The fire of change

A lot of people have asked me how I’ve managed to get my flat looking so pulled together in such a short space of time, and the truth is I started before I moved.  I got back from the book tour knowing I had to move house and plunged into decluttering while still jetlagged. I also visited the new flat twice so I could measure up the space to ensure my furniture would fit. At one point I drew a diagram of the rooms to help me figure out what would go where — i even decided what would go in the kitchen cupboards beforehand. Yes, i really am that anal organised. It really made all the difference and meant I could get the basics done quickly, leaving me headspace to grapple with the more emotional challenges that come with a big move.

One of the great things about moving house is the opportunity to touch every single thing you possess. It’s like doing a really thorough life edit, scrutinising each item to decide whether it stays or goes. I got rid of a lot of furniture, but it’s the smaller stuff that’s most satisfying to weed out. The last couple of days I’ve been organising my photographs and journals, and have indulged in a few meaders down memory lane. I’ve some photos dating back to my childhood but the majority are from my 20s, when I was in a relationship and tirelessly chronicled our holidays, birthdays and evolutions. I’ll be turning 40 in February and what I am loving most about being older is having proof that I can survive when bad things happen.

I survived the end of that 10-year relationship in 2003 — a very sad but necessary ending that was deeply painful for both of us. We were two people clinging to each other out of fear of the unknown yet were both so fundamentally unhappy. We knew something had to change. I feel proud of 30-year-old me for being brave and making her escape. He went on to find love again and is now married and has two gorgeous kids. For me, it was the first step onto the path I am now on, one that brought much deeper pain with it a few years later, yet I know without a doubt that this is how life was supposed to unfold. How it IS unfolding. I wanted more love, more passion, more thrills and spills. I wanted to become a bigger version of myself, and to get to that place I had to dismantle the safe numbing life I had and re-enter the world like a newborn. If I’d have known what I know now the transition might have been less bumpy, but sometimes you have to go through the shit to find out what you’re made of. To find your true strength. To let the fire of change burn away the old to make way for the new. To have a chance at finding real happiness further along the path.

‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.’ ~ ee cummings

I’ve been dreaming about that time a lot lately… unsurprisingly. Where I live now is not far from the flat she escaped to and I’m planning to take a walk there soon, to step back into her shoes for a while. Memory lane can be a perilous stretch of road, and i absolutely knew that I’d be walking it if I came back to the city, so rather than skip around it I’ve got a compass and walking boots and am striding down that mother at full speed. The only way to heal painful stuff is to feel it, full on, full tilt. I don’t want to push any of this back down. I’m not going to hide from it.

So 30-year-old me made her escape, and because I’d never been on my own before I fell into another relationship very quickly — and you know how that ended. I’ve had a lot of time to wonder why it happened — what my life would have been if he hadn’t died. If I hadn’t met him. If I’d stayed together with my ex. Yet when I look at all the possible paths, the only one that feels right is the one I’m on now. Alone (for now) and more fully myself than I have ever been, knowing I can survive. Knowing that when it all falls apart I really can rely on myself <—- that actually makes me quite teary

It’s all blowing my mind a bit today.

And I know that so much of this is because I’m back here in my beloved city of memories. I am so ready to make new memories here, but right now I want to sink into the past and really taste it. I want to work through this to be freed from it. No more fear or regret. No more sadness. No more what-ifs.

We have to clear out our cupboards for the new stuff we want in our lives. The upgraded even better stuff. The stuff we can’t even imagine right now, but it’s out there waiting for us to bravely make space for it. 30-year-old me couldn’t have imagined I’d be where I am today. Nearly 40-year-old me doesn’t have a clue where I’ll be in another 10 years, though I have some hopes and wishes about that.

