Not being a group person on a good day, combined with my fear of breaking into tears in public, I find my initial excitement at attending Healing Heartbreak morphing into a…
Not being a group person on a good day, combined with my fear of breaking into tears in public, I find my initial excitement at attending Healing Heartbreak morphing into a minor panic attack as I enter the upmarket hotel in Henley-on-Thames where it’s being held. Not that there’s any chance of convincing myself I have a healthy heart and don’t need this experience, given that strutting along beside me is a spurned suitor.
That’s right, Mr Unsuitable, a self-obsessed divorcee I mistakenly went to dinner with. Just my luck that a plan to scare off his pestering for a round two with talk of a self-development workshop had him instead signing up for it.
My anxiety dissolves into laughter when I push into the delegated room and come face-to-face with a flip chart that has ‘Welcome to Heartbreak Hotel’ scrawled across it. Thank god ‘modern day wizard’ Andrew Wallas, who is running the one day workshop, has a sense of humour. A previous psychotherapist turned holistic practitioner known for his uncanny ability to dig out and transform clients’ core issues, Andrew looks more city boy than spiritual guru in his cashmere sweater and good watch. No less surprising is the space itself, transformed from a conference room into a sort of Moroccan boudoir with a colourful circle of weaved rugs, silk pillows and cosy blankets. Not that Andrew is about to let us get too comfortable – he immediately makes it clear we aren’t in for a day of fluffy dating chat.
“There is a tendency to identify heartbreak with failed romance,” he tells us. “But heartbreaks occur with parents, siblings, friendships, unfulfilled dreams, and broken visions. We cannot heal what is denied, so it’s really important to identify and acknowledge our real heartbreaks, the unconscious ones that are running and ruining our lives.”
I smugly think to myself that I’m a step ahead as I’ve already dealt with my childhood. Done therapy, chanted the release mantras until I was blue in the face, quaffed the flower essences. But then we are randomly paired up for the day, and while I am relieved this gets me away from Mr Unsuitable, I get a funny feeling in my gut when the dashing silver-haired gentleman I am partnered with has a distinct resemblance to my father.
And lo and behold, when the first exercise is to instinctively write on sheets of paper the five main heartbreaks in our lives, my father splashes out ahead of my old boyfriends. After standing on the papers to ‘feel the energy of the heartbreaks’ (I worry I’m more interested in feeling the excitement of stomping on them all) I share with my partner – who ends up a sweet and patient man – how utterly frustrated I am to have my father and his abandonment rearing its ugly head again.
Following a visualisation in which I almost fall asleep (heartbreak is an exhausting business) there’s a group discussion. It’s hard not to be impressed with Andrew’s calm presence and knack for asking just the right questions that have participants baring their souls as if an entire group of people wasn’t listening in. And he’s full of surprises, too; he starts the second half of the day by blaring a trendy pop song and rocking out with abandon, encouraging us to follow.
I’m horrified that I’m expected to bust a move in broad daylight, especially when Mr Unsuitable is throwing eyes at me across the room. But everyone looks to be having such fun I finally step into the fray… and just like that the music ends. It feels another sign and I resolve to try harder to stay open and not let my self-consciousness have me miss out.
My chance comes quickly when next up is a constellation – a psychodrama process whereby a group acts out one member’s issue, in this case a woman’s inability to let go of her anger that a partner left her after a termination. She is asked to choose people from around the room to stand in for her ex-boyfriend, the lost child, the leadership she feels she can’t access, and the grace she feels she’s lost. Usually I’d shrink and look away, but I stay present. She chooses me to be the child.
As ‘representatives’ of her life we form a line and one by one she approaches us. When it’s my turn, any fear I’ll have to whip out an Oscar-worthy performance vanishes as suddenly I don’t feel like me at all but a kid; innocent and open even as she gazes at me with eyes full of terror and regret. “What do you have to tell her?” Andrew softly asks. And as if I’m channeling some other energy words rush out of me; that it was as it should be, that I understood. And then she is hugging me and sobbing.
It’s only when I sit down next to my partner that the true synchronicity of being chosen explodes inside of me and I realise that I am in fact an unwanted child myself. From the moment I could understand, my mother was bitterly reminding me that my father’s reaction to finding out she was pregnant was to rush out and get his tubes tied. My issue isn’t abandonment over my father’s leaving but a much deeper distrust that nobody truly wants me in the first place.
I can’t believe a one-day group workshop has uncovered a missing piece that years of therapy has overlooked and that has left me unable to let love in all my life. I’m so astounded that the dreaded thing finally happens and I start to cry; thankfully half the room is in tears so I fit right in.
A time to heal
The day closes with an exercise in forgiveness, a word I usually find condescending and unrealistic. But Andrew explains that “whenever there is heartbreak, there is always a conscious or unconscious grievance; we’re holding someone responsible or blaming them for our pain. We have to let the other off the hook in order to heal the heartbreak.” And when we form two lines facing each other and repeat back and forth a saying from the ancient Hawaiian Ho’oponopono tradition – I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you, and I thank you – moving along and repeating it with each person, I feel like I am truly forgiving and being forgiven by everyone I have ever known.
On the drive home a blown away Mr Unsuitable can’t stop going on about his experience. Whereas before his incessant talk about himself felt draining, I feel so open that now it seems somewhat endearing. And although I would still never date him I can at least see that it’s also my own need for others to prove I’m wanted that has me attracting such intense types in the first place. Who knows what could happen in my life if I let go of that need? What is certain is that I’m finally ready to find out.
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