I got a text from a friend recently that said: “When you are heartbroken, how can you stop the swirling, spinning thoughts that seem to derail you? How can you keep moving forward?”
Her question came at an interesting time for me, since I had just spent most of my night spinning and swirling exactly the way she was talking about. It’s amazing how one minute you can think you’re doing fine and then the next minute you see something you didn’t mean to see online, or the person who was supposed to call doesn’t call, or the pieces of the puzzle of your life don’t fall exactly as you planned—and suddenly you realize how fragile you’ve been all along.
That’s where I was. It’s where she was, too.
So I called her. We talked for maybe 20 minutes, but 20 minutes was all it took. What I told her on our call that day was really what I was telling myself. I should have been looking in a mirror. In case it helps, I thought I’d pass it on to you, too.
Here’s how you keep moving forward when you are heartbroken.
You tell yourself how normal this is.
Sometimes half the challenge of heartbreak is just reminding ourselves we aren’t crazy. We walk around the world most days, looking at all the people so perfectly dressed and perfectly put together, and assume we are the only ones struggling. We assume we’re the only ones with toxic thoughts, with messed up beliefs, with bad days.
We’re the only ones who cry in our beds at night eating a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.
It is this lie that keeps us isolated, that keeps us feeling like something must be wrong with us, that keeps us stuck in a pit of shame, rather acceptance and love. Most of the battle is just reminding ourselves, “this is so normal. This is so totally normal. This is a part of the human experience. Everyone who has ever lived and loved has felt this feeling. It won’t last forever. This will be better tomorrow.”
You are normal. This is normal. You are going to be okay.
You call people. You call everyone you know.
I told her that she should put her 10 best friends on speed dial—the kind of friends who don’t require her to put on any kind of performance in order to be friends with them, the kind who let her show up wearing the same clothes two days in a row because she was too sad to change. I told her to call those friends when she was feeling this way.
Call all of them.
When they answered, I told her, she didn’t really need to say anything except maybe, “I’m feeling sad,” or “I’m heartbroken,” or “I’m not okay right this minute…” I’m not sure why our tendency is to isolate when we are feeling heartbroken, but this would be missing the point.
This is the very time to reach out, stay connected, stay with.
You make peace with what is true.
I once heard Lissa Rakin say, “You do not have to do anything right now. You simply need to make peace with what is true.” That was such a comfort to my anxious, busy, perfectionistic self. Why is it that, when our thoughts are spinning and swirling, our first instinct is to DO? Why do we want so badly to perform, hustle, act, go, change, call, drive, fix, control?
When the ONE thing that would bring us peace is to sit still, to be with ourselves and to accept what is true. You do not need to fix, change, alter, or grow. Not yet. All you need to do is make peace.
It’s surrender. Not struggle.
A list of things that are true might look like this:
- I am single
- I want _______ but I can’t have it right now
- I am sad
- I may not be “okay” for awhile
- I am adjusting to a new normal
- I do not feel strong today
- I feel overwhelmed
What if it is not your circumstances that are making you miserable, like you imagined, but what if what is making you miserable is your resistance to your circumstances?
Can you allow the things that are true to be true?
After all, they ARE true, whether you allow them to be or not.
When we let go of expectation and come into agreement with Truth, we find the source of strength and love and acceptance and joy.
You connect to love.
I asked her what the worst part of all of this was. I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was dealing with feelings of rejection and self-confidence. The words that kept ringing in her mind, over and over again, went like this:
Why couldn’t he love me?
These feelings of rejection, by the way, seem like they are coming from the outside (why couldn’t he love me?) but the truth is they are an inside job. Always. The most painful rejection you can ever experience is the rejection of yourself.
Over and over again we reject ourselves, lie to ourselves, pretend to be people who we are not, act like we are okay when we are NOT okay, and then we wonder why we feel so terribly alone and isolated. It’s because no one can connect to an invisible person. No one can connect to a ghost. They will reach out to touch you, but where they touch… you will not be there.
The only cure for rejection is love. Just so much love. Love is available to us always and in abundance—as much of it as we can handle, as much as we can stand. As we learn to let love in, to fully accept ourselves without judgement, to embrace who we are even though it is not exactly who we want to be, love begins to manifest itself in our lives.
I love how Elizabeth Gilbert said it the other day:
The parts of yourself that you do not love are terribly vital, because they demand that you dig deep — deeper than you ever thought you would have to dig — in order to summon compassion and forgiveness for the struggling human being whom you are. And until you learn to treat the struggling human being whom you are with a modicum of empathy, tenderness, and love, you will never be able to love anyone or anything with the fullness of your heart…and that would be a great shame. Because this is what we all want, isn’t it? This is what we came here for, right? To learn how to love each other with the fullness of our hearts?
Please know this: Whenever you withhold love from yourself, you are withholding love from the world…period.
