The truth about me...
Opening up about myself and sharing my story has always been something extremely challenging for me. I have always kept my past secret in fear of being judged. I have been holding back and wearing a mask for so long that it has somehow affected my relationships, friendships and love life.
It was about time to strip off the mask, be unapologetic and stop worrying about what “everybody” is going to think.
It is time to let the glorious freak flag fly!
A few years ago, I promised myself to live in truth, with myself and with whoever want to be part of my life journey or cares enough to hear my story. I owe it to them and I owe it to myself...so I can finally find inner-peace, heal my wounds once and for all, find acceptance and love from the people I care about and be loved (or not) for the woman I really am.
So here I am, sharing with you my story and displaying THE MOST vulnerable part of me...
Where to begin?
My start in life...I was born in Belgium in the late seventies and have been brought up in a Jehovah's Witness family.
My mum and dad are exceptional people, they are devoted and loving parents who will do anything for their children, and I respect them and love them very much. They taught me high values, like honesty, respect for others, loyalty, generosity and kindness. Unfortunately they also brought me up in line with the beliefs of the Jehovah's Witness Community.
For those who don't really know anything about Jehovah's witnesses beliefs, let me tell you a little about it and how living in this religious community feels like.
Jehovah's witnesses consider our society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of "Evil", and all members of the community must limit their social interaction with "non-witnesses". I was therefore strongly discouraged of making friends outside of the community, this meant for me no parties with school friends, no after-school socialising or activities, and no boyfriends... (yep!).
They also do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, New Year, Halloween (whatever celebration you can think of) as they consider those celebrations to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity.
So I basically never celebrated Christmas or any of my birthdays! and wasn't allowed attending other's birthday party either.
I have had a very protected (even over-protected) childhood in a very loving family but grew up extremely isolated from the "normal outside world" and from its social activities and life challenges.
My childhood and adolescence can be summarised as follows: going to school, studying, helping with the cores at home, reading the Bible (just for the record, I have read it in its entirety more than once, yep...) and all religious literature I was provided by the community, attending church three times a week, which is what I consider now the most intensive and efficient brainwashing method that kept me in the community for so long.
I was also going door-to-door preaching every weekend, and had a bit of socialising with other "witnesses" on occasions.
This was "my truth" and the only way of living I knew from birth until I reached 25.
When my life blew up into pieces ... This part of my life is called: Escaping
When I was around 25 year's old, my dear brother bravely decided to make his coming out and announced to our family and to the elders of our church that he was gay.
I so admire and respect him for that, for breaking the silence and finally live his life in truth, but the effect of that announcement to my family has been similar to the explosion of an atomic bomb! and believe me its an understatement... It literally blew our family up!
Being gay is strongly condemned in the Jehovah's Witness community, and from the very moment my brother came out, my world, my family and my core of beliefs collapsed. The disciplinary committee of the church forbade my parents and myself, and all our friends in the community to meet or even talk to my brother because of his "sins".
My parents were torn apart between their love for their son and their religious beliefs and it was heartbreaking to witness my family life going down the drain. My my dear brother, who was also my best friend, was heartlessly rejected and judged as a "pervert" and I could not comprehend that, neither accept what was happening.
That whole situation was an eye-opening moment for me and I realised that, for my own sake, I had to break free from that environment and start having a life, a brand new life, even if this meant turning my back on everything I knew, and losing the approbation and support of my family and friends.
A very good friend of mine once told me, making a reference to the movie the Matrix, that in my life I somehow took both of the matrix pills, the red and the blue! (Those who have watched the movie will understand)
When I was a child I took the "blue pill" that lead me to staying in religious community, living in a pretend comfortable world. Then, I took the red pill and escaped from that environment and entered the real world, starting living the "truth of reality" even though it was harsher, and a much more challenging life.
And so, there I was, all by myself, determined to start my life all over again!
I was ready to throw myself in the unknown and move somewhere I could feel free to be whoever I wanted to be. And that place turned out to be London, the city of tolerance and freedom.
The "old-me" was dead, I had now the huge task to re-invent myself.
IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOU START IN LIFE, WHAT MATTERS IS WHERE YOU GOING AND WHERE YOU END UP.
A brand new life... This part of my life is called: re-birth
In March 2007, I was on my own in my belgian flat when I decided to plan my escape and re-birth strategy. I booked online one week accommodation in a hostel located in Willesden Green, in the north of London, and hopped on the Eurostar with a very big and heavy suitcase, no english skills, very little savings, no job prospect, no connections, no friends, no family...
I arrived in London on the 19th March 2007, like an "alien" catapulted from another dimension (that's how I felt anyway).
I had no idea what was laying ahead of me. It was scary and exciting in the same time.
Because I have been somewhat isolated from the "normal outside world" all my life, I was extremely shy, naive and innocent and I had to cope with feelings of awkwardness and inadequacy. I had no clue how to interact with people and connect.
