Part II: How routine can help us move through grief and heartbreak (as told by you)

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss 

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen

Words by Madeleine Dore 

We feel the crack of our hearts most acutely. Our exterior may seem fully rendered and complete, but as Part I in our heartbreak series shows, our daily lives are fractured. We feel as if we are in freefall, we oscillate between clarity and confusion, we turn to comforting yet not-so-good habits.

But while our hearts can crack, rarely do they crumble. Just as Cohen’s lyrics promise, we reach a threshold in our heartbreak where we are able to let the light in.

As the results from a heartbreak survey showed, we (eventually) grow from heartbreak.  

“For a while I was in a dark hole,” writes one respondent that echoed the sentiments of many. “I'd go to work hungover from the wine I used to help me sleep. I'd black out on the weekend, go on Tinder dates, watch shit TV, do anything to not think about my breakup.”

“[But] my health started to suffer, so I had to come back to reality before I caused permanent issues from a temporarily broken heart. I stopped drinking and smoking and have been focused on exercising and doing healthier activities with friends to get my brain straight.”

While our daily lives are jolted by heartbreak, it seems our routines, habits and environments can simultaneously be the cure. As another survey respondent put it, routine is both a "struggle and a salve".

“Everything is impacted. Everything is underlined by grief. Maintaining a routine is both a struggle and a salve. I found routine comforting as it allowed me to maintain the illusion that things were normal for a little while."

But what was once a crack becomes an opportunity.

“There came a time when I was just tired of being heartbroken, and I changed my mindset by thinking that it was all just a phase in life,” writes another survey participant.  

Almost paradoxically, heartbreak can be one of the most rejuvenating experiences we can have. In a 2007 study, psychologist Gary Lewandowski found that breakups helped the participants learn and grow and feel more goal-oriented after splitting up, due to the newfound resilience and empowerment.

The accounts and advice from almost 100 survey participants proves this finding true.  Here's how your daily routine can help you build resilience post-heartbreak and, after time, bring to light parts of yourself you didn't know were there.

On the little things…

“Return to your normal routine as soon as you can – maybe a version of which doesn't require full attention or effort – but move through the motions. Spend time with friends and family who you trust and can be yourself around, ugly crying and all that. Take alone time when you need to. Death and breakups and bad times are a normal part of life that we can and must fully experience – let yourself feel it all and you will move through it. There is nothing shameful or wrong with being down for a little while.”

“Try to have a routine which focuses on self-care, more than productivity. Eat regularly. Exercise every day. Go to sleep early, so you might be well-rested by the time you need to be up.”

“I started going to bed earlier as a way to limit the late night messages or desire to check my phone... turning all notifications off so I don't hear a message buzz as I'm trying to get to sleep!  Also allowed myself to gaze at the night sky before walking into my house, and enjoy its beauty, while breathing deeply and wondering what he would be doing.”

“I'm struggling right now, but little things help. Baby steps. Some days even a shower, a meal, a cup of coffee, or walking to the letterbox and back makes a world of difference. Self-compassion is so very important too.”

“I buy new things, unashamedly I feel like new things temporarily fill the void and give me some fleeting joy.”

“I retreat to basics for a while. Bland foods: brothy soup, mac and cheese, potatoes. I find the thing that makes me laugh the most or dream the most and watch and/or read it on repeat. I work, but I'm distant. My job is heavy in critical thinking and creativity – I've produced beautiful work in heartbreak and I've produced work that isn't detailed enough in heartbreak.”

“Do one thing at a time. I just could not multitask; I didn't have the brain space to think of one more thing at a time. I realised that as this may happen at any time in the future, I still get paper bills for everything – opening one envelope at a time and dealing with it I could manage, whereas I would have lost electronic bills and if we'd had the power or phone turned off I would not have known what to do.”

On the power of an exercise routine…

“Crying and sweating my way through hundreds of yoga classes. It grounded me, it gave me small moments of grace and fortitude, and it helped me work through raw emotions, without having to talk to anyone.”

“Exercising was by far the most productive and helpful thing I did while heartbroken. I became stronger, fitter and healthier – I actually became the best version of myself throughout my heartbreak.”

“I seem to always go through a phase of getting back into running after breakups. Probably helps with the anxiety and other feelings that can sometimes take over. This time around I am writing a lot. I am not sure if I used to do this or not. But I know I never have as much as this. I went of social media but got back on. Now going to get off it again.”

“I came into a great routine to run the coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte and back every morning at 6am, it saved me from total despair.”

“Lots of yoga, tea drinking, sauna sessions and luxurious-feeling hygiene (buying new perfume, lotion). Getting a haircut. Taking long walks/bike rides/spending more time outside. Talking it out with friends.”

“My saving grace was doing daily Pilates/yoga early on. It made me feel safe and good in my body again. I felt challenged in a different way to the heartache and felt connected and accepted by the people around me. There were days when I would be wiping away tears in class but it was from pushing myself forward instead of about him. It provided a release regardless though. I still haven't cried about him.”

