It is sixteen years since I came home to an unnaturally quiet house to find my partner waiting, grim-faced, to speak to me in the lounge. Instantly I expected the worst, since we’d recently received two devastating phone calls – one to tell us that his best friend had been killed in a cycling accident, and the other to tell me that my father had lost his battle with cancer.
But this was to be a different kind of devastation. My partner told me he had met someone else while he’d been on a skiing holiday with his brother, four months previously. He wanted to be with her. Our relationship was over.
He was my Mills and Boon romance. My sweep-me-off-my-feet hero. The man I’d planned to be walking hand-in-hand along a beach with when our hair was silver. And suddenly, he was gone from my life, forcing me to find the resources to start all over again and to build a new vision for my future.
Although it has been sixteen years since I received that devastating news, and my life is both happy and fulfilled now, I’ve never forgotten the roller-coaster of emotions I experienced in the years that followed, or the one step forwards, two steps back kind of progress I made for a while, as I set out on my journey of recovery.
I’ve never forgotten either, the role that writing played in my recovery journey. My journal was my friend and listening ear as I poured out my grief and despair, and later, it was my support as I began to find the strength to plan to dream again. My initial shock and despair were followed by an extreme anger and sense of injustice, and I put these feelings into a novella, allowing my main character to take the kind of revenge I would never have taken myself.
For me, writing was truly cathartic, as well as creative.
Years later, and with a knowledge and insight about the seasons of recovery from a relationship break-up, I felt compelled to bring the healing power of writing therapy to others. I hated the thought that people who were as feeling as low as I had, might not be able to access the amazing potential of writing to help them to heal. I truly believe that the power of writing is for everyone, not just a select few, and I wanted to help people to discover that fact.
Writing therapy can be entirely private, and is completely different to writing at school or college. Spelling, grammar and handwriting don’t matter at all. It is just about the process of the pen moving over the page, making a connection with the heart and soul.
Of course, we naturally turn to our friends and family at times of crisis. It’s fantastic to have people there for us when we feel low. But the trouble with friends and family is that very often, because they care for us so much, they feel compelled to try to do or to say something to help us through our despair. And when we hear statements like, “There are plenty more fish in the sea,” “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or, “It will all comes out in the wash,” (I heard all of these), it can make us feel as if we don’t have permission to be sad any longer. As if we have to have a stiff upper lip, or pull our socks up and move on. And if they try to fix us up with blind dates to help us to forget, it’s unlikely to do any good if we’re still grieving our loss.
The healing potential of writing can always be there for us, if we choose to connect with it.
And of course, writing therapy is not new. The First World War poets put the unthinkable horrors they were experiencing in the trenches into well-chosen words that still define how we view that conflict today. More recently, soldiers such as Harry Parker, who lost both his legs whilst serving in Afghanistan, are turning to writing as part of their recovery from trauma. (Harry has written an acclaimed first novel – The Anatomy of a Soldier).
A relationship break-up is a trauma but, it is also an opportunity for growth.
As we recover, we can be in touch with ourselves and what we want from life. We can learn to love ourselves more, so that we will move towards our best future instead of settling for something mediocre, or something that isn’t right for us. Writing can help us with all these things, putting us in touch with who we want to be and where we want to go.
I recently wrote a book – The Four Seasons of Breakupvia – which takes the reader though the different seasons of a recovery from a break-up, beginning with the cold winds of winter, and moving on, not to spring, but to the sultry, lightning-charged anger of summer. Next comes reflective autumn, and finally, spring, with its possibility for new growth, planning and dreams.
One of the exercises within was inspired from my own experience of something that happened to me in the moment my partner broke the news to me sixteen years ago. As I listened to him, it was exactly as if time had stood still. I could hear him; I could see the expression on his face, but a voice in my head was saying to me, “I know this is going to take a long time to get over. I know a tidal wave of pain is about to hit me. But… now, I won’t have to struggle to get on with his girls any longer… (I was a step-mother). And I’ll be able to have a child of my own.” (He didn’t want any more children).
I was right – a tidal wave of pain did crash over me. And it did take a long time to get over. But those ten seconds of absolute clarity – ten seconds when I saw exactly what I wanted and how I might benefit from our relationship being over – proved to be true. It was a relief not to have to have to be a step-mother to two girls who only really wanted their real mother, and I did have a child – a son – five years later. He’s the light of my life, and I can’t imagine not having him.
It doesn’t always feel like it, but I know as well as anyone that there is most definitely life after a relationship break-up.
Margaret K Johnson is an award-winning author and experienced adult education tutor. She writes women’s fiction, fiction for people learning to speak English and non-fiction. Her novella Kilimanjaro recently won an Extensive Reading Foundation Gold Award.
In 2014, Margaret founded WriteUP Courses – creative writing courses with a confidence-building element. Since then, she has helped many students to embark on their writing dreams, or to use writing for therapeutic purposes. Her books can be found on Amazon, where she has an author page.