7 books you need to read after a break-up

I’ve been there.

Can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Your broken heart is the only thing you can focus on, and you have no idea how to mend it.

But what if instead of trying to forget the past, you learned to appreciate it?

What if you could channel all of that heartache into growth?

I’m not suggesting you suppress your emotions. If you want to cry, then cry. But if you want to laugh or smile or take a class or get away for awhile … then do it. Travel to a far away land, muster up the courage to join a band, sign-up for a painting class, or read a book on the grass.

Be on your own. Eat alone. Because there are places you haven’t seen and versions of yourself you haven’t been.

It’s not about forgetting the person you’re leaving behind, because that person helped make you you. It’s about looking back, whether that’s through tears or with a smile, and recognizing that person belongs in the past so you can become the person you’re meant to be in the future.

Sometimes looking back can propel us forwards. Sometimes moving on only takes four words:

Do it for you.

Do what you want. Be who you want. And what helps form opinions, shape values, and shift our belief systems over and over again? Books. Reading books helps us become the people we want to be by giving us perspective and opening our minds to up to possibility.

Here are 7 books to help you open yourself up to the possibility of letting go, the possibility of becoming a different person than who your former partner fell in love with, and the possibility of finding love again. (No, there are no sappy romance novels on this list, and yes, you must read them in order).

1. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Read this book first, because this will put things in perspective for you. You may be facing a mountain of trauma, but at least you can race to the top and see that it’s only downhill from here. As time passes and you put on those rose-colored glasses, your heart will mend and you’ll learn to love again. But Lucy Grealy never had her “just over the horizon” moment.

Lucy was diagnosed with a rare cancer at nine years old and had a series of surgeries which ultimately removed nearly half her jaw. This book is a haunting memoir on image and beauty seen through the eyes of a young girl growing into a young woman. Lucy wrote this book when she was thirty-two and sadly died at age thirty-nine. Despite the heaviness of the subject the writing is really soft and somewhat beautiful to read. Lucy’s story will suck you up and out of this world until you’re finally finished her haunting tale, leaving you with a new outlook on life and appreciation for self-love.

2. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

As we’re grieving a lost love, we often feel guilty as we start to find happiness again. We’re so used to swirling and twirling in the dark that any pocket of light that seeps in seems strange. That’s because you’re no longer sharing your happiness with your partner, you’re experiencing it on your own. It’s different, it’s eery, but it’s exciting. Nonetheless, our psyches register it as being foreign and so we’re apprehensive. We’re scared to feel happiness alone. We’re not sure if we even can. So how do you choose happiness when you’re not even sure if it’s a choice?

You read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Not only is Jenny stomach-wrenchingly funny, but she also struggles with mental health issues. Despite her ongoing battle, she still chooses happiness. She may not choose happiness every second of the day, because no one can, but she does share how this happiness is accessible to everyone, even during our lowest points.

3. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

So, you were dumped. You’re starting to find happiness again. Now what? You dive deep into your new life and swim hard against the current. It may be strong, but you’re stronger. And Cheryl Strayed’s book Brave Enough acts as the life vest to help keep you afloat. A beautiful, simple, yet profound book filled with snappy-quotes-only from the bestselling author of Wild. These quotes aren’t just words on paper, they’re little bits of Cheryl’s heart that take you on her journey toward finding herself while simultaneously provoking introspection and reflection on your heart’s holes, long-lost beaus, and future goals.

Three examples of quotes you’ll find in this book: “If it is impossible to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have,” “Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was,” and “Love can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued by sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and loaded by promises and commitments that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life is tackle the [motherbleeping bleep] out of it.”

4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

So you were heartbroken, then you slowly dipped your toes back in the water, and now you’re full-fledged sailing again, unsure if you’ll sink or swim. Maybe you want to sign up to learn skating, maybe you’re contemplating online dating, but you’re not sure where to start. You need inspiration. You can sort of envision the finish line but you can’t seem to find the starting point. It’s cool because I’ve got it. It’s called The Alchemist and it’s available at your local bookstore.

