We’ve all been there; or maybe you haven’t yet. Either way, everybody learns a few lessons when they get their heart broken for the first time. I’m not talking about middle school drama, or the “s/he doesn’t like me back” heartache. While those situations suck, heartbreak—the kind that is near-crippling, the one that leaves you questioning your entire life up until the present—THAT heartbreak is something very different. It’s excruciating, to say the least, and it lasts for what seems like eternity.

When I was 17, I had my first real boyfriend. His name was Keith, and I couldn’t have been more of an idiot in love with him. We were inseparable at first—literally, our bodies were intertwined a lot at the beginning. My friends made fun of me, and rightfully so. It didn’t matter, though; I knew I wanted to spend forever with him.

Forever ended up being 5 months. I know what you’re thinking; 5 months? That’s not enough time for heartbreak! Well, calm down. I had known him as a friend years previous and we did love each other. However, we were headed in different directions, and as painful and as stupid as it was, we had to break up.

I was desolate. My roommate and best friend, Clarissa, tried everything, but I was an inconsolable mess. Nothing was okay. I wanted everything to go back to normal. I wanted to go to his place and cuddle up with him. I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted him back. But the reality of our differences was too real.

As awful as it was, two years later, I couldn’t be more grateful for all the lessons that I learned from it. So here are some important things to remember when you’re heartbroken.

Just because you love somebody doesn’t mean they’re the right one for you.

Love is a choice, not necessarily just a feeling. When you love somebody, you’re promising to stick around for the hard times. You’re choosing to accept their flaws and ride through the ups and downs with them. However, just because you love them, doesn’t mean that they’re the person you’re meant to be with. Sometimes, people are just different—they have different goals, different styles, and a personality that just doesn’t mesh with yours. It doesn’t mean they’re bad, or that you’re wrong, or anything negative. It just means it’s time to let go and let the two of you naturally take the paths you were meant to take.

Take as much time as possible to be single afterwards before getting involved with somebody else.

I made the mistake of jumping into a rebound relationship just a couple weeks after Keith and I broke up; and it was one of his friends, too. He was very good to me, and so kind.

I was awful. I would talk about Keith constantly. I would even compare them sometimes. I made him feel horrible about himself, I’m sure. Obviously, that ended pretty quickly.

Single life is the good life. Enjoy it, embrace it, LIVE it. Get to know yourself. Get used to being you outside of a relationship again. Pick up those hobbies you’ve let collect dust, go to that Pilates class you have been thinking about, or just stay home and eat a whole medium pepperoni pizza while watching Supernatural (nobody has to know)! Just do you. Don’t throw your heavy heartache onto an unknowing, innocent somebody. Rather, wait, reflect, and then let somebody who’s willing to share your “emotional baggage” come along.

Do not try to be friends with them after—it just doesn’t work.

TRUST ME. You know that one ex couple who still hangs out every now and then like the good old days, with absolutely no complications? Me neither. Keith and I tried it. Long story short, WAY too complicated. There are just too many emotions attached to exes. You see them, and instantly a tornado of laughter, anger, resentment, joy, charm, and confusion is tearing your insides apart. Save yourself the emotional drainage and just maintain your distance. Being friendly and civil is one thing, being best buds? How about no.

Focus on self-love in your time of heartache.

Nothing is more satisfying than being self-confident and knowing where your heart stands—not only about the breakup, but about yourself and the decisions you were forced to make. It’s so easy for people, especially girls, to overanalyze the situation and conclude that it was their fault. That they did something wrong and that they’re to blame. These are lies that you’re telling yourself. It’s not your fault and you don’t suck. People and relationships are always going to change. The one thing that my mom would remind of on a daily basis is this simple key phrase from Heraclitus: “Change is the only constant in life.” Don’t beat yourself up for something that was most likely inevitable or a solution to an unhealthy situation. Focus on the positives and learn from this experience. Once you do that, you’ll grow as a person and you’ll like who you become.

Although it may NOT feel like it at first, it’s going to be okay.

I promise you, everything will find a balance again. I remember thinking there would always be a gaping hole in my heart where Keith once stood. In fact, I remember “knowing” it. I didn’t want to listen to songs he would play or go to places we would regularly go. I figured it would make everything worse. I was a melodramatic 17-year-old. I’m 20 years old now, and I can honestly say, my life is jammin’! I’ve got a great job, I work with great people, I see my friends often, I have my own place, a little kitty. . . Sure, I think of Keith from time to time, but I’m not living in 2012 still. I’m not heartbroken anymore. I’m happy, I’m excited about what tomorrow holds, and I know love will come my way when I’m ready.

Heartbreak is world-shattering. Every time. It doesn’t just get easier. However, taking the right steps to take care of yourself after heartbreak can get you through that period in your life way faster than moping around. So my broken little warriors, keep your chins up. You got this.

Natalie De Castro is a novice tea drinker, cat whisperer, and Netflix binger. When she’s not cuddling with Dick Grayson—her best friend, cat, and vigilante—she’s either taking photographs, bossing people around at work, or eating some form of raw fish. You can follow her latest shenanigans on Instagram: @nataliedecastro.

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