This time last year, I found myself in an emotionally exhausting bought of fear. I knew there were a number of relationships in my life that were becoming toxic for me, ones that I needed to desperately purge myself of, but I was positive that if I did I would end up alone.
I’ve never been the kind of person that’s scared of death, but the idea of being alone for the rest of my life? Well, that’s right up there with spiders.
In a fleeting moment of strength, I followed through with my plan, saying goodbye to more people than I can count, and prepared myself. I would remain unloved and alone for the foreseeable future. As more and more people in my life left me to it – entering their own long-term relationships, engagements or marriages with families of their own – those voices in my head that told me I would never be loved, nor have anyone to love, that I would be alone until the day I die, grew louder and louder by the second. Eventually, I managed to find a way to tune them out. I pushed them to the back of my head, blocking their path with thoughts of books and movies and things I didn’t really care about. But at night, when everything around me was silent, the screams got louder and louder until I couldn’t help but listen to them.
You’re always going to be alone.
You’re never going to be loved.
Everyone will leave you.
This weekend, I watched Book Club. Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen play four friends that have their own private book club every month. This month, they’re reading 50 Shades of Grey and slowly the book begins to change their lives and their perception on love.
At first, I thought the film was nothing more than a good laugh but, as I lay in bed, I realised that there was actually a lot more to it. This wasn’t just a movie about four women, all over sixty, whose love lives were being fuelled by erotica. This was a movie about four women who had been part of each other’s lives for forty years. Who had seen each other through marriages, births and deaths. Who helped each other when they were struggling, who celebrated each other when things went well, who slapped each other across the face when someone did something mind-blowingly stupid. This was a movie about the love shared between four women.
As soon as I’d made this realisation, my 26thbirthday popped into my head. Birthdays have always been a sore point with me. Every year I try to have a good time, but the day always ends with tears and arguments and abuse being hurled at me. This year, I was in Scotland for my birthday. A place where the only family I had around was the sister I was living with, her husband and her two sons. A place where I didn’t really have the kind of friends that would celebrate a birthday with me. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
In my mind, my birthday celebration plans would be called off last minute. There would be no trip to Fife to see the ruins at St. Andrews. My brother-in-law would be called into work, my eldest nephew would forget and organise a play date (that’s still what kids call them, right?!), my sister would get ill like she did on my 22ndand would be forced to spend all day in bed while I sat watching cartoons with my youngest nephew who wasn’t even old enough to know what a birthday was.
I decided to organise drinks for the night before. I set up a Facebook event and invited everyone I could think of (which ended up being about six people). The day before these pre-birthday drinks, everyone on the list cancelled. One was moving to London so wouldn’t be able to make it, two had prior engagements, a fourth was actually at a wedding abroad, the fifth was working late, and number six was unconfirmed. Forget my birthday, my pre-birthday drinks were going to be a disaster! I felt pathetic.
And then a card arrived in the post for me. Handmade by a friend in London who wanted me to have something to open in Scotland. In it, she told me how grateful she was that we had met and that she was excited for me to come home in another two weeks. Despite thinking I was pathetic, unloved and alone, a smile came to my face. I read and re-read that card over and over for the next forty-eight hours.
The next day, the day of pre-birthday drinks, I took my brother-in-law and eldest nephew to see Laurel and Hardy on the big screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Every once in a while, I’d sneak a peek at the two of them, laughing so hard their sides hurt. That small feeling that had planted itself in the pit of my stomach with the arrival of that handmade birthday card began to grow a little.
When I arrived at the bar two hours later, I found a friend I hadn’t seen in a year waiting for me. She was an absolute party animal and had already lined up tequila shots. So it would be her, my sister and my sister’s friend? A party of four? I still felt pathetic, but slightly less so than I had the previous day.
I soon discovered that it wasn’t a party of four. There was no promise of free drinks, no cake or food, not even any dancing or music, but people kept showing up. People I’d known for three years through the film festival, some that had gotten in contact with me through Twitter and had only met once or twice, one girl that I’d actually known for only two hours!
They came for me.
Somewhere amidst the chaos, pre-birthday drinks turned into birthday drinks. I had officially turned 26 and the text messages were flooding in. Friends from London, people I went to school with, family from Canada, writers I’d never actually met but who considered me one of theirs’ regardless. I woke the next morning to countless messages and missed-calls, flowers from my sister, my brother-in-law cuddling me, birthday presents from those who couldn’t come to drinks the previous night and even a latte from our local Starbucks with a birthday message from the baristas.
Me, the girl who was adamant she was going to be alone for the foreseeable future, was being showered with love. For that’s what it was. Love. As I remembered this, Candice Bergen’s words in Book Club really hit me for the first time: “Love is just a word until someone gives it meaning.”
These are the people that give ‘love’ a meaning in my life. This past year, when I thought I was drowning, these were the people that were keeping me afloat. They were the ones who realised something was wrong and were there when I needed to talk. They were the ones who reassured me that sometimes the hardest choices are the best choices. They were the ones who celebrated my successes AND my failures (because failures aren’t really failures in the grand scheme of things, they’re just hurdles you need to get over in order to get closer to your goals). They were the ones who saw me when I felt invisible. Only by cutting out those seemingly toxic relationships last year could I make room for this much love. For this realisation that I am, without a doubt, loved and I am certainly not alone.
So, to those voices, I say goodbye.
To those toxic relationships, I say goodbye.
And to all those people that show me love again and again, I say welcome. I love you too.