This book tends to find its way into the hands of readers who need it most. The Alchemist details an incredible journey of transformation and self-discovery. The protagonist, Santiago, is a young shepherd who dreams big, far beyond the limits of his hometown, and chooses to trust his intuition and chase his dreams. Although you’re joining Santiago on his adventure toward finding himself, you’ll likely find yourself along the way. As Santiago learns to trust the path unseen, put faith into the universe, and most importantly, believe in himself, so will you.

5. The Art of Living by Epictetus

You’re past the initial stages of heartache and are happily single … for the most part. You’re trying to look onward and upward, but it’s sometimes difficult not to look back in the past with regret, which feels like a step back. You’re struggling to focus on “the now.” You need something that grounds you, that brings you back to where you are, when you are, and who you are.

In my opinion, The Art of Living belongs in hotel bedside tables. Move over, Bible, Epictetus’ thousands-of-years old guidebook is coming through. It provides comfort when we feel far from home, or far away from ourselves. This book can guide us back and help us become the human beings we want to be. Marcus Aurelius and Seneca may hog the Stoic philosophy press, but Epictetus provides insight into what it means to be human -- the good, and the bad. Part of the appeal is that, despite being written so long ago, the translation feels like an email you got this morning from a wise friend. Sample entry to share a taste: “It is better to do wrong seldom and to own it, and to act right for the most part, than seldom to admit that you have done wrong and to do wrong often.”

6. How to Love by Thich Nhat Hahn

So you’re feeling pretty good, your feelings are understood, and you’re happier in all likelihood. The past was put to rest, you’re doing your best, and you’re finally feeling happiness … but what about love? Are you projecting that same love you thought you’d lost onto yourself, your friends, and your family, or did you leave your heart behind so you could get some peace of mind?

Everyone deals with breakups differently. But after the heartache and the pain comes the choice to love again. And if you choose to live your life from the heart, you’ll need a new place to start. Because the love you feel after a breakup can seem different. Whether it’s self love, family love, or new love, you sometimes need to reflect on how to love again, and this is the perfect book to guide you through that. The prolific Zen monk’s simple little paragraphs about mindful and compassionate love can open up our hearts and minds to a new way of loving. You’ll learn that as we express love to others, we become more connected to the world and ourselves. And isn’t that what life’s about? Because we all want the same thing in life: to love and to be loved.

7. Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield

It’s been a long journey. You’ve had immense lows and mountainous highs, but eventually you cajoled yourself into finding a new way of living, which means it’s time for some forgiving. Like I said, sometimes you can’t move forward until you’re comfortable looking back.

Looking back can propel us forwards, and moving on only takes four words: Do it for you.

Look back at the good times for you. Learn to appreciate how each and every moment of your relationship shaped you, changed you, hurt you, and rearranged you.

Look back at the bad times for you. They made you tougher and wiser, and into a better soldier and sympathizer.

This may not be your last heartache, but it could be your last heart break. Breakups won’t shatter your heart into pieces once you realize that some loves are meant to flow in catches and releases. Not everyone will stay, not everyone will go, but if you don’t at least try then you’ll never know. But we can’t really try again until we reflect on the past, so let’s summon the courage to compare and contrast.

Sometimes it’s easier to reflect together, and Love Is A Mix Tape is one man’s recount of his deepest, most heartfelt relationship. This funny, sad, beautiful memoir is about a guy who gets married young and becomes a widow soon after. (Not a spoiler as it’s revealed on the first page!) The story of indie music, mix tapes, and rock concerts is weaved through the book and it’ll appeal to anyone who’s ever been in a relationship where music was a part of the story.

Channel the courage that’s embedded in these pages to reflect on your own lost love so love doesn’t become lost on you. It’s in these books, it’s in these words, and it’s in you.