Want some feedback? Well, here's what I can offer...

Over the last few years, from time to time, I've been contacted by people who want to write or have written something and want me to give them feedback on their work. I have always agreed to do this even though I have always felt a little uncomfortable with this role. 

I mean, who am I to assess and give feedback on someone else's creative expression? Sure, I'm a writer and I've had a few things published but in my opinion this doesn't qualify me to say whether or not something is worth publishing, or has potential. (What does that even mean anyway?) 

It's my belief that if you have something to say, there's an audience who wants to hear it. Or read it. But you first have to finish what it is you want to say. And if you really want to know whether your work is of any interest, let your audience or lack thereof, tell you. 

Although keep in mind, the size of an audience doesn't always reflect the quality of the writing. There are lots of unknown great writers just as there are lots of well known not-so-great writers. 

Feedback is important. I always give a finished manuscript to a few trusted people to read. Their comments are invaluable. In fact, I spent a year on a book that never saw the light of day based on the feedback I received from these trusted advisors. 

But... 

These are finished pieces of work that have been finished to the best of my ability, and these are people I trust and respect implicitly who fit within my target market. 

Because here's the thing about feedback: it's just as subjective as the writing itself

I've had a professional editor who worked on one of my books, call my writing 'whiney and self-indulgent'. And, in her defense, I'm sure it is at times. But this is part of my writing style and it's a style that some people (certainly not all) enjoy and can relate to. Also, that particular book which that particular editor was referring to has been picked up by my now publisher and is being re-released this year, which goes to show...

I've also received feedback from a bestselling author who read one of my manuscripts and went on to tell me that he thought it 'common, pedestrian and a little bit boring'. To be honest, I laughed when I read his comments because they were so brazenly honest (I mean, who says that?). I even wanted to put his comments on the back cover of the book that has since been picked up by a publisher and is being released this year. Again, which goes to show...

My point is that just because I'm a writer does not necessarily qualify me to read your work and comment on it. For starters, I might not be in your target market. And that's in addition to the fact that I suck at grammar and I still don't know exactly where the comma is supposed to go. Rather I tend to feel my way through a sentence and hope for the best. Oh and I always work with an editor. (Ideally one that doesn't think my work is whiney and self indulgent.)

So, if you're thinking of becoming a writer and you want someone to give you feedback, here's what I can offer: 

1. Finish whatever it is you are working on. Finish it to the best of your ability. 

2. Seek out a person who you trust implicitly AND who fits within your target market. 

3. Thank the person for agreeing to read your work and providing you with their comments, even if you don't agree with them. Remember they have given up their time that they could have spent doing a thousand other things to help you along. 

And then most importantly...

4. You decide whether it's good enough to put out into the world. At the end of the day, when it comes to writing or any creative pursuit, it's your opinion as the creator that is the one that matters the most.* 

* I think there should have been another comma in that sentence but I can't be sure and who really cares anyway?

I know I Said I Loved You, But I Was Wrong

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I know I said I loved you, that I would always love you, but I was wrong. I was mistaken. I couldn’t see then what I can see so clearly now. And that is, what I thought was love was in fact yet another attempt to manipulate yet another man into giving me what I have been so unwilling to give myself.

By saying that I loved you, by saying that I would always love you, what I really wanted was for you to turn around and say that you loved me. My (secret) hope was that you would return this ‘love’, and I could finally breathe easy.

With you giving me your love, I no longer had to worry about giving love to myself. You could do it all for me.

Of course, I didn’t know this was what I was doing when I told you that I loved you. I didn’t know I was trying to manipulate you into giving me your love. I didn’t know I was lying and trying to wrestle out of you what is not mine to take or ask for from another. I didn’t know I was attempting to get you to take responsibility for what is not yours or anyone else’s to take responsibility for. I didn’t know this is what I so often do when in relationships with men. I didn’t know that I didn’t love myself.

Naturally, these attempts to wrangle love out of others doesn’t work, but it doesn’t seem to stop me from trying. With you, however, I may have finally learnt my lesson. It’s time to stop looking for love outside myself and to start giving it to myself.

At the time, I thought my feelings were real and genuine. At the time it really did feel like love. But when you walked away, so did those feelings. When you left, so did the love.

And if there’s one thing I do know for sure, it’s that love that is true never dies; it doesn’t just get up and walk out the door; it doesn’t simply disappear. Yet with you, it did.

What I also know for sure is that you can’t love another until you can first love yourself. And while I’m getting better, I’ve become only too aware of how little I love myself. Why else would I have accepted your obvious lack of love? The love I extended to you, the love I extended to so many others, I should have been extending to myself. But I didn’t know then what I finally do now.

I’m not sharing this to cause hurt or take revenge. Instead, I felt it was important to honour love for what love really is. And love isn’t something to be used to manipulate others for my own selfish gain. Love needs to be respected and valued and treated with reverence.

There will come a time when I do fall in love with someone, and that love will be real, and it will be genuine. I will want this person to be able to trust the words coming from my mouth. When I say ‘I love you’ I will want this person to know I don’t speak these words lightly, nor do I say them to every man I meet. I will want this person to know that I’m not saying this to get him to love me for I won’t need him to. I will want him to know my love is real and my words are the truth.

If there’s one thing I did say which remains to be true is that you were a gift. Not in the way I might have expected, but in a way for which I am incredibly grateful. And the gift you gave me is the gift of self-love. By not loving me, I’ve been able to take the love I’ve given away so freely and indiscriminately and return it to myself.

And that perhaps is one of the greatest gifts a person can give another. In which case, from the bottom of my very big and very loving heart, thank you.

Published on Thought Catalog 

7 Ways To Be Kinder To Yourself When Self-Love Doesn't Come Easily

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Recently I’ve been on a quest to develop a more loving relationship with myself. Naturally, a quest such as this one comes off the back of placing myself in a position where I felt unloved and unvalued. Unfortunately, my quest for more ‘self-love’ continued to bump up against my resistance to the whole manufactured ‘self-love’ movement. Thankfully, I discovered a way around this: self-compassion.

