I always thought I was independent, until being independent was the only choice I had. If you would have asked me two years ago how old I am, I would have replied with delusional confidence, “I’m grown.” I was a recent college grad with a full-time job, a long-term partner whom I was madly in love with, a home we shared, and an unconditional love and friendship with my mama. But that soon all changed.
In November of 2019, my mother’s cancer came back unexpectedly and with a vengeance (as cancer does), ultimately taking her to the good place. Two weeks after her passing, my boyfriend of 8 years informed me that he needed to go his separate way (what is it with men and their timing?). Without hesitation, the fear, anxiety, anger, worry, and all the how-can-I’s and how-will-I’s and what-if’s and why’s consumed me whole. Grief and heartache will do that to a person. I did not have my mother to guide me through my first heartbreak. Nor did I have a partner to comfort me through my first loss of my only parent. It took me many panic attacks, many spouts of deep depression, and many fits of angst and rage and tears to realize that staying stuck was not an option. I was going to have to learn how to move forward.
The panic of uprooting my life forced me to come to a realization. My whole life, I had been co-dependent. Dating my high school sweetheart meant growing up with that person. Together we transitioned from childhood to adulthood. We were utterly in love and in lust. A very first-love kind of love, with all the romance and none of the bills. Having a boyfriend for me meant I never had to kill a spider alone and there was always someone to split the chores with. Being close to my mother meant I always had someone to tell me the proper dosage of Tylenol to take, or remind me which cleaning products to use on what surface. With those close relationships in my life, I always had someone to visit, to talk to, to receive help, and to plan and dream with.
Fast forward to me now: 25 years-old, single, living alone, in graduate school, grieving, and surviving a pandemic. Who would’ve thought. But honestly, I wouldn’t trade who I am now for a damn thing. Grieving the two most important relationships in my life simultaneously forced me to confront myself. To look at every crack and crevice of my being and decide for myself how I want to design my life moving forward. So I lifted my chin, and decided I was capable of being independent.
Becoming independent meant learning how to heal myself.
Being independent is a choice and mindset that must be learned. Without taking the time to unravel, I would not be where I am today. I didn’t know what my dreams were without a partner. For a while, I felt life was meaningless if I wasn’t in love or had no parents. I had to learn who I was without these people in my life. I never realized until being on my own just how much I identified as being someone’s girlfriend. Everything I thought or dreamed of included a “we.” I couldn’t be left by myself yet because quite frankly I didn’t know who I was, and finding out seemed too scary. All I wanted was to return to my familiar, but it no longer existed. Healing was a messy process. It was therapy and candles but it was also mental breakdowns and constant overthinking my life’s purpose.
In those moments where I lacked direction, I began asking myself what would make my mother proud. I then reflected on a piece of paper what the highest version of myself would look like, and then decided to become her. Turns out, the highest version of me no longer wanted to wait on someone or something to fall into place to begin her life, she wanted to live.But getting “unstuck” was no one’s responsibility but mine. I learned how to lean into friends and family when I needed support without relying on them to solve the problem.
Overtime, the things I never thought I would heal from – I just did. Getting to know myself was a painful journey that I am blessed to have been on. I realize now that knowing who you are is a gift that not everyone has. Once I started to appreciate my process and journey for what it was, I discovered a self-love I didn’t know was possible. I knew that I could do this, I could move forward. I could grow up.
Being independent meant learning how to entertain myself.
In my before life, there was always someone coming home at the end of the day. Someone to call, to plan dates with, catch up on spring-cleaning with and binge-watch Fixer Upper together. I relied on those people to make the most of my weekends, waiting to go out and adventure until our schedules aligned or until together we had enough money. Becoming independent meant knowing how to create my own forms of entertainment in the moments where others are unavailable.
For me that meant bubble baths, walks in nature, journaling, getting lost in novels, dressing up for no reason, sloppy attempts at home-workouts and many solo dance sessions to Nicki Minaj. It meant spending lots and lots of time with my girlfriends who were pivotal to making life a little more colorful. Having my solid group of friends helped me realize how much more there is to life outside of having a partner and how necessary friendship is to support us and hype us up during our stay on this planet.
Becoming independent meant learning how to show up for myself.
Someone’s not always going to make you dinner or bring home takeout. Someone’s not always going to be around to kill that spider. Someone’s not always going to be able to help you out with the dishes. Once upon a co-dependent life, I had help, and whether I actually needed it or not, I relied on it because it was there. There were plenty of spiders I could have killed myself or drains I could have unclogged but chose not to because there was a man in the house. I could have learned to sew or hem my own clothes but I never did because I could always take oversized clothing to my mom to fix.
Now moving forward with my adulthood, I’m realizing how many basic skills that quite frankly, I lacked. I’m learning to get curious. To practice new skills. To try fixing things on my own. To experiment in the kitchen and feed myself with the food I have at home. It takes patience and initiative, which quite frankly, I don’t always have. But then I think of my mom and all the moms out there who take care of themselves and everyone else in more ways than we can imagine, and I remind myself to suck it up buttercup (well, sometimes I still get takeout and don’t fold my laundry, but I’ll blame the pandemic on that one).
Becoming independent meant learning how to protect myself.
The biggest lesson I have learned in my 25 years, is that life has its own timing and its own plans. Releasing the idea that I could control what happens to me and was something I learned the hard way. Being co-dependent meant I assumed I had a safety net in my partner. I assumed we’d be together forever because why wouldn’t we? I assumed my mother would live to be old because why wouldn’t she? If a hurdle were to ever arise, I falsely assumed we’d all get through it together and because of that, I always dreamed for the future but never prepared. We all like to joke around about being young and fun and broke in our twenties, but I realized that normalizing that language prevented me learning how to create backup plans and build my safety net.
On top of the deafening silence at times, living alone taught me very quickly that the way I had been living was no longer going to work. Turns out that rent looks a lot different when you’re not splitting it down the middle. Protecting myself meant learning how to budget. How to save money. It meant keeping my car up-to-date to avoid dangerous and financial disasters. It meant learning how to do my own taxes (or at least find my own help). It meant preparing myself for all the what-if’s but also for all my dreams. I could not rely on the help of a man or partner to travel the world, to move, or to buy a home one day or potentially have babies. Sure, it would be nice to have the assistance (and the love), but putting plans into action starts with me and starts now. So, you better believe I whipped up that vision board and drafted that budget sheet!
Life has a funny way of teaching us things (not sure me and life’s sense of humor are the same). Growing up I realized had little to do with age and a lot to do with experience. Growing up was overcoming all the things you never planned to go through. I am blessed by how far I’ve come. I’m proud to say I’m grown because for the first time my actions reflect my words. I’m no longer the girl who relied on others to make her life meaningful. I’m the woman who has healed. Who has budgeted. Who has learned new recipes (the key is to add garlic to everything). Who has created her own joy. Who is finding her own way at her own pace. Being independent is a balance of soft gentle care and hard truths and tough love. It’s a hard journey with the biggest reward because at the end of the day, I can now say I know who I am.