Brokenhearted one, I know you’re suffering so badly right now. I know you can’t see your way past, through, around, or over the breathtaking pain. You’d swear there’s just no way you’ll make it to the other side of your mountain of hurt.

And I know that one day, whether nearly here or far off yet, your every minute and every breath will no longer be defined or dominated by the horror of what just happened to you.

If your story of betrayal—or any kind of deep grief—is fresh, it’s likely you can’t even breathe regularly right now. Let alone accomplish any major milestones in healing. Yet still, your mind is ignoring your lungs and how they’re fighting for what feels like your very life.

Your brain keeps broad jumping away from the current moment in an attempt to arrive at knowing what will become of you, your relationship, your future. You’re endeavoring to heft more emotional overwhelm than your wobbly heart can sustain at present. You’re skipping over how important it is to first regain the breath knocked out of you.

It’s calm, healing breaths that you need more than anything in the immediate afterward of suffering any kind of emotional trauma. You need to breathe more than you need the answers to questions you never thought you’d have to ask. More than you need certainty about what will happen next. More than anything else, you need your heart rate to settle and your breathing to regulate.

“Just breathe” is not a platitude-laced cliché right now—it’s your own explicit advanced directive; meant to perform triage and save your life when you’re out of your right mind over the deepest sense of debilitating grief you’ve ever experienced.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Nothing else needs to happen right now. Slow your roll down to nothing but the breath. Make breathing all you expect of you. Focus solely on regaining control of your halting respiration. For not much else can be accomplished until you’re breathing normally again. Besides, you’re forgetting, or not realizing, that if you’re breathing, you’re healing. They’re one and the same.

Breathing is healing enough for now.

So just breathe.

How though? What’s going to help with this first and foremost important step in progressing past your pain? Mustering more patience for you than you’ve ever had for anything or anyone. Offering more grace to yourself than you’ve ever extended to any other soul. Expressing more empathy for what you’re going through than you ever have before.

Then begin to lower your expectations for how quickly you’re going to be able to heal until you have none whatsoever. Then go lower, still. All bets are off right now. There is no other goal at this moment other than breathing steadily. Did you forget that again already? I know, hon. I know you did.

So let’s start again.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Just breathe. To smooth out your labored respiration—take a nap, go for a stroll outside, or pick up a book to get lost in. Get absorbed in your craft or your art. Sit in the quiet stillness. Play that song. Call that friend. Make that appointment. Nourish your body. Quench your thirst. Stare off into space. Spoon with your dog. Pray.

Do whatever it takes to stay in the moment and resist taking on any burden beyond the breath. Keep trying all the things until you find your thing. Your way. Your method. Your way back to regular breathing.

For now, where there is pain or torment, do not allow your thoughts to wander. Stay well back from the abrupt edge of regrets and what-ifs. Tether yourself to the first and foremost necessity of the sustaining breath. Concentrate all your efforts on achieving one regular breath and then another. Work towards stringing a few together. Once you’ve mastered breathing normally again you can begin to plot your next move. Until then, stay put in the breath—challenging enough work at this precipice.

When attempting to heal from an unimaginable hurt, we can fall prey to determining we aren’t capable of the level of healing we need to accomplish. Or, often, we’ll subconsciously assign ourselves an acceptable pace for healing replete with expected finish time. But healing doesn’t work like that. Too many factors come into play, affecting our forward progress in ways we can’t fully anticipate or mitigate.

Did two people hurt you or one? Is this the first time you’ve been traumatized this way or have you been through this before? Will there be a sincere apology, obvious regret, and expressed remorse on the part of the offender?

Will they change their troubling behavior? Were you blamed for their actions? Is your trauma public knowledge or a private affair? There is no one-size-fits-all wound and thus no one way to heal. No universal timeline to adhere to.

So, just breathe for now.

For eventually heal, you most definitely will. Your recovery is a certainty—whether you’re able to grasp that yet or not. Your loving creator placed within you an innate ability to fight for survival. To strive towards rejuvenation. To achieve renewal.

Beyond all that, you were also gifted with the ability to learn important lessons from each and every circumstance you’re ever challenged to heal from. Even more miraculous, there is value to be found in every instance of hurt and healing. And all of this is by design for a reason. So for now, just breathe. Steady your breath and let that be enough. You’ll know when it’s time to proceed.

Take it from someone who’s a little further through the maze of healing: you will make it through. You will finish. You will move past what’s happened and on to better days. Days where breathing is second nature again. Days where you don’t have to use every ounce of energy you have left, every last dreg of strength just to breathe.

Those easier breathing days are on their way as surely as the sun will rise and warm the earth again tomorrow, as certainly as the stars will light up the heavens again tonight. All by design and for a purpose. So just breathe.

You may also like:

An Open Letter to the Heartbroken

Supporting a Friend Who Has Weathered the Storm of Betrayal

Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.