Ask an Expert: How Do I Treat Heartbreak Without Drugs?

By Janice Dorn 02/19/15
Today's question is on what to do when you're depressed after a broken relationship but don't want to get hooked on antidepressants.

I am dealing with the pain of a broken relationship. I got past the suicide state and now in the medicating state, trying a number of things. I got hold of some Celexa and a friend gave me some Diluadid (not the whole dosage) which actually helps but I know they are both addictive. This is just the worst pain ever and I am not sure which way to turn. Its 24/7 pain without pills. I am looking for some other way. Thank you. – Gloria.


Janice Dorn:  Hi Gloria. There are few things that bite, sting and hurt like a broken relationship.It’s a feeling of being stunned, empty, helpless, angry, guilty, broken, useless, worthless and in so much internal anguish that it seems nothing can fix it.  You are absolutely right about the 24/7 pain! I felt this pain once in my life when I was in my 30’s and I remember it today (many years later) just as if happened yesterday. 

It’s important for you to understand that you have to grieve this loss. There are stages that you will go through. It’s a process. I will tell you more about the stages and give you some possible practical actions you may want to consider taking while you get over this breakup. 

I don’t know if your relationship was with a man or a woman, so I will use the masculine. I don’t know how long you were in this relationship with him, but it will take at least twice as long for you to get over it. Throughout this process, you will still feel pain and hurt. You may want to try to find out what he is doing, who he is seeing, plus calling, texting, looking at his social media pages, doing web searches or driving by his home or going to where he works. All of these are perfectly natural to think about but really counter-productive to getting over him and moving forward.

First, the good news: You got through being suicidal. That is a wonderful achievement and I congratulate you on getting through. Now, the bad news. You are receiving a highly addictive opiate (Dilaudid) from a friend ( I won’t even ask from where your friend is getting such a potent substance) and starting down a slippery slope. If this is not stopped and stopped immediately, a broken relationship is going to be the least of your problems. A true friend does not give you addicting drugs. A friend sits with you, listens to you, brings you food, goes shopping with you, and goes with you for a mani-pedi, massage, movie or road trip. A friend is there to help you recover, not to bring addicting drugs that take you further into depression. 

Now that we have covered that aspect, let’s look at the stages you will go through to recover from the loss. There is no pain that won’t heal one way or the other. You will recover from this, but you have to take active steps to do it. Start by removing every trace of this relationship from your life. Get rid of his stuff and things in your immediate environment that remind you of your time together. If necessary, change your mattress, get a new bed, remove all photos, voice and text messages and take his contact info out of your cell phone. There will be a tendency for you to want to know where he is, who he is with or what he is doing. You may find yourself doing online searches for him, calling him and hanging up, texting or driving by where he lives or works. None of these things is helpful except to keep you hooked on the relationship.

Recovery from loss takes place in three stages, and they may overlap. So, you might be experiencing them all at the same time, with one or more stages dominating. The stages are: (1) shock/denial, (2) anger/depression, and (3) acceptance/healing. It sounds like you are in the shock/denial state right now and attempting to medicate the pain. You may want to seek professional help to see if you could benefit from talking therapy to get you through this. There are many good licensed counselors who specialize in grief and loss. Since you got through the stage of being suicidal, there is a good possibility that you can move through the remaining stages fairly quickly. I think you are young enough that you can do this with the proper professional help. 

If you are unable to afford it, look for grief support groups.  Be active and move forward. Everyone has experienced some kind of loss. Lean on family, friends and groups to help get you through this. Don’t try to be a hero and think you can get through this alone or with some help from your pain killers. Reach out. You may be amazed at the number of people willing to listen and support you.

Don’t ever try to medicate or numb your feelings. Feel everything. Sit in the pain and keep sitting in it. It’s a big deal and you have been wounded. You may feel frightened by the feelings that come up, but they are your body’s way of helping you heal. 

To get over a bad breakup, there’s nothing much better than listening to or belting out the lyrics of a great breakup song. There are literally thousands of these songs. Songs about loss of love and yearning can make you cry a lot, or can motivate you to recover and move on. Find a few good songs you can identify with and evoke emotion from you-- and keep playing them. Some that come to mind immediately are:

Ce Lo Green:  “Forget You”

Fleetwood Mac:  “Go Your Own Way”

Gloria Gaynor:  “I will Survive”

Cher:  “Do you Believe in Life After Love”

Lea Michelle (Glee):  “What I Did For Love”

In time and with a good support system, you will recover your self-esteem, regain confidence and become stronger. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise and healthy food. Stay away from the temptation to drown your sorrow in drugs or alcohol. Give your recovery time. It’s critical to remember that you really are so much more than an emotionally-wounded person. You are a real human being with wonderful qualities and you are a desirable woman who has become stronger as the result of going through this break-up. Not only will you survive, but you will prosper and become more alive and radiant from within. Open your heart and your mind to every possibility.  Life is a beautiful adventure with ups and downs and all-arounds. Hurt is a way of teaching us who we really are at the very core of our being. When all is said and done, you will look back and thank everyone for every lesson. You will be strong and stable and glowing in gratitude. There is hope!



Janice Dorn, MD, PhD, specializes in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. She holds a PhD in Anatomy and has done extensive research and teaching in brain anatomy and physiology. She is also an expert on addiction to stock trading and on stock trading itself. Her second book, Mind, Money and Markets, with co-author Dave Harder, is scheduled for publication in the fall.    Full Bio.

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