The best thing that ever happened to me was having my heart broken. Of course, it didn’t feel like it at the time – it felt as if every piece of me, not only my heart, was smashed to smithereens and put back together like a badly designed mosaic.
We broke up soon after Valentine’s Day and I remember wondering whether he’d known what was coming when he’d read the card I’d made him. I kept returning to things that reminded me of him: the jumper he’d left; the emails we’d exchanged; and poker, the game he’d taught me to play. They gave me something to take my mind off the physical ache but also kept our connection alive.
I knew I’d have to let him go at some point but, for a bit, I could concentrate on the hand I’d been dealt and just play that. What I know now, and didn’t then, is that people lie when they say time is a great healer. But, back then, I thought I could wait it out – and that’s what I did.
Eventually, it did hurt less, until I’d see a couple cuddling and want to throw something at them. Time closed the wound, but the scar was ugly. A few years later – yes, that long – I made a conscious decision that I was done with heartbreak. Like a broken bone, a broken heart needs more than time – it needs rehab. You have to find ways to stretch it; to piece it back together slowly.
I started by finding things I loved doing; then, things that pushed me out of my comfort zone. At last, I looked for things that challenged the views I’d held of myself since the breakup; events that required me to dress up, stand centre-stage and let people look at me. I learned to love all these things, and myself, again. OK, I still didn’t want to think about him but I was over him.
Then, one day, I was invited to a poker event. I didn’t play any more but it was for charity… Halfway through, I realised: I could win this! The prize wasn’t a bottle of wine, either – it was a Hermès Birkin bag, worth thousands of pounds. And, dear reader, I did win. Now, I’m not saying you can replace love with a Birkin, but that bag finally made me realise how to heal my heartbreak: I needed to see what I had gained from that relationship, good and bad.
That’s when you know you’re healed: when you are grateful to your pain for what it’s given you.
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Photograph: Mark Harrison for Psychologies