he concept of a 30-day heartbreak cure first came to me many years ago, when I was in the throes of my first bona fide, excruciating, I'll-never-be-happy-again broken heart. I had been given my walking papers quite unexpectedly, an abrupt ending to what I perceived to be a perfect romance.
The two most important words in that sentence: "perceived," and "perfect."
I instantly flung myself into every classic form of girl-loses-boy behavior. I cried my guts out. I curled up in a ball in my bed for days at a time. I stared at my TV screen - a whole different activity from watching TV, which usually involves some awareness of what you're looking at. Come to think of it, I believe I was genuinely surprised when every news broadcast didn't start with, "(Bob) didn't call Catherine again today." (His name wasn't Bob. His name is irrelevant, and so is he. We're talking about me right now.) I played the same sad songs on my stereo a hundred times in a row. I didn't eat. I didn't sleep. I isolated myself. I gave my freshly painted walls and ceiling the thousand-yard stare for weeks. Ah, yes, the famous thousand-yard stare.
As my self-esteem sank lower and lower, I became more and more obsessed with my telephone. My silent telephone. So silent that I'd pick up the receiver from time to time to make sure it was working. (It was.) So silent I'd sit for hours staring at it, willing it to ring. I mean, sooner or later, he had to call, right? Even if he didn't want to get back together, he had to miss me at least a little and want to talk, didn't he? I literally felt as if my life depended on picking up a ringing phone sooner or later and hearing his voice, and I kept that phone within reach twenty-four hours a day. I even slept with it next to my head. Mind you, this particular heartbreak pre-dated cell phones, so leaving the house was out of the questions, no matter how hard my friends tried to lure me out of my self-imposed prison or how worried they became. They didn't matter. I didn't matter. Nothing mattered except the dwindling hope that please, God, he'd call and take a little of the pain away.
Then, one day, I'll never forget it, I quite literally WOKE UP and said to myself, "I can't go on like this. This isn't me. This isn't who I AM!"
And, of far more importance, it wasn't anyone I remotely wanted to be.
What happened to that joy-filled spirit I was accustomed to being? Where had she disappeared to? I looked in the mirror to see if I could find her, and looking back at me were the saddest, reddest eyes full of tears, and a face that seemed to have aged twenty years from the sheer weight of my grief. It didn't help that I'd been too busy wallowing in self-pity and wondering what he was thinking, feeling and doing to spend a moment taking care of myself. In other words, I looked exactly as hollow as I felt, and I didn't like it one bit.
I've always kept a calendar on a prominent wall no matter where I lived to make myself focus on deadlines. I happened to glance at my calendar on that fateful morning, and then almost study it, wondering, in passing at first, what would happen if I decided to set a deadline for this excruciating pain to end.
I wondered again, not in passing this time, and the words hit me like a thunderbolt:
A deadline for this pain to end!
I've been a goal-setter all my life. I know it's important, and I know it works. What if I approached exorcising this pain like I approached every other personal goal? What if I gave my heartbreak a deadline? What if I added, "healing" to my calendar right along with "run lines with Gena" and "get roots done"? What if I set a date, made a bonded commitment to myself not to postpone it or reschedule it, and assigned myself tasks along the way to stay focused on the goal of reclaiming my mental, physical and emotional health? It was worth a try. I had nothing left to lose except my broken heart, and good riddance to that?
I took a deep breath, grabbed a red Sharpie, stepped up to the calendar and, with no thought about whether or not it was realistic because somehow I'd make it realistic, I wrote, thirty days from that day, the words, "Heartbreak Cured."
And to my surprise, the simple act of writing those words and committing myself to meaning them made me feel a tiny spark of hope. I took my first real breath in weeks. I didn't feel quite so helpless, or hopeless, any more. I had a worthwhile project to work on, and I was excited.
That night, armed with nothing but my wall calendar and my red Sharpie, I outlined the rules and/or exercises and/or assignments for the next thirty days of my life. I made them up as I went along, keeping them simple and realistic, in a methodical progression toward my ultimate goal. I couldn't begin to grasp, or remember, feeling whole, healthy and joyful again, but I could handle one easy chore one day at a time for a month, I was sure of that.
I'd scaled the highest peak of idyllic, euphoric love and then suddenly dropped a thousand stories into an abyss of deepest despair. That's how I'd been feeling. Pretty dramatic, huh? Would you expect anything less from a soap diva?
But that night, with my newly composed healing calendar by my side, I began to notice a subtle shift in my perception of how things had really gone. Those countless moments between him and me that I'd fallen into the habit of romanticizing weren't nearly so enchanting in the cold light of grief. Now that I thought about it without him at the center of every equation, I was pretty sure the sky had been a beautiful blue and the stars had sparkled gorgeously around the moon before he came along - they didn't just exist because of him, or as the result of our Perfect, Unprecedented Love. In fact, for the first time in awhile, I had glimmers of awareness that I'd existed just fine, thank you, before he came along. As happens so often to so many of us, I'd simply become so lost in him and in the relationship that I'd forgotten who I was. I missed myself, and I made a promise that night to slowly but surely reunite with that nice, thoughtful, happy, funny, capable, independent woman I once was and would be again, only better.
It's one of my most deeply held beliefs that if we'll just stay out of the way, God, by whatever name you call your Highest Power, will drag us kicking and screaming into a better life than we could ever imagine for ourselves.
And that's exactly what happened to me since that simple, powerful night. My commitment for those next thirty days was to nothing more than heartbreak recovery, but so much more happened than that, probably in spite of myself. With my mind and heart open to the best and healthiest I could be, I almost unintentionally found myself graced with a whole new abundance of friends, love, joy, excitement, health, work and faith, more than I would ever have asked for and certainly more than I thought I deserved.
The same exact healing and abundance can happen for you. You're in too much pain to believe me right now, but that's okay. I believe it enough for both of us.
Follow the instructions in this book, the ones that, to my amazement, worked for me.
Most of all, as the saying goes, don't think about it, just do it.
There's a second reason for my passionate determination to write this book, and it's as intensely personal as the reason I just shared with you.
As you know, we all need a purpose in life. Even as a child I knew that mine was "acting." I knew I would be an actress, no doubt, no questions asked, no stopping me. And I have no regrets about that childhood decision. Not one. I treasure my acting career. Even on my worst days there isn't a single minute when I'm not grateful to be doing the very thing I dreamed about for as long as I can remember.
But after making a generous living at it for twenty-nine years, I began to realize that acting was only part of my true purpose. The older and wiser I got, the more I found myself wondering why on earth I'm really here, and what on earth I'm really here to do. Wondering made me dig deeper into my soul and myself and ask some hard questions that only I could answer:
What do I love?
What would make me so happy that I would do it for free full-time if I didn't have to worry about paying my bills?
What would truly "fill me up"?
Thank God the answers were swift. And simple.
I love loving.
I love people.
I love connecting.
I love speaking.
I love writing.
I love inspiring.
I love healing.
I love hugging.
I love holding your hand.
With those realizations in mind, the greater part of my purpose finally came shining through: I'm here to help you find your way back to YOU, reminding you, and myself, that every step of the way, we really are all in this together.
And that includes the numb, stupid, sad, angry, confused pain of heartbreak, which has a grief all its own. You've never been more aware of that fact as you are right now, or you wouldn't be reading this book and giving me this opportunity to lift some of that singular darkness.
It really is amazing how alike we all become when the darkness of heartbreak sets in, too. The thousand-yard stare. The inability to think, focus, sleep, or eat like a normal person. The unfortunate, almost unconscious talent for making him the sole topic of every thought and every conversation. The incessant mantra of freefall confusion that usually starts with that tricky word, "Why...?!" and inevitably leads to endless fantasy scenarios of "woulda, coulda, and shoulda, what if...?" And then, when the confusion gets too monotonous, the equally inevitable Blame Game - either blaming him for everything, including the Holocaust and global warming, or assuming all the blame for the break-up and beating ourselves to a pulp over it. The same tape seems to play in all our heads when we're heartbroken, repeating words like "loser" and "inadequate" and "fool" over and over again, a dark depressing tape we inadvertently choose to keep playing.
It took me a long time to discover that yes, I was choosing to let that tape play, and that yes, just as surely, I could choose to stop it. The "off" button exists. The hard part is finding it and then insisting on pushing it, taking responsibility for where we are, how we got there and what we're going to do about it.
The good news is, taking responsibility is worth it.
We can't heal without it, and it's an important part of the journey we're about to take together.
But for now, right this moment; I just want to hold your hand.
You've probably learned one of the same things I have in the course of various and sundry relationships: when the end comes and the pain sets in, it's pretty much irrelevant whether he left you or you left him, or how short- or long-term the ended relationship was. It hurts, and that makes it important. While you and I spend the next thirty days together through the pages of this book, you have my word that you'll never find me trivializing your heartache no matter what the circumstances that caused it.
What I will do is keep reminding you as we go along that I understand, I care, I've been there, and guess what -
I'm still here. Safe and sound. And believe it or not, so are you.
I see you.
I know you.
Welcome to the beginning of the end of your heartbreak.
As you and I walk this journey together, hand in hand, for the next thirty days, I'm going to be giving you a series of assignments and exercises, in a very deliberate order, one per day and only one per day. There are several reasons that I'll ask you not to rush through any chapter or exercise and not to skip to the next one, no matter how tempted you might be! If you do you'll be robbing yourself of the value of that day's assignment and, in the long run, the full benefits of this carefully designed progression of healing. It's not unlike that day we've all been through when we decide we're going to get in shape. The worst mistake we can make, no matter how many times we're warned against it, is to get in too big a hurry, do more leg lifts and stomach crunches and treadmill minutes than we're ready for, and end up so stiff and sore the next day that we give up. This isn't the 1-Day Heartbreak Cure, after all, nor is there any such thing. It's the 30-Day Heartbreak Cure, with each day designed to lead into the next and each day having enough value to warrant your full, undivided attention. Every time you're tempted to jump ahead, remind yourself, "Stay in the present moment. Stay in the present moment." The present moment is a safe place to be. You're okay in the present moment. You're in pain, but all is well. Hard as it is to believe, you're not dying.
And I'm here. By your side. Holding your hand. Crying with you until we can laugh together. And we will, you have my word.
Are you ready?
Are you ready to get past your pain and move on to the great life that's waiting for you?
Are you ready to re-learn the joy of taking charge of yourself again, and reclaiming the control you handed over to someone who clearly didn't deserve it?
I know you're ready.
Because you're already several pages into being on your way.
Now, take my hand and repeat after me, out loud. Yes, I'm serious, OUT LOUD:
Today I love and respect myself enough to begin the process of healing. For the next thirty days I commit myself to learning and growing and remembering how to celebrate my ability to move ahead even stronger and better than I was before. In the meantime, I'll be grateful for every tear I cry, because every tear is my grief leaving my spirit, to be replaced with love, joy and the grace of inner peace.
©2008 Catherine Hickland