• Julia Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love (2010), based on Gilbert's best-selling memoir about travelling as therapy. (thoughtcatalog.com)Source: thoughtcatalog.com
Travel-therapy is a tempting way to deal with a break-up, but is the Eat Pray Love treatment effective in finding yourself, or will it just lead to a deeper feeling of loss?
Helen Razer

15 Feb 2017 - 4:16 PM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2017 - 4:16 PM

Public service announcement: Psychologists, even quite bad ones, are valuable to the newly dumped.

Perhaps owing to his tendency of popping out midway through a consultation to smoke, psychologist Cheap Gerard, was very cheap. But he had a reasonable reputation; particularly for smoking cessation.

When I asked him during the emergency post-dump session that second day, ‘How do I live now?’, I was pretty sure he’d have a good solution.

First, he asked me to sign something called a ‘no-harm agreement’. This basically meant that I promised [to do no harm to myself] and he promised to talk to me, should I feel it were needed, in person, any time. In a smoking environment, obviously.

Then he talked about the separation as an ‘opportunity for growth’. Naturally, I told him to get stuffed. He toyed with his cigarette lighter. Then I asked him what ‘growth’, of which I’d recently heard so much, meant and how it might be achieved. He spoke vaguely for 10 minutes about nothing, then he took me outside and offered me a cigarette.

‘I don’t smoke, Gerard,’ I said. ‘Well, that’s really positive. I’m glad you quit.’ ‘I quit years ago—well before I first came to see you for advice about my problem with online Scrabble, Gerard. An addiction, by the way, I am yet to overcome. Of course, now I click on the dicks of a XXX app instead of triple-word scores, but this is beside the point. I just want to know how to live now.’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Gerard. ‘I’m not over my divorce yet. Nobody is. You never get over it. You’ve just got to do something different, I suppose. Do something different, and pretend that is growing.’

Gerard told me to return home and contact three people to whom I was close for a suggestion on what different thing I should do to help me grow. I called my mother. She told me to come and live at her place. This was generous, but unfeasible, as my mother and I have not only lived in separate states for more than 20 years, but have had cause to call for intervention during several of those holidays in which we found ourselves reunited.

When I reminded her of the Christmas of ’04 and her appeal for help to local police, she told me to travel, like that lady from Eat, Pray, Love. ‘I’ve seen her on the television,’ said my mother. ‘I think she mentioned this “growing” you’re so keen on.’

I believed that leaving my home in order to find myself was a deeply flawed idea. 

I considered travel from the place where things had ‘been bad for a while’. I thought about the sexual encounter with the Tuscan youth, the spiritual encounter with the elderly yogi, the consumer encounter with the Laotian tailor who’d knock me out a new closet of clothes for the price of a First-World sandwich. I considered the possibility that I would return home changed and full of wisdom. I considered the possibility that I would bore the blind shit out of all with stories about my Astounding Personal Growth. ‘Everyone is so at peace in India! They have so little but are so wise and happy!’

I looked into this future and saw that I had not ‘found’ myself but had completely lost my marbles. I had left them at an orientalist bargain sale filled with a people so impoverished I felt able to buy back my dignity at cost. I had not cured my misery by holidaying in somebody else’s. I had just outsourced my hope. Poor mad, boring Helen, they would say. Travel has not broadened her mind. It has flattened her conversation. ‘I learned so much about honouring the human spirit in Uttar Pradesh!’ I said, over-enunciating Uttar Pradesh so that every sensible person I knew would make plans to be busy the next time I called.

I couldn’t trust my custody of this travel wisdom; I would only come off like a whirring racist who’d taken a theme-park walk in someone else’s cut-price shoes. I’d sound as though I believed these divorce-travel nations existed purely to provide me with a therapeutic path. I’d sound as though I numbly thought these ‘colourful’ places were built chiefly for the cure of my grief. My First-World grief cut fresh from sudden separation. Or, rotten from gradual separation as was apparently the case because, you know, ‘things had been bad for a while’.

But I did not want to travel and, in fact, could not travel for several reasons. First, I didn’t have the money. Second, I couldn’t find my passport because this house was a loveless mess. Third, I believed that leaving my home in order to find myself was a deeply flawed idea. I was right there, somewhere, and I knew that I needed to look.

Public service announcement: When you are lost, you should remain in one place. This is good advice not only for newly dumped persons but for hikers, and for those who have taken hallucinogenic drugs and found them disagreeable.

This is an edited extract from The Helen 100 by Helen Razer, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

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