(While some of these lessons have lodged somewhere deep inside, many of them I have learned and unlearned and relearned again and will continue learning for the rest of my life. So with five days until I turn 30, here are just 50 of the thousands of lessons my 20s have taught me, with heartfelt thanks to every person who has helped teach me over the last ten years, and lifetime, whether you knew you were helping or not).
1) Home is often more than a place, it can be a multitude of places and people and feelings and experiences. Home can be found on the inside and outside, in the living (and the dying), in the things we love and in the loves we share.
2) It’s ok to walk away. Actually, sometimes it’s the only thing to do. And when we know it, we know it, the kind of knowing that tells us there is no going back, not ever.
3) What it feels like to fall in love, and how it feels for my heart to break out of love, break into a million pieces, over and over and over again.
4) Sometimes the fall is actually more painful than the landing; sometimes the landing is actually the most needed and soft and beautiful experience imaginable. And sometimes the landing kills us, or at least a part of us, and the ground beneath crumbles too, forcing us into yet another painful and unexpected fall.
5) There are people in this world who will catch me, if I let them, and some people really are strong enough to hold me in my entirety and when they do it can be transforming.
6) It’s okay, no, it is often essential, to speak and seek out the experience of feeling heard and held by another, and it can be life-changing.
7) Silence can be as destructive as it can be healing, and it’s a fine, but important, line between the two; and yet the difference is vast.
8) Finding a way to use our voice, be it through writing or art or spoken word or creative expression, can be so freeing. Finding a way to share my voice is an experience as close to freedom as I’ve known in my lifetime (and oftentimes it’s scary as hell!).
9) Writing saves my life, every day.
10) It is okay (and often the healthiest thing we can do) to feel our feelings, and to express them.
11) There is no such thing as a ‘positive’ or a ‘negative’ emotion.
12) Crying is healthy and a skill we are born with, one that many of us unlearn (sometimes young) and have to relearn over and over.
13) Most feelings are transitory, they will move us and move through us, again and again and again. Feelings are rarely absolute and unending, not joy, not sorrow, not anger, not happiness; and even when the feeling seems absolute and eternal in its magnitude and intensity, even if it returns over and over, feelings can move and move us with them.
14) One emotion or experience does not always erase the existence of another. We as humans have the capacity to hold an infinite number of complex emotions and experiences, all at the same time – we’re kind of wonderful like that.
15) Grief can last a lifetime.
16) Grief, trauma, mental health, physical health, loss, love (life!) are not linear. It can all be up and down, forwards and back, spiralling and moving and interweaving and processing through layer upon layer, and there are always deeper and deeper layers to move through.
17) There is not just one way to experience this life – their way does not make it mine.
18) Some people, services, systems will continuously try to make us fit into their own rigid boxes and often they will try to bend and break and reshape us in order for us to fit – I do not have to remould myself in order to be seen or heard or loved or supported, or just to make them more comfortable.
19) I am enough.
20) The words ‘I believe you’, ‘I see you’, ‘I hear you’, ‘You matter’, ‘You are perfectly enough’ can save lives, when spoken from a place of honesty and genuine compassion (and sometimes we need more than the words alone, sometimes we need to feel it and experience it, over and over, before it begins to takes hold).
21) I never knew a love like it until I looked in his (my nephew’s) eyes and I would give my whole world to protect him (and now others too), who fill my world with infinite love and laughter and wisdom and learning.
22) I love you’s are not a substitute for real love. I love you does not mean we owe someone something. I love you’s are not real (for me) when they are said to mask or deflect from pain or wrongdoing. I love you does not make everything better.
23) I can love you and disagree with you.
24) Most of the time when I love you I will tell you (and often) and I try to make it so you will already know, because sometimes saying “I love you” is so damn hard.
25) I am deserving of love, real love.
26) What he did was not love. What he did was a crime. What he did stole more from me than my small body had to give and the ways he broke me might never be fully repaired.
27) His actions were not my fault, I did nothing wrong in believing him and believing in him, it was all part of my conditioning. The shame is his to bear, not mine.
28) Forgiveness can be powerful but some things cannot be forgiven and nobody should be shamed into forgiving someone who has deeply hurt them. They get to choose, not us.
29) Being nice and being kind are two different things. I was the ‘nice girl’ for years, and I’m done playing nice. But kindness, I’ll never be done with kindness.
30) I, we, you do not have to apologise for breathing, for existing, for being here and alive in this world.
31) When a person tells you of their experience in this life, believe them the first time.
32) I sometimes believe in those times when it feels like more than ‘coincidence’. I believe there are a great many things our human minds will never fully know or understand and I sit in awe daily at the wonder of it all. I also believe that these ‘coincidences’ are an extraordinarily ordinary part of what it is to be human and one of the everyday miracles of being alive.
33) Sometimes the most whole connections are the most unexpected, those people who come into our lives from seemingly nowhere and somehow know exactly how to hold us, all of us, without question or pause – the ones we can hold onto with the most gentle of ease.
34) Some people were only supposed to be in our lives for a short period of time, even some of the most beautiful relationships can burn out as quickly as they were ignited, and sometimes it’s okay to let people go their own way while holding onto the memory. And this doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt like hell in the process.
35) Not everything happens for a reason. I do not believe every experience has been given to us because we asked for it on some level. Some of the most painful and violating experiences or atrocities in this world did not happen because a person subconsciously asked for it.
36) We do not have to be grateful for everything that happens to us in this life.
37) How a person chooses (or cannot choose) to survive, and how their body responds to abuse or trauma or illness or grief, is theirs and theirs alone. We do not get to judge this.
38) I was not made only to survive. Survival and merely existing is not my end goal, and yet for a great many years it was my beginning. And that does not make me any better or more worthy than those who did not survive.
39) My experience is my own, my story is my own and my stories matter. So do yours.
40) We can learn a lot from each other in this life, and we can often find comfort in knowing that we, while different and unique, are not alone.
41) I am not alone.
42) My body is mine. Not yours, or hers, or his, or theirs… mine. And while I have done a great deal of harm to my own body, I will also fight like hell to protect it (where I am able to) and it is not yours to claim.
43) My boundaries are important and worth upholding and respecting. So are yours.
44) Consent is not optional.
45) Our bodies hold it all, until we find a way to release it, and some things will live with us forever.
46) Somewhere inside of each of us remains parts of ourself who we once were, imprints of our past, memories of experiences and lives we’ve lived, reactions and responses that may or may not now serve us, parts of ourself that make us a whole human being and there is so much we can learn from within if we find a way to listen.
47) Many promises or never-again vows that we make to ourselves or others can be real and valid in the moment we speak them, with what we know at the time, even if they are then broken, given what we learn along the way, and that is okay; this doesn’t make our initial intention any less real, it makes us human.
48) It’s okay to get it wrong sometimes. And, if we do not let the mistake create a defensive wall and are open to it, when we make a mistake we can learn from it and do better next time.
49) Life has a way of proving me wrong. Life regularly enters in and stuns me with its immense beauty and grace and passion and pain; like right here, in this moment, in this week when I will turn 30 and until now, for the majority of my life, I wholeheartedly believed I would not be here now – and just look, here I am, alive and living.
50) Nothing, not one thing, looks how I once thought it would, and isn’t that just heartbreakingly beautiful.