Rosie Green is Red's columnist. She was blindsided when her marriage of 26 years broke down in June 2019. Since then she's found love online, exploring what it's like to sleep with someone new after so long in a recent column and her new book, How to Heal a Broken Heart (Orion) which is out now. Here, Rosie writes candidly about how she managed to move forward after her husband left...
This time two years ago was hands down the worst time of my life. The man I had been
in love with for 26 years had become a stranger to me. I was in pieces and had no idea what
the future held.
I was devastated, and I don’t say those words flippantly; you can be ‘devastated’ when that flattering maxi skirt has sold out in your size, but what I mean is that my entire being was decimated, my self-esteem shot. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t fathom just how I was going to crawl out of this well of despair. My clothes hung off me, my running leggings flapped around my thighs and my knickers fell down. I looked gaunt. Haunted. Because I was.
In that dark, dark period, some life force propelled me to get up. (That, and my two kids demanding to know where the Rice Krispies were, and then, on finding them, that the dust be sieved.) I sleep-walked through the days, washing, cooking, going to assemblies and making polite conversation at the school gates.
The turning point was writing my story for this magazine. As I typed the words, I felt something stir inside of me. Something of the old me. Claiming ownership of the narrative gave me clarity, and the chance to see the events as a reader would. It went some way to assuage the self-doubt that had taken up squatting rights in my brain. For the first time, I considered how I would like this story to end; how I would like outsiders to view me.
I wanted to emerge more self-aware, stronger, more independent. I wanted to handle this situation with grace and dignity. (The latter was not always achieved. I’m thinking of the time I inhaled a bottle of rosé, with only a handful of salted nuts for ‘dinner’. I can only apologise to the other passengers on the 20:21 Great Western.)
It also gave my purpose. Because after the feature was published, a tsunami of women wrote, emailed and DM-ed. I was helping other women who felt as desperate and bereft as me. They identified with my story; they told me my words made them feel less alone, that in telling my story with rawness and authenticity, and by refusing to sugarcoat it for my ego’s sake, I was helping them through their own pain.
Not everyone’s heartbreak was the same. Some women were making the agonising decision to leave their husbands, some were the victim of gaslighters and cheats, some were the cheats. Some were dying inside. All were suffering.
Slowly, slowly, I repaired. By reading, by talking, by talking care of myself, and hugging my children. I ran with two friends, I took an SSRI antidepressant. I went on dates, and kissed, and realised there were men who were better suited to me. The crappy days, the days when I felt overwhelmed, under-resourced, sad and hurt, became less frequent.
In the Venn diagram of contentment, there are three main factors: relationship, family and friends, and work. In my life, the former had spectacularly blown apart. Family and friends? Well, they showed up for me in a way that floored me (in a good way). I felt held by their love and support. Their phone calls and visits and thoughtfulness filling the gaping hole left by my husband’s departure.
So out of this shitty crisis came some good. And in my work, too, the split became a turning point. I felt my career and my writing had been on a slow downward slide for a decade. I’d had the most amazing, rewarding worklife pre-kids. Writing for Vogue and Elle, winning prizes and praise, styling celebrities for front covers, travelling to exotic locations – living a life my 15-year-old self could never have imagined.
But when I had my children, I found it was hard to do both. So I turned down the more exciting jobs, I started to take on work that was less rewarding, but was easier to fit in around them. Post-split, I was writing from the heart again and my words, as well as touching all these women, were in demand from commissioning editors. I was on the front pages of the newspapers. My mother’s clippings book (yes, really) was overflowing.
And then I wrote a book. Which I had always wanted to do, but this crisis gave me the kick up the arse I needed. In it I talked to experts about why the pain of heartbreak is like no other.
I came to understand how the brain can sabotage recovery, and that although everyone’s situation is unique, the journey through the stages (think shock, anger, denial, acceptance) isn’t. That it takes time for new realities to normalise, and that what is painful and torturous in the beginning (three signatures rather than four in cards, for example) becomes less so over time.
Now I realise that my marriage split, hideously painful as it has been, has totally turned my life around. When I interviewed the TV presenter Amanda Byram recently, she said to me at the end,‘Rosie, he did you a big fucking favour.’ And you know what? I really think he did.
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