When your broken heart goes into cardiac arrest and your old “coping mechanisms” are more likely to lead you to flatline than recovery, try these 11 resuscitative tips and heal yourself.
At 14 or 54, we’ve all been there, but today we push through the pain, one-day-at-a-time, cold brew sober. And here’s what’s helping me now, because, despite what still feels like an endless volley of water balloons hitting concrete beneath my breastbone, the fibrillation is in my mind, not my chest cavity, and that scrappy muscle thumps on, still propping me upright each morning to face my new reality.
1. Find that God of Your Understanding and Glom On
When I reached Step 3 with my sponsor, I got an assignment: flesh out your concept of a higher power, in writing. Lisa M. wanted detail, a God I could see and talk to, and grab by the elbow. And because I’m neither original nor progressive, I came up with a male God in human form — a cross between Santa Claus and Mr. T. to be exact. With a twinkle in his eye and a glint off his gold tooth, my HP is jolly and generous, strong and sexy, and funny as hell.
And at this moment, when I’m finding myself on the sucky side of one-sided love, it’s not bad to have a real hunk who loves me for an HP. After an especially vicious salvo, when the heartbreak balloons start to leak out the eye sockets, I can HALT, remember the in-breath, and picture HP (and yes, predictably, I’m looking heavenward). Funny, his response is always the same: with bronzed torso and silver beard, forearms flexed and crossed over a white undershirt, the big man in the sky stares down at me, then starts nodding reassuringly. Suddenly, he flashes that easy smile and I know I’m good.
2. Slam the Slogans
H.A.L.T., Easy Does It, Turn It Over, Just for Today, Live and Let Live, This Too Shall Pass, When One Door Shuts Another Opens, Fear Is the Absence of Faith, The Elevator Is Broken – You’ll Have to Use the Steps. I’ve become something of a short-order chef when it comes to using a few well-chosen words to support my sobriety. Day and night, I sling slogans, flip affirmations, and call out quotes from famous dead people. I’ve scotched them to the inside of my kitchen cabinets, along with the 3rd, 6th, 7th and 11th step prayers. They are the comfort food my soul craves now. “Success is moving from failure to failure with no lack of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill. “If you want to be loved, love and do loving things.” – Ben Franklin. Words that nourish, as I’m waiting for the kettle to boil. Having well-chosen words highly visible in the kitchen (or as a screensaver) can be a real lifesaver!
3. Phone Therapy
And here’s a slogan I’m slamming hard today: “We drank alone, but we don’t stay sober alone.” The old timers carried quarters, and I make sure I leave home with my phone fully-charged. I listen to a morning meditation walking to the train, text three newcomers on the platform, compose a longer text to my sponsor in transit, then dial my best sober gal pal as I push through the turnstile on the final leg to work. I send silly GIFs to lift spirits, including mine, and add a trail of emoji butterflies, praying hands, and peace signs. By 8:00 a.m., the lonely in me already feels not so alone.
4. Explore Podcasts
Recovery Radio Network, Joe and Charlie, and the Alcoholics Anonymous Radio Show are three in my queue. On my lunch hour or driving upstate, I take 30-60 minutes to laugh, cry, and identify…
5. Make a Gratitude List
My first sober Christmas, going through a divorce with two kids still believing in Santa, the above-mentioned sober gal pal suggested I find ten things for which I was grateful, save them to my phone, and recite them like a mantra through the Twelve Days of Christmas. I did:
1. My sobriety
2. My sons
3. AA program of recovery
4. AA fellowship
5. Food in my stomach
6. Roof over my head
7. Colombian coffee
8. My dog
9. My extended family
10. God (HP has since moved up to the #1 slot)
It worked. I said no to nog that first Yuletide, and made merry for my sons instead. And counting off my blessings still works today, when I’m a shallow-breathing shell just going through the motions.
