2014 has been without doubt one of the most challenging and defining years of my life. Although badly ravaged by my eating disorder and severe body image issues in the previous years, I feel that this year that perhaps with age, I’ve become more self-aware and cognizant about personal experiences and how the struggles I have gone through pushed me to my limits. The year has been peppered with so many ups and downs, with the lowest points topping me over the edge, pushing me to get back up on my feet and shaping me into the person I am right now and hopefully on track to the person I am supposed to be. While I am still a seedling in this universe filled with idealistic perceptions about the world and have yet to embark on many more journeys to teach me the harsh realities of life, I am definitely not the same person I was when the year started and I feel compelled to reflect on the happenings of 2014 that have molded who I am right now.
The one single experience that was responsible was initiating a chain of events that sparked transformative growth in me is, brace yourselves, heartbreak. That’s right. Plain, simple heartbreak. It sounds so cliched, even when I say it out aloud: “heartbreak changed me”. But its true. Its not the most incredible teacher, but one of the many incredible teachers in life. Love, heartbreak, pain, disappointment. I lost myself in the pursuit of something so wonderful; I said and did things that only one blinded by love can do and I had no idea who I had become. The happenings and the dynamics of the relationship meant that when the relationship ended and when I started looking back and evaluating what had happened, I felt a convoluted mixture of anger, being used, disgust, confusion and betrayal. It brought out the worst, but it also brought out a side of me I never knew.
I experienced pain I never knew. One worse than any physical pain I endured. It brought about tumultuous emotions and raging crying. Not “constant tears running down your face”, but “crying so hard that my throat closes and I’m clutching my chest and gasping for air” type of crying.
I won’t go into specifics as to what had happened. As all of us know, the first cut is always the deepest and most painful and will always bring back sad memories and emotions even if we’ve moved on and although the pain has subsided, I still experience pangs of anger and betrayal every now and then especially when I dwell on it for long, because my heart was hurt.
I’ve experience heart pain before. Monkey crushes and a puppy love that could have blossomed into something but never did. But this was different. This was more intense and painful because love was reciprocated, and trust was eventually broken. It was real In essence but sadly I gave myself away too early to somebody who didn’t know how to love me. I was blind to the advice of those whom I confided into and who told me that he wasn’t worthy. Of course, still fresh from the end of the “relationship”, I still saw good in him. I was fighting to keep us going. He wasn’t. He was keeping me close but he wasn’t fighting for me. As time passed I started to realize how unfairly he had treated me at some points with this charms and pressuring, and the young naive me was a fool to realize it.
It took me months of pain and anger to process everything and try to accept that things happened the way they did and that things happened for a reason. I thought life to be unfair to me and shut myself from the world. I became cynical and skeptical, and for a while, very distrustful of men. Finally, when I learned from a friend that he had moved on, the pain only intensified. I felt, like a piece of meat, used and discarded for someone else and I spent a good amount of time thinking that that was what I was: used, worthless, expired goods. My feelings for him had blinded me and clouded my judgment of him. I felt dirty and cheap and experienced very depressive feelings. I realized that the fact that he had moved on within the span of a short number of months meant that I hadn’t meant much to him. That I was…a tool maybe. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to know. I realized that I had invested too much in this relationship and therefore, I had experienced much more pain than he did. How was that fair?
I stopped dancing for a month and I found no energy to even go out the house to do anything or enjoy simple pleasures. I couldn’t concentrate and my grades were affected, quite bad I should say, last semester. Music depressed me and I spent many long hours sleeping because when I was sleeping, I wasn’t thinking. It blocked everything out. I even looked forward to sleeping. When I wasn’t sleeping at night in bed, I shed tears I was tired all day everyday. I tried numbing the pain through other painful means, but the heartache would always return. I felt defeated, broken and empty with nothing to give. On the outside I gave the impression of someone who was still a happy person but on the inside, I was so broken that I literally had no clue how to go about fixing myself.
The spark came when I decided to watch Eat Pray Love on the telly while lying broken and tired on the sofa. A woman broken by her divorce and embarking on a journey to seek peace, happiness and rediscover her self. I found myself relating to Julia and it was then that I decided I couldn’t remain stuck in a rut forever. I didn’t want to be crying into my pillows at 3am in the morning and waking up and having to pretend that everything was okay but that shit is exhausting. I wanted my joie de vivre back. Like Julia Roberts, I needed a breath of fresh air; to get away from the negative vibes. I couldn’t stay down forever. There are things I haven’t done, places I haven’t visited, cultures I haven’t immersed myself in, food I haven’t tasted, song lyrics I hadn’t memorized and dances I haven’t learned.
