When traveling heals: A trip to Scotland helped mend wounds from divorce

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When traveling heals: A trip to Scotland helped mend wounds from divorce

How a trip to Scotland eased the pain of a divorce and gave me new direction.

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Andrea Cruikshank, Cincinnati Enquirer Published 6:00 a.m. ET Dec. 27, 2018
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I sat at my dining room table in the morning light, hunched over my laptop, attempting to jump start my motivation to get some work finished. Instead, my chin rested in my hands and I was staring blankly at the giant 6-foot-by-8-foot world map I had hung on one of the walls.

My eyes unfocused.

A month earlier, my husband of nearly 13 years moved out. I don't remember much of what happened in the months that followed, except that in my memories, it seemed like the weather was relentlessly dark and gloomy, though I'm sure it wasn't, and that I had become numb from pain.

Nothing could bring me joy. I felt as though I was dragging my heavy, lifeless heart behind me by a rope.

My heart sank to my toes the moment I woke up each morning to this alien, sleep-deprived reality.

This emptiness, this achy body, this anxious gut.

It took every ounce of energy I had to put on a reasonably happy face and attitude for my little girl, and I would go to bed feeling absolutely drained from the effort.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children.

I no longer knew who I was. Puzzling out what my life would look like now seemed mountainous.

I had to get some work done, but my eyes remained focused on the colorful masses of continents. Then, it was as if every cell in my sad body began to spark and tingle with energy – up my arms, then down my back and through my torso. There was a path. It was staring me right in the face. I wanted to see the world. And I had always wanted to start with Scotland.

And I was going to do it. This year. Alone. And it was going to be awesome.

I could have the freedom to do whatever I wanted every single day. Hike myself into exhaustion and get up the next day and do it again. Stop the car a million times and take photos without annoying any traveling companions.

There haven't been many times in my life when I was pumped about doing math, but I relished crunching the numbers as I worked out a detailed budget outlining every week for the next six months. Every tab in my browser displayed a financial account, flights, Airbnb options, articles on budget travel and the very best vistas, hiking, food and culture in Scotland. A notepad was filled with scribblings of itineraries and notes from phone calls and triple-checked math.

I sat back, finally, after several days of this and my plan emerged: I would travel to Scotland for a week-and-a-half in September.

To bolster my traveling goals. I started grocery shopping at Aldi, stopped shopping for clothes so much and instead of going out as often, I finally introduced myself to my neighbors. I made plans months in advance for my daughter to be cared for while I would be away – by my mother in my own home – so my daughter could continue her school routine and be around her friends.

At the same time, my social life right outside my front door became a wellspring of healing and friendships, a summer full of front yard bonfires, the children running around the lawns catching fireflies, impromptu gatherings and many nights full of laughter shared on my porch swing and around our kitchen tables.

I was re-discovering who I truly was again. Life does exist after a spouse exits your marriage, and I was moving toward something I had always ached for.

Adventure ,

Scotland burrowed its way into my soul that September. That first day I spent on the Isle of Skye, I headed north from Portree on the A855. And at every turn of the windy road, I cried. It was that beautiful.

I clambered up mountainsides and boulders and stood at the edge of towering green cliffs on the Isle of Skye. I strolled all over Edinburgh's historic streets. Explored castles. Watched waterfalls. I breathed the beauty in – lungs fully expanded. I shared trails with wandering sheep (and tried to pet them, but they were too sheepish).

I braved one-track roads in a car on the "wrong" side of the road, on the "wrong" side of the car, wrangling a manual transmission that I had just learned how to drive that summer for this trip and that I wasn't all that skilled at driving just yet.

On the top of a mountain one day, looking out at the miles of hills, meadows, waterways and grazing sheep, I decided that I would fly to London the next day – just for a day.

I ate haggis, which tastes and looks a lot like a Cincinnati delicacy, goetta.

Remember that discipline is not punishment. Enforcing limits is really about teaching kids how to behave in the world and helping them to become competent, caring, and in control.

I indulged in hearty, rib-sticking food, fish and chips, beef stews, savory and piping-hot hand pies, "neeps and tatties," shortbread and sticky toffee puddings. I carried a thermos of English tea with me on the trails, where it could be 40 degrees and rainy one hour, and 70 and sunny the next.

I found a new favorite drink: Scotch (they just call it whiskey over there). Talisker, to be specific, which tastes wonderfully like campfire and made me shudder the first time I tried it. (The bartender, in his Scottish lilt, noticed and said "That must mean ye like it.")

Misadventure struck me, too. I got horribly lost on the Edinburgh Lothian bus lines. Just after stopping to view Loch Ness on my drive to the Isle of Skye, I struck a pothole and was left with a flat tire, no spare (budget travel has its drawbacks) and no cell phone signal.

