My Nepenthe*

nepenthe_dictionary.jpg
Nepenthe, dictionary, Canon Digital Rebel XSi

Back in college I had the big breakup. You know the one. The one that brings you to your knees, where you can’t speak for days, where the anguish is so crushing you don’t know if you’ll ever recover. It was a love at first sight kind of thing — spotted each other in a coffee shop and three espressos later we were shacked up for the next two years. If there is such a thing as past lives, I’m sure we must have known each other in many. It has taken nearly twenty years to exorcise this guy from my psyche, still making cameo appearances in my dreams all this time later.

Anyway, this is the kind of breakup I was recovering from and it was not pretty. I was crushed, crying every day, in such deep grief I didn’t know if I would survive. Right around this time I met Dan. He was funny and adorable and loved to take photos as much as I did. I agreed to go out with him because he made me laugh and forget my troubles. We played, went on photo safaris, did road trips and cracked each other up. And then, just as quickly as he had waltzed in, he left. Stood me up for a movie, had lots of good excuses, and a few days later fessed up and told me that the ex-girlfriend had come back into town and he was “really confused.”

I was just “really angry.” We broke up and I was furious that I had dared to open my heart again. Even just a little bit. I felt duped, both by him and by the universe, and I was overwhelmed that all of my wounds that had begun to scab over were being ripped open again.

I remember flopping on the couch in total exasperation and anger, tears pouring down my face, and asking god, the room, whoever was listening, WHY DID THAT ASSHOLE HAVE TO COME INTO MY LIFE? (I think I actually asked this at full volume to the empty house) And because I sometimes played a game where I asked the dictionary a question and opened randomly to get my answer, that’s what I did in this moment. I grabbed the dictionary and asked again through my blinding tears, Why did Dan come into my life?

The word I got was nepenthe: A grief banishing drug; something that eases sorrow or pain.

My breath caught in my throat. Oh my god, I thought. Dan was my nepenthe. He had gifted me six glorious weeks of healing laughter. He had pulled me out of one of the darkest places I had ever gone. He wasn’t supposed to stick around. He was supposed to be a simple gift.

And in that moment, perhaps for the first time in my life, my heart was awash in forgiveness. All I had was total gratitude for this boy and to the universe for bringing him when I needed him most. I still think of him with so much appreciation.

Yesterday I had coffee with the incredible Romney Steele. Her grandparents opened the restaurant (the phenomenon really) called Nepenthe in Big Sur. I’ve just started reading her beautiful book about growing up there and I highly recommend it.

And of course I love the title. It’s called My Nepenthe.

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Hi, I’m Andrea

On this blog you’ll be learning with me how to use our voices, share our creative superpowers and live life in full color.

As an artist, photographer, life coach + mentor, I’m redefining what it means to be a SUPERHERO — ‘cause in my world, it’s got nothing to do with capes, spandex or sidekicks and everything to do with tenderness, intuition & baby steps of bravery.

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46 Comments

  1. whitney

    wow, what a great story Andrea. Love it.

  2. Elise

    What a beautiful story Andrea! I love how your dictionary works like Tarot cards. Nepenthe truly is an amazing place, have you ever been there? I lived in Big Sur a couple of summers during college and used to go there whenever I could (late 70s). When the cookbook came out I devoured it, literally. Romney has presented a perfect homage to her homestead.

  3. Chana

    Thanks, this is perfect. Where can I get a dictionary like yours?

  4. Anali

    I really want to read this book! I guess my “dictionary game” wasn’t so unique after all. Thought I was the only one! My friends in college would always indulge me by playing along though. : )

  5. stef

    you so do have the best stories and told with such beauty!
    xo

  6. AndreaD

    THANK YOU for writing this post. I am in the midst of a painful break-up. Selling my house, saying goodbye to a marriage. TOUGH stuff. Thank you XOXO

  7. Amy --- Just A Titch

    I love this idea. I just wrote today about my own grief over a breakup; I suppose now I have a word for what he was.
    Also, LOVE the Magpie game so much. Love it.

  8. Helene

    Your story is also mine.
    Take care,
    H

  9. Helene

    Your story is also mine.
    Take care,
    H

  10. Debra

    The universe brought me this post today, of that I am sure. I am facing quite a bit of pain right now and this helps. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Debra

    The universe brought me this post today, of that I am sure. I am facing quite a bit of pain right now and this helps. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Nadine

    Thank you so much for this today. Still exorcising someone from my psyche after 4 years. Did a burning of some old letters I rediscovered yesterday, as a matter of fact. I’m allowing the door to open for the right guy…

  13. Puanani

    Oh. My. Wow.

  14. Tinniegirl

    What a pivotal moment, that you were able to see the gift and embrace it. I love this story so much, and your fabulous way of viewing the world. It is so inspiring.
    The dictionary game is awesome. Off to ask a question of my own.

  15. Cath

    Your insight is phenomenal.
    And your writing… sometimes (most every single time)I wish your posts were so much longer because I’d love to just sit back and drink a cup of tea while reading your stories. But, too, your inspiration (for me, anyway) is often in the simplicity of your words.
    I’m so glad that you’ve clearly grasped the anguish in past loves for what they are… essentially stepping stones.
    I’m also so glad to say that The Nepenthe was added to my book list about a week ago. Can’t wait to read it!

  16. teaworthy

    fabulous essay! love this!

  17. teaworthy

    fabulous essay! love this!

