Breaking up rips out your heart.
It hurts SO much.
You can’t think of him without crying.
Your friends try to support you, but it doesn’t help.
The pain inside you is tearing you apart, yet everyone expects you to go about your normal life as if nothing happened…
As if it was “just” a breakup…
Rather than a huge chunk of your life ripped out, leaving a gaping wound.
The anguish of a breakup is very real.
When you think about your ex, specific parts of the brain light up: parts related to physical pain and distress as well as (surprisingly) craving and addiction.
Think about someone who’s decided to quit smoking. Sometimes they can distract themselves from their cravings. But other times the need to have another cigarette becomes overpowering. They feel flooded by obsessive thoughts and intense cravings.
Breakups can be like that, too.
Sometimes you can distract yourself from the pain for a short while. But then the obsessive thoughts and intense craving for him comes back, and you feel swamped by the agony of losing him.
The pain convinces you that the only way to get any relief—the only way you’re going to survive—is to reach out to him and see him again.
Just as an addict can think that just one hit won’t hurt—just one more cigarette, and then they’ll give it up—so it doesn’t seem like it could hurt to see him one more time.
And maybe he agrees, and maybe you end up in bed together. While you’re lying in his arms, you realize the pain is gone. You feel happy for the first time since you split up. Hope bursts through your chest. Maybe it’s going to be okay after all.
You say goodbye to him with a smile and a kiss…
And he doesn’t contact you again.
Because he never intended to get back together with you.
Now the pain rushes back, and it’s mixed with humiliation.
What have you done? You’ve made a fool of yourself. You let him fool you into thinking he wanted you back.
Now you feel used and tossed aside.
That shame and guilt, on top of the pain and longing, feel like it will drive you crazy.
Breakup Recovery Help
There’s not enough good help for recovering from a breakup.
People say things like:
“Just get over him.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
“You just need to meet someone new.”
“It’s been a month—don’t you think you should be over it by now?”
But there is one group of people who can understand.
They know how hard it is ride those waves of craving and shame and desperation and guilt.
They’re people in recovery.
At its best, the recovery movement teaches us to have enormous compassion for ourselves.
Yes, this is impossibly hard, but you are not alone. You can ask for help, you can practice self-care, you can set boundaries, and you can forgive yourself.
Here are 3 lessons from the recovery movement that can help you make it through the “withdrawal” of a breakup.
Lesson #1. Expect it to be painful.
Recovery teaches us that pain is not a sign we’re doing something wrong.
Pain is often a sign we’re doing something RIGHT.
The only way out is through. We can’t outrun discomfort. We must learn to sit with it.
After a breakup, it can be easy to believe that it hurts this much because you were meant to be together.
It feels wrong to look at the pain from a physiological standpoint.
But when you are in a relationship, that intimacy and connection flood your body with feel-good chemicals. When the relationship ends, your body goes into withdrawal.
The quickest way to get through withdrawal is to go “cold-turkey,” which means avoiding contact with him or triggers that remind you of him. That’s not easy, which is why you need the next lesson…
Lesson #2. Take it one day at a time.
If the thought of living without him drives you crazy, don’t think about next week or next month or next year.
Focus on today.
If you can make it through one day without contacting him, you’ve succeeded.
But sometimes that need to be with him again hijacks your mind, and that’s when you need the final lesson…
Lesson #3. Make a plan.
There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed by how much you want him. Make a detailed plan now for how you’re going to cope.
Are you going to call a friend?
Are you going to get in the car and drive, or do something else that keeps you occupied?
Are you going to lock your phone away?
When we are in pain, we’re very self-focused. Some people find that the best way to get out of their own head is through helping others.
You might slip up and text him, and that’s okay.
You can start fresh again tomorrow. One day at a time.
When you accept that it’s going to hurt, and the pain will come in waves, and your job is to learn to ride the waves, you can make it to the other side of a breakup with your dignity intact.
Then you use your skills and understanding to help a friend in need do the same.