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Monday, December 22, 2014

Dr. Pegs Prescription

After a break up, evalute feelings and take the necessary time to heal

Dear Dr. Peg,

My girlfriend dumped me on Valentine’s Day. Do you have any advice for how I can get over her and start feeling happy again?

Dear Dumped,

The end of a relationship is always painful, no matter what the relationship, how it ended or who ended it. Breaking up on Valentine’s Day is extra rough. Here is a virtual hug for you.

I’m sure you would really like to be on the other side of this transition time, all healed up and ready to move on.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts on the highway to happiness. You can’t get there from here without going through all that is in between. I wish you didn’t have to have this pain, but fortunately it doesn’t last. With time, you will mend.

You could liken a heart wound to a flesh wound. If you fall and cut yourself, what do you do? First, you say “ouch!” Then you examine the wound. You check to see if it’s bleeding, if it might need stitches, if there’s dirt in it. Then you clean it up, apply first aid and wait for your body to heal.

Examine your emotional wound. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Anger, hurt, outrage, sorrow, guilt, regret, relief and grief are among the normal reactions to a breakup. You might bounce around from one to the other, or have several feelings at once.

My first piece of advice is to go ahead and experience those feelings. Allow yourself your emotions, painful as they may be.

You want to get to the other side of this mess, but you can’t get there without starting here, which means first acknowledging where you are. Understanding and accepting your state of mind and heart starts you on a road to healing.

Go ahead and say “ouch!” Express your feelings to a friend, to your journal or at least to yourself. Talk, write, sing and emote in your own special way. Get it all out there. I’m not saying take to your bed, close the shutters and cry ‘til you die. Wallowing is unhealthy. But so is stuffing your feelings. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, and the stress of unexpressed emotion can lead to physical and mental health problems.

Now it’s time for some basic first aid. Take care of your lacerated spirit. Be kind to yourself. You have suffered trauma and you need TLC. Rest; eat well; exercise. Do things that bring you joy. Revel in the sound of fine music, the warmth of the spring sun, the arms of a good friend. Appreciate the strength in your body and the flavors of a delicious meal.

It is good to be alive in this world, and when you have the breakup blues it is easy to forget that. Consciously remind yourself with your senses. After you apply first aid to a flesh wound, you trust that your body will heal in time. The same goes for a broken heart. Like the body, the spirit has remarkable rebound capacity. This might be hard to believe right now, but it is true.

Fourth tip: Reach out. The period after a breakup can be a lonely time. You’re accustomed to having a co-pilot, and now all of a sudden you are flying solo. Ask a friend for coffee or the midweek movie. Remind yourself that your ex is not the only person in your life. Friends can help fill that hole left by the absent one. They can also help you feel good about yourself, which is often lacking after a breakup. Family might be another resource. Give mom a call and let her lay on the warm fuzzies.

Reach out, but not to your ex. Ex literally means “out of” in Latin. Hard as it may be to accept, that person is out of your life. Resist the temptation to hound them with texts, emails or phone calls. Don’t hang around their house or their Facebook page.

It will only prolong your misery and, face it, that kind of behavior is creepy. You could end up with a cop on your doorstep accusing you of stalking. Don’t pick the scab. Let the ex be ex.

While you probably want to do some analysis of the situation eventually to avoid pitfalls in the future, you are probably too close to it now to do that effectively. Breakups are seen most clearly from a distance. That means give it time. Later you can look back at the dynamics and figure out how to do it better next time. Right now you are hurt and you need to heal.

Finally, just as certain wounds of the flesh are too deep to manage at home, sometimes professional help is in order after a breakup. If the ache is too deep or the pain lasts too long, if you’re not functioning how you need to be, get some help. Our counselors can be reached by calling 277-3136 or walking in to SHAC.

Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at pspencer@unm.edu. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous.