I run this post every few months because people can’t seem to figure out how to build their lives after a breakup. They have a million excuses. If you don’t build your life after a breakup, you’re going to be miserable.
Building Your Life
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.,
author Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn a Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened to You (Hachette Book Group 2009) and Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less. ~ Kurt Hahn
I run these two posts every few months because it is SO important to build a new life after a breakup. Don’t sit around and wait for life to come to you. It’s NOT going to happen.
Way back when, I wrote this post and followed it with the second post. For those afraid to get out and build your life, I hope this is some kind of inspiration.
When we discover who we are and all the riches we contain (or as Walt Whitman said, the multiples we contain) we understand the depth of our goodness and we refuse to settle for less than we deserve.
The way OUT of garbage and INTO goodness is to recognize our own self-worth, to affirm that we are good and deserve good things and to treat ourselves with dignity and respect.
When we treat ourselves with dignity and respect, we become used to that, that is what we start to know and anything else feels uncomfortable.
Therefore, once we treat ourselves right we learn to insist that others treat us right as well.
In Getting Back Out There, I write about how two healthy people live their lives BEFORE they meet someone to have a relationship with. Healthy people DO NOT want to be involved with those who do NOT have hobbies, interests and friends. GBOT is NOT a dating book – it is a book to let you know what a healthy life is all about. By the time you are ready to date, you should have read it SEVERAL times and done the GBOT exercises in the workbook (to order the workbook, go to the Resources button below).
People who do not have their own hobbies, interests and friends tend to be too dependent on the relationship for their happiness and healthy people steer clear of that. It’s also a matter of not wanting to partner up with a boring person. Healthy people want to be with people who actually “DO STUFF,” not those who sit around moping. Being a boring lump-on-a-log is an attractive look to healthy people. It’s attractive to those who would do you harm.
Further, DON’T give up hobbies, interests, friends when you DO pair up! A healthy person will object to that – don’t do a FALSE “building your life” – ACTUALLY build – and enjoy – your new life! (Ladies who date gentlemen, this is especially important for you – read THIS POST: Women: Being Unavailable v. Playing a Game
A “false” building of your life is when you’re pretending to be strong and independent but you are really just building a placeholder until the “one true love” comes along and you can stop building and start being dependent on your love. That will NEVER work…NO bait and switch! Be honest about who and what you are and when you build your life – be sure to GUARD IT and never let those hobbies, interests and friends go for a relationship. Your friends won’t like it. Your partner won’t like it and when the fallout starts, you won’t like it.
One of the best reasons to spend time with ourselves is learning about us, what we like what we don’t like, who we are and what makes us happy, sad, annoyed, angry, lonely, upset.
Only when we know what our needs and wants are and how they are different can we ask another to meet our needs and occasionally meet our wants. When we don’t know, when we are confused, we attract other confused people and our combined confusion butts heads.
Two people who do not know what they want spend a lot of time blaming the each other for their inherent emptiness. It’s NOT okay. You MUST fill yourself up and STOP EXPECTING OTHERS TO DO IT FOR YOU.
When we learn to fill ourselves up, we not only become less dependent on others to fulfill us, but we attract more filled up people who demand less from us.
We become better parents, family members, friend and eventual partners when we have learned how to fill ourselves up by ourselves. I felt guilty leaving my children alone. I commuted a long way and had a job in technical support so if I had a site that went down at 4:45, chances were I was not leaving work at 5 – maybe 5 a.m. but definitely not 5 p.m.
When I missed dinner with the kids, I felt guilty. But my therapist said I couldn’t just work and tend to my kids. For years that is all I had done. My ex had been an abusive gaslighter, and I had next to no outside interests in the 10 years we were married. I would occasionally go out with friends after work, but that was very rare. All through my 20s, I was home, turning myself inside out seeking approval I would not have gotten in a million years.
Now, I had to build a life at the ripe old age of 30. I had to do other things to fill me up to be able to be there for my kids. My therapist told me that when you’re traveling by plane with children, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first and THEN tend to your children. She told me that the “building of a new life” was me putting on my oxygen mask.
She told me that even though I had a long commute (over 2 hours per day) and a “non-9-5 job,” – two things that took me from the kids – I shouldn’t fill up all my waking hours with my kids. I needed to do things for myself and by myself.
And so I did.
It was hard at first, but it got easier. They only went to their father’s house every other weekend, so – at first – that is when I crammed everything in. But I soon learned I could do things on lunch hours (meetings, gym, hobbies and interests) and some nights after the kids went to bed. It is important to GET OUT AND DO THINGS! Not despite being a single parent but BECAUSE you’re a single parent.
