Something I’m Afraid Of

A few weeks ago, 2Summers was featured in a post called “Top 10 African Travel Blog Posts” in the Where Lions Roam blog. It was a nice feature and I was pleased to be included. But the description of my blog surprised me.

“On an altogether more cheerful note this blog from an American-turned-Jozi-fan is great light reading and will educate you about many fun and quirky things to do in Johannesburg that most residents will not have encountered!”

Seeing my blog described as “light reading” brought up an interesting mix of emotions. My homepage proves this description accurate: The most recent posts are about bakeries, walking tours, street food, and cats. I’m a lighthearted person and people seem to enjoy my lighthearted way of describing things. And there’s no reason for me not to be lighthearted, right?

But light reading wasn’t my original intention for this blog — not my main intention, at least.

When I started 2Summers in June 2010, I planned to make it an in-depth account of my emotional journey. You see, I was in the midst of divorcing my husband, who I was leaving for another man, and that man lived on another continent. This is a good story, I thought. I thought I might like to write a book someday — like Eat, Pray, Love, but better — and blogging seemed like a good place to start.

I was so arrogant.

It was ridiculous for me to think I could blog about my emotions because I didn’t have the slightest clue what my emotions were. I was barrelling through life in a manic, obsessive haze of unchecked feelings, acting without thinking.

If I’d sat down and truly thought about what I was doing — about the people I was hurting and the crazy risks I was taking — I never could have done what I did. If I had reminded myself that this was real life — that I was a real person and not a character in a book — I couldn’t have sat down with my husband on a Friday evening after dinner and told him I was leaving our seven-year relationship without prior notice. I couldn’t have dismantled my life so quickly and thoroughly, and launched myself into a new life in a new country with a man who, truth be told, I didn’t know very well.

I didn’t know Jon very well, but I did know that I loved him and I’d do anything to be with him. I knew that he, like me, was in a relationship that needed to be dismantled in order for this plan to go forward. I knew that Jon had problems with mental illness and alcohol.

I didn’t care though, because I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling and doing. My feelings and my actions carried me to South Africa, for better or worse, and that’s how 2Summers was born.

When I arrived in Johannesburg I wrote about what I did. I wrote about my house in Melville and the market in Maboneng, about the cheese shop in Linden and the road trips Jon and I took to Swaziland and Lesotho. I wrote about walking tours in Soweto and Hillbrow. I wrote about my failed attempt to get around Joburg on a bicycle, and my first time driving on the left side of the road. People seemed to like it so I kept doing more, writing more. I left out most of my actual life.

I didn’t write about Jon’s addiction. I didn’t write about the fights, the lying, the blackouts, the verbal abuse, the totalled Land Rover and the emergency hospital stays. I didn’t write about how I unwittingly enabled Jon, about all the times I begged him to stop and he promised he would but then he couldn’t. I didn’t write about his trip to rehab, his blissful five-month sobriety, and his final relapse and descent into madness. I didn’t write about how I ran away and hid out with friends while Jon raged at home, how Jon sent the police to look for me because I had “stolen” his car.

I didn’t write about the fact that I never gave up on Jon, how I never let go of the hope that he would get better and we would live happily ever after.

The day after Jon died, in December 2011, I realized I had two choices: 1) Quit blogging, because the happy-go-lucky version of me was gone, possibly forever; or 2) Blog about the truth. I chose the second option.

I told the truth, to a point. I blogged about death and grief, which really helped me, and I touched on Jon’s alcoholism. I alluded to a few of the traumas I’d experienced. But I left most of the story untold.

I didn’t blog about how just a few months after Jon died I started experimenting with dating and relationships, and how badly those experiments turned out — how empty they made me feel. I didn’t write about my realization that I had emotional problems that started long before I met Jon and ran deeper than my grief. I didn’t write about my persistent obsessive thinking about men.

I didn’t write about how I went to rehab, the same rehab that Jon had attended, and participated in therapy with a group of substance addicts. Through Jon’s addiction — and this is the really hard part to explain — I realized that I was an addict too. I had an invisible hole inside myself, which had always been there, which I was perpetually, compulsively, trying to fill with other people. That compulsion left me with a string of failed relationships: two divorces (yep, two) and another relationship ending in death. The relationships were all gone but the hole gaped wider all the time.

That hole is called love addiction. I had to learn to fill the hole with something inside myself.

