The Art of Putting Yourself Back Together.

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dream petals

The summer of 2011 was known for a tornado outbreak across the southern United States.

In total, 1,701 tornados were reported that year, six of them were rated EF5—the highest rating based on the amount of damage they caused. On May 22, 2011 the most destructive of the tornados hit Joplin, Missouri, leaving the town in rubble. A couple of months later, a tornado hit my life in the form of the end of my marriage, leaving it too, in rubble.

Just like the people of Joplin, I had to learn how to put my life back together.

On the day that I was moving out of my house, I remember standing in my kitchen and thinking that I was standing where my life used to be. While the house was physically intact, my home was destroyed. I was thinking of the people of Joplin. I envisioned them going through the same process I was going through of sorting through the wreckage. I cried for them, and I cried for myself.

Life can change in an instant. The change can come in the form of a weather event, the sudden end of a long-term relationship, the death of a family member or loved one, a miscarriage, a car accident, the onset of mental illness, or the first time you stick a needle in your arm.

There are moments that will permanently change our lives forever, leaving us standing among the rubble wondering what happened. While these moments are filled with fear and uncertainty, they are also filled with possibility.

Three years have passed since the tornado of divorce ripped through my life. I am sitting here at my dining room table in a different home, my life intact and fulfilling. So much has transpired to bring me to this point. As I sit here and reflect on the collection of moments, actions, and events that have brought me to this place, it occurs to me that three years ago my life was a blank canvas; now it is a beautiful painting.

I was blessed with the grand opportunity to redesign my life, and I have learned the art to putting myself back together.

It goes without saying that the first step is to take care of yourself. We all know that we must start with the basics of self-care. Make sure to get plenty of rest, eat healthy meals, exercise, practice meditation, and drink water. It is important to take good care of yourself to prepare for the work ahead.

Sort through the rubble

Just like the people of Joplin, standing in the debris of their shattered homes, my first step was to bend down and pick up the pieces of my life.

I had to physically sort through and choose what to take and what to leave behind. Unlike the people of Joplin, I feel fortunate that my belongings were not scattered or ruined. Although, while they weren’t ruined, they no longer had any use to me. I took a few treasured items, and chose to leave most of my belongings behind.

It occurred to me that I was offered the chance to start with a clean slate, and that it was important that I take it. It felt important to travel light and not burden myself with the trappings of the past.

Fall apart

When you are standing in the wreckage of your shattered life, sometimes the only thing to do is cry. To me it seems a sane and healthy reaction. Tears cleanse the palate and water the soul.

Falling apart is a very important step in the process of putting yourself back together. In fact, by definition, you cannot even start putting yourself back together until you fall apart. Lying broken in a pile on your bedroom floor is a rite of passage in the process.

I spent almost two years crying over the loss of my marriage. I cried while driving. I cried while ordering my latte at Starbucks. I cried in class. I cried at work. I cried pretty much everywhere. I am pretty sure that I was known around town as “the crying lady.” Until one day, I no longer did. The tears had washed me clean.

Transformation is painful and heartbreaking; there really is no way around it. The only way out is through.

Go ahead, scream it out!

When your life takes a sudden turn and doesn’t work out the way that you had planned, it really sucks and it can really piss you off!

As a culture, we are fearful and judgmental of anger; however anger is completely normal and healthy. It is part of the full range of human emotions, and has just as much right to be expressed and explored.

I have never really been good at allowing myself to feel angry. Growing up I taught myself to shove any feelings of anger deep down and not let them out. I never learned how to safely get in touch with these feelings, much less express them.

When my marriage ended, I got mad at everyone and everything. I was mad at the world for taking away my life. I was mad at my ex-husband for not being the man I thought he was or I wanted him to be. I was mad at the sky for making the clouds rain and at the sun for being so hot on my skin—you name it, it pissed me off!

