8 Steps To Survive & Thrive After A Breakup Or Divorce
There is no preparation for the morning after a heartbreak…
That awful moment after the naivety of dream state forgetfulness transcends into the brutal crash of reality when your eyes crack open. When your breath is sucked from your lungs and a thousand knives begin surgically attacking your heart bringing on the waves of nausea, racing thoughts, and hollow despair.
There is no pain more exquisite in the human experience than heartbreak, nor one more universal.
I know the pain you’re experiencing right now all too well. On a Saturday in January a few years back I woke up a happily married man.
I spent the morning laughing in bed with my then wife dozing with her head on my chest, waking to watch our dog playfully breaking the house rules by jumping up to join us. By the end of breakfast an hour later she informed me our marriage was over and she would be gone – within the hour.
My world would never be the same again.
Truthfully I thought it was over. Fortunately, only one part of it was.
Fast forward to today, where I stand squarely on that mystical “other side.” The space we all dream of when someone shatters us by leaving our lives. For some getting here happens instantly, for others, they never find it. But it’s real and I’m here to show you how to get there.
The road isn’t going to be painless by any means, but if you walk it, and use it, you can change your life in ways you never thought possible.
Read that last line again
Yes, not only can you use what you’re about to read to help you navigate the rough waters ahead of you and get through your heartbreak in the quickest time possible, more importantly, you can use what you’re going through as the greatest catalyst for growth and expansion you’ve ever received.
And lastly, if you want your ex back, and it’s more than cool if you do, there’s only one way to do so successfully and that’s to follow the exact same path you would if they were never coming back.
And yea…I lied. There are 8 steps.
Let’s get to work…
Step 1. Grieve
One of my favorite scenes in the Thomas Crowne affair comes when Renee Russo’s character Catherine Banning is in a New York City cafe speaking with Dennis Leary (Detective McCann) after her heart has been clearly been broken:
Detective Michael McCann: Are you okay?
Catherine Banning: Yeah.
Detective Michael McCann: You know I was okay once. My girlfriend went out one night and came back… married. I told everyone that I didn’t care, and then I fucked five women in three days, flipped my car on an on-ramp, beat a suspect unconscious, got suspended… but I was “okay.”
Sound familiar? The first time my ex-wife broke up with me when we were dating, I woke up the next day and called my buddies to tell them I was completely cool with it. I then started a three-year odyssey of drugs, alcohol and the lofty goal of having sex with every woman in Los Angeles. I wasn’t within a country mile of being cool with it but couldn’t admit it to myself or anyone else.
That one decision had ramifications that took me over a decade to reconcile and I was lucky I didn’t end up in jail, as a father, or having to apply ointment to myself every morning.
Step 1 in this process is to grieve whether you’re a man or a woman, trans, gay, straight, whatever. The human heart knows no gender, it only knows when it’s been hurt. If you’re reading this, yours most likely feels like it’s spent an hour in the blender. Honor your heart by admitting your pain, crying on the floor, sobbing at Hallmark commercials, and being real.
In Guatemalan culture when someone passes away, professional “grievers” will come to the funeral to wail and moan. It gives permission to anyone in the family to join in, thus opening up the necessary flood of emotions required in this first step of the healing process.
Look, I get it. Grieving sucks. It means you have to acknowledge your humanity. It means you have to admit you’ve been hurt. It means you have let yourself and everyone around you know you actually gave a shit, were invested in your relationship, and now are powerless over the outcome of it ending. It’s admitting betrayal, loss and all kinds of other things we tell ourselves only happen to other people.
Doing that is the furthest thing our ego wants since it’s not cool or sexy – but it’s real.
Grieving is being willing to take every step in your own healing. It’s honoring yourself and your pain. It’s the foundation upon which you’re going to rebuild your life. It’s clearing out the remnants of your old relationship so you can build a new one.
IT IS VITAL.
Find yourself a spot on the bathroom floor, watch a sad movie, put your hand on your heart and let it rip. Cry, sob, wail, snot, choke, snort, whatever you have to do. Get messy. The messier the better. Go all in. If you feel like you’re going to die and it will never end – you’re doing it right.
But do not bypass this because you’re tough, you’re male, you read a spiritual book, do yoga, or any other reason you tell yourself why you’re immune to pain. If you wake up in the morning and have to pee, then you’re human and have feelings.
Get your grieve on. Do this.
Step 2. Accept & Reframe
What can you control right now? Think about it. Your ex? Good luck with that. What they say, do and feel? Not a chance, they’ve gone off the reservation and hurt someone amazing. Whether they’ll come back to you or try to win you back? None of the above.
All you can control is you, your own reactions, and how you move forward from this exact moment. You are in control of you throughout this entire journey. When you shift your energy from blame and anger, to healing and becoming awesome again, magical shit happen. I mean that.
