Adulting ABC: Accountability, Boundaries, and Choices

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Sometimes I talk so fast I forget to breathe. That’s probably how I’ll die — I’ll be so caught up in my rambling that no air reaches my lungs, and boom! Dead Eliza. Writing is less dangerous, in theory. I used to say that writing is like breathing for me. I don’t feel like that anymore. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to say, so much as I’m beginning to understand the responsibility that comes with communication. I may have a lot to say, but some things are better left unsaid. Knowing where to draw the line, how to filter my thoughts into palatable sentences, is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.

You know when it’s late at night, and you can’t sleep, and your brain decides to play out the horrific highlight reel of every dumb thing you have ever done in your entire life? My horrific highlight reel is almost entirely composed of words I shouldn’t have said, messages I shouldn’t have sent. The worst part is, they don’t exist in a vacuum. There is a pattern, I’ve made the same mistakes over and over, pushed multiple people away with the same behaviour. It’s one thing to look back at something inappropriate I said when I was sixteen, because it was five years ago and I was a teenager and still learning how to exist in the world. But what about inappropriate things I said six months ago, or three months ago? That hits a little too close to home.

I’m 21 years old. I am an adult. I pay rent, and do laundry, and make myself drink water even when I don’t want to. At some point, we reach an age where we can’t hide behind the excuses of “young and naive” or blame our upbringing, or dismiss our bad behaviour as the product of people treating us badly in the past. If you’re old enough to look after yourself, you’re old enough to take responsibility for screwing up.

Something I’ve been working on for the past few weeks is accepting my own imperfection. I started going to yoga classes recently. I am not a flexible person, my body doesn’t move in the way I want it to, and yoga doesn’t come naturally to me. There are times when I’m in a yoga class, bent into some bizarre and uncomfortable position, and I catch my reflection in the mirror. I see that this is me, I am doing this, and whilst I may not be doing it particularly well, I am trying. I’m learning to be comfortable with the places where I fall short. I’m learning to say to myself “okay, you didn’t get it right today, but you will try again tomorrow.”

It’s one thing to see for myself where I’ve gone wrong. It’s easy to acknowledge my flaws when I know I can keep them secret after, and lock them in the furthest corners of my mind. It’s harder to let other people tell me where I’ve gone wrong, to listen to people I care about telling me all the ways I’ve hurt them. I used to believe I was a good person, and now I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t even call myself neutral, because I don’t think it’s possible for someone to live their lives in a neutral way. I have good intentions, and I frequently get things wrong. I believe that if someone tells you you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to decide you haven’t. You can’t tell other people how to feel, you can’t rewrite history to put your own conscience at ease. If someone tells you you’ve hurt them, believe them, and find a way to do better in the future.

People often tell me I’m too hard on myself. I’m insecure and self-critical, so the moment I locate a flaw within myself I will pick away at it until the wound bleeds, and turn a molehill into a mountain. I am hard on myself, but I wouldn’t say I am too hard on myself. I have said and done a lot of things I am not proud of, but I do learn from them in the end. I learn to do better, and I do better. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. Change isn’t inevitable, it is a series of conscious and unconscious choices. We adapt to new information and new environments.

I’m fascinated by the topics of forgiveness and redemption. They crop up a lot in my novel, even more so in the second book of the series, when the villain from the first book becomes one of the protagonists. I often ask myself what I would and wouldn’t forgive people for, but it never occurred to me to wonder what I wouldn’t forgive myself for. They say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and whilst I don’t believe in heaven and hell, I do find it an interesting thing to think about. I spent my life thinking I was a good person, because I had good intentions, I followed a moral compass, I didn’t deliberately set out to hurt people. Hurting people seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience, other people become collateral damage in our struggle to become ourselves, and often it’s the people we love and care for the most that we end up hurting. It becomes a lot harder to say “I’ll do better tomorrow,” when your imperfections ripple in waves around you and impact more than just yourself.

