A Broken Heart Saved My Life

Photo by  Nick Fewings  on  Unsplash

It’s been over a year since my last significant relationship. The breakup was epic, one that left a permanent scar on my heart, and has changed me in such profound ways that I sometimes stand back in awe.

When it occurred, I wept for months. The emotional pain was so great that I felt it physically, quite literally wondering if a broken heart might kill me or cause permanent psychological damage.

The New Relationship

I entered into this relationship with equal parts anxious trepidation and utter recklessness, a savage combination for delicate hearts such as mine. You see, I had just left my husband and was trying to survive a clean, yet painful, divorce. I left no time between my marriage and my new relationship to tend to the wounds of my divorce. I simply slapped a bandaid on ‘em and went about my life, expecting things to work themselves out in the background.

My new boyfriend and I decided to “divorce proof” our relationship, as he had also been divorced before. We agreed that we wanted to be together forever (or until one of us died) and knew we had some work to do. What was the difference between couples who stayed together and couples who split? Neither of us had the answer, so we went about figuring it out. I read a ton of books in the world of relationship self-helpery. We often discussed the concept of love, whether it was a feeling or a decision. We went to counseling.

Though neither of us felt exceptionally close to our therapist, the act of devoting time to examine our relationship on a consistent basis really strengthened our bond and kept our fire burning for one another. It became a weekly ritual, taking the temperature of our connection and refocusing on each other. It felt mature and wise. Like we were the lucky ones who were going to decipher this riddle.

The Beginning of the End

I don’t recall the moment we stopped going, or why, but our relationship began to deteriorate, and we had not yet solved the puzzle that would have kept us together.

In the end, I don’t know if the counseling kept us together longer than we should have, or if our relationship failed because we stopped going to counseling. I’ll never know, and the speculation of what-ifs makes me spiral. It’s a constant battle to keep myself rooted in reality instead of dissecting the past and contemplating the many ways we could have done things differently. I could easily get stuck in the loop of analyzing every harsh word we spoke and every decision we made that led to our demise. This is the ever-so-seductive cycle that keeps people stuck in their shit, unable to recover and heal their pain.

Photo by  Jude Beck  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

It isn’t that I recommend a heartbreak of this magnitude, but I now realize the value in it. Feeling such pain and discomfort became an opportunity to grow and learn. I knew I had two choices:  

  1. Blame my ex for making me feel this way. Self medicate with booze and meaningless sex and frivolous debauchery. Ignore the symptoms by burying them like a cat in her litter box.

  2. Open up the wounds, explore all the nooks and crannies, and really fix my shit.  

So, I made the decision. I was going to fix it. I wasn’t going to let life just happen to me anymore. I was going to roll up my sleeves and sort it out, no matter how hard or scary it would be. I wanted to be living proof that people can change. I went to a lot of therapy. I read a lot of books about effecting change to heal your life. I started practicing meditation. I got really vulnerable with myself. I don’t pretend to be 100% healed or enlightened now, but I have noticed dramatic changes in many facets of my life. Here they are.

“It is not selfish or narcissistic to love yourself. It is your first and foremost responsibility.”
— Alan Cohen

Self Love

All our lives we’re told that we cannot love others until we love ourselves. And all my life I thought, well, I think I love myself, but I don’t really know. Aren’t we just born loving ourselves?

It turns out, loving yourself is really fucking hard. And if you don’t know for sure that you love yourself, you probably don’t. I liken it to the female orgasm: you’ll know once you’ve had it. Until then, you’re just under the assumption that it happened without your noticing.

Being faced with intense pain forced me into some serious introspection. I started to dig through all of my behavioral patterns and really explore beliefs I held about myself. I started taking responsibility for my actions. I started holding myself accountable, making decisions with a lot more intention. I became much more aware of what I said and did and how it made me feel, how it made others feel. For the first time, I understood the limits of my control over someone else and the power I had to direct my own thoughts and feelings.

I noticed that my self-appreciation was being fortified, and I wasn’t as susceptible to other peoples actions or words or opinions of me.

Open Mind and Heart

Being so vulnerable and emotionally raw, I felt my heart opening like I hadn’t experienced before. I found myself connecting with people in a much deeper way than I was accustomed to. It gave me strength to accept and forgive people quickly and without judgment.

Having lived through the hell of heartbreak, I was now equipped with empathy and compassion for other people’s pain.

I also stopped cussing at other vehicles in traffic.

Photo by  Alex Holyoake  on  Unsplash

I Weeded My Garden

The more time I spent holding the magnifying glass over my life choices, I noticed changes in my friendships and the type of connections I was making. Holding myself to a higher standard was attracting other high quality people in return. I found myself gravitating towards people that vibrated on a higher frequency, and found that they were attracted to me as well.

I started loosening the grip on other relationships that weren’t serving me or helping me grow. I noticed dangerous behavior in others and was able to sidestep the drama instead of being swept up in it. When in the past I would attempt to control someone else’s behavior, I am now accepting it and moving forward without letting it affect me.

I Reconnected With Myself

For years, especially because I was in two back-to-back long term relationships, I lost sight of who I was. For nearly seven years, I was part of a couple. What we liked, what we did, what we wanted… my priorities were aligned with the best interests of my partnerships. I forgot about my own unique needs and desires.

Being alone gave me the opportunity to be selfish with my choices and rediscover parts of myself that had been lying dormant for years. I won’t lie, the first few months were miserable and the loneliness was excruciating. But once I settled into the solitude, I found out how enjoyable my own company could be. I started developing hobbies in my free time where I’d once reserved time for my partner. I started reveling in aloneness, appreciating the minute details of it. I could watch whatever I wanted on Netflix. I could eat an entire tub of hummus for dinner. I didn’t have to struggle for half of the covers in the bed or hot water in the shower.

. . .

Because of this radical journey of personal growth, my life has improved in ways I can’t even articulate. My happiness is much more consistent, the blue days are fewer and farther between. I am no longer terrified to be single, and dying alone doesn’t sound so bad. Creating habits to love and heal and care for myself are now rituals that happen without much effort.

A broken heart saved my life. I feel as though I’ve woken up to a truly meaningful life, a gift that I never could have received without the pain that came before it. I’m braver and kinder and happier. And the next person who gets to fall in love with me will now be the recipient of a much more wholehearted person. So, thank you, ex, for breaking my heart. I couldn’t have done it without you.