I read those words and they resonated with me so profoundly.
“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our own story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” (Brené Brown)
How intensely powerful is that one statement?
Just over seven months ago, I packed up everything I thought I might need for the next three months and sat in my little house in the suburbs of Sydney…waiting for the movers to come and do the rest. My plan: go to the UK for Christmas, then travel for a couple months before heading back to New York. I never got there…
Let’s go back one year and just over seven months, shall we?
Christmas 2013, England. Technically, I was on vacation…but my iPhone, an extension of my hand. Sneaking upstairs for conference calls…working before my niece woke up or after she went to sleep. Trying to maximise the minimal time I had with family – yet still keep on top of what had become an incredibly overwhelming career. When I left to go back to Australia after that trip, it was the first time that I didn’t know when I would see my family next. Although we’re spread around the world, we are a close family and manage to see each other often. But my work was now more focused on Australia and I no longer had a way of tying a work trip to a way of seeing friends & family. I cried on the bus when I left with my Mum…waving at my sister and my niece out the window. I cried at the airport in Spain when I left my Mum after a quick New Years visit.
Normally when I came home to my little house in Sydney after being away, it felt like “home”. I would walk in the door…be hit by the familiar smell of the hardwood floors and old wood of the house…walk down the hall, into my cozy living room and feel like I was “home”. I’d walk into my courtyard and take a look at how well my plants did without me…and then relax. This time though…was different. This time…I walked in…and I felt empty. Something didn’t “feel” right. It smelled the same…looked just how I left it…my little garden was thriving…but I felt empty.
I did a lot of thinking that week and I came to the conclusion that I had two choices. I could either make the decision that I’d only be able to see my family once a year, maybe every other year, and I would need to finally start putting down some real roots in Australia and make a decision to be fully invested in the life I’d fallen into…..or I could leave.
I got a text message later that week from my best friend. Her partner had been killed in a freak accident and naturally, she was distraught. My strong, stoic friend who has been through more than her share of battles, couldn’t form a sentence. And I have never felt so far away from everyone and everything I hold dear. I got on a flight and went back home to Vancouver to be with her. While I was there, I found out that my Dad was in the hospital. After going to see him and talking to the doctors, I had to tell him he only had a few months to live. That was the hardest, most horrible sentence to have to utter. To have to tell him that what he thought was the flu, was actually aggressive, terminal cancer.
I realised then that the decision was a no-brainer. My life wasn’t in Australia; it was wherever I could be close to my family. Work did their best to help me…telling me to take whatever time I needed. They let me work from Vancouver and Sydney…going back and forth every couple weeks for the next few months while I took care of Dad.
Once I had made the final decision that I was really leaving, although I’d given a years’ notice, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. I felt more comfortable knowing I’d be able to see my family and friends and be where my support network was.
Over that last year in Australia, work was a roller coaster of amazing highs and horrifying lows and the stress of everything was getting to me. I originally planned to take three weeks off between leaving Oz and starting a new role in New York. Thankfully, a couple very wise friends bluntly told me I was being stupid and should take a month off and travel.
The more I researched trips, the more I realised I had a lot I wanted to see. I couldn’t possibly do it all in one month! I needed two or three… This, coming from a workaholic who’s never taken more than two weeks off at any given time. But the travel ‘bug’ was coming back…and besides which, work would always be there. ‘Between jobs’ was the only way I would get a real break.
So I packed up 3 months worth of clothes…and waited for the movers. They came….they packed in a whirlwind…and I was there with my empty house. I spent a few more weeks in Australia wrapping up work and seeing friends…then I got on a plane bound for London. Walking into my sisters house and having a sleepy 4 year old wrap herself around me and welcome me home…I knew I’d made the right decision.
After Christmas 2014, I went traveling. I traipsed across Vietnam with my Mum…and I went to Italy “for two weeks”….which turned into a month and a half. At some point in that trip, I was sitting in a church on the side of the ocean, in a very tiny town. It was raining that day…and the medieval church was beautiful with the wind swirling around it. I don’t know what happened really, but suddenly I started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I sat in that little church and wept, as people came in and out. I realised that day that I had somehow lost myself. And that there were parts of me I didn’t particularly like, let alone love. I had to find a way to own my story….and love myself at the same time.
Easier said than done…but that day something changed in me. I walked out of that church and my life started to unfold before me. I’ve had to face a lot of things I’d hidden under the carpets of my mind…and find a way to love them. To own them. To acknowledge that they make me who I am.
It’s been just over seven months since I packed up my suitcases for that three month trip I was going on. I still haven’t gone back to New York…I still haven’t gone back to work as I used to know it…but I have most definitely gone “home”. And I love myself through the process of owning my own story more than I ever have in my life.