How to Break Someone's Heart (and Not Relapse)
I recently broke someone’s heart.
It wasn’t like an indie movie or a John Green book; there were no “wronged parties”. It was a long-term relationship with a partner that I still care about, but I knew deep down that I had been lying about the inevitable for too long.
See, here’s the thing about long-term relationships, particularly ones where you live with your partner: it’s not about learning to hate the other person, it’s not always about abuse or cheating hearts. You grow, you learn more about yourself, you find the things that you can live with, you become familiar with the imperfections that are present.
You learn what problems you can fix as a couple, which vices you can live with (and sometimes love), and what you can’t let yourself live without.
I wasn’t happy.
Now, happy isn’t a concrete state of being. People shift in satisfaction with their relationships constantly. People shift in satisfaction with themselves even more. Life stresses occur, internal struggles create whirlwinds and earthquakes, we lose jobs and family members and occasionally ourselves.
And I knew, that despite my other struggles, I wasn’t happy with my relationship. And I think I knew right from the beginning.
It came to me in waves. Doubts would come up, and I would tuck them behind shorelines. The tides became more frequent and more demanding. They would lie in between my partner and I in bed. They followed me like the ghost of something past. They screamed at me like the goat’s best rendition of Taylor Swift (I’m still hip, cool, and relevant, I swear).
When I started actively searching for recovery, when I started being secure in what I want to do in my life, started finding some appreciation for the person I am… that’s when I noticed that the cracks were fractures on fault lines. When you take on recovery, and I mean really just throw yourself in, drench yourself with its presence, grab onto it and look it in the eyes, you will see yourself. Our behaviours are so good at numbing the bad - pain, suffering, imperfection - that it even numbs the good. It stops us from seeing what's right for us. It keeps us in relationships that are mediocre at best because we cannot feel the sharp edges of imperfection.
Now, if you're like me, your newfound vulnerability may knock on your proverbial door at 2 a.m. when you're soaked with 9 hours worth of rain. You'll realize you have waited too long, and that you have to break someone's heart.
“Break” and “relapse” are such harsh words, signifying something as discrete, an all-or-nothing response. But the truth to both is that most of the time we live in the between, in the grey areas between “okay” and “not okay”, between “functioning” and “functional impairment”. There is this human drive to categorize, to put things in neat little camps, to have control over difficult situations.
So, how do you avoid relapse? I cannot speak for every person, I can only speak for myself, but this is what has helped me (or I wish I had thought of) when I went through this:
1. You will feel guilty, but that is okay
When you know you're in a relationship that isn't working, there's an immense amount of guilt (for me, anyway). You ask yourself, "why did I let this go on? Why can't I just love the other person? How could I just walk out?". If you feel that guilt, recognize it. Don't try to numb it out with behaviours that will kill you. You are allowed to feel guilt, it's natural, but the choices you make for your well being are always the right choices. And sometimes the right choice is breaking someone's heart.
I had to remind myself of this countless times - when I left, when friends would offer unsolicited insight into how my ex is handling it, when I received passive aggressive texts from my ex, when I fell in love again... I have difficulty letting anyone down, hurting people, straying away from anything less than perfection. But compassion for yourself, not hurting yourself or letting yourself down, is paramount to your own recovery process.
2. Hold yourself accountable
There was numerous times I thought to myself "I'm just going to do it, I have to leave", and I would back down because of how devastated my partner looked, because it would be hard to separate our stuff and bills and taxes, because I doubted my own feelings.
When vulnerability came aknockin', I knew I had to hold myself accountable, so I told my mother, my best friend, the coordinator at my volunteer position, and another person. I had a friend meet up with me for dinner right after, and then planned to meet at my best friend's place following that. I was well aware of the weight of my guilt, the potential power of my self-destructive behaviours, my ability to step down at any risk of potential conflict, and I exploited its weakness - a support network.
3. Have compassion for yourself. Really.
I knew in the bottom of my heart (or amygdala) that I knew about this ending for a while. It's like watching the prologue to your favourite movie (like Rogue Wars) and knowing how it has to end, but you still hope against hope that the ending has somehow changed. And even though in the coming weeks I experienced relief, happiness, freedom, I was still terrified at the prospect of change, stressed by not having a structured environment, absolutely unable to leave my bed some days. See, with every good emotion I was able to experience again by being vulnerable, I was also subjugated to all the not-so-happy emotion that I had just been ignoring - depression, compulsive thoughts, unworthiness. Taking on recovery means dealing with these things, not just waiting for them to dissipate into the void.
4. It will get better, easier. Eventually. I'm like, 99.9% certain.
It would be so much easier to let my eating disorder take over again, instead of spending all of my energy denying that voice and still slipping up. But "easy" would also eventually kill me. My willingness to even let myself feel this pain reminds me of this incredible strength within me, the strength to want to feel happy, to fall in love again (with both another person and myself), to learn how to write again.
And yes, I have to remind myself that sometimes strength means slipping grades, delayed life plans, even higher student loans, visiting CAMH in the middle of the night, calling a partner or a friend because I am scared of losing this fight. Sometimes winning looks like losing because when you're juggling 20 things you aren't able to pay attention to how your arms are sore, how you're so tired from this circus act. But if you're able to let pins fall, let another person take over, take the extra time that you ultimately need to get better, when you pick the pins back up it will be for yourself.
For me, breaking someone's heart and recovery went hand-in-hand. When I learned to recognize my own feelings, I also recognized inevitable ends. And no, it hasn't been smooth sailing, but I figured that tearing down this building and starting over was worth the extra time and energy; adding bracing to a building without structural integrity is futile at best. So for now, recovery looks like failing and being a heartbreaker looks like a double-edged sword. But, in the midst of depression, at times I also have been able to laugh harder and love more fully than I have in years. I learned to let my emotions take up space, when I've never thought I was allowed to before.
And so, I'll leave you with the words of my dear friend, Albert Camus:
"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back."
Chanel loves cats, video games, makeup, books, and animated movies. She is currently attending York University studying Psychology and works at a psychiatry clinic as an intake coordinator. She also performs plays, improv and sketch comedy, and sings better than non-singers but worse than actual singers.