We all reach a point in our lives when we realise that somewhere down the line we fucked up badly. We missed a stop, we closed a door, we burned a bridge...
Or we backed the wrong horse.
It's hard to have the world ripped out from under you—when you plan your whole life around a relationship, a choice, a man or woman that you love, you expect them to be there.
It's not pathetic.
I used to tell myself it was when we first broke up, but it's not. I made the choice to be with someone far too young, but I did that because I loved them. I fought for that relationship tooth and nail, and it wasn't enough. That's where I was in January and February, and even in March; I was mourning something that I had lost, and I was still blaming myself for it.
That's something that could have killed me, but somehow it planted a seed. Somewhere in the middle of the self-loathing, the shame, and the grief I realised that I was mourning the loss of an ideal, not the person. I didn't miss him as much as I was scared that I had lost my whole life with him.
I took a deep breath, and I became determined to be better.
At first I punished myself, but the seed started to sprout, and an idea took hold.
Kindness is the key.
I would never dream of punishing an abandoned dog for "not being good enough" for its last owner, neither would I punish a child for losing a competition. Why was I punishing myself for losing a man that proved to be unworthy of the effort I was giving him? Women are not taught to be kind to themselves, and though we long ago started to be kinder to other women, we still punish ourselves too often.
We're told that being a woman means pain and suffering. It means struggle, it means being under-loved, under-nourished, and over-worked. It means being under-appreciated. We rarely question why, and we're even less likely to push back, though we encourage others to do so.
But when I started to feed myself kindness and compassion, when I stopped punishing my own failings and started trying to re-mould them, an amazing thing happened. I started to feel better. At first, I just didn't feel terrible, then I felt alright, then I started to believe that others liked me, enjoyed me.
Finally, I found something like peace—I woke up one morning and stared at the ceiling. The light was grey, and I was sunburned, and the heat was already building despite it being 6 am. The dogs were sleeping, the room smelled of fur and fresh cut grass, and somewhere in the drunkenness of the night before I had stripped to just my briefs.
But I wasn't ashamed, nor was I disgusted by my body.
I remember touching my stomach, feeling the tiny cluster of stretch-marks and thinking, "this is ok."
I had lost myself for a while and gained some weight, but it was ok because I was being kind to myself and had lost 14lbs (18lbs, now). I had been a size 16 for a while there and the sudden swell brought on by depression and comfort food had damaged my skin. But it was ok, because I loved my skin anyway, and was repairing it with care.
I was alone, I had lost my house, my job, and my partner of 8 years, but it was ok because I was strong.
The feeling of peace fled quickly that first morning, but it keeps coming back, and each day it stays a little longer.
I want that to be what we teach our girls; that womanhood can be about a deep well of peace and inner love. The struggle may be ongoing, but it shouldn't consume every aspect of us.
The question is, how did I do this?
You might now be expecting my "five guaranteed tips," but this isn't a sales pitch. I don't know how I did this thing. It could be that my childhood, surrounded by so many strong women and loving, if absent or abnormal, role-models planted this seed. It could be that I chose to study feminist literature, or that I respect my body for its strength and so I learned, in time, to love its scars and damage.
All I know is that I didn't have a plan; I just wanted to like myself a little more every day. And somehow it happened.
Now that it has begun, though, I can plan.
So when I read about the Japanese art of Kintsugi a few days ago it seemed too coincidental. The idea of repairing broken items with gold is something that many people have a fascination with. It implies the object becomes more valuable with damage and experience. It implies that the object is worth more than its monetary value. It explicitly shows that throwing something away because it is broken is not the only option.
Should we not, I asked myself, do the same with ourselves?
You cannot change what has broken you, or the ways in which you are flawed. But if you fill those cracks, chips, and wounds with kindness, compassion, patience, temperance, and respect you can become the person that you needed when you first shattered.
Isn't that a beautiful thing?