I was sharing a bottle (or two) of wine with a close friend recently. She talked a little bit about some advice that someone had given her about divorce. She explained that “When you finally feel that you’re okay and ready to date, give it another six months to a year and then you’ll actually be ready.” The advice resonated with me. I did not go through a divorce. And I won’t purport to understand what divorce feels like. And I won’t flippantly compare divorce to my past two years but I will simply say that this advice succinctly and completely describes how I’ve felt.
For those of you joining this program already in progress, let me catch you up. In January 2013, I lived with my boyfriend of nearly three years. Our relationship ended that month. I subsequently dated a very close (ex-)friend for a few months and that was a disaster. A long distance disaster. (Doesn’t that sound like a chick lit book? “Long Distance Disaster” – the quirky tale of Bethanny and Rob, a pair a neurotic professionals plagued by horrible timing.) In September 2013, I left Chicago for an abbreviated stint in Washington, D.C. that didn’t go so well either. I ended up back in Chicago in May 2014: single, jobless and scared.
Even when things were going continuously wrong, I subscribed to the old adage of “fake it til you make it” and I was faking it hardcore. I was active in the Junior League. I was going out a lot. I was meeting people. I constantly cooked dinner. I decorated my apartment. I read books. I maintained my relationships with friends and family. And the entire time I was very depressed and very sad. This summer I started to feel myself coming out a dark tunnel and, ironically, as coldness and bluster descend upon the Windy City, I finally feel optimistic, confident and happy. I’m not a therapist (obviously), but here’s how I think I got here:
Friends and Family – I could write a novel about my friends and family. They’re the entire reason I was sitting upright the past two years. I talk to my mother every other day. I have friends that never leave my schedule empty. I can’t say enough honestly. Without all the amazing and very fun people I met while in Washington, D.C., my experience would be marred by memories of sadness and hopelessness. Instead, I think fondly about my neighborhood bar, the crappy neighborhood market I’d grab wine from before a snowstorm, my fun neighbors, and some of the best brunches I can remember. Since I’ve returned to Chicago, my support system has been equally as helpful and invaluable. I didn’t have an apartment when I landed and my close friend allowed me to practically live in her place for a month. She never made me feel like a loser for being there. She was supportive and welcoming. Before I landed, I already had plans for the weekend because I have a friend (and if you know her you know who I’m talking about) who is practically a cruise ship director on land. That first weekend set the tone for my social life since I’ve been back and I couldn’t be more grateful. If I had been left to sit in my apartment and think, who knows where I’d be.
Flywheel – I hate people who talk about working out. I hate people who check-in to social media at the gym. I hate people who preach about a workout routine. I hate them. And, unfortunately, I am one of those people. Before I landed, I re-upped my Flywheel membership. I had been working out like a maniac in the beginning of 2013 and as the year became increasingly worse and I became increasingly depressed, I stopped working out and gained all the weight I had lost back. When I got back to Chicago, I decided not to beat myself up. Sometimes bad stuff happens and people get depressed. Getting additionally depressed about gaining weight wouldn’t help me feel better. I decided that the only thing that would make me feel better was getting to work. Additionally, I came back to Chicago with a blank slate and no discernable plan. Flywheel was the one thing I had control over and it was the one thing I knew I was good at. And when most areas of your life are out of control, having control of one thing, even if it’s a workout routine, is invaluable.
Making Peace with the Past – This one is heavy and I apologize in advance for that. A few years ago I would have avoided this topic altogether. I’d tried for years to shove my sexual assault in a box in my mind. My method of dealing with the episode was to ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen. If I never brought it up. If I never acknowledged it. I figured I would feel better. Over the last year I realized that is not how life works. I realized I hadn’t dealt with it. I realized that I was so scared that if I acknowledged what happened, it would be the one thing people thought about when they saw me. I’ve finally realized that this traumatic event is a part of me. Just like any other part of my life. I can’t erase it. I can’t move around it. I have to live with it and once I realized that I felt a large sense of relief. I had buried myself in relationships to try to fix myself. I treated good people poorly because I felt that I didn’t deserve goodness. I put up with bad behavior from others because I didn’t think highly enough of myself. And all of this behavior was fueled by sadness and avoidance. And, finally, for the first time in years, I’m just me. All parts of me. The broken. The sad. The happy. The goofy. The standoffish (I have horrible resting bitch face. I know. I’m sorry). It’s all part of me. And it’s okay.
Embracing Integration – This point is slightly related to the last one. I spent a lot of my life feeling like it was impossible to integrate all parts of myself. Here’s what I mean. I have a professional life that is separate and distinct from my personal self. And I had felt so much pressure to not integrate either portion of my life. Most of my work wardrobe was grey and black because I thought I had to be as conservative and non-threatening as possible. For a person who owns as much sparkle as I do, staying so safe was suffocating. I’m in my early 30s and I can’t do that anymore. I’m a nerdy and goofy person hidden in J. Crew, shopping at Whole Foods and at spinning class. I’ve finally realized that it’s okay that I’m equally as excited by a great wine list, random science fiction shows from England, nail polish, celebrity gossip, and finance podcasts. As I mentioned, it’s all part of me. And it’s okay.
I’m an Oversharer and that’s OK – Much like Taylor Swift, I share too much. I talk openly about my feelings, my experiences and emotions. Sue me. (No – actually please don’t). When men actually express emotion, it’s viewed as courageous and admirable. When women express emotion or talk about their feelings, they’re told to be quiet or that they’re crazy. I’m not going to be quiet. And I’m not crazy. I went from being a shut down and closed off person to an overtly expressive oversharer. And I’m okay with that change as well. As I’ve explained in the past, I could lose my health, my job, my love, my apartment and my belongings. But I can’t lose my emotions and my feelings. Those are mine. They’re the only thing I can claim as my own. As such, in mind, they’re the only thing that are truly real in this world. (I got hippie on y’all again. I’m from San Francisco, okay?)
This is not to say that all the dark days are gone and I’ve figured out the secret to life. Far from it. All I’m truly saying is that a lot of life and professional changes went down, it was very tough and I finally feel like myself again. For the first time in a long time. Possibly for the first time in years. Thank goodness.