I’ll be 40 tomorrow. Like most people (I suppose), I used to think 40 was really quite old and I definitely thought that by the time I was 40 I would have ‘arrived’; I’d have everything I wanted from life, I’d be happy. For me, that always meant, I’d be in the home I’d live in to beyond retirement, the home my children would grow up in; it meant, I’d have or have had a successful career, either continuing it, or having chosen to be a home-maker; it meant, I’d be able to afford the things I wanted, not necessarily a life of luxury, but not one where I needed to watch the pennies either. I never gave any thought to what my dreams & desires might be beyond the age of 40, because life would just continue. I didn’t imagine a future where there might be challenges, only one where my expectations for my life would have become my reality.
Ten years ago when I turned 30, I was on that track. I was married. Whilst we’d always had a rather tempestuous relationship, ten years ago we were doing quite well (by the standards of our marriage). I was enjoying my career; and I was still a ‘bright young thing’. With my husband, we had the mortgage, the house, the car. Around that time we were starting to think about starting our family. There was disposable income spare to go on holidays, to do the home improvements we wanted. I was living the life I’d imagined. And, if I gave it any thought, when I was 40, when I was old, nothing much would’ve changed.
Tomorrow, I’ll be 40. I don’t have any of those things. I am divorced. I’m not single, but I do live alone. I don’t have a mortgage, and despite being lucky enough to have a job that pays me enough that I can save each month, I’m struggling to save enough to get a deposit together and get back on the housing market. You might notice I used the word ‘job’, not ‘career’. The career has stalled; for me, doing what I’m doing, it isn’t going anywhere except sideways and I’m no longer enjoying it. There’s no inspiration or passion, even though by most people’s standards what I do should be exciting (marketing strategy for a global digital brand should be exciting). I don’t have any children, and I spent a lot of money last year trying to have children; for the time being, I have decided not to try anymore – despite, evidently, not getting any younger. And, a lot of the time, my mind is not even my own; PTSD & its side-effects, often dictate my mood, my reality. That reality is often one of terrifying fear.
I am incredibly glad to be ending my 30s. It’s been a dark & painful decade. I know that as I get older, physical health, my own, or my loved ones, may well also take its toll, but, whilst scary, it’s a natural occurrence, and so not terrifying; it’s part of the tapestry of life. The things that went wrong in my 30s, divorce, rape, unemployment, they are the not the things we imagine in our futures, whilst we do know that our loved ones, or ourselves may become ill. So, just as New Year’s Day marks the turning of the page, even though it is just another day, my 40th birthday marks the end of one chapter and the possibility of another, yet to be written, but full of hope that things might get better, that the worst might now be behind me.
For a long time I didn’t know how to dream. My dream had been the white picket fence, and I’d torn that down with the divorce. My dream career had been being a film producer, but I tried it out and I didn’t like the industry (coming from a commercial background, working with creatives who didn’t was frustrating; Cannes shone a spotlight on the superficiality of many connections; and turning my passion into my work meant that I stopped seeing the magic in movies). Without a dream, I returned to what I knew and then struggled with the need to spend my days working for money but with no passion for what I was doing. My light had gone out.
And rape seemed to snuff out any hope that I could reignite that light. My entire world-view was altered, perhaps it always will be in some ways. I’d always been a positive person, glass half full. I became fearful of everything, and everyone. I became intensely aware of the suffering in the world, the many, many, many people who suffer without justice. And without justice, there can be no peace. I no longer trusted that things would end well; it was evident that often, or usually, things just didn’t. Bad things happen to good people, the world isn’t a fair place, and karma is an insulting myth.
But my 30s weren’t all bad. In fact, my 30s have had some absolutely awesome moments, and I have done some absolutely awesome things. And, as I turn the page on my 30s, I am hopeful again for a brighter future, for the dreams I now have to be realised, to be happy.