A snippet from When Death Comes by Mary Oliver:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing, and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Posted on 21-11-2012
29 responses
  1. Mariella

    I have been through a big move myself last week. Didn’t change city (yet) but had to leave a home that meant so much to me, where so many memories where kept. It was painful like I had never imagined it would, it’s just a move after all. But I think I am ready for the energy of change to fill the new empty space that is this new house. Funny how something pretty common like moving house can become a cathartic experience…

  2. Rhianne

    I love how you called it fire because it does feel like that, I can feel my need for change burning through me even now, though I have no idea how I want things to change or what I want to do…

    On a side note, I love how your hair appears to be a different colour in each photo :)

    ha! I’m all about the change, apparently ;-)

  3. Bella

    Honey, you have had a decade packed to the hilt – and it is all yours to savor with laughter and tears. All the best is yet to come for you. BAMF up that town, girl. xo

  4. Amy

    So, so, SO amazing~ The analogies you make and points you touch on….I get this, boy do I get it! Thank you for articulating this monumental shift for us girls so well…it’s important~ Hugs!

  5. Noelle Peacock

    Fire can feel cleansing. I have lived in the same home for 30 years now. My children were all born in this house. The ashes of one are buried in this garden. We burned his belongings on the first anniversary. The youngest has just left this nest I created around us. I need to change my life but not sure how to dismantle it all. Sometimes I imagine a fire burning everything down to the ground freeing me to walk away and start again.I deeply respect your courage Susannah.

  6. Jill

    I am so grateful for you, Susannah, and right now it’s making me teary. The way in which you write field reports, share stories, makes me feel so comforted and inspired. You are just ahead of me on the path, too far for us to walk it together, but close enough that I can see where I am going, know where I am, close enough that the fear softens and my faith becomes solid because I can follow the trail you’ve left, even as I make my own way. I find my way, am not lost, because you’ve made a map for those places deep in our hearts.

  7. Suzanne

    So exciting.

  8. cococita

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post Susannah. I felt really moved while reading it. Especially these sentences “The only way to heal painful stuff is to feel it, full on, full tilt. I don’t want to push any of this back down. I’m not going to hide from it” draw my attention as they are so true and as I can relate, as I am going through quite the same stage, although our situation is different. I moved houses too, only 5 months ago, and as I do have health problems, it goes a bit slower to make this house a home but I really like this sentence “We have to clear out our cupboards for the new stuff we want in our lives” in the literal and metaphorical sense.
    You are a light in this life, Susannah, alleviating and illuminating the path of many people. Thank you so much for being who you are! xxx

  9. Catherine Denton

    Love this: “We have to clear out our cupboards for the new stuff we want in our lives. The upgraded even better stuff. The stuff we can’t even imagine right now, but it’s out there waiting for us to bravely make space for it.” This fits perfectly with where I am today. I think it brave of you to face those memories and even desire to taste them.
    Catherine Denton

  10. HOLLY

    WOW Susannah, this is actually my favourite blog post you have ever written!!!!! I love it!

    I love how your reflecting back on your 20s, and how you feel now, etc etc, I really hope you blog more photos and journaling about your 20s, really interesting, i reckon i must be your youngest reader (23) would be great to meet you one day in london ! I akways hope im gonna bump into you taking photos in shoreditch or something ha ha :) xx

  11. Rachel

    If you’d known then what you know now the whole situation would never have happened. I think that’s the point but…it kind of gets in a muddle in my head if I think about it too much. Like time travel.

    We made a big move in the summer to a smaller house. We decluttered for months beforehand. If a visitor stood still too long I decluttered them. The plan is to move somewhere even smaller in the next couple of years so now I feel I declutter as I go. Constantly touching everything I own, checking in to see if I still need it.

    There is something very healing about that.

    Thank you for moving back to London. I know that’s a weird thing to say but it’s something we’re intending to do eventually too and you’re helping me see it will be possible. :)

  12. Lynn

    Beautifully and powerfully written. Thank you for the time and emotional energy you put into your posts. You help many of us walk through those dark shadows with courage. I have kept a book of favorite quotes since I was 15 years old. The bit from Mary Oliver is my latest addition. Thank you for sharing.

