After the Storm: How to Heal From a Traumatic Breakup

A mind, body, and soul guide to becoming a better you after a big life change

Nine years ago, I had escaped from the most emotionally draining relationship I’ve ever experienced. I was 26-years-old and felt like I was 80-years-old. My body and mind were exhausted, my heart was hurting.

I was drained from self-sacrificing and tired from trying to make something work that would never function in a healthy way.

My turning point came slowly, I never hit a “rock bottom”. Instead, I continued nurturing myself spiritually and physically until I dropped my bad habits.

10 years later, I have a thriving marriage and a beautiful family who loves me.

I found my happy place, but it didn’t fall into my lap, I made it happen by living well and attracting good things into my life.

Why do we feel so shaken up after a breakup?

After a breakup, we experience so many emotions: Grief, sadness, anger, shock, and even relief.

People handle these emotions differently. Ironically, the first thing most people do after trauma is self-destructive. For some reason, we are punishing ourselves for the pain we feel.

There is no right way to heal after a breakup but there are wrong ways to cope:

  • I had lots of support but I pushed most of those people away.
  • I was young and healthy but I used alcohol at night to cope with my pain.
  • I had made mistakes, but I blamed everything on him.

Then there was another side of me, one that I was slowly nurturing:

  • I had found my spiritual path, was reading a lot of books and embracing yoga and meditation.
  • I was spending time with my dog Lucky, an old college friend and her children, learning so much from my friend about spirituality, parenting, and life.
  • I was distance running daily in the woods with Lucky, allowing the beauty of nature to nurture my body and spirit.

I was doing some wrong things and some right things. I was on the right track but I was floundering.

This was because I didn’t know who I truly was anymore. I wasn't the compulsive exerciser I was with my ex because he wanted me to look a certain way. I wasn’t the dutiful military spouse who tolerated abuse.

In truth, I was me without the shackles of an unhealthy relationship. I lost my identity and at the time, I failed to see this as a good thing.

This was a new beginning. It was time for me to find myself.

It is normal to feel empty after a breakup. That feeling of emptiness is actually the feeling of a clean slate. It feels scary because it is scary.

How you choose to deal with your “new normal” is up to you, but it will have consequences either way.

You can take this time to party, cry, feel sorry for yourself, and do nothing to advance your life and let your ex “win”.

The latter option is positive and life-changing: You can feed your mind, look after your body, and find your true self.

During a time of transition, make the choice to live your life for you.

Avoid binge drinking and develop a healthy lifestyle

It is common to have a few drinks during the initial shock of a breakup. This way of coping is shown on television and movies all of the time, usually as a joke or in a “girl’s night” movie.

However, your life is not a movie and this is not a healthy way to cope. Drinking frequently will cause your body and mind to break down.

Just because something is socially acceptable doesn’t mean it’s good.

Remember, you are making the choice to live your life for you. Destroying your body is not living for you, it’s letting life run you over.

Some people may say: Well, wine helps me cope and makes me feel better so I am doing it for me.

That’s fair. However, there are many physical and emotional consequences of consistently drinking alcohol.

If you need some motivation to stop abusing your body: Visualize your ex smugly smiling after being told by mutual friends “She/he has been drinking a lot since you broke up”. They think it’s because you are so miserable without them, you can’t cope without escaping. Yuck.

I don’t like using the ex as leverage, because fuck them, but whatever works!

When you drink or use drugs to escape emotionally after a breakup, you are using it to cope for the night, only to have your world crash down again the next day. It’s an ugly cycle.

Also, overusing alcohol during a traumatic time can increase your likelihood of developing a problem with addiction in the future.

So what can you do instead of drinking or using drugs during this time?

  • Meditate: Meditation gives you a natural high. It heals your body, mind, and spirit. I highly recommend “The Honest Guys” on Youtube for guided meditation for beginners.
  • Running: Running gets your body in shape, your heart healthy, and clears your mind. There is also an excellent feeling called the “runner’s high”. It’s much better than drugs or alcohol and doesn’t give you a hangover!
  • Laughter: Stand up comedy, funny movies, television shows, and YouTube videos! Some examples of feel-good television shows to binge-watch right now: The Good Place, Brooklyn 99, Friends, Saturday Night Live.
  • Comforting habits: Bubble baths, face masks, cuddling with your pet or children, having tea on your deck, and walks are all great ways to stay occupied while going through a break-up.
  • Spending time in nature: This was one of my favorite things to do after my breakup. Nature is truly beautiful, but it is also very resilient, and so are you.

I understand that alcohol is a staple in social gatherings and there is nothing wrong with a casual drink with friends. However, this is a time to heal and move forward. If you’re hungover or drunk constantly, the work you need to do on yourself will fall to the wayside.

Healing your spirit

To find out who you are, you need to dissect yourself. The old way of living your life wasn’t working. A time of transition is an excellent opportunity to get to know yourself again.

How do you do this? Meditation and therapy.

During the time I lived with my friend and her children, she introduced me to spirituality via books. I am not speaking about religion, I am talking about existentialism and mindfulness.

It gave me great comfort to seek out answers about why we are here and what purpose we serve. The words I read from Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle assisted me in my journey.

These gurus taught me that I have experienced pain in my life so I can help others and transition into the next phase of my existence.

I did some solo work by meditating and reading, but I needed to find out why I ended up in such an unhealthy relationship.

Therapy was my next step.

The best protection from being hurt again is a good suit of emotional armor and a clear head. This is why therapy after a traumatic breakup is so important.

If you don’t deal with the emotional fallout from this relationship, you will carry your emotional baggage into your next relationship and/or continue to date the same type of person over-and-over again.

Many people try therapy but they don’t succeed because they don’t “click with” the first therapist they meet. They give up on therapy and assume it doesn’t work. This is a common misconception.

My therapist is amazing. It took me a while to find her, and I’m not letting her go anytime soon! Recently, she told me that 70% of effective therapy lies in the connection between the therapist and the client. The other 30% is the work you do to get better.

Keep looking for a therapist until you find someone you really connect with because that is 70% of your work, completed!

For those of you wondering what a good therapy session is like:

  • Therapy sessions are typically once every two weeks, for an hour at a time.
  • Your counselor will allow you to talk, and if you have nothing to say, they will ask you questions to “draw you out”.
  • There are many different types of therapy, suited to different personalities and every therapist is different. My therapist works with me to challenge negative thoughts and self-sacrificing behavior in our sessions.
  • Therapists aren’t there to punish us by making us talk about things we aren’t ready to talk about. They are there to help us look at our life from a different angle.
  • I like structure, so my therapist gives me “homework” to complete. For example: Making a phone call I’ve been putting off. She will counsel me on why I’ve been avoiding this task and help me come up with the best way to approach the situation.

Therapy is an essential part of recovery. It seems scary at first but once you start going to your appointments, you look forward to talking to your therapist and it feels cathartic, the way a good workout feels.

It is a workout for the mind and soul!

Admittingly, I have a lot of work to do. In order for us to grow into who we want to be, we have to be consistently nurturing and improving ourselves.

If you find yourself in a dark and uncertain place in life, this is your time to shine!

Transitions in life are not punishment, they are a beacon for change.

This is your time to reinvent your existence, develop a healthy lifestyle, and treat yourself the way you should be treated.

People will only treat you with respect if you respect yourself.

Amy Cottreau is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Atlantic Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics.

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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