Sitting on the couch typing this article I know I am much stronger now than the girl I was three years ago. Planning a solo trip to Berlin would have been a foreign concept to the old me. Yet here I am. Healing my heart. Googling away. Feeding my soul and adventuring, by myself.
I have been told by friends and strangers that writing is cathartic and it helped them through the heart ache of break ups. The physical action of putting your thoughts and emotions into words and transferring them from deep inside your shattered heart, your fragile mind, your broken soul, to paper is said to be liberating.
Taking the negative feelings that have been swirling around your mind and releasing this pain that you have forced down deep inside, letting it live somewhere other than inside your head helps. Right? One of my good friends even bought me a journal and encouraged me in soothing tones to use it and write my anger and pain away. I think I opened it once.
‘Writing isn’t for me’, I thought. I can deal with the tears and the ache that catches in your chest and makes it hard to breathe, in my own way I told myself. I got this.
Three years ago my heart was ripped from my chest and my insular little world screeched to a halt. The man I had loved. The man I had moved away from my family for, the man I had learned a new language for and had planned on settling in another country for callously broke off our engagement three months before the wedding.
I know this happens every day to women around the world but at the time I knew no one this had happened to and I was a shadow of myself.
Within four weeks and in a zombie like state I had left my job in Italy and moved back home. He cut all contact with me as if I had never existed and moved on with his life while I was left in shock and perilously close to tears on a daily basis.
Break ups are brutal. That’s a given. They’re part of life and growth and you can rationalize them and grieve over them and always be a little bit damaged as a result of them but they are a useful way to help you to learn more about you.
I learned my incredible capacity for love, for someone beyond my own caring, amazing family.
I learned how much pain and heartache I could take and still pick myself up and carry on. I also learned that what I had learned from my psychology degree in my attempted logical, rational approach to the loss I was going through did not help, in the slightest! In fact, it delayed my recovery!
I couldn’t see through the post break up teary eyes and see the value in writing three years ago. I do now.
While writing didn’t initially help I can say now, it has.
But it was travel that saved me.
I have always been a wander bug. I loved to see new places and meet new people. I loved languages and other cultures and from when I was a little girl I knew I would fly away and see more than just my corner of the world.
Travel and my yearning for new experiences and a chance to move out of my comfort zone gave me the nudge to move to Italy in the first place. A friend of my cousin convinced me to move to Italy in February and by August I was moving into my new apartment in Rome. Just. Like. That.
La Città Eterna aveva catturato il mio cuore e la mia anima. Completemente.
I felt home.
Within two months I had met the handsome Italian who was to become my fiancé and had learned more of the language than in three years in college. I was proud of myself for being able not only to survive in an alien culture but to thrive. And I did thrive! I even built up some sort of immunity to mosquito bites!
When my world crumbled down around me four years later I felt that a vital part of my soul had also been taken from me. My life, my friends, the world I had created for myself was no longer mine. I had been discarded like spazzatura and cast aide.
I am sure many of you reading this can relate to the heartbreak of a serious break up. And many too echo with me the grief you suffer when you no longer feel like you can stay in your newly adopted life. You are a stranger in your own world.
I needed to move home and be with my own. And not hear the melodic lilt of a language that I associated with a life I no longer lived.
Travel got me into that mess and I slowly realized travel would get me out.
I moved home in April and by June I knew I needed to distract myself. I couldn’t stay locked up, hiding.
I have the most wonderfully supportive family and I count my lucky stars every day for them. My parents were holidaying in France and a week of wine and foie gras in the Dordogne seemed like a good anesthetic. I was to meet up with a friend for a week in the Cote d’Azur before that and decided to go to Nice a few days earlier and soak up some vitamin sunshine by myself.
