6 Lessons I Took Away From A Year Of Heartbreak

Photo: © Quentin Keller

On my 27th birthday, I was several weeks into a new career, had a live-in boyfriend of over four years and was surrounded by the best group of friends a girl could ask for. I remember blowing out my candles thinking, "This is my year."

Two weeks later, I found myself single, living alone, and not knowing up from down.

It is necessary to recognize and release what is no longer yours to hold.

Six months after that, I was fatherless. Another four months after that, my former boyfriend was engaged. And then the next month, I turned 28. Now, not all of it was bad. Within that year I also ran a full marathon, took road trips and a solo flight to Spain, became an aunt, excelled in my career, and created memories with many new faces.

The best description of this year is that it was a series of extremes—the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Often, it felt like there was little in-between, but looking back, each shift brought me to a new equilibrium, understanding, and a few self-realizations. Here are some of the key ones:

1. Practice non-attachment.

Oftentimes, attachment means expectations. And when something doesn't happen how you anticipated, it can feel crushing. Nonattachment, on the other hand, is not apathy. It simply means that you can cherish, love, be "all-in" with something in the present moment, but do so without expecting a fixed outcome.

It was a Saturday when I was scrolling through my dream engagement rings on Pinterest and it was a Tuesday when he said he was no longer in love with me. The entire life I had envisioned was shattered in a 30-minute conversation over coffee on the couch. Pure adrenaline and survival mode set in and by the following Saturday, I was moving into my own place. By no means was this an easy decision, but it is necessary to recognize and release what is no longer yours to hold.

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2. Ask for help.

Find your support system. Family, girlfriends, guy friends, pets, exercise, creative projects—however that translates to you. Strength is not measured in pride; it is measured by the ability to show vulnerability and move through the hurt.

Fortunately, I found support with loving co-workers, fiercely loyal friends, and a family bond that only grew stronger. Cry until your eyes are puffy, laugh until your belly aches, write until your hands cramp, meditate for three hours. Find what supports your growth. And if you can't find it, ask for it. It will manifest exactly how it's meant to.

3. Surrender to what is happening now.

Often after a major life shift, we feel this desperate need to control everything. That powerless feeling of the ground slipping out causes us to grasp onto whatever we think will help to stabilize. But really, all you can do is be present. Allow yourself to be exactly where you are.

When I found out that my father had been hospitalized for a stroke, likely caused by his drug addiction, my immediate response was to fight for him. When he became unresponsive and there was no hope in fighting, acceptance stepped in. Instead, despite our challenging relationship, I spent four days by his hospital bed watching his favorite shows, telling him stories, and holding his hand, so he wouldn't be alone. Surrendering to what is rather than what should be is often the best way to find a sense of peace.

4. Trust the timing of your life.

As cliché as it may be, it's that way for a reason (really). When something shifts, when major life events occur, when truths are revealed–it is all happening exactly when it should. It was nine months after my relationship that I found out my ex had left me for the love of his life. Although it was brutally honest, I am the biggest supporter of love, even when the road to it can be a little rocky. However, if I had learned this even three months sooner (around the same time as my father passing), it would have been too much to process at once.

Even though it was difficult to hear at all, there were nine months of healing on my own that happened before this piece entered the picture. It may not make sense in the moment, but trust that what you know and where you are is exactly what you need at any given time.

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5. Set personal boundaries.

Probably one of the most difficult lessons for me was when to draw the line. As someone who always wants to make others happy, my needs often come last. In order to appease others, I will continue to push the boundary and sacrifice myself. This stemmed from the fear that if I didn't, someone would like me less, think differently of me, or be upset with me.

Then one day it hit me—who cares? I was carrying piles of dead weight trying to please everyone else. Instead, I learned to say no to others and yes to me. I started declining dates I wasn't interested in. I started telling people what I need and want. I started speaking my truth rather than avoiding confrontation. I disconnected from people who brought negative or toxic energy. Know your personal limits and honor them.

6. Life will ebb and flow, but it is always moving forward.

Be resilient. That was the biggest take-away from my year. Change is inevitable, but the challenge lies in accepting it. When change does occur, view it as an opportunity for growth and move forward with purpose. Walk through the fire; you may come out with a few scars, but you'll grow to appreciate where they came from.

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