There’s nothing quite like the raw hurt of a breakup. And unfortunately, most of us know this firsthand. While this type of pain is always hard to work through, it can be especially difficult when in recovery.
So often in the media, breakups are portrayed as an excuse to go out, get drunk and let loose. But in sobriety, that’s just not an option. Instead, we have to sit with our emotions and work through them without the aid of a substance. And while this may straight up suck sometimes, it’s doable.
Though happily married now, I went through a few breakups early on in my recovery. And even though they are years in the past at this point, I still remember the emotions involved vividly. These breakups were different than others in the surrounding years because I had no choice but to reflect and feel. I couldn’t just go out and get drunk and pretend they hadn’t happened.
Through doing so, I learned a few things about the best way to handle and get through breakups while in recovery. Here are a few of the things that helped me the most.
1. Remind yourself that everything — yes, everything — is temporary. While this didn’t necessarily take any pain away at the time, it was a comforting reminder for me. In the midst of feeling hurt and heartbroken, I tended to think I would feel that way forever. What I often forgot was that I had felt that way before and, in retrospect, those pains had faded into the background of my life. Yes, that fade takes time and patience. But there is something about remembering back to some of the most hurtful and difficult experiences of your life and thinking about the impact they have on your present life. More often than not, this impact is minimal. I always found some comfort in knowing that would likely be the case with my current pain someday in the future.
2. Look for the lessons. As with everything in life, there is something to be learned from the majority of heartbreaks. More often than not, when in the midst of some serious hurt, we tend to glamorize the root of that hurt. But the thing is, your relationship probably ended for a reason. No relationship is perfect. If you spend some time really reflecting on the relationship, you will likely realize that you are walking away having learned some valuable lessons that can help you avoid similar heartache in the future. To this day, I can look at every relationship I have had and can pinpoint something valuable with which I walked away, even if it felt like my life was ending at the time. There is always a silver lining if you look hard enough.
3. Acknowledge what you are feeling and why you are feeling it. This part sucks, I won’t sugarcoat it. There is nothing as frustrating and gut wrenching as just sitting and feeling. But I encourage you to do it anyway. Sit on that bed and cry and scream and yell. Let out what you are feeling. And once you do, take the time to think about the reasoning behind those feelings. Do you miss the person you were with? Are you afraid of being alone? Do you feel unworthy? Knowing why we feel what we feel is the first step in managing to gain control of those feelings and manage them.
4. Remember that relying on a substance won’t make a breakup any less real. This is perhaps the most powerful advice of all. No matter how drunk you get, no matter how high you get, no matter for how long...when you come out of it, the pain will still be there. It won’t have magically disappeared just because you chose to drown it in something else. Rather than deal with it head on, using would simply prolong the pain and make it even more difficult to manage when the time comes. Instead of taking this route, remind yourself that you got sober for a reason. Tell yourself that you’ve been through hard things in recovery before and made it out the other side, and that this time will be no different.
5. Immerse yourself in something that makes you grateful to be alive. This may sound obvious, but staying busy after heartbreak is important. Even though the last thing you may feel like doing is being in public, there is something about it that is healing in a way. Seeing the rest of the world keep turning reminds you that there is always more out there. So even though you may want to stay in bed and drown out the world, force yourself to go out and do something active at least once each day. Do what you love, whether that’s exercise, being with friends, exploring a new place, or something else altogether. Eventually, as time passes, you’ll begin to realize that your world is still turning and you feel whole once again.
Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292