By extending a little more compassion my own way, I’ve been able to bypass the ‘self-love’ crusaders while still developing a more nurturing, more loving relationship with myself.
Here are seven simple acts of compassion I’ve been practicing on my quest to give myself a little more love:

1. Think kindly of yourself

Have you ever stopped and listened to the thoughts you have about yourself? Chances many of them aren’t that complimentary. Most of us a highly critical and judgmental, never more than towards ourselves. And yet you wouldn’t dare speak to another person the way you speak to yourself. So how about throwing a little more kindness your way. You’re doing your best, and your best is good enough. Love yourself by speaking kindly to yourself.

2. Forgive yourself

We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, not all of us are as good at forgiving ourselves, or others, for those mistakes. To have compassion means to have the capacity to forgive the wrongs made against us, even when those wrongs are self-directed. If you’re someone that tends to hold grudges, it could be that you struggle to forgive. Let yourself off the hook. After all, if you can keep yourself on the hook, surely you can let yourself off it. To love yourself means to love yourself even when you get it wrong, which we all do from time to time.

3. Be there for yourself

Life doesn’t always work out the way you want. Sometimes it feels like life isn’t working out at all, and you’re left wondering what on earth is the point of all this pain and heart break. When those times come around, be there for yourself. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions and feelings are arising. Whether it’s fear, sadness, anger, hurt, disappointment, give yourself the time and space to feel it without judgment or making yourself wrong. Love yourself by being there for yourself.

4. Hold yourself

Literally. Wrap your arms lovingly around yourself and literally hold yourself. Give yourself a gentle squeeze. Hold yourself like you would a loved one who is feeling sad or lonely or broken hearted. When there’s no one there to give you a warm hug, then don’t hold back on giving yourself one. Love yourself by wrapping your arms around each other and holding yourself.

5. Romance yourself

Now let’s face it – you’re smart, funny and as sexy as all get out! So, what the hell are you doing curled up on the couch in your faded pyjamas eating takeaway again? It’s time you got out there again. Not with someone else, but with yourself. Treat yourself to a fancy dinner. Or lunch, if that feels more comfortable. Order a glass of wine. Indulge in some dessert. Get your sexy on. To love yourself means getting a little romantic with yourself.

6. Laugh at yourself

When was the last time you laughed so hard you snorted? For some of you, it will be yesterday, but for most of us, we probably can’t remember. That’s because something not-so-funny happens to us as we mature. We become a little less playful and a lot more serious. Even the research tells us that the older we get, the less we laugh. It’s time to prove those academics wrong. Look for the funny and chances are you’ll find it. To yourself means to laugh at yourself, preferably to the point where you snort.

9. Celebrate yourself

When was the last time you saluted yourself just for being you? Not just for your achievements and accomplishments (which I’m sure are many) but for everything you’ve had to endure in life. Life ain’t always easy. It takes guts to keep your head up during the hard times. It takes courage to stand up again after a fall. It takes perseverance to show up again in the face of failure. But you’ve done it, time and time again. So, what are you waiting for? Love yourself by celebrating all that you’ve done, but more importantly, all that you’ve endured.

An Easier Way To Approach Self Love

It might have been Oscar Wilde who said ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance’, but he certainly hasn’t been the only one to offer such sentiments. It seems self-love is the new self-help black. Everywhere you turn, everyone is talking about the importance of loving yourself more.

So, how is it then, with all this self-lovey-dovey wisdom floating around, we’re not all glowing and sparkling with love from within? How is it that with all this talk about self-love, more and more of us are feeling depressed and inadequate?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally down with the whole self-love thing, and I’m acutely aware of my need to generate a lot more of it in my own life. Conceptually, I’m all over the idea. But practically? Not so much. After all, my attempts to love others hasn’t worked out so well, so I’m hesitant about turning that love on myself.

The thing is, as much as I want to learn to love myself more, I’m confused as to how to go about doing that.

What is ‘self-love’ beyond a feel-good quote designed on Word Swag? Unable to answer this myself, I posed the question to someone who I figured would know – a yoga teacher. ‘So what exactly is self-love?’ I asked her. 

She paused thoughtfully, as yoga teachers tend to do, before taking a deep breath and exhaling this:

‘Think about self-love as self-compassion.’

Self-compassion! Well, okay then! Now I had something to work with.

For me, the concept of ‘self-love’ has never really landed for me. Certainly not in the way same way ‘self-compassion’ does. Self-love conjures up insta-images of bronzed bikini babes with perfect smiles and perfectly perky butts splashing about in the shallows, captioned with quotes like ‘Love yourself silly’ accompanied with a couple of colourful heart emoticons. To me, ‘self-love’ feels unrealistic and therefore it’s never been something I’ve ever been able to get excited about.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, feels different. Self-compassion allows the space for my imperfections to exist. Self-compassion suggests that even despite my off-white teeth and wobbly arse, I’m still okay. Self-compassion says that while I’m not perfect and I’m not always going to feel lovey-dovey on the inside, I can still be kind and gentle with myself. 

Replacing the term ‘self-love’ with ‘self-compassion’ has enabled me to find a way through my resistance to a place where I’m able to think and act in more loving ways towards myself. When I make a mistake, instead of berating myself, I’m able to remind myself that I’m doing my best and my best is good enough.

Self-compassion allows me the space to mess things up and invites me to be kind and forgiving towards myself when I do. Self-compassion takes into account my humanity.

Sure, it’s just semantics, but language is powerful. Language helps us to navigate our world. I wanted to develop a more loving relationship with myself, yet the whole ‘self-love’ craze was putting me off. It didn’t feel right. Self-compassion, however, does. It offers a detour around any expectation of perfection while enabling me to arrive at the same self-loving and self-accepting destination. Wobbly arse and all.

