“Look, you can’t just march in here and turn my life into Eat, Pray, Love without my consent.”

These are the words I barked at my girlfriend after she took a copy of my key, dragged me out of a pair of sweats and a pile of Yellow Tail wrappers. My latest break up with a Tea Cake type love had ended how it always did- with me in shambles and the incessant sound of the Me’shell Ndegeocello “You Made A Fool of Me” track on repeat.

This was just my process. It was perfected throughout college with my various Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring and summer break spats of love. I was going to be fine. I’d bounce back in no time. As far as I was concerned, this intervention was unnecessarily dramatic and possibly breaking and entering.

Sitting me down at my desk she put an 80-sheet Mead notebook in front of me and told me to write. To write to myself every time I wanted to call him and to write down the words I wanted to hear him say to me. The words were supposed to allow me to see that I had the very thing I had been seeking from my relationships: completion.

My first time writing in that spiral notebook felt odd. I didn’t know what to put down because I didn’t know where to start. The source of my writers block was a question that I hadn’t thought of before: what did I want to hear someone say to me? What did I need to hear the most?

The truth was not answering that question was the reason for my pattern. I entered love as fast as I saw it– and I could see it even when it wasn’t there. I imagined how the guy in front of me could grow, the ways he could mature, the habits he could change. I imagined a finished product of a person while looking at a first draft. Most times my willingness to see the good in others is an endearing quality. But with men, I chose to give my heart to, it was delusion that translated to disappointment.

When I finally put my pen down, I wrote down the words I had been longing to hear from men who no longer had a place in my life: “You can push me every time and every time I will still choose you.”

It was the most honest thing I think I have ever put in ink. I showed myself what I wanted- to feel like the person I was giving my time, my energies would choose to do the same even when I pushed it away. Writing those words, I admitted to myself I was hopelessly in love with the idea that I could find someone who loved me unconditionally. In that moment, I also realized how sadly unaware I was that I could have given myself that love all along.

My good old spiral notebook has gotten worn in since then. The wire came undone, the red cover fell off. Many of the pages are torn from the letters I crumpled in my pocket and used as portable mantras. I think of them as middle school notes to myself. Written over the course of a year, they show who I am at my most vulnerable and at my strongest.

I needed to deconstruct every last part of the love I wanted so I could rediscover what I had given away. On those wide-ruled lines, I let go of the men who I had given my heart to without ensuring they knew how to hold it. I needed to clear those men out of my life not because I would be hurt and not because they were not who I needed but because I was turning into a woman who could disregard both those truths and continue loving them to exhaustion.

I used to think there was nothing worse than being alone until I realized that I heard the boldest me in the silence I had been afraid of. Now, when that quiet comes, I fight the urge to run into someone else’s arms. I revel in the stillness from it. I’ve had to relearn self talk so that when I choose to utter the words I love you, I truly mean them with the same intensity I have said it to myself.

To my girl who showed up at an ungodly hour of the morning, rudely drew my blinds, and forced me out of bed– I will always love you for pushing and choosing me. On page one I was still trying to hold a love together and finding myself coming undone. A year later, I am closing the chapter of being the girl known for getting over and being the girl who works to break through. I haven’t done a year long trip to Italy, India then Bali but the pages of that spiral notebook show a journey through places I never thought I’d step foot. Instead of treading lightly through my thoughts, I am learning to stand flatfooted on my own, feeling every surface of myself.

I remember what it felt like to see my love in pieces. Now seeing it on paper, I understand that is how it needed to be.

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