Author Lucy Vine road-tests the latest heartbreak recovery retreat
Heartbreak recovery, I have been told, could transform my life for the better. Here’s a question: how did you get over your last break-up? I’m genuinely asking here, because like so many women, I have this one man I’ve never got over. I dated Matthew* for only a year in my twenties but, since then, he’s come in and out of my life on a regular basis, pushing my buttons, making me feel good and then bad and then leaving again. We’re awful together and every time we end things – yet again – I feel wretched and swear I can’t keep doing this. Then I always let him come back. I don’t know how not to. He’s my safety net, but he’s also the reason I feel so unsafe; the reason I haven’t been on a date in a year and feel low about the prospect of it. There’s some part of me that’s always waiting for Matthew to come back and I have no idea how to finally draw that necessary line under what we had. This is why I’m here, at a two-day ‘break-up recovery retreat’ to finally (hopefully) learn how to let go and just be me again.
‘We all have one thing in common: a bad break-up’
It’s a dark, rainy Saturday morning when I arrive at mt ‘heartbreak recovery retreat’ at Ashdown Park Hotel in Sussex for the workshop, led by ‘the UK’s number-one divorce coach’ and NLP master practitioner Sara Davison. The hotel used to be a convent, which seems very apt for the 13 scorned women, all sat around a table, armed with two ‘recovery workbooks’ and countless tissues. Some are weeks into an acrimonious divorce, others are on the edge of getting back with their exes, and a few are still struggling years after a split. But we all have one thing in common: a bad break-up. Or, as Davison calls it, ‘aggressive severing’ – a direct response to Gwyneth Paltrow’s famously civilised ‘conscious uncoupling’ from Chris Martin. January is widely known as ‘divorce season’ – the time when splits rocket after Christmas and calls to lawyers spike. With new statistics showing that divorce is back on the rise** – not to mention that the cost of family break-ups is estimated at £46 billion every year – the demand for this type of retreat has never been higher.
Follow Taylor Swift’s example and surround yourself with a #squad post break-up
Davison begins by warning us that we have to go ‘full out’ if we truly want to move on with our heartbreak recovery. She explains that it’s time to confront our emotional self-harm and face the ‘loss cycle’ of denial, anger, bargaining and depression, before we can reach acceptance. ‘It’s about taking control of our emotions, and then finding the tools to dial them down,’ she adds. ‘People get stuck, as we tend to run away from negative feelings – a process I call “stuffing your emotions” – which gives them all the power. Pain is uncomfortable to face, but once you do, those emotions can’t have the same hold over you any more. Visualise a dashboard in your brain, feel that pain and sadness, and then reach internally for a button or dial and turn it down. Then, find a positive thing about your break-up. Maybe you can take that language class or go travelling. Once you’ve trained your mind to look for the positive, switching your perceptions becomes automatic.’
‘Heartbreak recovery leaves me feeling lighter’
As a group, we write down every negative thing we’ve been feeling. We stare at the paper, we feel it, then we shred it. People around me are crying, but it feels liberating, uplifting even. Davison then tells us to visualise the bad feeling and put our hands where it’s centred. For me, it looks like a grey cloud in my chest, making it hard to breathe. She instructs us to imagine pulling that shape out of our body and holding it in front of us. Then, we picture the shape, colour and even the smell, morphing into something lovely. My nasty, grey chest cloud has become a happy, blue morning mist. I feel lighter.
The advice keeps coming. Davison suggests compiling a ‘break-up team’ to include a legal advisor, financial advisor, coach or therapist, an exercise buddy and friends and family – but that doesn’t mean all loved ones. ‘Of course friends are well-meaning, but recognise that sometimes they can be too emotionally involved,’ she says. ‘Some will encourage negative emotions and keep you trapped in the loss cycle, so choose people for your break-up team who can move you forward with constructive advice.’ Interesting. She also suggests we stop constantly ‘telling our story’, because every time we repeat our woes to someone, we’re reinforcing that sadness in our brain. It’s like being reinfected with a heartbreak virus.
‘It’s time to start work on my gratitude list’
What follows is more tips to get you back on track with your heartbreak recovery – keeping a diary of goals, having a ‘gratitude list’ on your phone to look at when you begin to spiral, only using your ex’s initial (lower case) when you talk about him or her – physically making their importance smaller – and writing down a list of things you didn’t like about being in that relationship. And, of course, the one we all know, but rarely do – unfollowing everything they do on social media. Another important cycle to break is the ‘hamster-wheel questions’. Davison explains, ‘We all do it. “Why don’t they love me? Why does this keep happening to me?” But our brain can’t help answering. Negative questions give you negative answers, so you have to change the quality of what you’re asking yourself. Try empowering questions instead: “What’s good about this situation? What will make me feel better?”’
We end the heartbreak recovery weekend a positive gang with a list of action plans. We have motivating life goals, deadlines and a WhatsApp group called ‘New Beginnings’, so we can continue to spur each other on. It’s been such an exhausting emotionally and mentally draining weekend, but I feel more ready to let Matthew go than I ever have before. I recognise my own dumb patterns now; how much I was stuck in that ‘anger’ phase – with maybe a dose of denial thrown in there, too. I’ve spent two days confronting my fears and have finally acknowledged how trapped in this pseudo-relationship I’ve been. My back-and-forth with Matthew had become almost cosy; an easy and familiar place to hide. But it was also damaging me, and now I know that I feel powerful and determined. I go home and delete every last trace of m (lower case!) on my social media. I think it’s probably time and, with the help of a workbook and those tissues, I’m finally ready.
*Name has been changed.
For details of The Break-Up Recovery Retreat in January 2018, visit saradavison.com