Bringing myself back to me.
A year in the life . . .
I talk a lot on here about the past year; how my life has changed and how thankful I am for most of those changes.
However a few changes have occurred that I have attempted to suppress in order to ignore their existence.
I also talk a lot about my last relationship (in this instance I am not referring to C). I am aware how dull it can be to hear of a person’s previous relationship repeatedly, especially given that the relationship ended two weeks shy of a year ago, however it seems I am learning more from this relationship as I drift further away from it.
A few weeks ago I was in Spain for my best friend A’s wedding to her childhood sweetheart. A, a successful photographer in her own right, had asked me to play the role of photographer to her intimate wedding ceremony of just six guests – myself included.
During this few days in Spain I felt more pain and confusion than I had felt since my breakup. I also felt completely and personally lost.
The person I would usually turn to in a situation like this was A, however she was the reason for my pain and therefore I was alone.
I won’t go into detail about the reasons behind my pain from A; all I will say is that I don’t really know her, that much I learnt in the hardest way.
Part of my pain however came on my second day out there where I suddenly realised I wasn’t being treated like ‘Me’. I was being spoken to in a way I had never been spoken to before and felt the suffocating need to burst out.
Aside from being told by a relative of hers within the first ten minutes of meeting that if I didn’t find Jesus by the end of the week I was going to hell, I wasn’t spoken to in a way that I would consider to be aggressive or confrontational; in fact everyone was speaking to me as if I were a little girl lost and they needed to cradle me from the scary and dangerous world of a supermarket or a corner shop. Next to A’s family mine would be considered hippies in their methods of raising children to be free-thinkers, encouraged to explore the world and their own thoughts with the knowledge that family will always be behind them no matter what their choices.
During a conversation with A I expressed my concern that I wasn’t being treated like myself and that I felt, apologetically – given that this was her family, smothered. As the only guest in Spain who was not a family member I was very aware that I was not used to the intensity of what A had described to me in previous catch-ups as ‘suffocating’.
I was raised by both parents individually to go out and play and explore, whereas – observing hers and her husband’s families – I felt neither one of them had been given this freedom as children, and that they still were not being handed it as adults.
To put it bluntly during one trip to a supermarket with A’s husband’s older brother I felt I was more likely to be mugged by a stranger with him around than if I were shopping alone. His vulnerability scared me, and the fact that he then would attempt to shelter me from the nonexistent dangers of grocery shopping in the quiet beachfront town we were residing at only heightened my discomfort.
During this few days away I was aware of how alone I felt at not being treated like ‘Me’.
It was then that I realised I hadn’t felt like ‘Me’ for an incredibly long time.
During the past year I have tried on various versions of myself including – completely new for myself entirely – the unfamiliar role of ‘girly’ girl.
I became so uncomfortable in my skin through this process that I felt lost in the world I had somehow created and unfortunately, and this is not said lightly, developed a mild eating disorder in the process of adapting myself into these new roles.
I have always been a tomboy of sorts. Since childhood through to early adulthood I have been playful and silly by nature as opposed to delicate and refined; my childhood years spent jumping from the tallest walls and trees, even my second storey bedroom window became an obstacle course for my nine year old self involving a broken wooden ladder and pure childhood courage – happily acknowledging the fact that I have never as yet broken any bones, and escaped all challenges with bruises at most.
A recent trip to visit my university friends for the purpose of a “Childhood TV Marathon” weekend was a surprising turning point in my transformative year.
While taking a break from watching childhood cartoons we gathered on the lawn outside our friend’s house armed with space-hoppers.
Now in the past year I have found myself regularly wearing heels – admittedly not necessarily high heels – but on this lawn I was back to my navy blue high top Converse, my ripped jeans, and a borrowed grey baggy hoody.
All of us in our friendship group had instantly forgotten our collective ages and spent hours in genuine childhood fun chasing each other, racing each other, pushing each other off our space-hoppers until we decided, a few hours in, to place our space-hoppers in a line, take a long fast run, and throw ourselves onto them one after another. No goal or point to this exercise other than we thought it would be fun; which it was. It was exactly like being a kid again.
