2021 was far and away the worst year of my life. Brace yourself…
My Dad died in March after a long and awful illness, plus a year of pandemic pain when I was barely allowed to see him, let alone hug him. It was the worst and most unimaginable way to lose him, with the final year of his life essentially stolen from us all. He was only 64 years old.
Eight days after my Dad had passed away, my boyfriend walked out. If this sounds unbelievable – yes, it is. But it did happen. I was suddenly all alone trying to organise a funeral and deal with the loss of the two most important people in my life at the exact same time. The reasons for the break up I do not, probably will never, understand. I had honestly believed I was going to be with this person for the rest of my life. So, not only did I lose a partner and my greatest source of support at the worst possible moment; crushingly, I lost what I thought would be my future.
For the next two months, I barely slept or ate. I lost a lot of (too much) weight. I could barely care for our dog who had been left behind with me. I was physically, mentally and emotionally broken and terrified to leave the house most of the time. My ex said to me as he broke my heart: “You’re the strongest person I know; you’ll be fine.” It’s true that I have dealt with some really challenging things in my life and I have therefore had to be ‘strong’ to cope with what has been thrown at me, but I am still just a human being. I have the same emotions, stresses, worries and I feel the same amount of pain as everyone else. People have often called me strong, but I definitely wasn’t strong enough to cope with this.
A few months later, inevitably, I lost my home. I obviously couldn’t stay living in a house I owned with my ex, a home I had been lovingly refurbishing to create a place to eventually raise children in. Yet now it had become a place where I went through the worst pain I have ever felt in my life.
So, I started all over again. I had no choice. It was harder than anything I have ever had to do – harder than going to my Dad’s funeral alone, harder than any other break up (and there’s been a few). The day I picked up the keys to my new home I had such an anxiety attack my friend had to drive across town and rescue me.
The only thing I have been able to do for the past six months is try to heal. There was a time when I didn’t even want to be alive anymore, the pain within me was so unbearable, and that feeling was very scary. For a long time I lived just by getting through each day, one at a time. Well, it was more existing than living. Eventually I came to a place of acceptance of what my ex had done to me and realised I could never again be with someone who had hurt me the way that he had. I know myself and know I have never, and could never, treat anyone the way I had been treated. It is unfathomable to me. So once I realised this, it was much easier to let go and make headspace for whatever is to come next in life.
This is the story of my healing journey. I’m by no means ‘over it’ – I may never wholly be, this experience will always be a part of me. Some days still feel absolutely brutal, yet others have been rather wonderful. I ended the year in a relatively positive place, a place that was unthinkable back in April 2021. And this is how I got there.
Feel all of the feelings
There was a time when I thought I would literally never stop crying. All day, every day. I didn’t even know if I was crying about my Dad’s death or my break up most of the time. It was exhausting but it was all part of the healing process. Crying is cathartic and sitting with your feelings, whatever they are, is crucial as your brain tries to process them. Deepak Chopra writes: “In the middle of suffering there is an overwhelming instinct to reject the pain through denial, numbing and repression, yet these will only make it stay longer.” I really feel if I hadn’t allowed myself to sit with my emotions and wait for them to pass, I would have stayed in that dark place much longer.
Time heals – but use it wisely
It’s annoying when people say ‘time is a healer’ because it just makes me think yeah, okay, so can I fast-forward through this shit bit, please? Unfortunately not. Having had my heart broken once before, I knew I wasn’t going to get over it in a hurry. So while I was trying to get through those days I chose my actions wisely. I started running again, something that I know is excellent for my mental health. I wrote, a lot, about what I was going through. I somehow found the strength to sign up to train as a yoga teacher, something that I’d wanted to do for years. I don’t think I would have taken the leap if it wasn’t for the break up. I avoided alcohol almost entirely because I knew it would be absolutely toxic for me to be A) drunk, or B) hungover in my fragile state. To be honest, I was really unhappy with the amount I had been drinking since I’d been with my ex so this was not even a tough lifestyle change.
Ask for help
Something I learnt about myself last year is that I am terrible at asking for help from others. I used to see it as a failure on my part, somehow. Knowing this now has totally changed my behaviour and I will never again try to take on more than I can manage. As an empath, I have conditioned myself to put others’ needs above my own for years. This is probably linked to the carer role I took on to look after my Dad for the past five years, which then became engrained as part of my personality. I put everyone else above myself – my Dad, my ex and even my dog! Now I tell my friends and family when I am struggling and when I need help. They have gladly given it to me with no hesitation.
