Illustration by Anita Klein
Sometimes the worst relationships are the hardest to get over. Breaking unhealthy patterns and finally making the decision to break it off (and keep it off…) can be hugely difficult, and the struggle doesn’t stop there. I wish it was good riddance and a sweet burst of relief, but the reality of finding yourself ‘free’ isn’t quite so simple. Thankfully, it is possible to feel secure and happy again and it’s from this newfound headspace that I’ve psychoanalysed the shit out of myself. Of course, it won’t be the same for everyone, but I want to share a little insight and inspiration:
It took me a long time to ‘get over’ my last breakup. Even though I knew it was the right decision, I was not ‘happy’ to have finally had the strength to turn my back. I was completely devastated and lost. I thought my heart was broken because I was no longer with him. And it was, partly. Despite all the anger and resentment as I realised how badly he had treated me, I remembered his loving side and all the good times we had. And so I did miss him, but I was also grieving myself - the girl (or dare I say woman?) I had lost along the way.
During the relationship, I was constantly criticised and belittled. I had previously valued my caring nature, my ability to understand others and I showed these traits to heightened extremes during the relationship - understanding that his actions were all down to his own hurt and loving him despite the pain he caused. But, I was consistently told that this was not enough, that I didn’t understand or care. At first I argued back, but I soon internalised the idea that I was a bad girlfriend and, well, just an all-round bad person. I stopped trusting my own judgements, I stopped valuing myself.
Alongside this, I began to lose other parts of my life too. Because I was so worn out keeping him happy, I lost interest in my hobbies and passions. On top of this, a lot of my friendships were damaged. He made me feel guilty when I spent time with them and my friends themselves became angry because I wouldn’t listen to them: they thought I was an idiot and I felt like one too. I stopped telling them things to protect him and avoid judgement. Once bottled up, I found it even harder to work through all the pain and confusion. I felt so alone, I felt so trapped and I felt like it was my fault.
And the bitter irony was that I came to view the man who consistently shattered my self-worth as the same man who made me happy. After each knock-back, he was the only one who could make me feel better. He would ‘forgive’ me and accept me again. The relief after hours of dismal confrontation felt like bliss. Desperate to escape the arguments in which I was merely a pawn, I gratefully lapped up any glimpses of love and passion.
Because I had been trained to seek my worth in my partner and had warped my life to suit his, when I lost him, it felt like I lost everything. On top of this, it shook my faith in love - I had come to believe that relationships were not safe or happy places and I felt dismayed that no matter how much I gave someone, I could not change things, I could not make things better. I felt like a failure and like the world was a cruel place. I continued to worry about how he was doing, knowing how many challenges he faced in his own life. All this, and not so much the loss of the relationship, was what was so incredibly difficult.
But things got better, they always do.
Twist me to fit, curled to your shape, I’ll tend to your wounds, and keep you safe.
Tear up my flesh and crush my bones, regroup the parts to patch up your own.
But rather than reborn complete, together we shattered anew:
in the image of your past, nothing whole, just broken halves.
First, I gave myself the space to grieve. I didn’t hurry to become the fun and single girl I thought everyone wanted, I didn’t pretend I was ‘over it’. I cried to my friends, I spoke to a counsellor, I scribbled my heartbroken way through a whole notebook. This combination of emotional release and reflective hindsight became a wonderful healer.
After some time of regretting and resenting, I started to accept what happened: not seeing it as a waste of time, but a valuable lesson. It wasn’t all bad, so I treasure the happy memories and let go of the others, while also knowing I will not let this happen again. In this way, I am not powerless to the past, but empowered by it.
After being so worn out putting him first and neglecting my own feelings and needs, I have learnt to value myself again. It is okay – more than okay! – to be who I truly want to be and that anyone worth having in my life will love me for it. I have re-discovered old passions and picked up new ones. I have re-built some of the friendships that were damaged and let go of others. I have met lots of new people who give me energy instead of taking it away. Most importantly, I have realised that compassion (as I practiced to such an extreme in the relationship) must start with myself.
This doesn’t happen at the flip of a switch, but I promise it is possible to laugh again, dance again, flirt again, do whatever-you-want-to again. It is possible for life to be good again.
My Heart, My Own
I was broken and searching for someone to hold my heart, after it had been ripped from my chest and squeezed.
I looked for my life in another, but only when I lay alone, on a bed of leaves below the trees,
did I see: the only place my heart could make its home, was right here inside me.
So I’ll stop searching for the one, and instead, I’ll love myself.
In knowing this, I know that when someone comes, I won’t give up my heart again.
Instead, I’ll let them hold it, kiss it, set it on fire, and place it, ever so gently, back in my chest.
Only there can it beat, only there can it love.