My Body Isn't Perfect, But It's Mine

Let’s face it, it’s not easy being a woman when there’s so much focus placed on our physical appearance. In particular, the state and shape of our bodies. We are constantly being bombarded with images and messages that imply our bodies don’t look the way they should. They need to bigger, thinner, taller, shorter, tighter, curvier. Anything but how our bodies naturally are.

In addition to these messages, we also have to deal with the opinions of other people. And it seems everyone has an opinion. Now, I’m not sure how or when we started thinking it was okay to casually comment on another woman’s body, but here’s the thing: unless it’s complimentary, it’s not. That’s because it’s hard enough loving our own bodies without other people putting it down.

Recently I had a well-intentioned friend inform me that I was ‘too thin’ and that I needed to ‘put some weight on’. Immediately I felt ashamed and began explaining the reasons for my sudden weight loss. I told her that I’d been sick during which time the weight had fallen off. I was trying to put it back on, but my body was still recovering. It was taking time.

And then suddenly I stopped talking. I realised I was apologizing to this person because my body didn’t look the way she thought it should. A fierceness arose. This is my body we’re talking about, and my body is nobody else’s business.

‘You know what,’ I said, turning to face my friend. ‘Let’s not talk about my body which is perfect just the way it is.’

Throughout my life, I’ve been told countless times by countless people that I’m ‘too tall’ and ‘too thin’. When I was young, I was regularly accused of having an eating disorder even though I’ve always loved food and I’ve always enjoyed a healthy appetite.

Yes, I am naturally tall, and I am naturally thin. And no, I’ve never had an eating disorder. Still people still felt it was their duty to tell me that I needed to eat more and put some weight on.

In my twenties, I did some modelling, and I honestly can say I’ve never felt worse about myself or the way my body looked. There was always something wrong it, something that wasn’t right, something that needed to be improved. And there was always a casting director happy to point out these flaws.

Perhaps this is why I can no longer stay silent when other people comment or pass judgment on my body. These days, unless I ask for input, my body is not up for discussion. It’s the old adage, ‘Unless you have something nice to say, it’s best not to say anything at all.’

It’s time we started standing up, not just inour bodies, but for our bodies.

No one has the right to tell you what is right for your body or how it should look. Only you do. You know your body better than anyone, and you have the right to remind people of this who might believe and, therefore, act otherwise. Your body is nobody else’s business.

The fact is our bodies are walking and talking miracles. While writing this article, my body is keeping me alive without me having to lift a finger. My body is breathing oxygen, digesting food, regenerating the cells, absorbing nutrients and whatever else it does so brilliantly without my conscious awareness. Instead, my fingers are free to type these words.

How often we forget the miraculous nature of our bodies, most likely because we’re so focused on everything that’s wrong with them.

Most of us have a complex relationship with our bodies. We can all find a few things we’ve love to change. Personally, I’d love bigger boobs and a smaller nose. And sure, I could go and get those things ‘fixed’. But then what? There’ll always be something else. I’d rather save my money and learn to love myself instead.

Unfortunately, learning to love and accept yourself in a society filled with so many contradictory messages isn’t exactly easy. It’s no wonder cosmetic surgery is at record levels and on the rise.

But even if you don’t love and accept everything about your body, you can still stand up for it. You can protect it from the critical and judgmental eyes of others. The more I stand up for my body, even in the face of its seeming imperfections, the more I demonstrate my love and appreciation for it. And the more I come to love and accept it.

My body might not be perfect but it’s mine, and it’s the only one I’ve got. Your body is yours and it’s the only one you’ve got.

So, next time someone passes judgement on your body – on how it looks, on how much it weighs, on how it’s dressed – stand up for it. Remind the person that, while you appreciate their concern, unless they have something nice to say, their commentary is not required. That’s because your body is yours and it’s nobody else’s business.

24 Ways to Survive The First 24 Hours Of A Break-Up

The first 24-hours following a break up can be hard. It can feel like the seam of your soul is being torn apart. The days and months ahead seem to stretch out ahead like a long, empty road appearing to go nowhere. Emotions run high only to fall back to earth with a crash while questions circle in your mind like a flock of confused seagulls. But why? But how? What if?

In the immediate aftermath of a breakup, it can feel like that chance of moving on without this person in your life is an impossible task. You want to call them, text them, get them to change their mind, or get them to change yours. Anything but endure the torture of the next few minutes, hours, days, weeks and months. Yet you know you can’t. You must somehow endure the unendurable.

While nothing is going to remove the pain of loss completely, here are 24 ways you can take care of yourself during those first seemingly impossible 24 hours following a break up:

1. Drink more water

Chances are there are going to be tears, so you want to make sure there are enough fluids in the tank. Plus, most of us don’t drink enough water as it is. Throw a stressful situation like a break-up into the mix, and it puts unnecessary pressure on our already overworked bodies. So, grab a water bottle and keep yourself hydrated.

2. Curl up in bed

The world isn’t going to end if you extract yourself from it for a few hours or even days. Call in sick to work if you have to. Close the curtains, get warm, wrap yourself up in the comfort of your bed and allow yourself to drift off to sleep. Don’t feel like you have to make yourself busy and be out meeting new people. The time for that will come. For now, simply let yourself rest.

3. Cry it out

As I said, there are going to be tears. Let them come, even if you don’t feel they are warranted, or the other person doesn’t deserve your tears. It’s your right to feel whatever your feeling so if there are tears, let them come.

4. Drink warm tea

Drinking a cup of warm tea is calming and nurturing for the body. At a time when it feels like your body is in emotional overdrive, it’s good to do things that help to soothe and nourish it. So, if you’re hurting, put this article down and go and pop the kettle on.

5. Call a friend

We all need support during difficult times, but we need it from those who aren’t going to make the pain worse. Reach out to that special someone who you know isn’t going to pass judgment or offer unsolicited advice. Call a friend who you know will just listen and validate what you’re experiencing without having to fix it.

6. Clean your room

Break ups can be messy and sometimes that messiness has a way of extending leaking into our immediate environment. This is unlikely to help our already emotional state. Cleaning up your room or home can have a relaxing and calming effect on our mind and bodies.