  18. Bryna

    A beautiful photo, and a marvelous story. Thank you.

  19. Romney Steele

    I love this story, Andrea. And like I told you, my grandmother would have loved it too. Her Nepenthe was everyone’s Nepenthe-a place of no sorrow. I’m so glad we have met, and thank you for sharing my book with others.
    Romney

  20. Fatemeh

    Thanks for sharing. years ago I learnt dictionary opening from one of your posts, It really works

  21. Fatemeh

    Thanks for sharing. years ago I learnt dictionary opening from one of your posts, It really works

  22. HeidiRenee

    I didn’t want this post to end, so enjoyed it Andrea – thanks for a new word and the story that goes with it. The shift in perspective is truly what changes everything. Love it!

  23. Catherine

    I too didn’t want that post to end. It was like reading your novel or memoir. Loved that post and totally related to the breakup story. LOVED how you asked the dictionary for the answer and GOT ONE!
    A GREAT ONE!
    amazing.
    And now I want to read that book!

  24. Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    What a beautiful essay, Andrea – and I love how sometimes things just connect like this.

  25. Jennifer

    Okay, so for a split second there part way through that post, I thought that you were going to say something like ‘And grief brings me to tell you that I’ve miscarried’….sorry about that! That makes me sound terrible, doesn’t it?

  26. April

    I just started reading this book, too. Fascinating, so far.

  27. Em

    He’s in my head all the time at the moment, I’ve just moved back to his country after eleven years away, I thought I was strong enough now to come back but I’ve spent this afternoon on the floor sobbing, thinking what do I have to do to let this thing release me. Perhaps for today you are my nepenthe.

  28. verdemama

    Stunned. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks so much for sharing this story. Simply beautiful.

  29. debbie

    I am learning that the most wonderful moments of my life, when I feel the deepest and truest joy, are the moments when I feel a connection to another person’s experience in a way that feels soul based and leaves a feeling of comfort, compassion and love in my heart that is so beautiful and that I welcome and invite more and more of into my life. Thank you for being that for me today …

  30. debbie

    I am learning that the most wonderful moments of my life, when I feel the deepest and truest joy, are the moments when I feel a connection to another person’s experience in a way that feels soul based and leaves a feeling of comfort, compassion and love in my heart that is so beautiful and that I welcome and invite more and more of into my life. Thank you for being that for me today …

  31. debbie

    I am learning that the most wonderful moments of my life, when I feel the deepest and truest joy, are the moments when I feel a connection to another person’s experience in a way that feels soul based and leaves a feeling of comfort, compassion and love in my heart that is so beautiful and that I welcome and invite more and more of into my life. Thank you for being that for me today …

  32. Trish

    You have outdone yourself. This is in my top five Super Hero posts. Delicious read…I did not want it to end…visual yum to the eye and ear to read. You have got a essay / book in you girly girl.
    oxox
    Trish

  33. Kate

    I needed this post! I’m going through a painful separation/divorce after 3 years of marriage. It’s hard to explain. I know it’s the right decision, but it breaks my heart. There are no other words for it.
    I have a Nepenthe, tho. I’ve felt so confused about the nature of this relationship, but it makes me so happy and I need what this person is giving me, which is kindness and comfort. This person’s love has helped me realize what I deserve.
    Sorry! It’s so hard to explain. But this post, THIS POST is exactly what I needed, Andrea. Bless you!

  34. no worries

    i learnt a new word today, a what a word it is!thanks! I can only agree with all the comments above about how beautifully written this is. wonderful post!

  35. kathi

    again, thank you. so timely. two days ago i broke up with someone i though was the love of my life. i had found him after being on this planet for 47 years. i’m devastated but now hopeful. may i be as blessed as you were with your nepenthe.

  36. Lisa

    Whoa.
    Powerful, wonderful, truthful, heart-wrenching stuff!
    Thank you, dear Andrea, for sharing this glimpse of You 🙂

  37. elizabeth

    I knew of the restaurant, but I did not know what the word meant. Thank you for sharing the meaning – and your story. (It is such a beautiful word to say ..)
    xoxo

  38. sarah henry

    What a wonderful way to introduce a wonderful book. Glad you discovered My Nepenthe, Andrea. Glad I discovered you.

  39. Tanja

    Hi Andrea,
    I love your writing, it looks so ‘easy’ and natural, thank you for sharing!

  40. chris

    Reminds me of all the years teaching Poe. “…respite and nepenthe…”

  41. chris

    Reminds me of all the years teaching Poe. “…respite and nepenthe…”

  42. Kate D

    Oh you are such a good writer!…of life…of lessons…of being grateful. 🙂

  43. Michelle @ Eatingjourney

    God, I have had one of those recently in my life. Honestly, I was pissed because I tried to suffocate it because I wanted more. Then I realised, after reading this and talking to the friend who sent me the link…that really he’s been the wings that i’ve needed for so long. To rob him of that is to rob myself and himself of the whole experience. Thank you for writing this. It’s nice to know that other people have experienced the same things.

  44. kathleen

    this post has me going back and figuring out who my nepenthe was in the past…thank you for this perspective, because even after all these years, marriage and children, we can still have that little bit of hurt and confusion about past heartache.
    i know i do.

  45. Paige

    You remind me how to live. Sometimes I forget to breath, to feel, to notice. It’s OK to feel pain and even better to find nepenthe.

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