Danielle Benvenuto is an artist, writer, and former psychotherapist whose blog "How Lost Can You Get" features personal essays and self-help posts, like "This is Why the Small Stuff Matters" and "How Do You Resist the Temptation to Save Someone You Love?". In this #howimend Q+A, Danielle shares her wisdom on showing up for someone who is in pain, the key to freedom, and what love is.
If you think back to the first time you were heartbroken, what advice would you give to that younger version of yourself?
Throughout my twenties, I was in an on-again-off-again kind of relationship with my Russian boyfriend who had been completely in love with me. Through the course of our relationship, I was filled with uncertainty about my feelings towards him, sometimes feeling in love, sometimes not. At one point, after a long break and dating other men, it hit me he was the one I wanted to be with. He was at the end of a relationship and we decided to get back together only this time, he was the one with conflicting feelings. All at once, I felt scared of being left and unloveable. I made contact with a part of myself I never experienced before—a young girl terrified of being abandoned. I was in therapy at the time and working through this abandonment anxiety became the prominent theme.
If I were on the scene, I would give my 25-year-old self a warm hug and listen to her without offering much advice at all at first. I have learned the power of being present when someone is in pain without doing or saying much and I know her feeling me there while not trying to fix a thing would have a strong impact.
I would then tell her not to be scared or ashamed of her feelings, to let them flow while at the same time keeping in mind the fact that in time the pain would pass. I would remind her to connect with the people she cares about and to continue doing the things she loves. I would let her know heartbreak is part of life and while people come and go, love is always present. That the deeper she dives into life and the more she allows herself to make room for all of her feelings, no matter how vulnerable or shameful they make her feel, the bigger and deeper the love she would experience. Most importantly, I would tell her to stop being so hard on herself: that she does not need to be perfect to receive love. In fact, embracing imperfection is the biggest act of love she could offer herself in love and in life.
What has heartbreak taught you about yourself?
It taught me that my willingness to show up for myself, to know myself, even if I had no clue how to do that, was the key to my freedom. The freer we are, the deeper we can love. In other words, love isn’t conditional. We have to be able to let go—our image of ourselves, our image of others and even the person we love, if that no longer serves the betterment of each individual. It also made me realize how terrifying intimacy can be, but that if I wanted it I had to show up for it—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What are your rituals during a breakup? What things/practices/people helped you mend?
I make it a point to connect with the people I love and to continue doing the things I love. They take me back to the parts of myself that don't feel broken. When I am feeling at my worst, I have to find ways to remind myself that I am not "the worst" and these external mirrors help with that. Exercise, talking out my feelings with friends or a therapist, and journaling also play prominent roles in my healing.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love so far in your life?
That it is one of the hardest tasks in life, but the most important one of all. Love also is not always fun and games. Love is everything—the days when I want to run from the person I love, the frustration, the fear, the sadness, the confusion, the hate, the shame. You can't have love if you don't make room for everything else to be.
Thinking back to breakups you’ve had, did you have any breakup vices (checking your ex’s Insta, etc) and how do you conquer them?
I would say checking social media has caused me unnecessary pain and the best thing I have done for myself, when I didn't have the power to refrain, was to temporarily remove an ex from my feed. I am not sure if this is a vice, but I also have the tendency of keeping myself alone when I'm suffering, so I often remind myself that the most loving thing I can do for myself is to reach out to others.
Do you think exes can be friends? Do you stay friends with your exes on social media?
Absolutely. I do think, in some cases, time is needed for that to happen. I have stayed in touch via social media or the good old-fashioned way—phone calls or text messaging.
What keeps your heart open, despite the heartbreaks you’ve had in your life?
When I was younger, I often had the thought after a heartbreak that I would never be able to trust again or I would ask myself: what is the point of trusting? Then something would just kick in, love I presume, and if that "something" were a question, it asked me: What would love do? The answer: love would fight for love. And that’s what I did and always will do: I will never give up on love. Since shutting down is also ultimately more painful than taking the risk to open up again and all that comes with that—fear, uncertainty, shame, vulnerability—I prefer to stay open, to feel uncomfortable in a way that will lead me towards the light rather than deeper down the rabbit hole.
What is your favorite song about heartbreak?
Good question, I am not sure but the first song that pops into my head is "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M. I listened to that a lot when I was a teenager.
What is your favorite movie about heartbreak?
This is an unconventional one: "Lost in Translation". It's about meeting someone for a time, someone who totally moves you but then you have to say goodbye. It's not really a breakup story per se, but at its heart it speaks to the delicacy of these small moments we share with one another, to be there for whatever is, even if it's for a moment.
What projects are you currently working on, and looking forward to most?
I'm focusing on my writing and poetry mostly in this moment. I've started a blog called "How Lost Can You Get?" and am in the process of developing one section in particular called Love, Sex and Soup with Q & A's where people are invited to ask me anything they want. I publish mostly on Medium and forthcoming in October, two of my poems (on love!) will be published in the "Passion Fruit Review," a UK-based journal. You can stay updated on all of my work by subscribing to my blog. Recently, I've been working on paintings (I'm also a visual artist) that incorporate words into the aesthetic. I have ongoing street art projects all of which you can find on Insta or my website.
Photo credit: Jan Sobottka