PERSONAL: 2016

2016 has been eventful. In case you’ve been living under a rock, suffice it to say that a number of small things happened that might A) break up the UK, B) dismember the USA, and/or C) blow up the world in a fiery ball of nuclear fury. And on top of all that, we lost a number of really quite famous and inspiring people. On the whole, 2016 has been a bit of a “garbage bag of bum dust”.

  But because I’m one small human who is pretty egotistical and mostly unable to comprehend such meta-events, I’m wondering what 2016 has meant pour moi. Facebook offered me its own interpretation. My “year in review” video implied that I’ve done a fair amount of dancing, and that I might have visited India at one point. Still, seems a little shallow to leave it up to social media to define my year. So what have I learned this year, and what can I take with me into the next?

  Let’s start at the beginning. My 2016 began in Leicester Square Wetherspoons. I was wearing the same shirt that I’m wearing right now, and was as drunk as I was last night. So in a sense not much has changed. But emotionally, I think, I’ve come a long way. With the advent of 2016 came one very important realisation: that I was a serial dater.

  There’s a long preamble to this epiphany. To keep it short, my long term relationship was going pear-shaped. I was unhappy and I couldn’t put my finger on why. It took me a long time to realise that the reason I felt increasingly uncomfortable around my partner, the reason we kept breaking up and getting back together again, was that I was emotionally exhausted. Pretty much since I turned fourteen, I’d been in a relationship of some form or another, swinging from one thing to the next in an effort to avoid spending any sort of time alone. That was partly due to the fact that, according to this here personality quiz, I’m about 80% extroverted, meaning I feel naturally more comfortable around others than by myself. But it was also due to my complete lack of self-respect. Like most people, I’d had a hard time defining myself apart from what others thought of me. Being someone’s “girlfriend” gave me constant reassurance that I was valuable to someone. Yet the reality is that this method of building self-esteem doesn’t work, and actually becomes counterproductive. I didn’t like myself. Worse, I was starting to not like my partner. I felt suffocated.

  So I made the decision to end our relationship. It sucked. I hurt someone I considered my best friend. Yet in a weird, backward, twisted way, this was a kind of progress. Like I expect a lot of people feel in relationships, I felt like I could never express myself. I felt like I always had to avoid hurting my partner, sacrificing my own needs to do so. Now I could no longer sacrifice my own needs. In listening to myself, I had to hurt someone else. And as much as I regretted that, it was the right thing to do for us both.

  Taking the plunge into singledom gave me space to work out my priorities. I began asking myself a very simple but mind-blowing question: what do I want? It was delicious, self-indulgent independence. I decided that what I wanted was to become a better dancer. Dancing was a huge part of my childhood. I remember spending entire days choreographing with my friends, performing for any politely interested adult who wandered across our path. I even roped my friends into forming a Spice Girls-esque band, in which they would dance in the background whilst I pranced about singing my heart out. If six year old me had a theme song, it would be this.

  Things changed when the anorexia came along. Excessive exercise is a really common symptom of this condition, and my experience was no different. Dance was no longer fun. It was a duty. Those classes were my obligation, a way of burning calories, of perfecting a body I hated. When I started recovery I stopped dancing. It had become a poisonous addiction, and starting afresh required a detox.

  LSE Dance Club helped me heal my relationship with dance. Once again, I was prancing about the place, indulging that part of me that kind of ~loves~ to show off. Our 2016 show, Surge, provided the opportunity I’d been craving. I threw myself into it. Feeling at first like I had two left feet (a side effect of three years of retirement), I found myself slowly letting go of my insecurities. By the time show day rolled around, I barely even felt the eyes of the one thousand people in the audience. I was in my element. To perform like that again was a thrill like no other. Six year old me was temporarily revived.

  After the show, I was hooked on dance in a new way. What started as a shy self-confession (“I think I might like to be better at dance”) had blossomed into an identity and a passion (“Did you know I’m a dancer? Let me tell you all about it…”). The emotionally exhausted Abi of 2015 was becoming vibrant, energetic, enthusiastic about life. 2016 brought me happiness, friendship, and a healthier relationship with exercise and my body. Oh, and a shiny trophy for a certain train-wrecking performance that a group of lovely jazzy divas may have absolutely smashed. This year in Dance Club, I’ve felt incredibly blessed.

