Dear Universe

Love is a funny thing.

I had been waiting for the universe to tell me something: to look, to pay attention. I had expected a lightening bolt, but this has been more of a slow burn. A beautiful soft glow that with time, patience and nurturing has grown into something so bright that it’s impossible not to see, so long as you’re facing the right way.

In this case, I was at my very own birthday drinks. Half-cut on vanilla vodka and cheesy-eggplant chips, I looked across the table at him… he’d just fit in so well with my family, my friends… Maybe? Could I revisit it, even though it was 9 months later? I looked into those spectacular blue eyes and something twinged. I’d love to say that my thoughts were eloquent and romantic, but really, it was a “oh holy shit” moment.

Two evenings and two catch-ups later, we were in my kitchen, drunk and merry when he went to put his arm around me. I must have looked at him a certain way… he questioned it and my floodgates opened. Call it liquid confidence, call it clarity, but for the first time in such a bloody long time I was totally raw, honest and vulnerable.

When they say that love is risky, it’s true; at least, for those of us who’ve been through a great deal of relationship pain… I had built up the walls around me so solidly, it took months of chipping away for a gap to open and a crack of light to shine through. As you stand there with your hammer, there’s a moment that you need to commit. You need to commit to breaking down that wall, no matter what exists on the other side; no matter how naked and vulnerable you feel, no matter which way the bricks fall, no matter how afraid you are.

I can’t tell you what my future holds, but when I stare into those brilliant blue eyes, I see both the incredible energy and beautiful calm of our world’s infinite sea.

 

 

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Training Wheels

I went to a concert last week. I made my way through the crowds of drunk teens and beanpole-sized men, searching for that perfect viewing spot. We settled above a set of stairs, in between a heavy-PDA couple and a set of alco-pop drinkers.

As I scan the crowd, I spot the back of a familiar bald head. Of course, I knew he was going to be there. He knew I was going to be there too… I’d guessed that the lack of contact pre-gig meant that he was there with a woman, and there she was, a mere couple of metres away.

I think it’s always a shock when you see an ex with someone else, especially when it looks like they’re falling in love. If I’m honest, the last week I’ve gone through stages of anger, sadness and envy.

I left Miguel because I wasn’t loved enough. I left because I deserved better. I lost my home, my routine and the person I was convinced was the love of my life. Why does he get to fall in love before I do?

I’m that girl who teaches men, who best prepares them for their next long-term love. I can’t tell you how many boyfriends and flings I’ve had, whose next relationship was ‘the one’.

I hope my lessons have been valuable; I hope that they love their women when they’re at their highest, their lowest and their most frustrating. I hope they show their love in both their behavior and their words. I hope I taught them that the smallest moments are the most important. I hope they communicate through the significant and the insignificant. I hope they fight for love.

I’m sure that somewhere, there’s a man who is tired of being the training wheels. He’s ready for the real, hard love. Love is the single-most beautiful thing in this world and I can’t wait to explore it more with him.

She’s just not that into you

I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited about a date. No wait, I lie. I can… the guy spent a good 48 hours texting me, sending me photos and setting up our date, then he came up with an excuse for postponing our date, then proceeded to ghost me. Before that, it’s probably been about 6 months.

I have built the walls around me so solidly that it’s difficult for me to venture out, or for anyone to shine a light in.

I’ve been on dates, sure… but my gut is ALWAYS there, telling me “no, he’s too intense”, “he’s a playboy”, “he’s not been single for long enough”, “he’s got some issues”, “he’s too quiet”, “that was hard work”, “he’s always talking about himself, does he actually want to know anything about me?”, “those cigarettes are gross”, “DRUGS! HELL NO!”… I find myself sending rejection after rejection, knowing that really, the only excuse is that I’m just not that into them.

When we don’t like someone enough, we come up with reasons as to why it won’t work, to justify ending the relationship. Nothing is wrong with that, for the most part, I think that I’m looking for someone who mirrors me: Someone warm, social and active, who has about 50% of his shit together, and is happy to work through the rest with me. Maybe he’s divorced? That’s cool. Hopefully he’ll have found a meaningful career with a hobby or two that he’s passionate about. Maybe he’ll be keen to explore a new hobby with me, or share one of his and help me learn.

