Breakups are as much a part of the human experience as breathing oxygen and not licking cactuses.
By Karen Young
It’s actual science that going through a breakup does the same thing to your body as withdrawal from an addiction, activating the part of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings. As well as this, emotional pain triggers the same pathways in the brain as physical pain.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it will get better.
If you’re going through a breakup now you’ll probably want to file that under ‘B‘ for ‘But you don’t get it — no-body has ever lost like I’ve lost.’
Yes. It’s highly possible that humankind is unfamiliar with the level of wretched misery you’ve fallen to now, but read on anyway, because the ugly truth is that the only way through a breakup is straight through the middle.
Here’s how to start with that:
1. Don’t make any big decisions.
Tattoos, relationships, work, moving states. It might seem like a good idea to get ‘Just Breathe,’ or ‘Live Life‘ tattooed in Times Roman 120pt on your forearm but seriously, if you need these sort of reminders so badly as to have them embedded into your skin, then you’re in no position to be making life-lasting decisions.
They might all turn out to be great decisions one day, but make them when Rihanna stops singing ‘Love The Way You Lie’ in your head.
‘Just gonna stand there and watch me bu…’ Don’t. Just don’t.
2. Unfriend your ex on Facebook. Do it right now. We’ll wait.
You’re not going to see sad-faced ‘missing you’ selfies from the places you used to go — and anything else, you don’t need to know about.
Keeping up the follow will swallow you whole. The only reason to have your ex there is to check that they’re not getting on with life too happily without you. He or she will be. So will you, without them, just as soon as you stop the Facebook stalk.
If you’re going to keep them friended, just rip your heart from your chest, hand it over and say “Squeeze”. It will hurt a lot less.
3. Exercise. Just not at the gym your ex goes to. At the same time they go there.
Possibly the only exercise you’ll feel like doing is hurling ‘that’ photo of the two of you across the room but if you can manage something more active (though perhaps less cathartic) you will feel better afterwards.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, will be making itself at home inside you. One way to take the fire out of cortisol is to exercise. Exercise will also stimulate the brain to release endorphins (the feel good chemicals) and you’ll already be short on them so you’ve got nothing to lose. You don’t have to work up a sweat — going for a walk will do.
A caveat though: If the activity involves walking slowly past their house or climbing up the stormwater pipe to get a look into their window, it doesn’t count as exercise. It counts as stalking.
4. Get rid of texting capacity if you’re going to have a drink. A couple of drinks won’t make you Shakespeare. They just won’t.
Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re on a downhill slide, it’s best to stay away from it.
If you are going to have a drink though, protect yourself at all costs from the temptation to drunk-text. You’re human. You’ll want to. But don’t fall for the courage that comes in a bottle of decent pinot. It’s been fed by slightly hammered wisdom and it won’t end well. Never. Ever.
Just give your phone to a friend you trust and tell them to feed it to a pack of wolves before even thinking of giving it back to you. Unless you’re totally — totally — sober. You won’t need to explain why. They’ll get it.
5. Connect with friends and family.
The real ones. Not the ones who you haven’t heard from since the last crisis. The real ones who will sit through Love Actually with you for the 37th time and eat microwaved Indian from the dodgy plastic container it came in last night because you used the last clean plate three days ago.
One of the reasons a breakup hurts so much is because it messes around with the primal need to be connected to other people. You might not be able to be with the one person you want to be with, but spending time with your tribe will feed the human need for connection and will bring a much needed boost of oxytocin (the happy hormone) you’ve been missing.
And those real friends? On the way out the door, they’ll pop the dishwasher on before telling you that they’ve signed you both up for salsa dancing classes to get you out of the house. Don’t argue. Just go. There’s a good chance you’re starting to smell like a week-long temper and it will only get worse.
6. Give your bedroom a bit of a reno. And get some sleep.
Buy new sheets and new pj’s — nothing that reminds you of your ex — and open a window. Get rid of anything that makes you think of what you’ve lost. And then remind yourself that you haven’t lost it because it wasn’t there. Otherwise they would be, too.
Shake away those sepia dusted images of the two of you at your almost-but-not-quite spring wedding staring longingly at each other or the buffet. Keep your list of ‘Exotic Places to Honeymoon Where You Still Get the Internet’ though. It will still come in handy one day. If you want it to. Just not with your ex — and that will be okay, you’ll see.
And stop falling asleep on the couch in your day clothes.
7. Eat Healthy. Or don’t. Whatever. Just don’t keep it going for too long.
You’re doing it tough. You’ve got enough to worry about — you don’t need to get sick on top of everything else. Give your body what it needs to function. Eat healthy and eat regularly. Of course, the occasional crowd-pleaser bucket of fried chicken won’t hurt. Everything in moderation.
Or in a delicious crunchy coating.
8. They’re gone. They’re not coming back. But you are.
Every breakup survival needs a breakup comeback. When the time is right, plan for yours.
Do something you wouldn’t have done while you were with your ex — and no, that doesn’t mean hooking up with Steph, the 20-something from accounts who broke up with her fiancé ‘one week, four days and seven hours ago’ (her words). The fact that you both own a black dog called Jet does not mean that she ‘gets you'. It’s a union made in rebound hell.
Leave Steph where you found her — checking for missed calls and text messages with a tequila in her hand — and instead learn Italian, cook French, teach yourself the guitar, plan a trip to Morocco. Or, if your budget’s gasping for breath, a trip to Target for your new sheets will do fine.
9. Don’t meet up for coffee as friends. Actually, don’t do anything as friends.
You loved him/her once, remember? And you were loved back. It’s hard to go backwards from that. If you can take the dignified high road and forgive and forget and be friends, good for you, but you might be heading for trouble.
You’ve been there. Done that. Nothing to gain from doing it again. In this sort of relationship, someone will always want more. And it probably won’t be your ex — especially if it’s only been weeks since he/she was outta there. If they’re the one who wants more, then still ‘no’. A few weeks is not enough for him/her to ‘find him/herself’. Your ex is not a remote that slipped behind the couch. It’s never that simple. Never.
Of course, if you have kids together you will have to stay on friendly terms (at least in front of the kids). It might not be easy but you’re a person who will always love your kids more than you’ll want to hate any ex so you’ll be fine. You’re phenomenal. And that’s why it’s their loss. Remember that.
10. Look for what it can give you.
Sometimes when you’re down, it’s because there’s something down there you’re meant to find. As part of your breakup survival, look for the gems.
What can you learn? Why did you choose the relationship? What’s the wisdom that’s left for you when everything is said and done? Everyone comes into our lives to learn from us or to teach us. What have you learnt?
The fact that it’s over doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. It just means it’s run its course and it’s no longer the right one. Use it as a step up to the one that is.
11. You only have to get through today.
Don’t think too far ahead. It still has the imprints of your relationship with your perfectly behaved children, that spring wedding and you running that marathon (actually, keep that one — just don’t have your ex at the finish line ready to receive you and your gazelle-esque stride). Just don’t go there. Unless it’s to make real plans for something fun.
You only have to get through today. You can deal with tomorrow when it gets to you. Just put one foot in front of the other and it will get easier. Promise.
Above all else remember that the path to wisdom and a happy life is often littered with shards of broken hearts, including our own. Keep going. You’ll get there.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.