The Day I Found My Freedom

I’ll never forget the feeling I had that March afternoon in San Francisco.

I was just dropped off at SFO, heading to my gate for my return flight to Michigan.  Tears in my eyes, I got out my phone to call my parents.

“I don’t want to go back,” I declared. “I’m going to call off the wedding.”

It was 2008, and I had been engaged for exactly seven months.  Although the engagement was quick, and I thought I was happy at the time, it didn’t take long for me to see the reality before my very eyes.

The day in, the day out.  The daily traffic into my corporate job.  Coming home to the same routine, every day, to the same person- at 23 years old.

I knew it wasn’t the life for me.  Two years earlier I had plans to move to New York City as soon as I graduated.  I didn’t expect to meet someone later that year, on my 22nd birthday on December 22nd, who would swoop me off to Kauai for Valentine’s Day and move me into their beautiful suburban house once I finished college.  I’ve always been a big believer in signs, so I thought, “maybe I’m not supposed to go to New York after all.”  There had to be a bigger reason for meeting this person on such a significant day to me.

Back in 2006, my partying was getting out of control despite my grand plans for finishing school and heading to the city.  At the time, it seemed like he was an angel saving me from myself.

I would later learn no one could save me but me.

When I told my father, he thought I was insane.  Of course, any father wants their daughter be taken care of and to have a good life.  A good life to me looked a bit different than my parents’ view, though.

The day before my flight, my half sister (who worked in SF at the time) and I talked about my relationship and my goals for life.  Before I even realized it, she knew the marriage wouldn’t work.  She challenged my views and helped me realize I should take some time to reconsider.  She helped me think differently about what I really wanted- because for over a year, someone else was trying to make all my decisions for me.

Little Italy, 2008

As the plane took off, I thought about how I would wait a couple of weeks before telling my fiancé that I didn’t want to get married.  I thought about what types of jobs I could apply to in San Francisco, where I would live, and who I could become.  I day dreamed of freedom, making new friends, and exploring the magical, quirky sights of the city.  My gut told me moving was the right thing to do- and from the moment my fiancé greeted me at the gate, I knew it was over.

I didn’t wait two weeks.

I told him right away.

Of course, he tried to convince me it was a phase and how my sister was envious of me. He attempted to tell me I didn’t know what I was doing and how I was meant to be with him. All of his efforts to control me- from my diet to physical activities to what I wore- filled my brain, and I no longer felt sorry for him.

I began to have a deeper compassion for myself.

For the next week I stayed on a friend’s couch, who took a day off work with me to pack up my things.  I left my princess cut diamond on the dresser, leaving behind all the furniture I helped buy with my graduation money.  No physical object was worth sacrificing my dreams- or my future.

Who knows what would have happened had I not taken that trip to see my sister in 2008. Perhaps the wedding would have happened, and maybe I would be divorced now.  We will never know.  However, despite the judgment I received from others, I knew deep in my heart that I was making the right choice.  I knew, at 23, that I didn’t want to take the easy way out and allow the wrong man to take care of me.  I simply refused to do that.

I would have to spread my wings and fly.

I would have to make mistakes on my own.

I would somehow, someway, succeed- and despite the failures, I would learn from them- because I finally had my freedom.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I do know I will never have to mourn the chances I didn’t take.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I took the leap, quit my job, and blindly moved to an apartment on California and Commonwealth Avenue.  Over the course of those 12 years, I’ve lived in a dozen more apartments, several other cities, and did eventually move to New York…

All because I chose freedom.

Some of the Best Things About Turning 35

On December 22nd I turn 35.

Unlike most people, I enjoy getting older.  Just look at Jane Fonda!  While some women obsess over looking 21 again, spending thousands of dollars on Botox and anti-aging products, I wouldn’t trade anything to be in my 20s.  Sure, it’s important to moisturize, but why does society glamorize being young?

I’d rather have a few wrinkles than that 20-something soul of mine.