Eventually I would be the parent who sat alone at my child’s play rehearsals and my children’s basketball games and other extracurricular activities. Having my own interests and hobbies and nights out with my friends made these lonely times a tad less lonely.
I also learned to do things and later share them with my kids. My kids wanted to ski through their school which went skiing after school on Monday nights. So I bought them skis and then would meet them on the mountain and ski with them. Had I not learned to ski by going on trips with my work friends, I would have not been able to do these things with my kids. I had only ski’d once at the very end of my marriage – on a really strange weekend where the ex and I went skiing in leather jackets (who knew you needed actual outfits to ski in?) But after our separation, I started to ski with a group of work friends on weekends when the kids were away. Eventually I bought my own skis and then was able to share that with my kids. It was wonderful.
Filling ME up helped me fill them up.
When we know and accept ourselves, we meet others who know and accept themselves and we can accept each other.
When two fulfilled and self-reliant people meet and fall in love, unmet needs and those struggles to get from someone else what they do not have to give, cease to be our reality any more.
When we are able to clearly and plainly state what we do and do not want, what we do and do not need, what we can and cannot accept, the game-playing, the boundary violaters and the confused bunch all disappear from our lives.
Spend time with you. Learn about you. Journal, go for a walk, spend time time sitting alone without a phone, a computer, an iPod or any outside distraction. Do this on a regular basis. Learn to tune into the inner voice which will tell you what you want and what you need. It will tell you how to fulfill yourself and how to ask for things from others. Learn about you. And then love you. Do your affirmations as GPYP teaches. Monitor your self-talk as GPYP teaches. Set your goals and put your dreams in place.
And then NEVER NEVER NEVER settle for less again. Not from you or anyone else.
Building Your Life After a Breakup
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid it will never begin. ~ Grace Hansen
To find the right person, you must first be the right person. ~ Earnie Larsen
This post was written a year before the book was published and when Michael was well (I mention him at the bottom of the post). I think it needs a rerun. Someone asked me in an email to share what I did to build a life of my own (because I kept saying this is what you need to do in order to be the right person). Not that I recommend anyone do the same as I’ve done but here is my list of what I did to be a full and complete person ON MY OWN separate and apart from everyone else.
You can take my list and fill it with your own “stuff”. 🙂 Happy Building!!!
1. Affirmations and positive-self talk. Very important to build your confidence to try new things. This should come first in all things!!!
2. Journal keeping. Again, figure it out on paper. Think about it, sketch it out and then go for it. Again, the workbook has a lot of what to journal about. In the GPYB workbook, there are many ideas about what to Journal. Go to the Resources button below or click on the Resources link above and order the workbook and GET TO WORK!!!
3a. Free Support groups: all kinds. Meeting different people in different places (as well as workshops, retreats and conferences). I did not rely on one group of friends for all my support but it was important to me to meet others who were trying to change their life and work through issues in their pasts. Most people I know could benefit from Codependent Anonymous meetings but other 12 step programs might help if you have addictions or alcoholism in your family or former partners. Your community and/or church might have support groups as well.
If you don’t like one meeting or workshop or seminar, try another one… Yes, putting yourself out there is HARD but the rewards are WORTH IT especially when you meet people with similar goals–making life better.
3b. Paid Events and Conferences I read a lot of different authors and then would find out where they were speaking (a lot harder before the world wide web but I would figure it out) and go. It can be any undertaking where people are looking for psychological self-improvement….go and talk to people.
When I was a single mother not getting ANY child support, I put away the $60 a week for my therapist before I paid anything else. It was A LOT of money at the time. But people spend oodles on weddings and have no guarantee they will be married forever.
I invested in my emotional health and I passed that health to my CHILDREN, the most important people in my life. If there is a recovery workshop, retreat or conference that you want to go to, SAVE FOR IT. When people tell me that the GPYB bootcamps or workshops are too much money, (they are a bargain, trust me) I have no idea how a life-changing workshop can ever be “too much money.” You have to invest in your recovery (I’m not saying JUST GPYB but everything.)
When people ask me how much are boot camps, I cannot believe that is their FIRST question. GPYB boot camps are INCREDIBLY REASONABLE for what you get, but they are about RECOVERY and if your first question is “How much is it?” I think you should look somewhere else. When I was chasing recovery, “How much is it?” was NEVER my first question. Who is it? When is it? How soon can I get there???
THOSE were my questions and those should be YOURS.
The money I spent on therapy, workshops and seminars was FOREVER money…money that made me FOREVER strong. I NEVER questioned how much a John Bradshaw weekend seminar was or a Stephen Levine or a night with Melody Beattie. We were talking about RECOVERY. I SAVED for it!
