“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you will know exactly what to do.” -Anonymous
About five years ago, I learned the biggest lesson of my life about self-love and losing oneself in a relationship, through a breakup that almost killed me.
After going through another night of three hours of sleep, I drove myself to the ER to save my own life. I hadn’t eaten or slept much in three weeks, and the scale pointed to 97 pounds. I felt weak, malnourished, and unloved.
Three weeks prior to that morning, I had found out that the love of my life had started dating the girl we’d had the most painful fights over.
He’d met her at a party when I was visiting family and continued flirting with her, despite saying he chose me. Though he would have been happy to stay in a relationship with me, I knew I couldn’t be with someone who openly flirted with other women.
When I learned he was now dating her, I heard a thump on my heart. Literally. It ached sharply as if there was a chestnut-sized rock sitting in the middle of it, vibrating strongly in response to a transmitter signal far, far away. I half-died that day.
As I climbed back up from that point, I discovered truths about love, forgiveness, and healing.
Maybe you are in the middle of such a painful breakup, or maybe you are in the aftermath of a breakup that left you shattered and undone. You are sitting on a ball of emotions you don’t know how to unravel.
Although I can’t give you a personalized plan to heal and grow from your experience, I can share some pointers, as someone who is on the other side of it all, looking back over the five years of her recovery. These ideas may help you fine-tune your own healing process.
1. Don’t make an event your whole life story.
What I learned about letting go is that the pain starts changing form into wisdom when we make a decision to not make one specific event from the past our whole story.
Instead of thinking your life is over because you’ve lost this one relationship, gain a broader perspective and try to see the breakup as valuable to your personal growth.
The purpose of the pain was to reveal what needed healing and to gain the wisdom you will need further along your path. A relationship that taught you something about how to love and be loved is a win. A relationship full of mistakes but expanded by wisdom and forgiveness is a successful one.
We are story-making machines. It is natural to make a recent event the focus of our current experience. But your story is not over. You are still writing your story with the choices you make today.
2. To heal, you have to be an active participant in your life.
People often say, “Just let it go. Let the past stay in the past,” but this is misleading. Letting go isn’t as easy as turning off a switch or erasing words off a whiteboard.
I didn’t know what letting go meant. As far as I was concerned, that part of my life was still alive in me, balled up and tangled. Every time I heard those words, I pictured removing an organ out of my body. That didn’t make sense. I wondered how other people let go and why I couldn’t just let go and live happily ever after.
Here is what I discovered: You are never going to forget those relationships with deep soul connections. You just won’t be dwelling on them daily when you are busy exploring life and the depths of your own inner being.
You don’t need to have forgiven or be completely healed to participate in life around you. I spent a year and a half in isolation. Nothing healed. Not even a feather moved during that time. My healing didn’t start till I started living.—by volunteering, going on lunch dates with friends, and going to events to meet new people. Sometimes letting go means simply living a full life, without the other person.
3. Allow for forgiveness to unfold on its own time.
I must admit, making the choice to forgive was not easy, but being patient while the process took place was even harder. Letting go, forgiving, and healing from a relationship is not like hitting a reset button. It takes time to build up the courage to face that buried pain and allow it to leave you. And sometimes, before we can forgive, we need time to experience enough joy and connection with others to dilute the pain of how we were hurt.
Forgiveness is about digesting pain into wisdom. Into acceptance. Into compassion. Into an expanded heart that can hold space for it all. It is not about living like nothing painful happened, because life does not stop for us to heal. Flowers still bloom and the sun comes out every day. We heal while we take in more of life. The death-rebirth cycle in nature that exists in life also exists within us. It is a never-ending cycle.
As I started opening up to new experiences and actually living, I allowed new insights to come in. My heart had time to breathe. I put myself in his shoes. I asked myself, “What would I do if the person I loved but kept hurting unintentionally left me when I didn’t want the relationship to end?”
When I eventually developed enough courage to admit that I would have gone onto the next best thing (the other girl) to ease the pain, compassion came. It took me nearly two years to register the depth of his loss and how he must have felt left out in the cold. We all do what we can to find relief from pain, and that was his way. I didn’t need to judge it or to see it as a transgression against me.
When you want to increase the temperature of water in a bath tub, you don’t take out the cold but add hot water until it reaches your desired temperature. That is how grief, healing, and forgiveness work. Trust your body and soul to hold you through the processing of a whole chapter in your life.
4. Update your perception on relationships.
I loved my ex deeply. I can carry that in my heart’s memory and still know that we were teachers to each other who were not destined to be together for a lifetime. I am no longer hurting because of not being with him. I have done my releasing ceremonies and let memories run through my mind, bringing up various emotions—anger, resentment, grief, jealousy, and lots of tears, too. I sat through them. Some of it hasn’t been pretty.
We are taught that a ‘good relationship’ is one that lasts a lifetime. If it didn’t last, we believe that it was a failure. If we have several ‘failed relationships‘ behind us, we assume that it is because we are just unlovable. Success seems to be the most prized value in our modern society. But wisdom through experience can be even more valuable.
I realized that the way I had been viewing relationships was outdated. What if relationships were intensive training programs for our souls to learn about love? What if they were the perfect set up to practice being loving, kind, understanding, forgiving, and accepting both toward ourselves and the other person?
If you learned the lessons you needed to, the relationship was a success, whether it lasted three months, three years, or for decades. Take your wins and carry them forward with pride. You are a survivor. No one can take that away from you.
I am now in a relationship that is continuously growing and teaching me more about love than any book on the planet could. I am in love and enjoying practicing new ways of doing relationships.
I have spent time and energy recognizing how I put up walls, respond from a place of immaturity when I feel hurt, or disregard my partner’s needs because my inner child was triggered into her pain.
I’ve learned to give him space, to do things that make me happy, to recognize and own my projections, and to practice self-love so I don’t expect it all to come from him. These were some of my mistakes in past relationships. I had to get honest with myself, own them, and work on them.
Our love is not fickle; it is resilient because we both are. I found out that two people who have walked through fire and excavated their soul truths with their bare hands create a relationship that can stand the test of time and the tricks of their own egos. I can’t know for certain this relationship will last forever, but I now know all relationships are valuable and there is life after a breakup.