Three weeks ago, I lost my best friend and the man I thought I would marry. A woman is entitled to a more than a few days of sorrow, wishful thinking and nostalgia. But when you are ready to put the past behind you and move forward to the next adventure – it’s time to exterminate. You know – get rid of the ex by clearing your mind, clearing your thoughts and clearing a path to the next step. Here are a few tips to get you on your way. They are slowly but effectively working for me, and perhaps they will work for you too:
- Let go of him, but don’t let go of you. Feel sad, cry, be angry, but be careful not to fall apart to the point you can’t pick yourself up and move forward. Resist the temptation to slide down the bathroom wall and crumble into a ball of salty tears on the floor. I’ve been there, and I know it’s tempting. Slide, but not all the way to the ground. You can’t afford a pity party right now. Something even better is waiting for you. And I know everyone tells you that, but it’s true. Unfortunately, nothing new will come into your life while you are still holding on to the past.
- Imagine. Accept that you are moving forward, not backward. Imagine a better life and a better partner. A break-up solidifies what you want and don’t want in your next relationship. Think about what the relationship taught you about yourself and use the newfound wisdom to meditate about a new and improved life. What stands between you and the life you want? Is it the right job, the right friends and the right attitude? These are things you can think into action. Positive thinking goes a long way.
- Re-create your personal space. Do you still have photos of the two of you on vacation flashing through your screensaver? Are you still wearing the locket he gave you for Christmas? Are you still looking at his toothbrush every morning when you step into the shower? Go through your house and take every photo, every memory, every possible cry trigger , box it up and put it in the back of the closet. You don’t have to forget him forever, but you do have to forget him right now. There will be a time when you can take these things out of the closet – but not while you are trying to heal. Remove them at once!
- Re-arrange your furniture. Move things around the way you always wanted them. Unless you are me, because I already had all my furniture arranged the way I wanted it. The point is that this is your life now and you can give yourself permission to do things your way. Sleep in the center of the bed. Buy a pink comforter cover. Put out the girly placemats. I drank dark roast coffee because he liked it. Now I buy the local beans I enjoy, grind them fresh every morning and make just one cup of coffee. There are some joys and freedoms to being single again, just in your personal space. Explore them, find them, and implement them.
- Clean. Scrub. Polish. Wipe away his footprints from the floor. Wash the sheets of the bed you once slept in. Purify the shower where you bathed together. Eliminate every hair, every smell and every reminder that he was ever in your home. The smell of his hair gel on my pillow can trigger a fifteen minute cry and distract me from my work. In one tough afternoon, I eliminated all those triggers and gave myself a sparkling new home.
- Create. Now is the time to start that DIY project you’ve been meaning to attack. Pillow covers to sew? Scrapbooking to do? A short story to publish? Channel your anguish into creating something meaningful to you.
- Write. In al-anon, they teach you to process feelings by writing. It works. Carve out time in your day to write out your feelings in a journal that no one will read. Start by making yourself write at least three pages. Do this for yourself. After about a week, you will find your hand flowing over the page. Writing is a safe way to get out your fears, your hopes, your anguish, your guilt and all other sorts of feelings. And right now, you need to get it out. Too many people stuff their feelings with food, or alcohol, or work, or activities. They are not recovering – just avoiding their feelings. Real healing begins when you accept and acknowledge your feelings. So get them out!
- Talk. Your friends and family want to help you right now, let them. They will help you process your feelings in a safe and protected way. They will keep you from going below the line of no return. Fight the urge to isolate. It feels right to stay in your apartment with the shades drawn, the remote firmly in your hand, ice cream nearby and your ringer off. But it’s only avoiding reality. You are not growing on the couch. So call people and talk through the things swimming around in your head. Let some sunshine into your brain. God speaks through others and don’t you want to start hearing the answers to those prayers you’ve been putting out there?
- Go out. Whenever you have the chance, get out of the house. Go for a walk, meet friends for lunch, check out the new Cezanne exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, go to a First Person Arts Storyslam, check out the free talks at the Library and Ethical Society, take a class at Temple’s Center City extension school, go to dinner with a friend at a new restaurant. Now is the time to get out and explore and discover. On Tuesday’s, I pick up the City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly, spread them out over the kitchen table and start making a list of festivals, concerts, events, movies, stage shows, and restaurants I’m excited about going to see. I get out my outlook calendar and start adding appointments. Then I send out emails inviting friends to join me, filling my life with fun activities. Don’t fill your life so full you can’t feel, but don’t turn down an invitation to meet new people and have new experiences.
- Avoid Dating. When a relationship doesn’t work out, it is natural to feel rejected and natural to seek affirmation that you are still loveable and beautiful. But it’s also extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous for you because it could just make you miss him more. Or worse, make you rush into something unhealthy just to mask your feelings. It’s also dangerous to others. Using someone else to take away your pain is hurting someone else for your own gain. Stepping on someone else to pick yourself up is never going to get you a better life. I don’t care if he is a dog and you are both using each other. You deserve better – and so does he. Don’t risk the harm to your self esteem. You need to be feeling good about yourself these days, not guilty or predatory. Give this gift to yourself, wait until you have processed before you invite someone else into your life.
- Succeed. Do something you have always wanted to do! Take the GMAT or foreign service exam. Write a short story and send it off to be published. Join Toastmasters and prepare a speech. Ask for a raise at work. Apply for the job you always wanted. Become an actress. Apply for a reality TV show. Quit drinking and go to AA. Get a personal trainer. Start using that yoga pass. Challenge yourself and feel good about it. Now is the time to accomplish. You are free, go out and get your happiness. Success will bring you better options, better jobs and better people.
- Be of service. This last break-up hit me hard and sent me deep into myself, tempting to steer me off course in selfish remorse. Someone else could be talking and all I could hear was the sound of my own sorrows. The best way out of this is service. I immediately volunteered to mentor kids at the library. I started making sandwiches for the homeless at Christ Church. I took on a new sponsee. I offered to chair the Saturday morning meeting. There was great relief in thinking about someone other than myself. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but trust me. Find somewhere in your community where you are needed. Find a friend worse off than you that could use someone to talk to. Can you help a friend move? Does someone at work need help stuffing envelopes? Can you make dinner for a sick friend? Helping someone else will boost your self esteem, help you reclaim your brain, and make the world a little bit easier for someone else.
Break-ups are just hard. No matter the length of the relationship, no matter the person, no matter the circumstances. If you loved deeply, you are now experiencing great loss. These tips will bring you relief, but nothing will stop the inevitable pain that accompanies the end of a relationship. Just keep walking through it. There is a big light at the end of the tunnel, don’t stop in the middle and go back. Keep moving towards the light. I’ll be there waiting for you on the other side.