“Okay, so here’s my truth.
I wasted most of life achieving nothing. I hated myself and constantly felt insecure and less than anyone and everyone else. I battled with an eating disorder for over 15 years and ended up in rehab in 2007 for anorexia, bulimia, and self-harm. Yup, I hated myself so much, I suffered so much emotional pain, I cut my arm with a paper-knife and burnt myself with cigarettes.
I cringe admitting this to you now as it seems like a total stranger I am describing, but it’s important and relevant that I do.
I was a f*ck up and a waste of space. I had two failed businesses, two failed marriages, and three failed suicide attempts. And the icing on the cake of my life was being diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2012.
I was all rock ‘n roll before I got cancer. I was the one dancing on the bar, instigating mischief and handing out shots of tequila. In truth looking back, I was empty and hollow inside. I made my life revolve around my physical appearance, the clothes I wore, the places I hung out, and the people I hung out with. It was those things which defined my self worth and who I was as a person.
Sure it was fun, and at the time, I naively convinced myself I was living my greatest life, but the truth was it was superficial happiness which never lasted long. I’d wake up the next day feeling hollow and complete despair. It was on the surface the good times rolled, but underneath, I was empty and insecure. I felt less than everyone else. I felt worthless.
It’s unbelievable to be saying this to you now, but if I hadn’t got cancer, I would still be empty inside, still be trying to fill the void within me with designer labels and shots of tequila. Yes, I lost my fabulous cleavage and all my beautiful hair — the two things I believed were what made me beautiful — but you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way, because it literally transformed my life and set me free.
My worst nightmare, my darkest fear, was presented to me and I am so grateful it was because it was the only way I could finally overcome all of my demons.
No, I am not saying people need to get cancer to find joy and peace in their lives. Of course, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is, my journey with cancer taught me how to experience happiness from the inside out instead of the other way around. I didn’t have any of the things I’d been using to superficially make me feel better. I was bald, had my left breast removed, and was unwell from all the chemotherapy. There was no dancing on the bar with cleavage showing and crazy, curly hair. I had to find another way to make myself happy, and I had nowhere else to look but within myself.
When I finished treatment, I assumed my life would inevitably go back to the way it was, only it never did. I kept waiting, kept hoping, and kept searching for my old life, for who I used to be, but she never came back. I was so busy looking for the old me, so busy longing for what was, I didn’t notice the transformation and the new, improved version of myself I had become without even knowing it. It felt like there once was this superficial party girl who got diagnosed with cancer, then she survived the treatment and suddenly that girl just wasn’t there anymore.
Instead, I was this new person I didn’t recognize, a new me I had never met before in my life.
I wish I could try and articulate how it feels to come face to face with yourself, the person you’ve known intrinsically for over forty years, and realize it’s not you anymore and you’ve been replaced by a stranger.
That’s when the pain began for me. That’s when the bewilderment and loss enveloped me in one big gulp.
I didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t ask for more support and attention from friends and family after they had made the world revolve around me for so long during chemo, radiation, ad reconstruction. How completely selfish and self-centered would it have been to demand more of their time? And how could I complain after I had survived cancer treatment, when hundreds of thousands of people weren’t as lucky as me?
So I kept my mouth shut and suffered in silence.
It felt like I’d never move on from the treatment and the loss of who I used to be.
But through the journey I have been on ever since, I now realize how wrong I was. Cancer gave me an opportunity to reassess my whole life and who I am and gave me the kick up the ass I needed in order to transform into a person I never imagined I could be.
The journey wasn’t easy, but it was worth every single step, tear, doubt, fear, and heartache. In order to be as happy as I am today (and truthfully, I am ridiculously happy), I needed to do the work. I needed to look within and learn how to truly connect with myself in order to uncover who I really am (and always have been) deep inside.
In hindsight, I can see it wasn’t about the cancer. That was the catalyst, it was the trauma which forced me to go within. What it’s really about is our relationship with ourselves. How I really feel about me, and how you really feel about you.
Up until that point, I thought self-love was a mythical cliché, some bullsh*t new age people would force down our throats. But by going through the hell of cancer and the period of loss after the treatment, I realized self-love is real and the answer to everything.
Stripped bare without my looks to depend on, without my busy life to hide behind, I realized I had never really taken the time to look inside, to get to know who I am. Cancer was my metamorphosis, cancer forced me to become self-aware, to finally connect with myself, and as a consequence, transform into a version of myself I never imagined in a million years I could be.
I am not trying to convince you cancer is a good thing or going through trauma is the best thing that could ever happen to you, but it also doesn’t have to be the worst thing that ever happened to you either.
I’m saying cancer, divorce, bereavement, abuse, or whatever trauma you’ve been through has not stolen anything from you. Contrary to what you may currently believe, it hasn’t stolen your life, who you are, your beauty, your confidence, or anything else. It just changed you, and you need to take the time now to get to know who you’ve become as a consequence of those changes.
You can choose to focus on everything negative from the trauma you endured OR you can choose to look within yourself and see how trauma changed you in a positive way.
If I could have the old me and my old life back, I know it wouldn’t be the right fit for me anymore. That skin wouldn’t fit and that life wouldn’t suit me, because I went through cancer treatment and I survived.
And the moment I realized I wasn’t the same person I remembered before the cancer, I set myself free. The chains of sadness and loss, low self-worth and insecurity, and seeking happiness from outside sources. It all just faded away as I looked in the mirror and met the new me for the very first time.
It was like a rebirth; the most wonderful opportunity to start all over again.
Fast forward to today, to right now, to this very moment, I am the happiest person I know. I love everything about myself, even the sh*tty bits. I have complete self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-compassion. I face my fears, my negative thoughts, and painful emotions and no longer push them down or hide from life in an attempt to avoid feeling them. And now when I cry, it’s because I’m grateful and blown away by the exquisiteness of my life.
Why am I telling you all this?
Most certainly not to rub into your face.
I’m sharing my story because if a f*ck up like me can get to where I am today, then anyone can. I don’t care how awful you think your life is or how little you think of yourself — you can transform if you want… I’m living proof of it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Saskia Lightstar from London. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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