What is it that gives us our identity? I want to answer that it’s our experiences, our adventures, the times we fought to survive and the times we laughed until our tummies hurt. It’s the books we read, the hugs we gave, the long walks along the coast, wrapped in three scarves and a woolly hat pulled down over our ears. I like the idea that all of our experiences shape us, mould unique, non-replicable beings. I want the five-year-old me listening to my dad reading me Yertle the Turtle every night to be part of my identity. I want that moment when I was 23 and called manager for the first time, to be part of my identity. I want the day that my 35-year-old legs carried me, to the sound of cheering, over the finish line on the hot Saturday morning, to be part of my identity. Yet sometimes it feels like there has been a glitch in the Matrix.

Image courtesy of Dan Romero

Those experiences were my identity. I wore them like a magic cloak of strength that told the world that I’m not one thing. I am a spring morning, I am a battered poetry book, I am fresh watermelon on a hot day; I am a million experiences, unique and magical. Something happened though, and it’s not something good. Without me realising images had started to appear, square boxes, perfectly filtered and utterly adored. My childhood friend, who no longer speaks to me but had the exquisite beach wedding, owns the beautiful cottage with vases of fresh flowers and of course, has her beautiful baby boy. There’s that girl I knew in college her boxes full of travels, India, Australia, South America, brave, bold, unstoppable. Then there’s the one who got married that same day I did, only her marriage survived, and how lovely that her four children were there to celebrate the 10th anniversary too.

My cloak lets the light in now. Square shaped holes have punched their way through, leaving tattered strips of cloak and a part of my heart exposed and vulnerable, waiting for the next scratch. As I noticed and tried to heal the damage, I hear that voice. I recognise the voice because it’s been there a long while, but I didn’t realise the damage it had done. It’s powerful. I guess it’s loud too. It wasn’t my voice, but it was a voice I had once loved, a voice I trusted and would have walked on fire to please. Although the person has gone, the voice had stayed. That voice had seen something different in my cloak, seen the holes before they even appeared and that voice was not pleased. Each jagged word spoken nicked another hole, but as the crushing words repeated in my mind, the holes turned into tears.

My cloak is torn and broken now and flaps about in the wind, flaps with every pressure and every moment when I wonder “Can I?” Its protective powers are failing, and each torn shred of cloak has things pinned to it, things that I am carrying with me and making part of my identity. I look and see the glasses I accidentally dropped and smashed, embarrassing words I spoke and instantly regretted and the moments I got drunk and made a fool of myself. I see that time I let my best friend down, every ounce of fat on my body, every idiotic move and every fall, every fail. My cloak is heavy, weighing me down like it’s inescapable.

Three lists and healing the holes

My pen starts moving before I know what it’s doing. I read the words ‘My Experiences’ in bold print at the top of the paper. ‘Ok,’ I think ‘What are we doing here?’ I watch as my hand moves again and a list starts to form; abseiling, canoeing, horse riding, competed in a judo competition, been in a speed boat. This list continued but the angle gently altered; Got married, got divorced, bought a house, experienced debt, been called ‘socially awkward’, stood in front of 100 or more people and given a speech. As I tore off the first page and started the second, a good feeling began to wash over me. Something had shifted; crashed a car, danced until 6.30 am, accidentally flashed a group of friends, called the police. Three and a half pages full of experiences, good, bad, exciting, powerful, terrifying, sad, traumatic, fabulous, fun, familiar, sat on my desk in front of me.


My pen didn’t stop there.


The next heading ‘I love.‘ As I wrote I found that tears fell; I love kissing, I love walking barefoot in the sand, I love poached eggs and avocado on toast, I love mountain tops, hot tea and old books. I love music that makes me move and lazy Sunday mornings. I love sunrises, picking peas from my garden, moments when my mum says “I love you” and cafés full of soul. My list of loves kept growing; the smell of cut grass, making tasty soup, woollen jumpers, laugher, and beach fires. Four sheets of paper filled.

I started what I knew was my final list ‘Things I am going to attract into my life’. Without hesitation, the purple ink wrote; love, friendships, slow dances, cold sea swims and hot beach fires, growth, connection, beauty, gardening, new sights, mountains, backpacks with flasks of tea and Kendal mint cake. New books, old books, touch, eye contact, loyalty, belief, abundance, watching my family as laughter ripples through them.

Three hours after I started writing, I was still sat in the same chair, in the same room, holding the same pen. Everything was the same but also something was very different. Something significant had shifted.

I stood and stretched and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and to my surprise I saw me; not me knocked around by those boxes, not me sliced up by voices, just me. The words I had written had clothed me. They had realigned my identity with who I really was. They had started to heal the holes.

This was me clothed in my identity, my truths, the most real version of me and I liked it. This was where the healing started but also where the lessons began. This identity, my identity, it needed love and care, nicks needed attention before they turned into tears. This was at the very core of my existence, yet the very thing that guided my journey. This was self love. This was me.

Image courtesy of Alexander Mcferon

Cover image courtesy of Connor Olson