Step 1. Grieve
We are told “it’s okay to cry” since elementary school, but crying still makes me feel stupid and ugly so I ignore the impulse until it goes away. However, like an earthquake that causes a tsunami, the end of my 8-year-investment with Joel made too many waves to be pushed aside, and I spent several evenings as a bawling burrito-blanket.
Crying is a strange phenomenon. It’s like my body says “Hey, our neurons are overloaded. Let’s pretend our lungs our collapsing and secrete liquid from our eyes!” Although it’s awkward and confusing, sometimes breaking down is the first step to getting better and it really is okay to cry.
It was okay to feel like a grenade went off in my chest when I realized I’ll never hold his hand again. Okay to mourn the inside jokes that will be lost in time, the decay of shared dreams, and the sting that follows when the shows we watched together pop up on my watch list.
It was okay to grieve when I asked “Do you think we’ll ever get back together?” and he said no.
Grief can be as turbulent as a storm. Even though it hurts, it’s not bad. Some storms are meant to tear us down so we can build something new.
Step 2. Overwrite
I am discovering that overwriting is not the same as forgetting. Anyone important enough to cause my heart to break should not be forgotten. Learned from, sure, but not forgotten. However, avoiding and forgetting are easier. After the breakup I had a choice: avoid the places and things that were “ours”, or painfully make new memories.
I chose avoid.
I quit going to stores we went to together, especially Sam’s. (Nothing says “I love you” like getting a great bargain on 12lbs of spaghetti together.) But the more I avoided Sam’s, the more I cemented the memory of it as “our” place.
After a couple weeks my cereal stash was depleted and I had another choice: pay $5 for one box from the super market or $6 for two at Sam’s?
I went to Sam’s, and you know what happened? I smiled at new faces and made fresh memories of it.
It’s not easy, though. Overwriting places and things is like diving into a dark cave of flashing lights that you know will hurt your eyes. Sometimes I remember when his shadow was next to mine, his voice when he would point out a good deal, or how the spaces between my fingers feel empty—and the jerk back to reality stings.
Sometimes only the fear of being embarrassed holds me together while walking down the candy aisle. But each step I take alone overwrites the memory of walking together.
Each step lets me grow.
Step 3. Pace your growth
One of my many quirks is that I can’t throw seeds away. I don’t mean packages of seeds you purposely buy from the store. I mean seeds like Avocado pits or the tiny ones inside a lemon—seeds I don’t actually want but I have them because they came in the fruit or veggie.
When I throw these unwanted seeds away I feel like I’m snuffing out any chance for life. Who am I to decide what grows and dies? This question has cursed me to stick random seeds from produce in dirt and see what happens.
In my seed experiments I’ve learned that some seeds, like avocados, grow super tall super fast, while others, like lemon seeds, start small and stay small for a very, very long time. My little lemon has grown for over 6 months now and is at a grand total of 3 inches tall…I accidentally killed the avocado, but that’s another story…
Small progress is still progress.
Sometimes my comfort in my singleness grows like a lemon—slow, small, and fragile. Other times I’m as confident as an avocado—taking large steps that I may or may not actually be ready for but try anyway.
What does this look like for the heart? If you feel like you’re ready to watch that show you used to watch together, go for it. And if just before you click “play episode” a pang of sorrow grips your chest, it’s okay to walk away and try again later—even if it takes months to become “later” enough.
Step 4. Wear the right size
Because they love you, friends and family may push you to try something you’re not ready for. It could be as simple as encouraging you to talk to someone new to jumping in and starting a new relationship. Yet, I know from experience that moving forward faster than my heart can handle is like trying to run in shoes that are 10 sizes too big.
Yep, that’s me. I look happy wearing my father’s shoes, but this stunt ended with me flopping face-first into the couch. If right now my heart only fits into a size 3, I shouldn’t pretend everything’s fine in a size 7.
As someone who usually jumps from one relationship to the next, I want to try something new. Maybe it’s not a waste of time to drop the baggage from the previous relationship before starting a new one. What if it’s the most loving thing I can do for myself and the next person who wins my heart?
Step 5. Consider self
Although I enjoyed the lines and quirky characters in the movie Rango, I couldn’t relate to the character before the breakup. Afterwards? I became Rango.
To capture the essence of the film in one sentence: while driving through the desert Rango’s cage is accidentally bumped off the moving truck and the lizard has to discover and decide who he is in this vast new world.
