Slumped in front of her computer, Karen Lennox trembled as another sob racked
her emaciated body. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and the ache in her chest
If there was a pill to ease the hurt, she would have taken it. But the agony
the 39-year-old freelance hairdresser from Maida Vale, west London, felt
wasn’t down to illness. It was raw grief triggered by the collapse of her
five-year marriage – after she’d discovered her husband had cheated on her
with a prostitute.
“At the height of my anguish in May 2009, I’d lost nearly 2st, going from a
size 12 to a size 6,” remembers Karen. “I’d wander around in a tearful daze,
and end up somewhere with no memory of how I got there. Sometimes I just
wanted to go to sleep and never wake up.”
A physical and emotional wreck, Karen decided to look online for a holiday in
the hope that it could lift her depression. Instead, she found something
that might really help. Rehab.
Just like McFly’s Dougie Poynter, 23 – who fled to The Priory in February
following his split from The Saturdays’ Frankie Sandford, 22, a few months
earlier – Karen took herself to a clinic in California to mend her broken
“I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
Rehab after a break-up might sound a bit extreme, but according to industry
experts it’s on the up – and for good reason, too.
Relationship psychologist Simone Bienne, who runs her own clinic in London,
has seen a 50 per cent rise in women seeking therapy after a break-up in the
last year alone.
“People are slowly realising that therapy is a great support when you feel
most helpless,” she says. “And when you take yourself off to rehab, you can
break down in safe hands. You can reach rock bottom, while being supported
and cared for by professionals who know how to help you get back on your
“Getting therapy forces you to understand and accept your feelings – and only
when you do that can you begin to move forward.”
According to new research from the State University of New York, the parts of
the brain associated with the pain of romantic rejection are the same ones
involved in reward, motivation, physical pain, craving and addiction.
“This explains why otherwise normal people can react so inappropriately when
they break up with someone,” adds Simone.
“This is hugely important because it explains how breaking up is as hard to
get over as an addiction. And where is the best place for people to get over
an addiction? Rehab.”
Dr Richard Bowskill, consultant psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Brighton &
Hove, estimates that relationship problems are a major factor in about a
third of his referrals.
“A broken heart can sound quite trivial – most people equate it to their own
experience, in which they managed to get over it – but for some people it
can trigger mental-health problems, such as depression,” he explains.
Karen’s spiral into despair came in January 2009.
“My husband, Mark*, a 45-year-old city worker, called from his office, and
asked me to look for a watch belonging to his late father,” she remembers.
“As I rooted through a drawer, I found something else entirely – a secret
mobile phone stashed among his socks. I flicked through the texts, and
discovered a series of sexually explicit messages Mark had sent to a number
I didn’t recognise.
“They were absolutely revolting. For a few minutes, I just stared at them in
confusion. Then it hit me. Mark had cheated on me. The pain of that
realisation was unlike anything I had ever felt before.”
Karen confronted Mark, who at first denied it, but eventually admitted he had
been seeing a prostitute. Devastated and disgusted, Karen threw him out.
“I might have understood if we didn’t have a great sex life. But I hadn’t let
myself go and even when I was tired, still made an effort,” says Karen.
“But that wasn’t good enough for him. He needed to get his kicks from a
prostitute, and I didn’t even know if he’d used a condom. He could have
given me chlamydia – or worse, HIV.”
Karen took an STD test, and thankfully it came back clear. But it was small
Unable to face work and too humiliated to confide in anyone, she shut the
curtains and stayed in bed, severing all contact with the outside world.
Any time Mark called round, she refused to let him in. His betrayal was so
great, she couldn’t bear to look at him.
“I couldn’t eat or sleep,” remembers Karen. “My mind whirred constantly. Was I
to blame? Was I a failure as a woman? Had our whole marriage been a sham?
Could I have done anything differently? Sometimes I missed Mark terribly;
other times I wished he was dead.”
Depths of despair
Weeks turned into months, and instead of slowly getting over the split, Karen
spiralled into an even deeper depression.
“This wasn’t like any break-up I’d had in the past,” she says. “In my 20s, I’d
mope around for a few weeks then perk myself up with a new pair of shoes,
but this time I was falling to pieces.”
Her behaviour was also becoming increasingly erratic. She would go out for
lunch and have no idea how she got there, or revisit her and Mark’s old
haunts, then sob all the way home on the train. She even contemplated
Recognising she was at the end of her tether, Karen searched online for
retreats abroad. That’s when she stumbled across a website for a residential
rehab centre in California called Passages.