  2016 also blessed me with gastroenteritis. Slightly less satisfying than a trophy, perhaps, but the context made it less of an affront. I’ve spoken a lot about India, but no matter how many times I say it (and believe me I work it into almost every conversation), I still can’t believe it. To spend two and a half weeks in Kerala was a dream come true and an absolute honour.

  India taught me a lot about where I, the Abi of 2016, am at. I learned that I am capable of doing so much more than I ever thought. True, I freaked out a lot – I mean I was eating fried sugar, that is literally anorexia’s idea of hell! But in sticking it out and continuing to challenge myself, I realised that I have come a long way, and I have a lot more room to grow.

  This room for growth has been on my mind this month. I was filling out a job application earlier this week and found myself lost for words. Why would you like to work with us? A simple enough question. But I genuinely had no idea. I realised I was applying for the sake of applying, seeking a job for security rather than passion. It got me thinking: what do I want from my life? Do I want to settle, stay safe, be comfortable? Or do I want to dream bigger, push boundaries, embrace uncertainty and change? If my 2016 has shown me anything at all, it’s that I’m not someone who can settle. Restlessness might have been part of the eating disorder, but that’s only because it was first and foremost a part of who I am.

  Channelling that restlessness for healthy purposes feels like my next challenge. More than anything, this year has shown me that if I want something, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it – or to go out and get it myself. If you’d asked me five years ago if I would ever be brave enough to do half of what I’ve done in 2016, fifteen year old Abi would have laughed in your face (actually, she’d probably have given you a reasoned argument detailing her own shortcomings, delivered with absolute confidence because fifteen year old Abi knew everything). Nowadays I realise that I definitely don’t know everything. But I guess I do know better. I know that putting myself down, making myself small, and shying away from the spotlight will never bring me anything but pain. It’s high time I let go of my fear and started living the life I want to live.

  So without further ado, I present my goals for 2017. I suppose you could call them “New Year’s Resolutions”, but I hope they’re a little longer-sighted than a January gym membership. Each of these is a step to becoming a better version of myself. I hope that by sharing them with you guys, you might A) hold me to them cos I’m the definition of a flaky floaty hippy (“just go with the flow man”), and B) find some food for thought about what you might like to see change for yourself (unless of course you’re totally happy as you are, in which case you go girl).

Abi’s Come-at-me-2017 Wish List

  1. Make time for creativity. It’s a disgrace that this blog hasn’t been updated in two months, and frankly a travesty that my guitar sits in its case 99% of the time. It’s this shit that makes life meaningful for me, so I’m going make sure I respect my ~inner artist~ (I warned you I’m a floaty flaky hippy at heart).

  2. Cherish friendships. There’s no other way of saying it: sometimes I’m a bad friend. Partly this is because I can let anxiety run away with me, and I end up cancelling plans or not texting back or thinking that nobody wants to hang out with me anyway. Enough. Time to give the people I care about the respect and love they deserve.

  3. Eat less “healthy” food. Perhaps the opposite of your standard New Year’s Resolution. But we all start from different places in life and face our own challenges with health, and for a long time the sight of a doughnut literally made me cry. It’s testament to how far I’ve come that I can now see the humour in that. So here’s to working my way through Huff Post’s master list of comfort foods. If anyone wants to donate any baked goods to this cause, you know where I live…

  4. Be more chill. The irony in the imperative “be chill” isn’t lost on me. But I’m a woman with a plan and so my chill must be planned too. Anxiety has a sneaky way of robbing you of your zen piece by piece, whittling away at your brain until you collapse in a panic. The best way to stop this “boom-bust” cycle is regular self-care, regulating the highs and lows through continuous compassion. I knowwww this, but I’m really bad at putting it into practice and usually opt for the “don’t stop til you drop” approach (which isn’t really an approach, it’s just silliness). Here’s to more meditation, bubble baths, and Jane Austen. The best complement to restlessness is, after all, the ability to stop from time to time.

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