Working as a team with no direction from anyone of us we all helped to realign the space-hoppers ready for the next after hysterically laughing at the last person that hurled their adult body across the children’s toys landing with a thud and a face full of grass and dirt.
It was during my first jump that I found myself coming back to myself.
Two of my male friends had done their first jumps and I was the first girl to volunteer – without thinking of it in that way as I never have done until it is pointed out to me afterwards. I rarely see gender as anything other than which public restrooms to use.
I was in the moment, completely content with pure happiness, that I just did what came naturally to me for what felt like the first time in years. I let go.
True to childhood I had no fear of pain, injury, and certainly no ego to risk looking like a fool. No grown up or adult practicalities entered my thoughts as my expensive jeans were about to become close friends with every childhood’s friend and washing machine’s foe, grass-stains, without a moment’s pause or a second thought.
I gave that first jump – and each jump afterwards – my complete all as I threw myself full-speed onto the space-hoppers and landed with an ungraceful bang in the middle of them laughing in such an innocently pure way that I hadn’t heard myself laugh for years.
It was incredible.
Each of us were doubled over in pain from laughing as we each had our turn using differing techniques and seeing unique results – one friend almost flipped herself over as a perfectly timed photo was captured of her legs in the air and her face frankly eating the grass.
After this particular weekend I began to unravel myself.
A lot of people feel that after a breakup they lose who they were; I realised I had lost who I really was not long into the relationship.
The tomboy who picks friends based on laughter and fun, who drinks bottles of beer – not champagne as I have found myself doing this year, although to be honest I quite enjoyed the pampering feeling, but not the lightheaded tipsy feeling afterwards – who laughs without ego and cares little for vanity, who defends herself against all enemies (foreign and domestic), and who is so unapologetically who she is. Like me or lump me. This girl vanished.
In her place stood a girl so afraid to speak up that she lost her voice as a direct result of being yelled at for years. Who was told to stop being silly, to shut up, to stop dreaming, to be practical. This girl sat silently trying not to cry as her previous boyfriend’s parents slammed their fists on the kitchen table while yelling at her because she didn’t agree with what they were saying regarding her own sister’s upcoming wedding. Who watched silently as her previous boyfriend’s family treated her Father as if he were scum during a family gathering. Who sat alone in the kitchen unable to leave the house because she had been told off for leaving after the last argument; so she sat alone crying, not knowing what she was meant to do.
Years of that treatment left me questioning everything I was about to do so much that in the end I didn’t do it. I would literally sit silently, waiting for it to be over. I lost contact with good friends as I lost confidence in myself to even go see them; this has been rectified – thankfully.
Some might say I should’ve walked away sooner – I know this now. Being in an emotionally abusive relationship is not something I ever thought would happen to myself and I certainly thought I would know that it was abusive but, until I left and looked at it from the outside, I didn’t. Others might say I should’ve stood up to him and his family more – I did; after a year of battling them, fighting my corner and standing my ground, I gradually gave in without realising. That’s when I faded.
So now, after realising this all, I am grateful for the past year and all it is revealing to myself. I lost myself a while ago, but in this year I became aware of that. For that reason I shout – at the top of my loud and proud voice – Thank You! Thank you for this happening before I travel. Thank you that I realised this had happened at all. And Thank You that I can now move on from it.
I am now under six weeks away from travelling America alone. My first three hostels and first two Amtrak rides booked; Boston, New York City, Washington DC. The rest of my route will be adaptable while I am out there. The only thing I can think to describe the way I am feeling right now is relieved. Relieved that the laughing tomboy can explore America with a cold bottle of beer in her hand rather than uncomfortably clutching a champagne glass while attempting to look dainty. That my case will contain Converse and Vans rather than painful towering shoes I can’t walk in.
To my ex, and my former self over the past few years, I’d like to say a happy Goodbye.
To my future and my trip around America that I have wanted since childhood (my nickname since the age of six being “Miss America”) I say a great big huge and happy HELLO! NICE TO MEET YOU! And LET’S SEE WHERE WE GO FROM HERE . . .
With that in mind I’d like to formally introduce myself by showing you myself, as I will be showing photos of my travels in the near future it is only polite to lay down an introduction.