I’m the friend that has The Stories. Stories of sharing my most excessive nights with people that I’d previously never met, going home with men I hated, flying to the other side of the country with only £10 to my name to salvage a relationship I wasn’t sure that I wanted – only to then get a blood clot. I’m a good storyteller and these are, in one way or another, really funny stories. They’re also stories of a girl that I no longer recognise as myself. A girl who would periodically change her group of friends so that nobody had enough time to get close, a girl who ached for communication and connection but didn’t know what to do when they arrived. Make no mistake about it, I’m definitely the crazy ex-girlfriend to some people. That’s fair, I was pretty crazy. Find me someone that’s moved 20 times in their life and isn’t a little wired. Life is tough.
I revisited these stories when an old friend showed me a photo of a dress I used to wear on our nights out. Our nights tasted of Jack Daniels, cider and blackcurrant and salty fried pizza dinners on the way home (it’s a delicacy in my culture, shh). We’d dance, drink, headbang and sometimes fight to the soundtrack of pop-punk, rock, metal all for around £20 a night if we found the guy that fancied her and would give her passes. We didn’t do much aside from drink together but we know each other intimately. We’re not close these days but when life gets dark, we still find each other. A mutual, unspoken agreement that neither of us is going anywhere. We’ve seen all manners of twisted Hell together and I know that she has seen the worst of me.
The girl I was then is someone I am both ashamed of and deeply protective of. I never looked after myself and the unequipped people around me tried their hardest but we were all still learning to walk, really.
And now, today, I am 29. A decade older.
My stories of living to excess on a limited budget are long behind me now.
I no longer need to find a funny angle for the stories I tell. My funny stories are funny in nature, not in framing. I no longer give myself a life I need to recover from. My body is softer, wider, pocked with piercing scars and tattooed with expressions of the life I crafted for myself and the people and animals I’ve loved along the way. My jokes are goofy and terrible. But I make them. I kiss with love, with affection, with intensity but never solely for somebody else. The friends I have in my life have been around for a long while. They know me, they see me, they love me. I’m not afraid of losing them. They call me out on my bullshit but never with the intent of leaving my life. I do the same.
I don’t try to be sexy for anyone. I’m not sexy, as it happens. I’ll no doubt have moments of it but as a rule, I’m not sexy. My best friend associates anything cosy with me. Sexy, I am not.
I haven’t self-harmed for over a decade.
The woman I am now is someone that is late for dinner because oh my god, there were birds having a BATH IN A PUDDLE. I get lost in whimsy, in love, in lust and more often than not, in books. I still wallow in deep misery but I combat it with therapy, baths and actually speaking to friends about the feelings that are drowning me. The woman I am now is someone that looks after herself, even if it takes some time to realise the care is needed. I invest in comfort, in my own sanity. I look after myself because I deserve to. I look after myself because I care deeply about my own wellbeing.
I go to poetry evenings and choose to drink a few pricier drinks over a lot of cheap drinks. I now drink for the taste, not for the destruction.
I don’t do shots.
I want to look after the whole world. I am rooting for all of us. I came out of the other side of self-destructive misery a much more empathetic person.
After a heavy day, I sometimes choose wine and confiding. I sometimes choose to chop root vegetables methodically, focusing on each and every slamming down of the knife and forcing my frustrations into it. I make soups with love and care. I try to end my day with something worthwhile even if it’s just an unexpected few hours with my best friend or a particularly hearty bowl of soup. It’s not always like this but it is more often than not. I eat alone and savour every moment of it. If I cook too much, I leave some in the fridge, just in case my flatmate needs the same nourishing that I do.
I drop some off to my friend’s work. I share my affections just as easily as I share my kitchen creations.
The woman I am at 29 is somebody I’ve had to learn to love. It really took a long time. My flaws have never felt more evident. I’m still the girl with crooked teeth, a birthmark on her lip and ginger hair but now I additionally have a (benign) tumour that’s causing my stomach to protrude. I’m more stubborn, proud and intense than ever. The skin I live in hasn’t always felt like home but now, 20 actual homes later, I’m glad to be living in the skin that I do. It’s thickened, it’s scarred, it’s difficult but it’s finally home.
29 is the final year of a decade that has shaped me into a better, brighter, happier person. It’s really beaten and broken me at times. It’s also brought me so much joy and acceptance that I never could have anticipated. It’s made me. I care a lot about seeing this formative decade out properly and the way I intend to do that is by continuing to do what makes me happy, for myself. By continuing to love and nurture the relationships I have and the things that I create.
It was my decade of recovery from the ones before and man, I did it in style.
Hello, 29, let’s keep making shit happen in the slow lane.