I imagine he’s had his share of guilt and heartbreak, with some long-term relationship experience in there for good measure. He’s probably put his hard-core partying days behind him, still loves a social drink and a nice dinner, but has put a vast chunk of his money in some kind of investment. He cares about his family and friendship network, and that’s evident in the way he speaks about them. He’s happy to talk about marriage and babies, because you know what? We’re in our mid-30’s. He might lead a busy lifestyle, but he still has time to fit me in, and doesn’t hesitate to introduce me to his networks early on in the piece.

But I’ve come across this guy, and he went in full-ball and scared the crap out of me. Not because I wasn’t ready for it, I am. Oh I very much am… but he’s just not the right one.

That gut feel is not something you can ignore for long. It will sit there and manifest itself into anxiety, insecurity or a simple brick wall. It may take a week, a month or years… but eventually, something will have to give. Your partner will pick up on it, or you’ll grow tired of feeling that way…and that’s when things fall apart.

For right now, I don’t really want a live-in partner, a fiancé or a husband. I’ve deleted all the dating apps on my phone, deactivated my Facebook profile (at least, for a week) and I have no upcoming dates or catch-ups planned, other than with my family and friends. I’m happy being single right now, so I might just leave it at that for a little while… but having someone to share music and go for brunches with would be nice.

Must Have Banter

I always read dating app biographies. Whether I remember them by the time I get to the date is another story… but, I like to see that someone is serious enough about their search that they think about the best way to describe themselves to the hundreds that will potentially take the time to read those 300 characters.

Singledom in this day and age has shifted. We no longer go to bars or clubs with the sole purpose of conversing with a potential lover, no. We go to bars/clubs/pubs with friends, we are social but we stick to our cliques. There is no cross-pollination… there is no fear of face-to-face rejection because we’re not even trying to begin with.

Dating apps are safe. You’ll never go up to a love interest who is potentially married or in a relationship – because by default, if they’re on the dating apps, then they’re single. So we dress up, we go out, we drink espresso martinis and we dance. We get tired, we go home and then we open up our phones and swipe away for a lover.

Then depending on the app you’ve registered with… you may need to come up with a flattering or witty opening line which needs to get conversation going… then you need to keep that conversation going, into something that could officially be called “good banter”.

The word ‘banter’ is something of a buzz word in dating apps, followed closely by ‘sapiosexual’, and the four-letters that make up your Myers-Briggs personality profile. For the record, mine is ESFJ… and no, I don’t reference it on my profile.

There are profiles where the person is either lazy or trying to be mysterious, so there’s only one or two photos and no biography. Next you have those that love emoji’s so much that they’ve described themselves with beach-burger-gym-book-beer emojis.

Further along you get the guy who puts a list of his interests down, has a few photos which look reasonably up-to-date, and up next is the bloke who’s done a proper biography with full sentences; grammar nazis eat your heart out.

Lastly, you have the poor cynical male, who’s obviously been on the app for a little too long, and barks out orders like “will delete if you don’t chat”, “no timewasters or pen pals”.

If the conversation is going anywhere, there will be a mention of a first date. Too soon? People are busy. Too far in advance? Your date is likely to flake and forget completely that he or she has made somewhat concrete plans to meet you at a bar on Lygon Street at 8pm on Wednesday.

You can always tell the social beings, they find a way to get your number and arrange a phone call before your first date. This is an excellent way of working out whether the two of you have good energy and can sustain a meaningful conversation. For the record, the best dates I’ve been on have broken the ice prior with a phone call or two.

Some will get your number prior, but not call. Once you’ve sorted the day, time and location of your date… they disappear. I think this is usually because they don’t want to cover first date material before the date and then run out of things to say… but they could just be talking to others. Who knows, right?