Each time I found myself in a pickle, some kind soul rescued me. I was stranded waiting for the very last bus of the day to arrive in the middle of nowhere after taking the wrong bus from Edinburgh to my Airbnb. As I sat in the bus stop shelter, I saw a man approaching from across the dark and deserted street. He came right up to me and plopped onto the bench beside me.

He was seriously so drunk that I could barely understand him between his slurred speech and his thick-as-sticky-toffee-pudding Scottish accent, but he found me a bus to take home and hopped on the (correct) bus with me to cheer me up, try to correct my feeble Scottish pronunciation and keep me from someone he saw lurking in the alleyway behind the bus stop where I was seated (yes, really).

When I was standing, hopeless, on the side of the road, I found myself at the mercy of a dirty, scruffy truck driver, who noticed my peril and stopped to inspect my tire, then drove me a total of 40 miles outside of his route (yes, he was on the clock) to an inn with a telephone I could use, and sat with me until he knew I had help on the way.

As I sat in this delivery driver's truck, in tears on the phone with my rental company, he tapped my shoulder and pointed at the sky. A huge rainbow soared just over the treeline straight ahead of us. "That's for you," he said kindly, succeeding in making me smile.

These mishaps make for great anecdotes, but they're not what I took home from Scotland. Crossing by foot the barren mountains that fold and melt into stately and imposing cliffs that tumble into velvety green meadows that roll into the sea was the medicine I needed to feel whole again after tragedy. As I found myself alone among this gigantic landscape, I felt bold again. I felt happy again. In the discovery of this place for myself, I discovered myself again.

On my last day, I sat in a meadow by the sea, looking at the cliffs behind me, and the tears fell. I released all the hurt and disappointment that lived inside every nerve, and I let go of 13 years. I let go of him. I let go of who I thought I was and started over then and there.

I haven't looked back. I am not who I was before that plane took off for Edinburgh three years ago. Being alone thousands of miles away from home, without a cell phone signal, without a familiar face, figuring out everything in analog – even in a first-world English-speaking country – sparks courage, resourcefulness. It resurrected a boldness I had lost in my adolescence.

A courageous spirit is just what I needed to face the hardships the past few years since have brought. I learned it's not so scary to be alone or even to eat alone in a restaurant, in public. It's not so terrifying to not have a familiar face in sight, because new friendships can be forged anywhere.

And even when there's no other human soul around, there's still a beautiful world to enjoy. There's the burn in our muscles as they move along an uphill path to tell us we're alive. There's a peace that comes from realizing there is so much more out there than a tough situation and a heartache.

Special times. Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your undivided attention to your child. This quiet calm time – no TV, iPad or phones - can be a confidence builder for young children. As little as five minutes a day can make a difference.

I haven't stopped with Scotland. I've since hiked solo in Utah, California and Colorado, returned to Scotland once and have fallen in love with mission work in Haiti, where I plan to return year after year, indefinitely.

When bigger trips aren't feasible, I find the beauty in my own Cincinnati-area backyard. Places like Yellow Springs, Red River Gorge and Hocking Hills have provided sanctuary when I need to re-focus or experience life outside of suburban ritual.

I want to take you along on these journeys. I plan to write to you about all the fun things I've discovered, and what makes a place special.

But consider traveling to these places with your family, your friends, or even by yourself. Invest in your own mental health. Breathe in a fresh place. Do something just for you.

And all you have to do to begin is look at a map.

LinkedIn Photos: A solo trip to Scotland made me a new person Fullscreen
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On my first evening on the Isle of Skye, I hiked through the mist and clouds to Old Man of Storr, a prominent rock formation that sits by the cliff-lined coastline of the island.On my first evening on the Isle of Skye, I hiked through the mist and clouds to Old Man of Storr, a prominent rock formation that sits by the cliff-lined coastline of the island. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenSheep dot the landscape on Isle of Skye, including popular trails such as the ones winding around the Old Man of Storr.Sheep dot the landscape on Isle of Skye, including popular trails such as the ones winding around the Old Man of Storr. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenGorgeous views abound on a road through the Highlands in Scotland. I stopped the car to gawk at the vistas quite often.Gorgeous views abound on a road through the Highlands in Scotland. I stopped the car to gawk at the vistas quite often. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenBefore ascending into the Cuillin Hills and meeting this fellow, I came across a small placard near the trailhead with this verse from Psalm inscribed: "I lift mine eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." For me personally, my faith played a huge role in healing from divorce. I came to these hills to heal. At that moment I knew I was meant to come to this place.Before ascending into the Cuillin Hills and meeting this fellow, I came across a small placard near the trailhead with this verse from Psalm inscribed: "I lift mine eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." For me personally, my faith played a huge role in healing from divorce. I came to these hills to heal. At that moment I knew I was meant to come to this place.
The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenBuilt on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle and the ground it stands upon is picturesque and full of history.Built on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle and the ground it stands upon is picturesque and full of history. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenUrquhart Castle sits on Loch Ness. I explored the shoreline, but didn't spot Nessie. Can you?Urquhart Castle sits on Loch Ness. I explored the shoreline, but didn't spot Nessie. Can you? The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenAt the foot of the Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye trickles a stream with hundreds of little waterfalls. All that's missing is the country's national animal - the unicorn (yes, really).At the foot of the Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye trickles a stream with hundreds of little waterfalls. All that's missing is the country's national animal - the unicorn (yes, really). The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenI took hot tea in a thermos on every trail. The weather can turn cold and cloudy in an instant along Scotland's coast. Having hot tea on-hand was an excellent way to keep warm

