When I walked out the door of my ex-boyfriend’s house for the last time, I had no idea what the next chapter of my life would look like. My life took a dark, unexpected turn and I no longer had control over the wheel.

He walked me to the bus stop from his Staten Island home. I would no longer find solace in the house I’ve considered my second home for close to two years. This was the house where I lost my virginity, where I would be consoled during hard times, and where I felt most like myself.

I knew breakups would be hard, but the pain of never seeing this house again and losing the man I thought I’d spend most of my life with was too much to bear. It was the end of summer, but to me it felt like the end of an era. I was 22 and beyond the point of heartbreak and devastation.

We said our goodbyes and didn’t contact each other for two weeks. My ex reached out to make amends, but even if we decided to stay friends, it was never the same. The fairy tale that had been my life was over and now I was truly, and utterly alone. I had spent my entire life searching for love, and after finally finding it, it slipped through my fingertips. It was like watching my life fall apart from a distance and despite trying to keep it all together there was nothing that could save it. I spent the next few months trying to come to terms with my loss and singledom.

The first few weeks were so rough, I didn’t stay at home alone, from fear that my loneliness would overpower me. I couldn’t be in the house with the lights off unless I was going to sleep because I was mourning the death of my relationship. For four months straight I cried myself to sleep and couldn’t even get through a train ride with dry eyes.

Through the pain, I began to think of all the ways I didn’t need him anymore.

I learned how to cook and so I stopped spending time missing the meals he would cook for us. I watched all of the TV shows and movies that I enjoyed watching on my own, feeling a sense of relief that I no longer had to deal with his constant talking through it. I hung out with my close friends and most importantly  I spent time with my family who supported me and stayed by my side, encouraging me to find myself again. One moment in particular that got me out of my rut was celebrating one of my best friend’s birthdays with her in December, and laughing all night; it was a night of pure joy.

I grew up in New York City, where there is always something to do. Unfortunately, my ex and I did everything that could be done on a broke person’s budget, so most of the things I found myself doing with friends post-breakup, my ex and I had already done a hundred times.

It helped to rediscover old haunts without feeling tormented old memories of my ex and I such as having picnics at Central Park, and visiting Ignazio’s in Dumbo Brooklyn, a pizza place we frequented. I had picnics in Central Park with my friends months after we broke up, and even took two friends of mine at separate times to Ignazio’s. During the holidays when I was newly single I went down to Rockefeller Center with my best friend to see the tree, which in the past was something I’d do with him.

At first, my heart ached whenever I was down by Battery Park because of its close proximity to the Staten Island Ferry but it helped me gain the strength to feel comfortable in my city without him around.

Toward the end of 22, I had no idea who I was without my former flame. Spending the holidays without him by my side, and bringing in the new year for the first time alone in two years was rough. After turning 23 surrounded by my friends and family, I became the girl I was before he entered my life. As my heart began to heal, I started to laugh again.I wiped tears from my eyes that, for the first time in a long time, weren’t from sadness but from happiness.

My friends began to take up the space in my heart that my former flame had occupied. Instead of longing to be around him, I began to talk on the phone for hours with my close friends, stay out late at restaurants and bars; and I allowed myself to have fun without wondering what he was doing.

Even though I am grateful for everyone and everything in my life I still get the occasional heartaches when a sad song plays that brings me back to our painful breakup. There are songs on my playlist that I haven’t heard in months because I fear the moment I hear them, I will be transported back to our last day together last August.

When I look back at some of the best moments of my life with my ex, I feel bittersweet. But as time goes on, the pain subsides. Sometimes I still see my ex and I reflected in a couple I pass by on the street but now my heart no longer sees him by my side. I no longer am bound to the first man who broke my heart.

I allow myself to cry when I need to, and when I feel lonely, I embrace those feelings because they are temporary. I will be loved again, by someone deserving of it, and will embrace it when it comes. I know what it’s like to have been in love and feel loved, and there is nothing quite like it. There is strength in losing control, and putting the pieces of your life back together without the person who was always around to clean it up.

Although I know he will always be a part of me just as I will always be a part of him, I no longer need my former lover to feel whole. Through being single, I’ve learned that I have enough love from everyone around me, but most importantly, unlike my ex’s love, the love I have for myself will never falter.

Based in New York, Ali McPherson has published her work in HuffPost, The New School Free Press and Eleven and a Half Literary Journal. She is currently earning her Journalism M.A. at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism.