I had one of those endless nights last night where I just couldn’t sleep. By 2am my mind wandered into the bizarre and wondered: If I got a tattoo, what tattoo would that be?
Let me clarify this in the clear light of day. I will never get a tattoo. I know that one stamped onto my middle-aged, bingo-winged arm or cellulite-ridden thigh would never, ever be a good look! But it’s an interesting thought. If I was going to indelibly ink something meaningful onto myself, what would that be?
My mind then took me back to the night I packed my toddler and whatever I could fit into my small car and left my violent Ex. I feared what would happen if he knew I was leaving for good, so I seized this window of opportunity to flee.
I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment. The bedroom became the baby’s room and I slept on a sofa bed in the tiny living room that doubled up as a galley kitchen. I also squeezed a desk in there. As our relationship deteriorated, I suspected that one day I’d end up alone. So, I had recently enrolled at Macquarie Uni. I hoped a degree would give myself and my child a better chance in life.
My friends often came to my place to hang out, as it was easier for them to come to me. After all, I was the only one at that age with a child. One day, a friend told me that another had confided in her: ‘I feel sorry for her’, referring to me.
Looking at it from the outside, I got it. There I was just 23, living in a virtual bedsit, with a baby, and on a single parent allowance. And there was a small amount of self-pity, I must admit. But my friend had no idea. For in that little apartment I was safe. My baby and I were free.
Each morning we’d drive an hour to my University campus. My son beeping the horn on his toy steering wheel, as we sang nursery rhymes and laughed. It was the beginning of the rest of my life. I finally understood too, that only I could change it. The power – for a good or bad life – was within me.
I’d spent years trying to manage the chaos of my life. Trying to manage the craziness around me. I now knew that this was impossible. But what was within my grasp was to change me. It was the most liberating moment of my life. What a bloody relief! I just had to let go. I didn’t have to worry about anyone or anything else. I just needed to focus on myself and my wellbeing and that of my child. Simple as that.
There’s a video that has been going around social media that reminds me of how I felt back then. The film-makers put a chalk board up in New York, with a question on it: What is your biggest regret? Strangers answered this, by chalking their thoughts. Every one of them boiled down to the same themes: missed chances, missed opportunities. The things they’d not said or done. I knew what they meant.
Part of my leaving a destructive relationship was that I didn’t want to look back at my life with regret. Regret for staying when there was violence. Regret for bringing my son up in that environment. And regret for wasting my life, wishing and hoping things would change. Life is too short for that.
The film-makers then asked the same people to wipe their words off the board, leaving it blank. They felt the significance. They felt hope, with this clean slate.
My friend back then may have felt pity, but it was my liberation. From that moment on, I seized the day. I based every decision on whether it was good enough for me and my son. I grabbed every opportunity to give us a richer, fuller life.
I won’t pretend it was all wine and roses and I made many mistakes along the way. But I knew if I could just put one foot in front of the other and keep going forward, tomorrow would always bring a new day.
In a perverse way, I’m so grateful to have had that tough start. I see others who didn’t, not having quite the clarity that I have now. I accept that I am powerless to change anything but myself. But if I focus on being the best person I can be and walk a straight, honest line, the rest just falls into place.
I know that every day starts as a clean slate and how that day turns out comes down to me and the decisions I make. Do I want this day to be one I regret down the track? Or do I want it to be one, that if I died on this day, people would say: she lived a full life?
So, going back to my 2am question to myself, if I had a tattoo, what tattoo would that be? That’s easy. It would be the words Robin Williams delivered in one of my favourite films Dead Poet’s Society: Carpe Diem. Seize the day!
Originally published at www.beingunbeatable.com