An Un- Guide to Breaking Up

DenaOctober 17, 2011 | loss©2011 Graydon Schwartz

I want to preface this by saying that, yes, this is about breaking up & losing love. But it is not about a casual break up. It is not written for the person who moves on easily. This is written for the person that suffers from the unspeakable sadness of the loss of true love. This is written for the person that, right now, does now know if she (or he) can go on. If you’re not okay with any of that, then please, stop reading now.

Getting over it is easy in theory, but never in practice. I’ve thought about writing this piece for a long time. The reason it took me so long is because it’s impossible. You can’t write a breakup guide. You can’t give advice to a person who has just had her still-beating-heart ripped from her chest, thrown to the ground, and stopped by a heavy boot. Yes, the metaphor is dramatic, but then, if you are going through a breakup right now, maybe it’s not so dramatic after all.

In the end I’ve decided to write this even though it’s impossible. I can’t say that I am qualified to do so, but what I can say is that the emotions written here are mine and even though I know that right now you feel like no one could possibly understand what you are going through, I do. People say, Write what you know. I know this pain.

I’ve decided to call this an un- guide to breaking up because it’s not a guide. There’s no such thing as a guide for this and anyone who tries to tell you (sell you) that there is, is a liar.

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I know. I know exactly where you are and as much as I want to say something that will make this better, I can’t. The truth is that there is nothing that I can say and nothing that you can do to make this better. What you need to know is that one of two things is going to happen from here: 1. The two of you are going to find a way to work this out or 2. You are not. What you need to know is that either way, you are going to survive. More, you are going to thrive & grow & do everything that you are meant to do with your life. Although it doesn’t matter now—the truth is that this, too, shall pass.

It’s possible that this is going to be the most difficult thing that you’ve ever gone through. Understand that nothing can prepare you for it and you are not selfish when you determine that nothing else matters. You will feel hollow & alone. You will want for nothing other than darkness. And then when you think that it’s gotten as bad as it can get, it will get worse.

I am not being a pessimist. If you know me, you know that I am not a pessimist. I am being a realist because I have been there and this is how it is.

I’ve never shared this with anyone but my very best friends, but I think that, in order to really understand what I went through, I need to share it. At the worst point of it, I wrote this:

i don’t know what else to say. i can not eat or sleep or shower or anything. i look like death. my eyes are burning out of my skull. funny i have not cried nearly as much as i would have thought. i don’t know how i am going to go on. i really just want to die. i just wish that i would go to sleep and never wake up tomorrow morning. it’s not so much that life seems pointless without him just that life seems pointless in general. it’s like there is nothing in my future, i can only look behind me & fight back vomit. last night i played through all of our very best memories. i thought he was my soul mate. how could this happen? how could i be so stupid?

i’ve got to be realistic. i’ve got to remember my goals. i’ve got to remember that i’ve come through this before (though nothing has ever come close to this) but i have come through all the same, AND people come through worse everyday. i still have my health, i still have my family, i still have my friends, i still have my writing. there are still books to be read & countries to be seen & poems to be written. there are still hands to be held, babies to be had, christmas trees to be decorated, presents to wrap & gifts to open! right now all i have to do is breathe. all i have to worry about is the next breath & maybe the one after that. i’m going to be alright. i’m too beautiful, too gifted, too full & bursting at the seams with love. this is his loss. i know. i know.

Losing a person that you love so greatly is like an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? But you have to do it. You have to pierce yourself precisely through that point to open your soul beyond terror. And then, you have to keep going.

Because the ultimate truth is that you do not deserve anything less than everything. And right now, he (or she) is not it. You will be sick and morose. You will cry until your eyes are desert dry and your head throbs and you have nothing left.

And then. One day. You will hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and to life you will say, Yes, life, I will take you. I will love you, again.

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And just like that everything will be okay again. I know this, too, because I’ve lived it. Just when I thought that hope had left me for good, just like that, it returned. I was on a ship in the Caribbean sea, finally and entirely without him, and one day I was simply alright again. I couldn’t figure out how or why, but it happened. And even though the worst had come true. Even though my own worst fears were realized. I was going to be okay. Life would never be the same. I would never be the same. But one day I took life back. I learned to love it again.

