first published on the blog November 10, 2010
1. Get Taken Care of.
When your heart is broken, why expect your legs to work? Call a friend, and make sure you call one strong enough to carry your dead weight. No one expects you to be able to take care of yourself, especially in the violent first moments of immediate fallout. Don’t feel as if you need to be strong, or stoic, or worry about being needy. The time will come when you can be the caregiver. But not now!
Let people make decisions for you, feed you, take you for a walk, make sure you are drinking enough water, draw you a bath, and hold you as you watch the healing effects of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
A note on media: If you can stand it, this is a great time to watch scary or violent shows and movies. Preferably so outrageous they are barely plausible. Watch epic stories of huge epic destruction. Don’t watch anything showing people going about their routines and dealing with their everyday challenges. It will suck.
2. Hold living things.
Babies and puppies are best.One of the most amazing things I stumbled upon a day after a loss is the healing power of babies! My friend took me with her to pick up her son from daycare, and we sat on the floor with the other babies toddling, babbling, and smiling to us. Babies are unapologetic about their need for human contact and long hugs never feel awkward.
The same with puppies or dogs or cats. I had the privilege to be a lap for my brother’s cat, Lady, for an entire movie. Lady is a tough bitch, and in between purring in my lap she ruthlessly protected it from other encroaching pets. It felt awesome. It reminded me I am something worth defending.
Dogs know when something sad is going on and the purity of their sympathy for you can be so uplifting. If you have the means, consider getting your own new pet to love.
3. Get out of town.
Remember the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall? (If not, this is a great time to watch it. I am still shocked that was not a blockbuster.) Our broken-hearted hero can’t stand his apartment so he goes to Hawaii where hilarity ensues.*
To quote that highbrow film: “When life gives you lemons, say ‘fuck the lemons’ and BAIL!”
- You don’t have to see anything that reminds you of your loss
- You can deal strictly with your internal experience in a safe setting
- You create new memories (and in doing, prove you have survived and will survive)
- You put an immediate, physical distance between you and your loss so your emotions are more easily observable.
*hilarity not guaranteed.
4. When you get back, (gently) alter your environment.
Once I tore through my home and eradicated every reminder of my loss. That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t really deal with what is going on inside of you.
Try altering your environment with gentle moderation. Some change can help you find a new safe place in your home, but some change is destructive and you may think better of it in the future.
Unsure? Ask for help. It’s hard to judge accurately right now, anyway.
Some things alterations are not destructive, are easy, and can make you feel a whole lot better:
- Do all your laundry, all your dry-cleaning, and as much house-cleaning as you can handle
- Buy awesome new sheets and pillowcases. And pillows! A body pillow is oh-so-very-very luxurious. The C-shaped ones are like hugs.
- Make a conservative donation run to Goodwill
- Have a friend hold some of the things you have a hard time looking at, but will want back someday
- Get a new toothbrush
- Re-arrange a room, or paint a wall, or get a potted plant
- Get your hair trimmed (not the time for major changes), get a pedicure, get a new coat
- Get dressed. It totally sucks, but try not to wear sweats everyday ❤
image from here.
5. Don’t take the loss out on yourself.
Ah, this is the worst. I know this is so hard to hear right now. This is the one where I say “do as i say and not as I do.”
After one loss, I had a fierce and violent re-emergence of anorexia that I thought had been conquered years before. The lack of food left me not only weak physically, but isolated emotionally from people who could help me. Because I was so whittled down and transparent, pain could blow right on in.
Taking the loss out on yourself makes it a double loss. Be on your own team and decide to survive. Be aware of…
- re-surfacing of old addictions
- increased alcohol/drug use
- dangerous over- or under-eating
- refusal to leave home or be with people
- extreme sleep patterns
- obsessive guilt and thoughts of “If only I had/hadn’t done____” (No matter WHAT you’ve done. For reals.)
- desperate need of a “why”
- constant re-living of the loss
- symptoms of PTSD, OCD, paranoia, delusion, depression or other mental health issues
- dedicating yourself to your loss instead of your recovery
These can become serious quickly, and are hard to monitor for yourself. Ask for help.
6. Read about it.
Loss often feels like uncharted territory, but humans have been thinking about it and experiencing it as long as we’ve been humans. It can help to relate to others through their words.
There are many good books about loss in the world, but a most amazing one, recommended to me by the Amazing Soo-jin Yoon is called How to Survive the Loss of a Love. A collection of poems, short prose, and straightforward, kind advice, this book is a resource for many kinds of loss, not just the breakup of an affair.
In the fiction world, I like A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. A man looses his wife after childbirth and then gets saddled with becoming (sort of) a Grim Reaper’s administrative assistant. Makes life seem so sweet, and so sad, and so worth it.
7. Fortify your routine with new resources.
Though you probably feel like it, this may not be the best time to change careers, move to Austin, or get a tattoo. (Don’t let me stop you! Just saying, those things are much more powerful choices when made from a position of strength, ‘kay? <3) You have been living a life before your loss, and I am going to assume that there are great chunks of it you built for yourself and are propelling you on a path you are proud of.*
So go to your job. Eat three meals a day. Go to your gym, or the yoga studio, or take your daily walk with the dog. This can become great comfort if you are willing to take it easy on yourself.
However, you are NOT going back to your “old life.” This is a new world, a post-loss world. Fortify your routine with some gifts to yourself:
- Medication: I am a huge proponent of medication. It’s not “cheating.” It’s chemistry. Give yourself a leg up. No brainer.
- Therapy: going into a room with someone sworn to secrecy and crying your eyes out is awesome.
- New movement of some kind, ANY kind. Taking a walk, a stretch, Tai Chi, a new kind of exercise class or club, go dancing, take a new yoga class…anything. Experience your body in a new way.
- A new kind of quiet time: my meditation practice right now is lying on the floor with my eyes covered listening to the entirety Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.“ All eleven minutes of it.
- Touch Therapy: massage, reiki, volunteering with animals or babies. Get touched. A lot.
*If you are thinking, “Fuck That, I hate my life and everything in it. My loss re-defines my entire life,” TOTALLY FINE. You may very well want a complete directional change. BUT DON’T START NOW. Treat yourself as someone who just got hit by a truck. Because you have. It’s not about clear vision or perspective. It’s about taking on just one huge challenge at a time.