Heartache to Happiness

By Carrie Barrett – February 1, 2016
photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

A great English poet once wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman (or a dude) scorned.”  Oh, I know. He probably didn't add the word 'dude,' but for the sake of this piece, we’ll pretend he did. Let's face it—both women and men have had their hearts shattered and good old-fashioned heartache certainly doesn't gender discriminate. 

Seventeen years ago, I had my heart broken. Life, as I knew it as a 26-year-old, was wrecked and most days I found myself in a devastated pile of goo on the floor. Anyone who has gone through heartbreak remembers that feeling of a dense, dark blanket of sadness covering you every minute of the day. Your only reprieve? The few hours of sleep that you get when you're finally too tired to cry, lament, and question what went wrong. When you're not sad, you're angry—so damn angry that you want to get back at whoever it was that lodged those arrows directly into your heart like a bloody scene from “The Hunger Games.” 

As you know, those feelings of anger and revenge can be toxic, especially when you plot a myriad of sick and twisted ways to make sure your former lover is suffering as much as you are. This vicious cycle of plotting and scheming continues relentlessly until one day when you wake up a realize that the only person suffering here is you and, while the situation may not change, you certainly can

Getting revenge may be sweet, but isn't having a happy life sweeter?  Loving someone has it's rewards, but loving yourself is the foundation of all happiness. 

How in the world do you begin to love yourself again after your self-worth has been blown to bits by the one person who it revolved around?

Recently, two friends of mine in the Austin fitness community went through horrific long term break-ups with their respective significant others. I mention that they are in the fitness community because there's a presumption that if you look healthy on the outside, then surely you must be just as healthy on the inside. Not always so, as you'll see.

Gillian, 25, had been in a three-year relationship when her boyfriend left suddenly last fall and 30-year-old Will was fresh into a new marriage when, after just a few months after saying, “I do,” his wife decided to walk out on the marriage before many of their new gifts had even been opened. 

“For the first month I was devastated,” reiterated Will. “I couldn't get more than four hours of sleep, I didn't have an appetite, and I lost about 15 pounds off my 155 pound frame.” He was also worried about what people would think of him, especially since many of his friends and colleagues had attended his wedding just a few months prior. 

Gillian, too, was devastated and humbled. “Hell, I always thought that I was the good catch. I was convinced I was on the right track with my life and career, but this breakup rocked all of that and shined a bright light on just how co-dependent we had become as a couple.” Not only that, but she also realized in a heartbreaking way just how much she had been neglecting her family and friends because her life revolved so much around her boyfriend. 

This pair of well-respected friends were seemingly healthy on the outside, but suffering major illnesses on the inside. “I had to come to grips with some unhealthy choices I had made in the past year,” confessed Will, “because I had definitely fallen off track.” 

So, what happens when you go through a horrific breakup like these two? You can stay angry, bitter, and plot your revenge body workouts, or you can ultimately treat it as a new beginning; a chance to fall in love with the person that matters most: You. For Will and Gillian, this was their only choice. Sure, having chiseled abs and defined triceps are awesome, but in order to really heal heartache, they both had to learn to dig deeper than burpees and protein shakes. 

Ironically, starting any new fitness and self-healing regime is very much like going through a break-up. It's all so new, uncomfortable, and even painful at times. Every day is a constant self-conversation of, “Will this ever get easier?” The answer? Yes, with time. Both Gillian and Will are here to testify and share their journey.

photo by Brian Fitzsimmons

How do you begin to pick up the pieces and start a new routine?

Gillian recommends seeing a therapist for assistance. Much like a new athlete hires a coach to plot their plan and strategy, a person in the confusing throes of heartbreak will also benefit from seeing someone who can help sort the messy pieces. It's hard to imagine a positive outcome without an objective person helping you outline the steps to success. 

When you start a new fitness regime, find something that you like to do and begin to make it a habit. Most importantly, don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. That's how you begin to build your new foundation of strength and confidence. Will joined the Stronghorn Fitness bootcamp one Saturday morning and, nervous as he was to get out there by himself, he ended up loving it and now makes it a regular part of his routine for he and his dog. Gillian even went to a group meditation class thinking she would never make it through. An hour of silence and solitude passed and she felt like a new person after just one session.

Find joy in the simple things. Gillian's healing process is inspired by long evening walks with her dog, sometimes up to two hours long. “It was such a soothing escape for me to be outside, listening to a great podcast and just soaking in the evening atmosphere.”  In the same way, Will uses his sunset runs on the Lady Bird Lake to enjoy and appreciate his health and the beauty of Austin. “I look around and realize just how lucky I am to be living in this amazing place. For 60 minutes I could stop thinking about what went wrong.” 

Find a group of people doing something that interests you. There is literally a group for everything and a good starting point is to search various meet-up groups or fitness stores. Many have free workouts, social hours and other events. As Will stated, “I'm now learning that I can overcome adversity with help from a community.”

What will happen along the way? 

Well, like any new beginning, finding solid footing is hard, but consistency is the key to any success. 

There will be some physical and emotional pain along the way. The path to healing and self-love is not a straight one, as both Gillian and Will have discovered. You can fill every minute of the day with activity, but that can also leave you exhausted and depleted. “Time does heal all, but it's what you do with your time that matters.” Sometimes that time must be spent grieving or embracing the pain and discomfort. Just like a new fitness regime leaves you sore, so too does building a new life. Expect some pain and a few setbacks along the way.

Out with the old and in with the new. When you change your routine, know that you'll friends, job, and social life may also change drastically—for the better. For Gillian, it actually brought her closer to her family and friends because they were such an important support system for her. Will has also stressed his joy of meeting new people at different group classes. It's not always easy, he admits, but  reconnecting with the Austin fitness community and taking various classes around town has made me more vulnerable which, ironically, has made me more confident.

Expect to become more independent and enjoy your “me” time over the “free” time. Yoga, meditation, more time with your beloved pets, going to movies and restaurants alone—these are just some of the independent benefits you'll receive when you begin to fall in love with yourself. That one person may not be there, but you'll be there for yourself and that's ultimately the person you'll need most.

What results can I expect?

When you refocus your efforts on yourself, little physical and emotional miracles occur daily. Is it hard? Hell, yes. But any coach will tell you: No pain, no gain. With challenge often comes reward, and both Will and Gillian are now reaping those rewards.  

A Deeper Understanding of  Gratitude.

“When you treat your body right, you naturally become more grateful,” says Gillian. “No man can ever really fill a void because it always comes back to self-love. Gratitude is such a big word, but it comes down to simple little actions each day like saying thank you, complimenting others, and being appreciative.”

Physical Pay-Off.

Will is running farther and faster than he's ever run before and he's actually getting his six-pack abs! Yes! Gillian, too, has increased her endurance and stamina. Both have literally fallen in love with fitness and all of the physical benefits it provides by trying new things and remaining consistent in their efforts.


Mentally, they are both so much sharper thanks to a healthy fitness regime balanced with restorative practices like yoga and meditation. By default, too, they both sleep and eat much better because they are adequately and positively fueled for the next day. 

The Ultimate Result: Self-Love.

As much as you think getting your revenge bod will make your former partner jealous, the real reward is a new, positive outlook and attitude that you gain from treating your body with the love and respect it deserves. Real self-love is not letting what anyone says or does to you torpedo how you feel about yourself. Real self- love is being kind to yourself and others, thinking positively, appreciating life and remaining grateful through the ups and downs. 

“In good times and in bad
In sickness and in health
Til death do you part.”

I Do. 



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