This Is How You Heal After Heartbreak

Ever since I was a little girl, Disney films, story books, family, and friends unconsciously conditioned me to believe that the definition of happiness was a knight in shining armor galloping into my life to rescue me, sweeping me away, soothing all my problems as we ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

However, it’s fair to say, that fairytale didn’t play out how I’d expected in real life. Nor does it for most, if any of us.

For much of my teenage years, I had a fraught and turbulent relationship with my Dad, who was absent a lot of the time (both physically and emotionally) as he battled with a toxic relationship with alcohol and mental illness. He was inconsistent, distant, and showed little interest in me or any of my achievements as I went through school and university. The story I told myself and the belief I formulated as a result of this relationship with one of my primary caregivers was that I clearly was not enough in some way for this man, my own flesh and blood, to love me and to want to play a part in my life. I never recognized or processed all the negative emotions within me that existed around him; the anger, hurt, resentment and sadness that resided discreetly and comfortably in a deep dark corner of my heart, waiting for an opportunity to make their ugly appearance years later.

I was 23 when I met the man that would years later become my husband. He was consistent, present, and loveable – all the things my Dad was not. He loved me and made me feel like I was enough. Finally, my knight in shining armor had arrived – albeit not on a horse, but in a dark bar one Saturday night dressed as Spiderman. But regardless, I was sure it was going to be just like the fairytales. Like everyone else in my friendship group at that time, we progressed our way through the game of life like it was some kind of tick box race:

Good job (tick)

Get engaged (tick)

Buy a house (tick)

Get married (tick)

In all those films I’d watched and books I’d read, this was the equation for happiness, I’d seemingly completed the game successfully and nailed the equation. I’d got all those things I’d been yearning for, but yet something was missing. I felt like I’d been cheated somehow. I didn’t feel truly happy, I didn’t feel really fulfilled and I found myself asking: “Is this it?”

After a lot of contemplation and sleepless nights, I pressed the self-destruct button on my life and made the decision to walk away from my marriage and home. My friends thought I was mad. My family questioned my sanity. Some days I even questioned my own decisions, but something deep inside me — my intuition, an inner knowing, maybe — told me that I was not where I was meant to be. I reluctantly followed that pull, even though I was stepping into a terrifying unknown. My future looked dark and all the hopes, dreams, and plans that I had quickly fell to a thousand little pieces at my feet. I subsequently went from 0-100mph into full distraction mode – I threw myself into a new job, went travelling on my own, and dated, and from the outside I looked to be coping brilliantly. On the inside, however? I was far from brilliant. I felt lost, scared, and lonely, with an overwhelming feeling of failure with a sense that I just wasn’t “enough”. All those limiting beliefs and stories I had been telling myself since I was 12 bubbled up to the surface, and in my mind, they had all been validated in one foul swoop. Crushed, I found I was frantically grasping for the things that once made me feel loved, safe, and secure, and there was nothing there. It gave me no choice but to go inward and be my own savior – my own knight in shining armor.

This was the start of a journey of deep healing, rebuilding, and self-discovery – my comeback story. With the right support from a counsellor and a coach, I processed and healed the wounds in my heart from my Dad, and later from my divorce, which had unsurprisingly unearthed a lot of past trauma. I made a commitment that I was going to see this through, no matter how tough and painful it was — I owed it to myself. I changed and transitioned, many times. I peeled back all the delicate layers of my heart and held each one up to the light with a compassionate curiosity. I had to break wide open in order for me to stick myself back together piece by piece. I took time to get to know myself. I healed and grew stronger and wiser. I expressed forgiveness and gratitude. I accepted all of me. I learned to love myself. And slowly but surely, my natural confidence blossomed and spilled out. I realized that the more love I gave to me, the more I had to pour into others.

Self-love was the answer. For my whole life I had been looking to other people and external things to validate me, make me happy, and make me feel loved, when all along that was my job. I first needed to be enough for me.

I learned that it’s not about what you get in life; all of that ‘stuff’ is impermanent – your looks? Will fade. Material stuff? Doesn’t mean anything, and you can’t take it all with you. Job? Can be taken away. People? Can leave you. It’s who you become that’s really important. So, I made peace with my past and arrived at a place where I felt grateful for all of it and decided I was going to use every challenging experience to learn, grow and become the best version of me I could be.

All healing begins with the ability to love yourself first—the ability to accept and acknowledge all of you and all your experiences; the good and the bad. For they are the fundamental truth of who you are, and like water weathering a rock over time, your experiences have shaped you into the incredible, unique person that you are today. Forgiveness is another critical part of healing. You must find it in you to forgive others when they were doing the best with what they had and to also forgive yourself for the mistakes you made when you were doing your best. If you don’t forgive, you are the only person who suffers. It’s like walking around with an open wound; until you heal, you will continue to bleed over every aspect of your life.

After a lot of inner work, I healed and found the courage to shine a light on the biggest shadow that resided deep in my heart: that in some way I just wasn’t enough – not loveable enough. It pains me to see those words in black and white now, because they are no longer my truth. I carried the worry that people would judge my path because it looked different for too long. I chose to embrace the change, let go of caring what other people thought, and became the person I wanted to be. The person I always was underneath all the conditioning, limiting beliefs, and stories I’d made up as a result of my experiences. I thought, “What thoughts would the best version of me be thinking?” “How would she speak to herself?” “How would she treat others?” “How would she show up?” And I chose to become her.

I was my first client.

Since stepping into my authentic self, I have attracted the most incredible, diverse, inspiring people into my life. Yes, I had to choose to love some people from afar, but now I see how it was necessary in order for me to grow and evolve into the person I was always meant to become. The woman I am now proud to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days where I can wake up with a heavy heart or feel sad, but I’m human and healing is by no means a simple or linear process. The difference is that now I am prepared with the mindset, awareness, and tools to approach challenging days with grace and self-compassion.

We have been conditioned to think that a relationship ending means we are a failure. Yet a relationship ending can often be evidence of strength, bravery, and empowerment. It can be the moment we stop settling for mediocrity and the moment we finally say “enough” and choose ourselves. Endings, although they do not feel like it at the time, are powerful containers for growth, learning, expansion and exciting new beginnings. Yes, I lost a relationship with someone who I thought would be my forever person, we didn’t gallop off into the sunset and live happily ever after like I had expected we would. But through that messy, painful process of healing and rebuilding, I found the most secure, fulfilling, and loving relationship with a person who is going to be by my side until the day I take my last breath: myself.