Get your kids vaccinated. Outbreaks of measles and other diseases still occur in our country and throughout the world.

I took hot tea in a thermos on every trail. The weather can turn cold and cloudy in an instant along Scotland's coast. Having hot tea on-hand was an excellent way to keep warm The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank Fullscreen"Oh, hi. Um, excuse me, I need to get past you, please." One never truly hikes alone in Scotland."Oh, hi. Um, excuse me, I need to get past you, please." One never truly hikes alone in Scotland. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenSheep aren't the only friends who share trails with humans on the Isle of Skye. Occasionally, cows (with fabulous hairdos) will greet hikers.Sheep aren't the only friends who share trails with humans on the Isle of Skye. Occasionally, cows (with fabulous hairdos) will greet hikers. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenThe Lealt Falls tumbles from a sheer cliff on Isle of Skye's eastern coast.The Lealt Falls tumbles from a sheer cliff on Isle of Skye's eastern coast. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenA windblown tree grows along the Fairy Pools.A windblown tree grows along the Fairy Pools. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenA serene lake rests along the Quiraing Walk. This hike travels up a hillside and leads to the very tip of sheer cliffs.A serene lake rests along the Quiraing Walk. This hike travels up a hillside and leads to the very tip of sheer cliffs. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenA bagpiper preps to take position beside the statue of Robert Hume on High Street in Edinburgh. Crowds strolling down the street stop to rub the toe of the statue, which is thought to bring knowledge to those who touch it.A bagpiper preps to take position beside the statue of Robert Hume on High Street in Edinburgh. Crowds strolling down the street stop to rub the toe of the statue, which is thought to bring knowledge to those who touch it. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenVictoria Street in Edinburgh is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series
Victoria Street in Edinburgh is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenCalton Hill provides sweeping views of Edinburgh.Calton Hill provides sweeping views of Edinburgh. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenThe tiny town of Portree boasts beautiful views, cozy eateries and pubs, where I spent my evenings reviving myself with plates of fish and chips and haggis after long days of hiking.The tiny town of Portree boasts beautiful views, cozy eateries and pubs, where I spent my evenings reviving myself with plates of fish and chips and haggis after long days of hiking. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenThe London streets were soaking on my day trip to the city.The London streets were soaking on my day trip to the city. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank

Encourage daddy time. The greatest untapped resource available for improving the lives of our children is time with Dad - early and often. Kids with engaged fathers do better in school, problem-solve more successfully, and generally cope better with whatever life throws at them.

FullscreenMy very first meal in Scotland (besides airport food): haggis, neeps and tatties with macaroni and cheese on the side and a glass of Talisker whiskey at The Last Drop in Edinburgh. There I discovered that haggis is actually delicious, and I like the fiery taste of Scotch Whiskey. This historic pub is where prisoners downed their last drink before being hanged in Grassmarket, just outside the doors.My very first meal in Scotland (besides airport food): haggis, neeps and tatties with macaroni and cheese on the side and a glass of Talisker whiskey at The Last Drop in Edinburgh. There I discovered that haggis is actually delicious, and I like the fiery taste of Scotch Whiskey. This historic pub is where prisoners downed their last drink before being hanged in Grassmarket, just outside the doors. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenThis is the grave of Thomas Riddell. J.K. Rowling got the name for Voldemort from this grave in Edinburgh - and several other characters names appear in this graveyard. Potterheads like myself pick up sticks in this graveyard, pretend they're wands and "Avada Kadavra" this poor unsuspecting fellow, who never asked to have a villain named for him. People leave him nasty notes too. Poor Thomas Riddell, whoever you were.This is the grave of Thomas Riddell. J.K. Rowling got the name for Voldemort from this grave in Edinburgh - and several other characters names appear in this graveyard. Potterheads like myself pick up sticks in this graveyard, pretend they're wands and "Avada Kadavra" this poor unsuspecting fellow, who never asked to have a villain named for him. People leave him nasty notes too. Poor Thomas Riddell, whoever you were. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenBuckingham Palace is open for tours just two months out of the year. I chose to visit (coincidentally) during one of these months.Buckingham Palace is open for tours just two months out of the year. I chose to visit (coincidentally) during one of these months. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank FullscreenOne of my favorite spots in all of Scotland recently closed its doors so its owners could pursue other ventures, but Skye Pie Cafe was one of those spots I found through happenstance that was a wonderful treasure. The menu - made up of mostly little savory pies - was out of this world delectable. The artist owner put a special handmade touch on the decor and asked if I crocheted so I could contribute to a blanket being crafted for charity.One of my favorite spots in all of Scotland recently closed its doors so its owners could pursue other ventures, but Skye Pie Cafe was one of those spots I found through happenstance that was a wonderful treasure. The menu - made up of mostly little savory pies - was out of this world delectable. The artist owner put a special handmade touch on the decor and asked if I crocheted so I could contribute to a blanket being crafted for charity. The Enquirer/Andrea Cruikshank Fullscreen