I didn’t write about how I finally humbled myself, how I took responsibility for the things that were mine and let go of the things that weren’t. I didn’t write about how I forced myself to be alone, to feel the discomfort of that alone-ness, and eventually grow to like it. How I really looked at myself, saw who I was and what I wanted and needed. How, gradually yet suddenly, I became enough.

Things are better now. Those thoughtless decisions I made six years ago have, miraculously, led to me discovering the person that I’m meant to be. The hole is hardly ever open anymore. I’m in a great relationship with someone and we’re not expecting each other to fill any holes. That’s a first for me.

In many ways the story is over, at least this particular volume. But how can it be over if I haven’t told it yet?

So, here’s what I’m afraid of.

This rambling narrative brings me to the title of this post: Something I’m Afraid Of. I’ve been trying to write that book for a couple of years. When I say “trying”, I mean I work hard for a month or two, get discouraged, try again briefly a few months later, get discouraged again. I’ve written several chapters and discussed the project ad nauseam with a group of writer friends. I’ve abandoned the idea of writing a book, tried to write a shorter article instead, and still faltered.

Right now, “trying” to write the book simply means thinking about it and cursing myself for not doing it.

I know I’m good at writing lighthearted blog posts, but I also believe that I have a serious, worthwhile story to tell. I want to write the book but I’m afraid I can’t. I’m afraid I don’t have the discipline to write something 100 times longer than a 1500-word blog post. I’m afraid I can’t remember enough, that I’ve forgotten who Jon was and what it felt like to be with him. I’m afraid of angering people who were part of this story and might not be happy with the way I tell it.

I’m afraid I don’t have the guts to write the whole truth. And that’s the only way to do it.

I’m hoping that something will shift after I write this post. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s not meant to be and I should let it go — focus on my lighthearted blogging and move on.

Heather by NicoLight-hearted me. Photo by Nico Vermuelen. (Follow Nico on Instagram at @nvexpit.)

Time will tell.

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50 Comments

  • Reply Nico Vermeulen March 11, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Heather, this is such a real and heartfelt post. Thanks for telling this story. Most bloggers are afraid to reveal their real emotions, for the fear of seaming negative. This however is really thought provroking and a beautiful piece of who you are. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:16 pm

      Thanks so much for reading it, Nico. And thanks again for the pic 🙂

  • Reply Shawn March 11, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Wow. Powerful post. I am glad you wrote it.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks a lot, Shawn.

  • Reply Yonit Blumenthal March 11, 2016 at 9:58 am

    thank you for sharing, I would love to read the book one day (it will come when you are ready!) you are such a special woman, thank you for talking about some of the issues we are afraid to talk about !

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Yonit. And thanks for helping and supporting me along the way 🙂

  • Reply Derek Smith March 11, 2016 at 10:54 am

    Respect for your courage to write this one 🙂

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks Derek. I know you get it.

  • Reply Claire Steuart March 11, 2016 at 11:14 am

    Hi Heather, I love your blog! I love your writing as much for your ‘lighthearted’ take on all things Safrican as I do for your emotional honesty. Something in you resonates greatly with me. I live near you in Melville and hope one day I will get to meet you. Like you I’m a foreign convert to this crazy city!

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      Hi Claire,

      Thanks so much for the comment! Where are you a foreign convert from?

      • Reply Claire Steuart March 12, 2016 at 6:55 pm

        I’m from England. But my husband is a Saffa! He’s the one who enticed me here though Joburg has always been part of my history – I was born here. Still hoping to bump into you some day ;- )

  • Reply Lani March 11, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Whew. That was an outpouring. I hope you feel better having done it. Yeah, I don’t know, Heather. Having written a memoir myself that involved real people, I had to do a lot of thinking about whether or not what I needed to say, needed to be said. I also chose to hide everyone’s identity (at least enough to create an element of doubt) – and if it wasn’t a part of the story then it was edited out.

    You will be surprised by how much you remember once you start writing. And I must say it is an enlightening and theraputic process. You might just decide to write without the pressure of making it into a book and just see how you feel after you are finished with it. Call it therapy, but you have to show up, give yourself a schedule, a small time limit, like M, W, F for 1/2 hr.

    You might also want to give it time. Things that felt so raw and important years ago, feel like a lifetime away now. Anyway, email me if you want to talk a bit more about this, as I don’t want to write too much in this space. Thanks for being brave and sharing.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks so much for the insight, Lani. I have huge respect for everyone who actually commits to writing a book and finishes it, so good for you. And thanks for your offer to hep. I might just take you up on that someday.

