2016 has officially come to an end and maybe it’s time for me to embrace everything that’s happened. Everything I wouldn’t accept. This year was both utterly beautiful and hopelessly ugly, but I guess this ultimately is what life is supposed to look like. It can’t always be rainbows and butterflies. I had to learn this the hardest way, and it terrifies me to say so but there were days I almost felt like giving up. I believed my heart wasn’t fitted for anything but love and kindness. When it broke, I was sure it was the end of it. I would never be the same person. I would never be that beaming girl dancing in the ocean again. I would no longer radiate happiness and if I can’t carry happiness within myself, then what’s the point ?
I’ve spent my whole life obsessing over happiness. I would find a way to make it happen, then I’d never let go. I would have done anything to grow into a happy human. I never had much faith in myself but I wholeheartedly believed in dreams and our ability to fulfill them. I wanted to travel the world, and so I did. I stepped out of my comfort zone and explored more countries than I can count. I embraced the joy of backpacking on my own and let every adventure I experienced, every soul I connected with shape me into a better person. I was happy.
I have learned the difference between being and pretending now. No amount of pretty pictures could make up for my heart shattering into a million pieces. No place felt remote enough for me to forget what had happened. Although traveling is my true love, I think at some point it became more of an escape. I rode my bike around Czech Republic’s countryside, wanting to escape adulthood. I ran away to the Scottish Highlands, wanting to deny the truth I never felt like I belonged back home. I got lost in Swedish ghost towns, wanting to bury the pain of losing my first love. Every time something could possibly harm me, I’d leave before I could feel too much. I refused to let any negative emotions tarnish the light in my heart. I had no idea back then how much damage it was actually doing to my heart.
Some people close to me say they feel like I’ve grown from this. I sound more mature, less naive. Am I ? Most days, I just feel so empty it’s hard for me to really see the good in getting your heart broken. I remember so vividly the day I went back to college after a 10-week internship and hysterically confided in my best friend about the boy I had met in the hospital. My friend was much older than I was and he knew things I didn’t but he thoroughly listened to my love tale and smiled. A few months later, I dramatically told him my boyfriend and I had had our first fight. He smiled again and gently said relationships were complicated and so would be my first heartbreak. I disapproved and vowed to never fight again. As for the part about breaking up, the mere idea of us falling apart used to petrify me until we made ourselves a promise to never give up on one another. And so my heart was safe, just like that.
Maybe I was slightly naive, after all. I genuinely believed in this promise we’d made. When things started feeling different, I refused to see it and instead held on to our promise. When he started working night shifts and suddenly got distant, I believed the only reason he was shutting me out was because he was hurting and so I would do my best to help him. The truth is there was nothing I could have done. The truth is he never loved himself enough to love me like I wanted him to. Seeing how ugly that truth was, I felt like it was my duty to cover it up and so I worked harder and traveled more. I wore better smiles. But sometimes, no matter how much you want to conceal the truth, you just can’t.
Now the truth is out in the open and there are days I wish it wasn’t because I don’t feel strong enough to face everyone’s judgment. I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing by publicly sharing what I felt deep down inside me. But then I hold on to the belief vulnerability is incredibly powerful and everyone’s story is worth telling. And so I fumble and hesitantly tell mine, thinking it might help someone feel less alone and make room for more empathy and kindness. Our ability to feel and connect as humans is beautiful and this is the kind of love I still believe in.
And so 2016 wasn’t just the year my heart broke. It was the year I hitchhiked around the isle of Skye and climbed mountains with the greatest stranger. It was the year I held my best friend in my arms and finally allowed myself to cry. It was the year I reconnected with my soul sister and her sweetest mother. It was the year I learned how to surf and mastered the art of covering up my body with thousands of bruises. It was the year I met with the coolest bartender in Portugal and felt a deep connection. It was the year my friend offered me to fly an airplane so I could feel alive again. It was the year I watched my family come together again. It was the year I nurtured friendships but also neglected some of my most precious ones.
It was the year I connected with a friend who inspired me to read more French poetry than I ever had before. It was the year I encouraged my photographer friends to travel to Ireland with me. It was the year I spontaneously dyed my hair. It was the year I went back to medical school and pursued a degree in psychiatry. It was the year I felt carefree enough to go swimming naked in the middle of winter. It was the year I started shooting weddings and finally felt confident at what I did. It was the year I drained my bank account and bought the camera of my dreams. It was the year I went backpacking in Italy, hiked in the pouring rain and connected with an Australian expert. It was the year I attended my very first music festival and got so hysterical I appeared on Belgium television.
All in all, I think it was a year of growth. It was a year of acceptance, forgiveness and resilience. My heart may still feel heavy but it’s very much alive and burning with more love than ever before. I know yours is too and no matter what 2017 holds, I hope you never give up on yourself. Here’s to a year of creativity and endless adventures. Here’s to gratitude and peace. Here’s to falling in love with ourselves.