7. Feeeeeeel it

It’s likely you’re going to be feeling a whole range of emotions, and it’s possible to jettison from one emotion to its complete opposite within a blink of an eye. Whether it’s anger to rage, to sadness to yearning, to guilt to shame and back to anger, give yourself permission to feel it all. Just make sure all phone and other technological devices are well and truly out of reach.

8. Write it out

You don’t have to be a writer to reap the benefits from writing out what’s on your mind. Forget the rules of grammar or spelling mistakes, just grab a pen and some paper and start scribbling. Write everything and anything because no one is going to read it. You don’t even have to read it again, and it’s probably best you don’t. Just get it out and onto the page.

9. Cuddle a pet

Love and connection are universal human needs and if there’s ever a time we need it most it’s right after a break-up. Grab yourself a furry animal and hold it close to your heart. If you don’t have one, find someone who does. If you can’t find a live animal, then grab a stuffed one and cuddle that.

10. Hit a pillow

When you allow yourself to feel your emotions, it’s likely not all of them are going to feel very good. Rather than holding these toxic emotions, engaging in some physical activity can help shift the energy. Grab a pillow, clench your fist and let it have it. Punch out the hurt, the anger, the sadness. Keep punching until you’re exhausted.

11. Watch a movie

An excellent way to get out of our own story is to watch someone else’s. Movies are a wonderful form of escape, and there’s nothing wrong with escaping from the world for a few hours. Curl up under a blanket with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and allow yourself slip into another world for a while.

12. Give to charity

Being heartbroken can make it feel as though we have lost everything and nothing left to give. While it might feel this way, it’s not the truth. Humans have an immense capacity to give. Giving something to another when it seems like our world is crashing down around us can be a quiet yet powerful reminder of our true and inherent nature.

13. Change the sheets

Depending on the length of the relationship, you might want to even buy some new ones. Either way, rip the sheets you shared with your ex off the bed and either throw them out or put them in the washing machine until the memories have been soaked and rinsed out of them.

14. Remove the reminders

If you’re not ready to delete your ex from your life entirely, at least remove all reminders. Store text messages and photos in a folder or a box and put it somewhere where you can forget about it, and ultimately, forget about them.

15. Sage your space

It’s good to clear any unwanted energy from your living space on a regular basis, but you especially want to do this after a break up with an ex. Light a stick of sage and cleanse any old and unwanted energies while asking for it to be replaced with new, light and loving energy.

16. Get a massage

There’s no quick fix for getting over a break-up, but there are certainly things you can do to ease the tension. Having a professional massage out the aches and pains in those tight and contracted muscles is surely one of them.

17. Get grounded

In stressful situations, it’s easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of thinking. A way of getting out of your head and back into your body is to ground yourself. Take your shoes off and walk around in bare feet for a while. Get grounded and feel Mother Earth supporting you.

18. Eat some delicious, hearty food

Once you’re done with the ice-cream and comfort food, it might be time to give your body a break from the sugar. Dine out on some chicken soup and start replenishing your system with the healthy, nourishing foods that are going to help you through the healing process.

19. Have a hot bath

If you don’t have a bath, then place yourself under a hot shower and let the warmth of the water cleanse not only your body but your heart and soul. Feel the water washing away all the hurt and sadness, renewing your spirit with fresh hope for the future.

20. Dance it out

Dancing might be the last thing you feel like doing, but movement can just be what the body is craving during a time of emotional upheaval. Put on some upbeat music and shake out whatever it is you’re feeling. Shake, shake, shake it out.

21. Climb a tree

Remember when you were a kid and used to climb trees? Find a tree that looks like fun to climb and connect with your inner kid again. Trees are strong and stable and dependable as well as comforting which is just the kind of energy you need right now. Plus, it’s hard to be sad when you’re sitting on top of the world.

22. Meditate

Or another approach is to take some deep, conscious breaths. Meditating, or breathing consciously, can be a useful circuit breaker when your mind feels like it’s on a backwards loop. Try closing your eyes and focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breath. Even if you can only do it for a minute, that’s one minute you weren’t focused on them.

23. Get crafty

Break ups are the toughest on our inner child because they tug and any abandonment or unworthiness wounds we might be lugging around. Give your inner child a break by giving it something else to focus on. Pull out your paints and crayons and let yourself go wild. Bring some colour and playfulness back into your world.

24. Delete their number

Break ups are hard enough without rubbing salt into the wound by keeping the lines of communication with your ex open. You can always reconnect with the person down the track if you feel like it, although you will have moved on by then. The time will come when these first 24-hours will be a distance memory, but until then delete, delete, delete.

When You Left, The Pieces Of Myself Returned

 Roberto Nickson

Roberto Nickson

When you left, when you finally walked away from what was never going to work, I noticed something happen. Something strange. I started to feel like myself again. It began slowly, cautiously, but then like a torrent of water pouring down a dried-up waterfall; I could feel all the pieces of myself come flooding back. I didn’t even know they had gone missing.

I guess I was too busy twisting myself into whoever I needed to be to make you stay to notice.

I’d been single for almost three years when you emerged from the ocean and unexpectedly caught my eye. The attraction was instant. It was soulful. I hadn’t felt this way in a long time. You turned, not only my head but also my heart. But it was more than your bronzed body and curly black hair that captivated my attention. It was as if, just by looking at you, I could feel you. I smiled. You smiled back. It was on.

I suspect parts of myself began vacating the scene on that first night we hung out together. You were talking to a friend on the phone who you were supposed to be meeting up with later. You wanted to stay with me instead so you came up with some elaborate story which you delivered to your friend as to why you couldn’t make it. When I asked you why you felt the need to lie you mentioned it was easier than telling the truth. Lying is easier than telling the truth? ‘Besides,’ you added. ‘They’re just white lies. I’m not hurting anyone.’

I remember thinking if you can lie so easily to a close friend, you will lie to a girl you just met. I told myself that it didn’t matter, that I was bigger than someone else’s values and choices in life. Plus, I was having so much fun with you I didn’t want to let a little thing like honesty get in the way of what could potentially be a beautiful thing.