When you get to your date, you need to break the ice quickly. A big smile and a hello with a quick following question will generally do the trick. I find that on a date, I do a lot of the talking. I am friendly, warm and charming. I am genuinely interested in the other person’s life and what they’re passionate about. I love to hear them talk about their relationships with their families and friends… I find that a man who can hold his own will be able to ask me questions too and a conversation will flow. At times I’ve left a date completely depleted because I carried the entire conversation, and other times (albeit rarely) I’ve felt energised and excited.

Inevitably, there’s the progression to the second date. Sometimes this is something discussed on the first date, sometimes it’s left for the less-confronting platform of a text message. If I left the first date depleted or put off for one reason or another, I’ll say no. I think of the 30+ dates I’ve been on in the last 21 months, only about 6 or 7 have made it to the second date, and I’ve pursued a relationship of sorts with only two… nothing has really made it past the 4 month mark.

It’s exhausting, putting in the time in the evenings to swipe-converse-date, and to some it will feel like insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome. But you do it, and you go on that date, because when you spark with someone for what feels like the first time in ages, that excited feeling that you get when you walk away and get into your car… well that’s unbeatable, and in that instant, all the failed attempts are worth it. Someone said to me this week “you can’t argue with chemistry” and you certainly cannot. That spark of energy that we call chemistry, that’s the base on which you build love, and how can you not get excited and feel hopeful about that?

Ahh love. Back to the swiping I go.

Thunder Clap

The last 6 months my heart has copped a beating. I started free-falling in love with someone, only to be yanked back into reality like one of those old-school flashing yo-yos.

I’ve had a former flame return to me, and I’ve had to come to terms with the changes in myself over the last 20 months. I’ve hurt many feelings, I’ve come to recognize the abuse that manifests when you try and force something that isn’t there.

I’ve internalised a lot of it, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself whilst out there searching for that lightening bolt.

I’ve met some interesting people: loud types, quiet types, insecure types, confused types.

I carry my pain on one shoulder and my guilt from hurting on the other.

I am strong and I am resolute. I will not waver; I will come to work with a bunch of stories for everyone to live vicariously through. Mostly though, I will feel the lows as intensely as the highs… because hell, that’s life.

Love is the Answer

Someone asked me the other night, “when is the book coming out?”, I laughed and said that all I’ve been writing about is my first world problems and pains… who wants to read that?

But that’s not true, I wrote a speech about love. Much of speeches is in the delivery, and I did so with conviction, passion, a thumping heart and quaking legs.

To my dear brother Alex and new sister-in-law Lucy on their wedding day:

Good evening all, my name is Alicia. I also go by Alissia, Alisha, Ali… or in today’s case, Cupid. You see, I’m the mastermind that brought these two lovebirds together. Although I’m sure you’d love to hear all about my heart blog, my reaching out to Lucy via her heart blog and our plans to catch up when she went travelling to Australia… Tonight is not about me (sadly).

Tonight is about love. The strongest form of love, the love that you share with your partner.

What is love?

Back in high school, an English teacher posed this question to a class load of us, and I responded simply with “a deep, unconditional connection between two people”. The teacher smiled and went on to describe love in a way I’ve never forgotten:

Love is what’s left when you strip away the lust, the mutual interests, the aligned morals, the trust. Love is what’s left when you strip away the frustration, the boredom and the pain. Love is what’s left when you take away the fancy dinners, the expensive wines and all of life’s ‘things’. Love, is what’s left. Now this might sound hollow, awful even, but that’s not the case. It’s beautiful, oh my, is it beautiful.

It’s only in my adult years that I’ve been able to understand what he meant.

When you take away all of those things, you’re left with a rawness. An energy. It can’t be seen but good gosh can it be felt. It exists in itself, generating when two people meet, it strengthens through lust, aligned morals, mutual interests and all those things I mentioned before. It prickles your skin, it calms you, it makes you hopeful, and it makes you feel at home. Alex, Natalie and I are lucky to have grown up surrounded by it, and I feel it every time I step over the threshold into Alex and Lucy’s home.

I want to thank you, Alex and Lucy, for sharing with me and all of the people here, the energy that you’ve created. It’s beautiful and warm and envelopes all that come into your presence.

