I stole the title of this post from a song by Matchbox Twenty (possibly one of my favourite bands ever – see video above). The first time I heard this song was during my undergraduate finals. It felt seminal – we had come a long way; we’d grown up, gained independence, cut our hair off (ok, maybe just me), lost the baby hamster-cheeks and weathered a few storms. I associated it with that three year journey.
It came on shuffle two days ago and once more it resonated, but this time in a broader sense. Chapters of our lives open and close, often unknowingly to us at the time. The achievements rack up, the trials are overcome, people fade in and out of our lives, and we grow as individuals.
The other day I was walking along berating myself for not being “normal” (the fact that I’m not even sure whether “normal” exists is another matter). Why couldn’t I seamlessly glide through life like other people? Why did it seem that I was such a problem-child? Why did it feel that I was always clawing my way through, clinging on to things, jumping from things? Listening to Matchbox Twenty made me realise that however many issues I think I have now, jesus they’re few and far between compared to where I was at the age of 18. I have come a long way, and largely through self determination. It takes guts for someone to admit that they need help sometimes – to truly look themselves in the mirror and assess what needs work (and I don’t mean fillers), to be self-aware enough to fine-tune behaviours, tendencies, thought patterns. I want to be the best possible version of myself, and that means that once I’ve resolved one issue, I pick up the next item that doesn’t sit well with me. I examine it and determine what needs to be done, roping in the specialists when required. Yes, this means that to an outside perspective it appears like it’s one thing after another, but we all have this stuff – I’m just not in denial.
But how far we’ve come doesn’t just relate to inner work, it also relates to a physical place in time. I thought about this concept as I completed the legal paperwork regarding my house move. The chapter of my first home will soon be at an end, as I hand it over to its next owner, and I move into my next home. Listing all the works that have been done in the last five years brought back memories of what it looked like when I moved in – the challenges and tribulations of property ownership and bearing the cost entirely alone. The back-breaking work of stripping wood-chip wallpaper, the marathon of flat-pack furniture construction. It also took me back to who I was at 23; who was in my life, where I worked, my life goals, the life that was still to come. Who knew on the day that I moved in, I’d have the life that I subsequently lived for the next five years? It’s largely been a happy place for me – it was a space of safety and independence. But it’s time to go – I’m ready.
As part of this moving house project, I’ve surveyed my contents and estimated the box requirement. In doing so, it made me acknowledge the voluminous additions to my bookshelves over these past five years. Yet this is not about the accrual of material items, I’m referring to intellectual growth. Before I moved in, I hadn’t even read The Female Eunuch, I hadn’t discovered the concept of the New Woman and I didn’t understand that ‘queer’ had been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community and that this was who I was. These books led me on my path towards the MA, which in turn involved more books (and so it goes on). The willingness to read means that personal growth is never ending – one look at your bookshelf will show you how far you’ve come. My books were companions on my travels, and remind me of those journeys. Some books were gifts from lovers with inscriptions which I will eternally treasure – both the books and the discussions we had about them. My books are a reflection of how far I’ve come; they reflect my life back to me.
As I take the ring-binders from the shelves to examine the content and determine whether they’re to join me in the new home, I recognise all the papers from my MA modules – now redundant. As I accept my deforestation whilst creating a recycling pile, I realise the sheer volume of content I got through during my studies. But more than this, it made me realise that upon moving in here in 2014, I had no idea that I would do a Masters, let alone finish it. Our life goals show how far we’ve come. It’s no longer about just doing my job and heading home. Life is bigger than that. The pile of papers on the floor pacify me that I’ve pursued meaning and purpose. I didn’t settle with ‘normal’ or the grind of a worker ant. I’m taking control and directing my life along the path that I desire. When travelling in Berlin last month I had an epiphany that I had perpetuated the story that I didn’t choose my job, that it sort of happened to me. I clung on to that story. But not only did it remove my own historical agency, it prevented me from seeing how far I’ve come. I was not a by-stander in my own life. This is all down to me – I have the power.
How far we’ve come can also be determined through our relationship with others. Just over a year ago I ended a “relationship” which drowned me in love but came with buckets of disappointment and hurt. Last week I accidentally bumped into my love. I was grateful for the profound impact they had on my life, the time we shared. I recalled how they opened my heart to love in a way that I’d never experienced – I’d come far since we met in 2015. I had been vulnerable, I had taken a chance, I had loved and I had lost. But I have survived. Sometimes in those times of pain, getting up and having a shower seemed like a herculean effort, but it’s an achievement. That’s how far we’ve both come. Because I know that he felt it and survived it too. But meeting one another again reminded me that we do isolate people in that period of time when we saw them last. Others have life goals too, they have achievements in your absence, life-defining moments that you’ll never know about. How far we’ve come isn’t just about what you have in your life, but what you don’t have too. We all make choices to exit people’s lives, whether these are friendships which no longer serve us, relationships which hurt too much, or family members that create more destruction than warmth. These decisions show how far we’ve come.
And this goes beyond people. In the words of Annie Lennox (legend):
This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I’ll never tread
These are the dreams I’ll dream instead…
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
How far we’ve come can also be judged on what we chose not to do, what we selected against, what we’ve decided to live without. A prime example for me is alcohol. The discourse of ‘lack’ doesn’t mean that I haven’t travelled far – it means that I travelled lighter. If your life seems emptier than it was before, this is also progress. Freeing yourself of drama, toxicity, substances, hangovers, mental gymnastics – all of this represents how far we’ve come. How far I’ve come is 416 days in sobriety. I’ve stopped counting on a day to day basis, now that IS far. And it’s a journey that I’ve shared with other people – a rarity for someone who travels solo the majority of the time.
And so, next time it seems that you’re wading through the sticky toffee that is today’s conundrum, just remember how far you’ve come since yesterday, since last month, since this time last year, since five years ago. And listen to Matchbox Twenty.
Quote: Annie Lennox, ‘Why’.