a life of my own.

freedom, life, solotravel, spirit, travel, wholeness

The streets of Oaxaca City were quiet and I a stranger sleuthing through the quieted darkness in May of last year, the eve before my 31st birthday. I’d arrived at the Oaxaca City airport a half hour before exhausted yet wide awake.

I felt like I could breathe again after drowning for most of the year: a traumatic event affecting a family member, a romantic relationship I knew deep down was wrong for me yet couldn’t let go of because I cared too much; the severing of once close turned draining friendships, discontent with my home environment, a loneliness which began with a longing to be understood and seen.

I told the Universe out loud I wanted a reprieve from the depth of all I had been feeling and cognitively churning through. I wanted a chance to exhale and not have to focus on coping from all the bad, all the drain. I’d been dreaming since early January about Mexico with an eerie amount of specificity.

I’d dreamt I was walking the streets with a warmth in my heart I hadn’t felt for a long time. By early April I’d booked a one-way ticket to Oaxaca City with a vague idea of when I’d return. It seemed crazy then and maybe it still is now looking back but I was being guided. My request for a reprieve had been heard and honored.

And so here I was, sleuthing in the dark. Dragging my suitcase up the stairs in the Airbnb I’d booked. Dropping the suitcase in a spare corner with a groan and flexing my fingers. Sighing while collapsing on top of the bed fully clothed.

Then I was asleep. And then it was my birthday. I woke up with text messages and my first thought was to memorialize this moment. I took a photo of the room as the sun was rising with the curtains still closed.

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I went to lunch with a large group of women within walking distance from where I was staying. A vegetarian restaurant. The company and conversation drained me. The food was decent enough. Before we’d completed our meal, it started raining. The light drizzles met the top of our heads, our fingers, our arms, then our plates. Speed of the rain slowly intensified. Not a light, afternoon rainstorm. A torrential monsoon.

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I looked down at my floral dress and my sandals and said a prayer. I walked back to my Airbnb only to remember I’d left my window open. My suitcase in the corner was sitting in a puddle of rainwater.

 


 
I write, talk and think about freedom a lot because I’ve never really known what it means to be free. Certainly not as a child and lesser so as I’ve grown and matured into a woman well into my adulthood. A few weeks ago I was sitting in silence on the couch before I turned the TV on the watch a show on Netflix when I thought to myself that I felt suffocated and perhaps had always been under the burden of expectation. I’ve felt suffocated because of my parents.

Being the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant is something I’m immensely proud of my. My Nigerian heritage is so much a part of who I know myself to be and often intersects in what I write about as well. But even things like my beautiful name, the name I’ve struggled to accept and love, came with responsibility I never wanted.

My name is given to the oldest girl in a Nigerian Igbo family. In English, it means mother is supreme and is in homage to what the mother is and acts as in the family — the nurturer, the glue, the person who holds the unit together through love and care. In so many words and conversations, my father, who is also the oldest in his family, explained to me my role, my responsibilities, the things expected of me.

The pillar I was expected to always be. As a child, especially as a child who was born and growing up in (Black) America, I lacked the cultural context for why this was important and why I needed to step up. I vividly remember being told in an ominous way that since I was the oldest I was to be the example and that my younger sisters were watching me. It was up to me to be without blemish.

The mother is the resting space, a space to return even as you grow and age. The mother is synonymous with home and never forgetting from whence you came. My name is not just what I am called and known as. It is a responsibility. To be seen as the role I hold in my family and within the greater fabric of this world at large — to care, to help and encourage others to heal, to encourage others to return home, whatever or wherever that may be.

My presence, my existence, the fact that I am here, a living breathing entity means I am here to be home to others. I have never felt at home to myself.

I didn’t want the responsibility it meant to carry my name. I didn’t want the weight of expectation. I didn’t want to have to shoulder the burdens and cares of others. But as I learned as I grew older, as the conditioning was deepened, this was who I was called to be. Holding tradition, humility, sacrifice, obedience, duty and obligation close as dear, treasured friends.  