On the healing power of art, cooking, gardening and creative expression…

“I read. It stops my mind racing and dwelling on the pain of the circumstances. I pray. I force myself to connect with people most especially when the feeling that I am a terrible burden starts to roll over me. I have afternoon naps. I have long showers.”

“For the first few months it was very unproductive, I couldn't eat, stayed at home watching TV, tried to go out but came home crying, and finally I let it all out by drawing and painting.”

“Whenever I feel down on myself I like to reach for something I'm good at – after my break up this was drawing. Whenever I was drawing I didn't feel like such a failure.”

“I started doing calligraphy, which slowed me down and encouraged mindfulness and it was a pretty good outlet to just be patient myself and let things be.”

“After a month I started pottery classes which was great to meet new people and slowly recover from my heartbreak – little did I know my pottery teacher was also heartbroken!”

“I cooked for other people obsessively. And for the only time in my life was going to the gym several times a week because the exhaustion of running and weights gave me some sleep.   I also looked out for chances to hang with my friends' kids because it felt like they didn't pity me, talked about straightforward stuff, acted with joy.”

“I tried lots of the usual prescribed activities, good and bad (wine, exercise, wine, chocolate, meditation, wine) but the miscarriage taught me the most powerful salve for me: gardening. The benefits of being outdoors, having dirt under your nails (oh, the minerals in dirt! It beats any drug) but also the life-affirming act of tending to another life. It taught me about appreciating all the different kinds of lives and how you can learn from all of them. Some plants are only ever supposed to last a short time, others will outlive you and everyone you will ever know. Being a small and productive part of a great big beautiful world is profoundly healing for me.”

“I took up the drums, because it was something I always wanted to do and it was lovely to do an activity that was entirely for me.”

“Maybe it was just a coincidence but my art production increased as a side effect. It seemed like it was just the experience I needed somehow to unlock art that had just been bubbling away inside me.”

On the wonders of the humble calendar…

“Put one thing on your calendar a week- something as big as a concert or as small as a yoga class or dinner with a friend. That way no matter how shitty you felt, you can look back and know that you still lived your life.”

“Counting days on a calendar. Mentally I tell myself that if I've made it however many days since the initial break up, each day must get easier with the initial pain and shock being further away.”

“MAKE PLANS! Create things to look forward to - you need to foster a sense of hope. They don't need to be big plans, they can be small and simple. Create a community – either IRL or online, whatever you can manage. Go to events by yourself and talk to people. If you feel comfortable, share that you are hurting. SO many people have been there before, and many people want to help you heal.”

“Remember that time will pass and you can rely on it for helping you move forward. Staying busy and being kind to yourself, as you would a friend in the same position, is always helpful. Do something that's low risk but high reward, like cooking something comforting or exercising. Be patient.”

“My advice is a full calendar, putting in reminders to do things, like take out the garbage because when you are sad it can be easy to forget about the small stuff. I would also recommend sitting down and making a list of your friends and the activities that you like/used to like to do with them or any new activities they are doing that you want to try. Then follow up with a message or a phone call and join them in that activity, it will help to give you plans for your weekends [which were previously spent with your romantic partner] and you won't feel so lost and unwanted.”

On allowing space for regeneration…

“Hold on to what you had before and what you do well. Giving yourself time to wallow (but not too much time) is important but get back to your life because it is yours.”

“My advice is to break your regular routine and shake things up a bit! Find things you enjoy doing alone, something just for you. Most importantly though you need to stop looking backwards, every time you feel yourself looking to the past - stop and change direction. Look forwards and focus on moving onwards and upwards!”

“It was also the best time to re-evaluate my routine – a heart break resets your whole life. I don't have a set routine really but did make some boundaries for myself like strict wake up times, it felt comforting to know I was in charge of my own life.”

“Heartbreak changed my work and social life in a strangely positive way. The next day I went out to the movies with my friends, which I hadn’t done so for years. Otherwise nothing else really changed except for feeling more lonely.”

“With my heartbreak I've made space to pursue some projects that were put on hold while I was in a relationship. Going sailing and beginning work on a documentary are two of them. Recognising that my time is now available to spend on other things that are important to me.”

“Keep moving. A break up can feel like a horrible standstill, like life has just stopped. It hasn't. Life is still rolling on, with or without you. In whatever ways you can manage, don't stop moving. Go outside (even if it's to loathe the couples in the cages), keep in touch with friends (even if you feel like they don't get it), go to concerts and movies and theatre (even if you're by yourself). Run, swim, cry, howl, paint, write, something every day that makes your heart beat a little faster. Your heart will heal but it heals stronger and faster when not kept in isolation.”

“My heartbreak totally changed my life, it made me quit my career, move from one side of Australia to the other and go back to uni full time. It made me re-evaluate my life by seeing it through someone else's eyes. It's made life a lot harder and more challenging, but more real and I feel better for it.”

Read more:
Part I: How heartbreak jolts your daily routine
Part III: A heartbreak compendium

Next in the heartbreak survey series... 

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CollectionsMadeleine Dore