I thought that this list would be really hard to write, how could there be even 10 things that were wondrous & amazing that had happened to me in such a bleak decade? But, actually, there are many, many, many more than 30. These are the highlights, and just a taste of what, actually, has been a decade full of awesome experiences & revelations. In no particular order:
1. A colleague became one of my bestest friends, even holding my hand so I could do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done
2. Another lovely big-hearted colleague became another of my bestest friends when she opened her home to me when I had nowhere else to go – twice
3. I had the courage to leave my marriage & everything I’d thought my life should be, but wasn’t
4. I had the privilege of buying a totally wrecked house & turning it into the home I’d always dreamed I wanted, but didn’t
5. I kissed a girl, many girls, & I liked it
6. I discovered that the dreams of my youth didn’t need to be my dreams forever, and that’s OK
7. I stood up in front of hundreds of people in Trafalgar Square, and gave a speech; people cheered – and it’s on YouTube
8. I found out that there were places & people who could make my darkest fantasies come true; that there is nothing ‘deviant’ or ‘shameful’ in the recesses of my mind, but instead a sense of liberation in embracing who I am, experiencing so many intense sensations amid the rush of adrenaline, and the sweet, floating calm of endorphins
9. I visited Vancouver (twice), & fell in love with the city; I saw Niagara Falls in the snow, where previously, I’d only seen it in the summer; I went to Thailand, to Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Yosemite where the snow fell amongst the Red Woods
10. I reconnected with two lovely friends from one of my most memorable teenage holidays, who made my visit to San Francisco also so wonderful, & met some awesome family of one of those friends
11. I got daily support, love, & understanding from my awesome friends, but also a range of people who I might never meet in real life; in turn I also I brought comfort, support & understanding to many people, some of which I may never meet, but I know I changed their lives for the better, if only for a brief moment
12. I walked barefoot on broken glass; I walked into an arrow until it split, the metal point at the base of my neck; I walked on the burning embers of hot coals – 3 times
13. I was kitten
14. I got my first tattoo – and 3 more
15. I found out that jealousy & insecurity need have no place in a loving polyamorous relationship – and that my parents would accept & welcome my partner into our lives
16. I saw Axl Rose sing live, twice. And, so many wonderful concert/festival/gig moments, too many to recount: JBJ, the Killers, Kylie, Gaga, Jessie J, Tori…
17. I had the nerve to chase my dream of a film career, found out it wasn’t my dream, & will never be on death-bed wishing I’d been a film producer – but you can find me on IMDB
18. I created a safe place for women to explore their sexuality, running Tipping the Velvet with another lovely friend
19. I was mock-strangled whilst hung in pink handcuffs from the gates outside the Houses of Parliament – and came up with the ‘Consenting Adults’ bit of CAAN
20. I did a colonic fast for a week and decided I wanted to live
21. I went to a house party and a lovely man became one of the most significant people in my life
22. I got divorced without recrimination, remaining on friendly terms with the man who I had loved more than love itself
23. I held Victoria in my arms and knew that there was purity & good everywhere in this world
24. I dyed my hair blonde, if only for a short time
25. I flew in a helicopter, over Vegas, landing in the Grand Canyon
26. I decided I could be a single mother, & attempted to do it without the need for a man
27. I learnt that openness & honesty might sometimes backfire but it is the best way to live; my feelings, my wants, my desires, are valid and life works better to express them
28. I learnt that I am brave, I am courageous, I am resilient, I am loved, I am beautiful, I have an intelligence that is valued, I am valued, I have friends, I have family, I am a survivor, I am desirable & desired, I am sexy & sexual, I am kind, caring, loyal, I am lucky
29. I learnt how to dream again, but more than that, I learnt that the future can be full of love, full of light, full of adventure & new experiences, that it’s mine to shape; I learnt how to live, how to hope & how to embrace the possibilities in this world
30. I finally believed the affirmation, I love & accept myself, exactly as I am, right now
Thank you for reading. Thank you for being part of my life, both real & virtual. If I can have so many awesome experiences in my 30s, I know my 40s are going to rock! J