I walked out on my marriage to Graham* in 2013. We had three sons, Harry, Robert and Luke, then 12, 11 and nine; I also have a son, Simon, who’s 30, from a previous marriage. Graham was controlling, at times physically, and I simply couldn’t live with him any more.
That summer, I moved to Bristol to start a new life. I didn’t know anyone there – I just needed distance. Harry chose to stay with his dad, and the youngest two came with me.
I was in a new city without friends or family, but it’s hard to be lonely when you live with children. Then, in February 2017, life fell apart. My youngest sons, by then 15 and 13, didn’t like their secondary school and refused to go for a whole month. I blame the drip-drip of Harry constantly telling them how cool his school was, which their father reiterated. I painfully decided to put their needs first and let them return to Gloucester to live with Graham and Harry again.
The first night on my own in Bristol, my hairdresser, who’d become a friend, invited me round. She spoilt me, ordering a take-away and colouring my hair, and when I returned to my empty home later I was exhausted. Even though I was missing my sons, I managed to drift off. But as the months passed, loneliness began to consume me. Before, my day centred around the boys coming home from school. Now I was parenting via phone and seeing them once a month.
The one thing I had to look forward to was Christmas Day. I’d booked a week with Robert and Luke at Center Parcs, and I was so excited to be with them and relax over a glass of prosecco with our festive meal. But two days before we were due to leave, they told me they’d decided to spend Christmas with their dad and Harry. They didn’t want to be uprooted, preferring to be close to their older brother and their friends. It was too short notice to make other plans, and I spent 24 miserable hours on my own. My loneliness felt more profound than ever.
As the months went on, there were times when my solitude felt overwhelming. I’d wake up and not want to go anywhere or see anyone. I didn’t have a job; I’d prioritised my children all my adult life and neglected my professional path. Occasionally I’d spend the day in bed, telling myself my children were probably having a lovely time with their dad. I felt completely out of their lives.
It was only in April this year that someone suggested I call The Silver Line. Within minutes I knew it was the kind of helpline I needed. I talked about the children and it felt so easy to open up, like talking to a wise friend. Their volunteers are exceptional – one young chap, for instance, gave me brilliant advice about how to improve my relationship with Harry.
Now, when I wake up in the night, I know I can call The Silver Line, which is a gift. Their support over the last seven months has made me look at life so differently. I can appreciate the positives: I’m not disturbing anyone if I turn on the light or make a hot drink. My confidence has grown and loneliness no longer inhibits me. I’ve enrolled on a distance-learning course to eventually qualify for support teaching in schools. When I told Luke, he said, ‘Mum, try really hard to graduate!’ He’s spurred me on.
The charity has organised a phone buddy with whom I’ll have a weekly half-hour call. I’ve just had my first one and look forward to getting to know her. While we’ll never meet, it’s special knowing I can talk to her about anything and everything. I’m finally feeling optimistic about my future.
As told to Samantha Brick. Picture posed by model. *Names have been changed
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