In order to help me express my anger in a healthy way, my roommate and I started the “What the f***?!” practice. It was really awesome, actually. Whenever one of us was feeling overwhelmed or angry at the world, we would yell “what the f***?” This helped immensely. Simply getting my anger out in fits and bursts allowed me to stay present in the moment and deal with the reality of my pain in a productive manner.

Get by with a little help from your friends

Just like the people of Joplin, I was homeless. I was extremely lucky to have a good friend who opened his home up to me and allowed me to stay with him while I was rebuilding.

Allowing yourself to admit that you need help is never easy. It was difficult for me to reach out and ask for help, but I never would have gotten to the place I am today if I hadn’t. I call this process “getting low,” because you have to humble yourself.

I imagined the people of Joplin sleeping at friends’ houses too. I thought of them accepting donations of food and clothing to help get them back on their feet. I felt deeply connected to them, and to the people who were stepping up to help.

My friends showed up for me in the most amazing ways and were by my side every step of the way holding me and shining a light on the path ahead. Along with the friend who offered me a place to sleep, I had many other friends who assisted me along my journey. I am deeply grateful for their presence, compassion and generosity.

There were accidental friends and auspicious friends. There were the friends who gave me work and the friends who offered smiles. Along with my friends, my parents and family also offered me love and support. Nothing of great significance is ever accomplished alone. Nothing.

Practice gratitude

When things fall apart, it makes room for magic. Be open to the gifts of the universe and be grateful for them.

When things are dark, this is the most important time to practice gratitude. My father chants “thank you” 100 times daily. Simply saying the words “thank you” can change your perspective and shift your mind from focusing on what you have lost to what you still have.

When in the shower crying, I would remind myself to be grateful for the warm water that was flowing freely from the pipes. When I was crying in the car, I would remind myself to be thankful for the fact that I had this tube of metal propelling me efficiently down the road. When I was angry at the sun for shining so hot, I reminded myself to be grateful that its rays helped to grow the food that nourished my body.

Identify your core values

When my world was turned upside-down, it felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Taking the time to sit down and meditate on my values and get in touch with what was important to me gave me a path to follow when I got turned around.

The values that I identified as most important to me were honesty, dedication, and loyalty. I wrote them out on the whiteboard that hangs above my desk so that I could see them everyday. Doing this helped me to get out of my head and live in the present rather than the past. It also gave me a call to duty. Once I named my values, I become hyper aware of the areas in my life where I was not be living up to them.

Put pen to paper

When a storm hits, it can leave us spinning. I found that keeping a journal helped me to sort through the s*** to find the pearls.

My brother is working the 12 steps. He was sharing with me the other day that one of the most difficult and useful things that he does in his process is to sit down and write. The practice gives him perspective and sheds light on how far he has come.

Do a little dance

All good stories have a theme song. In the movies when the protagonist is finally coming out of her struggles, there is always a montage of her showering and getting dressed. They show her going out into the world and buying flowers and dancing in the rain. A cheesy song usually accompanies this scene; every victory montage needs a song.

My personal favorite has always been and will always be “Rubberband Girl,” by Kate Bush. Anything by Beyonce will also do the trick.


Take your time and go at your own pace

This time belongs to you. You are in charge. It is liberating and freeing. If you want to stay home in your pjs and watch bad TV and eat ice cream, do that! The time will come when you will be ready to get up and face the day again.

When a home is ruined by storms, it has to be demolished and rebuilt. This process takes time. There is a method to the process. First we must lay the foundation, then construct the frame and lay the bricks. Each step requires careful attention, and if a step is missed, the home will not be sound.

By taking ownership of my process and doing it at my own pace, I was able to come to a place where I could fully move on and let go of my past life.

Move on

I was just having a conversation with a friend who recently went through her own process of rebuilding. For many years she was a member of a community that meant a lot to her. Her association with the group ended painfully, and she had to take a few months off to collect herself and heal.

She was sharing with me that she has now come to a place where she feels that she is ready to join a new group. She was practically glowing when she was talking about it. “I have a new posse,” she said beaming.

