Breaking up and moving on from a relationship is hard work even if the relationship was toxic, or has been over for a long time and we just never left. The decision to walk away may have been yours or your partners, either way the pain may feel overwhelming and excruciating. It is common for people to ‘suffer in silence’ and isolate themselves from the world, however this behaviour can often lead an individual in recovery from addiction on the path to relapse. There are several ways we can face the journey of getting over a breakup in recovery and working through our painful emotions, such as journaling about your feelings, reaching out to family and friends, seeking professional help, allowing yourself to go through the grieving cycle, and most importantly talking with your sponsor and peers in your recovery support system. The reality we face is that there is no quick fix, getting over a breakup takes time and patience.
Working through emotional pain! Don’t try and pretend that you are okay, you’re not and that’s OKAY. You may feel many emotions, sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, or mild depression. The end of a significant relationship or friendship can leave a void and may need a significant grieving period. It is important to acknowledge there has been a great loss, much like the grieving process when you gave up your drug of choice. Give yourself permission to feel the pain! Scream, Yell, and most importantly CRY! This is the time to put into practice Steps 1 through 3! Your suffering will end and you will feel better. Be patient!
Remember that you are at a high risk of wanting to self-soothe or mood-alter so be cautious when overindulging with food, shopping, online media, sex, gaming, pornography, and even your thoughts of returning to drugs and alcohol. Reach out for help and stay safe!
Speaking of reaching out. Reach Out! Admitting that we are suffering or in emotional pain can feel humiliating and shameful. I often hear people say they “don’t want to bother or burden their friends”, but the truth is your friends are already aware and are wanting to support you. Processing your feelings with others helps you make sense of what you are going through, allows your recovery peers to process their own life experiences, and allows them to ‘give back’, which is one of the building blocks in the 12-step process. Remember we heal together and your experience will help others grow!
Keep your distance! You may experience preoccupation with the other person’s life. What are they doing? Where are they? Who are they with? You may be following their social media and obsessing about their every move. You may want to text, leave messages, drive past their house, or go to their gym. You block them on your phone or Facebook and then remove the block ‘just in case they are trying to reach out’. You may even be searching dating apps to see if they have signed up. STOP THE INSANITY!!! Your obsession and preoccupation with the other person only increases your pain and suffering and deflects from what you are feeling and keeps you from moving on. Stand by your decision and resist romanticising the relationship by only remembering the good times, there is a reason why you broke up. It may be helpful to consider the reasons that you and your ex broke up, even if you enjoyed being together for a while, something went wrong and was not working. Thinking about the reasons why the relationship ended can help you understand why you need to move on. If you process this information with your recovery peers, you may also be able to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Even if you believe the breakup was healthy and you have agreed to stay friends, keep your distance and break the relationship cycle. This means not seeing each other, not talking on the phone or connecting through social media, and no emails or texts. You don’t have to break communication forever but you must allow enough time to adequately heal and not risk being sucked back into a dysfunctional relationship.
- If he/she tries to convince you to see him/her, ask yourself honestly what the point would be. If you’re reliving the past by seeing him/her, it’s not hard to get caught up in the moment and it will be harder to let go again.
- You may have to have some contact to deal with the practical aspects of things like moving out, signing papers, etc., but try to limit this to what’s necessary, and then keep such calls/meetings short and civil.
Be active! It is not uncommon for you to want to hideaway from others and stay cocooned in your house or apartment, although some time at home can be cathartic, it’s important to get back out into the world. In recovery, we stress the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it! Get out and go to your meetings, continue your recovery work, make plans with your friends, go to the gym or pool, walk along the beach with your sponsor, go for coffee or to a movie, maybe even plan a weekend away! You don’t have to be out and about every moment of every day, but stay active and eventually the sadness and awkwardness you feel will decrease and you may even start to have fun.
Beware of REBOUND relationships! There is nothing like replacing your partner with a new, shiny one. Often, we will quickly enter a new relationship following a breakup and we call this a rebound relationship. Rebounding relationships may be common and even recommended by some professionals, but for those in addiction this may rekindle dysfunctional behaviours. Know it is not always a good idea. When you enter a relationship too soon after breaking up with someone, you may be masking your negative emotions with the excitement of a new relationship. Our expectations that the new relationship will work out are often dashed as they usually deteriorate quite quickly and you may have to deal with the pain of two breakups at once. Consider remaining single until you have fully processed your emotions and are feeling healthy.
Remember to engage in self-care! In early recovery we learned that self-care is crucial, after a breakup it is just as important to take care of yourself. In our grief, we often forget that we need to eat to keep our strength up, we need to get adequate sleep, exercise, find time to relax, and practice our recovery and spiritual teachings. Often, we do not take care of ourselves when we are in a relationship, after all many of us were concentrating on the needs of our partners, so getting back to the basics is our new mission.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Avoid junk food, excess sugar, and excess fat.
- Get between 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Keep in mind that some people may be okay with less than 7 hours per night or require more than 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Exercise for 30 minutes five times a week. Go for a 30-minute walk, ride your bike around town, or hit the pool and go swimming.
- Relax for at least 15 minutes per day. Try meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to help you relax.
Getting over a breakup in recovery is a personal journey that will be different for everyone.
There is great sadness associated with the end of any relationship so be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with love and respect and allow others to support and love you. It is okay to feel your emotions, keep distance between you and your ex-partner, eat, sleep and exercise, stay single, and be active. Reach out to your peers and work your Steps 1 through 3 daily. Although it doesn’t feel like it now, a broken heart will heal and your pain will end!
JACKIE ARMOUR, PHD (C), SEXOLOGIST (C), MA, ICADC, CCAC, CSAT, CSAT-S, CCTP, CARC, MSLC
Jacqueline is a certified addictions counsellor at Cedars at Cobble Hill specializing in sexual compulsion and relationship/love addiction. After her graduate studies at Royal Roads University, Jacqueline completed her intensive training at the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT). Currently Jacqueline is completing a doctoral program in clinical sexology at The International Institute of Clinical Sexology (IICS) and was a presenter at the May 2017 IITAP Symposium. Utilizing her own personal experience and journey of recovery from addiction, Jacqueline weaves her stories and personal experience of working and living the twelve steps into her practice. Read more about Jackie here.