There will be moments when you will literally have to pick yourself up and carry yourself across your own shoulders. But you will do it if you can promise yourself this one thing: Promise yourself that you’ll believe me, that you believe me when I tell you that one day you will be okay again.

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You have been with for so long and now you will be without. In that transition, you will lose nothing of yourself. Piece by piece you will lose him (or her), but you will not lose any of you. In fact, you will gain pieces of yourself back, slowly at first & then rushing in like cool water over your soul. You will rediscover the parts of you that you let him (or her) take away, choke down, diminish. Because love is loss. We all know that. Love is loss. But. It is also love & that’s why it is so hard to let go. Still, you are and you will and you will go on and the wounds that are gaping now will heal with time and though they will never heal entirely, your skin will be stronger where it was once broken.

How many days has it been now since the end? Multiply that number by two. On that day, things will be easier. Multiply that number by two now. On that day things will be easier still. And so on and so on. You will never stop leaving, growing, and becoming. This will not be easy but nothing worth anything in life ever is. If this were not meant to be so, it would not be happening. But it is meant to be, and so it is.

If you feel as though you are incapable of doing absolutely anything right now, that’s okay. Just keep breathing. Breathing is your only responsibility now.

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There’s not much more that I can say to you now. There’s not much more that anyone can say. But, here are a few things that got me through. I hope they help. I hope that you keep on going because if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

These pains that you feel are messengers, listen to them. Turn them to sweetness. —Rumi

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The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

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The beauty of darkness / is how it lets you see. —Adrienne Rich

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Breathe me.

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There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. —Louis L’Amour

Comments (22)

  • Lou Mello

    October 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Very well said, I can’t honestly think of a thing to add to this. Should be mandatory reading for anyone going through a loss, whether it be a love lost or a love passing.

    1. Anonymous

      October 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm

      Your kind words mean a lot to me, Lou.  I am so glad that you feel that I’ve hit on something, that this might be helpful to someone going through a loss.  That’s what I hoped for most of all in sharing this.  XO

  • Andra Watkins

    October 18, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Everything. I’ve lived it. All of it. Required reading for the brokenhearted.

    1. Anonymous

      October 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks, Andra.  I’m happy to know that you can identify; that, as ever, I am not alone.  Love you.

  • James Moffitt

    October 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I like your comment at the beginning.  You said “People say, write what you know”.  That one comment gave me some inspiration to try and write what I know in my blog.  As for the pain of loss, it resonated with me. I went through a painful divorce 24 or 25 years ago and I have not forgotten about the pain. Looking back at the event I did survive it.  No matter what the loss, we grieve that loss. Not everyone grieves the same way and you never get over it. You learn how to live with the pain each day.  Some days are better than others.  

    1. Anonymous

      October 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing, James.  I can’t imagine going through divorce.  One of my favourite poets, Margarent Atwood said this about divorce: “It’s like an amputation.  You go on, but there is less of you.”  I imagine that is an accurate account.  I think it is true for loss in general.  We go on, but we are changed.  Some days are better than others, exactly.  Love to you, my friend.  <3

  • Emily

    November 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. I needed this, today. 

    1. Anonymous

      November 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      You are so welcome, Emily.  I hope that it gave you some solace.  Love, love, love.  <3

  • Leanne

    November 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    This was wonderfully written. You are right… there’s no guides to picking yourself up after a break up and everyone grieves differently. My first love broke up with me 4 years ago and it took me a very long time to truly get over it. It took a lot of me and I think it really exposed the insecurities I’ve had deep inside for a very long time. I think I’m better because of it and have done things which old me wouldn’t have done, however there’s always that sense of sadness at the back of your head for losing someone. But you do survive and that saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is true. 

    1. Dena Botbyl

      November 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Thank you! xo

  • Nicole

    November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Today is not my 12th wedding anniversary, this could not have come at a better time.  For 10 years I have been wearing pain like a backpack.  I’ve done some stupid things trying to pretend I’m ok and that it doesn’t still hurt.  I think now I need to heal.  Thank you!