I didn’t hear or notice the silent footsteps of that piece of me, the one that values honesty and integrity, quietly slip out the back door.

As the weeks went by, more parts of myself left. The physical chemistry between us was so intoxicating, I desperately wanted to make it work. I began apologising for things that appeared to upset you and avoided talking about topics you weren’t comfortable with, which was mainly anything to do with emotions. I even promised that I would ‘tone myself down’ in my attempt to draw you back after you disappeared for a few days. Yes, I actually uttered those words. And in that promise, another part of myself made another hushed exit.

Of course, it was never going to work. Not as anything serious or long-term. Although I kept pretending, hoping. Finally, a bout of illness brought on by the relationship forced me into admitting what I didn’t want to admit.

This relationship wasn’t right because I wasn’t right. I wasn’t myself.

My emotions were bouncing all over the place like a yo-yo while my thoughts were on spin cycle. You told me that I was giving you mixed messages. You were right. I’d become so confused and unsure about everything. I lost my equilibrium. As a result, I was floundering.

It was unexpected. The insight came out of nowhere and hit me between the eyes. I couldn’t go on like this. I couldn’t stay in a relationship that clearly wasn’t right.

Not because you were wrong, but because you weren’t right for me. I still hadn’t recognised the gaping holes in my being where the parts of myself that had left.

All I knew was this relationship was taking me down a path that wasn’t my own. I needed to look after me instead of caretaking you. So when I was done, I made sure you were too.

At first, I sobbed, feeling a kind of gut-wrenching loss, although I’m not sure whether that was over you or me. After all, I’d lost myself too, and now there were no more distractions to disguise this fact. I drifted off to sleep, and when I woke a few hours later, I felt different. I felt relieved. ‘Thank god that’s over,’ was my first thought. Not because I didn’t enjoy our time together, I did. But because I was exhausted from trying to be someone other than simply who I am.

Slowly those missing parts of myself began to weave their way back into my being, nestling themselves against my chest and settling back into their rightful place.

I welcomed them back, one by one. ‘I didn’t even know you were gone,’ I said to Honesty. ‘I know,’ Honesty replied. ‘But I’m back now. I was always coming back; it was just a question of when.’ Yes, I’d also been lying. To myself.

I thought that after you were gone, I would miss you. And I do. A little. But not as much as I missed myself.

First published on Thought Catalog

To The Man In The Sarong

 Aricka Lewis

Aricka Lewis

Well, I bet you weren’t expecting that when you strolled up to me on the beach in your sarong and asked if my name was Penny. By the way, no one really believes you thought I was a friend of yours called Penny. But it makes for a good story. And a successful pick up line. You did well to come back and ask for my number. And I’ll be forever grateful that you did.

The last few months have been nothing short of a beautiful, crazy adventure. We’ve been through more in the last ten or so weeks than most couples go through in a year. Perhaps the intensity of our beginning hastened along our ending. Or perhaps it was only ever meant to be exactly what it was – a ‘staycation’, the holiday you take without actually going anywhere.

And yet we didn’t exactly stay still. Although I did think a ‘staycation’ meant you get to stay on vacation together for an extended period of time. Yet I understand why we’re not. I guess even staycations have their check out times.

You have your reasons, as do I, for why our staycation must and has come to an end. Although truth be told, I don’t want this to be the end. But then that’s the frustrating fact of life. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out the way you want. 

But back to those reasons of yours. I’ve been thinking about them and I’ve had a few thoughts of my own I wanted to share with you before you head off on your next adventure.

You say you’re lost; that you need time to figure your life out. I know it feels that way but trust me when I say, you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.

Life is made up of experiences, or dots. The dots might not make sense in this moment but each dot is an important part of a bigger picture. Just because the picture hasn’t come into frame or form yet, doesn’t mean it’s not taking shape.

You’re in a process of becoming, as we all are. Your life is an artwork in progress and art cannot be rushed. Keep following your heart, listen to your intuition and eventually the picture of your life will start to come into amazing, magnificent view. It will start to make sense. You’re not lost, you just can’t see the whole picture yet.

You will find that thing that’s uniquely yours in this life. You will find that thing that lifts your heart, stirs your soul, and excites your spirit.

You will find that thing that has you falling asleep at night with the anticipation of morning because you can’t wait to get back to doing what you know you were put on this earth to do. 

You will feel the rush of being on purpose and it will feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. Your life will be a magical manifestation of your wildest and grandest dreams. And you being you, you will squeeze every last drop of goodness and fun out of it. So, keep dreaming and dream big.

You say your heart isn’t ready for the love that’s on offer. I know. But one day it will be and you’ll be surprised by just how big and generous your heart is and how much love resides within it.

It resides there now by the way. I’ve felt it many times, despite what you say about your heart being closed.

And then one day, when you’re ready but least expect it, that heart will blow open and all that love will come pouring out and into the heart of another.

She will be one very lucky woman. Or man, but I sense that’s not your gig. And no, I’m not jealous. Not at all. Totally not jealous. Okay, maybe just a little.

You say you need to be alone right now; that you need space to figure yourself out. Now, I suspect our definitions of ‘alone’ might vary slightly but that’s okay. I hear you and I know what you mean.

What you’re telling me is that you’re not ready to make a commitment to another person while you’re still not sure of who you are or your place in the world. You need to be free to explore, to experiment, to find out who you are and what you want to do with your life. 

You can’t do that while carrying the responsibility of holding another person’s heart in your hands. I get it. Thank you for telling me all this now and not six months or a year down the track. Your honesty is testament to your character and the quality of the man that you are. 

It’s also evidence that my taste in men isn’t so bad after all. You could have taken the easy option and shirked away into the background but you didn’t.

You showed up, you spoke your truth, you did the right thing. The truth will set you free but it will also set the other person free too. Thank you for setting me free.

