Releasing, Growing, and Building a Home

I’m sitting outside on my balcony by the woods, listening to the rain bounce off the vibrant leaves, the cars racing down the highway in the distance, the pitter-patter of my fingertips on my keyboard as I write.

I taste the bittersweet notes of my coffee, inhale the light scents of cinnamon and jasmine from the burning candle next to me, feel the cool late-summer air send chills down my body. As far as I can see, there are layers and layers of bright greenery, trees standing tall and sure of themselves.

It’s picturesque, this scene. All five of my senses are content. In this moment, I am happy. I am free. I am at peace.

But so much has changed. I think back to just a year ago: living in New York with a past lover, finding home in a Tarrytown coffee shop, walking the streets of Sleepy Hollow as the leaves were just about to change color. The main character in that chapter of my life was a girl I don’t recognize anymore, who wore anxiety like a shield and made herself smaller to fit whatever description the supporting roles needed her to be. She wasn’t even writing her own story, passing the pen to whoever was willing and able to keep her alive.

But she had a spark, and it turned people away. That fire within her couldn’t be smothered, and the smoke that accompanied it drove many to leave. Yet she blamed herself for the way she burned to keep others warm, then resented those very people when it all felt too suffocating.

If I’ve learned anything since last year, and all the years prior, it’s that you’re only responsible for yourself. It’s not as selfless as we preach to give without taking; in fact, it’s self-destructive and enabling, this idea you must earn love only to accept breadcrumbs.

I’ve always felt safer keeping intimacy at a distance, dancing with lovers in fantasies without ever allowing them under my sheets, committing to ghosts I don’t really know, trying — time and time again — to be the partner I so needed, so I might say, “Look what I did! I saved you! I never gave up on you, even when you gave up on yourself,” only for them to give up on me.

Some call it a “self-fulfilling prophecy;” others deem it “co-dependency.”

When he cut our fate short, I sank to the floor, not to succumb to sobs, rather to stop him from rocking back and forth. How quickly did I neglect my own heart to cradle someone else in my arms? And the sad part is: I’d do it again and again and again, if it meant never watching someone I love suffer alone.

But what about me? I scream at the mirror.

It’s become much clearer: the reason I stay too long or attach in the first place. I’ve never felt safe — not in my own body, and certainly not in my mind. And to imagine someone I love, or even care about in the slightest bit, fall victim to the same pain, is like ripping off a bandaid when the wounds are still fresh. It hurts me like it hurts them, and if I tend to their suffering, I’ll always have something else to mend — a distraction.

Not so selfless, is it?

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding the present moment, so much so that when I’m in tune with every one of my senses, like I am right now, I feel so deeply alone. I grasp for connection. I sink into the earth and let my tears water the soil around me like the rain, hoping something will come of me — I’ll grow from this.

And I have, and I will, and I am making a conscious effort to do so. I’m shedding my leaves, becoming autumn personified, crafting my dream life. I spent Saturday night doing a full moon release, writing letters just to burn them, breathing deeply and finding peace.

It’s hard to let go of patterns that once served you. We look at these coping mechanisms as a sign of regression; we’re so quick to deem them “toxic.” But we once were just children trying to survive. I learned to seek light in the darkest places, learned to escape so I might feel safe. And that got me this far. If I hadn’t spent my childhood writing fiction on printer paper, I might not have found the courage to ever speak my truth. And if I hadn’t lived my early 20s as a mere shadow of someone, I never would’ve thought to become the sun.

You see, these tendencies are not bred from ill intent, rather from pure discontent. I’ve tried to paint everything in color when my world felt gray, but I just ended up bleeding instead, staining the canvas a deep red, telling myself, “At least I breathed life into the day.”

This isn’t some love letter to the habits that no longer serve me, nor is it a narrative that might drag me from the light. It’s an ode to being human — to loving and losing, hurting and healing, learning and growing. You can’t become the person you want to be if you’re caught up hating and shaming the person who has survived — the patterns that have allowed you to find your grounding.

No, they might not serve you. Maybe they never did, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe you needed to fall to your knees so you could feel the earth beneath your feet when you got back up.

You can always get back up.

I’m sitting on my balcony in a small town in Jersey, and this isn’t where I ever thought I’d be — especially not a year ago. But it’s where I’m building a home: not in this condo, with its high ceilings and tall windows, but in my own soul.

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