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When I was 18 years old, I fell truly in love for the first time in my life.
It was my freshman year of college, and I was drinking a lot. My girlfriend and I were never a part of the “freshman crowd.” We were much more turned on by partying with the “cool,” older kids—who definitely didn’t feel like kids to me at the time.
We walked up the steps to a tiny, totally trashed house that reeked of boozy breath and bong water and immediately dashed to the keg. One beer turned into four shots of tequila, five glasses of sh*tty boxed wine, and too many joints to count. By the end of the night, I was completely blacked out.
The next morning, I woke up in my bed with a ringing in my ear and a wrinkled forehead from not being able to open my eyes fully. My head was pulsating. I pressed my water bottle against my mouth and started to chug until my body rejected it.
I don’t think I left my bed the entire day—until my phone rang. Reluctantly, I answered.
“Hey, I’m going back to where we were last night. Will you come with me?” My girlfriend asked.
“Absolutely not,” I replied.
“You’re just going to lay in bed all night? It’s Friday night.”
I hung up the phone, sat up, stared at myself in the mirror from across the way, and said, “f*ck.” I threw on some black leggings, a black and yellow flannel, a black choker, and my purple-laced Dr. Martens and scurried out of the room.
I was standing on the porch when he walked up to me. I was chatting with another person I had just met until he decided to slide into the conversation. He looked familiar.
“Hey,” he said gently, but with such confidence. Was I familiar to him too?
“Hi. I’m Juliana. What’s your name?”
We chatted, laughed, and connected until the sun rose and painted the sky a deep, rich orange hue. It was the beginning of something beautiful.
Several months into our relationship, someone asked how we met. I began to tell them my version of the story until he politely interrupted to tell me I was wrong. “That’s not how we met. We met the night before that when you walked up to me, grabbed my face, kissed me, and walked away.”
Well, the heart wants, what the heart wants, right? And even though I was entirely inebriated, I fully believe my heart was the one that led me to his lips. And my heart was the one that led me to live the following five years soaking in his presence.
But my heart was also the one that yelled at me to let go. But he was my everything. My best friend. My person. My “other half.” I needed him—which was exactly why I needed to leave him.
We were entangled in a web of codependency, while my heart was whispering secrets to leave. “You want me to leave the love of my life?”
“No. I want you to return to the love of your life.”
I had completely forgotten that I am the love of my own life. But I was f*cking scared. I threw up from the fear of “not knowing.” He was all I ever knew and imagining a life without him felt nearly impossible. I hated what my heart was telling me. So, I chose not to listen. I stayed—because I loved him. But my distrust in myself and my inability to listen to my heart manifested in resentment.
I started to resent him. I projected onto him. I tried to change him. And I hurt him.
Turns out, “if you love them, let them go” is actually not bullsh*t advice—and something I should have listened to right away because maybe I wouldn’t have hurt him with my own insecurities. Eventually, I listened.
We cried the entire time we packed up our home. And then, he drove away and that was it. It was another beautiful beginning. It was the most painful beginning to anything in my entire life, but it was also the best and bravest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, my heart aches when I think about him, but it no longer breaks because I finally gave myself the space to look at myself and all the bullsh*t I was holding onto.
When he left, I let go of so much more than just him. I let go of the self who enjoyed getting blackout drunk at parties. I let go of the self who refused to listen to their heart. And I let go of the self who had no f*cking clue how to properly love themselves.
And even though it was f*cking hard and it f*cking hurt, it was necessary for both of us—because choosing ourselves is choosing them.