It occurred to me today that I don’t know how to love myself. This week I made one of the hardest decisions of my life so far, in the name of self-preservation, self-care, self-love… And yet I feel as though I’ve been punishing myself ever since. I’ve hardly ate, hardly slept; I could swear coffee is the only thing that keeps me functioning. I survive on coffee and tears and poetry, and I am searching for the strength I know I somehow possess.
I found myself in a situation where my safety blanket was smothering me, and I realised that the protection had slipped into destruction. And it was beyond saving. But I was not.
It seems a habit of mine to write blogs when I go through periods of confusion and destruction in my life. When my world is crashing down, I take to my soapbox and preach some kind of message of empowerment. Because I know that I am not the sole person in the world who feels what I feel, and I know that sometimes the way to understand your own pain is to relate to that of another. So here is my broken heart, I hope you find comfort in it.
I will not write about why I feel this way, or the people who made me collateral damage in a situation which did not belong to me. Because it’s not my story to tell, and because it is irrelevant to what I have to say. Today I will write about how it feels to let go of one of the most important things in your life, and the challenge of attempting to rebuild yourself in the aftermath of this destruction.
There are songs I cannot listen to without wanting to cry. There are cinemas I can no longer go to, because they are synonymous with a person, with the memories of that person. There are streets I can hardly bear to walk down, because the pavement beneath my feet is like a map of six months of friendship. And ghosts haunt me wherever I go. I take my favourite photographs down from my bedroom wall, because they hurt too much. And the emptiness on my wall is like the emptiness in my heart.
And for months my voice was stolen from me, and I barely even noticed. “Eliza said this”, “Eliza was telling me that”, and the words of my stories never came from my own lips. It’s a dream come true for an introvert, to have an extroverted friend who can save you from all social situations. And suddenly it’s your nineteenth birthday, and you overcome your anxiety enough to actually invite your friends to go out somewhere with you. And you perhaps speak five words in the entire evening, because you’re anxious, and scared no one actually wants to be there. But at least you have someone to speak for you. And that person can speak for you in seminars, too; they can protect you so your tutor doesn’t find out you know absolutely nothing. It’s so comforting, to be that engulfed in another person. Until you realise you’ve lost yourself. The blanket was meant to insulate you from the outside world; instead you’re stuffed full of it, and there’s nothing left of you within your own mind or your own body, because every inch of you belongs to them. And there are times when you fight, and you feel a panic attack coming on and you CAN’T BREATHE, and they try to hug you because you love hugs, but you can’t bear to be touched by them. Because you don’t belong to yourself when they’re around.
They say that people photograph the thing they’re scared of losing. No wonder I take so many selfies! But it wasn’t just myself I always had the urge to photograph. There was another person too. And my phone is filled with photos of their face at unattractive angles. Because even at their ugliest, they were beautiful to me.
Until they weren’t.
My rose-coloured spectacles shattered on the ground, and I saw that love is not enough. A person can be your bestest friend in the whole wide world, but they cannot complete you. If you try to make a person fill an emptiness that isn’t there, what choice do they have, but to fill the spaces that contain yourself? And one day you’re made to realise that the two of you are not one and the same. You are not two halves of a whole, but two separate people with separate lives and separate needs. And now you know you don’t own them, you realise that they have no right to ownership of you. And from there, the end is nigh. You know it’s only a matter of time until the life you’ve built for yourself collapses, implodes. You kneel amongst the rubble of the ruined infrastructure, wanting to beg for things to go back to how they were. You know they can’t. So you punish them, with your poetry.
Maybe they will never understand why I did it. Why I chose to hurt them back, punish them with the vitriol of my words. But I live and breathe language; it’s all I know. And I’d lost my voice. So I wrote the truest poems of my life – the cruellest poems of my life. And performed them at a spoken word open mic. Not because I was cruel, and not predominantly for revenge. But because I am an independent human being, with a voice that needed a stage and a microphone to be heard.
Naturally, I made the situation worse. That was act 1 of self-destruction.
Act 2 seems ongoing: I keep forgetting to eat. When I wake I am not hungry, and the thought of food disgusts me. And suddenly I’ve sat through three lectures, and it’s mid afternoon, and I’ve missed lunch too. And I fill myself up with another coffee, and the cycle continues.
