Life Health

PROULX: How to mend a broken heart

Jennifer Aniston was famously dumped on a beach by Brad Pitt. Her heartache prompted a million tabloid headlines. GETTY

Jennifer Aniston was famously dumped on a beach by Brad Pitt. Her heartache prompted a million tabloid headlines. GETTY

SHAUN PROULX/ 24 HOURS

Is a broken heart actually... broken? Asking for a friend, who now finds himself/herself alone and confused after their partner - drug-fuelled and having gone without proper sleep for weeks - suddenly up and left them in favour of a "personal journey" (when the only journey they ought to take is one leading to counselling).

Whether or not you've had your heart broken because addiction took over your relationship, if you've been romantically involved at all, you have already endured what feels like your heart breaking, literally. (And if you've endured one heartbreak, you have a 75% chance of enduring another, too, according to research. Ow.)

The pain is indeed real. The reason it actually physically hurts is because the same area of the brain that lights up when your body is injured lights up when you suffer from an intense social rejection. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the scientific term for the weakening of the muscular portion of your heart due to emotional stress (ie: a broken heart), named after Japanese octopus traps, which are shaped like your heart's ventricular apex.

Unlike being in love, when dopamine and oxycontin flood your body - which is why falling in love is addictive - being heartbroken causes those feel-good drugs to wash out of your body, with stress hormones like cortisol replacing them. Too much cortisol causes blood to flow to your muscles, which is why, if your heart is broken as you read this, you might have a headache or stiff neck or feel like your chest is being squeezed by a vice.

Because love is as addictive as recreational drugs as strong as crystal meth, you also go through the same sort of withdrawal addicts do when they don't have their fix anymore. Luckily, the symptoms subside, eventually, and a new normal begins to emerge.

I've been researching the best ways to manage the recent plot twist in my friend's life, and it turns out that the ideal way to actually is not via tubs of ice cream alone, as previously believed. Whether you feel like it or not, the best way to get your dopamine levels back up is to enter the world and do the things that bring joy to your life. Being isolated only agitates a broken heart. Even the socializing that comes through multiple romps in the sack are better than sleeping alone in your newly empty bed at first, and if shagging is not for you but you love a cocktail, research shows that a bender is actually good for the soul (providing your soul is not that of an addict).

The silver lining to any heartbreak is that it's an opportunity to invite a sort of existential crisis into our lives - bearing in mind how many live half-asleep. Whether we live with little thought or intention behind anything we do, or intentionally always, heartbreak can be seen as a time to wake up even more, to look at who we were in the recent past, and who we want to be going forward. We can use it as a time to question our judgment, our choices and we can also go super-deep, connecting the dots between the issues that were in the relationship back to our childhood.

Best of all, we get new time to question if we'd ever travel down Relationship Road again, or ponder in the case of my friend, if we'd start all over again with the one who broke our heart. That is, if they should get help, become accountable, and face themselves in the mirror, which is now their great wish, as they carry on, despite a broken heart.

The Shaun Proulx Show airs on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167. He is the publisher of TheGayGuide Network.com and leads a #ThoughtRevolution about busting through personal limits on ShaunProulx.com.