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Can Adventure Travel Help Heal a Broken Heart?

June 19, 2014|Posted in: Travel Stories

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In 2005, my marriage of almost 15 years ended. Before the day that my ex-husband moved out, I thought a broken heart was merely a poetic metaphor, not a real physical condition.

On my road to divorce recovery, I tried talk therapy, acupuncture, herbal supplements, and salsa dancing. I poured over the words of wisdom experts offered in self-help books and on divorce recovery websites. Then, quite by accident, I stumbled upon adventure travel.

One summer my brother and I rendezvoused in San Jose, Costa Rica for our annual vacation. From San Jose, we hopped on a tiny airplane that deposited us on a grass strip in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle on the Oso Peninsula. That adventure was the first time that I had felt truly, madly, deeply happy in a long time. It was the first breakthrough I experienced in my healing.

I think I experienced such a jump start in my healing for four reasons.

1) Relief. Our adventure was so all encompassing that I didn’t have the time or the energy to dwell on the pain I had been feeling. That disruption of my pain circuits was like taking a painkiller after surgery. It gave me a little bit of space to heal.

2) Reinvention. On our adventure, I did things I never thought I would do, such as flying in a tiny plane and landing at an airport that consisted of a grass strip and a Quonset hut. Since then, I have summited a 15,000-foot mountain pass on horseback, hiked the Inca Trail, and slid down the side of a giant sand dune on a snowboard. Each of these experiences has helped me to re-invent myself into the person I want to be post divorce.

3) Re-live and remember. On our adventure, I had the chance to re-live parts of my childhood as I climbed a tree, dove into the hollow of a wave, and explored the uncharted territory of a forest. I remembered the uncomplicated joy I felt doing these same things so many years before. These memories helped ground me in how much I enjoyed life before I was married and reassured me I could enjoy it just as much now.

4) Regain perspective. One day we idly followed a path into town. The poverty we encountered took my breath away. What I thought was a stable, because of the smell and the large number of horses tethered around the building, turned out to be the local hospital. I was shocked. And, when my brother broke his finger later that week, I splinted it myself afraid of the care he might receive were he to see a local doctor. This incident snapped me out of my self-pity. Yes, I had a broken heart. But, there are people in this world who are dealing with much worse circumstances. And maybe, on top of everything else, they have a broken heart, too.

In the end, I was so moved by the transformative power of adventure travel, that I started a philanthropic adventure travel company, Llama Expeditions.

When it comes to healing a broken heart, though, I think everyone has to find their own path. For me that path has thankfully included many wonderful adventures.




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