Act 3, naturally, involves alcohol. It was Wednesday night, in the pub, after Improv. And I’d promised myself I wouldn’t drink, because I envisioned myself doing something stupid. One gin-and-lemonade later, and I was waaayyy drunker than normal. I’m a lightweight at the best of times, but I’d barely eaten in four days, so I got drunk very fast. I was over-affectionate/very touchy-feely with a friend/acquaintance/somewhere in between who I’m definitely not close enough with to act in such a way around. Gin has two effects on me: it makes me affectionate, and it makes me sad. So naturally I spent a large percentage of the evening crying in the toilets about things which I should not be emotionally invested in enough to cry over. And my friends convinced me to go to a club with them (side note: going to gay clubs as a straight girl is great, because there aren’t creepy predatory men. Or if there are, they’re not interested in you), and you promise yourself you won’t drink more, and somehow you’re drinking a shot of some weird blue liquid which actually tastes kind of nice. And everything’s fine. You’re dancing with your friends, and actually enjoying yourself. But your brain is on a path of deliberate self-destruction, so naturally you say some really dumb things, which could be interpreted in a way which would make things very awkward. You pray the person was too drunk to remember.
And so there goes the three-act play of self-destruction.
I woke up at 10:25 this morning; my philosophy lecture started at 10. I looked out my window and saw heavy sleet. If I hadn’t had a seminar later in the day, I perhaps would have stayed in bed. Instead, I forced myself to get up, still cringing from last night. (Let’s face it; I could have done A LOT worse. But I have anxiety, so I will remember stupid things I do for the next fifty years).
I plodded about my room, dressing in my favourite black skinny jeans, and a pink checked shirt that I can never quite decide if I actually like. My mouth was still stained with traces of fuchsia-pink lipstick; smudged mascara decorated my tired eyes. I hardly recognised the dejected face staring at me in the mirror. And I had a choice. I could beat myself up about every dumb thing I’ve done this week, every cruel thing I did, every self-sabotaging thing I did… Or I could grow the fuck up, and make the best of the situation I’m in. I can’t undo the past, but I am responsible for my own future. So I went to the kitchen and made myself toast with vegemite, even though I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry.
Then I pushed my headphones into my ears, patted my pockets to check I had the all-important trio of keys, purse, and phone, and set off on my walk to uni. Walking time is thinking time, and boy did I think!
Eliza the Optimist realised that everything in life is an opportunity. And that goodness can be found even through the pain. You can look at someone and think “this person hurt me”, or you can look at them and think “this person taught me the importance of loving myself”. And I started seeing things in a different light.
Last night I spent a disproportionate amount of time crying in a pub toilet, true. But I also learnt that I have some damn amazing women in my life, who give wonderful pep talks, and have given me so much love and support. And I am the luckiest girl in the world, to have such inspiring women in my life. I have finally found a sisterhood, the thing I have always longed for. As the saying goes, empowered women empower women. And that is what I need. And perhaps I said a couple of things whilst drunk that I wouldn’t be *quite* dumb/brave enough to say whilst sober, but it’s not the end of the world. I was hardly the drunkest of my friends, and I saw a whole new side of people who had seemed like an impenetrable enigma to me.
I have lost friends within the past week. I have walked away from people who were my whole world, and that is harrowing. But I’ve come to realise that I am not starting from scratch. I do not have to rebuild my life from the ground up, because I already have the foundations. I don’t just have friends, I have a community. I have people who raise me up when I feel as low as I can be, and I love them wholeheartedly.
The other thing I’ve learnt, is that when you choose love in one area of your life, other anger begins to fade. I look at the situation which made me feel so devastated, and I look at it from the perspective of someone who knows she is loved and supported. And whilst I’m still hurt, and still feel betrayed, and still feel angry, I no longer feel spiteful. I’ve lost my desire to call people names, or post passive aggressive things on Facebook. Because hurting people I still love is not going to undo the damage they caused me. I can justify hurting them with my poetry, because that was necessary for me to attempt to restore my self-esteem. But I cannot justify clinging onto this burning hatred. Because I don’t hate them and I never did. I forgive, but I don’t forget. I can look at people and think “I love you, but you are not good for me, and I don’t want you in my life anymore” without maliciousness or agenda. Because I am not here to tear people down, I am here to rebuild myself.
Today in my Film & Television Studies seminar, I spoke for practically the first time this semester. I’d only watched 40 minutes of the 2 hour screening earlier in the week, I’d spent both lectures messaging one of my best friends (analysing screenshots and teasing each other mercilessly), rather than taking notes. And somehow I managed to speak, and find something relevant to say. I’d finally found my voice. And I shall take this as a sign: a sign that I have stopped consciously destroying myself, and a sign that I have learnt to stop letting others destroy me. I have a voice and it belongs to me, and from now on, this is how it shall be.