Christina Sewell is the founder of Brave Heart Habitat, a blog that focuses on creating a conscious lifestyle. She’s also a grad student at Columbia, a climate action activist and vegan. Christina opened up to us about how pursuing her passions post-heartbreak helped her stay #onthemend.
If you think back to the first time you were heartbroken, what advice would you give to that younger version of yourself?
“I was in extended inner turmoil over the break down of my first relationship. We started dating in high school and managed to stay together through our college years, even as I moved to the east coast for school and he remained in our hometown on the U.S. military base in Korea. We saw each other just twice a year in the winter and summer time, yet were completely dedicated to one another despite living half a world apart at such a young age. They say high school relationships are fluff, but we were tender, thoughtful, honest with each other. It felt like a very mature connection for two kids to share. Which is why I was so crippled when after about 4 years of dating, I knew that I had to go my own way.
Our lives remained in time zones half a day apart, we struggled to make one another a priority, and our passions and plans became independent entities. This was deeply painful to accept and at first, I chose to sweep it under the rug. Oh, the denial. There was guilt and doubt in letting him go that ate at me for months before we broke up and remained long after all was said and done. For years (yes, plural years) I considered if I could have ‘worked harder’ to fix things, contemplated if I could have forfeited some of my priorities to stay together and would anyone ever love me the way he’d loved me. All while the bleeding heart Pandora playlist looped in the background. And so even as the intent of letting my first love go was to focus on myself and my future, I had forgotten who I was in the process.
If I could visit that sad girl heading home on the subway today, I’d remind her that the love we share with others is timeless and fluid. It may not last in the physical world to hold our tired, wrinkled hand one day — and that’s okay. It continues to change form through the two people who experienced it, rippling on through the second and third order effects that are a result of how we choose to live. I’d encourage her to honor what she experienced with this person by giving it the freedom to take its intended next shape. And then remember to honor yourself and your intuition above all else. Have gratitude for the voice that guides you. Embrace it, take care of it. Do not suppress or belittle. It speaks to you for reasons you may not understand now, but continue listening quietly; it will reveal itself to you.”
What has heartbreak taught you about yourself?
“There’s no feeling in the world like a broken heart. It crushes every fiber of your being no matter how rich, young, intelligent, whatever you are. Yet as much as I abhor that state of being as much as the next girl, there’s a peace I’ve found with surrendering to the pain. Heartbreak has taught me to let myself cry when I need to (even if that’s every night for many many nights), to pick up the phone and ‘burden’ close friends with fears and insecurities (talking things through out loud helps to make sense of them), to dig into the carton of ice cream and have New Girl marathons (until there really is no choice but to peel yourself off the couch because the next season isn’t offered on Netflix yet), to simply stare at the ceiling in silence when that feels right.
We give ourselves a lot of crap for these behaviors. I certainly did. It’s not pretty, of course. But try as I have post-breakup to bounce back immediately, to suppress my sadness by steamrolling into those 57 errands on the “keep busy” list… The experience has taught me that masking pain only prolongs it. It’s when I acknowledge, surrender, and allow myself to live in that space without judgment for as long as is necessary that I’m able to push through to the other side.
And then? We are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I gradually gained the perspective to focus on activities that filled me with purpose and joy. That meant signing up for an acting class, a forgotten passion from years ago that I decided was still important to explore; volunteering for public speaking engagements in my capacity as a campaigner at PETA; dusting off my blog and putting vulnerable thought to keyboard for the world to see; visiting the local animal shelter and becoming mama to my beloved bouncy ball, Harlow Sewell. I never would have realized this sweet growth had I not allowed myself to hit rock bottom and used the hard floor and my renewed sense of self to propel up, up, up.”
What are your rituals during a breakup?
“While I’m a proponent of not judging the grieving process and letting it run its course, it’s just as important to recognize what gives you clarity and a sense of peace, and routinely engage in those things so that you can begin to heal.