The past five years have been an unrelenting tussle between me trying to find a way to juggle all these things, what they mean as far as family, honoring and respecting them, and how to honor and respect myself. For the most part I didn’t find a way. I simply gave in. I collapsed underneath all the pressure. I played it safe because I lacked the bravery or conviction to do otherwise.

And sadly this is what I’ve done most of my life: the practical, logical and wise thing. I listened to my parents. I heeded their guidance of what was best for me. Their insistence of how I should lead my life meant at the age of 26 I had two degrees. I’d worked hard. Paid my dues. Done everything perfectly.

And I was miserable and empty.

There had to be more I told myself as a refrain muttered often. After graduating from Journalism school and before I started graduate school, I fluttered from paid internships to shitty part-time jobs. At one point I worked as a receptionist for a tax preparation service. I spent my time at the front desk bored and scrolling websites looking for writing jobs, emailing editors asking them to give me a chance. Nothing worked.

When I finally got my first full-time writing gig at a local newspaper in the metro Atlanta area, a full two years after I’d graduated from college, I let out a sigh of relief. I was sure this was it and I’d finally feel fulfilled. Six months into that job I found myself wondering if there was more. And when I finished my Masters degree two years later, that feeling only intensified.

There was more. I found the more in Spain. In the capital city of Madrid. I found freedom.

I found the space to figure it out. Start over. Piece together who I was thousands of miles away from home with zero distractions. Zero nudges of guidance from parents. Zero of the insistence of doing it their way, the way that had worked for them and wouldn’t work for me, distracting and confusing me. I owned my voice. I claimed my power. I began to have an inkling of what I was incarnated on this planet to do. And it was not, and had never been, dulling or ignoring my heart or my inner voice.

It involved listening to my own guidance, my own voice, my own desires. It involved…me. All of me. Only me.

 


 

This time feels different. This time setting out on a wandering journey away from home, the home I always knew, the only home to ever exist before it dawned on me home is a spirit inside of me, feels different because it is different.

I am different.

I am not doggedly packing up all I own into two suitcases and convincing people I’m brave to leave it all behind when I’m instead terrified and unconvinced in the person I am. This is not then. I’m also not running as fast as I can away from my life and expecting to meet a new version of it and me once I’m there.

I know, this time, my life never stops turning and I never stop living it no matter where in the world I may be. And I know this is the right decision for me and I remain unmoved of any negative feedback I may get. Although, surprisingly, there has been none this time around. And even if there was? I wouldn’t care. It would not move me.

My journey starts in Oaxaca City. I’m returning to the very city, as a starting point, which breathed life into a dormant version of myself full of this reminder I received in response to an email. An email I might add I wrote to the very man who had the courage to end the relationship I mentioned before that wasn’t right for me. Turned out it wasn’t right for him either. We both cared too much.

But he said this one-liner to me and it has stuck with me since. Hearing it from him, in a way, gave me a permission to take a leap:

I don’t think you should get too down on yourself about your life. It may not be perfect, but it’s yours. Finally.”

My life is my own. Finally. All the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, disasters and exhilarations. It’s mine. All mine.

Finally.

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writing as wholeness.

wholeness, Writing

I was born into brokenness, a generational pattern on both sides of my family of people not believing in being whole or even chasing after wholeness. No one in my family, on either side was familiar with what being and living as a whole person meant, what it looked like. My example, my life example, was brokenness. The type of brokenness which on surface appeared like I had it all together, that I was a mass of perfection and knew what I was doing and who I was. But beneath the surface I was a mass of insecurity, doubt, fear and negativity; I was the sum of all those things for myself and all the insecurity, doubt, fear and negativity of generations before me.

Brokenness became like a curse.

Reflecting upon my childhood, I can’t think of one period where I thought highly of myself. Low self-esteem and sense of self has been my default for as long as I can remember. As a child, when I wasn’t hiding away from the world reading or writing, I was crouching from the world because I didn’t feel good enough, worthy of being loved or that I mattered. And the messaging I received from nearly everyone I interacted with reinforced my core beliefs.

When I was nine years old, my father took a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, his hometown. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Standing at the airport gate. Giving hugs. Being reassured he’d be back before I knew it. Being told to help my mother and that my role as the oldest all of a sudden was super important. I remember the car ride back home after the airport.

