Heartbreak lessons

Note: In truth, this post could have been written a year and a half ago. But as I learned yesterday, some lessons demand to be taught over and over, simply because as John Green says so eloquently: Pain demands to be felt. 

It’s a tad long and a bit of a rant. Just FYI :)

I greatly believe heartbreak is both universal and personal. No one else could ever understand your pain. But the truth is the same for everyone that walks on this earth.

Yet we empathise, simply because we mostly know what it’s like to have given up on love, and not just in the romantic sense.

It’s funny how the most unexpected things trigger a response. Just the other day I re-signed my contract at work and it took me back to three years ago, when I signed the first version of it, at his Ikea dining table.

It was late and I’d brought the contract over knowing he was drunk and I’d probably have to entertain myself. As I thumbed the pages I made sure to absorb every clause, careful to not prematurely self-sabotage my dream job.

When I looked up, his eyes were full of fury. “Why did you bring that here?” he asked. “I don’t like to be reminded that you’re leaving.”

That was the beginning of the end of eight years in Melbourne, and it was marked by this bittersweet tragic love thing, if you could even call it that. It was my first encounter with romantic heartbreak, though in truth I’d broken my own heart tons of times before.

Wrong decisions. Spending money I didn’t have. Falling for the wrong boys. Chasing after pipe dreams. Opening rejection letter after rejection letter.

This was the biggest heartbreak yet. And much as every day felt like a living hell, I learned a few indelible lessons that I hope to take to my grave.

I would never dare to compare my pain with someone else’s, though this much I know: Your pain is very, very real and no one will have lived through it the way you have.

I learned that I would tell the story so many times in so many different ways. It came to a point where I’d even bore myself with the story. It became entertainment to my closest friends, who knew which were the best (and worst) parts. We even came up with voice effects for our favourite bits.

But that came much later, after the fog lifted, after I could see some semblance of normality. For awhile there was none. As melodramatic as it sounds, life was blanketed with a heaviness that I could not shake. Sleeplessness followed me around like a friend, no matter how fatigued I felt.

And every day as I woke up I wondered why I had to carry this burden. There were no answers to be found, not immediately anyway.

I quickly learned to look for one good thing every day. Besides waking up for work (which I love with all my heart), I focused my efforts on finding a thing to be thankful for. Most days, it was sunsets – because they reminded me that endings can be beautiful – but other days it was rain, or the kindness of a stranger, or simply being here.

Being present became nearly unbearable because I desperately wanted to escape from the emotional turmoil bubbling away. Going back to the past – reliving the good ol’ days – or dreaming about the future was typical, if left to my own devices. But I also knew that if I didn’t confront the emotions, they would implode one day, and everything that I had left might be gone, too.

And so I wrote. Furiously. I filled journals quicker than I ever did. I wrote about my day, about the anger, fear, hopelessness, emptiness. I wrote until my pens ran out of ink and I needed to order 3 Moleskines at once from Book Depository (did you know they cost less than S$20 online?!).

The writing helped soothe the soul, even if just temporarily. I actually turn back the pages now and smile, especially since I am in a different place. But the road was long and I didn’t understand so much then. Not that I have it all figured out now, but…

I learned to suffer. For the most part, despite a few ups and downs, I am fortunate to not have suffered much in this life. But heartbreak brought upon a new kind of suffering, and it dawned upon me that it was a suffering that I chose, simply because I chose him. 

I jolted awake one day, grabbed my journal, and jotted my revelation down.

It takes two hands to clap and I would never admit to being a martyr but knowing that we would always suffer somehow or rather in this life – because the way things are, and the way things should be are so vast – helped lessen the pain.

To suffer, I guess, is to live in this tension, knowing there is a gap that humankind desperately wishes to fill. And I felt it keenly simply because a boy broke my heart (hurhur yes I know how paltry that sounds) but it exists everywhere, in injustice and conflict and the places devoid of hope.

And it made me more determined to see the light.

I learned to be honest. Honesty doesn’t come easy for me because “I’m okay” feels like a more acceptable answer than “I feel like shit”. And when I was honest, I was able to come out from under the shell I was hiding in. It made it that much easier to get through the day. I feel like crap, and I am doing my best, and that’s okay.

I learned to find purpose. It was easy to bury myself in work simply because I loved it. Every mistake I made was devastating, but a learning curve. Every news story that broke was an adrenaline rush. Every punny social media blurb was win in my books. But I guess the best thing about a broken heart is that the light gets to shine through, and the light exposed the dusty corners of my soul. The parts I neglected for years. The parts that forgot that life is so much more than the news cycle, that I am here to bring the good news, that come to life when I open my mouth to sing.

And I knew that there was a reason for the darkness. So I waited. And even when I could not lift my head, I could at least get through the day knowing there’s a purpose behind the pain.

I learned to be kind to myself (still learning, actually). I hobbled to the doctor’s one day thanks to a swollen tendon on my foot. He wanted to give me two days off work but I bargained for one, because I couldn’t bear being away from the newsroom.

“Be compassionate to yourself,” he said.

Tears welled up in my eyes.

Every little bit of progress counts. Each day that didn’t feel like hell, that bore some semblance to normal, was a win. When I let myself be (not) okay, I’d take a deep breath and smile. I wasn’t trying to run from the emotions. I wasn’t letting myself wallow in them either.

And that was some kind of sweet freedom.

I learned to tear down the pedestals. In truth, I’ve built many pedestals in my life. When I couldn’t find work, a journalism job was the very thing I chased. And he obviously was placed on a pedestal, much earlier than I realised. They became my everything, and suddenly when the chase for work was gone, and the person I once called home was gone, I felt like I didn’t exist anymore.

I guess some things need to be destroyed before they can be rebuilt, and that’s okay. We cannot have fruitfulness without loss, or hope without waiting. And as I sat in my own ruins, I rebuilt a life I didn’t think was possible. One new memory, one new dress, one new day at a time.

Brick by brick. A life that I could not find on my own slowly, but miraculously, came back to life.

I learned to stumble and fall. On nights when the uncertainty took over, or when the memories come flooding back, I would want to slap myself silly for moving backward. But progress is not linear, it never is. And mercies are new every morning. That’s when I would dust myself off, and give myself the chance to stumble and fall – if only in pursuit of an unknown future, and not an archived past.

There are so many things I learned, but I guess the most important of all was to be loved. Sometimes that meant hearing things I didn’t wanna hear. And sometimes that also meant leaning on my closest and dearest friends, who did not despise me when I was a shadow of my former self.

It meant drawing strength from the One above, and trusting that He’s already ordained the best plans – I just don’t know it yet.

In the end, I reckon what we’re looking for in the midst of heartache isn’t wholeness, which is meant to be a lifelong pursuit. I guess we’re really searching for growth, growth out of our former selves and growth out of our paths. Not in a way that will negate everything that has happened, but such that we can take a breath, live out the lessons learned, and eventually leave the ghosts that haunt us behind.

But with this growth comes sacrifice. It requires a willingness to look ahead and not turn back as often as we wish. It requires us to quite literally go through a baptism of fire – no matter how many times we already have – and leave behind our worst selves, the one we want so desperately to return to because it’s what we know.

It needs us to plod forward.

It needs us to be brave, to grow into who we want to be, and who we were always meant to be.

The lessons never end, because in truth we’re all transient beings waiting to be called Home.

And in the meantime, in the midst of joy and suffering, I pray we all learn to live well. To laugh at ourselves and lean on each other and smile, because sometimes that’s all it takes to defeat the darkness.

It cannot last forever. I promise.

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