When Margaret K. Johnson contacted me to ask if I would review her book, The Four Seasons of Breakupvia, I knew nothing about her, so I checked her author page on Amazon. I was intrigued to see we had a lot in common. Like me, she went to Art School, like me, once she started writing her passion for words superseded her passion for visual arts. Like me, she also has an MA in Creative Writing.
All of this sounded promising, so I clicked on her novel, A Nightingale in Winter. Its cover appealed to me, and its storyline, set in World War 1, sounded interesting. I took a “look inside” and it quickly became clear that Johnson could write well. You may yet read a review of that novel on this blog, but more immediately, reading that extract meant I felt happy to read The Four Seasons of Breakupvia with a view to reviewing it.
Having been happily married for over 20 years, I have not had personal experience of using this book to get over a break-up. However, I have read many self-help books, and I am rarely without a book about psychology, mindfulness or spirituality on my bedside table, so I know the overall genre well.
The Four Seasons of Breakupvia is written in an easy to read, chatty style, which is informative without being patronising. Although Johnson mentions feeling devastated by her own break-up that inspired her to write this book, she doesn’t dwell on it. The book is not a memoir or pity- party, but a way forward in the form of a workbook with exercises for readers to try. Johnson recognises that not all exercises will suit everyone, so invites readers to try out those that resonate with them. Her intention is to support readers to recover from their heartache, not to add to it with a list of “should.” Her tone is compassionate, recognising that for some people (including herself) a relationship break-up can take a long time to heal.
Johnson likens the time after a relationship break-up to a land – Breakupvia. At first, I thought this seemed a little corny, but as I read further through the book I could see that it works. It gives a visual component to the grief, confusion and ultimate healing that someone could expect after a break-up. It would, I think, make it easier for someone going through this to chart their progress, which can sometimes feel painfully slow when doing personal development work of any kind. The sense of treading water is rarely true, but we forget how we used to be and so journeying through the land of Breakupvia could be a reminder of the emotional “distance travelled.”
The land of Breakupvia has a variety of terrains, including a mountain range that symbolises the emotional journey taken. Breakupvia has different seasons to ours, with winter followed by summer, then autumn and finally spring. The order of these seasons makes sense and is a good way to represent healing process. Winter represents the grief and loneliness immediately after a break-up, summer the anger that follows, with autumn representing letting go and spring, of course, being renewal. This would help someone to see that yes, what they are going through is normal after all.
Early on, Johnson suggests readers keep a journal or notebook. She says, “Writing is proven to help people get over a trauma.” I agree. I have journaled for most of my life, and thoroughly recommend it, whether or not you are getting over trauma. As Johnson points out, this notebook is for nobody but you to read, and so you can write anything in it. She says, “It’s your heart on the page, in all its messy glory.” For anyone not sure how to start, she even gives a few sentence openings to get you going.
As an addition to the book, Johnson has set up a Facebook group, so anyone going through the processes will have company on their journey. She is also working on a course.
After I had read the book, I was intrigued to know a bit more about why it came to be, so I contacted Margaret and asked her a few questions. She was generous in her answers and the interview now follows.
Yvonne: Can you say a little about why you decided to write the book?
Margaret: I wrote the book because I’m such a strong believer in the power of writing to heal, and to make a difference to peoples’ lives. As a creative writing tutor, I’ve frequently seen the power of words to improve self-confidence and self-esteem. By using powerful life events in their writing, many of my students have also been able to set themselves free.
Writing played such a large part in my own recovery from a traumatic relationship break-up, I really wanted others to benefit from it too. I knew there must be a way for me to combine my skills, experience, and insight to create something that would be really useful to people going through the same pain I had gone through. I also hated to think that perhaps only people who consider themselves to be writers, might benefit from the healing power of writing. I wanted to break down barriers, to make writing accessible to everyone.
Writing as therapy can be entirely private, and is very different to writing for school or college. Spelling, grammar and handwriting don’t matter at all. It is just about the process of the pen moving over the page, making a direct connection to the heart, soul and mind.
Yvonne: What is your vision for the Facebook group that goes along with the book?
Margaret: I want the group to be a place where people working their way through The Four Seasons of Breakupvia can come together to share their experience of using writing to get over varies hurdles and stages of their recovery journey. I want it to be a place where people are able to express their pain, but I want it to be primarily a supportive and positive place, with themes for posts on different days. The themes for the different days may change over time, after I see what works best, but at the moment they are these:
#Monday Moan (a chance to express gripes and to receive comfort from the community)
#Tuesday Thoughts (Putting the emphasis on the positive and on personal growth)
#Wednesday Writing (A chance for brave students to share some of the writing done as part of using the book – for example a haiku (short poem))
#Thursday Q & A (A chance to pose a question to the community)
#Friday Fun (Sharing some upbeat or daft posts or videos from the internet)
#Saturday/Sunday Inspirations (Inspiration quotes)
Yvonne: The four seasons of Breakupvia, in which summer follows winter is an interesting concept that does echo the healing process – not just for a relationship break-up but any major trauma. How did you hit upon this idea?
