Thank You For Breaking My Heart

This is the prayer of gratitude I began today with. It was very natural and heartfelt. That, likely, could only be true in the present moment because my heart feels healed right now, having already been broken many times in many ways.

Now it feels broken open, which seems quite different from what most of us normally mean when we talk about “a broken heart.” Still, to me it feels like the broken heart I’ve had in a more conventional sense was a necessary precursor to the current feeling of a broken open heart.

I know for sure that having had my own heart broken in the usual way did bring surprising benefits — only after the overwhelming pain at the time subsided, of course. I certainly never enjoyed it when it was happening, nor was I able in the least to look at things philosophically while in the grip of that pain.

But experiencing the pain that went with the broken heart definitely made me much more sympathetic toward others in the throes of similar heartache.

It did some other things, too, that I didn’t expect. Having a broken heart forced me to look into myself in ways that might never have otherwise occurred to me. Since broken hearts can come from many sources, the first I experienced came long before I had any idea what romantic love was.

My mother left and divorced my father when I was five, taking my younger sister and me to live in a new house and soon with a new dad. My father, Mark, was the one who told me that our family was no longer going to be together. He explained that the split was not my fault or my sister’s fault, and that both he and my mother still loved both of us and always would.

In practice, though, over time he grew more and more distant as a wall of broken promises grew between us. To me, it didn’t feel like he cared at all anymore, let alone still loved me.

That was my first broken heart.

There were many long-term implications and painful consequences for me, and it’s taken decades for me to be able to see the gift that was there for me in that situation. But a gift there was.

These “daddy issues” around abandonment colored much of my young adulthood. I struggled for years with feelings of worthlessness, anger and anxiety over the fear that I was unlovable. Why else would the father I loved and trusted so much reject me the way he had?

I saw within myself all the reasons why. I hated myself for it. I fantasized and yearned to die. I isolated myself from everyone around me, retreating into myself and books to create an impenetrable armor.

This worked to protect me for a long time, but it had an unexpected and unpleasant side effect: it left me alone with someone I hated.

By the time I realized the problem I’d created, my defenses were so high and strong that even I could not defeat them. So I had no other choice than to look more closely at myself.

By then I was in college, living in a dorm far from my family. It had been years since I’d had any contact with Mark, yet I still felt his presence very strongly in my life. I started to wonder about that. How was someone who was absent still able to exert such a strong influence on me? That question forced me to begin to recognize that I was holding him inside myself — or, at least, an image of him I’d made in my mind.

As I thought back over this history of my family, I began to see that Mark himself had been devastated by the breakup of our family. He had retreated into alcoholism and shut himself out of our lives, not unlike what I had done in my own pain. Maybe he was just trying to protect himself, as I was. If that were the case, then maybe it wasn’t me he was rejecting, after all. What I did know for sure was that the person hurting me now wasn’t him. I only thought it was him because I’d given him that power over me, as if I were still that vulnerable, dependent child who didn’t have a choice. I was the one perpetuating the pain.

I made the decision to take that power back and deny him, as well as everyone else, the ability to rule my life. Maybe I couldn’t control what other people did or thought, but I could learn to control my own thoughts and actions. I could learn to stop hurting myself with the continuous re-telling of that painful story to myself. If I could just stop doing that, maybe I could let it go and move on.

I resolved not to be a victim anymore, and instead tried to put myself in his shoes when he lost everything he loved. Suddenly, I felt sorry and sad for him, and that compassion allowed me to forgive him. And then I was freed.

This freedom resulted from having my heart broken. The gift from that painful experience was the recognition that I had inside of me a tremendous power to direct my own thoughts and life, in whatever way I choose. By taking responsibility for my own feelings and reactions, I could change them when they weren’t working for me, or were hurting me, or holding me back from something I wanted.

That has been a life-changing gift, for which I am eternally grateful. Was it a magical pill that changed everything overnight? No, of course not. But it did eventually affect everything. That decision to take my own power and use it for myself instead of against myself opened my eyes to a new way of being and seeing myself in the world. It was a decision I began to act on again and again. For me, it’s been a lifelong practice and something I’ve had to repeat over and over until it became natural and automatic for me. And, that really has brought a beautiful magic into my life.

So, to Mark and many others who followed: Thank you for breaking my heart. I love you.

NOTE: The first 3 chapters were published to Medium on 7/12/17. Further chapters will be published every Wednesday until the complete book is available here. Thank you for reading! If you would like access to the entire book without delay, please look for the paperback, Kindle, and Audible versions on Amazon:

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.