Go ahead, throw something at me. I am sure the title alone evokes a deep sense of anger and annoyance. You’re likely thinking, “You have absolutely no idea what I’ve been through! How dare you tell me about my life.” I will tread lightly because you’re right. I have literally no idea what you’ve been through. I don’t know your story, circumstance, or the current undertow you’re fighting against to keep your head above water during the storm that is a breakup. But I do know about heart break.
Over the last year and half, I went through a devastating divorce. The losses were high, the pain was deep, and aftermath was overwhelming. In the trenches, I had little hope that any good would come from that season. I was convinced that I would never be able to see beauty, growth, or new life from something so traumatic and terrible. I remember hiding in my car while an army of women packed up my life because I couldn’t face the memories or the reality that was quickly crashing in. Thoughts whirled around in my broken heart, “I can’t survive this…there is literally no way I am going to survive this. I can’t lose my marriage, my home, my dog, and this life.”
I am not saying that ending a relationship or marriage is the right thing. I still stand on my soapbox that you fight like hell for the people you love; but I am saying that if you let it, this time can be a turning point that will forever transform you into a more beautiful version of yourself. I will not get all “eat, pray, love” on you, but I will challenge you to work with your broken heart to see new possibilities.
This time is holy. As with most things in life, this will pass. You’re not going to be broken hearted forever, so walk through this time with all the tears and an open mind.
Learn about yourself.
This is the season to slow down and care for yourself. My mantra was, “You’re going to get out of bed and do all of these hard things.” I spoke these words out loud to my ceiling fan every single morning while contemplating my ability to get out of bed. I had to tell my heart that is was brave enough to do the next hard thing. In the beginning, it was simply being brave enough to get up to take a shower. Then, it was being brave enough to look for one-bedroom apartments and say goodbye to my dog. Each day demanded that I get up and look directly into the eye of the next thing that scared me and do it anyway. I learned that what was required was only enough bravery to make it through that one day.
You’re going to get out of bed and do all of these hard things.
I encourage you to take a step back and make room for yourself. Learn what you need when you’re sad, angry, or lonely. Invest in authentic live-giving friendships and prioritize the people you love. I learned that watching tv makes me feel like crap. Nothing good for me comes from an afternoon on a couch binge watching Southern Charm. I feel lighter, healthier, and more equip to handle life when I spend time outside or with my people. Taking a walk, praying, getting a pedicure, a glass of wine on a patio, and reading poolside were all forms of my self-care. These practices gave me better self-awareness, and the ability to push through pain.
Also, I learned about the big things. When life gets interrupted, you’re given the opportunity to evaluate where you’re going and if that destination still makes sense. I realized quickly that I hadn’t been devoting myself fully to things that were important to me. I realigned my goals, and realized that I have some big dreams for myself. I have dreams of becoming a home owner, business owner, public speaker, mother and wife again. I want to invest deeply into friendships, care for my community, and be restorer of hope. And guess what? I still get to reach for these things. My relationship might have died, but my heart didn’t. There were many dreams I had to bury, and it was unbelievably painful to stand at their gravesides. I had to cry and mourn often; also, I had to pray for new, beautiful things. Going through a painful divorce made me a fighter. I am more assertive, direct, and proactive than I ever was. I am no longer afraid of failure or pain. I worry less, care little about what everyone thinks, and am learning to let go of my need for control and perfection.
This confidence comes directly from surviving the very things I thought I couldn’t. I had to force myself to overcome any embarrassment or shame living in the city where things fell apart and most people only knew me by my former name. You’re going to have to dig deep and face all those fears. Maybe it means showing up to the workplace you still share, making the painful phone call, or finding some new friends. For you, this might entail moving homes or cities. Break-ups push us to be braver than we thought possible.
When life gets interrupted, you’re given the opportunity to evaluate where you’re going and if that destination still makes sense.
Take ownership of your mistakes.
We all contribute to the end of a relationship. I wish it was one person’s fault, because I am really outstanding at pointing out your mistakes. Sorry sister, nobody is perfect. To become a better you, you’re going to have to take ownership of your faults.
Image a deck of cards spread out on your kitchen table. Each individual card represents a reason your relationship ended. You must look at each card, and see if for what it is. Some days, you’re going to wait to pick them all up. Declare that it was all your fault and wallow in just how terrible you are. Other days, you’ll approach it with bitterness and all the fires of hell. Because on those days, you’ll know that you had no part in this break-up.
My hope is that you’ll learn to fall in the middle. You will recognize each disruption or mistake as an opportunity to move forward. You’ve got to sort through the mess so you can grow in the best ways. I discovered that I do have an unbelievably ugly tendency to be critical or harsh. Those I love might not feel encouraged or supported. This realization hurt, and I hated discovering this dark piece of my heart. But by recognizing my capacity for criticism, I can better catch myself so I don’t unintentionally cause those I love pain. The beautiful thing is that we’re fully capable of growing past these hard places because we have the power to change.
