Take Off the Sweats and Put the Ice Cream Away
Posted by Madeleine Harrington for BounceBack.com
A young woman is sprawled heavily across the sofa, surrounded by a dense forest of empty (insert caloric and processed food here) boxes. She is grasping desperately to the television remote, her facial features soiled by a sloppy stream of mascara darkened tears. Her body is hidden by a large t-shirt and patterned pajama pants, and the voice of Ryan Gosling or a young Leonardo DiCaprio is audible from the television set. This is the image of a woman experiencing a break-up, according to an infinite number of media outlets. This is what we should look like when we grieve.
When we are in a state of mourning, our bodies, suddenly fragile and confused, seek a sense of familiarity in the same way a lost child looks for their mother's hand in a crowd of strangers. Hence, whether or not it's what we really want, it makes sense that we find fleeting solace in the long established image of post-break up behavior, forfeiting to what we have been taught are our own guilty pleasures. It's easy to look at this behavior, this picture of immense un-productivity, and find it perhaps comical, or even endearing. Yet the bottom line is that it's unhealthy, both to our bodies and our identity. We cannot surrender to the idea that Twinkies and Matthew McConaughey are what make us happy.
I can recount my first heartbreak with alarmingly pristine clarity: this unfamiliar, irritating pain winding throughout my subdued eighteen year-old body that I just couldn't seem to shake off. While ranting to friends and attending months of therapy helped to assuage my wounds, it was the way in which I chose to spend my time alone that enabled me to permanently tame my surges of grief. Fast food and romantic comedies have always served as a preferred remedy because they are easy; they require such minimal participation of our minds that the rest of us is free to continue functioning in a trance-like misery.
This is why we need to immerse ourselves in activities that are mentally or physically stimulating, such as reading, writing, or exercise. It may sound ludicrous, and completely unappealing, but the more draining the activity, the better off we will become. For me, I began to read. During that summer of first heartbreak, I was babysitting: supervising two nine-year olds who wanted nothing to do with me, and so I was left on their porch for six hours every day, my only companions being my own thoughts and books.
Making it through the first few was torture; being depressed can make it immensely challenging to engage in activities or ideas unrelated to our own predicaments, and I found that the words on the page had the tendency to blur as my mind wandered onto other, more personal fragments of thought. However, after a month or so, I began a World War II novel told from the perspective of a small German town.
From the very first page, the prose had a hold on me, and without realizing it, I was shoulder-deep in the lives and consciousnesses of these three-dimensional characters. When the novel ended, I cried, completely moved by this incredible world I had been exposed to, so much so that I needed to take a walk in order to collect myself. It wasn't until later that week when I realized that this cry was a remarkable stride in getting over my break-up, in the slow process of becoming whole again. It was the first time I had become emotional about something other than my heartbreak, the first time I was fully engaged in an idea outside my own grieving.
Related: Impossible or I'm Possible: What is Your Break Up Attitude?
While it is tempting and almost subconscious to reach for the Netflix or the package of Hostess, we need to push ourselves, to read until the text makes our head hurt or run until every last muscle in our body has become sore, in order to find aching outside of our heartbreak. We cannot seek reminders of what we are already experiencing, or brief spurts of pleasure that enable us to regress, but rather new feelings: new accomplishments, new tragedies, new streams of consciousness. After all, our lives consist of so much more than our break-ups.
Coming Soon! BounceBack's 4 Phase Recovery Program: Developed by a psychologist and customized for you, our 4 Phase Program has everything you need to find happiness after heartbreak.
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About Madeleine: Graduate of SUNY Purchase and believes that the best writing starts with telling a story that you feel particularly uncomfortable sharing.