Writer Amanda Austen felt bereft when a long-term relationship ended, but, slowly, her life began to fill up…
Dealing with heartbreak
When friends and family heard that my 10-year relationship had limped to the finish line, more than one proclaimed that I was incredibly bad at picking men. My partner and I had never had an easy relationship, as it was littered with control issues, but I had convinced myself that every couple went through difficult times and that I was expecting too much.
By the time I moved out, I had become a hanky-twisting, depressed mess with no self-esteem, no job and nowhere to live. There was a sense of relief on one level, but my unknown future as a single person scared me. I had shape-shifted to suit the relationship, to keep the peace. I was no longer part of a “we”, and any plans we had together were gone as soon as I walked out the door.
I stayed with my sister, and her motherly care and the cuddles from her three children helped me through the initial period, which I called the Black Mist. It was incredibly debilitating in both mind and body. My head was filled with both grief for the past and anxiety for the future. It was agony – I couldn’t sleep, I had no appetite and struggled to concentrate. I was in an intense mourning state, where I didn’t know how to make decisions, what to do or how to simply be by myself. His voice was in my head about everything – what to buy, what to like, what to be. It sounds dramatic, but I had to start to reclaim myself, bit by bit.
Healing after loss
I slowly changed physically as well. I wouldn’t recommend the break-up diet, but I did lose over six kilos and needed some new clothes. When a shop assistant asked me for my size, I automatically answered 14 to 16. She looked me up and down and proclaimed that I was more a size 10 to 12. I don’t know why I was so surprised. After living with a compulsive cook, food held very little interest for me.
Having lost the weight, I had no idea how to dress as a newly single, midlife woman. Was showing one’s upper arms still a no-no, and could I really get away with wearing skinny jeans? I used to get hot and flustered in dressing rooms, but now I enjoyed major try-on sessions. I packed up the clothes that made me feel depressed and gave them to charity, which felt great. But it still took time getting used to being on my own again. When I was able to move back into my flat, which I had rented out, it was filled with ghosts. I realised just how alone I was one night when I found I couldn’t get out of my dress, as the zip had stuck. I had no choice but to cut myself out of it, which felt rather drastic, but also strangely empowering.
How my dog helped me
Not that a dog could help me with my wardrobe malfunctions, but I decided it was time to cross one thing off my bucket list and get some canine company. I thought it would take months to find the perfect pooch, but after chatting to a local rescue centre, it turned out they had three puppies up for adoption immediately. One of them was Winston, an adorable terrier cross, with a bit of bichon frise thrown in. He had been found on the streets, and was ill with kennel cough. He looked up at me with his big eyes and that was it.
Taking a sick puppy home shook up my life. It was no longer all about me and my broken relationship. Having to walk him twice a day gave me a structure and, along the way, I met a whole lot of doggy people in local parks. Winston and I have rescued each other and his unconditional love helped me enjoy my new independence. I have rediscovered days in bed on a rainy Sunday reading a fabulous book; nights are now devoid of snoring (except for the occasional snort from Winston) and I can watch reality TV without tuts of criticism in the background.
There have been times when I have still felt a bit lonely, but it is better than the awful loneliness I felt in a relationship that wasn’t working. Being on my own has given me time to reflect on the role I played and why I allowed it to happen. I have realised that my intuition was there all along, but I just didn’t want to listen.
A new start
They say it takes two years to fully get over a long-term relationship. It’s been horrendous, but the periods of feeling truly happy have become more frequent. I am slowly coming round to the idea of dating, but it still seems rather abstract. However, I don’t really care, as I now have a rather large protective panel of friends, relatives and a dog who have signed up to interview any possible candidates who may come my way.