Where would I be if I allowed finances to dictate my self-care? Not here writing this post. I would be in a corner somewhere drooling on myself. You MUST make recovery a PRIORITY and if your first question is “How much is it?” you need to take a step back and reorganize your priorities.
My therapist said if I didn’t take care of myself I couldn’t take care of anyone else. I did weekends with John Bradshaw, Melody Beattie, Stephen Levine, John James and others. I did plenty of other workshops, retreats and seminars both locally and long-distance (I did a 12 step event in Reno Nevada where I knew NO ONE when I arrived on Friday night and left with 30 new friends on Sunday. Not only was the conference money but the hotel and the flight out there, but I saved for months for it and did it.)
Spend money where recovery happens. Please please please check out these things. It’s so much easier now than when I was doing (before the internet had information on everything).
4. Social groups.
Hobby groups. Reading groups (book clubs…IN PERSON clubs…go to someone’s house once a week and share about novels…these are incredible when you get the right one…as with ANYTHING, if you don’t like one group, go find ANOTHER).
I learned how to make soap, scrubs and lotions. I accidentally put some of my soaping vids on my YouTube GPYB channel, but I’ve taken most of them down. I left a few up to point to the legacy Splendida Nutrita channel up for new soapers or scrubbers. It is absolutely all-consuming. Making soap and scrubs is addictive and I wish I could still do it. And soapers, as a group, are awesome people. If you’re interested in making awesome scrubs, lotions and other things for your family or for a business, it’s a great hobby/business. I continuously get email from former clients asking how they can get the SN products. They were truly awesome.
Sports groups. I joined a basketball league for a couple of years (all 5’2 of me) and that was FUN (they were not intensely competitive maniacs..you have to find your type of group). Like I said above, I learned to ski with a group of work friends and that was GREAT.
I belonged to some Meetup.com groups in NYC and started recommending them to others. I went to baseball meetups, theater meetups etc.
I once had a client in Oklahoma who went to museum meetups and she was so happy with her new friends, she stopped having Skype therapy with me! She told me that my insistence that she get out and do things and my recommendation for Meetups gave her so many new friends and interests, she was just hap-hap-happy and didn’t really want to talk to me once a week about her XBH. Funny.
I have been recommending Meetups since the early 2000’s and have so many clients and readers tell me how great their Meetups are.
I know that many members here have benefited from them in their home towns. CHECK IT OUT!!!
5. Classes. I took academic classes as well as fun classes. In the early 90s there was a guy named Bob Ross who did a method of painting called wet on wet and I loved it. I found a craft store that offered classes on the Ross method. I can’t draw a straight line (SERIOUSLY). But with the help of a good teacher and fun classmates, I DID A Ross painting!!! Okay, it’s not DaVinici, but hey! I DID it! It was better than sitting on the couch every Saturday and just watching him do it and thinking I could do it. I actually did it and that’s worth something to me.
Click on the thumb nail to see the full image.
That’s a photo of my painting which doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea. Do something that seems like a stretch but a FUN stretch! I LOVED this experience!
I also learned to crochet (as I talked about in another post and recently shared with my bootcamp who all laughed at me on a Skype call…what a disaster!) and while I was never really good, I did it and it was fun to do when the boys were little. I learned to ski, to garden and I did ceramics for a while. In each case I met people I would not have otherwise met and did things that were fun. I also learned to laugh at myself when things didn’t go well. 🙂 (Hi to my friends at Ravelry! Thanks for sharing this site over there!)
6. I learned Italian and traveled to Italy (once by myself!!) I not only saved up but took a flight that made 3 stops (including a 7 hour layover in London which sounds horrible but I made friends with someone on the plane and we had a blast…she spoke little English and I spoke little Italian and we taught each other and then napped in a room they happen to have for napping at Heathrow [who knew?] and I discovered David Lodge in the airport bookstore – major literary score!)…but I hit the bargain bin at the local travel agents and made it happen. With a little bit of creativity there are travel deals to be found. Travel agents may be passe but if you find a good one (as I did), you can do a lot of traveling on the cheap.
7. I took a photography class at a university (UMass Amherst) and went to Sicily on a photojournalism tour. The student rate was very cheap. Because I was registered at the university, I qualified. There are a lot of creative ways to do things if you don’t really have the money. (the photo of the (what will soon become the “old” Tappan Zee Bridge ) on the Facebook GPYB page was taken by me, I have a framed copy of it in my house). Spending that money on that course was well-spent. I had a blast and learned a lot.