We’re all human, and we all hurt one another. Everyone in a relationship will inevitably cause the other pain. This doesn’t make us bad or damaged, but it does mean that we need to see our flaws and work to fix them. And because we’re all human and make mistakes, it does mean that your ex is human too. Any pain they caused you is likely because they were hurting, scared, or broken. Extending forgiveness and compassion is a part of healing and moving forward. This might not happen today or even six months from now, but ultimately, you’ll find more freedom when you see their mistakes with compassion instead of contempt. Leaning into bitterness will only hollow your heart, and a hollow heart makes your numb to all the good things around you. You might not experience as much pain, but you surely won’t be able to experience as much joy either.
This confidence comes directly from surviving the very things I thought I couldn’t. You’re going to have to dig deep and face all those fears.
Make a change.
When my name finally changed, I got congratulated no less than ten times a day at work on getting married. Yep, nothing will make you feel worse about being divorced than being congratulated on a new marriage. One particular coworker, who rarely thinks before he speaks, decide he wanted to drop some wisdom on me. (This is a man who gave himself the nickname “The Pink Assassin” because of his love for wearing all pink on the golf course. He doesn’t understand that nicknames aren’t normally self-imposed). “Caitlin, I didn’t realize you used to be married!” He exclaimed one day after I revealed I didn’t just get back from my honeymoon just another work trip. “There is only one thing you need to do now…” He continued, “get your revenge body!” Thanks, Pink Assassin. Clearly, my only thoughts post-divorce are about how bangin’ I want my bod to be in a swimsuit.
Although his advice was slightly offensive, he had a point. I got to choose. I was fully capable to decide what my next step was going to be, and if I decided that I wanted to dedicate all my time to getting a perky booty, I could; however, I chose differently.
Where do you want to go? Do you want to completely switch careers or travel? Do you want to start volunteering or go back to school? Is there a dream that has been laying dormant that you need awaken? What about hobbies? Have you always wanted to paint, learn an instrument, or take a hip-hop dance class? Sister, do it. Pick something, because you have the time, capacity, and flexibility to take a risk. It will be scary and totally exhilarating.
Once I recognized some dreams, it was time to make moves. You’re looking at one of the biggest risks I took. While sitting in a waiting room I shot off an email on my phone to The Everygirl. I was wondering why I hadn’t seen many articles on divorce. Four articles later, here I am. Writing words that have been on my heart, and hoping this small turn inches me closer to a lofty dream of public speaking. Next, I applied for jobs like crazy. I was on the hunt for something that would stretch and push me toward understanding retail and business. After writing too many cover letters, I landed something good. I am now learning about the international retail industry under an amazing female boss and mentor. Finally, I found a more economical place to live and started working a side hustle on the weekends. I am now aggressively saving for my dream home and vacation. Because ain’t nobody going to hand me a fat down payment, but I can work my butt off to make it happen.
Where do you want to go? Do you want to completely switch careers or travel? Is there a dream that has been laying dormant that you need awaken? Sister, do it. Pick something, because you have the time, capacity, and flexibility to take a risk.
One of the most beautiful things that has come from this season of my life was being able to walk with the broken hearted. I have spent hours on the phone with a younger woman navigating her recent divorce. Her heart wants to know if her feelings, confusion, and actions are normal. With another woman, we’ve shared long walks discussing the details of a hard break-up. Her feelings of rejection and overwhelming confusion are consuming. Another friend is being brave enough to show up to places and friendships that still sting after her relationship ended. The truth is that I will never fully understand their pain. Each one is walking a uniquely different road that is marked with broken pieces and relationships. But all of them of something in common: they have gumption. Gumption means, “spirited initiative and resourcefulness.” They’re all fighting, reclaiming, and bursting will grit and bravery. I am so proud to know them.
It’s going to take healing and tons of work, but you’re going to rebuild and restore your life.
Sister, if we were together, I would invite you over for a drink on my porch. I would open the good wine and pour us both a big glass. I would take a deep breath and say, “Alright, tell me everything.” And as you described your heartbreak, my heart would break. I would listen as you told me all the scary parts and fears you’re having to stare down. Then, as the string lights buzzed on because the sun was sinking low, I would tell you’re brave. I would remind you that you’re strong and capable of picking up all the pieces. Your break-up doesn’t get the final say. Your divorce doesn’t get the final say. And anyone’s opinion of who they believed you were will never have final say, because you too have gumption. You’re going to use your savvy resourcefulness and impeccable institutive to make lemonade from these lemons.
It’s going to take healing and tons of work, but you’re going to rebuild and restore your life.
Get it, girl.