You asked me if I thought of you as a disappointment and joked about being a ‘dud.’ Let me just say this and listen hard: I’ve have never thought about you in anything close to these terms and nor would I. You are neither of these things so please don’t talk about yourself in this way ever again.

Sure, I’m disappointed. I’m sad things didn’t work out, but just because your heart isn’t ready to open and express itself fully doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it. It’s simply not ripe yet. 

Just because a tomato is still green doesn’t mean it’s not going to grow into the juiciest, richest, best tomato you’ve ever tasted. By the way, that’s not an intended dig on your ranga heritage. Okay, maybe just a little dig.

During the writing of this letter, I came across a video of a man, Jay Shetty, talking about relationships. He said: “Relationships are not about compromises, they’re actually about empowering the other person to achieve their goals, helping them grow to become the individuals they deserve to become, that they can become. And therefore, it’s not about selfish motives, it’s not about what we want, relationships are not about us.”

To hold on to you would be to make this about me and what I want.

To hold onto you would not be helping you to grow into the individual you deserve to become and will become. 

To hold onto you would not be helping you to achieve your goals or live your highest potential.

To hold onto you would be to hold you back from the exciting experiences and adventures that await you.

You’ve told me that you’re feeling lost, your heart isn’t ready, and you need to be alone. To hold onto you in spite of these words would be to deny you the time and space to figure all this out for yourself.

This doesn’t mean I’m letting you go. I don’t know how to do that. Plus, I’ve tried and such attempts haven’t proved fruitless. So instead, I’m letting you be. I’m letting ‘us’ be. Or rather, not be.

You’ve always wondered how I could come to love you so easily and so quickly when we’ve only known each other for such a short amount of time.

Perhaps I sensed we only had a limited amount of time together and I didn’t want to waste a moment of it. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. 

What I do know for certain though is when I first spotted you on the beach that morning, I wasn’t just admiring your delicious bronzed body wrapped in that sarong while fantasizing about what it would feel like to press our forearms together.

It was more than raw physical attraction. When my eyes found you, it was like finding the familiar after a very long time. But I didn’t just see your physicality, I saw your essence.

I felt it. I felt you.

This might explain the first twenty-four hours of our acquaintance. Or should I say re-acquaintance? After all, we both sensed this wasn’t the only lifetime in which our paths had crossed.

When we met at The Shop a few hours later that afternoon, we weren’t just getting to know each other over a few bottles of rosè, we were making up for lost time. And boy, did we make up for it. And then some.

There’s nothing I would change about our brief yet intense time together. Even the messiness in these last few weeks feels like it was somehow perfect and divinely orchestrated. 

Plus, most of us are generally better at beginnings than we are at endings.

Yet despite the ignored calls and snarky back-and-forth text exchanges of late, I say we’ve both faired fairly well. In fact, I would even go so far as to say we’re both better individuals as a result of each other.

For me, you’ve been a source of joy as well as the medicine I’ve needed to access a greater potential within myself. I’ve learnt more about myself in these last few months with you than in the last three years I’ve been single.

I guess this is why they say romantic relationships are more like spiritual assignments. They don’t always give you want you want but they always give you what you need.

With you I got both – what I wanted and needed. But ultimately you gave me what was necessary for me to grow into a better version of myself and the kind of person I want to be in the world. For that, I have only infinite gratitude.

There’s so much about you I’m going to miss in the days and months to come. That beautiful, perfect face of yours for starters. Not waking up to those lips, those eyes, that smile is gonna suck.

What am I saying? It does suck because you’ve already left.

I miss your kisses, your cuddles, your buttons, your texts during the day and the anytime laughs. And the sex. Fuck, I don’t even want to think about how much I miss that.

The truth is no one has kissed me more deeply, held me as tightly, or looked at me as closely and as lovingly as you have. Despite your doubts about your emotional capacity, you gave me an experience of connection that no one else has ever given me, nor will I ever forget. 

I’ve always said, right from the beginning, you were a gift. And you are. In which case, while it might not be a competition, I was right.

For now, I have no idea whether or not we’ll be each other’s lives moving forward. Part of me wants to believe that one day we might, just maybe, pick up our staycation from where we left off.

In a world of infinite possibilities, anything is possible and I’m not discounting any of those possibilities. But nor am I holding on to any either.

I have to move on too. What I do know for sure is that no matter what you do or where you go in life, you will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. And you will always be in a sarong. 

First published on Thought Catalog under the title 'I'm Disappointed Things Didn't Work Out, But I'm Glad We Dated' 

This Is How You Know He's Not Right For You

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never show up on your doorstep on a Friday night wanting to hang out with you only to tell you that he’s not ready to be in a relationship, that he wants to be alone and needs time and space to figure out his life. You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you he wants to be alone. 

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never kiss you so deeply and so passionately only to then use that same mouth to tell you that you really shouldn’t get your hopes up or become any more attached than you already are. You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you not to get attached. 

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never continually call and text you only to then tell you that you probably shouldn’t have any contact because he doesn’t want to lead you on or give you the wrong idea.

You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you he doesn’t want to give you the wrong idea.

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never make love to you all night only to turn and look at you in the morning to make sure you’re not reading too much into anything or thinking that he’s going to change his mind about you. You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you not to read too much into anything. 

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never act like you’re together while suggesting that you need to move on and date other guys. Nor would he spend more time on his phone than talking to you, making you wonder and question who it is he’s communicating with. You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you to move on and date other people. 

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never let you fall in love with him or allow you to keep on loving him even though he has no intention of returning that love. Nor would your guy keep coming back for more of your love even though he’s done nothing to deserve it. You know he’s not your guy when he’s not telling you he loves you.

You know he’s not your guy because your guy would never scoop you up in his arms and press your head gently against his chest only to tell you that his heart just isn’t ready to give itself to another and that he’s simply not able to give you what you deserve.

You know he’s not your guy when he’s telling you he can’t give you what you deserve.