    1. Dena Botbyl

      November 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      I’m very proud of you.  Best of luck moving through the healing process.  <3

  • Amanda

    November 5, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Thank you Dena. I was exactly there until two days ago.
    Suddenly, for me a total shock, but something he’d had time to think about, my partner of 7 years broke up with me.
    We were so happy, we are a fantastic team and really a perfect match. We have had a wonderful 7 years together, we had talked about marriage but were in no hurry. He had told me which ring I would probably get (a family hierloom) and gifted me other family hierlooms. I was to be a bridesmaid in his sisters wedding. He was for me the most sure thing in my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, only that he was right and we were right and we would go the distance and that growing old with him would make me so happy.
    Turns out he doesn’t want to marry me. He thinks we are better as friends, thinks we have grown apart. Naturally I went into a kind of shock and felt so completely and utterly lost. Like I was in a black hole vaccuum and couldn’t breath.
    Two days ago I googled ‘how to get your ex back’ and found this
    It may sound unhealthy. And some relationships that end, would not work again. I believe so strongly that my ex and I belong together, and I believe this for the right reasons. This is coming from a very logical and reasonable place – not psycho obsessive one. When I found the website I was expecting a lot of rubbbish. I have been pleasantly surprised. The content gave me the kick in the butt I needed to pull myself together and start taking care of myself again. The next day I didn’t cry. I got out of bed, got prettied up and went out into the daylight! I went to my therapist session and still didn’t cry, in fact I smiled most of the time.
    It still hurts. That won’t go away. I still feel a gaping wound inside my chest. But I now understand, that for whatever reason, it makes sense for the love of my life and I to live for ourselves for this time. I don’t know where this will go. There are indefinite ways this could turn out. Now though I feel motivation, direction and resolution again.
    I have joined the mailing list for the site with an email address I created specially (just in case) and the emails do contain both good and helpful words as well as some ‘products for sale’. I am taking only what I need from this. I don’t need to buy anything and as you said. Nothing anyone can sell me is going to change this. For me reading the website gave me enough motivation to get out and take care of myself. I am going to spend money on a facial though to make me feel a bit better after all the crying.
    Sorry for the exesively long post. I just wanted to be able to contribute in someway. It’s only been three days of having my ‘bounce’ back a little and it may not stay that way. This will be a very long journey and there will be ups and downs to the extreme. You must always love yourself first though and I will keep looking to Gala Darling, Dena and whatever else I find to keep me on track and looking after myself.
    Even if nothing else matters and nothing makes sense. You always matter.

    1. Dena Botbyl

      November 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you for sharing your journey!  Best of luck, dear.  <3

  • Mfpatton3

    November 6, 2011 at 12:36 am

    When you say that you do not lose yourself, you lose that person; I realized that it’s true. I truly found myself. Parts of myself I didn’t know existed. Parts that I missed. Strength that yet untested has saved me-continues to save me. Perseverance and great heart that proved I have courage beyond what I had thought. I say this to all who have lost and survived the living human emotion and connection that we know as love: The greatest gift is to allow yourself this truth. Love is the greatest force on the planet. It is in everything and is constant. You will know it again. The greatest, most important lesson  you have learned from this is: You are loved. You are lovable. You love.
    Think on that. Bury it in your heart and live from it. 

  • Katha Strophe

    November 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    This is really beautifully written and I couldn’t agree more!

  • Mags

    November 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    What if it’s been three years and you still can’t move on?

    1. Dena Botbyl

      November 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      Go here:

      Start at the top and work your way down.  :o)

  • Smalpaperbird

    November 19, 2011 at 7:53 am

    it’s still fresh and ongoing and the pain is so heavy in the mornings when it all comes rushing in.

    but this helps.  little by little.

    1. Dena Botbyl

      November 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

      Watch this, it will sting; but it is beautiful & true:

  • Peter

    April 25, 2012 at 1:40 am

    Thank you for writing this, it’s nice knowing that others have gone through the same emotions. My situation is a bit strange and I’m not sure how to handle it. We have been broken up for about six months. I’ve been slowly getting better and moving forward. But now she has been going through some difficulties (layoff) and has reached out to me. This has re-kindled emotions that I had put away. She still states that she can’t change the way her heart feels. I don’t want to turn my back on her, but this situation is opening up old wounds. What should I do?

  • jd

    July 6, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    that was beautiful. thank you for writing it. it helps.

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