h2>Dating : I Have Emotional Motion Sickness
Being very true to my own brand, when I entered my first major heartbreak the first thing I did was conduct extensive, detailed research on how to survive it and make it the most of it.
That didn’t happen for weeks. The legitimate first thing I did when my boyfriend cheated on me, broke up with me over text, and started dating the other girl (within 24 hours!) was become a recluse, stop eating, and discover an affinity for alcohol that wasn’t there before. I felt my world shift from my comfortable reality to some red-tinted deranged hellscape, and I lost my ability to be a functional human.
Flashback to nearly two months ago — It’s finals week, I’m in the library trying to study when I see something that literally made me black out for a moment: my freshly-branded ex all over the same girl I caught him messing with only a week before, ultimately leading to our demise.
“Why do you always do this, Hannah? I’m not cheating on you!”
proceeds to start dating the girl 24 hours later*
I promise this actually happened to me. Pro tip: they will always try to make you feel crazy, especially when you’re finally catching on to their shit
Anyway, in a manner of which I’m equally proud and ashamed, I proceeded to drop all of my items, yell out my ex’s name across the library, stomp on over to their table and (loudly) announce to his new girl that he’s a cheater and she should know what she’s getting into. Spoiler alert: he’s cheated on me before (many times), and he’ll do it again. I then met my ex outside the library, screamed/cried in his face for the better part of an hour, and then screamed/cried in my car for another hour until my best friend left her final exam to come save me.
I’ll go into the very remarkable and almost unbelievable catastrophe that was my relationship with this boy in another post, but for now we’ll start at the ending.
Fast-forward nearly two months — I am no longer a reclusive, borderline-anorexic, tragic disaster. I found a way to utilize the darkest time of my life and reinvent myself to be someone who is confident, happy, and secure.
It definitely wasn’t easy, and while I’m happy with the progress I’ve made I still find myself crying in the car when the wrong songs come on. That’s just part of healing, and it’s necessary to accept that healing is an ever-changing spectrum of progress. I’ll let you in on some of what I’ve learned in my journey towards healing.
The Science of it All — and How We Can Benefit From Knowing It
In 2011, a researcher named Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan designed a study to explore the biological effects that heartbreak has on the brain, as well as how emotional pain compares to physical pain (Winch, 2018). While an fMRI machine scanned the brains of the participants, all of whom had recently gone through painful breakups, they were shown photos of their ex-loves and were asked to relive the breakup.
Later, the participants experienced uncomfortable levels of heat on their skin, a technique used to record how their brains reacted to physical pain (Winch, 2018). The researchers found that the exact same areas of the brain are activated when we experience emotional pain as when we experience high degrees of physical pain (I mean… I could have told them that).
But wait, there’s more!
Other brain studies have shown that romantic love activates the same brain structures that are involved in addiction (Winch, 2018). You know where I’m going with this, right? Heartbreak is just like withdrawal from any other addictive substance. We have the same cravings, the same need for contact, the same uncontrollable symptoms after the withdrawal of romantic love, and sometimes it feels like only our ex can give us our fix (Winch, 2018).
My point here is that, even though I was fully aware that my ex was a monster and didn’t deserve a second of grief from me, my brain was convincing me to mourn our relationship and to romanticize him in my head. Dr. Guy Winch describes this as a “fix-seeking, addict-like behavior,” and I can personally testify to its accuracy as well as its harm.
In our social-media fixation, the easiest way for us to get our fixes is to digitally stalk our exes. And the truth is that this only significantly and substantially harms any measure of healing one is trying to accomplish. After acknowledging this as truth, I did something that was hard to do at the time, but later proved to be a huge turning point in my healing: I blocked my ex (and his girl…and his friends) on all social media, blocked his number, deleted years of voicemails, and even deleted 2+ years of phone call logs so that I would have no record of his phone number.
In a more personally significant move, I went to the Snapchat website and submitted a request to have my account wiped away. Multiple years of memories, text logs, all gone. Forever.
I’d never felt more free.
Snakes and Stones Never Broke My Bones
Everyone, meet Matilda. She’s huge and floral and pink. She guards my heart from f*ckboys and looks badass doing it.
There’s nothing better than a giant snake tattoo to make you feel like a new person who your ex has never touched. 10/10, I absolutely recommend.