These rituals are different for everyone, but in my experience, getting outside and sweating is the best medicine. Putting your shoes on is the hardest part, but once you’re out amongst other life and breathing in the fresh air, your perspective already begins to shift. Sunlight, running, yoga and meditation, cracking open a good book (self help gets a bad wrap, but I am all about it. The Untethered Soul changed my life), lighting a few candles and running a bubble bath just for you (cause damn it, you deserve it), taking time to meet with those who inspire you (so grateful for the angels in my life that make this one easy), volunteering for a cause you believe in which not only provides clearer perspective on your own troubles, but impassions you to be a more involved force of good in the world, journaling and spending time to reflect on yourself (this is so important for helping remember who you are if you’ve forgotten or as an outlet to throw ideas around if you haven’t quite figured who this person really is yet).
And when everything else fails, sounds cliche, but just breathe. I remember trying to take a yoga class shortly after a breakup and failing miserably. It was so hard for me to sit still with my thoughts in the poses because my mind was going a million different places and I could feel my heart physically aching. Right when I was about to pick up my mat and sneak out the back, the instructor urged us to concentrate on our breath, envision it filling up our lungs and releasing back into the room, guiding us through it again and again. That simple meditation brought me back to my body and out of my head.
Another helpful and very simple practice is to just laugh out loud…really loud! Even if nothing’s funny. It sounds a little crazy, but when you force yourself to repeatedly let out a deep belly laugh even if it’s the last thing you want to do, happy endorphins and feelings of optimism will follow, I promise.”
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?
“Oh, if only someone had convinced me of this long ago: delete. Unfriend, unfollow, unsubscribe, all of the above. It’s not that I don’t believe exes can eventually be friendly or that you should permanently cut people out of your life. I love the idea of getting a casual coffee with an ex to catch up on life and to stay supportive of one another. Unfortunately, when you’re in purge mode and actively in a place of recalling why you parted ways in the first place, it’s absolutely necessary to avoid status updates of their breakfast, home improvement projects, nights out with friends, vacations to Southeast Asia, new partner… I learned this the hard way as my “friendship” with an ex (read: stalking) only further drove in the stake and prolonged feelings of attachment for him.
More recently, I found myself falling into similar patterns, checking an ex’s Facebook status every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, to see when he’d make the switch from “in a relationship” back to “single.” Weeks had passed and nothing, and I’d be able to breathe another nonsensical sigh of relief. The day the inevitable happened, I couldn’t stop crying. It was like reliving the breakup all over again, throwing away all my hard-fought progress up to that point. That’s when I knew I had to be kinder to myself. I had to put myself first and focus on moving forward. For the first time ever, I tapped the “unfriend” button on an ex. It took less than 10 seconds and is one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love so far in your life?
“I’m a giver, especially in romantic relationships, which can be challenging when you’re not with someone who also naturally gives. It’s been a long and windy learning curve recognizing that I must fill myself up with the things I need before I’m able to provide for anyone else.
In other words, of course be patient and kind in love, but also: keep it real. If you’re kicking down your foundation to make a relationship work or expecting someone else to do the same, you are probably in the wrong relationship. That can be a hard pill to swallow when the last thing you want is to be apart from someone, but love is so much greater than the desire to be close. Love is wanting the world for this person in a way that they realize great joy and fulfillment, whether or not you are a part of that picture. And so I’m incredibly grateful for each of my relationships for teaching me how to take care of myself and to be kind to both parties by gracefully letting go of what no longer serves me.”
What keeps your heart open, despite the heartbreaks you’ve had in your life?
“I’m a hopeless romantic – I’ll never give up on love! Connecting on this very spiritual level with another human being in the way that only the two of you will understand…it’s one of the best aspects of living. So while heartbreak is crushing, and the logical conclusion in the moment is to never ever do that to yourself again…experiencing love (and loss) is an essential part of what we’re here for. To connect and create and learn and fail and rise. Right? Sometimes that cycle manifests romantic love and sometimes that love doesn’t last in the here and now. But I believe it will always feed back into our atmosphere of growth and make us better people for it. It’s hard to stay bitter at love when you are just grateful to it for coming along at all.”
What is your favorite song about heartbreak?
“It’s a song I often revisit on thoughtful days. James Blake’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s Case of You. The lyrics and James’ delivery and the artistry of this music video…oh man. It’s all pure poetry and I think one of the most honest portraits of what it is to love another human being.”