It's like living with phantom limb syndrome. That's always my response when people ask how life after a breakup is. You feel like a part of you that is no longer there still is. You grieve, you do the angry thing, you dabble in excessive drinking and casual sex and you ultimately get over it.
Every now and then, though, maybe when it rains, you just kind of ache. Then one day, maybe in week, a month or a year, it will pour, and you'll find yourself absentmindedly rubbing a sore spot in your chest, thrown off by the intense sense of déjà vu. That is, until a week later, when you see your ex in line at the grocery store.
Nothing is permanent. Eventually, that acute pain from the wreckage in your heart will fade. You'll laugh until your stomach hurts, and your soul will be so full of joy that you'll swear this is the highest high. Yes, you will meet someone who will light your world on fire and remind you that you have strong wings to fly.
But before you can stand in the sun, you have to move on. It's one thing to want to, but it's a whole other thing to physically drag yourself out of the darkness that has covered your psyche.
Breakups are impossibly hard. They're like getting a splinter in between your fingers; you'll only start to feel better once you remove the source of the agitation. Leave it in, and you'll succumb to some kind of life-threatening infection.
There's a reason things didn't work out between the two of you. Maybe you just weren't right for each other, maybe you fought too much or maybe after four years, you just grew into different people who wanted different things out of life. That's OK, but you need to accept this and gently let go of your ex.
Save yourself the sleepless nights of stalking his Twitter feed to see if he is going out, delete his number from your phone to spare both of you from embarrassing drunk texts, and for your own sake, don't talk yourself into thinking you can be best friends. Until you have thoroughly mourned the death of your relationship, the ghost of his memory will haunt your sleep.
Let yourself feel everything, no matter how incredibly uncomfortable those feelings may be. Lie down on the bathroom floor and cry for two days. Wear big sunglasses in public because your eyes are bloodshot and puffy. Scream into a pillow for a week. But then stop.
Set a limit for your pain threshold, and reclaim your life from the demons who have sunk their teeth into your will and are drinking all of your fire. In time, your ego will recover, the dark circles will fade and the crushing sadness that filled you with every beat of your heart will be a memory. Decide that you are going to feel better, and you will.
Love yourself enough to make up for all the ways he could not. It's a cliché because it is true. You must love yourself before you can allow others the same privilege.
There is beauty in struggle, so instead of seeing yourself as damaged — someone's castoff — embrace your resilience. It's not his fault he could not see the magnitude of your greatness. A better man will. But more importantly, you need to see it in yourself and believe it.
The ugly truth is that there is no trick for moving on. There is no formula to follow that will expedite the process. The reality is that you planned a life with someone, you saw a future and then you watched as it blew up and the world fell apart right under your shoes. As Taylor Swift has said, Band-Aids don't fix bullet holes. Only time and an active effort to be happy will fix you.
I can't promise it will be easy, but I can promise you will feel better. You won't always cringe at the sight of flowers, you'll stop hoping that something will remind him of you and you'll stop wishing he stayed. Those butterflies you thought had died when you gave him his stuff back will come back full force when you meet someone who respects your ambition and is attracted to your mind.
Most importantly, you'll realize you are whole, with or without a guy. Then you'll see that ex in the grocery store, and you won't feel a thing. That's how you'll know you've moved on.