Just Keep Breathing: Healing After a Breakup

Just Keep Breathing: Healing After a Breakup

The sky is pink and navy blue, twilight. I’m walking down the street back to my mother’s red brick condo. It’s Friday night and I just saw The Big Sick with my family. They’ve gone out for a drink at a nearby pub, but I am on my way home.

I need to cry. It’s not the kind of cry that comes out in laboured sobs and makes people around you feel genuinely uncomfortable as they watch the world end on your face. It’s the kind that comes when you reach the end of your grief: acceptance. Once I’m inside and safe from the world, I start to let go. I wipe my leaky eyes on the sleeve of my jean jacket and press my forehead against the wall in the elevator, letting the tears flow freely now that I am alone, silently and mournfully. 

As long as you are breathing, you are okay.

When I love someone, I tend to lose myself in him or her. I don’t know how to love any other way. Over the past two years, I lost myself in my relationship. It happened slowly, so I didn’t recognize what was happening. When you’re together every single day and are the centre of each other’s universes, change goes unnoticed. If anything, the “two becoming one” mindset felt right to me. This is what it is supposed to feel like, we’re a team, it’s not just about me anymore, it’s us.

In doing that, I lost sight of who I was and what I wanted. It wasn’t until we decided to take a break from our relationship that I realized just how much I’d changed. And just how much he had changed too. The person I was missing wasn’t there anymore; he’d disappeared slowly as well. It was like we were running up a down escalator, panting, sweating, chasing what we’d had when what we’d had faded from existence a long time ago.

It’s a terrible thing to realize that the person you loved has changed and you have outgrown each other. It feels like your mourning someone’s death, even though they are sleeping right beside you. Looking back, I think that’s why we denied what was happening for so long, putting off the inevitable by “taking breaks” and promising things would be different tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. The promise of a future that was as good as our past kept me holding on. It was only when I finally chose to let go that I saw that this wish was impossible.

But it doesn’t hurt any less. I have never known heartbreak like this. It doesn’t help that everywhere I am reminded of him. I walked through our old Toronto neighbourhood the other day and passed the bar where we had our first date, the pizza place we used to go to for potato chip and maple syrup pizzas, the alley we made snow angels in when it snowed last April, when my biggest worry was if buying a bed together was too big of a commitment. I still miss him every day—some days so much so that all I want to do is get in my car, drive to see him and have him hold me in his arms and tell me he loves me. But it’s a Band-Aid solution, one that will make me feel better for a day until I’m right back to the way I felt before.

There are two mantras I have been repeating in my mind since the break up. The first is that when God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. After my boyfriend and I broke up, I moved home and threw myself into applying for journalism jobs; after a month of filling out applications and going on dozens of interviews, I received a job offer for a reporter position in Toronto. If I had stayed with my boyfriend, I never would have taken that leap of faith and uncertainty in order to go after the life I always wanted: writing, reporting, fueling myself with London Fog lattes and the energy of the big city.

The second mantra is something my best friend told me, as long as you are breathing you are okay. It’s terrifying to embark on this new journey alone, but if there is one thing this past month taught me it’s that emotional pain doesn’t kill you. Even if it feels like you are dying, your body still manages to find the strength to fill your lungs with oxygen and expel carbon dioxide day after day.

I watched Eat, Pray, Love last night and there’s a line where Julia Roberts’ character sits in the Augusteum in Rome and describes the lonely old ruin as a metaphor for how we can transform our lives after ruin.

“It feels like a precious wound, like a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, afraid of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked around this place, at the chaos it’s endured- the way it has been adapted, burned and pillaged and then found a way to built itself back up again. And I was reassured. Maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, maybe it’s just the world that is and the only real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” 

I dry my tears and I take a breath. I keep writing. I keep getting up in the morning. I keep going.

As long as I’m breathing, I’m okay.

[Photo by Julie Bloom.]


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