One of the best things about breaking up with my emotionally abusive ex (you know, other than gaining back my sense of self-worth) is that it got me to quit smoking. Smoking together was just one of the nasty habits we shared, but on the night we broke up, he asked me for a cigarette. I gave him the whole pack—then he walked out the door and out of my life.
I’ve barely smoked in the nearly three years since our split (after some slip-ups, I permanently quit about a year ago), and even the smell of cigarettes now make me feel nauseous rather than wistful for our nicotine-laced walks and conversations. This got me thinking: There have got to be other ways I can turn my anguish and heartbreak into something very positive. Not only for myself, but for others. (Heck, no one liked being around my smoking and I was selfishly putting other people’s health at risk every time I lit up.)
After I blocked him on social media, I started purging all the physical, hold-it-in-your-hands, throw-it-on-the-floor-and-stomp-on-it things that reminded me of him. But instead of throwing them in the trash (and lighting them on fire…) or regifting to my sister, I packed up all the gifts he gave me and clothes that still smelled like him and dropped them off at a local thrift store that also functions as a charity. (I went to Philly AIDS Thrift, but there is definitely an amazing place like this in your own area.) All that stuff was out of my life permanently, just like the person who treated my heart as something disposable.
All that stuff was out of my life permanently, just like the person who treated my heart as something disposable.
I thought it would be much harder to put these things in a box and say goodbye to them forever, but it was instantly cathartic knowing these items would take on a new life with someone else and that the money used to purchase them would go to the greater good. My ex may have been a bad person, but it doesn’t mean everything he touched had to be doomed to a miserable end.
And this strategy doesn’t only work for crappy ex-boyfriends. I have estranged members of my extended family who have done and said some incredibly toxic and hurtful things to me and my loved ones over the course of my life. One family member—who I otherwise have no contact with—continues to send me money on my birthday. I don’t know whether this gesture is made because they feel guilty or as a way to keep me tethered to them, but whatever it is, my stomach drops when that envelope arrives each July. In years past, I would tell myself that using the money to treat myself was helping make up for the pain that was inflicted on me. But really, it just covered it up.
This year, instead of having a decadent dinner or going on a shopping spree, I took the money and donated it to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a cause that’s near and dear to me. Once again, instant joy and relief—the rush I felt when I got the email confirming my donation was better than anything I’ve ever bought with that money before.
I was onto something here… When I think about a former friend who blamed me for the suffering that was caused by the men in my life, I donate whatever extra funds I have to Planned Parenthood. If I find myself dwelling on the time and confidence lost on boyfriends who didn’t appreciate either of those things, I remember the unconditional love I get from my dog, and I throw a few bucks towards the ASPCA.
Maybe there’s no such thing as a selfless deed (while writing this, I kept thinking about the PBS episode of Friends, and how Phoebe would point out that this article in and of itself is beneficial to me in some way), but transforming your pain into philanthropy is still worlds better than, say, engaging in self-destructive habits. The fact of the matter is, the donations can be as small as $5 or as big as your budget allows, but each act makes a difference for the organizations that you want to support and for your soul.
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