Adulthood, Round Two

Putting yourself back together when things fall apart

In the beginning of 2013, just after my twenty-eighth birthday, I thought I had it all figured out. I had a Masters degree and a steady job; I’d just published my first book with a reputable London house; I was finally independent financially; and my long-term boyfriend and I would soon be engaged and moving back to my home country to start our own American Dream. I was content, settled in my age and my accomplishments for the first time I could remember—if that wasn’t the definition of adulthood, I didn’t know what was.

Then, a few months into the year, the grown-up life I’d built started to unravel. My relationship with my family hit previously unheard of levels of strife and I stopped talking to my parents altogether; my brain was so burned out from writing and editing the book that I was convinced I’d never write anything of value again; and, worst of all, my fiancé started acting like someone I didn’t know, someone cruel, lying to me and flipping erratically between excitement about our upcoming commitment and extreme uncertainty about the one thing he’d been adamant he wanted for seven years (me, in his life, for the rest of it). Eventually, I discovered he’d been having an affair, and the betrayal went far too deep to forgive. I lost everything I’d held so dear, in one fell swoop.

As my life as I knew it disintegrated, so did my sense of self. Who was I if I wasn’t G’s partner? Where was my passion if I felt no motivation or energy to write? What would I do with myself if I didn’t have my job, my home, and my grown-up life? I was paralyzed, tormented by the destruction of a future I had come to rely on, and in the nightmarish month after we broke up, I had no choice but to plan to move back to the States alone, into the home of my parents, with whom I was still on very shaky terms.

None of it was ideal, but it was the only option I had. I couldn’t stay in London on my own—my visa would expire in a few months—I couldn’t afford our apartment without G’s share, and the city where we spent five years together had become a torture chamber—I had nowhere else to go but back “home.” When I arrived in San Francisco, twenty-five pounds lighter and an emotional wreck after a month of crying instead of eating, I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel universe. Somewhere out there I was still engaged, still happy and fulfilled and looking forward to our future. This was just a visit, like all the other times I’d come back for brief vacations from real life.

Of course, over the months that followed I eventually had to face the truth: I was alone. I was also jobless, living in my parents’ house, and still not writing—well, I was pouring my pain into a journal, and typing the odd bloodletting post on my blog, but I wasn’t writing anything structured, anything I felt proud of. I doubled over in sobs every morning when I woke up and realized it hadn’t all been a horrible dream, spent all day in excruciating emotional pain, and fell asleep every evening praying to wake up to a different reality the next day.

Then, so slowly I could barely feel it, I started to grow up again. The massive wound inside me scabbed over and cracked open again a thousand times, until the scabs started to pile upon themselves and I formed some sort of hard lump of determination. With the help of a good friend I found the right therapist, and with the everyday support of my loved ones—mostly friends, but some family as well—I began to have moments of feeling human. After a couple of months of moments, I even went whole days without tears. I started eating normally again, and then quickly worried about gaining back the weight I’d lost so unhealthily (that’s one way I knew I was recovering part of my old self, the rude part I fight every day when I’m not entirely crushed). I went on dates, so many first dates, and a few second and third. I also learned that I’m great at dates, and that people want to date me, sometimes more than three times.

I started writing again. I wrote an essay about my ex, and it was published by my favorite wedding site (the only one I still read now, over a year after the engagement ended). I was floored, thrilled, and filled with the kind of pure happiness I wasn’t sure I was still capable of. I wrote more blog posts, with a little less bloodletting and a little more thoughtfulness. I got surprisingly invested in yoga, after much snark about the “girls in yoga pants,” and found it helped my mood and sense of self immensely.

These days I cry pretty rarely, although I have my moments. I don’t go on many dates, but the ones I do go on are mellower and less focused on people-pleasing. I can touch my toes and hold a side plank. I socialize to see people I love, rather than to distract myself from my loneliness. I am still lonely, but I’m learning to sit with it. Most importantly, I’m writing. In fact, I’m moving to Italy in September to dedicate three months of my life (and my savings) to writing my next book—the book I would have sworn I didn’t have in me just last year.

A year and a half ago I thought I’d reached adulthood. I was happy, with what I thought was a beautiful future in front of me. But that future was picked apart by fingernails black with deceit, and as I watched it go I felt myself disintegrate too. Growing up all over again has felt impossible at times, but the only alternative was to stop living, so I kept on trying. Am I grown up now? Not hardly. But I’m getting there, and the core of fledgling-adult me is stronger this time, made of scar tissue that is slowly healing into something unbreakable—it might look ugly from some angles, but its resilience is beautiful to me.

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