One of the final steps of rebuilding is moving on and putting yourself out there again. If you have been through a break-up, this might mean making an OkCupid profile. If you have rebuilt your home after a tornado, it might look like hosting a house-warming party. Whatever it is, go out there and find a new posse.

Help a fellow out

When we are finished laying the foundation and building the walls of our new lives, we are in a good position to reach out and offer a helping hand to someone else who is going through the same pain.

At the end of my two-year mourning process, I decided to go through a training program and become a life coach. I wanted to be in a position where I could help other people who were facing the challenges of having to put themselves back together and offer support along the way. This has been the most rewarding and fulfilling part of the journey so far.

In the summer of 2011, along with the people of Joplin, Missouri, my life was rocked to the core. Now I sit here in 2014 so much better and stronger from the experience. My life is rich and full. I have learned the art of putting myself back together.



What to do when we’re super angry. Grrr!

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Leah Neas

Leah Neas is a life coach in Austin, Texas. She specializes in helping people heal from heartbreak and moving through major life transitions. She is a Shambhala Buddhist, a poet, a lover, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, and a tender-hearted warrior. If you’re looking for her, you will find her at a coffee shop, at brunch with friends, playing chess with her boyfriend, or at Town Lake with her sweet pup Hobo. You can learn more about her on her website or on Facebook.


35 Responses to “The Art of Putting Yourself Back Together.”

  1. Ted says:

    Leah has been an active member of my support team all her life.

    i remember sitting in the driver's seat of our old VW as she spoke to me from the passenger side and being amazed at her wisdom… she was 3.

    It is a blessing to have such a daughter, and i am grateful she is in my life.// Leah's dad

  2. Gerry Ellen says:

    This is a beautiful piece and I resonate with every word. Thank you for putting it so eloquently, and the mere fact you now live in Austin very cool. It is a solid place with the friendliest people and an excellent creative and writing community (I'm a native Austinite myself!)…Good for you sharing your heart and being so transparent. Much gratitude for this…<3

  3. miranda says:

    Thank you for writing this wonderful piece. Great advice and comforting words for anyone going through challenging times.

  4. Caroline Bernier says:

    Thank you Leah for this most heart-touching post. I was married almost 30 years. He left 4 1/2 years ago and I am still sobbing. In the process of the divorce, my only child fell through the cracks. I have not seen or heard from him for a year and a half. My son chose his dad's side who is very manipulative and controlling, especially with money. I have definitely connected with your post but I believe I need to figure out how to be angry. I know that emotion is in me but I just don't know how to really express it. I am still in the same house with all of the memories. I am grateful, maybe not enough. I hope to one day be in a place in my life as you are, feeling whole again. I do not know who I am! Thanks again! Hugs, Caroline

  5. Caroline,

    I am so sorry for your heartbreak and pain. Do yourself a favor and learn to get angry. I don't recommend that you go on a rampage, but getting in touch with and expressing anger is healthy and cathartic. You can and will feel whole again, it just takes time (which at times like these seems to go too slowly, I know). I wish you peace and healing.


    P.S. maybe hold a garage sale…you will get rid of some of that stuff and maybe make enough to treat yourself to a spa day!

  6. Denis says:

    I hardly create remarks, but i did some searching and wound up here The Art of Putting Yourself Back Together:

    Moving Through Difficult Times. ~ Leah Neas | elephant journal.

    And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you do not

    mind. Could it be simply me or does it look

    like some of these remarks come across as if they are left by brain dead people?

    😛 And, if you are posting at additional social sites, I’d like

    to keep up with anything fresh you have to post.

    Would you make a list of the complete urls of your shared sites like

    your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    • Denis,

      I am glad that you stumbled upon my article, and I am honored that you found it comment worthy. You can find a complete list of all my social media as well as my other articles on my website: I would be glad to have you follow me.



