Then vs. Now

In 2009, I hated my life. I woke up every day questioning everything. I drove to work every day questioning everything; driving through the Posey tube in my company car, wondering what it would be like to take a left turn and head for the mountains instead of continuing to my job as a ship agent in Walnut Creek. What would happen if I just ran away?

I used to get angry when friends bragged about how happy they were on social media (whether or not they actually were didn’t matter); I was annoyed when they waved their perfect lives in front of my face, making me feel like my life was lesser. Aside from the fact that many people use social media, whether deliberately or not, for just this purpose, the problem was I truly believed my life was lesser: compared with theirs but also compared with what I wanted for myself. Perhaps it was. On the bright side, those people motivated me, when I was through feeling sorry for myself, to go out and find my life. It sounds trite, but one day I saw a status posted by my brother’s best friend on facebook: No one will give you happiness. You have to make your own happiness. What a novel concept, as for so long I had stood looking around wondering “why do all these people get to be happy when I’m so miserable? When will someone come along and give me some damn happy?”. The thought that I could actually have the things I wanted (a healthy and safe relationship, a job I loved that paid enough, a pleasant and attractive dwelling, and some time off of work to enjoy myself) seemed radical.

I had the glimmer of a dream for the future, but the people whose support I needed most had doused it. I had given up on the belief that I could have the life I wanted. I had given up on freedom, on autonomy. I was on the precipice of settling for what I had, even though I lived day to day feeling like my heart was in a vice. I harbored so much fear: fear of success, fear of failure; fear of happiness, fear of loneliness; fear of change, fear of stasis. Everything was bad; nothing felt right. Moments of levity were few and far between. Basically I was afraid of everything and the thought of leaving and starting over was so petrifying I just stayed still for a couple years.

It should probably be noted above all that I was in a relationship with a person who I was afraid would do something terrible if I left him. He was jealous, insecure and possessive, and my clearest memories of that time were of feeling like he must have thought he owned me. I got to that point by not being honest with myself (or with him) from the beginning. We were in a relationship for four years, and though there were many happy times, it was probably three and a half years too long. On top of it all he couldn’t figure out for the life of him what he was doing with his life. I think he was severely depressed: he would go running in the middle of the night and come back hours later, soaked in sweat. He frequently came home at 2 am from the bar next door, reeking of alcohol and waking me up to ask me to marry him. This behavior devolved into withdrawal, sometimes days on end of silence, and he refused to seek help. “This is just the way I am”, he said, and I don’t want to change.

That relationship may have been what held me back most of all.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table at our walk-up apartment in Alameda one Saturday morning and looking out the window at San Francisco, thinking “this isn’t my life, this can’t be my life. I can’t keep living like this”. I was only 23 years old, and I was in hell. What could I do? Toward the end, over the course of more than a year, as the weeks and months went by, it slowly dawned on me that I truly needed to get out, and that it might be possible to go out and attain what I wanted for myself after all.

I know now that he is better, and that he has a lovely woman in his life. We were not meant to be together and that started to become clear the tighter we tried to hold on. I’m writing these things about our relationship because they needed to be written, and I hope that he has worked through his dark memories as I have worked through mine. They are not times that I like to think about but to try to erase them is to deny myself, to deny several years of my life, and that isn’t right. We all have to live with our choices and make the best of them.

The lessons from this story that I need to pass on to others are: You deserve the life you want, and you have the power to create the life you want. You have to love yourself and trust yourself enough to take the risks necessary to get there. If you are in a relationship that makes you miserable, get out and never look back. If you are in a job that makes you miserable, get out and never look back. You owe no one. I know that most of us are afraid of change and especially afraid of hurting others, but you cannot let that fear keep you from living a full and happy life. I know we all need a safety net to fall into; we need to be able to support ourselves financially and have a safe place to live, so it will take some serious preparation and possibly secretive advance planning, up to the point when you have to just tear off the bandage, no matter how horribly it hurts. Others will be hurt when you choose a path forward alone rather than a path forward with them, but you cannot compromise your dreams to make them happy. Doing so will only result in misery all around.

Once I was out and had run away to sea, I wasn’t just free and on my way. I was dogged by guilt for months, and fell into a rebound relationship that was immeasurably worse than the one I had just left. Within a few months I had to start over again. But these are the lessons we have to learn. A clean break is hard to achieve, and life is messy. Following your dreams won’t always look the way you expect it to. Take time to think, but don’t wait forever to take action. Trust your gut. In the end you’ll learn that when you jump, the only person who will be there to catch you is you. And that, my dear friends, is a beautiful thing.

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