Lucky are the ones who never had their hearts broken before; but happy and complete are those who have.Looking back on my life at 37, I recall every single chapter of it that’s ended with a broken heart — over failed relationships, painful arguments, death of loved ones, when pets die (and do cats not go to heaven, too?) and when disappointments are so big they crush your soul and take your breath.For me, there will always be that one that continues to shape me, the one that turns my world inside-out when particular songs come on the radio and the one that, while not being the worst thing that ever happened in my life, will forever be remembered as that thing that gave me a very broken heart. Even though it happened a lifetime ago.
I fought hard to survive when my heart was crushed — and I like to think this is a battle we must all fight valiantly for in our lives. Here were my weapons of choice:
Having lost a large part of my heart, I found I lived with slightly more daring. So I travelled. On my own for the first time. And realised it didn’t require much for me to try new things. Parasailing for the first time in Phuket. Jetskiing with abandonment. Backpacking in London. Eating and watching plays by myself. I defeated my feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness, and really came out braver.
Later, I travelled via 30 books I slowly collected, devoured and savoured. I followed my favourite characters to different worlds and learnt to fall in love again. I laughed with them and cried when I reached the last page. I experienced losses and victories with them. It was a safe place to begin healing, and healing did begin.
2. Succumb to the suffering.
Just when I started to believe that actual healing was possible and even surprised myself with genuine, heartfelt laughter because I actually found something funny again… I encountered those peculiar somethings that brought me right back to the core of my pain. And before I knew it, I was suffocating in choking sobs and wondering why I even thought the pain could ever be over. So I went with it. Cried it out. It was easy. And you know what, the tears did stop.
3. Embrace the lies.
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to love before.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
Um, no. Never resonated with Tennyson’s famous quote. I honestly don’t know if it’s better. And no, time doesn’t heal all wounds. It just places enough distance between you and your pain that you’re able to accept it, move on and try again.
So I learnt not to wait for that one miraculous day when those words would become true. It was a lot more liberating not to have foolish hope.
4. Channel your energy elsewhere.
I wrote. Letters, novellas, and then published a book. Today, I indulge in adult colouring books, build LEGO and I still write. For some, it may be cooking. For others, shopping. Pick the things that bring you comfort and get creative. It’s a miracle how pain can make you a better artist. Could explain why so many artists are suffering ones.
5. Reminisce, remember and return.
From time to time, I still unlock certain memories that I had carefully stowed away. I allow them to play over in my mind and often, they still reduce me to tears. But I honour these memories and I wander through them with equal measure of pain and acceptance… and then I return them to their locked space in my heart. There, they will remain. I will not forget or discard them; but they don’t rule my life anymore.
6. Drink, party and forget.
No, drowning sorrows in alcohol never helped. Likely, we’ll wake up with a nasty hangover. But you know what, even in the throes of despair, for that few hours, it was great fun to party and realise all over again that yes, I will dance again.
7. Battle with your demons.
You know, those thoughts that get you lost and going in circles in your head? Those were my demons. Get rid of them and stay in the here-and-now. There’s a great difference between recollecting and cherishing memories, and reliving nightmares. I learnt to navigate my way between that difference and emerge victorious.
8. Number your goals.
Long before we had apps that helped us track task lists and to be accountable to the goals we want to achieve, I had my own method — with the help of one slender, empty ice-wine bottle — to count the days I survived the nights when I came undone by unwelcome visits in dreams.
I also had an actual calendar that I marked ‘X’s on for the days I wallowed in despair. The goal was simple: to have fewer ‘X’s and golden stars as the days, weeks, months passed.
9. Time travel.
One day, I was walking home when suddenly, I had a vision of myself 10, 20 years later… and strangely, I wasn’t what I thought I would be — I was actually happy. In those few minutes, I recognized that the pain I was going through would pass and there will come a day — unimaginable as it was then — when I will actually be happy again.
10. Give yourself permission.
It is okay to be smile again. It’s okay to find something funny and have your curiosity evoked. It’s perfectly fine to dwell on other matters besides your old love. It’s acceptable to feel those first flutterings for someone else. It’s okay to have your heart beat for something, someone else again.
But I know my heart’s lighter because it’s received new joy and also because I’ve left some parts of it behind with the one who still holds pieces of it — so yes, I’m more fragile as we all will be, but I’m also more complete, as we all can be — me, the millions before and after me… and also, you.
This article first appeared on Bow and Tiara, a Singaporean-based community of readers and writers discussing love, relationship and emotional matters.