  7. Mylie says:

    it's so helpful 🙂 thank you for sharing this……………. and i'm so happy for you

  8. Mati says:

    Thank you Leah, This is a beautiful read and so timely for me. ♥

  9. Mandi says:

    I felt as if you could have been putting words to the journey that I, too, began in 2011. Late 2010, my then fiancé left after a 12 minute and 13 second, excruciating phone call, never to be heard or seen from again…4 weeks before the wedding we’d planned. Pure adrenaline from the shock of how drastically my life changed kept me going for a few months, until 2011, when my life collapsed on top of me. I also spent those following 2 years picking up the pieces. In doing so, I have seen and learned the sacredness of falling apart. And although it was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I can’t imagine life without that period of time in which I was allowed, and allowed myself to fall apart, pick up what I truly needed, and uncover from the rubble, the person I was truly meant to be. The me I was meant to be all along. Thank you for your authenticity and raw emotion in sharing the sacredness of your own process. I believe it can give hope to those who are still staring at the rubble of their respective tornadoes. Much love and light! -mandi

  10. Leah says:


    Your story touches my heart and brings tears of tenderness to my eyes. I am sorry for your pain, and so thrilled to learn of your transformation! The moments when the rug gets pulled out from under us can be at once the worst and best moments of our lives. Falling apart is indeed a sacred process. I am very grateful for my journey…and I am glad to know that you completed yours ("completed" being the most convenient word, despite it being not totally accurate).

    Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story.



  11. Anonymous says:

    I thought this article could give me tips to overcome my dad's grief…. I found it better applies to love break-ups. Maybe rename it? Or could you show us how this would apply to grieving?

    I am unsure what rubble there are to sort, and what choice I have on what to keep or not in this context;
    I am unsure what to ask my friends – they don't know how to help;
    I cannot just fall apart and "stay home in my pjs and watch bad TV and eat ice cream" I have a job;
    How do I move on? How I am grateful for this?

  12. Leah says:


    I am very sorry for your loss. We all face different types of pain in our lives. This article is an account of a painful time that I went through and how I learned to work with it. I have not had to meet the particular type of pain you are currently facing. At the end of the day, grieving is a very personal process. I wish you healing and peace.

    I will address your questions as best that I can:

    The rubble that you sort through in situations such as this would be any unresolved quarrels…words left unsaid, actions left undone. It is about choosing to keep the beautiful memories and let the rest go. Also, there might be physical rubble in the form of dealing with an estate or left over finances. It is looking around and realizing that your life does not look the same as it once did…and it will never look that way again.

    I am sure that your friends do want to help. The key is to ask. I know that right now you might not even know what you need. It is ok to say that too. Maybe you need space. Maybe you need someone to hold your hand while you cry. Maybe you need someone to drive to the wilderness with you and allow you to scream it out. If you have friends who have been through this, reach out to them. Ask them for support and allow them to show up in whatever awkward, clumsy ways they do.

    The idea is not to lose your job, but please do take the time to fall apart. Your job is important, but you have another important job to do right now, and that is to heal.

    Nobody expects you to be grateful for this right away. This is a process. Gratitude is an indication that you have moved down the path of healing and you can look back and see how far you have come. There will be a time when you will be grateful that you had the time that you had with your dad, and that he passed his legacy on to you.

    As far as how to move on, moving on is also very personal. It takes time. The reality is that you never really move on from the death of a parent, you come to terms with it and allow it to become a part of your life story. It is not really about moving on, it is about allowing it be a part of your journey.

    I hope that you find this helpful…take what is useful and leave the rest.

    With love,


  13. Bev says:

    Thank you for putting my feelings into a clear concise record. The summer of 2011 was IT for me as well. We were together since I was a 17 yr old senior in high school. After 45 years , ups, downs , water , bridges: he died. I've survived and now thrive. It seems almost life someone else's life ; there will always be tears and sadness. But, in every way and everyday I get better and better.