And I remember not seeing my father again until four years later.

I remember the silence that followed all those years, not knowing what was going on. I remember the many questions I had which were always silenced or ignored or slyly given a non-answer. I remember the many letters I sent my father and how those letters made me realize how much I loved writing. I remember the routine phone calls early in the morning before school. I remember being nine years old and shouldering the not knowing, the stress, the fatigue, the exhaustion, the inner turmoil my mother felt those four years. I remember feeling unloved, forgotten and discarded. I remember not being treated like a person, my childhood being prematurely snatched away from me, and being angry I wasn’t given the consideration of knowing. I remember being too in touch with my mother and her narcissistic tendencies and having no choice but to remain close by, to be her narcissistic supply, because she needed me. I remember the heavy weight of abandonment.

This was my version of brokenness. And this is the brokenness I’ve carried with me closely on my person, all these years. I carry a brokenness which is riddled with deep regret and a longing to understand why, why I wasn’t told then and why, still to this day, I’ve been offered no explanation for my father’s absence. How do you forgive and move forward when you have no understanding whatsoever? It’s no wonder why I struggled to see and love myself all this time. And it’s no wonder not seeing or loving myself translated to attracting people who didn’t see or love me either.

I often feel like a failure in terms of love and relationships because I am a massive failure in that regard. Almost all the relationships I’ve been in have been abusive, not physically, but in every other way imaginable otherwise — manipulation, gaslighting, stonewalling, verbal insults, nasty put downs, cheating, dishonesty. I was trying to fill a giant sized hole in my heart my father created when he left when I was a child. And because the feeling of abandonment made me feel unloved, unwanted and unimportant I only loved men who made me feel those exact emotions.

But at a certain point, brokenness became trite. Four years ago, six months away from graduating with my Masters degree, it was if something clicked or shifted within me. My awakening began at that point. I became acutely aware I didn’t know myself on any level. I knew intimately at that time, for the first time in my life, that who I was and who I had became was just a shell of the person I was. Instead I’d grown and matured to be the sum of the projections and indoctrination I’d been fed. Realizing I didn’t know myself was scary.

My awakening coincided with my first international trip to Spain in September. The same trip where everyone in my life, including my mother and father, thought I was crazy as hell.  But I felt called to go on that trip. My spirit called out to me and I answered. I don’t know that I wouldn’t be where I am now — in a place where I truly love and cherish myself, see myself as being wondrous, valuable, enough and mattering — had I not taken that trip.

And writing about my experience in Spain alone (I wrote about it here if you want to read) became the space where I began to heal a childhood and life as I’d come to know it as filled with brokenness. I wrote my way through healing. I wrote all the things. The things I was too ashamed to say out loud. The things I knew would sound bad if I said them out loud. So I wrote them instead.

I wrote while crying. I wrote while seething in anger. I wrote while depressed. I wrote while anxious. I wrote while suicidal.

Writing breathed new life into my despair and translated my despair into a hope I had not ever experienced. I’d become accustomed to only living expecting the other shoe to drop and expected to be left and expected to not be good enough and expected to being shitted on. To actually see life as being filled with opportunity for unlimited things to go right and well was a huge leap.

Brokenness used to be a generational curse, on both sides of my family, but I decided four years ago, inadvertently, it would stop with me. And nearly a year ago when I started therapy to begin my healing journey with a companion, it was another nod to saying it stopped with me as well. I’ve learned what it means to care for myself. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be selfish, to say no, to enact boundaries, to cherish myself by frequently and consistently checking-in on myself — psychologically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I’ve also learned how integral writing has been and will continue to be as I heal from all I’ve endured and all the wounds I’ve gathered, all the emotional trauma I’ve normalized but must, in some way, begin to make peace with. I see how writing has contributed directly to knowing my intrinsic value and seeing myself as beautiful and a valid and a needed contribution to this world.

It’s no mistake I was created to create and write. Our gifts breathe life into both ourselves and others. As I continue to heal, I hope to inspire others to heal, too. To step out on faith when it’s scariest, to confront the shadows of your soul. And to write. Write your entire way through it. Write your way through inching towards being whole.

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