No, you know he’s not your guy because your guy will show up on your doorstep on a Friday night telling you how much he’s missed you and how he just couldn’t wait to see you. Your guy will kiss you so deeply and passionately because he, not only wants to get your hopes up, he wants to keep them there. Your guy will text and call you, not for any reason other than to let you know he’s thinking about you. Your guy will make love to you all night and then he’ll come back to do the same the following night. And then the night after that.

Your guy will make it safe for you to fall in love with him and when you do he will guard your love with his life.

He will treasure it, cherish it, but most importantly, he will return it. And when he scoops you up in his arms and holds you tightly against his chest, he will keep you there. You will know then this is your guy.

And you will know for sure he’s your guy because when he does finally have you in his arms, he will know exactly what he is holding. He will feel the depth of your love and the preciousness of your heart. He will know the distance you have travelled and the lengths you have gone to in order to stay open to his love.

He will sense the heartbreak you’ve endured and the countless tears you have cried. And he will never want you to go through anything like that again.

Nor will he let you. You guy knows that to let you go would be to make the biggest mistake of his life. Your guy is far too smart for that.

You will know he’s your guy because he will tell you. He will look at you kindly and simply say, ‘I’m your guy.’

First published on Thought Catalog

When Love Has Exhausted You, There's Only One Thing To Do

My darling, I’m sorry. I’m sorry it didn’t work out even though you tried your hardest, and gave it everything you had to give. I know how much you wanted this relationship to work and how committed you were to making that happen. You did your best and yet I know you feel like, once again, your best just wasn’t good enough. You’re exhausted, and your heart is tired and weary. You’ve loved so hard and so deeply so many times. You’ve had enough. I understand.

You’ve often wondered how it could be possible that your heart is capable of loving as much as it does and as many times as it has when it feels like you’ve received so little love and care in return. 

You’ve tried to make changes, to make it better, to make you better. You’ve read the books, done the courses, talked to therapist after therapist, all because you are so committed to getting it right. To getting love right. 

You’ve reflected on your actions, dissected every argument, and taken responsibility, often not just for your part but for theirs as well. You’ve written more love letters and apology notes than you can count or remember. You’ve attempted to glean the lesson from every failed attempt and learn from these mistakes so that you don’t make them again. You’re always trying to be better. You continue to give your everything to love, and yet you find yourself still alone. How can this be? I hear you ask. What more do I have to do?

You look around at your friends, at strangers, at anyone flanked by a lover and wonder how they do it. What do they have that you don’t? What do they know that you’re not privy to? You catch the glistening diamonds on the ring fingers of other women and question why them and not you

You wonder what it must feel like to have someone love you so much they are willing to make a lifelong commitment. A loving relationship is the only thing you’ve ever truly wanted yet it’s the one thing that continues to elude you no matter how hard you try or how intensely you love. You just don’t understand. Love shouldn’t be like this. Love shouldn’t leave you hurting the way it has and always seems to.

You’ve cried yourself to sleep on so many nights, prayed to a God you’re not even sure you believe in and written so many diary entries you no longer know who or where to turn to. What you do know is that you simply can’t go on loving the way you have been. Your heart is depleted from extending itself to those who probably didn’t deserve it in the first place. You know something has to change, but you no longer have the energy to figure out what that is or how to do it. Put simply; you’re loved out. 

And yet you’ve only ever believed that the sole purpose of life is to love and be loved. It’s the reason you’re here. It’s what drives you to wake up each morning and step out into this crazy and mystical world that is so in need of more love. You long to experience being in a conscious relationship that serves and inspires others rather than causes more suffering, both to yourself or your partner. 

You live on the fuel of hope that maybe, just maybe, today might be the day when you finally wander into the path of your Beloved, the one you’ve spent your whole life looking for and the one who you know is looking for you. But that day never seems to come. Instead, you keep wandering into the path yet another representation of the love and nurturing you never properly received as a child. You simply can’t on like this. There’s nothing more you can do.

My darling, when love has exhausted you and worn you down to last tear, there is one thing you can do. It’s the only thing you can do right now: rest. 

Rest your head, rest your body but mostly rest your heart.

Close the curtains, turn off the lights, climb into bed, place your head on the softness of your pillow. Pull the covers up under your chin, close your eyes and let the darkness gently embrace you. Breathe. Cry if you want. Give yourself permission to feel it all. Know that you’re safe. 

Know also that you’re not going to be here forever and the world isn’t going to fall apart if you take a few hours or days away from it. You won’t break or collapse by curling up in a ball for a while. You just need to rest and to let your weary heart heal. Sleep for as long or as little as you need. Know that your heart is sleeping with you. 

Eventually, you will wake and so will your heart. You will rise, and your heart will rise with you. You will love again because that it what the heart does and that is what you were brought to this earth to do. And be. But for now, my darling, you’re tired and exhausted. You have nothing left to give anyone, so don’t. Take what you need instead. Take rest, my love. Take rest.

First published on Thought Catalog

When I Think Of You, I'll Remind Myself Of Why You're No Longer In My Life

First published on Thought Catalog 7 July 2017

 @goodbyshady

@goodbyshady

Every time I think of you, I’ll remind myself of why you’re no longer in my life. I’ll remind myself of why I chose to walk away. Or rather, why you left me with no other choice than to walk away.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who is proud to introduce me to their friends, who wants me on their arm at engagement parties and Sunday afternoon BBQ’s and work functions. Not with someone who comes home drunk, reeking of alcohol and a good time they’ve had without me before passing out on the couch.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who wants to hold my hand in public, who isn’t afraid to be affectionate outside of the bedroom and who wraps me in their arms when I’m shivering and cold. Not someone who keeps me at arm’s lengths, always maintaining a few inches of safe distance between us.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who texts me during the day just to let me know they’re thinking about me and can’t wait to see me later. Not someone who texts me just to vent their frustrations at work and ask what the plan is for dinner.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who lets me know I’m valued by showing up to a date on time, or even better, showing up early. Not someone who allows me to sit alone at a table in the middle of a crowded restaurant having prioritised someone else’s time.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who wants to introduce me to his family, who is excited to invite me into his home and who isn’t afraid to admit to those he loves that I’m an important part of his life. Not someone who keeps me a secret and who changes the subject any time a family member asks whether he’s seeing anyone.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who wants to make a life with me, who imagines me as part of their future and who can envision us living a happy life together. Not someone who wants to explore the world alone and go on adventures without me.

