Healing a Broken Heart

Nine years ago, my marriage ended. I’d spent 18 years with my now ex-husband. He was the foundation of my life and my very best friend. We weren’t at each other’s throats towards the end, but we were growing apart. Over a period of 18 months or so, with great fear and great sadness, we made the excruciating decision to divorce, but letting go was—and, in subtle ways, continues to be—the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My heart was broken. I couldn’t see my way out of the pain.

“When a relationship ends, we often think it’ll never get better,” says David Kessler, coauthor with Louise Hay of You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death. “We believe we’re broken and we’ve lost hope.”

“There’s a compounding aspect to heartache,” adds master Integrative Coach Nancy Levin, who teaches programs with David. “It compounds with everything else. It takes us back to our childhoods, to our relationships with our parents or primary caregivers, and to the beliefs that were instilled back then.”

“I’m not lovable,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m all alone in the world” are examples of those beliefs. Kessler says that, when a heartbreak occurs, beliefs like these get triggered, re-created, and can become embedded thought patterns. They may lead us to draw erroneous conclusions about our love lives, such as, “No relationship will ever work for me” or “No one will ever love me.” These conclusions can become an integral part of our heartache and complicate the healing process.

“Part of our work is to try to figure out why those thought patterns were created and how to heal them,” David says.

“Excavating our internal landscapes and identifying the commitments we unconsciously made as children to feel safe and loved in our families” is important, says Nancy, because “as adults, they have become the seeds of self-sabotage in our relationships.”

And to do so, both Nancy and David concur, professional help is required. “I’d never try to fix my AC if it broke over the summer—I know I’d need professional help,” Kessler quips. “When it comes to our love lives, the same is true. It’s crazy to think we can do it ourselves.”

Whether we invest in a therapist, a life coach, or a workshop, the first step in the healing process may be the hardest, for it requires diving into our pain rather than avoiding it. “We can’t heal what we don’t feel,” David notes.

Paul Denniston, creator of Grief Yoga, wholeheartedly agrees. “When feelings aren’t expressed,” he says, “they get stuck in our bodies. We carry issues in our tissues. We need to honor what is and allow our feelings to move through us.”

To begin, Paul suggests taking inventory of our feelings. “Ask yourself, How am I feeling today? How does my body feel today?’ And then name it. Write it down. You might write, ‘I feel lost and afraid I’ll never find love again.’ Honor where you’re at.”

Honoring where you’re at means honoring what your whole self—body, mind, emotions, and spirit—needs from you. After taking inventory of our feelings, Paul advocates asking ourselves, “What will bring me comfort today?” “Maybe it’s taking a walk in nature,” he says. “Maybe it’s reaching out to a close friend.”

Moving the body is an especially powerful way to discharge anxious, angry, disappointed, and despondent feelings, Paul says. One technique he especially likes is the Windmill. “From a standing position with your feet hip-width distance apart, inhale your hurt feelings and lift your hands above your head,” he explains. “Then as you exhale, hinge forward, bend from your hips, and swoop your hands toward the ground and behind you. As you do, release whatever tension or pain you’re feeling. You can use your breath and make sound with your voice. Do this several times. It’s a great tool when you’re feeling overwhelmed and tense. It really helps to discharge stuck energy.”

In time, when the intensity of our heartache has lessened, we may be more able to envision moving forward. That’s a good time, Paul advises, to write down what we want in a new partner and from a new relationship. “Name the direction you want to go in,” he says, “but first start giving those things to yourself.”

Becoming conscious of our relationship patterns, feeling our feelings, and giving ourselves the kind of love we most want to receive from others can help us make healthier relationship choices the next time around.

It’s been almost a decade since my ex-husband and I parted. The intensity of the grief has subsided, in part because enough time has passed that I’m no longer in the eye of the storm. What I did do when we split, however, is allow myself to mourn. I cried buckets of tears. I poured my grief into journals. I shared my heartache with close friends. Even so, there was some fear and loss that I didn’t process at the time, so I recently started therapy to identify and work with those emotions. What I’ve learned about processing feelings is that … it’s a process. But, for the most part, the heartache is gone.

“Sometimes we want to run from the pain,” Paul says, “but if we go a little deeper and learn from it, the end of a relationship provides amazing wisdom and lessons that can open us to developing deeper relationships in the future.”

As the poet Robert Frost once said: “The best way out is always through.”

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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