Margaret: I am a creative and very visual person, and the concept of the mixed-up seasons, where summer follows winter, just came to me. I imagine it sprang from my own experience of recovery from a break-up – the shockingly sudden switch from extreme disbelief and grief to fury, and a huge sense of injustice that I was, once again, going to have to rebuild my life.
It’s exhausting to swing so wildly between emotions in this way; to move in such a short space of time from being in a relationship, to being alone. For somebody to be playing such an important part in your life and then to suddenly be gone. Exactly like experiencing the harsh frosts of a bitter winter and then suddenly to be launched into the sultry heat of a summer lightning storm.
Yvonne: I like that you include pain as part of the process and suggest people go at their own pace. There’s a tendency for people to feel we have to hurry up and get over an upset – and other people are often uncomfortable when witnessing a friend or relative struggling with grief or other bleak emotions. Would you recommend any of the exercises in the book to friends or family members keen for a loved one to “get over it.” Or do you have other suggestions for them?
Margaret: I would ask relatives and friends of someone recovering from a relationship break-up to think of a pebble thrown into a lake – it makes ripples that take a while to go away. Then I would ask them to imagine a huge rock being thrown into the water – the resultant ripples would be more like waves, crashing onto the shore. Getting over a break-up can be like rock after rock being thrown into the water, and wave after wave crashing onto the shore. If the shore was a place where birds liked to nest, any nests would be washed away if they were built before the water calmed down.
It’s the same with a recovery from a break-up. Time is needed for a person to settle and to stop feeling out of control. Otherwise anything new that is built will be on unstable ground, and liable to be swept away or destroyed.
Yvonne: You mentioned in your acknowledgements in the book a course you’d taken and that was the basis for several of the exercises. Could you say a little about this course and how it was a springboard for your own ideas?
The book I mentioned was Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends by Dr Bruce Fisher and Dr Robert Alberti. The course is offered face-to-face and online. Here’s the link
When I took it, it was a 10-week course which took you through the different stages of a recovery from a relationship break-up. There is a theme of climbing mountains, and it is likely that this inspired my concept of the land of Breakupvia to some extent.
Having benefitted from the structure of the course, and the topics covered, I largely kept to these in my own book, devising and researching writing exercises to explore them. The topics – and questions/statements – covered in each season in The Four Seasons of Breakupvia, are similar to those in the Rebuilding book and course. Not being a therapist myself, (although I wrote the book with the generous input of two therapists) I was keen to stick to a structure that I knew from first-hand experience to be effective.
Yvonne: One exercise I particularly liked – and which I think could be used for other issues – was the Ten Second Time Freeze Technique. I hadn’t come across anything quite like this before. Could you tell us how you developed or came across that idea?
Margaret: This exercise came directly from my own experience. My break-up came completely out of the blue as far as I was concerned, but, as I listened to my partner telling me that he had met someone else and that our relationship was over, it was exactly as if time had stood still. I could hear him; I could see the expression on his face, but a voice in my head was saying to me, “I know this is going to take a long time to get over. I know a tidal wave of pain is about to hit me. But… now, I won’t have to struggle to get on with his girls any longer…(I was a step-mother). And I’ll be able to have a child of my own.” (He didn’t want any more children).
I was right – a tidal wave of pain did crash over me. And it did take a long time to get over. But those ten seconds of absolute clarity – ten seconds when I saw exactly what I wanted and how I might benefit from our relationship being over – proved to be true. It was a relief not to have to have to be a step-mother to two girls who only really wanted their real mother, and I did have a child – a son – five years later. He’s the light of my life, and I can’t imagine not having him.
So, as this was such a significant experience for me, I wanted to share it with others so that they could find hope from it.
Yvonne: I understand you have plans to develop the material from The Four Seasons of Breakupvia into a course. Can you say more about that?
Margaret: Yes, I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who would prefer to work through the material as part of a supportive group, so I am starting off by running an introductory workshop leading to a course in my home town of Norwich, with plans to extend this throughout East Anglia (UK). When I’ve run a few of these, I will develop the programme as an on-line course so that it can be accessible to more people.
If anyone is keen to keep notified about these plans, they can email Margaret K Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: should you choose to buy The Four Seasons of Breakupvia through the links I have provided, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. If you choose to do this, thank you!