This was to be my first solo trip. It does not bring back happy memories, I can tell you that right now! I remember spending two days in Nice, crying my eyes out behind my sunglasses, on the beach. Crying more tears than I thought were in my body! I looked like any ordinary sun worshipper lazing about on the pebble beach but I barely knew myself. The urge to stroll around the narrow streets I knew from previous visits was not there. The outgoing vivacity I used to ooze was dormant. The vibrant me was lost. I needed to find myself again. Travel was my answer.
A few weeks of distraction were in order and distract myself I did. Mainly with copious amounts of rich, Bordeaux wine and macaroons. So many macaroons!
This was the beginning of my path back to me. The small spark that had led me to leave home and move abroad four years previously was reignited, unbeknownst to me. I was honestly too busy looking for tissues at the time and trying not to sniffle too loudly to realise! Deep down, your heart knows what’s best for you. Listen to it. (cue Pocahontas and the singing tree song!)
Slowly but surely my confidence returned. I settled back into my old life and made new friends. Again I am so lucky to have friends whose wanderlust is as powerful as my own who couldn’t wait to adventure and explore! A trip to Basel and its wonderful cheesy pretzels was on the horizon. A weekend soaking up history and admiring Ireland’s freezing and rugged winter Antrim coastline and Belfast’s fascinating past called to me.
I remember distinctly saying at the time that I wanted to go and see somewhere new every month. Somewhere I had never been before, each month of the year that year. And while I didn’t quite accomplish that aim I knew from that moment I was starting to heal. That Banksy image of the heart balloon with the plasters all over it was me. I can see you rolling your eyes and I get it! It sounds clichéd and corny but it was how I felt.
I knew I was going to come out the other side and I knew that despite all the expletives I reserved for my ex still rattling around my brain he could no longer cause my heart pain. I could heal myself and I was dam well going to go and do it.
We had often talked about the places we had wanted to see together. He is as big a travel enthusiast as I am. Once he was out of my life I felt a bit weird thinking of going to the places we had once longed to visit together, without him. Fat chance he was ruining the rest of the globe for me too. We had, ha ha no wait, I had planned our honeymoon to South Africa and that to this day is the only place on our list I haven’t brought myself to go to. I intend to remedy that!
I sat down and made a list of all of the places I wanted to see, for me. Some far fetched, like the glass igloos in Finland and some closer to home like the Dark Hedges in Antrim.
I became obsessed with filling my holidays from work with voyages and new experiences and seeing parts of the world I had never been to.
And so over the past three years I have checked off culture and tagines in Marrrakech and Essaouira. Indulged in decadence and renewed friendships in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I have marvelled at nature and gotten to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. Soaked up the sun and sailed between Greek islands in Santorini, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros. Immersed myself in my childhood love of history in Athens. Explored Scandinavian life in Copenhagen. Enjoyed a Wild Atlantic Way and Northern coastline road trip at home in Ireland including staying in a fantastically quaint thatched cottage! Not to mention weekend road trips from home.
With each new ticked off country, city and experience I could feel the darkness ebb away from me and the tightness in my chest, that smothering fear of straying too far from the safety of the nest leaving me.
I am still cautious and I cannot say with certainty if my childhood vision of me living in a far off land will come true anymore but I know I can do it. I know I can get there if I want. I know what I am capable of.
When your heart breaks and you can’t see your way out from under the darkness know this. You are an amazing being. Your heart knows how to heal itself. Listen to it. It may take more time than you think or want but it will find a way to fix you. My happy place is being up above the clouds albeit in a slightly cramped airplane seat (!) knowing that I am on my way to somewhere new, to see something my eyes haven’t seen before. This fills my heart. Travel heals me.
About Ciara Mc Nally:
My name is Ciara and during term time I work as a mild mannered primary teacher but once the holiday bell rings, I am a dust trail. Racing out the door to the airport on another culture clad city break, beachy turbo tanning trip or foodie festival funanza. Also, I love clouds. Whether my head is in them, I’m admiring them from below or watching them from my squashed, economy seat high above! As soon as I touch down from one trip, I count down to my next ‘wander’ and since I started my blog this summer, it is all I want to do! Read her blog here
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