About four years ago, caught at the intersection of two complicated stories, in a gesture of desperation, I escaped my Brussels reality and went to Athens. It proved to be the perfect destination for my first solo travelling experience (it was 2014) and exactly what I needed for my mental state. Since then, life continues to bring me back to this place every once in a while, I am currently in my 5th trip to the Greek capital.
Maybe it is to remind me how grateful should I be for what I became since then; maybe it is to reflect and learn my lessons from the rollercoaster I’ve been riding at that time. Good decisions, bad decisions?! Who knows?! Who will ever know? But one lesson I learned from sure: you need to first break down in order to break through.
Here’s the whole story…
Walking in the hot July air on the streets of Plaka, one thought hit me: did I swallow glass or why does it hurt so badly?! It hurts somewhere between my stomach and my heart. I am crying out with blood and sweat. I go to sleep heavy;
I wake up day after day heavier. One day I will simply succumb under the weight of all this, a voice in my head whispered maliciously.
How much is forever?
….., the Earth seemed to melt under my sandals. With every step that I was taking, I felt closer to disaster. Who am I and what am I actually doing here?! Back to the hotel, I looked in the mirror of the bathroom and did not see a person, but a shadow, my own shadow. The pain felt like it will last forever. Will this ever be over?! I know that everyone says that time will fix anything, but I also remember Alice in wonderland asking the White Rabbit “how much is forever“ and the thought freaks me out…
The phone didn’t stop ringing.
“I just called to say hello” a voice said,
“I feel horrific and terrified at the thought that I will lose you“, another one.
“What are you doing now?!“,
“Come back to me, you know, even if we will hurt each other again, it is less painful than being apart“
“Don’t be silly, you are everything for me, but I cannot leave her!“
“I had you and lost you, it’s all my fault, I know!“
Oh my God, my head was spinning so hard…. Wait, stop: HOW did I get here?! All of a sudden it hit me: I am in a city I don’t know, totally alone, in the midst of a psychological breakdown. I had two choices: break down or break through.
So first I broke down
I turned off my phone for the next days, closed the curtains and didn’t see the light for the next two days. I was ordering breakfast in bed and was barely going out, just to get water and cigarettes.
Athens became my purgatory for few days. It felt good to be alone
I don’t remember much of those days, except for my whole body feeling weak and my eyes staring in void for hours. My brain felt like a electric circuit literally breaking down, melting the connections, chaotically trying to repair and forget everything. Everything was chaos.
No sleep, total paranoia. Sometimes desperate, sometimes numb…
The third day, I woke up a bit different. Not OK, but bearable. I was still heavy, but I could now move my arms and feet. I threw on a white dress and decided it was time to show myself to the sun. And this is when I started really discovering Athens.
How Athens brought me back to life
I got lost on the colourful streets and spent hours on pretty terraces. The more I was walking the more I wanted to see. The more I saw, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more I wanted to discover.
Early mornings, I was drinking my coffee by the pool and in the afternoon I was hiding on the terraces from Plaka, drinking lemonade and reading on my kindle the Legends of Ancient Greek Gods. It felt almost normal…. My other life has been put on hold. For once I felt my stigma had been covered.
Athens became my purgatory for those days. Sometimes I would take the bus and go to Piraeus, watch the sea and the happy couples on the beach. Some other days I would simply hide in a museum and learn about ancient history and struggles.
In the evening I would climb the Acropolis hill and would watch the sunset. The thought of another day going to an end was calming me down.
Athens was emanating kindness and understanding, it was exactly what I needed at that point.
Then I had the break through
And there was one specific moment in Athens that made the breakthrough for me. It was the last night before my departure back home. I decided to treat myself with a dinner at the fanciest restaurant I could find. The table had a perfect view to the Acropolis hill.
Two plates, two glasses, everything was for two and for the first time in my adult life, I was totally alone…
I sat down, ordered a glass of white wine and watched the sunset from behind my sunglasses. Between thoughts and scenarios, I actually got hungry so I asked someone to help me pick a dish.
“Sure Madame, but you are not waiting for your partner?!“, the waiter asked with a kind voice and a sweet Greek accent.
There it was!!! I had two options: cry out my situation or face the fact that I am really alone, there is no partner, and just order that freaking dinner. And so I did. I smiled and said I will be alone tonight. At the end of the day, how could he know my story?!
After he left, I looked at the wedding ring and how it was shining in the light of sunset. It was still very beautiful and it fit me well. With this thought I smiled and, for the first time after months since the separation, I finally had the courage to take it off…
Athens: the goddess of wisdom and reason. Also the place where Gods are playing with people’s fates, where the streets breathe history and the ghosts of the city tell the story of a civilisation. The place that gave me the courage to start a new life! Four years later, the pain remains vivid, but would I be today what I am if I did not live through that?! Would I have had the chance to confront the biggest fears and challenge myself so much?