When I was 3 months pregnant, my relationship with my child’s father collapsed. Ok, I’m not going to rake over old ground because it’s 20 years ago, it’s done. I survived and I’ve said all that needs saying on the subject. But I’ve recently been reflecting on how I got through that terrible – and it really was a terrible and utterly devastating- time. I’ve been thinking about the lessons I learnt and the feelings I left behind.
Five things I learnt about devastating breakups
1. Anger can easily destroy you. I was angry, I mean boiling-over furious, for 7 long years. I had a good reason to be angry. But one day I just said no more, that’s it, time to put some energy into other emotions. Anger is so exhausting. Let’s be clear here, it is really not a good thing to ignore or suppress feelings. You should acknowledge them, allow yourself to feel them. But anger, like all feelings is transient, it passes and you move on to the next feeling. Unless you feed it. And boy was I feeding it. Let it pass, don’t hold on to it.
2. Heartbreak, however painful, is not insurmountable. If you allow yourself to heal, you will eventually heal. You have to let in the new to take up some of the space left by the old. My grandmother used to describe it as a big hole that you have to back-fill. After my mother died she said “It’s a mum-shaped hole and you’ll not find anything that exact shape to refill it, but you can pad round the edges and stuff the middle with other things until the hole doesn’t feel so gaping and huge and raw.” So when it was a lover-shaped hole, I filled it with friends and music, and family, and work. Don’t get me wrong, it took a long time to do that, but it did get padded out pretty nicely. Heartbreak is so utterly devastating, and it feels like the older you get the worse it gets. But you can mend a broken heart. Oh yes, you CAN!
3. Being a victim isn’t becoming. Alright, you’ve got every right to rant and rave when you’ve been stung that badly. But being the victim takes so much energy. To be a victim, you need to stay in that angry heartbroken place, and that’s like saying ouch that fire’s hot, I’ll just stick my hand in it and keep it there. It’s the kind of self-destructive behaviour that drives friends away and it drains you of self respect. Acknowledge the hurt and damage, sooth your pain, but don’t become the it. It’s something that happened to you, it’s not your identity.
4. Sometimes the people you thought were your friends turn out not to be. I worked really hard at sharing friends with my ex. I was damned if I’d let them become part of a custody battle and to their, and our credit, mostly succeeded. But there was just one that decided to take sides. For a while I was indignant, I wanted revenge on her, wanted to “have it out” with her. But it didn’t take me long to think, well fine, I can afford to lose one friend. I have plenty to spare. Its hurtful, yes, but bringing extra people into the battle is not going to make you feel better – let them go.
5. Everything will feel different in two weeks, two months, two years, two decades. When my therapist told me I wouldn’t always feel so heartbroken I didn’t believe her. I thought she was talking out of her backside to be honest. She said I would meet someone else, and I looked at her with incredulity. Two decades on and I barely recognise the woman I was in the Autumn of 1997, it really is funny to think I assumed nothing would change. New things happen, new people enter your life, you grow, you deal with things differently, and before you know it, you’re wondering how you ever thought your life was over. It’s so hard to do, perhaps the hardest, but just know that it won’t always be like this.
If you are in the midst of a breakup and you think I’m making light of the pain, believe me I’m not. Back then, 20 years ago, I was a wreck. I had no idea how to take care of myself, and was terrified that I had to take care of a baby. I was angry and lonely and heartbroken. I was frightened and had no sense of surviving til tomorrow, let alone the following years, or indeed into the next century. It took time but I really wouldn’t have it any other way now. What I learnt is that if you deal with the anger and heartache, and don’t let it become you or you become it, if you say no to being a victim, wave goodbye to constant blame and fighting, you don’t just survive, you thrive.
PS. I know that at the end of an abusive/violent relationship, the recovery is so much more complicated. (I’ve been there, too.) There’s the shame and the fear and the damage done by the relationship, not to mention any ongoing threat. I’ll write that article if and when I feel brave enough.