No, I wouldn’t trade years of experience, wisdom, and lessons to go back in time.  That girl was so lost and confused.  She had yet to discover her worth, her values, or how important it was to be herself.  She didn’t realize it was okay to just stay in on the weekend, or that being in a relationship wouldn’t complete her.  She didn’t know it was okay to simply be her.

~

As years go by, I feel I better embody the person I was always meant to be: an old soul.

No longer infatuated with nights out, chaos, and what other people are doing with their lives, 35 is a nice age to settle into who you are- and what your life will be.

Since moving back to Michigan, my external life is finally reflecting how I have felt for so long on the inside.  It’s peaceful, quiet, and full of love.  It’s authentic, and it’s meaningful. Although society wraps up the “American Dream” in a mortgage with two kids and a pet dog, mine looks a whole lot like this:

At 35, you realize the joys of simplicity.

One of the best things about turning 35 is people stop consistently saying things like, “don’t worry, you’ll meet him someday,” or “you’ll change your mind and decide you want kids!”  Yes, these statements are completely stereotypical and old fashioned, but until I hit my early 30s, I still listened.

I thought, maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll be happier if I had a boyfriend.  Society says so, right?  Wrong.

These are simply toxic messages that are illusions into thinking a milestone or another person will make you complete.

First, you have to feel complete on your own.

Another great thing about turning 35 is being confident about the choices I have made.  After 12 years of post-grad experiences, living in many big cities, and having endless dating stories, I’m certain about what I want- and what I don’t.

At 35, I live by myself with my cat, have an extra bedroom, spend my time writing, and take public transportation, Uber, or walk instead of driving.  By New York City standards, this would be considered luxury.  By Michigan standards, I am probably considered unfortunate.  Nevertheless, this is me living my best life- and it’s the life I chose.  

At 23 I may have had the house, the fiance, and the two car garage in the suburbs, but I knew that life wasn’t for me.  Each night I felt empty inside, drinking wine until I fell asleep to “According to Jim.”  Today I no longer have to explain to anyone why I left and moved to San Francisco, why I bounced from New York to Boston, or what made me decide to get sober.  It was my journey to live.  Although I’m happy to write about these experiences, it’s not up for discussion or debate with anyone else- and today, I finally know that.

At 35, I know my life is meant for me to live- and no one else.

Nothing Will Go Away Until It Teaches Us What We Need To Know

Running away from my problems used to be my favorite coping mechanism.

I can still fall prey to this old bad habit; I’ll hope people who bother me will disappear, or I will leave situations when I’m uncomfortable.  However, every time I do this the same people pop back up, and the same situations manifest in a different way… over and over again.

It’s a fact.

I could write about endless examples, but there’s one I have in mind which was so bitterly uncomfortable that I’m still surprised I got through it.  When I had a difficult roommate, I obviously thought the solution was to move.  To run away.  Despite receiving the silent treatment for weeks, I didn’t leave- and get this:

I was kind.

I still said “excuse me” when we would pass each other in the hallway, and I still tried to be considerate despite her obvious distaste for me.  Although I really had no idea what I had done wrong, I didn’t cower or run away- but I did later learn she had been secretly drinking.

It wasn’t even me that was the problem.

Old Kristin would have run away to avoid the feelings of rejection, discomfort, and anger- but New Kristin dealt with the situation, stuck to her guns, and now has a much better living situation because she stuck with it.

Completing things you started can be difficult- especially for someone like me who hates to be uncomfortable.  If you were to ask me in an interview today if I am a “team player,” I would probably stop lying and tell them I work best independently.  The truth is, I’m not a team player- I’m one of those kids who got frustrated in school and did the entire project themselves.  As a control freak and type-A person, I kept trying to do everything myself, over and over again, and do it MY way.

But those bad roommates will keep coming along, and so will team assignments.  It’s up to you to choose how to handle them today.

Maybe I do work best independently, and I look forward to the day I don’t have roommates anymore.  Nevertheless, as long as I remain teachable and willing to put down my ego and learn to live life differently than I used to, I’ll be just fine.