I learned pretty quickly though... I had to! I was on survival mode.
To protect myself from judgement and rejection about my past, I also decided to hide my life background to everyone, should it be friends and whoever wanted to get closer. When people were asking very common questions about my previous relationships or what I was planning to do for Christmas, I was making up stories or giving very evasive answers. I could not trust anyone and I wanted to be loved and accepted more than anything. I wanted to belong.
So, from that moment and in the eyes of all the people I encountered, I was that nice and lovely girl, a little silly and weird, with a mysterious past and not much experience. A story-less girl in a big city.
During my first week in London, I managed to find a very cheap and tiny room in a flatshare in Mile End, East London and for a month I walked the streets of London with my CV in my hands, popping into any recruitment agencies I could find, trying with a very bad english to convince them to help me getting a job. My English was absolute rubbish and of course, I faced a lot of rejection.
But, hey! I am a very stubborn and determined woman and quitting was not an option.
I understood that I would not be able to get the same kind of corporate job I had in Belgium because of my poor english.
My savings were disappearing like ice cream in the sun. I was so short of money at some point, that the only food I could afford was these ramen pack at £0.69. I was getting skinner and skinnier (that's a good thing though: I was looking hot! :-) ) and I HAD to find a job soon,
ANY KIND OF JOB!
At some point, I checked my bank account and I had just enough money to pay my rent one more time before being absolutely penny less. I didn't want to go back to my parents in Belgium and re-enter the toxic environment I was in.
So I got dressed and decided to wander the streets of London with my stupid CV one more time, and to NOT come back home until I found a job.
I walked for hours on that day, without success. I was exhausted and feeling hopeless. It was 6pm when I finally I saw a poster on a Paul Bakery's shop window offering jobs. This was not the kind of job I wanted to do, but I entered the bakery, talked with the manager who interviewed me straight away and... I got hired!
I DID come back home that evening WITH A JOB and realised that for once my terrible french accent got me somewhere!!! :-)
I lied a tad about my catering experience though, but I was confident that I would be able to figure out how to do coffees and sell cakes.
So, the next day, there I was in my silly white uniform, learning how to bake croissants, do cappuccinos and lattes, etc!
I was paid at that time £5/hour and I was waking up at 4am almost everyday as I was the one responsible to open the shop and get everything ready before the first customers arrive.
My salary could barely cover my rent and my travel expenses, but I had a job and I would be staying in London and that's all that mattered.
The bakery was offering me free lunches every day and I was also taking the "food waste" back home! So I was eating delicious French food on a daily basis! Life could have been worst.
After a while, I managed to afford moving from my crappy room in Mile End to a flatshare in Turnpike Lane, and then a couple of years later to move again to another flat share in Leytonstone.
My first 3 years in London were what I consider survival time, I was struggling to settle and trying really hard to upgrade my life step by step.
That thing that I mistakenly thought was love... This part of my life is called: Loss of innocence
In 2009, while partying in Soho with a friend, I met this man that I will call Mr. A (like Asshole).
He was giving me some attention and it made me feel "special" so we started dating. As I was, at that time, very un-experienced and naive in the matter of dating and romance, I innocently believed that this man was THE ONE who would give me the love I was craving for. He was living out of London at that time and for a few months, we had a long distance texting/dating/relationship. After some time, he told me that he wanted to move to London to be closer to me, so I took that as a sign of love and I innocently offered him to come and live with me. So, one day he just turned up and we started living together in that tiny room I was renting. For the first time in my life, I had what I thought was a "real" boyfriend.
I thought that I would not be alone anymore, that someone would take care of me. I thought I had it all together and that my life was taking a wonderful turn.
I was so naive and innocent and in my mind I truly believed I had found LOVE. Everything seemed to go very well until I found out that the man I trusted and loved was actually staying illegally in the UK, had dodgy ways of bringing money to the table, and was expecting from me to help him getting a visa.
I was so smitten of course that I would have done anything to keep and protect what I thought was a loving relationship. I started helping him with his visa application, visited lawyers, signed a few papers and got myself very much involved in "saving" him from deportation.
But Mr. A was not a good and hopeless man just in need of visa...
Mr A. quickly turned into "Mr Hyde" the moment I was starting asking too many questions for his liking. He started abusing me first verbally and emotionally, and then physically. His manipulations skills were so good that I started believing his words, that I was ugly, stupid and that no one would ever love me, that I had to considered myself lucky having someone like him in my life...
These were his actual words on a daily basis
Through manipulation and intimidation, he chipped away all self-esteem from me. It all happened subtly and I was unaware that all this psychological, emotional abuse was just a prelude to physical attacks. When it happened, like many abused women, I was petrified, ashamed and unable to think clearly and find a way out. After almost two years of this treatment I came back to my senses and decided to end up the nightmare and to escape, one more time...
