I never in a million years thought I would end up back in Spain, but sometimes saying ‘yes’ to life can take you back to spaces and places that you couldn’t previously imagine for yourself.
I said yes to traveling again after a hard season. I said yes to connections and friendships and traveling with others. Eight days in Spain, after a week in Portugal, included home cooked meals with new friends, road trips across the country, visits to towns I had never heard of and chilly nights with an old friend who reminded me how much I’ve grown.
The past summer was tough and that turned into an early inner autumn where I knew things needed to change and instead of ramming up against the same wall, I decided to help myself.
October was a mix of newness and sameness when I took myself to London for my birthday to see the people I hold most dear to my heart, my very best friends. They are the ones who taught me to look at myself differently and being around them makes me feel the most like myself.
After coming home from London, I vowed not to make any major decisions for a bit. Over the course of my 33 years, I have learned a pattern of achieving that came from some long held need for approval and desperately wanting people to be proud of me and I knew I needed to stop.
My need to accomplish had become a way for me to avoid sitting still and being with myself for any amount of time.
I would plan and accomplish and achieve and as soon as I would finish one thing, well, I made sure I was never truly done by having 10 other goals on the go. I hadn’t realized it then, but I was on a self destructive mission to prove to someone, anyone, that I was good enough to do things. That I was good enough. That I was good. That I was enough.
Instead, I tried a new thing: I rested. I was soft with myself. I had hard days and when they came, I let my feelings out and then I would speak to myself gently, “Oh, there’s a feeling. This one feels huge and makes my stomach feel sick. I can’t wait until this passes”. And then I waited and I rested and every single time, the feeling would leave and I would return to myself.
I had spent 33 years collecting all the emotion of all these feelings inside of my body. I used my body as a trap to keep all the pain and hurt as if I might need it again some day. I got so used to the pit in my stomach, the burning in my chest that spread out from the center like a wave. Dread and fear felt normal like black and red in my soul and becoming frozen in place was an everyday occurrence that planted my feet right to the ground except that over time my body had stopped being mine so when my therapist asked me one day what my feet felt like on the ground, I couldn’t give her an answer.
I had allowed my body to become a home to so many things that never belonged. Things that had no right to make a home there. No wonder I felt so far from myself.
November and December came and went. I waited for the overwhelming feelings to come. But as the days got shorter and darker, I noticed that I felt okay. Feeling uncomfortable in my own skin had become so normal and yet I had somehow set my own re-learning in motion.
When I finally made the decision to take myself to Lisbon for New Year’s Eve, I felt well enough that I could. I was still worried that I would get there and the feelings would come and I would have to abandon ship and pack up my life and leave it where it stood, but I employed every self care tip I knew of when things felt tough.
January 1st came and instead of looking forward to the change in calendar months forcing me to become a new person, I slowly realized I had already become her.
And since I didn’t need to put so much weight on the new year to automatically wash away my past and turn me into someone new, what I was left with was the ability to be present. The weight was gone and the new year just meant that it was a new year and I was the same person and this time I didn’t really want to change.
If two long, exhausting, blissful weeks of traveling have taught me anything, it’s this: I like who I am in the middle of my messes.
My life is not perfect in any way, but Spain allowed me to see that what has filled the space where worry and fear used to live is now a quiet, deep gladness. It’s a happiness that comes from loving who I am.
So even though my apartment is small and I’m in a city I don’t particularly enjoy and my bank account isn’t always where I want it to be; even though the guy I love doesn’t love me back and I really miss my friends, I like who I am in the middle of all of this mess.
I spent so long waiting for all those things to change, thinking that once they changed then I would be happy, but that’s not the case. It’s me who has changed my outlook on all of those situations that make up my life.
Spain helped draw attention to who I’ve grown into and I’ve realized that I really like the way I am treating myself these days. I like what I’m learning and how I’m exploring. I like my thought process and I like my mindset. It’s the best fresh start I could wish for.
It’s no secret that Spain isn’t my favorite place. It wasn’t my favorite place the first time I went in 2016 and it still isn’t exactly at the top of my list now, two years later. But I think that was the point. Because I wasn’t enamored with each street corner and bright shiny thing, I had more time for me. I had time to digest and learn myself and to be a witness to my own thoughts.
Spain gave me space. It connected me to friends, new and old. It helped me witness this new me out in the world, realizing that all those big awful things didn’t end up killing me after all. I survived myself.