She is definitely the best (yet most painful) impulse-buy of my life. But if tattoos aren’t your thing, change your hair, get some new clothes, start spending time in an unfamiliar space.
Do something new, something out of your comfort zone, anything that will separate who you were before the breakup from who you are now. Because a major part of healing from heartbreak is embracing the fact that you are a different person, and you have an opportunity to be brand new.
Grab it and go. It’s the best thing I ever did.
Fallouts and Fixations
It’s impossible to completely prevent yourself from thinking about it. Trust me, I know that. But there’s a difference between thinking about him or her or the breakup throughout the day and being fixated on the situation. Stop irritating an old wound.
Stop looking back at photos. Delete them, and then delete them from the recently deleted album (I see you, I see what you’re doing). Your brain won’t heal from its addiction with the substance hanging out freely in your phone.
Resist the urges to check on their social media presence (block, block, block)
Don’t ask other people how your ex is doing or what he or she is up to.
Stop making passive-aggressive Spotify playlists.
Gather all the stuff they left at your place, put it in a box labeled “Asshole Box”, spray glitter glue all over his past Christmas gifts, Sharpie his favorite vintage jacket, and then burn it in the grill outside your apartment complex (or maybe that’s just a ‘me’ thing).
Only write him letters if you’re talking about how bad of a person he is, and then burn them too. If it requires affiliating him or her with any type of positive feelings, don’t do it. Don’t feed the addiction.
Girl, Go Back to That Coffee Shop
Preventing being fixated on your ex doesn’t mean you should avoid all the places you used to go to that now hold painful memories. Following my breakup, I really struggled with leaving my apartment for any reason. Every place I drove past brought back memories that only gave me anxiety. The coffee shop down the street, the Walgreens on the corner, and especially my own college campus. The anxiety I felt while driving around my own city felt like someone was squeezing the life out of me. I was terrified of seeing him or seeing his car anywhere in town, and I still struggle with my heart stopping anytime I see a car like his.
Dr. Guy Winch (who at this point is my personal life guide) wrote that “a general rule of human psychology is that avoiding things does not lessen their emotional impact on us — it supersizes it” (2018). I took this to heart. And I went back to our usual coffee shop, I spent time on campus, I walked around McKay’s, and it was okay.
“When places and people become too tightly associated with our broken hearts, we need to cleanse our associations and reclaim them. The best way to do so is by revisiting these places under different circumstances so we can create new associations for them…” (Winch, 2018)
Later on, I started bringing dates to these places. Replacing old memories with new, and replacing previous romantic affiliations with new ones.
Have one specific place you feel you can never go back to?
Go back. Bring a date. Bring a group of friends. Dress up and go have a great time, it’ll be worth it.
Moving On (and On, and On…)
Your ex is a part of your history. As much as I would love to rewind time and make it so I never met him, I did meet him. I tried to love him for 2 years, and it didn’t work. He is a part of my story, and while he was the antagonist and the villain for a while, that doesn’t mean he gets to be a main character.
You get to decide who gets the spotlight, and that spotlight should be on you and you alone while you’re healing.
But ultimately, it’s okay to miss them in some capacity. It’s natural. They held an important position in your cast of characters, and that role is empty now. Even I miss my ex sometimes, because for every two days that I was miserable there was one day that I wasn’t, and after over two years on-and-off, that really adds up.
And it’s the little things that will get me. The name of a music festival we went to popping up in my Twitter feed. Seeing a stuffed duck toy at the store. His favorite band coming on in a playlist. It’s okay to acknowledge the nostalgia without succumbing to the onslaught of memories and negative emotions affiliated with it.
My final advice? Get the tattoo, get the piercing, go to your friends when you need them, call the therapist and set up an appointment. Go meet people you’ve never met before (you may even meet a boy who reads the books you recommend like I did). Embrace the opportunity to heal and become someone new. You will come out on the other side and you will be better because of it.
I’m an example of that, and if I can pull myself out of the darkest place I’ve ever been, anyone can.
*Title from the Phoebe Bridgers song ‘Emotional Motion Sickness’ (2017)
*Winch, Guy. (2018) How to Fix A Broken Heart. TED Books.