  14. Leah says:


    I am sorry for your loss. 45 years! Wow. that is quite impressive. Congratulations not only surviving, but thriving! It is amazing how we never know our own strength until we are met with adversity. Thank you for reaching out across time and space to share your experience with me.



  15. Rhonda B says:

    I am so grateful that I came across this writing tonight. Only hours ago my husband and I decided to call it quits after 20 years. The pain I feel is suffocating. My tears seem endless. And I'm scared and uncertain of what to do next. I know its really over and that is what isbest for both of us, but the pain from the loss has made me immobile. Reading your words, especially "you can not even start putting yourself back together until you fall apart." has given me a blip of hope that I will be ok and if I take advantage of the opportunities that are hidden in this horrific time of my life, I might really have a chance at becoming the person I believe I am suppose to be unsteady of living as someone I am not with continuous criticism and falling short of someone else's expectations I simply can't live up to. These tears are now more comforting and I will begin sorting through my rubble with a bit of peace. Well, it's a start.

  16. Mara says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have a similar story: my 7-year marriage ended last year (almost a year ago today, though it was really over before that); and I am still a wreck over it. We made a 1300-mile move, the entire time knowing it was over. Even though we both knew it was the right decision, even though I'm exploring a relationship with someone else, it still hurts. Part of it is that I, too am still basically homeless: I'm a grad student with not enough money to have my own place, so my ex (who is still a good friend) is okay with me living with him until I finish my master's. Finding solace in a studio apartment isn't easy unless I'm on the phone huddled in the bathroom. I hope every day I can find the strength to make it through; especially on days like today where it feels like I'm breaking down every 5 minutes.

    TMI, I know. But thank you. So much.

    • Leah says:


      Not TMI at all! Thank you for sharing your story with me. A year is still very fresh, be gentle and kind to yourself. One day you will wake up and the tears will not flow so easily. I am glad to know that you have a safe warm place to lay your head at night. I hope that you have a lovely neighborhood park to escape to when necessary for long walks.

      Congrats on finishing up grad school, by the way!



  17. Munni says:

    Dear Lea your transparency is helping me and some of my friends. You are a skilled writer and have succintly expressed pain. The assistance is practical and empathetic- thank you very much

  18. Leah says:


    Thank you for the kind word. I am very glad that my words were able to help you and your friends.



  19. Cat says:

    love love love this article! I'm processing a very painful breakup and I found this article to be very encouraging. It's hard to keep trudging forward and trust that it will all be ok, but hearing of other people making it through difficult times gives me courage. I love the line, "tears cleanse the palate and water the soul." Taylor Swift has a really beautiful breakup song from her new album called Clean, which says, "the rain came pouring down when I was drowning, that's when I could finally breathe." Your quote and her lyrics connected in my brain for some reason. It's hard to welcome tears, but you're absolutely right, we have to walk through the pain.

    xx Blessings.

  20. Leah says:


    I am sorry to hear of your breakup and your pain. Please do allow yourself to cry. Allow the tears to flow and clean your soul. I love that Taylor Swift lyric. I will look up the song and listen now.

    I wish you much luck on your journey walking through the pain. May you heal well and find a new sort of peace and happiness.



  21. Boni says:

    Thank you for this article. I can see/hear what you are saying and it will help.

    There was a man in my life that I fell in love with—-I thought he was a good kind man——-we had had several conflicts before—but when he told me that he couldn't love me——-that my background was not good (although I have no idea what he is talking about) and he told me he could never love me as our lifestyles were so different—they weren't——

    At one time we had talked about moving in together—–and a few weeks later —he called and wanted me to meet for dinner (he lived about two hours away) and then on to his home—-after dinner for the weekend——–not five minutes later—-he called and told me not to come——-he didn't want me——he had been seeing another woman since Thanksgiving (this was shortly before Christmas) and the relationship was serious——-

    I spent the holidays crying—I had already lost so much this last year—I had lost a brother who had always been there for me and I was still in grief over him———and I can tell you–this man took me down—–

    I am Irish with the Irish temper—–and in email's and phone calls——I tried to find out why he would do such a horrible thing to me—-no answer——–and have to admit—-I called him every name in the book–

    This is still very hard for me——but I am surviving and trying to go forward——–

    The last week———-he called me and asked about being "friends with benefits" and nothing more——and explained that was all it would be as he was trying to get back with this woman who was holding him off as she wanted to see other men.