I wish only that your energy strengthens as time passes, that it lifts you, warms you, and makes you feel as though you’re whole. I hope it not only supports you individually, but that it binds you closer together. I hope your energy radiates so deeply that you no longer rely on that electric blanket from catchoftheday, and I hope that one day, little ones walk around radiating the very sunshine that you’ve created so effortlessly.

Congratulations, Alex and Lucy. I love you both so, so much.

Bags Packed

It’s been a while since I’ve travelled, but when I do, I tend to cram stuff into my suitcase, sitting on it so I can zip it closed. When I arrive at my destination, I open that case and rummage endlessly through my mostly-black wardrobe, trying to find that perfect black slinky top.

When you move from one relationship to the next, you pack your bag of learnings and pain, then rummage through it when you reach your newest relationship destination, unknowingly pulling out your old hang-ups, expectations and disappointments without having learnt enough about what your new partner is willing to deal with.

I met someone recently. After our second date I was hooked, the stars had aligned and I was SO ready for someone important to enter my life. We wined, dined, worked out together, declared ourselves exclusive, and then official, deleted the dating apps on our phones and had started meeting each other’s friends and family.

Less than two months in, my new boyfriend stops communicating with me. Given my experiences with lack of honesty and unwillingness to communicate through issues, I became confused and inconceivably angry. He had stopped communicating with me because of my friendship with my ex-boyfriend… you see, his prior experiences with ever-present exes and cheating made him hold back.

Both of us, in our emotionally-loaded states would not budge on those issues, both too scared to submit to something even remotely similar to our previous pains. Both of us, frustrated with the others stubbornness, sent perfectly worded, passive aggressive text messages back and forth until we could no longer progress with the relationship.

Like a plane nose-diving mid-flight, so too did our fledging relationship.

What have I learnt?

Having baggage from previous relationships is unavoidable, but perhaps as you unpack, do it slowly, explaining the reasons for bringing that item with you. Over time, hopefully, I’ll pack less… you never really need all the crap you jam into that bag anyway.

Peeking Sun

There is a beauty in the depths of a dark fog, but that beauty is especially evident when the first rays of sunshine peek through.

I came out of a dark fog recently. It was only beautiful when someone gave me a compass and helped me turn around so I that could see the rising sun.

I had asked Miguel a question about love and commitment, in a hope that after 15 months, he had grown and learnt from our experience together. The answer threw me backwards into the depths of self-pity and negative self-talk. "Alicia, you idiot, how could you have not seen? You are to blame for the wasting of time".

Over the last two years, I've put a lot of work into my self-care, those strategies, along with distractions had held strong during mine and Miguel's initial breakup last year… but this time around, my strategies were not working, and I didn't have a house move, legal paperwork or a rebound man to distract me… so I plummeted into the depths of the blues. It started to effect my work and how I took on board new information. I'm generally not an overly emotional person, but I was crying myself to sleep most nights. When someone asked me why I had been so sad lately, I knew I needed help.

I booked in to see a psychologist. I also stopped dating, and I distanced myself from Miguel.

I only needed one session, and although I'm booked in for more, one new strategy, a separate set of ideas, and I now have the tools to challenge myself. When and if my cognitive reaction is "Alicia, you're an idiot!", I now respond with: "what's the evidence for and against?". I now know that no, I wasn't an idiot. I was patient, I was generous, and I was also deeply in love. There are things I'd do differently now, but I did what I could at the time, with the information and tools I had.

I've turned a full 180 degrees, and I'm thankful that my low only lasted a few weeks. I have come to the point where I'm finally ready to love again, to jump two feet in and give someone my all. That doesn't mean it'll happen soon, but I'm open minded and excited about getting to know someone, and I'm proud of what I have to offer.

I never thought I'd need a helping hand, and even prided myself on the fact that I'd never sought external help… but I'm so glad I did, because I feel incredible, mentally as well as physically.

If you're ever needing support, explore your options. Most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program. It's free, confidential and totally worthwhile.

