Fast forward 37 years and most signs from that painful break have faded, but they still pop up from time to time reminding me of that fateful fall evening. Some of those reminders are intense and come out of nowhere. A couple times a month I accidentally sleep with that arm bent up under me. When I wake up it takes me a good 5 minutes to straighten it and it’s not pleasant. Some of those reminders are more subtle. I can’t touch my right shoulder with my right hand. My elbow does not bend that far anymore. Therefore I can’t pull up a strap if it begins to fall off my shoulder unless I use the other hand. I also can’t turn my wrist any further than half way, which makes my bowling game interesting! And some of those reminders are so second nature to me that I’m not always aware of them. This is weird, but throughout the day I find myself holding my right arm across my body and doing everything with my left hand. I’ve been doing this since I broke my arm, I’m guessing because I held my arm like that for so long either with my cast on or while it healed. When I catch myself doing it, I make myself stop and use both arms but I’m sure there are some occasions where I never catch myself.
My arm was especially hurting the other day and it led me to consider, do painful breaks, whether they be of the arm variety or the heart variety, ever really completely heal?
Heartbreak doesn’t discriminate so most of us have experienced it at some point in our life. Whether it be the death of a loved one, a divorce, the end of a relationship or friendship, the loss of a pet or even the loss of a job, there is no greater pain than heartbreak. It feels like you’ve been ripped open and there is no hope for repair or relief. As with my arm, it can feel like our world has turned upside down and things will never be normal again. In fact, heartbreak has scientific effects on the body. An article in Elite Daily describes these effects.
- Your brain thinks you are physically hurt. The area of your brain that lights up when you're hurt physically is the same area that lights up when you suffer “social rejection.”
- You can also gain or lose weight, depending on how we cope with sadness.
- You are swimming in stress hormones. The article explains it this way, “When you're in love, your brain is inundated with the neurochemicals dopamine and oxytocin, making you experience feelings of happiness and pleasure. When you get your heart broken, though, all those lovey-dovey chemicals wash right out of your system, leaving you victim to stress hormones. Your brain pumps your body full of cortisol and epinephrine. An overabundance of cortisol tells your brain to send too much blood to your muscles, causing them to tense up, ostensibly for swift action. But you're not leaping anywhere, and as a result you're plagued with swollen muscles causing headaches, a stiff neck and an awful squeezing sensation in your chest. It’s not good for you.”
- Heartbreak also causes depression. And not only that, losses that involved lower self-esteem were twice as likely to trigger depression as ones that involved loss alone.
- Withdrawal is real. Love is as addicting as drugs. Luckily, just like drugs, the symptoms of withdrawal will eventually fade.
- You’ll wonder who you are without that person or job. And you might become someone new going forward.
- You’ll want to be alone but that’s the worst thing you can do. Get out, spend time with people who love and support you and do activities that bring you happiness. Work hard to find small moments of joy.
Wow, you’re thinking...doesn’t seem very hopeful. But I do believe there is hope! Heartbreak parallels my arm break in many ways. Although the pain may never go away completely, it does fade and heal with time and some hard work. Just like my arm, the pain may come on intensely in moments you never expected or it may be more subtle. And sometimes your thoughts will go to that person in such a natural way, you are not even consciously aware of it. Just as I fell apart in the safety of my mom’s presence, I’ve been blessed with people who will listen non-judgmentally as I’ve work through the stages of my own grief. I’ve also been able to lean on friends and family who have been through similar things themselves and have come out the other side, and that’s helpful as well. There’s no timeline for repairing a broken heart, each of us will handle it differently It won’t be easy either. You may need counseling and you may need to hear and feel some really hard stuff, some painful stuff, before you start to feel better. Don’t hide from this painful work or it will just impede your recovery. After my dad died I tried to ignore all the pain, deciding if I just didn’t think about it it would eventually go away. It doesn’t. It will ultimately catch up with you and sometimes in not so pretty ways. And life does return to “normal”. It might be a very different kind of normal than you knew before, but we are amazing, resilient creatures with the ability to adapt to almost anything once we are ready.
If I had to choose, I’d break my arm a million times than to ever have to deal with a broken heart, but unfortunately we are not always given a choice. I have a noticeable, but faded, scar on my elbow just like the scars on my heart. They are both just signs of a life filled with love, loss, and lessons. A life where risks were taken with my heart and my body. A life where I loved something enough that the risk of losing it was worth it. I wouldn’t trade that kind of life for anything. xo
― Sarah Winman, Tin Man