A break-up almost killed me but cricket healed my heart

2019 will go down as one of the most unexpected years.

I began it in a healthy relationship with the woman I was convinced I would be with forever.

We were introduced by a mutual friend in my local. I was in a period of narcotic-infused self-destruction following the death of a good friend and a freelance career lull – but then she arrived and from the moment our eyes met, I knew.

Within weeks we were addicted to each other, and I thought ‘yep, this is it Tommy Stew: true love’.

She was spectacular – the funniest person I’d ever met, the most beautiful, and every moment in her presence was a pleasure. She was selfless, and accommodated my struggles with mental illness, which to our collective detriment meant I’d often treat her as a crutch.

The months passed and we rode out the usual bumps of any serious relationship. My career began gathering momentum and I was feeling extremely comfortable with the big three-oh that was looming. We were coasting and it felt good.

But after an intense, explosive two weeks period of arguments and inconclusive disagreements on our future, suddenly we were done. One phone call on a Wednesday night was enough for her to call it a day.

I was, and probably still am, shell-shocked. I’m permanently scarred due to self-harming post-breakup, and I’m still drowning in a pool of panic attacks and anti-psychotic medication. Heartbreak sent me to the deepest depths of depression.

However, there was a flicker of hope, an incongruous light at the end of the tunnel that glimmered through, like an old friend welcoming you back to your home town.

It was cricket.

Cricket has always been in my life. My father always was (and still is) a fervent cricket obsessive and his compulsion was contagious.

I captained my primary school team (although we were terrible) and played to an average level until I was 17. I became an England obsessive and would happily sit down with a beer or cup of tea, Test Match Special on, and watch any level of the beautiful game for hours on end.

And as I was in my interminable, dismantled post-break up state, drinking heavily and thinking about what I had lost, the collective imagination of most British sporting fans was simultaneously being captured by cricket.

The cricket World Cup, held in England, began exactly two weeks after my ex-girlfriend broke up with me – a World Cup! In England! That England won!

That was followed by The Ashes, England v Australia, one of the most historic, fiercely competed and entertaining rivalries in world sport. The series was drawn but the drama that unfolded was enough to get the bums of the most casual sporting fan off their collective seat.

With a summer of the sport stretching before me, at first cricket provided me with no more than impetus – maybe even a distraction.

But it quickly became all-encompassing, a reason to get out of bed rather than spending days with the curtains closed in a pool of sweat, tears and self-pity.

Thoughts that were previously occupied by my ex-girlfriend strayed to checking on Jimmy Anderson’s fitness or watching YouTube videos at 2am on how to sand down a Gray-Nicolls bat.

Whether it was the Super Over, Stokes’ heroics at Headingley or the peerless magnificence of Steve Smith – without being too hyperbolic, cricket helped to heal my heart and gave me a reason to live.

Then something astonishing happened. I was offered a position to be the digital producer on a national radio cricket podcast. I may have been given it out of sympathy, which I’m fine with – my colleagues were well aware of what I was going through.

My start on the podcast coincided with the beginning of the World Cup. I must have spent a total of three weeks at the Emirates Old Trafford, whether at drunken Friday night T20 blasts or sitting in solitude at Lancashire matches with no more than 100 other peaceful spectators.

The ethereal bliss of watching live cricket had a meditative and transient effect.

That undercurrent buzz of chatter – of bat colliding with ball, of 26,000 drunk Mancunians shouting ‘HOWZAT!?’ in unison – seeped into my subconscious, gradually getting louder than thoughts of loneliness.

My ex had provided me with a sense of belonging and a familiar, comforting presence. Watching cricket gave me that same feeling. Being cosseted by a buoyant crowd replaced my need to be dependent on another person.

Having somewhere to go when times grew cold, when loneliness overwhelmed, helped me get over her. Cricket was my go-to fix for stability, joy and companionship whether that was in the company of friends or just me and the TV.

I also picked up a bat again. What began with a sheepish and timid session with a colleague eventually progressed to trips to the nets two or three times a week. I even mustered up the courage to play a match!

I met new people of different races and ages and played with strangers and old mates I’d not seen for years. It felt like a figurative group hug – friends and colleagues who saw me suffer the severity of heartbreak embraced and lifted me.

My dad told me he’d suffered similarly as a young man and explained that heartbreak is one of the most difficult forms of grief to recover from. The fact that at 66 he could open up in such a way made me feel less alone.

I poured my love into the cricketing community – the fans, the players, the wickets, the shots, the journalists, my colleagues, the WhatsApp groups – and the community loved me back.

I believe love and genuine companionship often strike unexpectedly, so from here on in I’m going to look after myself mentally and if another love story does unravel, I know I can embrace it from a safe and confident place.

Or it may be that cricket is the one true love of my life – and there would be nothing wrong with that at all.

Last week in Love Or Something Like It: The worst heartbreak I’ve ever known was losing my best friend

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Love, Or Something Like It is a new series for Metro.co.uk covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, exploring what true love is and how we find it in the present day.

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