Happy heads equal happy hearts xxxx

Hollow Mess

Last week I came home from a much-needed holiday to Thailand. I sunned myself, explored Koh Samui and took part in the wedding of some very close friends. I had taken my new boyfriend with me and whilst I enjoyed the time I spent getting to know him, the experience revealed that perhaps there were some things I wasn’t going to be able to live with long term.

A few days after I returned home, Miguel dropped past with Lazlo. He told me how he and Lazlo had spent the last two weeks, asked about my trip and let me know that he too had been seeing someone for the last few months.

I always imagined how I’d react when the man I thought was the love of my life told me he was seeing someone else… and rage, hurt and self-pity were high on that list… but that wasn’t the case. I felt hollow, and not because I’d lost him – because my current relationship wasn’t right and seeing how happy he was made me realise how unhappy I was.

A few days later after a pep talk with my resident Psychologist (and boss) at work , I had a very frank conversation with my new boyfriend.

There are a number of adjectives and words I’d use to describe my feelings and emotions this last week or so: guilt, pain, confusion, physical illness, disappointment, helplessness, self-pity… but I didn’t feel doubt and what’s getting me through this hump are the feelings of hope, of contentment and of relief.

A good friend of mine sent me a text last night asking if I was okay, that I hadn’t developed a case of ‘Tinder Thumb’ from constantly swiping left… I’m more likely to develop a case of ‘Wine Elbow’ I think…!

Recovery & Exercise

As I round the corner and look up ahead, I am astounded by the beauty before me. The tops of the trees are vividly green with sunshine peeking through, the garden beds are alive with colourful florals, there are dragonflies everywhere… and then there’s the patch of uphill gravel that I’m about to tackle. As soon as I reach the bottom of the incline, even though I’ve been running fine for 4 kilometres already, my head starts with the “oh I think you’ll need a break, you’re feeling tired, you don’t want to push that heart too much… do you?” So about halfway up I stop. I check my heart rate, I pat my dog and then I keep going.

The mental challenges I face are not much different to those faced by any typical runner. Your mind is both your greatest enemy and your closest ally. When you add self-doubt to a heart condition, the ability to make excuses for not pushing yourself during exercise is overwhelming and takes a great deal of training – both physical and mental, to overcome.

Before my surgery I was training with kettlebells for approximately two years. I loved seeing the changes in my body and that alone provided me with the motivation to keep going. When I was told my valve was failing and I had my surgery booked in, I was asked to stop weight training. So to keep myself occupied I ran… I even completed a colour run 3 days before my surgery.

After surgery I had to start all over again, I couldn’t run 4 kilometres anymore, I couldn’t swim and I could barely lift 2 kilograms. All I wanted to do in my initial recovery was exercise and get back to the physical form I’d had only 2 months previous, but I couldn’t… it was deflating. When life kicked back into gear I was so tired, I couldn’t get motivated.

When I did begin exercising again, I was timid. I allowed myself more breaks than usual, cleared any activity with an Exercise Physiologist or Cardiologist to make sure they thought I was able, and even then I progressed slowly.

But slow progress is still progress. I downloaded a running app and eased into a 5 kilometre run over an 8-week period. I started group personal training sessions, and made sure that if I ever felt weak or dizzy, I stopped. Before I knew it, 12 months went by and I shed 10 kilos, I would regularly complete 6 x 30 minute workouts per week, my muscle definition increased and changed the shape of my body, I lowered my resting heart rate and began seeking out new ways to push my body to the next level.

Growing up, exercise was something that was just part of my life; post-surgery, exercise is much more, it’s given me a new level of confidence in my heart (and therefore my body) that I never knew existed within me. When I push myself harder, my body responds with results. It’s powerful, and as I continue to be able to run further and faster, lift heavier, punch harder, breathe pose and stretch deeper, my mind too becomes stronger. That voice of self-doubt is still there, but she’s drowned out by my trained, powerful voice of self-love.

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. Eat for nourishment and enjoyment, exercise with variety and regularity and I promise you’ll be the happiest, healthiest version of yourself.

Written for the National Heart Foundation Supporting Young Hearts e-Newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter or gain access to resources, please visit this website:

https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/programs/support-and-information-for-young-hearts