It is not an overnight train to Bruges.
It is a long and prickly road. Sometimes I could have sworn I’d circled the same spot a few times.
Chances are, I had.
In my endeavor to go within, I found I ultimately had to go without something or the other.
Friends. Love and lovers. Lunch company. Movie dates. Something, someone, somewhere.
Everywhere I looked, I saw detritus. It was the price of discovering who I really was: I first had to undergo a trial of everything I was not, and now, could no longer be.
Reaching out to myself, I found thorns and rose petals together. I found bird shit on my head from the time I stood still when I should have walked away.
I looked at people I knew and saw myself being over them and wondered what I was doing there.
I remember one time I gave myself away too soon. Or the time I shared parts of myself, that were not meant for any other.
I looked at others and I saw many tiny colonies, that were once parts of me, when I was more whole. When I was less brittle and when I didn’t come apart as easily as old bread.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence,
it is self-preservation,
and that is an act of political warfare.”
~ Audre Lorde
It begins with listening.
Quietening the outside and then muting the infernal cacophony of our own minds, we arrive at a void that compels us to listen to our body telling us what it needs.
Give your gut the stage and let it spill. Give your skin a moment to speak. Does it sweat? Do the pores breathe or do they heat with fevers unexpressed? Do your bowels hold themselves to ransom or do they not let you rest? Our bodies talk to us, telling us things.
Listen. When instinct is speaking, sit down and pay attention.
My mind had reached a point of anxiety, where it had shut the doors on sleep.
As I readied myself for work some mornings, I’d find sadness curled up like a limp wafer in my trouser pocket. I would feel it folded inside my bra, or tucked deep inside with the lint of my belly button. Sadness in little packets waiting to be torn open and inhaled like bittersweet cocaine. Sadness lying around like awkward denominations of spare change.
This is what I learned: don’t toss it out.
It’ll just find its way back. You are home to your own sadness. The way I was. So, I made it a guest and invited it inside, offered it a seat and asked my sadness what it needed and how I could help it on its way.
I have let so many lovers under my skin, I have forgotten the weight of my own body.
But now, the only one beneath my skin is me.
For once, I needed to be on my own side. I had to train my tongue to start saying words like, “no”, and “enough” and “It’s not right for me,”—because they were true.
I became stricter with myself and more rigid. I denied myself more, indulged my weaknesses less—because this too was a kind of love. The kind of love I had not had enough of and the kind I needed right now.
This love is gentle, quiet, yet firm.
This love is supportive, unquestioning in its loyalty to me and impossible to disappoint. This is a love that sits by my side, the nights I cannot sleep and lays cold, wet washcloths over my burning forehead when I am filled with rage at being alone once more.
This is the love that refuses me that delicious one-night-stand, that impossibly beautiful but malignant lover, that irresistibly terrible affair. This is the love that stays my hand when I want to text back in anger. This love waits patiently outside the classroom, where I go to learn the unfamiliar language of integrity and self-respect.
“I cannot go back to what hurt me.”
“I forgive myself.”
“I love myself no matter what.”
I have learned that this is a love that forgives. And forgives again. And again.
I have come to understand that this love has always been here, unseen by my eyes, known best by my own breath, and still so often denied.
It is a love that we embody and deserve, and can finally, finally feel worthy of.
Author: Mahinn Ali Khan
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of author