Dr. Sarah Neustadter is a licensed psychologist based in Los Angeles. Her book "Love You Like The Sky: Surviving The Suicide Of A Beloved" digs into the grief that follows a loved one's suicide. The book comes from Sarah's own relationship with grief after her boyfriend's suicide. We asked Sarah about what grief has taught her, the rituals that have helped her mend, and she also shared a special exercise to help move forward after a breakup.
If you think back to the first time you were heartbroken, what advice would you give to that younger version of yourself?
You are safe and you are loved. This all feels devastating, but don’t shut your heart down and build a wall around yourself. See if you can stay open and innocent even though you’ve been hurt. And have faith. There are great men out there. Let’s build up your self-worth so that you can feel you are worthy of that healthy kind of love.
What has heartbreak (and grief) taught you about yourself?
That I am stronger and more resilient than I ever thought possible. That if I could survive the suicide of my boyfriend, then I can survive anything. And grief has taught me to cherish and savor moments with my loved ones and not take their presence in my life for granted.
What rituals helped you mend while grieving?
Daily meditation, journaling, carving out time for crying, sitting at the beach watching the water, therapy, and my weekly dance practice—5 Rhythms.
The Obsession Sessions is a great two-week psychological exercise to help get over someone, more for general breakups than death-related endings. I learned it from a psychologist mentor and she learned it from her mentor Dr. Jay Haley. This is best done at least a month out of a relationship, not in the immediate aftermath of a breakup.
Twice a day for the first week you have to spend 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening (at the same time each day), completely obsessing about all the positive things abut your ex and your relationship. Go through all your good memories and all the love and sweet aspects of your ex and your relationship. If you start to think about the negative things, bring your focus back to the positive. And you can only think about the positive things of the relationship and about your ex for the duration of the 20 minutes. I recommend journaling through these 20 minutes to keep you focused. You do this 2x a day for one week.
Then you switch and obsess about all the negative things about your ex and about your relationship. Really go back and remember all the details that were not what you wanted and let yourself feel all of the negative emotions. Write about all of it. Keep focused only on the negative twice a day for 20 minutes.
After two weeks you are done, and you will most likely never want to think about your ex again. You’ll most likely neutralize the charge around your ex and see both the negative and the positive at the same time. You’ll also notice a particular process unfold and learn a lot about yourself and your relationship.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love so far in your life?
Grieving is a form of loving.
What keeps your heart open, despite the heartbreaks you’ve had in your life?
Good somatic therapy work, bodywork, acupuncture, my sweet cat, and seeing other expanding and inspiring couples out there makes me know that great, healthy, conscious love is definitely realistic.
What projects are you currently working on, and looking forward to most?
I’m working on my comedy/human interest podcast "A**holes of LA," gearing up towards my next book about men and culture, and learning how to DJ so I can host curated dance parties.