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23 August 2017Last updated
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Andrea Anastasiou on how she got over a break-up

Freelance writer Andrea Anastasiou puts her painful heartbreak to good use and channels it into a creative writing course

Andrea Anastasiou
23 Nov 2015 | 12:32 pm
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Break-ups are tough. One minute you’re planning a lifetime together with your other half, the next you’re single and sobbing your heart out in between sleeping too much and making emergency phone calls to your friends. The good news (yes, there really is some), I have found, is a break-up can be used as a positive turning point in your life.

Four months ago I broke up with the man I was supposed to marry and have children with. In the space of just a couple of weeks, three years of dreams in the making were shattered for reasons that are still unclear to me. But the reasons are irrelevant; a break-up is a break-up, and I decided very early on that I wanted to use mine as an opportunity for personal growth.

While on this mission, I realised I first needed to take myself out of the situation in order to do some healing. That’s when 
I came across research by Dr Arnold Van Emmerik that looked at how writing can be used as therapy; he discovered that writing helped to reduce symptoms of depression in most of the patients who were participating in his study.

Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of the LightHouse Arabia in Dubai, explains how there’s a simple explanation for why writing can be utilised as therapy; emotions are energy in motion, and difficult emotions have a ‘heavy’ energy that we carry within us, which stays there until we express it.

 

“When you write something down, a venting of emotions happens and the effects are cathartic. The open loop of the narrative that takes place in our mind when we experience something painful finds some closure when we express and share it,” Dr Afridi says.

This led me to my next train of thought: perhaps 
I could write my way out of the heartbreak by going on a writing retreat. I make a living out of writing, after all, and I’ve also always wanted to write a novel, so I decided this could be the catalyst I needed.

While researching I came across the Skyros Writers’ Lab, which is said to offer one of the best writing retreats out there. A few emails back and forth and one payment later I was enrolled in the Life Writing course and ready to catch my flight to the Greek island for seven days of writing my heart out. What follows are some of my diary entries from my time there… 

Pre-retreat

On arrival at Athens International Airport, it hits me that through the break-up haze I somehow had managed not only to book this retreat, but also to pack my bags, board the plane and make it here. I give myself a pat on the back and then remind myself to eat. That’s one side effect of the break-up – I appear to have lost my appetite. As happy as I am to have gone down a dress size, I’m rather concerned at how I may not be able to enjoy something important – Greek food!

I take a propeller plane from Athens to Skyros and realise that another side effect is that my fear of flying seems to have vanished. Perhaps I’m just numb of all feeling.

Skyros is a beautiful island and even through my numbness I can really feel its healing energy. The centre where all the writing workshops will be taking place overlooks the town and the sea. It’s cosy, it’s welcoming, and it’s just what I need. I learn that during the course
 we’ll be writing from real life in the form of prose or creative non-fiction.

During the welcome dinner I realise that most people are here looking for a new beginning – whether they have come out of a relationship or simply because they are seeking a new direction in life.

I’m in a group of people who are not only looking to help themselves, but to help others, and that has already added a magical air to the experience. 

Halfway through

If I could use one term to describe the past three days I’d say: roller coaster. One minute I’m riding high on a wave of ‘this is amazing’ and the next I’m wondering how on earth 
I ended up here, in this vulnerable and uncertain place in my life, when I was so clued-up just a few months back. 
The writing classes have been both enjoyable and intense. Yesterday we were asked to find a photograph from a family event and write about the experience. I wrote about last Christmas, which reminded me of how in love I had been. The passage was a very sentimental account of 
how happy I was to have my whole family and my now
 ex together. It is bittersweet – bitter because I still cannot quite believe that we broke up and sweet because I don’t want to ever become resentful. Writing through the experience, I’m finding, is very cathartic.

Reading my work out in class is daunting, as it’s
 not something I’ve done before. I usually won’t let anyone see anything I’ve written unless it’s as close to ‘perfect’
 as I can get it, but we don’t really have a choice here.

Hearing my classmates give me positive feedback on what I’ve written has given a massive boost to my confidence, as well as getting tips from our tutor, who is a published author.

At dinner one evening, while I was talking about my life and the fact I’m a freelance journalist whose office is the world, I momentarily felt like myself again. It was nice to see myself reflected in my fellow classmates’ eyes. Even though I’m still too distracted to work, I know deep in my heart that soon enough I’ll be back to it. 

At the end of the retreat

Before I came here, I read some past participants’ reviews, and everyone was claiming that the trip was life-changing and transformative. The cynic in me wondered how it was possible for there to be no negative reviews, but after spending some time in Skyros I totally get it.

The remainder of the course saw us continue working on various writing exercises that helped me not only to hone my craft, but to also receive support from the group. I have come to love every single person I’m on the course with. As we are writing from real life, many of us have shared stories that are charged with emotion, which has brought out loads of tears from both those sharing their work and those listening. There’s something incredibly healing about being surrounded by such caring people.

The writing has helped. It’s been wonderful to be able to write for long stretches of time again, losing myself in the emotions of the piece I’m working on. 
I can feel my passion for writing coming back, so much so that during the evenings I found myself working on the passages I wrote in class. I’m now considering studying an MA in creative writing, and I’ve also had a brainwave of a novel idea that I’m looking forward to exploring when I’m back home.

Not only do I feel stronger, but I have also made friends for life. The group is fantastic, and I’ve shared many lovely times with them. While I’m still not
 100 per cent certain about what I want, I’m no longer overwhelmed by the future. Writing for seven days was a transformative experience; it gave me a much-needed focus, as well as a platform on which to share my life experiences.

I’m also incredibly pleased to report that my appetite is back. I would like to formally thank feta cheese for that.

Three therapeutic writing exercises 
to try at home

You don’t need to go on a retreat to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of writing. Here are some exercises you can try straight away.
 

A letter to your ex

When a relationship ends, we often feel like many things were left unsaid. Truth is, saying what we want to say won’t make much of a difference, but it helps to get it down on paper. Sit and write a letter to your ex; say everything that you want to say, tell him how he hurt you, and ask everything that you want to ask him. Writing it down will get it out of your system. Don’t send the letter but burn it if you can, as it will be a symbolic release. 
 

Write a letter to yourself from your future, healed self

First you need to imagine yourself in the future 
enjoying the life you’ve always envisioned. Set a date 
(for example, five years from now) and picture yourself there; perhaps you’re in your dream job, perhaps you’re with an emotionally healthy partner. Then, while in this future mindset, write your present self a letter giving advice on what you need to do in order to get there, as well as support and encouragement.
 

Brain dump

The idea of a brain dump is to sit for at least 20 minutes every morning and write out all the thoughts in your head – let all the conscious and subconscious worries, fears and doubts flow. Write about anything that’s bothering you, anything that you’re feeling at that specific time, and anything that you may have dreamt of the previous night. The goal is to get it all out on paper so that it doesn’t eat away at you during the day.
 

Further reading: For more exercises see The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself by 
Gillie Bolton (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). 
 

Retreats for the broken-hearted
 

Writing retreats with Skyros Holidays
The Writers’ Lab by Skyros Holidays runs from June until September every year on
 the Greek island of Skyros.
 For more information visit 
www.skyros.com.
 

Yoga breaks at
 Samahita Retreat
Located on a beach in Koh Samui, Thailand, Samahita offers year-round yoga retreats taught by international yoga teachers. For more information visit www.samahitaretreat.com.
 

Meditation retreats with Simple Peace Hermitage
Achieve total inner peace with a six-day, five-night meditation retreat in Assisi, Italy. For
more information visit
www.assisiretreats.org.

Andrea Anastasiou

Andrea Anastasiou