It’s 10 years ago and I’ve just been dumped. I’m feeling a combination of frenzied restlessness and total paralysis. I am projecting a breakup furor so nuclear that you’d need tinted glasses to even look at me. My friend Joe kindly suggests idea after idea—watch a movie, take a walk, sit still, be alone, be with people—and one by one I shoot them all down. Then he remembers a technique his therapist used on him when he was a child: “Cut a heart out of red construction paper, then tear it into pieces until it looks like your heart feels. As you heal, you can tape the pieces back together.”
Fuck it. I have paper and scissors but no tape, which is OK as I am never getting better. I cut out a really nice fat heart and stab a jagged diagonal through the middle. Then there’s crying and ripping, and friends come over and we cut out more hearts and tear them in half and take these broken hearts out running all over campus and we paste them up on buildings and bulletin boards and there’s more crying (me) and high-fiving (us) and at some point I pull on a hooded black cloak because if I feel like death I should also look like it, and check it: I have swapped paralysis for action, emotional self-destruction for creation, and somehow several hours have been clocked toward a state of healing I don’t even necessarily believe in! Hell yes, I thought. IS THERE OTHER STUFF LIKE THIS I CAN DO?
To answer that question, I embarked on a research project that consisted of dating people and then breaking up and getting my heart broken over and over and over and over again. The feeling has not gotten any less devastating—the shift from “girlfriend” to “ex-girlfriend” status always leaves me utterly paralyzed by the pit of shiny and well-meaning jellyfish I have come to understand as my heartplace. What has changed is that I now beast through the aching immobility of heartbreak by conducting specific rituals, exercises, and experiments, all designed to snap me out of paralysis and to channel my angry energy into making things instead of destroying everything. These activities are like magic tricks that turn my rage into forward motion. It’s the nudge I need to get moving through and finally out the worst part of the crushing despair that tends to follow my breakups. And so now I’m presenting to you—or to those among you who are currently staring at your own broken hearts in helpless horror—my personal collection of cures for several common post-heartbreak problems. May we all blaze a warpath of vengeful healing.
1. Problem: Compulsive obsessions
These typically occur right after your breakup is final, but they can really strike at any time. Possessed by the angry scorned spirit of your choosing, you feel compelled to cry, scream, write the most intense poetry, look at every picture of the two of you together, read every one of their texts starting from the day you met. These desires are often, at least for me, accompanied by feeling like total shit: My heart hurts so bad that I can’t stop myself from doing these things, but my brain is still sharp enough to side-eye my heart’s desires as excessive, dramatic, and most of all embarrassing.
Here’s how I cure myself of these destructive urges: I flood them with exactly what they’re asking for until they’re sorry they asked for it in the first place. Whatever it is that you want to do, do it. Then do it and do it and do it again and again and again, and eventually you will be dying to do literally anything else.
You can’t worry about what this behavior looks like to others (all fools). You have to commit. Got the cries? Set a timer for three hours. (YES, THREE HOURS.) Now, cry for three hours. (NOT A MINUTE LESS.) As you cry, observe your feelings. Take notes, even. In hour two, is your reason for crying the same one you had when you started, or has it shifted? Have you cried for every reason you can think of and now you’re struggling to come up with new ones so you can make it to the three-hour mark? Entertain the possibility, then, that you won’t spend eternity crying over the person who stomped on your heart. Are you wasting precious time obsessively cyberstalking your ex every day? Reset your timer: three hours of straight cyberstalking. Go to their Facebook timeline. At the top left is an option to view “Highlights” or “All stories.” Select “All stories,” and read everything from the very beginning. Note the moment you get sick of learning that they “liked” Twizzlers and which Linkin Park lyrics they found ~totally inspiring~. This feeling of apathy might last only a second or two, but it’s important. If you’re capable of not caring what your heart’s enemy is up to now, while you’re deep in the cycle of compulsively obsessing about them, that’s a small indication that shit will actually be OK at some point. It’s a taste of how you will soon feel all the time.
Generally, the more dramatic the gesture, the more satisfying the payoff (and—not unrelated—the higher your chance of cracking up laughing at some point). By the time you’re done force-feeding your addiction, you will hopefully have exhausted the part of your heart that kept asking for more, more, more. You might even feel a little peace. The only way to find out if it’s going to work is to try it. If you do and it doesn’t work, at least you’re three hours farther from that bullshit thing you just went through.
If you feel up to it, follow up your experiment hour for hour with something genuinely medicating: I recommend YouTube videos of Dachshunds trapped in shirtsleeves. Or some fine leather goods. The less you feel like you deserve it, the more you should go for it.
Important! Applying this principle to anything self-destructive/self-harming is cheating. This is about riding the beast, not oblivion. (If you find yourself unable to break this cycle, and/or if it’s affecting other parts of your life, shout out to a trained professional.)