I’ll be honest: my inner big band is going off. My inner Rita Hayworth looks just like this, arms stretched overhead as though discovering the bliss of stretching after having been curled in a ball for a month, dressed to kill and smiling a smile that says ‘boys, I’m feelin’ more dazzling than a brilliant cut diamond tonight – now who’s buying me a drink?’
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking ‘well it’s not exactly like she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on roller skates whilst sporting a broken leg’, and it’s true. Three weeks without tweeting, or facebooking, or updating a status, or doing a quiz to discover which hit song of 1998 I am, doesn’t exactly go far in achieving world peace or solving poverty in Africa. I haven’t encouraged my inner Bono at all. Indeed to you, it may seem like a trifling and rather pointless exercise. Maybe you’re better than me and you’d find it easy. Maybe you are one of those people who are tough and disciplined, and run 12 miles a day, and eat all your vegetables, and it’s all easy as…well, a non-fat, gluten-, wheat- and dairy-free pie. If so, good for you.
But for me, a complicated and bookish girl who laughs too much and has a rather bleak history of unsuccessful attempts at kicking bad habits, today marks a little bit of a historic moment for me. I’m not good with addictive behaviour – I know that. I sneak the chocolate even after an arse kicking 90 minutes of cardio and interval training at the gym; I stay up late and watch a movie I’ve already seen even when I know I have an early start in the morning. I fall for the unattainable bad guy, knowing that we’re not in the least compatible, and that more than likely he has a girlfriend waiting in the wings somewhere, flipping her blonde hair with all the carefree abandon of a cheerleader on dope, who is drop dead gorgeous and weighs about as much as a photograph of herself. Or she’s beautiful and extremely lovely, therefore stripping me of *all* ammo in the ‘He Could Do So Much Better’ department. Which is worse. I fall for, knowing all the while it’s pointless, but I do it anyway, even though I know I’ll regret it in the not to distant future and kick myself for wasting so much time on something that will never happen.
But in this, a simple act where I knew I was doing something that was ultimately unhealthy for my mind, my heart…even my soul to a point, and I did something about it…well, I don’t know in my 28 years that I have a long list of those types of things I can add my name to. But it’s been almost a year of them. This little experiment? It was good, but it is a drop in the ocean of all the decisions I’ve made – some that have changed my life – that I haven’t blogged about over the past 9 or 10 months. But me succeeding here – in starting to be the change in the world around me that I wanted to see – was about proving to myself that a little courage can go an awfully long way.
It started on November 5, 2009.
I sat, funnily enough, exactly where I’m sitting now – one of those silly details you only remember later as a poetic little afterthought – and I cried. I remember it so, so clearly. You know those sobs, the kind you have to bite back and it takes everything you have to do it, that it’s like swallowing a rusted out 44 gallon drum? Those tears, ones that physically hurt and leave a bitter taste in your mouth. I was 27 and half years through a life spent despising what I saw in the mirror, memorising all the things that confirmed the girl I saw there wasn’t a figment of my imagination – she really was there, and she really was that useless, that pathetic, that…undisciplined. She’d been there for so many years, months, days, hours. I’d lost count of how many by that night.
You see all my life, people have told me I’ve had potential.
You have no idea how much I hate that word. It was a word that implied that one day I’d do fantastic things, that I would finally live up to all these high expectations that were really only that high inside my head, but which I perceived were in the heads of others. One day. One day I would be that girl. Just not now.
Now for the record, I’m not an idiot or so blind to think that anyone who has ever told me I had potential ever had my worse interests at heart in some way or another. In a lot of cases, it was said with great love, great faith and great hope – things which I never want to lose sight of. There’s so much humility and beauty and care bound up in the fact that people see those things in you and tell you so. That’s not luck to have those things – I don’t believe in luck. I believe in a plan for everything, and that we are so often blessed with things we don’t always deserve.
But it’s the being told you have potential when you know it’s not said with love that stings. Being me – once a teenage girl, now a woman two years from thirty but still stuck seeing her world through the smoky lens of societal expectation – it sat like a glass splinter in my head, and worst of all, I believed it, nine times out of ten. Even over the overwhelming love shown by other people in telling me I was capable of making something good of myself. I bought magazines, but never looked like the girl on the cover. I listened to songs full of lyrics about experiences that I had never had that according to the world I should have had. I was the best friend, and I believed that was my place.
That night, even ten years later, I still sat paralysed by that belief. Crippled by the girl in my bathroom mirror.
My mum was on the phone, I remember. She’s an amazing woman, my mum. I think of her and my dad, how amazing it is that in a world where people give up on each other so easily, they still love each other as much now if not more than they did the day they got married. No Hollywood story, no script – whether flowery and cheesy or blunt and shocking – will ever bear one iota of the honesty and faith my parents show each other everyday. How you, you lovely person somewhere in the world reading this, ever lived as blessed a life as this without my family being your family…I don’t know. Many families are beautiful, loving, caring, stronger than an army fort held by a million soldiers against an army of one man and a pitchfork. Yours might be amazing – if it is, then I’m thankful for you. But mine…there aren’t words for the love and the faith between us. I think even if the world fell apart, and the sun started hurtling toward us, capable of destroying every living thing, our foundations – who we are, together – would still be stronger. I am my parent’s daughter. I come from a line of men and women characterised by the fact that they do not give up on the things that they love.
And my mum, as many excuses as I’ve given her, has never once given up on me.
She told me what every child I think hopes their parent won’t just say to them, but that they’ll act out – that no matter who I was, what I ugliness I saw in the mirror or felt in my heart, she saw me, and to her I was beautiful. That night, I made a decision to change my life. To kick the worst of all my habits – the self sabotage of not caring enough about my soul that my body fell by the wayside – I made the decision to do something I knew was going to be really painful and more challenging than anything I had ever done in my life.
I wish I had the courage to lay it all out for you here, tell you how far I went, not to get my life back, but to get it for the first time. But here, now…oh lord, I don’t know that I’m ready to bear that much of my soul, much as I talk on and talk too much. You’re lovely to hang around as much as you do, reading all of these, the tumbling thoughts of this odd brain of mine.
But what I can tell you is that I succeeded. I had a moment where I realised that the person you want to be, does not have the potential to be. They are.
The best version of yourself is someone who isn’t just going to fall into your lap for wishing.
You have to fight for them. I did. I know what that means now.
And it spurned a million tiny rivulets of determination in me, to do things where once I would have just not cared enough. This is one of those little tributaries of strength in my system now.
Quitting social networking in and of itself is nothing.
But facing up to who you are, knowing when what you’re doing is good or bad for you and valuing yourself enough to do something about it, even the little stuff – that is everything.
When I first wrote about what I planned to do here, I quoted Confucius. It’s true what he said – that every journey begins with a single step.
But my lesson here has not been about that first step – it’s been about the second, and the third and the fiftieth, and the thousandth. Sometimes your feet will fly like there are wings in your ankles and stars at your toes; sometimes they will feel heavier than lead and do nothing but stumble in confusion. In truth, it’s not even about the step.
It’s about the stepping, and continuing to do it in the hope that one day you will be able to turn around, and say that you ran the good race to the end, stumbles and all.