Four Practices That Are Helping Heal My Broken Heart

Categories Personal story, Sarah Brynn Holliday

If you’re new here, you may not know that I recently went through the worst breakup of my life. In my desperate late-night “how to get over a breakup” Google searches, I was tired of reading listicles that said “getting under someone is the best way to get over someone” or that crying into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching Bridget Jones’ Diary (even though it is my favorite film) would help.

Those things might be temporary fixes for some people—maybe even myself—but I knew I needed other ways to move through the deep, intense, and painful emotional work my heart and mind required. If these tools are helpful for you, too, please take what you need.

Seeking New Resources

My friends, family, and mental health providers have been my rocks throughout this process, but I also knew I needed to seek out self-guided resources to think critically about how I ended up here. This was the second long-term relationship of mine that ended within the past four years, and last time, I didn’t take much time to reflect on my own after I moved out. Instead, I jumped rather quickly into a new partnership.

Just as my ex-partner and I were splitting up, a fellow sex educator recommended the book Coming Apart: How to Heal Your Broken Heart by Daphne Rose Kingma for people who were taken aback by their lovers leaving them. Coming Apart is by no means perfect—Kingma herself acknowledges in an introduction to the new edition that it is heteronormative—but I did take away extremely valuable lessons that I quite honestly wasn’t expecting to.

At first, I was hesitant. Tentatively, I began to read, absolutely convinced that nothing could begin to stitch the gaping wound I felt my partner had left. However, it seemed that each chapter came to me as a gift: I read slowly and with intention, careful not to rush the process, and I was utterly stunned to discover that once I had reached the end, I harbored no more ill will toward my ex-partner—and, more importantly, I learned a lot about myself, why I chose to be in that relationship, and what my truest, deepest needs are.

While I know things can always change, in this moment, here and now, I feel at peace with the breakup. I honestly never thought I’d be here, and I’m deeply grateful for Kingma’s work for helping me on this journey.

Reframing Romantic Adventures

My bestie and me at the Flume pool.

My ex-partner and I broke up just days before we were set to spend a long weekend in New Hampshire for our anniversary. Like the planner I am, I had been researching social-distancing-friendly things to do, but for months, we had both agreed that the activity on the top of our romantic getaway list was Franconia Notch State Park’s Flume Gorge hike in the White Mountains.

I had been wanting to hike the Flume for years. It’s a breathtaking uphill path and boardwalk through a gorge filled with rushing waters, a pool, and a waterfall. From photos I’d seen and stories I’d heard, I knew the Flume would be particularly gorgeous this time of year: the crisp mountain air filling your lungs as soon as you step out of your car, and the leaves changing all around you painting a masterful image of the turning seasons.

It’s no exaggeration to say I was devastated when our trip was canceled. I considered going by myself, but the thought of reaching the summit, sniveling and sweating my way to the top, utterly alone, was too much to bear. Instead, I asked one of my best friends if she wanted to take a day trip from Massachusetts, and she agreed!

We spent the day hiking the Flume, taking pictures, and talking about what friendship means to us. It was a beautiful way to reframe the romantic adventure I had planned with my ex-partner and it also gave me an opportunity to think about what it means to be in relationship to other people: even though I didn’t spend the day with a romantic partner, I still spent it with someone I love dearly and have an intimate emotional connection with. The trip was healing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Creating New Traditions Out of Old Traditions

Some of the listicles I mentioned at the beginning of this piece explained that creating new traditions can be one of the best ways to help someone get out of their breakup rut. For example, if you normally enjoyed Friday nights at the movies with your ex-beau, try going out for cocktails or mocktails with your friend group instead, filling the space your ex-partner left with new, joyful memories.

While I completely agree that can be helpful for some people, I found something else that works for me: creating new traditions out of old traditions.

One of my not-at-all-guilty pleasures (because I don’t believe that something you enjoy should have to be labeled “guilty,” and I often find those designations sexist and misogynist anyway) is reality television. When my partner and I lived together during the last year of our relationship, almost every Friday night we’d watch reality TV and order takeout, usually from Olive Garden (give me that bread!) or a local Japanese restaurant.

When he left, I thought I’d spend my weekend nights unmoored, searching for some kind of anchor that had nothing to do with the traditions we’d made together. However, shortly after the breakup, I discovered that one of my favorite reality shows, Catfish, was back on the air and investigating cases of quarantine catfishes. Out of all the reality TV my ex-partner and I watched together, I’d say Catfish was the one we enjoyed the most, so I anticipated a painful viewing experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, every Thursday, I treat myself to Olive Garden, turn on the TV, and settle in after a long day of work for one of my favorite traditions.

Pushing My Comfort Zone

My new outdoor deck space.

(First things first: the key word here is “push,” not force or coerce.) I’ve been simply amazed by how rewarding it can be to push myself into doing something new and out of my comfort zone after my breakup. Sometimes doing something alone isn’t an option—and if you can’t do it on your own, like carrying an entire bed down the stairs, you shouldn’t force yourself: call a friend or a handyperson!—but when it is, the results can be shocking.

I’ve never been able to put furniture together, even with another person. I’ve always dreaded assembling even the simplest of side tables that only requires screwing in four legs. With my luck—or perhaps more accurately, lack of expertise—one of the legs will surely be off-kilter or I’ll lose a screw somewhere in the process. However, in the past two weeks, I’ve put a whopping six pieces of furniture together all on my own, mostly for my new outdoor space I’ve been dying to redo for years. My back porch setup was from two relationships ago and it was well overdue for an upgrade.

I allowed myself to set down my tools when I got frustrated, breathed through the confusing instruction manuals, and just kept going. Putting my new back porch pieces together was one of the final indicators for me that I really will be okay.

Doing this also helped me realize that pushing my limits doesn’t have to be something dangerous or wild. After my first queer relationship ended when I was 20, I got a tattoo, went white-water rafting in class III rapids, and free-jumped off a sizable cliff. Those things worked for me then—they never would today. No matter what kind of new thing I’m trying, I can do things I never thought I could.

You can find this post on my blog here.

Four Practices That Are Helping Heal My Broken Heart was written as part of Smutathon 2020, a transatlantic fundraising event where sex bloggers and writers write smut and other things for twelve hours for good causes. This year, we’re raising money for Endometriosis UK! Donate here and support Endometriosis UK’s crucial mission to raise awareness about and support those with endometriosis.

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Sarah Brynn Holliday (they/them) is a sexuality writer, speaker, and sex toy company consultant based in Salem, Massachusetts. Sarah is the Spooky-Femme-in-Chief at Formidable Femme where they primarily write about healing, pleasure, and sex after trauma and pushing for ethical, equitable business practice within the sex toy industry. In 2019, Sarah was featured on MTV News and has spoken at numerous colleges across the U.S., including Cornell University. They're thrilled to be part of Smutathon again this year!

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