What if this break up will be viewed as the greatest experience of your life three years from now? It’s not only possible, but if you follow my guide it’s more than probable.
What if you decide to reframe your situation right now as such. To say to yourself, “Thank god this happened, I’m going to use this pain and heartache to change the course of my life and turn it into a gift.” How would that one sentence change today? The next hour? The next minute? Your next breath?
The future rewrites the past, this is true. How often have you found out a new piece of information years after an event and completely changed the view you lugged around about that event? It happens all the time, so breathe, let go, and get to work on the reframe. Accept what happened, accept that you played a role in it and move forward.
You don’t have to “move on” just yet, but you do have to put your feet on the floor and start walking the path ahead of you.
This happened, it’s terrible, painful, and awful, but only for now – it will end. Today we accept, and start walking the path to healing.
Step 3. Gather Your Team
It’s time to rally the troops, as doing this alone is both disadvantageous and unhealthy. I know I know, you don’t want to reveal the embarrassment or rejection you currently feel.
We all want to remain private when our hearts get broken, to hide out from the world and to heal up in private. Your natural reaction is going to go towards seclusion, to move to an island where no one knows you and there’s no internet. Don’t do that. While the notion is understandable, you’re going to need help.
Be vulnerable, be hurt, be authentic in what you’re going through. Reach out to trusted friends and let them take care of you. Let them bring you food, call you and text you throughout the day to tell you you’re going to be ok. Ask them to be there for you, then let them. You just got your ass handed to you and need some love. Accept it.
If you can afford it, go see a therapist, men especially. I was on the phone to a therapist before my ex wife had even left the house that morning! There is no shame in doing this, none at all. Every human on the planet has needed help at some point, all of us. Get the help you need, it’s an act of strength to do so.
Beyond trusted friends, family, and professional help, who else can you rally? Is it time to contact that personal trainer? Acupuncturist? Nutritionist? If you’re going to use this experience to uplevel every aspect of your life, it’s going to take a team. Start gathering now.
Step 4. Move, Eat, Sleep, Well
Without your health, you have nothing. If you think you’re in a tough spot now, just know there are people getting dialysis and chemotherapy today who would trade their ills for heartache in a heartbeat.
The path you’re on is going to take some time no matter what, BUT the vehicle you walk down the path with is entirely in your control – nurture it, nourish it, and love the shit out of it.
You need to move, everyday. Go for a walk, do some squats, knock out ten push ups every hour, go to yoga, hit the weights. JUST MOVE EVERYDAY. Paralysis is a common side effect of heartbreak, to counter it and the stagnation that it brings, move, move, and move some more.
You also need to eat, no matter how awful it feels. Good foods. Nutritious foods. Yes, you’re allowed to splurge on ice cream and cookies every now and then, but do so consciously.
Getting fat and sick will not help your cause here.
Lastly, you need to sleep despite the anxiety, the awful dream, and your racing mind. Speak to your doctor if you need a temporary solution to your heartbreak induced insomnia, and try out natural remedies such as melatonin, and/or herbal remedies.
Taking care of your body is crucial right now. Do not neglect this.
Step 5. Stay Present
Never before has the challenge to stay present in your life been greater.
Your mind will instinctively hunt for the “reasons” why your relationship blew up. It seeks solace in those reasons and will dive into your past to find them. It will also freak out now the future you once imagined has evaporated.
The only place where peace exists right now is in the present.
So breathe. Deeply. Five times. Feel that? That’s the volume of your pain going from a 12 to a 10 in just five breaths. Place one hand on your chest, one on your stomach. With each deep inhale make sure the stomach hand is sticking out further than the chest hand. Push it all the way back in on the exhale. Welcome to real breathing.
There’s NOTHING we can change about the past, and the future is wide open, so again, breathe. This is a brilliant time to learn how to meditate and to carve out time throughout the day to do so.
I started every morning of my divorce with meditation and watched my anxiety and depression disappear for hours at a time after each session. To say meditation saved my life is an understatement and is still part of my daily routine today.
I know, the present is painful. It’s awful, gut wrenching, and feels like it’s going to kill us. But it’s where the gems lie, right in the middle of all of that pain – it’s also the only place where we’re going to find lasting peace.
Sit in it, experience all of it, let it change you, and burn away all the parts of your life that no longer serve you. Let it be the fuel for your growth, the growth that ONLY happens when you are present to what you’re experiencing.
Staying present is a game changer in your situation, breathe again, and again, accept what’s happening, accept the present moment is painful, the next one will be as well, but at some point, it will shift. And so will you.
Step 6. Pain Management
My therapist laughed when I told him I wasn’t going to drink until my divorce was over, telling me he had plenty of alcoholics who could pinpoint their divorces as the time their drinking went from recreational to the pro leagues.