  13. HOLLY

    ” A strong woman is a woman who craves love
    like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
    A strong woman is a woman who loves
    strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
    terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong in words, in action, in connection, in feeling; she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
    suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
    enacts it as the wind fills a sail. ” – By Marge Piercy

  14. La plume et la page

    A lovely post! You are all right. We all need to clear our cupboards… And we can survive!
    Have a good week Susannah!

  15. Debra

    Damn, lady. You’re making me teary this morning. And at the office, to boot! The Mary Oliver passage really hits me today. I feel like there is so much ROOM in my life right now (thanks a cleaning of my metaphorical cupboards via Unravelling, etc.) that I fill with mundanities but that should be filled with big, wonderful things. I just don’t know what those are. Or where to find them… xoxo

  16. Helen

    I think you are brilliant for doing this and sharing it all with us here. You are showing the path forward. It’s like having a wise sister whose words simply make me feel like I’m having my hand held as I move forward on my own journey. The space you’ve created for all of us is life making. And it’s so exciting to see you doing it too. Thank you.

    thank you, Helen, that means a lot to me

    thanks everyone! xxxx

  17. Patti l

    Very raw. Totally understand where you’re at, very introspective. I wear that EE Cummings quote on a pendant. Out of all quotes, its the one I always go back to. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Rachael

    Susannah, you’re a real inspiration. I’m in a relationship where I’m not happy, 30 in a few months and I’m stuck. I need to take a leaf out of your book and travel my own path x

  19. maria

    I love how you use the image of fire. Indeed, fire is the most cleansing because it takes away the most. It is painful but it transforms. Perhaps that’s how life goes, it is a kind of burning and in he end only are we at our purest form. I am amazed t your bravery in sharing this and I wish to sincerely thank you. I’m only 21 yet I feel as if I’ve lived to know these things and perhaps when the tine comes when I would feel so much pain at least I know that there are words somewhere here that I could hold on to.

  20. Corliss

    I recieve quotes daily from”The Universe” TUT.
    I thought you might enjoy this. I’ve changed the name to yours Susannah:
    So very much can happen, Susannah, in a lifetime, or even on a single day of any lifetime. Yet I can assure you that whatever has or will happen in yours, no matter what chasms you cross, heights you scale, or how many people you love and are loved by, when all is said and done and you take that final look over your shoulder, what will humble you the very most, will be that you got to be Susannah Conway.
    Of all people,
    The Universe

    thank you for that, honey xo

  21. An

    Ooh! I love that poem! I didn’t know that poem yet, but it says it all so beautifully. Thanks for introducing us! :) xx

  22. ERIKA

    Wow, this is powerful and amazing. So much wisdom and eloquence in this post. I needed to hear this. Thank you so much.

  23. vICKI

    I recently revisited my past…and am happy to say that I am exactly where I belong! I’m not sure exactly why I felt the need to journey backwards in time, for it was not all good…but the pull was very strong, and that journey has made me even stronger now. Thank you for sharing your tale of going back in time. And best wishes to you in your new home. May you have many wonderful and happy adventures to share with us! ONWARD!

  24. Melissa

    “The only way to heal painful stuff is to feel it, full on, full tilt.”
    Beautiful. Perfect. Haunting.

  25. india flint

    in complete agreement with Mary Oliver

  26. Tegan

    You certainly know how to make a girl cry, for all the right reasons I should add.

    I turn 30 in March and for the past year I have been lost beyond belief. My current career path represents an opportunity that would make most people green with envy, however I am totally ungrateful for it. My soul lies elsewhere.

    For some reason this week I suddenly started repeating the mantra ‘I am found’ as I need to believe it in order to move out of this void that I am in.

    This post gave me the courage to nail my dream to the wall and actually make it happen (I mean actually get brave and take the leap that it requires).

    Whether it works or not, if i never try then ill never know.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the inspiration.

    :) xx

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