6. Make an Extended Gratitude List
When the restless, irritable and discontent in me keeps spilling the glass half-full and this positive punch list isn’t getting me over the hump, I pour out ten more things to celebrate, like: my pre-war bathtub, which holds upwards of 60 gallons of bubble bath and the fact that I live within easy walking distance of two subway lines so I can always get into the city on weekends.
7. Make Meetings
“Meeting Makers Make It,” “Get Sober Feet,” “Carry the Body, the Mind Will Follow.” These three slogans in particular encouraged me as a newcomer, and I’m calling upon them now, in cardiac arrest, when my heart needs serious heartening. So I’m hitting my home group, and getting hugs from retirees with double-digit sobriety who pass fresh Kleenex and envelop in equanimous smiles. I’m also checking out other meetings across town, then going out for…
8. Fellowship Afterwards
I’ve started tucking my Boggle into my handbag when I head out to my Friday night meeting. At the secretary’s report, I pull out the box, shake it, and invite anyone interested to a nearby diner for passable pie a la mode and a few rounds of a three-minute word game. Sometimes it’s Yahtzee. We roll the dice and down bottomless cups of bad coffee. Last week someone brought cards, and I lost badly at hearts (ha!). It’s good, wholesome fun, and by the time I hit my pillow, I’ve significantly pared down the number of waking hours I could have spent obsessing over-ahem-HIM.
Self-care is somewhat self-defined. These days, after I’ve covered the basics—eat, sleep, bathe—I’m noodling what more I can do to support my mental, physical, and spiritual self. Prone to self-pity and self-indulgence just now, self-care is really urgent-care. So I ask: am I under-meditating and over-caffeinating? Am I speeding up at speed bumps? Am I four months behind in balancing my bank statement? Am I using money to buy what money can’t buy and damn the consequences? Am I treating every Monday like Cyber Monday and abusing the free delivery feature of Amazon Prime? Have I forgotten yoga and found red velvet cake in Costco’s freezer? Are my spot checks spotty lately because I just don’t want to cop to this alcoholic acting out, and instead keep blunting the full force of feeling??? Yes to all of the above. And this leads me back to Step 2: turn to top management for a takeover.
Working Steps 2 and 3 is probably the most caring thing I’m doing for myself today: seeing the unmanageable, then seeing the way out. And also forgiving myself for these self-indulgent splurges. So what that I’ve added three pounds to my midline and three pairs of silver sandals to my shoe rack? The rent is paid, and my latchkey kids still let themselves in after school and seem content to eat my crockpot soup and call this home.
10. Get on your Hobby Horse
When was the last time you read “Chapter 6: Getting Active” in Living Sober, that handy paperback that’s not just for newcomers? This month I’ve been making good use of subsection 6B: “Activity not related to A.A.”
The anonymous authors suggest “trying a new hobby” or “revisiting an old pastime, except you-know-what” (Yea, Amstel Light). Fat chance I’ll pick up cabinetmaking, leathercraft or macramé, but I am baking granola and simmering bone broths.
I’m also revisiting my adolescence with amateur YouTube ballet routines by hammy-thighed figure skaters and dancing to Heavy D. music videos late into a Saturday night. I’m choosing happy music over sad, and tuning in to The Messiah, not Blue Christmas.
I’m even considering “Starting on long neglected chores” like editing my nearly obsolete recipe binder, now that I’ve found Pinterest. And while I can’t claim to be going out of my way “Volunteering to do some useful service,” I am trying to be more useful on my job. And just as helping a newcomer find a meeting helps me, helping a kid graph algebraic equations makes me feel purposeful (when otherwise I feel like a mess).
11. Become a card-carrying member of the “No Matter What Club”
For God’s sake, whatever skillful or unskillful actions you end up taking during this time of triage, please don’t drink over him or her. They are not worth it. (And I’d put money down—money that I don’t have—on a bet that they’d agree with me.)
Voila! My top eleven tips to help you over the hump of heartbreak! Take what you like and leave the rest.