I stopped because I knew I had a ton of pain coming my way and wanted to manage it skillfully, and with presence – thus my choice of divorce sobriety. Plus why in the hell would I add a depressant into an already depressing situation?
Was this an easy decision to make in the moment? Sure. Was it easy to stick to? No way. But I can think of a list a mile long of really harmful and dumb shit I could have done while drunk but didn’t.
What happens to us is out of our control, how we chose to react to it isn’t.
Pain management became my daily practice for an entire year and consisted of daily morning journaling, meditation, hard workouts, and honest conversations with friends.
The pain is coming, I won’t sugar coat it. Most likely you’re lying in a pit of it and are desperate to make it go away, all the while knowing one person out there can take it all away at any time. But they won’ because they’re jerks and meanies.
So we manage our own pain. We write it out, we yell it in closed cars, we scream into our pillows, and describe it to our besties in detail.
Your job today and everyday is to apply skill to your pain. To take the racing thoughts out of your head and put them down on paper. To take your heartache and draw it into a picture. To breathe deeply until it becomes manageable enough to let you get dressed and go to work. To exorcise it from your body through exercise. What better revenge than getting your ass in tip top shape right?
Be skillful with your pain, and make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself by trying to cover it with substances, food, sex, or any other temporary bandaid that will only end up adding to it later on down the road.
Step 7. Get A Life
While it may feel contrary, no single person is your whole life. You had goals, hopes, dreams, and fears long before this person came along and filled up your world. Now they’re gone and you have a giant hole in your existence, and that hole is all you feel. As my friend Savannah described, “You my friend, are now a donut.”
The number one cure of heartache is to begin to fill that hole yourself. Read that again.
Now is the time to get out there, as much as it feels like you’re pulling your own teeth to leave the house. Do it anyway. Find a fresh community and different activities than before, begin to create new memories with people who you don’t associate with your ex and didn’t know you in your past life. It’s hard to be sad when you’re busy being awesome. Go be fucking awesome.
What have you always wanted to do but never had the time?
Learn to cook, take up an instrument, learn a new language, start dancing again. Fill your life so full with activities, people, and experiences that make YOU happy, that fill YOUR soul, that honor YOUR existence. You’ve got a team around you now and can fill your daily movement and food needs in all kinds of fascinating ways. Do this.
One person’s choice doesn’t define you in any way, so get out there and start living again. People come and go, it’s an archetypal part of the human experience, it’s also your life so live it fully.
Step 8. Forgive And Let Go
I know this is a tough pill to swallow but I’m a straight shooter – you’ll never be free as long as you hold resentment in your heart. Never. If hating people who hurt us was the key to freedom we’d all be free, but it ain’t the case.
You will carry this person with you long after they’ve moved on and this weight will be the ball and chain preventing you from reaching your full potential, from meeting the real love of your lif and living out your highest potential.
The key to YOUR happiness, and joy is forgiveness.
Realize the only person who is suffering by your lack of forgiveness is YOU. But it’s time. Let them go. Forgive them for they are human just like you are, they made mistakes just as you did.
Forgive yourself for falling in love with someone who ended up hurting you. Forgive anyone and everyone. It’s free, and it’s freeing. Give yourself this gift daily.
Replace anger and resentment with forgiveness and gratitude as a daily practice.
What are you grateful for IN SPITE of your heartbreak? Do you have eyes, ears, ten fingers and ten toes? Well hell, that’s a great place to start in my book. Would you feel differently about these items today if you woke up tomorrow and they were gone? I sure would, I dig my appendages. A lot.
People come and people go, it’s just a painful truth. Let them go. Forgive them for how they’ve hurt you. Forgive yourself for how you hurt them. Thank them for the time and experiences you were able to share with them. Then let them go again.
Thank yourself for the courage and compassion you’re showing in your own life, for the care you’re taking of yourself, and for the gift you’re allowing yourself to experience.
Forgive and let go, there’s a bright beautiful world out there and you’re a part of it.
You’ve read this far, you know the steps, but now what? Reading alone doesn’t change anything, but action does.
Daily action. One day, one action. Every day a little bit stronger.
Now I invite you to come along on the greatest adventure imaginable – your life. Freedom is equal parts exhilaration, equal parts terror, but I want to take you on a journey – your journey to freedom.
My new book, Today I Rise is now available on Amazon. It’s 90 daily letters written just for you. It’s filled with inspiring and relatable stories, action steps, and concrete ways to move you from where you are now to where you want to be – on the other side of all of this.
It’s the exact process I used to go from losing the love of my life – to falling so in love with my life that I say unequivocally, “Thank god she left me.”
I want to take you to the same place.
Follow me, take this chance. A huge doorway has opened in your life, just like it did in mine. Take a deep breath and walk through it with me.
Cheers to your new life,