So I decided that the best way to recover from this experience was to reinvent myself. Transformation. Transition. Caterpillar to butterfly. I was motivated by a combination of a want to prove myself, feelings of anger and in strange way, a form of revenge. I had become one of those girls I always scoffed at, girls crying into their pillows and re-reading sappy love poems by Lang Leav and desperately trying to get their ex-boyfriends back and pining away for them. Not me. I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to be someone else. I did not want to this heartbreak to define or destroy me. I wanted to emerge from it victorious. I wanted to overcome it. I fought my eating disorder for 6 years so I’ll be damned if I can’t fight this. I wanted fierce, fresh and fabulous, knock-me-down-but-watch-me-get-back-up-my-ass-up-and-make-you-regret-hurting-me Serene Juan.
And so the journey began. It took me a hell lot of effort to pull myself together. It was hard because memories would come rushing back that knocked me off my feet. I was reinventing myself and moving on, but I still missed him even though he had moved on in only a few months (jerk).
I went for a week of yoga, compliments of my friend N who felt that it would be a nice way to start my restructuring program – focusing on the present, deep breathing, mindfulness and sweating out all the negative vibes. I started going back to the gym again, resumed Latin dancing, went out again, and much more often and started meeting new people. I began experimenting a little more with makeup and started wearing red lipstick though only occasionally nowadays. Furthermore, it was because of heartbreak that I decided to create this blog (tah dah! The truth) – documenting my journey through recovery from my eating disorder and body image issues by capturing pictures of myself – though admittedly my photo taking skills need improvement – which created a focus on myself. I focused my efforts on getting better from my eating disorder and learning how to love and accept my body through changing my thought patterns and going running. I also went to Washington D.C to present my research that I did on social media and body image at a conference in July and just recently, performed my very first official Latin dance performance in which my dance team put up a Dominican bachata routine.
All throughout this, memories and moments would came rushing back at unexpected moments that challenged me and threatened to bring me back to ground zero. I hate it when the emotional pain lies format and for a while you think you’ve finally overcome it but then it comes flashing in your face and makes you curse and swear.
With each bout of sadness, nostalgia and negative episode that sparked depressive feelings or of those of anger, I was so aware of how difficult it was to pick myself up again. It kept knocking me down and to made me feel like giving up at times. But what kept me going was the determination to reinvent myself & the refusal to be seen as “the pitiful victim”. Pitiful, my ass. Through each fall I learned new ways of getting up and staying up. I grew in strength and determination.
Moreover, I had the help and support of my close friends and family, all of whom were there to give me advice and see me through dark days. It was through their love, concern and advice that I leaned how this particular person wasn’t worthy at all. That despite the bittersweet memories he gave, he did and said some sucky things that broke my heart and hurt me really bad. And that’s something that can never be undone. I became smarter and wiser and could feel myself growing stronger each day.
Through heartbreak I’ve learned how much I am worth, that apologies are just words and that nothing can take back whatever pain has been inflicted onto me, and that forgiveness means that although you are willing to see past the pain that you have gone through, it doesn’t mean you will trust the person again. With the help and support from my friends, I’ve picked myself up again through much effort and pain. My heart has been through so damn much and I’m proud of it. More importantly, I’m proud that I learned to walk away from something, and someone, who does not deserve my energy. I learned that courage means to walk away from something that doesn’t bring you happiness no matter how much you want it. I learned how resilient the human heart and spirit is.
The human heart is a funny thing. We can shut our minds off to things we don’t want to see or hear, but our hearts still feel it. It reminds us that we cannot run away from denial. In heartbreak, our hearts want revenge but after a while, we grow weary of it because its a burden. I’m mad at him, but at the same time, I understand why things happened they way they did. He was young, I was naive, we met each other at strangest of times and location and we both didn’t understand. Like every relationship that ends, there will always be bittersweet memories. Maybe its sad that these are memories, but then again, maybe its not. Regardless, I choose to not remember because whenever I do, my feelings of anger at him will sometimes come seeping back. My trust in him has completely gone and at times I doubt the sincerity of some of things he said. I learned I am worth more than insecure apologies he gave me that was fueled by lack of awareness of what hurt me (which really actually goes to show his immaturity), and I’m worth more than the offer of an insincere pity friendship. I deserve so much more than that damn it.
Some women would end by thanking their former love for changing them, for helping them see how much they themselves are worth and that they are worth better things. Well, not me. I’m not going to thank this guy. You know where you can shove my “thanks”. Why thank him when he wasn’t the one who helped me be the stronger, confident person I am now? He didn’t do anything to help me become the person I am now. He wasn’t the one who hauled me on my feet, encouraging and supporting me all this time. So instead of thanking him, I’m ending off my post my thanking these few people:
To my best homegirls, Shu and Zee for being there for me 24/7 and helping me all day and all night, enduring my 3am nervous breakdowns, my depressive emotions, tolerating my endless rants about what I went through and especially for forgiving me for not following your advice despite your good intentions. It definitely tormented me a lot to think that I disappointed you both when I would do things against your advice, and I’m so glad that the both of you accepted me still and continued to support me. You both were so patient and supportive and encouraging me to do things I never dared to. I honestly couldn’t have survived this ordeal. without both of you.
