Don’t Let Your Breakup Break You: A Self-Care Guide
Breakups are some of the hardest things we go through in life. After my first big breakup at 21, I didn’t get into another long-term relationship until I was 27. Among other reasons, I was too scared of going through that pain again. My next big breakup, at 29, was about 1000 times more painful, even though I knew it needed to happen and had been preparing for it for a while. My grief was deep, intense and at times nearly unbearable. If I had not had the outlet of standup comedy and an amazing community of friends, I might have fallen apart. But I didn’t. I let myself be irresponsible for about a month, trading performing for drinking and Tinder dates. And then I got my shit together. I poured my energy into writing and performing, and my breakup ended up being the best thing for my comedy career and happiness. But it wasn’t easy. I learned a lot, and I am here to assure you that you will be okay, too. If you’re going through a painful breakup, I’m sorry. I hope this guide helps you. Pick and choose what’s right for you, and always remember that I am not a licensed therapist, just a person who knows grief and is invested in your wellbeing.
- Lean on friends
Good friends are there when times are good and when times are very deeply bad. During my last breakup, I had friends who cooked me food, dragged me to events, held me while I cried, listened to me whine, texted me to check in, and generally supported me through my grief. Hard times are when you realize who your friends are and who your acquaintances are. Don’t be afraid to lean on those closest to you. You would (and have been and will) be there for them when they needed you, right? Right! Let them be there for you, too.
One of the positive things I got from my relationship was getting back into journaling after a years-long break. After we broke up, I forced myself to read all of my journals from our relationship, and confront how unhappy I had been for so much of our time together. It was all there in my words: I expressed the same pain and doubt three months in that I expressed 16 months in. I cried a lot while re-reading my words; it was painful and difficult. It was also healing. It affirmed for me that I had made the right decision. Continuing to journal since my breakup has been a great outlet for my healing, whining, venting, and feelings. On those dark nights when I just wanted to text my ex, I read a journal entry instead, to remind myself why contacting them was a terrible idea.
3. Get drunk or high (but don’t develop a problem)
Let’s be real, for those of us who indulge in substance use, it is an effective temporary solution to feelings. I am not condoning addiction; I am condoning reality. I needed to abuse substances for a little while to get through my breakup. That’s not a pretty reality, but it was indeed my reality. I spent about a month getting drunk a lot, until I started getting almost nightly Charley Horses from dehydration, and realized I needed to get my shit together. It’s a fine line between substance abuse and substance addiction, but I trust you in your adulthood to know the difference. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to rely on drugs to get through life for a little bit. If it starts to become a problem, reach out to a therapist or a group or a book or a sober friend. And if you don’t use substances, skip this suggestion.
4. Figure out what you want
So your relationship didn’t last. That’s okay, most relationships don’t! It can still be a successful relationship even if it didn’t last forever. What did you learn from it? What do you now realize is a dealbreaker? What do you need next time? What can you not handle? Reflect on why this relationship didn’t last, on both your end and your ex’s end. Own your own mistakes (and yes, you made mistakes, we all do), and figure out why and how to not repeat them.
5. Have casual sex. Or don’t.
After my last breakup, I was determined to get laid. In the past, I usually didn’t have sex with someone new for months or a year, but this time was different. To move on from my long-term monogamous relationship, I felt I needed to experience sex with other people. After my first post-breakup date, I stood outside the 16th St. Bart station, realized it was where I had met my ex for our first date, and cried hysterically on the phone with my bestie for a half hour. The first time I had sex post-breakup, I started to cry while she fucked me because she was bad at sex, I was not ready, and I was only doing it to prove I could. I learned that casual sex was not the answer, or at least not with that first person. Later, I dated/fucked people I was actually into, not to prove a point, but because I wanted to have sex with them. It was healing for me realizing I could have good sex with other people and that my vagina was not broken. Your mileage may vary.
Therapy was vital to me during my breakup. My therapist understands my particular brand of crazy, and helped me work through my pain and obsessive thoughts. If you have found therapy useful in the past, haven’t but are willing to give it another try, or have always been curious, a breakup is a great time to get professional help.
7. Stick to a no-contact phase with your ex.
From personal experience and the very scientific anecdotal evidence of my friends, I wholeheartedly endorse a minimum 30 day no contact phase with your ex. When my ex and I first broke up after a year, we still spent every night together and ended up getting “back together” after a couple of weeks because we were sad and we loved each other, and we weren’t ready to part. And hey! That’s okay! I think we needed to get back together to realize that we eventually needed to be apart. But if we had enforced a 30 day no contact phase after the first breakup, we may have stayed apart and avoided a lot of the anger, pain, and bitterness that came with our eventual final breakup. So take some space. Block their number if you have to. Unfollow them on social media. Learn to exist in the world as one person and not as half of a couple.
8. Don’t get back together with your ex.
See above. Generally, relationships where you habitually break up and get back together are not healthy. You broke up for a reason, so stay broken up.
9. Don’t talk shit on social media.
Instead of putting your ex on blast, focus on showing how happy you are. Or don’t, if that feels like a lie. Consider staying off social media altogether for a while. No one is fooled by your “OMG I love being single” posts. Most of us aren’t honest on social media, of course, but you look like the asshole if you bash your ex publicly.
If you’re an artist, you are likely already aware that pain often inspires good art. After my breakup, I poured my energy into my comedy. It was healing for me to channel my pain into jokes (and yes, I am a comedian, despite the lack of jokes in this feelings-filled guide). I also learned a lot about walking the fine line between making people laugh and making people feel bad for me. Plus, I got to spend every night surrounded by funny people. I got out of the house, networked, generated new material, made awesome new friends/colleagues, and slowly felt better about myself. Though I am mostly healed from my breakup now, my breakup jokes have become an important part of my act, and I am grateful for that. Find your outlet, whether it’s an art form or a sport or work or anything that makes you happy.
11. Accept that healing isn’t linear.
People kept telling me this, but it still took me a while to accept it. After less than a month, I was all, “OMG I’m fine, I’m great, I don’t even miss my ex, that wasn’t that bad!” As time went on, little things triggered me, turning me into a ball of tears. A wise friend told me, “Grief comes in waves. The waves keep coming, but they get smaller and smaller.” The intensity of my feelings ebbed and flowed, and it continues to. Full disclosure: I hadn’t cried about my ex in months, but just the other day a friend made a comment about our relationship that made me suddenly and unexpectedly sob. It doesn’t mean I am broken; it means healing is a long, long process and I loved my ex deeply, even though I don’t want to get back together. This shit is complicated.
12. Be kind to yourself.
Please, please, please! I beg you to take this all in and remember that healing is not simple, you are not broken, and there is no wrong or right way to grieve. Almost everyone has gone through a painful breakup, and it’s very likely you will go through one or eight more. Use this as an opportunity to grow, reflect, and focus on yourself. I believe in you: I don’t even know you and I believe in you. You got this, even if you don’t see it yet.