  • Reply allihoff March 11, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Thank you so much for this eloquent honesty. Your blog comforted my pre-departure nerves with a light-hearted and loving glimpse of Joburg, when so many others claimed it as dirty and unsafe. Your writing is beautiful. Your story is worth sharing because it’s dirty and unsafe like Joburg, but it’s also beautiful, deep, and has a silver lining to grungy shadows. Keep on keeping on, Heather!

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Wow, that is a really effective and interesting analogy, and totally true. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. And I’m glad my blog has helped you!

  • Reply mzansigirl March 11, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Hi Heather. I love the honesty in this post and the courage it took to write it. It reminds me of when I first started reading your blog, seems like light years ago (pun intended). I’m so glad that you’re happy! You have a great story and you’re so brave to even try writing the book. Take it easy, my friend.
    Love the pic by the way!!

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Thanks M. You’re the best.

  • Reply contrafacta March 11, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    This is such a wonderful post — and so important. If you don’t think you can “write a book” (something that’s not true, but if you think it, you should make some sort of accommodation for it), why not write a series of blog posts? If blogging is the format you know best, how you are the best writer, and what you’ve practiced for five years (<<– and practice is SOOO important!), then you should at the very least draft your book that way… when you've blogged for a month, or a year, you can revisit posts and re-piece them into a more traditional if you need to, but I think that you'll realize you've created something beautiful and meaningful and unique.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks, Tekla. You’re totally right and I have thought about different ways to approach my book in that way. I haven’t found the exact right path yet but I think I’m getting closer. And I do think in the end it might have to be some kind of series of blog posts. I don’t seem to be able to write in any other way.

      I hope you’re enjoying your new camera!

      • Reply contrafacta March 11, 2016 at 9:46 pm

        I absolutely love it! and I wish you so much luck as you start working on your book!

  • Reply Rosemary March 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    Such raw honesty- much to be admired. Also, it’s important to stay away from negative, intolerant people (but so hard to do….). Every one of us has an interesting and complicated story to tell- so crack on and get writing.
    Rosemary

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks a lot, Rosemary. You’re totally right about the negative people, too. Easier said than done, of course, but it does get easier with time.

  • Reply thirdeyemom March 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Heather, I have followed and read your blog since the beginning and I think by far this is the most beautiful touching post you’ve written (which is a lot to say because unlike the comment your blog is not light-hearted but full of vibrant fun and emotional life). It takes courage to share your story and the personal realities of it. We all have them and some we share some we don’t. This is such a beautiful piece and it your book is anything like it, wow! You have accomplished so much. You are a gorgeous photographer and amazing writer. I know you can do the book it is just the matter of mentally committing to it and doing it. I spent a year before I started my blog on a book and have five chapters gathering dust.
    It was not the book I wanted to write but I learned how fun the process was of writing and dreaming about it every day. You can do it! You’ve don’t do much! ?

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      AW, thanks so much Nicole. This is such a great comment. I hope you finish your book (the one you WANT to write) someday too. You have certainly had lots of incredible experiences to write about 🙂

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish March 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    The ‘book’ will come when it’s ready, but obviously you are a writer, and writers write. It’s what they do, and I sense this is a story that you want to tell. For peace of mind, you can change the characters enough for denial. You can stay true to the story even if you split people into two or three, or combine several into one, change the order of events or telescope them. It’s your book, make it a memoir or make it a novel. I wrote one loosely — very loosely — based on events in my life. The other ‘actors’ in it are still arguing about who’s who, no matter how often I tell them it’s fiction. Don’t be afraid to reveal yourself and face their anger. You might find that it doesn’t happen. You might find, as I did, that as I wrote about people who did awful things, I began to understand why they did them. It was a short step to accepting what they did, I mean really accepting, not just excusing, and then writing with acceptance. It made for a better book. There are memoirs and even novels that are really a collection of separate stories eventually put into a beginning-middle-end form. You might find some of your blogs will make up some of these. On the other hand, you may sit down certain days and a whole new chapter comes out. Save it and wait for the time to place it with the others. Don’t worry about memory. The important stuff — your emotions — will remain. I know it will be a great book. Put me down for pre-order!

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      This is an extremely insightful and helpful comment. I love what you said about growing to understand your characters as you wrote about them. I still struggle with that part so I hope you’re right. All the more motivation for me to get moving again.

  • Reply Gail Wilson March 11, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Everything I wanted to say has been said, so all I can add is Wow how courageous and if the book is written and published I will be at the launch. You have an amazing way of putting things down on paper.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks very much, Gail. Much appreciated and thank you for being such a dedicated reader 🙂

  • Reply catherine March 11, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    what you said really touched me.