Yep. Just like Rango…
I knew who I was in the cage, and it was a good, comfortable space with nifty toys. But now, my cage is shattered and the world is before me. I don’t have to be the same person I had been. I could be anyone.
Who was I before the relationship?
I actually came across a library of music on an old HP computer that I used like a century ago during middle school. As I sorted through my forgotten favorites, I learned a lot about the girl I used to be, and it gave me more confidence to be who I am now.
It’s pretty silly but one of my fears was that I only liked the Fast and Furious series because of Joel. Did I have to cut out that part of me because it was rooted in him? But guess what I found on my playlists from 2003? A collection of songs from those movies. I liked F&F long before Joel came around, so it’s normal for me to like them now.
Yet even if I never found those playlists, I could keep liking those movies, and I can keep other parts of me that I like which I know came from his influence. In this “new world” I can piece together the best of who I was, who I became, and who I want to be.
Who was I when it ended?
I believed and was told that I tore the rift between us, that I’m the one who made it difficult for Joel and I to be together. But my heart and mind are slowly learning that relationships don’t rise or fall because of one person. Even so, I hate who I was when Joel and I ended. I don’t want to keep those pieces.
I was insecure, possessed with thoughts that I wasn’t good enough to keep him. Fearful that he was hiding something from me because he felt I couldn’t handle the truth. I acted like a little girl forcing a cat to take a bath, which as a farm-girl, I have done many times. Oddly enough, one of my cats actually loved to take baths, but the others (as you can imagine) hated it, and I often ended up with deep scratches all over my arms. My relationship with Joel was more like that…
Who do I want to be?
I’m not sure, and honestly I’m working it out as I type.
I see an image of me as the perfect friend, girlfriend, and wife, and I know that’s who I want to be. But I don’t know what it is that makes the image in my head “perfect.”
Is it the smile that is genuine and not forced? Is it how everyone is drawn to her heart? Confidence that’s not obnoxious? Or a combination of all those things and something else? Maybe the girl I want to be knows that, even with everything she’s messed up, she is loved and valued. Maybe that girl knows God made her lovely, and she’s living in that promise. Radiating it.
That’s how I want to be.
Step 6: Pursue
I’m sorry. I think I lied to you. When I started to write this piece I pictured a gorgeous marble staircase. I would take each step with grace and dignity at a slow but steady pace. However, having reached step 6 and the end of the guidelines, I’m learning that recovering after a breakup is more like a sporadic game of hopscotch.
I can jump forward with one foot, or two, jump back, or jump several times in the same spot. I can jump over steps entirely, skipping them and coming back later or not at all.
Although I hope the next step doesn’t come up and punch you in the face, I have to admit it can feel like that. Around Step 2 I felt like my heart was going to crumble to dust. Going back to Step 1 felt like air wasn’t working the way it used to, and on every step I was tempted to run back to what I knew.
But when I jump on Step 6, hopefully I won’t be jumping around in a panic trying to find where my heart is. Step 6 should be a time to actively pursue something. A time to work with my fears and go after things I thought would only exist once upon a dream. Seek out the calling God placed on my heart. Follow the breath of life.
There’s a reason that’s the moto for my blog. If I pursue the breath of life I will follow where God leads me and my heart will be truly satisfied. What could be better than having a heart that is so happy, love spills out? When a heart gets there, it can truly thrive.
My friend loaned me a book that changed the way I viewed my heart, Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge. I’m almost finished with it and I plan to buy my own copy so I can read it again and highlight phrases that make my soul spark. Today I read this paragraph and felt an immediate fire in my chest:
“But we don’t get to wait to offer our lives until we have our acts together. If we did, would anyone ever feel like offering anything? [God] invites us to share and give in our weaknesses. He wants us to offer the beauty he has given us even when we are keenly aware that it is not all that we wish it were. He wants us to trust him. How it turns out is no longer the point. Living this way, as a woman alive, is a choice we make because it is the woman we want to be.”Captivating, pg 217
Even with a broken heart, even though I may be grieving and growing slow, you and I still have much beauty to offer and dreams to pursue. If only we will trust God and hold on.
Karianne is the founder of Windmill Ways. She plays the cello professionally and currently works as an Art Director for a charity. Because she loves animated shows and movies, she studies 3D animation and graduated with a BFA with the unfortunate class of 2020. Her dream vacation would be just staying home, but "home" being a glamorous cabin somewhere in the mountains surrounded by forest.
Favorite band: Lord Huron
Favorite book: This Present Darkness
Favorite quote: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT)
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