How Heartbreak Made Me More Mindful

06/10/2014 08:31 am ET | Updated Aug 10, 2014
Dougal Waters via Getty Images

Young love is a funny thing. When you find it, you feel invincible. You think no one can comprehend the depth of the connection you feel to your person, let alone destroy it. But when you lose it, you feel like you've lost yourself. You realize you never really knew yourself without it.

I was convinced I had met my soulmate when I was 19 years old. Our meet-cute was straight from a black-and-white romance film, one that gives me butterflies all over again just thinking about it. We were separated by distance from the start, but that undeniable spark and unexplainable connection made the miles easy to forget most days. Hours of phone conversations made us the best of friends and made our bond only that much stronger. Together we dreamt about the day we would be standing in the same place -- for good.

But that day never came. One step forward and two steps backward became our signature dance as we wished desperately for our paths to truly converge. We swayed along in this hazy ballroom for four years, watching the geographic distance between us shrink and grow, shrink and grow, until one day when our feet grew tired of the slow-motion, stagnant steps we were taking.

At 23 years old, I missed the momentum of life that existed before we met. Peering out into the fog that seemed to perpetually surround me, I saw my future perfectly planned for me. All I had to do was wait a little longer and let it happen, but I didn't want to wait to let my life happen any longer.

Exactly seven months ago, the young love of my life came to a hurtful, complicated and devastating end. In a matter of weeks, we managed to lose the hope of ending up in the same place, the plan of living life truly together for the first time, the promise of forever. And I found myself wandering through the harsh winter of New York City completely and utterly alone for the first time in as long as I could remember.

After the obligatory week of endless sobbing, self-pity and self-doubt, the haze that had clouded my vision for so long began to dissipate. I realized that there was another side entirely to this crippling heartbreak, and while I wasn't sure at the time of what the silver lining could possibly be, I decided I wanted to find out. I have spent each day thereafter looking within to find the benefits of my broken heart, and surprisingly, it's incredible how much I gained through one of my biggest losses in life yet.

It gave me time.
All of a sudden, I didn't have to reach for my phone every five minutes to continue a never-ending text conversation that, to be honest, I usually didn't feel like participating in while at my office. I also didn't have to make sure I was home by 10 p.m. each night for a daily Skype chat, which had been reduced to us staring at our screens with resentment over the fact that we wouldn't be in the same room again for months. All of that time -- distracting, frustrating, and unsatisfying -- became mine again. I turned to the stack of meditation books on my nightstand lent to me by my father months before and replaced those nightly calls with personal reflections and lessons in mindfulness. Buddhist nun, teacher and author Pema Chödrön guided me through the first steps of my journey of rediscovering myself with the pages of her books each night. She taught me how to acknowledge my situation and my emotions, accept them for what they were and give myself permission to take all the time necessary to heal.

It gave me friendship.
My newfound time also revealed just how much I had dedicated to that single relationship, compromising opportunities to develop deeper friendships over the previous year I had spent living in New York City. I had even let some of by best friendships sit on the sidelines, and I knew that had to change. I channeled my energy into rekindling my relationship with my best friend who I met more than a decade ago, and I can confidently say that we are now closer than ever. A new job opportunity also connected me with some of the best girls I have yet to meet in the city. I have loved nurturing these new friendships and rediscovering the joy, comfort and love that comes from having some good, old-fashioned "girl time."

It gave me courage.
After four months of learning about mindfulness meditation, working through my hang ups with friends and trying to sweat the bad memories away on long runs, I admitted to myself that I needed some outside help. It took a little coaxing from my best friend to make the phone call, but seeking out assistance from a therapist was one of the best decisions I have made. For 45 minutes each week, I work through the remnants of my former relationship that have left me feeling lost, broken and confused regardless of the other amazing parts of my life. For the first time in my life, I genuinely believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

It gave me perspective.
One of the first yet critical messages I internalized in my weekly therapy sessions was the fact that I had yet to experience adulthood alone. The first and formative years following adolescence included another person standing by my side, affecting my thoughts, actions and emotions. It shouldn't have come as such a surprise that I felt like a part of me was missing once he was gone, but I needed the external perspective of my therapist to understand that. So I began again, confused and without a reference point, but excited to figure it out for myself.

It gave me strength.
After spending so much time growing with the same person, I struggled the most with deciphering where he ended and where I began. It has been challenging to get to know myself and understand how that differs from the influence he had on my persona. But this journey has, in time, exposed a confidence, strength and force of will I had forgotten. I began recognizing the young woman I saw in the mirror again, and I liked her for these qualities she had subdued all that time. I have since promised to never let her go again, never let her hide away beneath or demands or dominance of another person. Instead of making exceptions and excuses for others, I decided it was time I set the standard.

It gave me hope.
I am now at a point where I can look back and appreciate all of the amazing experiences those four years gave to me, as well as recognize the pieces that meant it was time for us to part. I'm grateful for the opportunity it gave me to learn about love and life at such a young age, and what that means for me as I approach the future. We simply weren't growing in the same direction. But I know my path will naturally converge with another person's someday, and when it does, I will be open the possibilities it presents. And whether or not my former love believes the same thing will happen for him, I can believe it enough for the both of us.