    • Reply 2summers March 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      I’m very happy to hear that, Catherine. Thank you.

  • Reply Sheryl March 11, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Wow! This is it! You are an amazing writer and your vulnerability is so poignant. Well done for taking the leap of faith. It’s so amazing to read. I am waiting for the book.

  • Reply Constanze March 12, 2016 at 3:55 am

    You are not only a writer, in your book you can also use your photos to express yourself and your thoughts if words fail. It could be powerful, even a somewhat unique way of expressing yourself.

    My second thought on your blogpost is about the fear of hurting other people who were somehow involved in your lifes: If you are honest, you have nothing to fear.

    I don’t know if you ever read a book from Pat Conroy, but if you have the time, listen to this interview (or read it, there is a transcript) where he talks about his father and how he reacted to his book „The Great Santini“ where his father is portrayed in all honesty:
    http://www.npr.org/2016/03/11/469944762/remembering-great-santini-author-pat-conroy

    Conroy never said to directly, but it becomes all too clear: Writing is about you, not about what other people might think.

    Needless to say: I would like to be one of your readers.

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun March 12, 2016 at 8:28 am

    Your courage and honesty is amazing. If and when the time is right, your book will come. Glad you are in a better place now.

    • Reply 2summers March 12, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Thanks. I’m lucky 🙂

  • Reply Paula Plit March 12, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Beautiful H! Raw real and refreshing .. hugs x

    • Reply 2summers March 12, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Thanks P 🙂

  • Reply violetonlineisonline March 13, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Brave, honest, beautifully written, and clearly, people want to read this kind of thing. well done. and keep writing.

    • Reply 2summers March 13, 2016 at 8:42 am

      Thanks Violet ♥️

  • Reply africanoyster March 14, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Heather, what a beautiful post. I think what makes your blog posts mostly “light hearted” is that you tend to show the beauty of places rather than talking about the problems, injustices and all the feelings arising from there. I really appreciate that you venture into townships, a glimpse of South Africa most natives never get.

    You are an ambassador for everything cool and vibey in South Africa, rather than a sociological commentator and that’s cool. There are people out there writing about the fear and anger and entitlement, your approach is easier to digest. But that doesn’t make it less nourishing.

    I have been following your blog for ages and look forward to every new post!

    • Reply 2summers March 16, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Thank you so much, Natalie. You’ve clarified something very important for me. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • Reply Di Brown March 21, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Lovely and brave post Heather. I have no doubt that when the time is right, your book will flow out of you and we will all love it, learn from it and relate to much of it.

    • Reply 2summers March 21, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for the encouragement, Di. xxx

  • Reply Jaina March 22, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    To put things mildly, things got heavy here, Heather. This is such a brave post to write and your honesty literally jumped out of the page as I read it. I could never be as honest as you have been here, on my blog. Heck, I sometimes find it hard to be honest IRL!

    Think another commenter has already stated this, but I’m of the same thinking – you paint Johannesburg in such a beautiful light. You see it differently – what some may call “light hearted”. And that’s not a bad thing. You’re seeing the great things that people could see if they just tried.

    Keep doing your thing, Heather, you do it so well.

    • Reply 2summers March 22, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      Thank you so much, Jaina. Sometimes I actually find it easier to be honest on my blog than in real life. Weird.

      I love your blog too – I’m so glad to have found it through Lani! Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

  • Reply blacksdoswim March 29, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Loving an addict is the hardest thing. And it’s a lot. You get thrown into all kinds of drama and turmoil but you can’t turn the heart off nor the tears at times. You either become rather dark and twisty. Or hopeful that it comes right even though you’ve been down the sobriety road with the person before… You’re still hopeful.

    So, I think that makes it good to have an outlet that is light hearted and positive. We’re more than just our dramas 🙂 I thank and appreciate you sharing your experiences.

    • Reply 2summers March 29, 2016 at 11:15 am

      Thanks, Hitekani 🙂

  • Reply Sonoma June 10, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    Wow. Very moving. Very real. Relatable. Happy to be healthy. Happy to love myself. Thank you! Just found your blog and I’m reading everything I can get my hands (and eyes!) on for Joberg and Capetown…..my husband, 16 year-old daughter and I are visiting SA in August for two weeks. Can’t wait.

  • Reply Cat (talkingofchinese) September 18, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    For what it’s worth I think your personal posts are incredibly powerful – I’d love to read your book.

    • Reply 2summers September 19, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      Thanks Cat 🙂

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