“The centre normally deals with alcoholics and addicts, but in desperation I
rang them and simply said: ‘I’ve got a broken heart and don’t know how to
fix it.’ The consultant at the end of the line assured me they’d treated
many people like me before.”
According to Simone, it’s thanks to the age of self-help books that we’re no
longer ashamed to ask for help.
“Nobody blinks an eye when someone is on the train reading a life manual,” she
says. “Plus, we see celebs going into rehab every day for all sorts of
problems, and if those who lead charmed lives need help, why should we be
ashamed to ask for it?”
Dr Bowskill agrees. “Things are slowly changing and there seems to be fewer
stigmas attached to seeking help for relationship problems,” he says.
“People now realise there is support out there and it’s OK to ask for it.”
In June 2009, Karen signed up for four weeks of treatment, costing £12,000,
using money from her joint account with Mark.
Telling family and friends she was going on holiday, she jetted off to Los
Angeles the following week, feeling hopeful for the first time in months.
“Someone picked me up from the airport and drove me to the centre,” she
remembers. “I’d heard horror stories of clinics where you had to scrub the
floors and share a room, but this was different. With bedrooms overlooking
the Pacific Ocean, a swimming pool, gym and library, it was more like a
swanky hotel than a treatment centre.”
Karen was free to spend her days as she pleased – the only thing that was
compulsory was attending one-to-one sessions with her therapist, Jacob.
“In our first meeting, I sat on the beach and told Jacob everything,” she
says. “He was treating patients with far more serious issues, like drug
addictions and domestic violence, which made me feel like a fraud, but he
reassured me that I was in the right place.
“At first I kept to myself, taking yoga classes, and reading books by
the pool. But one day, out of curiosity, I slipped into a group session and
sat quietly at the back.
“Listening to other patients was a reality check. One woman, who’d lost her
daughter in a car accident, described how every night she dreamed she was
holding her. She ached with loss and had turned to cocaine to ease the pain.”
This humbling experience gave Karen some much-needed perspective on her own
“My husband had slept with a hooker, and although it had felt like the biggest
thing in the world, it wasn’t a tragedy,” she says. “I started to make
friends, too. Realising other people liked me was a big boost to my
shattered self-confidence, and I started to relax for the first time in
Karen’s appetite soon returned and she began sleeping better, too. By the time
she left rehab in July 2009, she’d put on 7lb and felt much stronger.
“However, I still dreaded going home,” she remembers. “What if it triggered
all those old emotions?”
Once home, Karen decided to take control of the situation, as Jacob had taught
her, and arranged to meet Mark at a local cafe. “I told him I still loved
him, but wanted a divorce,” she remembers. “He cried, asking if I’d met
someone else, but I didn’t even give him the satisfaction of a reply.”
Coming home also gave Karen the strength to tell friends and family about the
break-up – and her breakdown. “It was such a relief,” she says. “I even went
back to work. I felt like the old me again, and I started learning how to be
happy on my own. When I felt ready, I joined a dating website, Iloveyouraccent.com.
In July 2010, I met my now fiancé Jack, 42, a managing director. Of course,
it was difficult to learn to trust him after Mark’s betrayal, but I knew he
would never hurt me like that.
“Two years ago, I never dreamed I’d find true happiness again. But I credit
rehab for helping me to get my life back together – and making it possible
for me to love somebody else.”
Scientists now think a broken heart causes physical as well as emotional pain.
A research team at the University of Michigan carried out a study of 40 men
and women whose relationships had ended against their wishes.
The participants had their brains scanned as they looked at pictures of their
exes, then were touched by a probe simulating the same level of pain as
spilling a very hot cup of coffee. The volunteers claimed looking at the
photos hurt as much as the probe. Scans showed activity in the same part of
the brain when they were burned as when they looked at the pictures, leading
scientists to conclude rejection and pain were processed in the same way.
Help! I’m broken-hearted
After an on/off two-year relationship, The Saturdays singer Frankie Sandford,
22, split from Dougie Poynter (1), 23, for a second time in November
last year and swiftly took up with footballer Wayne Bridge. Within a month
the “gutted” McFly boy began a four-week stint at The Priory to help him get
over his heartbreak.
Disney teen star Demi Lovato (2), 18, spent two months in rehab last November for “emotional and physical” issues following her split from singer
Joe Jonas, 21, a few months earlier.
When Lindsay Lohan (3), 24, split from DJ lover Samantha Ronson, 33, in
2009, she partied too hard, and by October the following year ended up
entering rehab at the Betty Ford clinic to face her demons.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CHRIS BOTT, DAVID FISHER, FAMOUS, LANDMARK MEDIA, WENN *NAME HAS