Been Through a Bad Breakup? Action Could Be the Antidote
Ever had a breakup that completely sidelined you? One that sucked your appetite away for weeks at a time? One that rocked your foundation so fully that you felt irreparably broken - like you had nothing left?
That pretty much describes the place I was in circa mid-2013. My husband had shown back up at our house in a new sports car after disappearing for several days. And he’d then proceeded to tell me that he wasn’t in love with me anymore and no longer wanted to be married.
Just. like. that.
(Well, that plus the sound of my heart imploding).
I begged, implored him to go to counseling with me. I told him I’d try harder to make him happy. I cried. In that moment of total vertigo, stinging pain, and desperation, I said basically anything that came into my head that I felt had a ghost of a chance of saving our 9-year relationship.
But it wasn’t enough. I could see it in his eyes: It was over. He was already gone.
I’d spent a third of my life with this man by my side - my entire adult life. And now I was being discarded.
What do you do when you come to a crossroads like that? ...What would you have done?
I’m a pretty cerebral, rational person. While I’m not an introvert, I’ve been a bookworm basically since the day I learned to read, and I’m fairly Type A - an organized planner by nature. (Oh, and I’m a Virgo to boot, for whatever that’s worth).
These traits have generally served me well in life.
But I’ve found they tend to work against me in situations where there isn’t an objectively right or wrong answer or definitive path to take. In situations like those - crossroads or existential crises - attempting to analyze all of the various options on the table can be overwhelming, to the point of crippling.
So returning to the scene of my marital implosion, plus a month or two...
Everything I’d known and felt secure in had suddenly shifted beneath me, and I seriously needed to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life.
I had a decent job, but it was a corporate gig in an industry that bored me to tears, and the culture was nothing short of toxic. I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me, and I knew I desperately needed to get out of it. But I didn’t have a particular company or even job function that I was targeting.
I was lost.
And my lack of direction was daunting. I felt trapped in the job that I had, dependent on the salary to pay my mortgage, cover my student loans, and take care of my dog and myself.
My emotions were also having a crippling effect on me. Initially, they were so powerful that they’d flood in like a tsunami without any warning and just take me over. The shock and pain of what was happening was too much to process, and I’d dissolve into tears, unable to do anything else.
After some time passed, I was gradually able to regain better control of my emotions and be more intentional about when I chose to reflect on my internal state of being. But it all still felt kind of soul-crushing.
When I looked at my life, I now saw a soon-to-be divorcée in her late twenties (who hadn’t been single in 9 years) living in a 3,000 square foot house in suburbia with her dog. It wasn’t an inspiring picture - not to me, at least.
Now, please don’t get me wrong - my situation could obviously have been much, much worse. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or unappreciative of all that I had, because so many people find themselves in more dire and tragic circumstances than mine every single day. I was incredibly fortunate to have a house and a job and all of the opportunities that I did.
But this wasn’t what I wanted my life to look like. And reflecting on that deficiency just led me to slip into depression and a whole lot of self-pity (the latter of which I now personally find to be totally useless).
Over time, I recognized that these patterns I was falling into while going through my divorce were not serving me. And I stumbled upon an important realization: instead of getting caught up in negative thought patterns or dwelling in gloomy emotional places, I needed to get the fuck up and take action.
I recognized that only I was responsible for my life. This was no longer about my husband leaving. It was about me living. So I started to act accordingly and hold myself accountable.
Whenever I noticed that I was stuck in a thought loop of some kind or had fallen into a dark emotional space, I forced myself to stop, to get up, and to move.
I’d no longer allow myself to think. I’d no longer allow myself to feel. I’d just take action and do something.
Sometimes taking action would mean physically moving my body and working out - whether going for a run or attending a fitness class. Sometimes it would mean trying something new.
It could take the form of something as simple as reading a good book, or engaging in self-care, like taking a salt bath or getting a massage. It could also take shape through social events or activities with friends.
Action became my antidote.
I began to feel more productive, more in control over my life. I gained confidence, and that aided me in figuring out what I wanted to pursue next from a career perspective.
By not allowing myself to reside too long in negative emotional places, I gradually became more hopeful and positive. I started seeing all of the various possibilities for my future, and instead of causing me apprehension, they began to excite me.
I hadn’t really had to tackle life as an adult on my own before, but it was empowering to discover that I could do it. Through taking action and keeping that forward momentum, I’d come to realize that I was stronger than ever, and that I was all I needed after all.
Now, to clarify, if you’ve recently been through a bad breakup, I am not advocating that you numb yourself to your emotions 24/7 or avoid rational thinking sessions across the board. But I am advocating that you consciously set a threshold of some kind for how long you allow yourself to dwell in that negative emotional space or ruminate on the situation - a boundary for yourself to prevent things from getting too unhealthy/malproductive.
When you notice you’ve become ensnared in a negative thought loop or that you're experiencing one or more emotions that aren’t serving you -- stop and take action. You can start by simply moving your body.
But don’t think, and don’t feel. Just do.
I’d encourage you to try this out and let me know how it goes for you. Over time, I truly believe it will serve you, just as it served me.