I’ll remind myself that I deserve to be with someone who tells me they love me, who is capable of loving me and who wants to love me. Not someone who admits to falling out of love as quickly as they fall in love and can only go as far as admitting they care about me.

By reminding myself of the bad times, I won’t have to think about all the good times. I won’t think about the way you would wrap your warm body around me, holding me tight and close throughout the night. I won’t think about the morning laughs, the hello kisses, the smile on your face when I open the door, your happiness for me when I signed my first publishing deal, your curiousity about my life, your empathy for my pain, your kind eyes and they way would gaze deeply into mine. I won’t think about any of this or any of the other memorable moments that are burned, not only into my mind but my heart as well. Because there are so many more.

No, I need to remind myself of why you are no longer in my life, as much as I wish you were. I need to remind myself of what I am worth and deserving of in a romantic partner. Yet, more importantly, I need to remind myself of what I truly and deeply want from a love relationship. And it wasn’t what we had. I want someone who wants me in the same way I want them. 

So now when I think of you, I'll remind myself again of why you're no longer in my life. Because remembering the good times can’t help me now.

Why I Never Reported My Sexual Assaults

As published in The Huffington Post, Wednesday 23rd November 2016. 

Like many women, I've been sexually assaulted. And, like the majority of those women, I never reported it. Yet after watching two documentaries on the sexual assault of young women recently -- Audrie & Daisy and The Hunting Ground -- I began to wonder. Why didn't I report my sexual assaults to authorities? After all, sexual assault is illegal as much as it is immoral.

On reflection, there are several reasons why I didn't speak up. Firstly, I didn't know I had been sexual assaulted, especially since my first experience happened when I was nine (but more on that shortly). Later in life I would associate the term with violent images of women being raped in dark alleys. So when a friend of my boyfriend pushed his fingers inside my vagina while we were on a dance floor when I was 25 years old, I didn't know how to respond. I simply shoved his hand away and kept dancing.

Another reason I never spoke up is that while I understood the concept, sexual assault wasn't something I was emotionally connected to. Sexual assault was serious and awful but it was something that happened to other women. So when, as a 24-year-old, I passed out from inebriation only to wake up to find the man I was on a date with having sex with me, I didn't know how to react other than with shock which promptly turned into denial.

I never spoke of these experiences with anyone until at least 10 years later when I met with a therapist. When I shared the memories with her, she explained that I had been sexually assaulted. I told her she was wrong, that these experiences were "no big deal". Most women have had similar experiences. Plus, in relation to the last incident, I had been drunk and put myself in a compromising position. She pointed out the facts that were independent of my careless behaviour: I did not want to have sex with this person. I did not consent to having sex with this person (unconsciousness is not consent). This person had sex with me anyway. This, she told me, according to the literal definition, is rape.

Hearing the therapist use this word jolted me out of the state of denial I'd been living in. She explained my symptoms which I was seeking help for as "textbook" for sexual assault victims. I had suffered bouts of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, isolation, inability to form healthy intimate relationships, had contemplated suicide on multiple occasions and even made one attempt. While I'm sure there were other contributing factors to these symptoms, I had certainly been ignoring the impact of what these men did.

Recognising that I had been sexually assaulted helped my recovery process, however I never considered reporting these men to authorities. To do so would require naming names. I knew what happened to women who stood up against 'powerful' men. My version of events would be denied, my character would be brought into question and my life would be made a living hell. I wasn't about to subject myself to even more abuse than what I had already experienced.

There was a time when I did speak up. I was 19 years old when I finally summoned the courage to report the man who sexually molested me 10 years earlier, when I was nine. He liked to rub and fondle my private parts while whispering sexually suggestive comments in my young ears.

The police took my statement and called a few weeks later to inform me that five other women had come forward. They, too, reported being abused by the same man. Despite this, the officer explained that "due to a lack of evidence" they would not be pursuing the matter any further. A lack of evidence? I was confused and angry. On reflection, I suppose I also lost faith. What was the point of speaking up if nothing was going to be done?

I applaud any person who comes forward and reports a sexual assault. It takes immense courage. Unfortunately, these people are in the minority. I know personally many women who have experienced sexual abuse or assault in some form. Most are my friends and they have never told anyone, other than one or two trusted people. Certainly none have reported their sexual assaults to authorities or formally named their abusers.

I believe their reasons are similar to mine. They don't class what happened to them as sexual assault. They don't see themselves as 'victims'. Or perhaps they do but can't see the point of speaking up when the result is likely to cause them to come under further abuse. Better to keep quiet, let sleeping dogs lie and hope that in time the memories subside and eventually they just forget.

Unfortunately, sexual assault is not something you ever forget. Sure, life goes on, time passes and wounds heal. But not always.

For many sexual assault victims life is a process of repair and recovery. For others, the pain is all too much to bear. In which case, it's not just the victims who suffer but their families as well. While some people do report their assault, many more do not, choosing instead to fight their battles from behind closed doors.

I wish things were different. I wish authorities were equipped for handling the sensitive nature of sexual assault cases. I wish the media treated sexual assault victims with more respect and care. I wish sexual assault cases were less sensationalised. I wish sexual assault victims were presumed innocent rather than being made to feel guilty. I wish the statistics proved that perpetrators of sexual assault crimes were brought to justice more often. I wish documentaries like Audrie & Daisy and The Hunting Ground didn't have to be made. Yes, I wish things were different.

If they were different perhaps I would have reported my assaults. In doing so I might have saved other women from a similar fate at the hands of the men who abused me. It's unlikely I was the only one. Unfortunately the price for reporting a sexual assault is still too high and until things are different, it's a price that most sexual assault victims, including myself, are simply not willing to pay.