s events and figuring out ‘what it all means’ that we sometimes fail to see what’s really happening.
It’s easy to catastrophise a break up and say, “This is a sign from the universe that I won’t find anyone ever again” instead of saying, “It wasn’t meant to be. It’s good it ended sooner rather than later. I can focus on finding someone who’s better for myself now”. One of the things that can be done to overcome this is to constantly rewrite the narrative in simple terms — without the dramatic hyperboles. No your life isn’t ending, and the universe isn’t out for your blood, you’ve just experienced something that you don’t particularly like. It’s unpleasant, no doubt, but it’s just that. Acknowledge your pain, but do not feed it everyday with ammunition.
Fill each trigger with something healthy
When a relationship ends, feelings will linger. And along with feelings, triggers will linger too. Favourite songs, records, books, favourite hangout places even. Even pictures and other remnants that will cause you to wonder about “what could have been…”. As ruthless as this sounds, it’s worth replacing these things with something else. Not a new relationship, but something that has personal relevance to you alone.
You can’t leave a stash of cigarettes lying around on the kitchen counter when you’re trying to quit. You’d have a better shot of quitting, if the cigarettes were completely out of sight. Heartbreak is a lot like going into withdrawal. You can’t cave and stalk your ex on social media if you’re trying to lose your attachment to them. Do yourself a favour and get rid of all the triggers and find new personal projects to fill the space with.
Hope is a dangerous thing
“Hope can be incredibly destructive when your heart is broken” — Guy Winch.
No, their latest social media post isn’t a hint that they’re thinking of you. It sucks, but it’s true. In the early stages of heartbreak, we look for signs. Signs that maybe there’s a chance things will go back to the way they once were. We hold on to things we shouldn’t. We’re in denial and the most mundane things give us hope. But hope is particularly bad when it comes to heartbreak.
It keeps you stuck on the seesaw of happiness and misery while you should really be getting off the seesaw and standing on solid ground and walking away. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but the kindest thing you can do while dealing with heartbreak is accept that there’s no hope for things to go back to the way they were. Once you accept it, nothing can hurt you anymore. You won’t look for hope. This is easier said than done but there’s no way around it.
End the story yourself
If you’ve been ghosted, or otherwise left high and dry without an explanation, the agony is unbearable. The sadness just hits different, I acknowledge that. And the fact remains, that you might never know why you were rejected. And the human mind is wired to seek closure and not getting it can drive it up the wall. One way to work through this is to deal with the ‘what’ of the situation rather than the ‘why’. Why your relationship has ended is less important than the fact that it has ended. This is because the reason this relationship ended might not be cause for concern in the next one. It’s like trying to figure out why a coin toss turned out a certain way. It won’t affect the odds of the next coin toss. With that said, if you are indeed aware of some behavioural patterns that might be causing problems in your interpersonal relationships, it’s on you to address them. Don’t expect the other person to point these things out for you and “give you closure”. Close the book on the ghosting chapter yourself. You can choose to turn your pain into art as a means of finding closure. French artist, Sophie Calle did exactly that.
Overall, heartbreak and addiction can be overcome. It will be a messy affair and it’s all part of being human. If you’ve read this far, I hope that you heal and find your faith renewed.
Sometimes it takes a heartbreak to shake us awake and help us see we are worth so much more than we’re settling for — Mandy Hale