    Some days I wonder just who is crazy here—–was I crazy to love him—–or is he just crazy——

    Still hurting and wondering if I will survive this——

  22. Sydney says:

    What a great, inspirational piece! Thanks for the post!

  23. Megan says:

    Thank you for sharing. Over a year and a half later since my husband's affair and I still find myself nostalgic and mourning. We have been split but still share a preschool aged son so it has been difficult to look pain in the face, twice a week. But, as you mentioned: a lesson. This forced me to come to terms with my own shortcomings and failings in my marriage and how I used anger as a distancing tool. In forgiving myself, I found compassion and true forgiveness for my ex. That, and giving thanks! Dancing! All tools to help stay present. Some days I'm over it, some days I relive it, but each day, I let go a little more and embrace the real gift of what destruction has brought me. Healing truly is powerful. Loving yourself and realizing your worth and strength can take you so many places. Realizing what had to be sacrificed, in order to gain, is freeing. And thank God for my bestest friends, to be there, entertain and push me out of a funk when I had no fuel.

  24. Tania says:

    My Husband has left me and our children for someone else. We had been together for 25 years. He started seeing her 2 months before he finally had the courage to tell me. Our marriage was not great towards the end but I did not see that coming. Our love was never questionable but now he is telling me he does not love me anymore and that he now loves her and has moved on. This only happened 3 months ago and now they are living together. I have so much support which I am using but the emotional roller coaster has been pure hell. I’m slowly pulling through this but I know it is still early days for me. Reading your piece has given me so much comfort. I know I am still in the process of falling apart but now I can go forward with hope in my heart and soul that I can rebuild myself based on my values and not his.

    Thanks to you and my protectors for letting me read this.

  25. I loved this, thank you!

    “When your life takes a sudden turn and doesn’t work out the way that you had planned, it really sucks and it can really piss you off!”

    There’s always humor in truth.


  26. Peter says:

    Thank you Leah for this article. I go through a relationship break up at the moment as well. Being in that situation I read a couple of interesting articles on the topic. One thing becomes more and more evident to me not at least through my own experience. It makes a big difference if you are male or female.

    My partner and I separated on common grounds. I didn’t leave her nor did she leave me. We separated. We actually still live in the same house until we can sell it. We don’t fight, we are totally clear on how we will split up our assets etc. We still go out for dinner together, I even got a birthday present from her.

    Totally different from outsider’s point of view. My female partner is the victim and I am the bad guy who left her. That’s totally stuck in people’s heads. No explanations can change that. It goes that far that friends which were more or less my friends now avoid contact with me. My best friend – well at least I thought so – “can’t cope with the situation”. Same as you get great support from friends my partner does so, too. And I am very grateful for this. Because even if we are not fighting it is a stressful time. For both of us. Only I don’t get any support. Nobody asks me how I am and how I cope. The opposite, I have less and less people in my life. Because I am the bad guy. I must be because I am the man and as we all know, men leave women.

    I do cope ok with it. I have lots of disappointment in my life now because more and more good friends fall off. I see it as a cleansing process. Also as a chance to start from scratch. But there is one scar it will leave behind. The feeling that you can’t really trust people. People I thought were good friends were suddenly gone when I needed them most.

    It is interesting to see that all reactions to this article come from female readers. Did you intend to write for a female audience? Do you know of any good sources which help men to cope with the stress of a relationship breakup? Or does the world think we are all tough bastards who leave their wives, girlfriends and partners and that men don’t need support? It appears to be like this.

    Thank you again for your interesting writing.



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