Interested in this topic? You may also want to view these photo galleries:

Replay
  • On my first evening on the Isle of Skye, I hiked through the mist and clouds to Old Man of Storr, a prominent rock formation that sits by the cliff-lined coastline of the island.1 of 22
  • Sheep dot the landscape on Isle of Skye, including popular trails such as the ones winding around the Old Man of Storr.2 of 22
  • Gorgeous views abound on a road through the Highlands in Scotland. I stopped the car to gawk at the vistas quite often.3 of 22
  • Before ascending into the Cuillin Hills and meeting this fellow, I came across a small placard near the trailhead with this verse from Psalm inscribed: "I lift mine eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." For me personally, my faith played a huge role in healing from divorce. I came to these hills to heal. At that moment I knew I was meant to come to this place.4 of 22
  • Built on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle and the ground it stands upon is picturesque and full of history.5 of 22
  • Urquhart Castle sits on Loch Ness. I explored the shoreline, but didn't spot Nessie. Can you?6 of 22
  • At the foot of the Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye trickles a stream with hundreds of little waterfalls. All that's missing is the country's national animal - the unicorn (yes, really).7 of 22
  • I took hot tea in a thermos on every trail. The weather can turn cold and cloudy in an instant along Scotland's coast. Having hot tea on-hand was an excellent way to keep warm8 of 22
  • "Oh, hi. Um, excuse me, I need to get past you, please." One never truly hikes alone in Scotland.9 of 22
  • Sheep aren't the only friends who share trails with humans on the Isle of Skye. Occasionally, cows (with fabulous hairdos) will greet hikers.10 of 22
  • The Lealt Falls tumbles from a sheer cliff on Isle of Skye's eastern coast.11 of 22
  • A windblown tree grows along the Fairy Pools.12 of 22
  • A serene lake rests along the Quiraing Walk. This hike travels up a hillside and leads to the very tip of sheer cliffs.13 of 22
  • A bagpiper preps to take position beside the statue of Robert Hume on High Street in Edinburgh. Crowds strolling down the street stop to rub the toe of the statue, which is thought to bring knowledge to those who touch it.14 of 22
  • Victoria Street in Edinburgh is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series15 of 22
  • Calton Hill provides sweeping views of Edinburgh.16 of 22
  • The tiny town of Portree boasts beautiful views, cozy eateries and pubs, where I spent my evenings reviving myself with plates of fish and chips and haggis after long days of hiking.17 of 22
  • The London streets were soaking on my day trip to the city.18 of 22
  • My very first meal in Scotland (besides airport food): haggis, neeps and tatties with macaroni and cheese on the side and a glass of Talisker whiskey at The Last Drop in Edinburgh. There I discovered that haggis is actually delicious, and I like the fiery taste of Scotch Whiskey. This historic pub is where prisoners downed their last drink before being hanged in Grassmarket, just outside the doors.19 of 22
  • This is the grave of Thomas Riddell. J.K. Rowling got the name for Voldemort from this grave in Edinburgh - and several other characters names appear in this graveyard. Potterheads like myself pick up sticks in this graveyard, pretend they're wands and "Avada Kadavra" this poor unsuspecting fellow, who never asked to have a villain named for him. People leave him nasty notes too. Poor Thomas Riddell, whoever you were.20 of 22
  • Buckingham Palace is open for tours just two months out of the year. I chose to visit (coincidentally) during one of these months.21 of 22
  • One of my favorite spots in all of Scotland recently closed its doors so its owners could pursue other ventures, but Skye Pie Cafe was one of those spots I found through happenstance that was a wonderful treasure. The menu - made up of mostly little savory pies - was out of this world delectable. The artist owner put a special handmade touch on the decor and asked if I crocheted so I could contribute to a blanket being crafted for charity.22 of 22
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