My oldest friend sent me this article one night. I’d come home late from a night of dancing with friends and could already feel the ache of a hangover coming, a reminder of the bubbles and laughter that had been consumed in abundance only hours before.
I re-read it two days later. Sober. Sat on the couch alone at home with nothing more than the ticking clock for company.
I haven’t really publicly mentioned anything about what happened in 2016. The silence and the privacy wasn’t particularly characteristic of me but the exchange and unravelling felt like it needed a steadiness to which I couldn’t hold had I been outwardly expressing.
I cancelled my wedding two months before it was supposed to happen. I began dismantling the life I’d created with my fiancé three months before that. A life that had been six and a half years in the making. One that saw a move across the world and an evolution of life that I couldn’t have foreseen as the bruised 27 year old who had to escape London life for fear of losing it.
The end is rarely a defined point. It is something that bleeds like spilled ink, watery and vague.
The man I left was a good man. He still is. We aren’t in touch anymore but I still know this to be true. And I know that he loved me. And that I loved him. But that love wasn’t a good enough excuse to keep quiet when the whisper of truth turned into a dawning realisation. And for the next year would be the only light source in a never-ending tunnel of true darkness.
Even three years on I still have ‘aha’ moments of what happened and why it was the right thing to do. Why I know the difference between fierce grief and ravaging depression. I wasn’t depressed in those three months between daring to tell the truth and the actual phone calls home to break the news. I was crystal clear. I was calm. I was as certain as I’d ever been that no matter how mad and shocking this seemed it had to be done.
We made sense, me and my ex, for a very long time. The ultimate extroverted party people, never to be without a story, a cigarette, a deep pocket and a long bar tab.
Nothing happened as such. No big event came crashing in that threw everything into question. No one died, no one cheated, no one lost a job, a family member or their mind. But I had lost myself. I was the ever disappearing woman and the rising sun of truth meant that I had to make a choice. And I had to choose me and the daily outlining of repeatedly going over my edges and stake a claim that I was not invisible.
I think it began with the proposal. Outside the toilets of a pub when he was eight pints in. That there had been an original plan, but my change of schedule meant the whole thing was scrapped, and that the day couldn’t be changed, because of how much the chosen date meant to him. Let me tell you, when people find out you’re engaged, the follow up questions are either; “when’s the wedding?” or “how did he propose.” And this is the story you get to tell, this was the story I got to tell…”Outside the toilets of the pub when he was drunk.” And that’s what I believed I was worth.
I was sick. I’d been recently diagnosed with the ever so 21st century fashionable illness of adrenal fatigue. This wasn’t just tiredness, this was my body unable to produce cortisol and adrenaline. This was feeling like I’d been hit by a truck after getting 8 hours sleep and feeling on top of the world at 10pm. This was drinking to try and even out the ever-present flight or fight response my body was telling me I was in. An internal alarm constantly sounding that I wasn’t safe and I had to always be prepared. It was supplements and lifestyle changes. It was being patient and trying to not show that this invisible affliction was taking its toll every single day.
I dropped back my work hours to two days per week. After spending two years running round busy restaurants and healing the wounds of a career bound to an office and an internal pressure system that would have made an astronaut faint, I was back in an office. Sure it was for a brilliant place, but still the strip lights, recycled air, politics, and people pleasing sent red flags to a place I wasn’t yet prepared to go.
We rented out our spare room and our apartment on occasion to make ends meet. I would clean, change sheets and do trips to the laundrette on my days ‘off’, attempting to also spend time reconnecting to a new vocation and try and see if I could carve out a life for myself that was more appropriate to a 9-5 sensitive being.
It was agreed. But the balance was still out. The ratio was uneven and the resentment started to build. As I was trying to shed my old ways of coping, it felt like he moved more solidly in to them. As I planned date nights and went to courses, he was intimately involved with the bars and beer gardens that were in walking distance of his office. It was separate bedrooms because of my early starts and his snoring. It was not wanting to watch the same programme so he’d put in his headphones and watch something on his phone. It wasn’t enjoying reading so it was more headphones and game playing before lights out. It was only wanting to be intimate when the smell of beer was heavy on the breath and the heavy handed move toward me felt like a cheap nod to having attempted to make contact, so I was the one to have shut it down.
It was being constantly told that I was strong, or giving my phone number out to strangers he’d met at bars who he’d been obsessively telling them about me and how I could help them, it was being put so high on a pedestal that I may have well been living on the moon.
And I so wanted to make it work. I wanted to be grateful to have found this good, sweet, man who really, really loved me, but who never really saw me for all of who I was. I didn’t want to let down my parents or our families, I didn’t want to waste all that money, I didn’t want them to worry that I’d gone mad. But I also knew that I wanted to be loved again, that I wanted to be seen, that I wanted to be cherished, to be made eye contact with, to be made love to.
The beating fist of my heart was punching its way through my chest and it meant it. ‘Follow me’ she said, ‘Don’t you dare shrink back into this or leave it a moment later. It’s going to hurt like hell and there won’t be much time but you have to do it now. You have to do it now. You have to do it now. You have to go. Time to go. Time to go. Time to go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go.’
So I did. I did. I said the words out loud. I said them at the dinner table on a Tuesday evening. And so it began…