I have found both personally and professionally that important breakups are processed similarly to deaths. That means they must be grieved and everyone moves at their own pace through the grief process. It is important to note that the person who left likely started this process much sooner (before the breakup), making it appear that they are happy and carefree after they leave. Focusing on your own healing can help take the sting out this! Healing from grief occurs across seven stages and activities focused on each of these stages can help move one along in the recovery process.
1. SHOCK & DENIAL–
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
ACTIVITIES: Practice a mantra (“I am single now and that is okay”), note that life is changing and there will be some ups and downs. This is not the best time to have sexual encounters since your internal processing is limited.
2. PAIN & GUILT–
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
ACTIVITIES: Collect the stuff around your place that reminds of you of your departed partner and make a memory box. Make a CD of songs that allow you to be sad and set aside a time every day to explore that feeling, when the CD ends, soothe yourself with a favorite comfort. Ask a friend to be your grief buddy and let you talk about your lost partner for an hour a day (set a timer). Journal. Avoid facebook stalking and/or deleting ALL evidence of them, these are extremes and may have negative consequences later on. It may be helpful to delete contact info from phone and facebook to help yourself stay focused on your process.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING–
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
ACTIVITIES: Have an anger ritual; I like to buy goodwill saucers and hammer them in my garage (with safety glasses and gloves) then sweep upthe debris and box them away for future mosaics). Journal those angry feelings, later you can read them and see how far you have come!
4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS–
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
ACTIVITIES: Reach out to a friend but this time socialize and journal the experience when you get home. Make a CD that reminds you of the you before the relationship. Stay connected to at least one enjoyable hobby that gives you relief (time to mosaic!) . Exercise for 5 minutes a day and practice good sleep hygiene. this is good time to revisit the idea that your ex still exists in the world and ask what you want to get rid of and what is ok and safe for you to keep.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
ACTIVITIES: List qualities you are looking for in a mate. Note the needs versus the wants on that list, the needs are like dealbreakers. Then put those qualities out in the world by modeling them. Do something new. Get a makeover! Thank your friends for standing by you. Gratitude is healing! Dating seems like a good idea, and can be fun but it might be revealing to give yourself a minute to enjoy life alone, pace your self.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
ACTIVITIES: Focus on building the life you want. Fix things that have broken, save money, go back to school, get a different job, join a dance class with your kids. It is time to store your memory box away. Dating works great here but beginning with a focus on lighthearted fun might be best.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living. This is the PERFECT time to open up to the possibility of new relationships.