People say the year abroad is “the best year of your life” and the time to “find yourself”. I never thought any of that was true, but I feel like I’m coming on leaps and bounds already and I’ve only been here a month. I’ve had a few crucial realisations. And the latest one is that I need to have my own identity, I need to be myself and be ok with that.
But I’m in a position where I don’t really know who I am. I don’t have many defining features and naturally I look for labels to define myself by. But I don’t have to live by these labels, I can be myself, and that’s exactly what I want to be. If I can be myself, as I am – flaws and all, and be ok with that, then maybe that’s what happiness is. I’m a long way from that, but it’s a goal, it’s something to aim for and it’s a realisation.
I felt stuck for so long and I didn’t know why, but somehow today it came to me. Maybe it’s the hours sitting on a train, or the listening to music that brings back memories, I don’t know. But I realised that I need to take back my life. Because I need my own identity, and the ex took it away, all those years ago and I never knew how to find it.
As a teenager, that’s when people develop into who they really are. They develop a sense of identity, and in an ideal world, they are comfortable with who they are (whoever that turns out to be.) But it wasn’t like that for me, because I had who I was, and then I was taught that I was being me “wrong”, and everything that made me, me disappeared.
I used to be a scout, I used to play the clarinet, sing in the choir, I used to have lots of friends at school. And systematically they disappeared. First I left scouts, I said I didn’t like it anymore. That’s not true, it’s more that the ex made me feel like I had to leave, he always said it’s pathetic and I should act more like a girl. So I left. I started losing friends too because I was spending more time with the ex, because he made me feel bad if I spent any time with anyone else. He made me feel like it was my choice, that my friends weren’t real friends, that he cared about me and no one else did. And then it got to the end of year 11, and the school wouldn’t let him go back for 6th form. This could have been, should have been my great escape, but it wasn’t.
I left too. He made me feel like I had to, he made me feel like it was my choice. He manipulated my insecurities and planted the thought that I wasn’t happy at the school. It’s true of course that the school was high pressure and that I never felt good enough, but I wouldn’t have left if it wasn’t for him. But we wouldn’t be able to see each other he said, and did I really want to throw away our relationship over this? And so went my other activities – no more clarinet, band or choir, they didn’t have them at the college. So now I was at college where I didn’t know anyone, except him. I thought we’d make friends, we would have a group of friends together and it would be nice (before we both had our own sets of friends that didn’t mix) but it wasn’t really like that. We went to our lessons, and that was about it. We didn’t socialise that much, and for most lessons we were together. I even recall him bullying me into skipping lessons (the one that I wasn’t in his class for) to spend time with him.
So then I was his girlfriend. That was it. My sense of identity relied totally on him. And that was the reality of it – without him, I was nothing. Without him, I had nothing and no one. And the worst thing is I didn’t even realise he had done this. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t normal for a relationship to completely take over your life, I didn’t notice all these things disappearing from my life because it was all slow, subtle, and it was never his idea – always mine. But he guilt tripped me constantly, manipulated my decisions so that actually they were his decisions coming from my mouth.
I wasn’t me anymore and I was stuck because I knew without him I was nothing. So I stayed, even though I know I shouldn’t have. But it was me making all these mistakes, me always in the wrong, and he was so kind – always forgiving me. That’s what it seemed like anyway, but in retrospect I got it so wrong. How could it be his fault when it was my decisions, my ideas? But they weren’t, I was just a puppet.
It’s all clear to me now. I feel stupid, embarrassed for the way I acted. I let him use me like that and manipulate me into doing whatever he wanted. I did things to impress him, agreed to doing things I didn’t want to do because I wanted to keep him happy, because I thought it’s what I had to do. But I was wrong, so wrong. And I wish I could stop it happening to other people too, because some people don’t get out, ever, some people have their whole lives taken from them in this way.
I was just lucky that he had enough of me and decided to move on, to try again with another girl. And he did, at first he was lovely, not a foot wrong, and then over time it happened again, he got controlling, manipulative, angry. And she left, the clever girl.
I just feel a weight lifted off my shoulders because I have the whole of my life to live now, and I can live it how I want. So the next step is working out who I am now, and making myself into someone I want to be, not for anyone else, but just for me. I realised I can be me without other people, I don’t need to let these labels – girlfriend, daughter, sister, friend, student, blogger etc. define me, because people are more than labels, they are people with identities of their own.