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.

The truth

There are moments when being on your own is excruciating.

I have been on my own for seven years. The first half of that I couldn’t contemplate being with another man — how could I, when my whole heart and head was still attached to another? Bereavement is a difficult beast, a space where you experience the past as if it were the present, when every memory is relived — every conversation, every argument, every moment, is examined as if it were happening now. I grieved for years. I relived every moment of our relationship. I relived the flaws and the magic; I felt ALL OF IT. And then I moved through it. I found work that meant something to me; I found a way to live through the pain — to accept it — to process my loss and find a place for it. I found my way to the other shore.

I survived.

And here I am, on that other shore, filled with hope and expectation and the small tentative belief that if I just let myself be seen, if I let another SEE ME, I will find love again. And it scares the shit out of me. Even now I find it so hard to believe that all I have to offer — all that I am — will be accepted by another man. That I can be loved. That I am loveable. That I am worthy of love.

And so I took a chance. I took that first wobbly step out into the world. I knew it had been too long — I knew I was still bruised, still so full of doubts. But I did it — I reached out. I took the training wheels off and rode out into the world of dating. And then, when I least expected, I was shot down. And it’s so curious to be sitting here now, with the heavy weight of disappointment pressing me to the floor. Because it’s not just me. There’s another person who’s dealing with their own shit, their own confusion, their own fucked up head. And I can’t help them—i am not the person they need. And that’s a hard one to sit with, because I’m so used to being the healer, the one who makes sense of it all. But when they look you in the eye and tell you they can’t do it, all you can do is smile, and nod, and say yes, you understand. Because in some strange, unexpected way, I do understand. I get it. But it doesn’t stop the disappointment.

I know this is just another chapter in the book of my life. I know this is just the beginning of the future path I have stepped onto.

But, fucking hell, it hurts.

This is my truth tonight.

Ode to an attic flat

I just read a post by my friend Amy Palko — her husband and three children are about to head off to Australia for six weeks while she stays at home in Scotland working; Amy now faces six weeks of living alone… for the first time in her life. I just tweeted her that it would be “six weeks of awesome” and that living alone is the best thing I have ever done (with an emphatic EVER repeated at the end.) And it’s true. I wouldn’t have chosen to live alone; up until that fateful day in 2005 I’d either been living with family, boyfriends or flatmates. Back then I thought that to be alone would also mean you were lonely, despite knowing it was perfectly possible to be lonely within a relationship. I know that much of my fear was down to abandonment in my childhood, something that never got healed and played itself out again and again as I clung on to relationships that were long past their sell-by date. I had never lived alone; I’d never actually been alone. It was simply unthinkable.

And then, suddenly, there I was, completely on my own.

Somewhere around the beginning of the second year after his death, I was filling my fridge with food for the week, and noticed that everything on the shelves was stuff I liked to eat. Hummous and veggies, and little anchovies in olive oil. There was my favourite yoghurt, and Jarlsberg cheese, and the wine I relied on too much in those days. Every single thing in that fridge was just for me. Hell, even the fridge was mine — I’d bought it in a sale when I moved into the flat. He’d never seen that fridge, yet mingled in with the sadness was a growing sense of freedom and independence that I had never experienced before. The more I nested in that flat, the more me I became.

Five years later and I don’t think much about my fridge anymore. It holds my food and Polaroid film, a small but essential piece of a home I have built around me. One of my greatest pleasures is coming home, locking the door behind me and sinking in my own comfortable space, just me and my sofa, my big bed calling to me as I type a last email into my laptop. The wedding blanket I bought in Marrakesh sparkles in the morning light; a side table rescued from the tip now holds my favourite books. Everything in my home feels like an extension of me, yet even when i go away, i carry that same feeling inside me — that sense of being grounded in my own space, and it helps me navigate the world as a single person.

When Sas came to visit a few weeks ago she walked through the door and let out a sigh: “It smells like your home,” she said, a trace of incense still lingering in the air. And it does, and I love that it does. And yes, one day I hope to be telling you all how hard it is to mix my beloved books with someone else’s, that his guitar or his running shoes or whatever it is that’s important to him are now sitting on my wedding blanket and I’m finding it hard to let go and let someone in, but that I’m trying really hard, because I know it will be worth it.

I look forward to that day very much; but for now I’ll relish the space and freedom I have, because I’ve worked so hard to appreciate it as much as I do.

Have you ever lived on your own? Did you/do you love it?

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Ps. If you’d like to listen to Monday’s call you can now download it over at Fabeku’s place — it was such fun we’re planning to do it again :)