Another cliche I often think about is “time heals.” It’s not entirely true. Time alone doesn’t heal. Time + acceptance + accountability + change is what brings about healing. Time has passed, I’ve accepted where I’ve gone wrong, I’m holding myself accountable. And now? Now is the time to change. I have to stop saying “this is how I am,” stop blaming things on my nature, stop writing myself off as bad and damaged because it’s easier than putting in the hard work it takes to change.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I have a wee bit of an oversharing problem (and that’s the understatement of the century). I say (and write) exactly what comes into my head. I type, and speak, faster than I think, and there is very little filter on what I say. I don’t find it easy to open up to people, but when I do open up, I open up completely. The dam bursts, and my most private and honest thoughts come pouring out. It makes people uncomfortable, and nervous, because they never know what I’m going to say; I forget to consider their boundaries. I am lucky to have people in my life who can be brutally honest with me, hold me accountable when I can’t see the damage I have caused. It shouldn’t be their job to hold me accountable; it should be my own. I am an adult, I am responsible for myself. I need to learn to think, to be less impulsive, to catch myself before I fall. It’s a heavy weight to put on other people, my choices are a burden that only I should carry.

It’s not just other people I hurt with my impulsive words and actions, it’s also myself. When I overshare, when I say every thought that enters my head without any consideration of the consequences, I also hurt myself. In the end, it’s about control. If I tell the truth, if I explain myself to death and over-qualify every word I say, then I feel like I’m in control. But really I’m just making myself overly vulnerable. I write about my weaknesses because it’s how I learn from them, I do it with good intentions. But the world doesn’t need to know my vulnerability, my insecurities, my flaws. I don’t just need to exercise self-control in the way I speak to and interact with my friends, I must also learn to be more careful in how I curate the public image of myself. I deserve better than the way I’ve treated myself.

I’m still learning precisely what counts as oversharing, and I haven’t quite figured out if writing a blog about how I can’t stop oversharing is still a sign of me oversharing. I don’t think the line is clearcut, it depends a lot on personal thresholds, and that’s not something you can gage when you’re writing for an audience, rather than communicating with one person. I like writing about my thoughts, I like writing personal-essay style blogs; it’s what comes naturally to me. I’m not going to stop writing blogs, but I have to find a balance. Yesterday, one of my friends told me I’m an all-or-nothing person, that I see the world in extremes. I don’t want to be extreme anymore. I want to be strong, but I also want to be soft and palatable, I want to be likeable. I have to learn that I can still be genuine and open without going too far and scaring everyone away.

In three days from now, I’m going travelling. For two months. I keep saying “I’m running away to Eastern Europe,” but really I’m not running away at all. I’m running to myself, or maybe I’m running alongside her. I’m quietly vacating my normal life, so I can gain some much-needed perspective, so I can remember who I am when I’m far, far away from other people’s expectations of me. I have a lot of healing to do, and a lot of growing up to do. I can do that here in Glasgow, I HAVE done that here in Glasgow. But I need to be alone in the world for a while. I need to know that I am more than who I am in the eyes of people who love me, or the people who dislike me, or the people who are indifferent to me. I have to know that I am more than the relationships in my life, that they’re not just another thing to measure my self-worth by.

Normally when I travel, I write travel blogs. Last time I travelled, I pretty much posted my diary entries word-for-word. I will not be writing travel blogs this time. I’m going away for two months, and committing to writing frequently and consistently for that long is unrealistic for me right now. More than that, part of my anti-oversharing plan is to let myself have parts of my life that are private. I’m going away to heal, and I don’t know how I can authentically do that if I’m reporting back to an audience at regular intervals. I can’t learn who I am free of other people’s preconceptions and expectations if I’m writing this blog, because all I will do is play into what people think I am. I’m not saying I won’t write at all while I’m gone, but I am setting a boundary with myself. My priority is healing, not telling the story of how I heal.

I have been so lucky this week, to rebuild a bridge I thought had been burned beyond repair. I am so grateful to be given a second chance, and I know it is something that doesn’t come lightly. I don’t want to make the same mistakes again. I am going to change, I am already changing. You learn a lot from losing something or someone important to you, but you learn even more from getting them back. I spend my life looking at everything I’ve done wrong so I can learn to be better. Now I want to look at the things I’ve done right. I want to take note of the times I’ve been mature, the situations I’ve handled well, the times I’ve made my life better instead of worse. We don’t just learn from the bad, we can also learn from the good.

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