advice for getting over a break-up


Person after person is emailing me like, “My relationship of X years is ending and I’m drowning. Help.”

So here’s some advice, for what it’s worth, composited from what I’ve told folks:

First, let me start with a caveat: it’s not really “getting over” a break-up, it’s SURVIVING. Breaking up SUCKS, it hurts for a long time, and there isn’t anything you can healthfully do to avoid having it hurt a lot. But it’s supposed to hurt, it’s good and right that it hurts. Quoth the good Ms Rowling:

‘There is no shame in what you are feeling Harry,’ said Dumbledore’s voice. ‘On the contrary…the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.’

Grief is proof that we love, and love is both the most abundant and the rarest of elements in the universe. Grief is the effect of broken attachment (video). And attachment is the biological foundation of love and thus, as literally as can be, the blood and guts of human relationships. So if it feels like you’re bleeding… that’s why.

It’s okay and normal if you’re not eating well. Grief does that. It’s also okay if your sleep is fucked up, you have no energy or motivation, and all you want to do is watch TV and cry. Grief does all that too. Remember you only have the energy you have (spoons), and right now most of your energy is required for healing this particularly painful wound.

This kind of healing requires mourning. Remember you’re mourning a loss – not quite a death, but in some ways WORSE than a death because the person is still THERE, only achingly out of reach. It’s respectful to the connection you’ve lost to give yourself the times, space and emotional energy to allow that loss to BREATHE. Treat the pain like a friend who needs your help, a friend who’s having a panic attack and needs your calm presence to remind her that she’s safe, that the panic will end, and life, comfort, and contentment will return when it does.

Remember meta-emotions? It’s not how you feel, it’s how you feel about how you feel. Welcome the grief. Allow it. Recognize that the time and energy required to let the grief move through you will necessarily take away time and energy from other things in your life.

When you’re too exhausted for pain, there are lots of safe, temporary numbing strategies to use: television and movies, hanging out with friends, physical activity, reading positive stuff on the internet, reading fiction, alcohol IN MODERATION if that works for you, marijuana IN MODERATION if that works for you, and above all SLEEP are great, generally low-risk escape/avoidance mechanisms for the times that you can’t anymore. As super-genius of staying alive Kate Bornstein says, you’re allowed to do anything you need to do to stay alive – except be mean.

The worst thing you can do (apart from being mean) is try not to feel stuff. Don’t run from it, don’t be afraid of the pain, don’t hate the pain, don’t be angry with yourself for feeling things. Accept it. Breathe into it, and then exhale, and then breathe in again. You will definitely, absolutely survive and eventually it will hurt less and even more eventually you will feel okay again.

There is good stuff at the end of this, as long as you put one foot in front of the other until you get there.

Also? Just keep swimming.