We really need you to stop doing that.
The world has enough problems, without you withholding any more love. —
If you don’t accept yourself… if you don’t receive yourself… who will?
You redefine failure
My friend told me on the phone that she was worried she had wasted too much time with this guy—waiting for him, wondering if things were going to “work out” for them, giving him her grace and patience and all her benefits of doubt—and now she felt like that was all energy and effort and time down the drain. I understood exactly what she was talking about.
I find it odd and frustrating that the only definition we have in our culture for the success or failure of a relationship is if it ends. This is the only rubric we’ve been given. You hear this come through even in the way we talk about relationships. We say things like, “it didn’t work out…”
But what if it DID work out—exactly as it was meant to—and we just need a new way to talk about it?
Here’s the crazy thing to think about: every relationship in your life WILL END! Every single one. Whether because of death or divorce or change of heart or change of direction, every relationship in your life will come to an end at some point or another. Heartbreak is as much a part of the human experience birth, death and falling in love.
We need a new way to decide if a relationship has succeeded.
I told her that the incredible investment she had made into her relationship was something she got to take with her. It wasn’t like she had put coins into a piggy bank she was now leaving behind. In fact, it was more like a lottery ticket. This guy, this relationship, this apparent “failure” was like a winning lottery ticket, if she would allow it to be that way.
Her heart hadn’t only been broken. It had been BROKEN OPEN.
And what she chose to do with that open heart of hers, well, that was up to her. But I told her to think of it less like a piggy bank that was yanked from her grasp and more like a piñata. She’d been given a good whack, sure, but now there was candy flying everywhere and children were laughing and children laughing is one of the most joyful sounds in the world.
I told her to think about collecting her loot—to get busy picking up the pieces, to consider herself the luckiest girl on this earth.
Her treasures were abounding—even if she couldn’t quite see them yet.
And I shared with her my new list, the one I wrote to help me define “success” in a relationship.
My list goes like this:
- Are we able to share the truth of who we are?
- Are we able to honor and respect each other, as individuals unto ourselves?
- Are we able to help each other become our best selves?
- Are we able to let go at appropriate times?
- Do we lighten the load for each other, rather than make it heavier?
- Do we leave each other better than we found each other?
Can you think of anything else to add?
You tell yourself the truth of who you are.
I know it seems like this is all your fault and you are the one who ruined everything and, if only you had done this or that differently, the whole thing would have been salvaged. That is not true. Over and over again, you tell yourself the truth. This is not all your fault. You could not have seen this coming. You were doing the best you could.
You are not a failure.
You are exactly where you are meant to be.
Take a minute and write down the qualities of yourself–the very TRUE qualities you bring to this world. Do this when you are not feeling overwhelmed, so you can go back and read them when you are feeling overwhelmed, when the lies are louder than normal, when you aren’t feeling okay.
- I am beautiful
- I am exactly where I am meant to be
- My life is perfectly unfolding
- I am safe and protected
- I have everything I need
- I am not defined by what he thinks of me
- I am so deeply loved
- Nothing I do (or don’t do) can change how loved I am
We do not always live from our most authentic, truest selves, but that doesn’t mean they cease to exist. That quiet place inside of us—the one that is overflowing and abundant with love, peace and happiness—is always available to us, even if we don’t access it. So when you think about the truth of who you are, don’t think about the mistakes you’ve made or the ways you’ve fallen short.
Think about the fact that you are made in a heavenly image.
At your core, you are pure light and beauty.
Call that out of yourself.
You let go of beliefs that do not serve you.
You will find—in the midsts of heartbreak, more than almost any other season—a litany of beliefs that are driving your life but which you didn’t know you had. Beliefs about yourself. Beliefs about men. Beliefs about women. Beliefs about relationships in general. Work consciously and completely on letting go of these beliefs.
This is your only job.
It is the HARDEST job there is. But it is your only job.
In fact, this job is so difficult, your mind will do anything it can to get out of doing it. It’s like a teenage kid who has been told to do his chores. So much resistance. Instead of re-routing old beliefs, you’ll find yourself spinning with thoughts about who your ex is dating now, and if she’s prettier than you, and wanting to gossip and blame and judge… it’s all distraction.
This is what drives you to drink or smoke or find someone new right away, or eat a pint of ice cream right before you go to bed. This is all your way of getting out of the work. It’s the escape from responsibility.
It feels nice for a minute. But it is keeping you stuck.
So, when you find yourself spinning and swirling, ask yourself: what is the negative belief that is taking me to this dark place? What is the rut that my brain is stuck in? Am I willing—finally, finally—to let it go?
You are the only one who can free yourself from the trap of negative thoughts.
You are ready. You have this. You have everything you need, everything it takes. You are not alone. And—as one of my very favorite poets, David Whyte would say—everything, everything, everything is waiting on you.