There’s a choice I made on August 30th, 2012 which changed my life.
With one suitcase in hand and my children’s hand in the other, I walked out on the life I had. True, there was an empty void, a future that had not yet been written, and a blank canvas with no words or experience.
Walking out was excruciatingly painful yet necessary, just as extracting a tooth that has become decayed.
In the midst of chaos, the packing, and the rush to leave within a time limit, I observed my disinterest in packing the beautiful wardrobe of clothes, the glitzy jewelry, and the array of shoes at my disposition.
Instead, my attention swerved towards the delicate trinkets my mother handed me when I left my home in Spain over thirty years earlier. Each trinket neatly wrapped in newspaper to protect from shattering in a million pieces.
I wished I could do the same with my heart at that moment.
The delicate objects had spent a lifetime displayed in my parent’s dining room cabinet and had always reminded me of a time when life was a never-ending utopia. As a child I would stand on tiptoes, nose against the glass cabinet, imagining them neatly assembled in an exquisite dining room I would own when I ‘grew up.’
Instead, they were now being relegated in haste inside my large brown suitcase.
The spanking new suitcase was bought by my father who decided I needed to update my luggage after years of wear and tear. As he had paid the shopkeeper, he had proudly tied a red ribbon around its handle, whilst simultaneously whispering ‘May it bring you luck’ he had no idea how much I would need it barely seven days on.
Let me elaborate.
As a wife and mother, I was the darling of the community, adding the role of stepmother into the mix.
My ‘idyllic’ life was accompanied by a multitude of smug-looking married friends and a large eight-seater family hatchback parked outside our driveway, a medal worn by every successful family in the area, and a dog I absolutely adored.
I recalled vacations to far-off lands and a multitude of activities and socials you can only partake in when part of a large family set up. I joined each dinner party together with other cosy couples, a membership of sorts, exclusive and reserved for the very few who were allowed to enter this space.
So imagine how packing my belongings took every piece of strength I had. To do what others in the same position are unable to do, not because they’re not courageous, but it means having to leave the feeling of imagined safety and belonging we all crave for.
My reason for leaving doesn’t need elaborating on, except that it was toxic.
Yet that fateful afternoon when I had packed our case, I was faced with two choices. Either walk downstairs into the kitchen, take a pack of chicken fillets out of the fridge and proceed into cooking supper, while being further numbed by the daily existence which had become almost intolerable.
Or do the unthinkable. Walk out of a situation I had tolerated for far too long, and even now, I still wonder what my life would have looked like if I had chosen the former option.
Basically, it was a tie between frozen chicken fillets and packing our lives into a suitcase.
That day, I kept repeating the words ‘Today I’m losing everything, except for my self-respect.’ The words served as a mantra and became the wind beneath my wings. Such is the power of speech.
I then stepped out of the existence already neatly mapped out for me and swapped it for the one thing most people run away from.
A future filled with uncertainty.
I should have felt a paralyzing fear, but in its place, I felt a deep level of peace. We were virtually on the cusp of Autumn, and in the chaos of that day, I stopped to take a breath and taste freedom. The simplicity and joy of that moment still astonish me.
Accompanied by my daughters I felt I could conquer the world and it was many months later when I returned to pick up my dog. Six long and arduous months of waiting to be reunited.
We found a small room for the first few nights where I hung up my daughter’s school uniforms and the one solitary table underneath the window was magically transformed into a school desk. The reality of no longer having a huge custom-made kitchen at our disposal hit us with such force within the first few hours of leaving.
Even though that room was minuscule in relation to the huge house we had left behind, it became our temporary sanctuary.
Nine years later, I still drive by that tiny motel and it’s always a reminder of how far we’ve come.
I had a huge expectation (never do this) that as I would walk out on the life I had, our mutual friends and community would support me unconditionally. How naive I was.
I imagined they would become my safety net; the one all trapeze artists need when they fly up ahead and navigate swiftly from one horizontal bar to another. Except as I let my fingers go from one bar, there was nothing to cushion my fall.
I lived without my home possessions for nine months, they were relegated to a storage unit.
I wasn’t some trendy young student who just wants to bum around and sleep on friend’s sofas to figure out what I wanted to do next. I had work, a profession to attend to, responsibilities, and school children who needed me.
It was an incredibly challenging time, and when many months later we visited the storage unit and opened the container where all our belongings had been kept, I saw an entire room full of things I didn’t remember owning.
It was like staring at the contents of a garage sale belonging to someone else.
I realized that what I had packed into that container during the raging turbulence at the time, were the manifestation of an insatiable desire to belong. Every item reeked of seeking acceptance and validation. Somehow, I was no longer that person, I had outgrown those possessions like I had outgrown my old life.
I couldn’t recognize the woman I had been before, and neither could I relate to the belongings that were staring back at me.
Whilst writing this article, and as I re-read through my first draft before publishing, I noticed how I’d been cut off from feeling during that time; the content I was reading felt clinical, calculated and devoid of emotion, simply because that’s exactly how I felt then.
So don’t expect to feel any emotion as you read this, there wasn’t any as I was going through it.
Such is the wisdom of our internal system.
When we navigate a painful time and endeavor to cope day-to-day, our body locks down and numbs us to what we’re feeling, like a heavy-duty epidural injection. We then become robotic and do what needs to be done allowing no emotion to seep in until the experience is further back in the past.
That’s when the numbing wears off and the emotion suddenly arrives without warning as a massive tsunami wave of feelings. Some might call it Post-traumatic stress, I simply see it as ‘waking up when the anesthetic has worn off.’
We might all have different versions of having experienced this in life.
Over the years and as I’ve rebuilt, re-invented and learned that it’s never too late to change direction and seek to create the life you want, rather than tolerate the life you have. No matter how painful the journey is.
You become displaced for a while, you taste the unknown in ways you would never have done before, but with patience, forgiveness, empathy and compassion for yourself and those you have left behind, you slowly place each piece of your life in its rightful place.
Like a complete jigsaw puzzle.
Using self-respect as your navigation tool, you discover that every ending is disguised as a new, more promising beginning to a life that is more expansive than you could ever have imagined.
If this article resonated with you, you can read more chapters like these in my latest book Look Inside: Stop Seeking Start Living available now on Amazon.
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