That’s one of my photos from a winery near Mt. Etna (we had been on Mt. Etna that morning). I had a great time. I was in a group of young students who wanted to be professional photographers but I had a tremendous time. I did go to bed about 11 pm after running around the countryside all day with the kids and they stayed up and partied but I had a wonderful time. It was one of the most fantastic trips I’ve ever taken.
8. Take other trips…all kinds of trips. I’ve traveled by train all around the country. There is nothing like going across the country or up and down the coast like a train trip. Reserve a sleeping car, turn OFF the cell phone and watch the world go by. Meet new people in the dining car. FABULOUS! Again, save for these things…set them as goals. As a single mom I didn’t have a great deal of money but I squirreled away for what I wanted.
9. I renewed my motorcycle license. I had ridden when I was a teenager but when I tried to get on a bike later on, I fell A LOT because the bike was NOT right for me and that is why. I STILL knew how to ride but I had moved from state to state and never noticed that when I changed to RI, they left off my motorcycle endorsement from NY. When I moved to Massachusetts, I transferred from my RI license…again no endorsement so I took a course because I KNEW how to ride but didn’t have a bike small enough to pass the motorcycle road course. So I took the course and took the test on a 200cc bike, renewed my license and bought a Harley (HD fitted the bike to me, changing the seat and lowering the bike and changing the handle bars) after I married Michael. First a used one, then a new one…and ridden all over the country….a feeling of power (for sure!)
When I moved to California they transferred the MC endorsement after I took the written test (when you move to CA, you have to take a written test for the driver’s license AND the MC license…it was BRUTAL and both Michael and I almost failed but the clerk actually gave us hints as to what answer they wanted (which was the opposite of what you’d actually DO on the road). When I moved back to NY, they almost left the MC endorsement OFF the license AGAIN and I said, “Okay now I’ve come full circle, I moved to RI from NY where I had an MC endorsement and RI left it off. Now I’ve moved from CA to NY and now NY wants to leave it off!” The clerk looked at me like I had 14 heads but COME ON PEOPLE. 🙂 (that was just a little side trip down Department of Motor Vehicle nonsense.
10. Have a “me” night once a week. On Thursday nights, after the kids were in bed, I used to TURN OFF THE PHONE and allow ABSOLUTELY NO INTERRUPTIONS and take a long bubble bath…deep condition my hair, mani/pedi and then off to bed with a trashy novel. After a while, I bought expensive bubble baths, expensive conditioners, down comforters and nice sheets and PJs that said, “I’M WORTH IT.” You have to design and craft your own sanctuary. You have to make your home, especially your bedroom, your OWN in a way that says: “I ROCK.”
11. Join a gym. I joined 2 gyms and bought a 10 speed bike. I biked 20 miles every Sunday. Watching your body change and becoming stronger gives you amazing confidence and it really really boosts the self-esteem.
When I rode on Sundays, I felt very lonely. But honestly, it was one of the best best things I ever did. I truly suggest that if you go for a walk or a hike or a bike ride that you LEAVE THE PHONE AT HOME. Those days of biking were so hard for me…but I learned so much and NOW I miss them. I loved those rides and after I got hurt on the bike, I missed them. And I was in FANTASTIC shape.
12. Go places and do things! I am a Broadway-holic and a Yankee season ticket holder. I brought the boys to basketball games and baseball games when they were growing up. We went skiing as a family. We went rollerskating and four wheeling. We GOT OUT and did things….not like maniacs, but we were out there living life.
I take the grandkids to the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Radio City Christmas Show, Broadway shows just as I did when my kids were little.
When I have the kids I have my phone but it’s OFF. I pay attention to the KIDS. When I see parents or even grandparents looking at their phones instead of their kids, it makes me crazy. Put the phones AWAY when you have kids or dogs in your charge.
13. In contrast to number 12: Sit still and do nothing. This is incredibly important and a MUST to leaving a bad relationship in case you get sucked in somehow in the future. “Screw this shit, I know how to be alone.” was my mantra (see the workbook about mantras) whenever I was not being treated the way I wanted to be.
To deal with my anxiety (I used to say that my grief manifests itself as anxiety and that my anxiety got up an hour before I did). This is what I did to deal with it:
Go old school and color mandalas and go to a hobby store and find some interesting thigns to do (I learned painting, ceramics, silk flower arrangements, stained glass…the SKY IS THE LIMIT...go to a hobby store and check it out…there are things there you would NEVER consider…start small and go big!!
I used mandala coloring in the VERY BEGINNING when I was an anxious mess. I would color mandalas while listening to meditation music or classical music. IF YOU ARE ANXIOUS THIS WORKS!!!!
