Breakup survival tips that don’t suck

Breakups are shit.

I’d forgotten just how shit, though, until last week – when Biker and I decided to call time on our relationship. We love, complement and respect each other wonderfully, but he has personal issues that need resolving and we can’t go any further together right now.

In the meantime, I’m a single lady once more (OK, maybe not a lady, but you get the drift) and I’m stuck dealing with the emotional sucker punch that comes with losing a great relationship.

I’ve found good advice to be pretty sparse so far – friends and family offer only different variations of “Smile! Plenty more fish in the sea!” and “Let’s get you laid, stat!” If you Google ‘breakup survival guide’, suddenly you’re up to your eartips in useless Cosmo-esque crap (get a sexy new haircut! Listen to angry girly music! Eat a whole block of chocolate (then run thirty kilometres while self-flagellating yourself with rusty barbed wire dipped in salt, fatty!)

Fortunately, I don’t need advice. I’ve got quite a few breakups under my belt now (some might call me a connoisseur of sorts), so I figure now’s a good time to share what I’m going to do to get me through.

Tips to Bounce Back from a Breakup

1: You will probably experience a numb, shocked emotional phase. Use it wisely.
Often when we go through something really painful like getting dumped, we feel … nothing much. We enter a ‘zombie phase’: numb and emotionless, going through the motions.

Some people skip this phase after a breakup, but if you do experience it: I strongly encourage you to write down a list of things that will be helpful to remember in the dark, angsty moments to come. You have a brief window (12-48 hours, usually) free from pain, sadness and self-loathing, during which you can think with clarity – but it won’t last.

Your list will probably include things like: remember this isn’t your fault (so no beating yourself up). Remember that you always feel better when you get out of the house (so go). Remember your last breakup, when you thought you’d never ever find anyone else (and how wrong you were). Remember that getting thunderboozed while emotional always ends badly (horribly, embarrassingly badly). Remember to call your friends when you’re sad. Remember how your ex used to leave beer bottles with cigarettes in them all over the house? (Fuck that guy!).

Store your list somewhere safe but accessible (I put mine in my purse) then re-read it whenever you start feeling like arse. It’s hard to discredit good advice and kind words when they come straight from your rational self.

Step 2. Accept that you are going to feel like arse for a while.
I read an article a few years back that’s stuck with me ever since. In it, a well-known psychotherapist was asked why so many Westerners have such low levels of happiness compared to past decades (when lives were shorter and often nastier). His reply? While we’ve made great leaps forward in medicine, science, technology, living standards and life expectancy, and done a great job of reducing the amount of pain in people’s lives, the extent to which people expect to be shielded from pain has also risen.

A lot of us aren’t very well accustomed to dealing with loss and disappointment. Often when people hurt, they’ll do anything to make it stop – which is understandable, because emotional pain sucks a big bag of nutsacks.

But there’s no quick fix. The fastest, safest and most mentally healthy way through your pain is to feel it – and let your brain work through things without external stimulation. You can’t drink pain away, or smoke it away, or eat it away, or exercise it away, or will it away or fuck it away (sorry Peaches). You just have to accept that it’ll go away in its own time, when your mind is ready.

On an unrelated note, I find listening to Peaches helps – but maybe that’s just me.

Step 3: Remind yourself regularly that you won’t always feel like arse.
Yes, you’ll hurt a lot after a relationship ends. No shit. But with each passing day, you’re adjusting to things and hurting less overall, even if you can’t personally notice the progress. Tell yourself each time you feel down that the hardest part is most likely already over.

Obviously you’ll have good days and bad days, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to be better than today. But when you look back on the bad moments in two weeks’ time, you’ll be amazed by your progress.

Step 4: Change your environment.
Cosmo et al are sort of on the right track with the oft-repeated “get a new haircut” breakup tip. Changing your environment is a handy mental trick to help you move on with your life. Making small changes to your appearance and surroundings distracts your brain, and helps dampen down the longing for your “old life” (note the use of the words ‘small changes’ – decisions about big life-changing things are better made under more stable circumstances).

So move your furniture around. Buy new, brightly coloured sheets. Put away photos and reminders of your ex. Get some new clothes and shoes, if you’re keen on shopping. Put some eye-catching art up on the walls. All this says to your brain: “I am moving on, and looking forward, and things are changing for the better”, and helps you stay positive at a cerebral level.

Sounds lame, but it’s been proven to help by people much smarter than me.

Just don’t get any regrettable tattoos (trust me on this one).

Step 5: Do not wallow, and do not listen to your negative thoughts.
We all have an internal dialogue, a “little voice” that speaks to us. Sometimes we feel great, and it tells us awesome things and builds us up “Yay! You got that promotion. You’re awesome!” “You look fantastic (and smell pretty sexual too)”. But after a breakup, that voice can begin being a real asshole.

If you start having thoughts along the lines of “If you were a better person he wouldn’t have left you,” or “All the good ones are already taken”, or “You’re going to die sad and alone, and one of your 18 cats will eat your face before anyone finds your body,” don’t even think about listening.

It’s hard, I know – that mean little voice sounds like it really knows its shit, and you’re not exactly at the peak of your self-confidence. But ask yourself: “Do I want to feel better in ten minutes, or do I want to feel worse?” If the answer is ‘worse’, go right ahead and indulge those nasty whispers.

Similarly, if you’re going to listen to sad songs, look at photos of your ex, or stalk them on Facebook, be honest with yourself: you’re deliberately choosing to feel worse in the next ten minutes rather than better.

Once you get those five things down, it’s just a case of finding what makes you personally feel more positive, then doing it. And being extra kind to yourself.

Good luck out there!

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2 Responses to Breakup survival tips that don’t suck

  1. Michael G says:

    I love this. You’re wise and frank and witty and honest all at once. That is why I adore reading your posts.

    I hope you’re taking some of your own advice, by the way! It’s really very good!

    • jemthegreat says:

      Thank you so much! That means a lot coming from yourself.

      Odds are I’ll survive – I did spend far too long eating mini-wheats straight out of the box and not wearing pants, but in a fuck-it-i’m-allowed kinda way rather than a fuck-my-life kinda way 🙂

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