There are many stages to overcoming a breakup, and in my experience, they manifest themselves similarly to the stages of grief. But this is a recent development.
Years ago, a very close friend of mine told me that I get over breakups the way an alcoholic gets over a hangover. I rarely suffered or allowed myself any form of consternation. I simply got drunk, ranted to friends and then moved on with life because who’s got the time?
This time around was a little different -- well, a lot. I thought I was going to be with this one forever, so when your future is suddenly drastically changed, it’s more complicated than losing a college fling or a teenage romance. And in circumstances where a lot of hurt has been caused, you can’t exactly revert to being friends any time soon, so you’re essentially losing a person.
That’s why my mother told me I had to grieve. The person you love is no longer in your life, so you have to grieve for that loss.
It’s extremely bleak, but she had a point. Here’s how I break it down.
Step 1: Denial and Isolation.
This is the worst part. Once you’ve gotten past the horror of attempting to deny that this monstrous thing is happening to you and you finally accept the truth, you have to face the fun of isolation and abandonment.
Not only do you feel completely alone in the unique nature of your heartbreak, but the sudden feeling of being without that person can be unbearable. Actual physical illness may occur at the mere thought of going through another hour without them.
Phones must be confiscated so as to avoid despairing forms of destructive communication -- you cannot speak to the dead -- and nominating a buddy to assist in the confiscation of said phones is highly recommended. Perfect the silent treatment. Relish the isolation. You are better off now!
Most importantly, look to your family and friends to create a safety net of support and comfort. Being without one person doesn’t make you alone.
Step 2: Anger.
This is the most fun phase -- enjoy it! I recommend going to somewhere relatively abandoned and spacious where you can break things and shout obscenities. Hot tip: smashing flatware is extremely satisfying.
Boxing classes can also be highly useful for channeling rage, as can most forms of high energy fitness classes. Use your fury to better your mind, body and soul.
Turning inward anger into outward expression is far more productive than letting it sit and sulk inside your mind, brewing new concoctions of frustration. Get it out, sweat it out, work it out.
Then collapse and congratulate yourself for turning something negative into something positive. Namaste.
Step 3: Bargaining.
To me, this is the real danger zone. Here you start going back over your entire relationship with a list of what ifs and what onlys, promising to yourself that you won’t make those supposed mistakes again.
“If I had only been more confident/interesting/special maybe he wouldn’t have left me” is a thought pattern that we’re all guilty of.
I recommend getting it out of your system fast, with an audience of supportive friends who can shut down every stupid thing you say and instead, fill your brain with compliments on how brilliant you are.
Step 4: Depression.
Here come the poor life choices, the hermit-like behavior and feeling that you deserve no happiness ever again -- and so on, and so forth. Depression feels like a strong word here -- maybe we should rewrite this as a general sense of sadness for our purposes.
And being sad is okay. Sometimes you have to allow yourself time to sit down and weep.
Every so often I’ll allot myself an hour here and there to indulge in an ice-cream fueled cry accompanied by a terrible movie before I have to snap myself out of it and get on with being a fully grown adult woman. In this modern landscape, there’s no room for Bridget Jones-style displays of behavior. You’ve got to woman-up and carry on.
I firmly believe that prolonged time in this particular stage can be prevented or successfully avoided, in my professional opinion, if you just ride the wave of anger hard enough you can skip straight through to stage 5.
Stage 5: Acceptance.
After a certain period of time being single/doing charity work/focusing on your career/not eating pizza/not drinking gallons of wine, you earn a mental breakdown wherein you contact the ex in question with some form of heinous 5,000 word email explaining why they are both the best and worst thing that ever happened to you. From this point onwards comes acceptance.
Throughout stage 1-4, we gather intel. We figure out what went wrong, what was our fault and what was out of our hands. We decide what we want now for ourselves, our futures, our hearts.
We learn about who we were, and who we have become. And then we seek out closure.
That might be further down the line for some than others, but there is always a calm after the storm. The resolve may be private, or something that you both learn together, but there will come answers, realizations and revelations. And then comes peace.
I might have mentioned this 4,000 times, but a lot of my friends are going through breakups at this particular point in time, and I find myself repeating the same advice, which is incidentally my mother’s advice.
I find there is an undeniable comfort in these stages, milestones that you can reach and overcome. There’s an element of solidarity and togetherness that softens the blow of isolation, creates humor from anger and drives us safely home to acceptance.
It’s a journey that we’ll all likely make more than once and as young as we are, we better get cracking on this process. Practice makes perfect.