I’m writing this bit first because I think it kind of serves as a model to fit the rest of my suggestions into. See, a process has multiple stages that require different behaviours and such from each stage, so it’s very much about context and so all the rest of what I will say fits with different stages of the process, so I think this is an excellent place to start.
Dealing with a break-up (or any loss) really is a process. For me, it’s been a very long process.
This has been my life:
I dreaded my shifts at work so much that I was nauseous pretty much all the time. Because of this, I ate less and lost a lot of weight and even had to have someone cover my shifts, losing precious wages as a result. I was tired all the time. I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to because I had a job and I needed to survive somehow. I kept busy all day, trying to distract myself. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I also dreaded falling asleep because I kept dreaming about the two of them together, which is somehow worse than any dream I’ve had about my abusive father or about that guy who stalked me in high school or the nightmares that would leave my heart pounding when I awoke. And then, of course, having dreamed about them, they were the first thing in my head when I woke up. And I just wanted them out of my head, but I couldn’t get them out.
I really didn’t know what to do with myself because nothing made me happy. Watching movies and reading books were depressing because I’d see these interactions between the characters that reminded me of him and I together. I was too miserable to try writing music or journaling or blogging because writing out the way I was feeling meant thinking about what I was feeling which I did not want to do. I avoided friends and family because talking to them about how I was meant rehashing all this break-up stuff and I didn’t want to think about it.
The only thing that truly distracted me was Pinterest. Bizarrely enough, looking at photos of wedding dresses did not make me depressed. It was actually a pleasantly neutral stimulus that only had the thought process of “Wow, that’s really pretty”. But as soon as I had to pull myself away from the distraction, I fell right back into the abyss.
Things got tense around the apartment because my mom was the only person I was really talking to and so I leaned way more heavily on her while she still had a physically demanding full-time job to work, plus commute, plus grocery shopping and bill-paying, plus I was so tired and unmotivated that I didn’t keep up with any of my chores which meant she was either having to do the chores herself or expend the energy of nagging me to get my butt into gear.
Now, this isn’t what I would call “healthy” behaviour on my part and I hope you never feel this awful. Having depression and anxiety probably amplified “normal” break-up feelings and thoughts into these mutant, unmanageable, life-sucking emotions that I had. But my point is this stage will end. IT WILL END. Trust in that. It will end. You will come through this and learn to live again.
It will take some trial and error to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, when it works and when it doesn’t. That’s part of the process (and I’m guessing that’s why I hear people say the first break-up is usually the worst: because you haven’t worked out how to cope yet).
Sometimes, you will regress. There will be times when you’ll think you’re getting the hang of it and think you’re getting better, then a particularly bad day will hit you and you’ll wonder if you’ve made any progress at all. And the answer is, yes, you’ve made progress. Sometimes you’ll have bad days that seem to come out of nowhere. That doesn’t mean you haven’t been trying or that you haven’t made improvements. It’s simply a fact of life.
I’ve, ahem, created a visual to show you what the process isn’t.
I think a lot of us expect our process to look like this. We think all we need to do is cross this line, cross a certain barrier and then we’re “fixed”, like magic, and we never go back. We’re cured! Hooray!
Except, in all likelihood, it won’t happen like that.
I think the process actually looks more like this visual from page 98 of When Love Hurts (Second Edition) by Jill Cory and Karen McAndless-Davis. The book is geared specifically towards women who have experienced abuse in a romantic relationship and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced abuse, but I found this visual so helpful that I think it would apply to all kinds of losses, even ones where abuse isn’t involved.
You see above that there is a figure eight. The top half of that figure eight is rebuilding. The bottom half is grieving. And notice that the arrows circle around and between both the top and bottom, through both grieving and rebuilding. The arrows don’t go one way. This isn’t a thing where you start out grieving and then BAM! You’re healed and you never go back. It’s a cycle. It’s a process.
How long this process lasts will vary between situations and people. Sometimes the process can be concluded in a matter of minutes. Other times it can take months, years, decades…. Sometimes it’s the rest of your life. Before you’re too disheartened at the thought of this process being lifelong, remember that rebuilding is also part of the process. There will be times where you do feel good. And the more time that goes by, the more opportunities you have to heal, you will be spending more time in that rebuilding stage and less time trudging through that grieving stage.
And there will be some periods that are worse than others. Milestones are what comes to mind. Things like his birthday, him getting a promotion at work, what would’ve been our anniversary, starting school again (this time without him to wander around campus with), etc are awful because I don’t get to share it with him anymore.
And little everyday things will sometimes get you down too. Things like my mom buying a DVD that I’d wanted to watch with him. Or listening to a CD and wishing I could listen to it with him because it’s just the sort of thing he’d like to listen to.
But it will pass. You’re not irreparably screwed up. One day, it’ll get to the point where the sad thoughts drop out of your mind as quickly as they popped into it. You’ve just got to stay alive and keep going and you’ll get there. I’m finally starting to get to that point (and I drift away from it… then come back to it…).
There might be people acting like you should be “over it” by now. But they really don’t have any right to tell you when you should get over something. Those people are likely well-intentioned and can’t bear to see you in pain, or perhaps you’re taking longer than they did to deal with it and they don’t understand why, but I find the process is something you need to go through yourself, in your own time. As already said, the length of the process will be different for each person and rushing it is not going to help you. Just trust that you will get through it. Others have done it, I’m doing it right now, and you can too.