To my Auntie Christine for her words of wisdom, her insight, her support and her encouragement that made me reflect on life, of the challenges that lie ahead and supporting my decisions with regards to my recovery. Having had been through much more with regards to relationship and even similar experiences, I can always count on you to understand exactly what I’m going through, why I did what I did and offer mature, level-headed advice.
To Neav for being a fresh breath of air to my life and being the spark to bring new things, such as chocolate martinis, yoga and red lipstick along with your quirky British sense of humor & lessons on the harsh realities of life, and relationships. We may lead different lifestyles, but ties because of that discrepancy that I learned what life really is and that the perception of the world I have is so idealistic. You are my reality check, and I mean that in the best way possible and as a compliment.
To Sue, Sharda and Joe. We study in the same school, but share different and very hectic schedules yet you both were there to listen and offer comfort and advice. The fact that you both do so is big enough and it brings me comfort to know that I can count on ranting to you whenever I feel a need to explode. The same goes to Sue, even though we’ve gone on separate paths with you about to embark on the biggest journey in your life, I found peace and comfort in knowing that you were there to support and care for me despite your own busy schedule.
To Jia and D, my two oldest friends who I’ve known since I was 15, for being my second dose of reality check and again helping me and with their no-nonsense-tolerated, just-delete-him-from-your-phone-like-right-this-second-here-let-me-do-it-for-you-now, pushed me further my efforts in reinventing myself and getting better.
To Steffi, even though you are miles and miles away from me, you were just a text message away to keep me company and take my mind off things. Your cheery voice, down-to-earth personality and your own words of wisdom as you shared your own experiences with heartbreak and healing were needed comforts, especially late at night when the sun is up where you are at and when its dark in my side of the world and when I am most vulnerable.
And also to Steven, for being a sounding board and comforting me whenever I needed it and offering words of advice and wisdom to help me get back on my feet. You personal experiences with love and loss and how you rediscovered life through latin dance encourages me further and I’m so glad that I’ve met you.
My trusted friends helped me come through this ordeal, and I’m a little more stronger and wiser now because of their efforts and also because of my determination to break free and refusal to yield in to swaying emotions and challenges. And so I ask again, why thank him?
I’m sure many women have gone through this before, but each journey is different as I always say and this is my own personal trumph that I celebrate in this personal reflection. I’m proud that I survived a heartbreak like this, one that emotionally ruined me and made me psychotic. I applaud women around the world for refusing to let unworthy men define them because I now know the strength it takes to get up again. Did Katie Holems shut herself up for good after her divorce from Tom Cruise? Hell no, she went on to establish her fashion label Holmes & Young that received fabulous reviews at the NY Fashion Week and is the new face for Bobbi Brown cosmetics. Selena Gomez went on create a name for herself after her rocky relationship with Justin Bieber and looks fabulous. But best of all, the woman I look up to is Taylor Swift. With her infamous dating history and strings of heartbreak, she has 3 perfumes under her belt, transitioned from writing corny songs about heartbreak and loss to a pop album about female empowerment and even sang at Victoria Secrets’ Fashion Show looking stunning. Female empowerment. You never know how strong we are until being strong is the only option to go for.
Life will go on and there will definetely be more challenges to be dealt with in the next year and in many years to come. I’m not saying that I will overcome every single obstacle now that I’ve gone through this. I know people who’ve experience many painful experiences still and are still growing and learning. I still have so much more to learn and to experience. I know that there will definitely be more pain that will come that comes with a new set of lessons, but now that I’m a little more wiser and a little more confident, I feel ready to tackle them and ready to grow from each challenge & I hope that I will not repeat the same mistakes I did. Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me. When you do the same actions twice, it no longer becomes a mistake, but a decision.
So now at the end of all things with the passing of 2014, I pride myself on blatantly refusing to buckle under the broken heart. I didn’t give up. I wanted to win. Not for the sake of proving it to others, but more for myself. I want to live a life and look back in the future and say “I survived this bullshit”; that when looking back at this in 2015, this episode and this boy were just drops in the ocean. There are hundreds and thousands of women who have gone through the similar journeys, but as I always say, each path we take is different and this is my own personal triumph that I celebrate. It hurt me, it taught me and it changed me. To date, it was through this particular heartbreak that I learned that he may have the biggest mistake I ever made so far but unexpectedly, best lesson in life I have ever received.