Heartbreak take you by surprise? How to stop from becoming a desperate zombie
by Amy Lynne Johnson
My 26 year-old nephew emailed me, and he never emails me. I was so excited until I read this: “Question for you: what IS heartbreak? How do you deal with a mega-heartbreak you didn’t see coming?”
Here’s what I wrote back to him.
I remember when you were very little, and I just loved you so, so much, and one day, I realized that at some point someone would break your perfect baby boy heart into a million tiny baby boy pieces.
I’ll never forget that moment.
When that realization hit me, I sobbed and sobbed upstairs in the guest room at your house. I couldn’t stand the thought of it for you. I was only 22 then, and had just gotten my heart pulverized by someone I loved and trusted more than anyone — ever. It was absolute hell. I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s just say he was the dirtiest lyingest bastard I had ever known, but he pretended to be the most romantic, loving, and thoughtful guy in America. It wasn’t my first heartbreak, but it was my first as an adult living on my own, and it hurt in places I didn’t even know could hurt.
And, like you, I never saw it coming.
Up in the guest room sobbing, I wished and prayed to God so hard that you would never, ever, ever have to go through something like that. I felt like I’d trade my own life if it meant you’d never hurt like that.
Now that I am older, of course, I would never, ever, ever take that experience from you, or anyone else, even people I don’t particularly like so much.
Because if your heart were never broken, and if you started to live so you’d never get it broken again, you would miss out on all the most delicious and divine, magical and mystical miracles that make this whole human being thing so precious. Plus, you’d be a sociopath, which is never cool.
To answer your question: Heartbreak is our most intense and distressing reaction to any variation of that one pesky belief that causes all human suffering: “This reality and my expectations of this reality do not match. This is bad and should not be this way.”
Usually someone has done something you never thought they would do, or something has happened you thought should never have happened. Or worse, you have done something you never thought you would do, and are facing the horrible, unforeseen, cluster fuck of consequences.
It’s like being stretched on a rack, then drawn and quartered, then tarred and feathered, all in front of an assembly of your worst enemies and other assorted fools, while vultures circle above and hyenas laugh and drool as they wait to dine on you and your innards — for breakfast.
And that’s just the beginning.
The reaction causes severe pain everywhere inside us — emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. The pain is very real — no matter what anyone says — and seems like it will last forever.
We know we will never be the same, and we fear that we may never recover and be truly happy again.
Here’s the secret: The heartbreak itself is not actually what hurts so much.
It’s actually our resistance to fully feeling all of our emotions in the wake of the heartbreak. We try to move on too quickly, minimize our experience, replace the hurt with a new romance or a puppy or food or drugs or money — anything to avoid the awfulness of it all.
Hint: this is true of just about everything that hurts in life.
It’s not the event, but our response to it that determines the intensity of the pain.
But here’s what no one told me way back when, and what maybe no one told you.
You have a lot of choices about how to get through it. How you decide to deal with this devil is the difference between whether you’re going to let the pain break you down or build you up.
When we stop resisting our emotions and allow ourselves to feel and express them, they wash around and through us, and we can turn our heartbreak into an entirely different experience. The whole thing moves along at our own pace, and we get the added bonus of glorious personal growth. Then it’s like a really good workout. You get a healthy high, hard-earned, yes, but it hurts so good, and you know you’re getting stronger and more powerful and more fearless each time you do it.
When you ride the emotional waves of heartbreak without resistance, you find that just when you think you can’t take anymore, something shifts and you get a second wind. You find strength and grace you never knew you had. You start to feel a renewed appreciation for the depth of your own human heart, your courage to be vulnerable, and your ability to renew yourself like the legendary phoenix.
In fact, you will never be the same. You’ll be better. You’ll be beautiful. You’ll be real.
Then you’ll finally rise up off the sofa, grab a hairbrush microphone, and blast “We Are the Champions,” singing along with Freddie Mercury at the top of your lungs and letting your own gorgeous vibrato take you to new heights of ecstasy because you are so happy to be alive and to able to love and yes, you will love again. You will.
You should try that sometime.
But here’s the thing: you can only do this when your experience has been validated.
Most people try to skip over this part, which is a huge mistake.
I don’t know about you, but I read stuff on the internet mostly so I don’t feel like a freak going through something all on my own, and then I hope to find ways other people handled something that I might like to try. I often don’t actually try those things, but I like to read about them and pretend I will.
I love a good talk with a trusted friend or a fruitful visit to the shrink, and man, those times in the middle of the night when it’s like, how the hell am I gonna live through this and everyone’s asleep? It sure is nice to find something on the internet to tide me over until it’s not too early to wake someone else up with my misery.
Validation is what I’m looking for. It’s what everyone is looking for..
It’s the first step to healing and change. It’s knowing that you’re not alone, that you’re not crazy for feeling the way you do. It’s knowing that anyone in your position would feel the way you feel, and that you don’t have to feel any differently than you do.
Validation is NOT advice. It’s not encouragement, either.
Validation helps you relax. It gives you hope that maybe, just maybe, you can handle things and eventually breathe again.
The other stuff makes you want to murder the person who thinks they are being so helpful and wise with their stupid platitudes and positive-affirmation shit.
Once you feel validated, you can get on with the business of riding the emotional wave on your own terms and letting your own sweet tears wash away all that shame and guilt and rage and hopelessness.
Validation gets you out of the pit of despair and back in the game again.
People who try to skip this step do so at their own peril. These people may look like they are just fine, that they’ve moved on. They may even look pretty terrific…for a while. But they’re really just wearing a cheap and scary Halloween costume every day.
They build huge walls around their hearts, never love deeply again, and spend their lives doing everything to avoid the pain of another heartbreak. This makes for a life of safe and boring choices, anxiety, bitterness, addiction, depression, regrets, resentment, and, eventually, a whole bunch of medical problems. This is the life of quiet desperation that Thoreau wrote about. Some people get so warped from resisting their own feelings that they hurt other people. Innocent people. Especially people who try to love them.
No one does this on purpose, of course.
Most people have no idea they are doing this and that this is why their lives basically suck, and why they’re exhausted and wobbly all the time. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water. I had no idea I was doing this until I got into therapy and actually had to feel my feelings. I didn’t even know I wasn’t feeling them. I didn’t even know they were there.
When I got me some heavy-duty validation, and I learned to ride the emotional waves, everything changed.
I was set free.
Then when your Uncle Rich came along, I was able to let him change my life forever in ways I never thought possible while sobbing in the guest room over the dirty lying bastard.
I hope you know you can reach out to me in times of heartbreak, or anything else that’s troubling you or making you jump for joy or if you feel nothing at all or if you hate the world and even if you hate me sometimes. It’s all okay with me.
For you are my little mr. woo and always will be. No matter what.
I love you,
If you would share this article with someone who’s heartbroken, I would feel so validated! Thank you.