I’ve wanted to write to you for a long time, but it has taken me a while to understand what it is that I deeply crave to share with you. I suppose it first required that I trust in this feeling I have that there’s a thread that connects the two of us as we wander through our lives and explore what it means to be a woman.
I don’t believe our experiences are exactly the same, of course. In fact, we might even be more different than we are similar. That’s the beauty of the human experience: we are each unique brush strokes on the canvas of life. There are things you and I have or will experience that the other will never fully understand.
But what I do believe is that beneath our experiences, opinions, perspectives, and identities, there is an energy, a sort of innate knowing, that connects us in a profound way. I like to think of this knowing as an invisible and wordless understanding that what we both yearn for the most is to connect with the soul of ourselves and offer what we find without shame or fear hijacking the process.
Unlike many women before me, I have found myself in a position to explore who I am without having to first prioritize who I am to the world. I’m twenty-five years old, unwed, without children, and free of any serious commitments or responsibilities. For the first time in my life I’m able to ask myself what it is I want, and then pursue the answer without first considering someone else.
I currently live in a van and wander wherever I feel pulled. Just between the two of us, I don’t completely understand where my path will lead. Most days I’m just trying to navigate a maze of uncertainties. (I’ve been told that one’s entire twenties are spent in a maze. God help us.) But what I do have is the only thing I could ever ask for: the choice to listen to my own voice as it speaks in each moment.
I was twenty-one, nearing the last year of my college education, living alone in a studio apartment, and heartbroken by two back-to-back relationships when I first began to hear the distant song of my voice. I slept on an air mattress and bought my first Christmas tree in that apartment. It’s where I (sometimes) practiced meditation when I found myself overwhelmed by anxiety, as I often did. I shed many tears there. I found a lot of joy there, too. I studied at my small, vintage kitchen table for my Gender & Women’s Studies degree. I bought my first tent, used my apartment floor to learn how to put it together, and then took it into the woods to camp by myself for the first time.
The breakups happened shortly after I moved in. I left one man to find myself immediately in the arms of another, which ended when he left just a few months later. One man told me I needed counseling and another called me crazy (that unforgiving word women love to hear).
Both relationships mirrored others I had in my young adult life. They’d all been emotional roller coasters, and I was always the one who locked us into the ride. I didn’t understand my emotions, and so they came out like vomit on the people closest to me. Once I’d realize the spectacle, I’d quickly try to cover it up before feeling overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment for my own behavior, which then sucked me back into the same cycle of emotional turbulence.
I felt disjointed and distant from myself. I was, to be fair. I had no solid foundation in my life. I searched for meaning and worth in relationships and ideas outside myself, which were all things that consistently shifted. Just as I’d begin to feel a foundation forming under my feet, it would break and I’d be floating once again. That’s just the way it is, dear–you can’t build your backbone in the bodies of other people, places, or things.
Oh, my friend, it was painful. Being alone was heartbreaking, but it wasn’t necessarily the separation from my exes that brought the most pain. It was the emerging realization of the separation from myself. I felt useless when I wasn’t wanted or needed by another person. I had vacated my soul and found it barren when I was forced to return.
And here’s the thing: I was never taught that I had my own garden, so of course I didn’t care for it. Around me were many women doing the same: vomiting emotions then drowning in shame, seeking themselves in someone else, and creating an external image to present to the world when they hadn’t even considered their internal landscape.
Lying alone on my air mattress, I realized my only option was to tend my own garden and find my way, slowly, back to myself. It was in that small space I began the long journey of building a home within. I first bought Women Who Run With The Wolves and learned about my own wild nature and the process of returning to it, which we all begin “before we are ready, before we are strong enough, before we know enough; we begin a dialogue with thoughts and feelings that both tickle and thunder within us. We respond before we know how to speak the language, before we know all the answers, and before we know exactly to whom we are speaking.”
My dialogue began through dancing, writing, and traveling. In that small studio apartment, I danced through the pain and returned to my body, I used the pages of my journal to write to myself, and I bought plane tickets to explore the world outside of mine. I camped by myself. I took myself out to dinner and wrote poems in my journal while I waited for the food to arrive. I spent time in nature and found answers written in Her laws. I traveled to India, Guatemala, Thailand, and Peru where I hiked fifty miles through the Andes Mountains.
Let me be clear: the journey hasn’t been all daisies and roses. Some days I reap the harvest of my work, and other days I’m dirty and exhausted from tilling the soil. Sometimes I ditch the garden all together. The road home comes with detours and potholes, but it’s still the road that leads to the only place there is to go. I'll be honest, I’m still near the beginning of the journey. I mean, come on, I live in a van and have little certainty about anything. I’m not fooling anyone by acting like I have any of the answers.
But now, I have infrastructure in place.
Over the last several years I’ve built a foundation that I can crawl onto–and maybe, with trembling knees, even stand on. It doesn’t mean that pieces of the foundation won’t one day crumble, or that I won’t have to deconstruct parts of it and rebuild them after experiencing more of what life has to teach. What it does mean is that I now know how to build it for myself.
The greatest lesson I have learned in my short lifetime is that the only way I can serve other people is to first serve myself, to stay where I don’t want to be is a disservice to those around me, and that the greatest activism of a woman’s life is to keep herself rooted in the center of it.
Regardless of our differences, there is a thread that connects the two of us together in a powerful way. It’s a sort of unobserved layer that runs beneath the surface of our exterior lives–something deeper and more intimate. Overtime I have come to realize that the thread we share includes the part of our journeys where we learn to be rooted in ourselves, tend our own gardens, and create a foundation from which we can connect with the most vulnerable, authentic aspects of who we are.
Wherever you are in life, sweet friend–whether you’re single, childless, a mother, a wife, old, young, free, confined, content, or stressed–my primary hope for you is that you may create space in your life to plant seeds and grow roots into yourself. In can be in broad daylight, at night, early in the morning, out loud, silent, exciting, scary, easy, or challenging.
You don’t have to drop everything. You don’t have to travel or hike long distances or spend hours on your living room rumbling with the questions. You could, but you don’t have to. You don’t even have to move a single inch from where you are now. You just have to slowly look toward yourself and allow space to explore who you are, which is deeper than who you are to the world around you.
I love you. I will write to you again soon.