Use your friends (in a nice way)
When I was at my lowest point, not able to eat or sleep more than a few hours a night, my best friend moved in with me temporarily and cared for me. She went above and beyond what you could ever expect from a friend; an act of love I will be grateful for for the rest of my days. She listened to me for hours and hours talking about my ex and how I was feeling, never once changing the subject. She cooked for me, cleaned my house, fed my dog in the mornings so I could try and get more rest and walked him if I didn’t have the energy. She did all this with patience and unlimited kindness, which was exactly what I needed at the time. It scares me to imagine what might have happened if she hadn’t been there to support me during my darkest hour.
Be okay with being alone
It would have been all too easy to hop straight onto a dating app and replace my ex with someone new. I’m sure it would have provided a confidence boost and a good distraction from how I was feeling for most of last year. I could have done this, but I chose to remain single. Personally, I don’t want to get involved with anyone else until I feel I have healed as much as I can from what happened to me last year. I want to feel like the best version of myself before I entangle my life with anyone else’s.
Since I’ve learnt now that my default position is to put my partner’s needs above my own, I also really want to understand why I do that and be sure I won’t fall into this unhealthy pattern of behaviour in another relationship. Having a boyfriend won’t ‘complete’ me, just as not having one doesn’t mean I am missing out on something. I am a whole person on my own and I intend to stay that way as long as I feel I want to.
This is the first time in my life I have lived alone. It’s not new to me to spend a lot of time on my own, though. I travelled solo for about four years and lived on the other side of the world by myself. I really believe in the power of being comfortable in my own company. Initially I hated living alone – probably because I had loved living with my ex so much – but now I’ve got used to it I can see some positives… sometimes I almost enjoy it.
Find a (good) therapist
I always planned to have therapy after my Dad died. I felt like it was pointless beforehand as I was still going through the trauma of his illness on a daily basis, but I was scared of falling apart once that responsibility was gone and I knew I had not really processed most of the horrendous things we had been through as a family in the last few years. I didn’t have time to process them because I was still living them at the time. Therapy has helped me possibly more than anything else did in 2021. It helped me learn things about my relationship and myself that I can use to live a happier life in the future and not repeat past mistakes.
My therapist is a woman who exudes kindness. The last time I saw her in 2021, I spoke about how I still feel on some level I must have deserved all the awful things that happened to me, otherwise, why did they happen to me? It doesn’t help that during the breakup my ex took almost no accountability and pretty much gave me a list of reasons why I am a terrible person who didn’t deserve to be loved. My therapist looked squarely at me and repeated several times: “It’s not your fault.” It was a powerful moment for me. It isn’t my fault that someone abandoned me, or lied to me, or was unfaithful. That’s all on them. It isn’t my fault that I trusted them and believed in them. I’d certainly rather be the one who was faithful and real and honest, even if it led to heartbreak. The only thing I am at fault for is giving my heart to the wrong man.
I couldn’t count the number of people who were kind towards me in 2021. Not just my immediate family and close friends, but acquaintances, work clients, ex-lovers and even some of my ex’s friends. For a long time I didn’t dare show my face in public, scared of the thought of everyone whispering about my situation and rumours spreading around the town. No one really knows what went on last year except me and my ex (and as I’ve hinted, he’s not a reliable source of truth). I’m so thankful for each kind word, message and gesture from every single person last year. I guess I can’t really be the terrible person I was told I am if that amount of people love and care for me – even those who barely know me.
Make steps to create your own dream life
For the past five years my life has been largely focused on caring for my Dad as he became more and more ill. I did this purely out of love for him, and I don’t regret leaving my life in New Zealand to come home and look after him because I got to spend so much meaningful time with him up until Covid came along. During those years I managed to get away on a few adventures to keep my travel addiction fed, made some amazing friends and even started my own business. But this wasn’t the life I had planned, to be honest. I never had any intention of moving back to the town I grew up in and if my Dad hadn’t needed me I am sure I would be living abroad right now. One weird upside of having my heart broken is that my future is now entirely mine to determine. I have no doubt, had my ex not left me, I would have put all my energy into the relationship and making him happy. Now I finally put that energy into myself. I truly believe that the universe wanted me to learn to do this after being a carer for such a long time.
This year, 2022, I am determined to fill my life with joy and adventure. I’m not sure yet what my next move is in terms of ‘settling down’, but I feel confident I will receive guidance when the time is right to make those decisions. For now, I have some exciting travels planned for 2022 which is exactly what I need. Above all, I intend to find joy in every moment I can. And when we get to New Year’s Eve this year, I hope I will be able to say: “It was a good one.”