When I bravely confronted him and asked him to leave the house, he threatened me of death and to also find and harm my family.
If I was not marrying him and helping him to get Home office to grant him a visa, he would kill me.
My survival instinct kicked in. I had to break free. It was like a click, when you suddenly wake up and get out of a state of hypnosis and see the reality of things. I bravely decided I would not live in fear anymore and decided to take action.
The break-up was intense, violent and scary but I managed to get rid off Mr. A and... I survived.
This part of my life left me battered and bruised and I went trough a post-traumatic period of 9 months where I could not get the abusive words out of my mind. I was feeling broken, worthless, lost. I did not know who I was anymore. I dramatically changed my external appearance beyond recognition, went blonde, started partying crazy, drinking, dancing on tables and all sorts of things.
Yep! Rock and roll period of my life! Anyway...
Thanks to the support of some of my flatmates and some amazing people I crossed path with, I managed to survive this period of my life and got myself back together. Stronger than ever!
For my own safety, I also cut contact with all the friends Mr. A and I had in common, which meant losing ALL my friends at that time. I moved miles away from that house of horror and started the healing process and rebuild myself up again, stronger and stronger.
That period of my life is called "Loneliness". I was all alone, with no friends or family to support me and I had to figure things out by myself.
Then something wonderful happened and changed my life. I met an amazing girl, who became my best friend at that time, she gave me all the support I needed to go through my numerous struggles and anxieties, she coached me in believing in myself and she helped me finding a better job and a better salary. From there, everything changed for me.
Things were getting better and I started enjoying life again. Our friendship was so precious to me. She was there for me for years and even though life has now brought us apart I will always be grateful for what she did for me. She understood where I was coming from and where I wanted to go and she was my best support in life.
She was family to me when I needed one.
What the past decade has made of me...
Well... I am now in my forties and I have successfully worked my way up. I have got a great job, I am financially comfortable, I can at least afford living on my own in a studio flat in the city of London, which is not to be taken for granted considering the expensive cost of living in London.
There is of course no magic wand that can erase the painful experiences and trauma I have had in my life.
And things in my social and love life have been and still are far from perfect.
I have recently experienced a painful heartbreak that put me on my knees once again! I was deeply in love with someone who did not want me and the heartbreak I was experiencing brought back to the surface some old and unhealed emotional pains. My emotional pain snowballed and led to some serious health issues. I contracted a serious pneumonia that got me almost hospitalised and bedridden for a month.
I can say that my heartbreak almost killed me. On all levels. Emotionally, psychologically and physically.
I have spent the past 2 years to recover and healing from both.
I have to admit, even now, after so many years passed by, I still often find myself in a very lonely place in life. And because of my past and the lack of social connections, I still struggle making new friends and building a circle of friends of my own.
Because of the religious beliefs of my parents and their tendency in pressuring me to return to my old way of life, I am not seeing them too often... Even though I know that my parents are loving me very much and will always be there for me whenever I need it, I feel family-less at times, especially around Christmas time...
What I experienced over the past decade taught me tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness, patience and empathy. I learned how to move on from situations that makes me unhappy and miserable, I learned the importance of self-worth and how to love myself and others.
My heart has been badly broken many times but I picked myself up every time and found my way out of the dark.
I am growing to become the strongest version of myself.
My brokenness has not changed the essence of me.
I am still that genuine, strong, honest, loving and caring woman who has forgiveness in her heart.
I have also come to the realisation that we are all just humans drunk on the idea that love, and especially being loved by someone in particular could heal our brokenness. The truth is that only self-love is the cure!
So since then, I am working on falling in love with the person I see in the mirror, that lovely woman who has been through so much in her life and is still standing. My life experiences gave me some emotional bruises and I still got issues to open up and trust, but my heart is overflowing with love to give.
One of my dreams and hopes for the future...
I still dream that some day I will meet a man who will see the REAL me through all the filters and walls I have been rising to protect myself, that he will accept me with my baggages, and love me enough to help me unpack them.
I still dream of a drama-free and healthy relationship where I can be myself and being loved just as I am.
I dream of becoming part of that man's loving family, having Christmas gatherings, birthdays celebrations...I am craving for some love and romantic attentions, but also for meaningful friendships and family love...
All this obviously makes me come across way too eager sometimes and I very often "screw up" and ruined my chances with men that seem being all what I am looking for.
I hope, that someday, I will fall in love with a mature and affectionate man who will hear my story and understand it, who will take a chance on me and embrace who I am. He will look into my eyes and, without words needed being said, will SEE through the woman standing there, in front of him, asking him to love her.
He would then hug me so tight, that all my broken pieces will stick back together. He would make me the happiest I have ever been and I would make him the luckiest man on earth...
This was a piece of my story... the naked truth about myself.
The Girl Next Door