I also did Logic Problems (and this came in VERY HANDY when years later I took the LSAT which is a lot of LOGIC PROBLEMS), crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. Do something with your hands while listening to relaxation or meditation audios. I will go so far as to COMMIT to an hour or two or three or four…to sit and do whatever (a mandala, a puzzle, or non self-help reading) while listening to classical music and then I will PUT MY PHONE AND MY LAPTOP IN THE CAR.
I take my old school iPod Classic and connect it to a speaker and I use that for music while I do my puzzles or reading. If I can’t sit still and do one of these for an hour or so, I have a problem. If I get itchy for my phone or my laptop before my time is up (depending on the activity I go from 1-4 hours…for reading I try to make it 2 straight hours….I used to read ALL DAY…I could polish off a substantially complex novel in a day…multitasking has ruined my attention span and I work HARD to get it back. I will put my phone in the CAR so that I will read for at least 2 hours, but – by rights – it should be a lot more. I’m working ALL THE TIME on stretching out the unplugged time.
But if you are BEYOND the early, anxious days, it is SO IMPORTANT to learn to just sit still and BE and if you CAN’T do it, there is an issue. You have to learn to do it.
How I did it was I learned to make peace with the peace. Learn to be quiet and sit still…learn to be bored...learn that sitting there and doing nothing is okay too. You don’t have to be entertained or entralled every minute. Learn to just BE.
Turn off the computer. Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the ipod and iPad. Spend some time each and every day UNPLUGGED from everything. If you have trouble being away from all forms of communication, that is even MORE reason to force yourself to do it. You need quiet time to figure out what you want. Life is about living…it’s not about waiting for a call or a text or an email or someone to touch base with you. Develop quiet, unplugged time every day. NOT now and again but EVERY SINGLE DAY. This makes SUCH a difference if you cultivate this. You become less beholden to all the electronic machinery and more in touch with yourself. Go for a quiet walk (no Ipod, no cell phone, no computer) or sit and relax or meditate. Go to a Zen garden or something similar. Get quiet. Go inwards. Learn about YOU.
If you put your phone down and away from you and find you are anxious or just ITCHING to get back to it, that’s a PROBLEM. The longer you can do without it, the longer you learn to do without it and you can get in touch with YOU.
GET OUTSIDE AND LIVE A LITTLE!!! or STAY IN AND JUST LEARN TO BE (again with everything turned off) If you live where there is public transportation try to BE on the train or the bus and just experience it. Don’t let life pass you by because your head is never where your feet are.
I take public transportation all the time and watch as people miss a lot of things around them as they are jabbering away on their cellphone or texting like crazy people. They are losing the sights, smells and sounds of what is going on in their immediate vicinity. When we do that we lose the ability to be good observers and good observation skills are ESSENTIAL to recovering and our well-being. Turn it all OFF and start to observe. Let your head be where your feet are!!!
Healing is about BALANCE. Building your own life is about being good to you and learning to be alone with you AND getting out and doing new things, meeting new people, going new places. DO IT IN BALANCE. Or do it at the same time: taking a train trip alone and just watching the world go by is an example of getting out and doing stuff AND learning to be alone and okay with that.
Think of things you can do to build your own list and then: DO IT!! It was not always easy for me to do any of these things. Each one was SCARY! But I learned to do it and it got easier.
Not everything was successful…but I tried so many things and GAVE MYSELF CREDIT for trying (and not quitting too soon…those 6 months of keyboard lessons were BRUTAL).
AGAIN: BALANCE BALANCE BALANCE!!!
This is NOT just busy work. This is learning to build a life and to care, REALLY CARE, about what you’d like to do–what you’re all about. It’s about giving yourself enough validation to figure out what you want to do and DOING IT. It’s about learning to be alone while learning to be out in the world as a single person. It’s about CRAFTING a life that is rich and full of meaning even if some of your interests and hobbies seem a bit goofy (wet on wet painting?…goofy). 🙂
And you will value you and your life and it will be a nice place to be. You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is to think: wow, I wanted to do that and I did it!
When I was a kid my family used to ask me who did I think I was when I talked about taking classes or learning new things or meeting new people or going places. When I was married my husband criticized me constantly for having “big dreams.” Well, I made most of them come true but the ones that tickled me to DEATH were the smaller ones, the ones I’ve listed here. The ones that gave me reason to smile and plan on a daily or weekly basis.
I also did not give up these things when I met my husband Michael. I still travel alone sometimes…I still go out by myself…I still take ME time. IT’S IMPORTANT!!! And it was important for me to meet someone who takes his own time and encourages that in me. So many friends I had built their own life and then tossed it away (including friends, including me) when someone came along to offer them romance. Not good and not smart.