My final morning in Gozo had arrived and although I was feeling sad to leave beautiful Amchara, my lovely new friends and my dear sister, I was very excited about seeing my own family back home later that day.
With all the best intentions in the world I knew I wasn’t going to make it to yoga that morning, especially as I’d asked my sister to do my hair in two ‘skin plaits’ before I left (‘Make me look like a hipster for when André meets me at the airport!’, I had commanded her). When you feel like a hippy on the inside – all peace and light and vegan food, you start wanting to look like one on the outside so people can see your bliss coming at them down the street without you having to offer them a flower, hummus, or free love.
Admiring my plaits in the mirror, I put on the off shoulder loose white cheesecloth blouse I’d brought along, and Jude’s chocolate brown harem pants, along with my little winged leather sandals. All that was missing was the friendship bracelet and some ankle jewellery, and perhaps some sort of feather or ribbon in my hair. But you can’t have everything.
Looking in the mirror, I could see a definite change from the person I was when I came here. My skin was completely clear, a lovely soft golden colour from the sun, and a genuinely glowing complexion that looked healthy and well-rested, in spite of me not having slept well this week at all. No under eye shadows at all, and both Nay and I said we could see my cheekbones starting to come through – my face shape changing very slightly from the big round football head I’ve had for the last couple of years. With only a slick of Nay’s mascara, I decided not to wear a scrap of any other makeup. I’d not worn any all week, which in itself had been a welcome rest. Not that I wear much, but when one is holidaying with one’s sweetypie, it’s often a pressure to try to look glam even on the beach or pool. Here I could just ‘be’. But a little mascara framed my eyes and accentuated just how bright and healthy they were looking.
Staring at my figure, obviously I still have a way to go, but the swollen lump on my front torso that I came with, like a food pregnancy, had noticeably depleted. And my butt and thighs look slimmer and tighter – I guess from all the swimming.
I did question how much of this was just a change of perception rather than an actual physical change. Amchara, and the staff here, have changed something far more important than my girth. They made me feel special. They made me feel like I was worth taking care of, inside and out. They made me feel like my organs were worth cherishing. They made me want to love myself and care for myself right down to a cellular level. And I was staring at myself in the mirror through happy cells – hydrated cells with the right nutrients to do their jobs. Those little cells were smiling out of my eyes at me in the mirror. How could I possibly not smile back?
My last breakfast was a delicious smoothie of unknown contents – my guess would be mango, banana and coconut. But I honestly couldn’t tell you as to me it tasted like ice cream – all that delicious creamy sweetness that I wasn’t used to.
A couple of my friends were there and we hugged and said our goodbyes. ‘It’s been epic’, one said. And he was right. Hard to believe it’s only been a week, when so much has happened…so much has changed.
After breakfast I was required to attend an ‘exit interview’ of sorts. I was weighed, and my blood pressure taken again, as they did on my first day. I’d lost about 4 pounds – not as much as some, but considering on a normal week of healthy eating and exercise I’ll lose about half a pound, it’s pretty good for me. To be honest, other than a passing nod to the scales, I’d stopped caring what the scales told me about myself. When you feel this good on the inside, the numbers don’t mean nearly so much. No more will those scales dictate how much I do or don’t like myself or feel proud of myself. That begins and ends somewhere else entirely now.
My blood pressure was holding steady at a really nice healthy rate – absolutely incredible considering I was due to fly today and had for many years suffered from hypertension which I’d only recently started to get a grip on. But none of this surprised me. I don’t know if it is the island, Amchara, the wonderful life-affirming staff who make you feel like someone worth loving, the yoga, or just having some time to breathe and ‘be’…but I felt so calm and serene. I felt like one of the Amchara Earth Angels who glide about with a soft knowing smile, with wonderful posture and not a hurry in the world.
Except I was in a slight hurry to catch the ferry, so I hugged the beautiful staff who had all come to say goodbye in person at reception and see me off down the road as Nay loaded my things into the car and we drove away towards the ferry port. A short detour to see my nephew (who also works at the resort as a handyman but lives off site and had been on holiday during my visit) meant I was loaded with extra love and hugs before continuing my journey.
We arrived at the ferry port with only 8 minutes to spare – no long lingering goodbyes here but the biggest sisterly squeeze that can be packed into a few seconds as I had to jog at a little pace with my wheelie case to get my ticket and get on the ferry on time.
But once on, instead of panicking because I was traveling alone, or worrying about the taxi ride the other side, or the flight, I felt….totally cool. I had a quick wee (never pass up the opportunity to use the loo when traveling) and found myself admiring the lovely pale straw colour of it in the bowl after. ‘Perfect’, I thought. I have been grading my wees like this ever since the hydration talk at Amchara. It makes me feel strangely proud to award myself 10/10 for superb colour and aroma. But as hydrating/weeing goes, I feel like I’m an A grade student. I got this stuff sussed now. And even though getting a wheelie case in and out of a toilet cubicle with no one around to hang onto it for you is a challenge, I nailed that too.
I wheeled my case out onto the passenger deck to look out over beautiful Gozo as the ferry tooted its horn and sailed away. I didn’t know if my sister was there or had driven away, but I waved anyway, thanking her, and thanking the island for everything it had given me that I was taking home with me.
There I was, in the glorious sunshine, the blue sky above, the blue ocean below, a golden glow on my cheeks, my wayward baby chick hair tamed into submission in tight skin plaits, my light wafty and chic summer clothes, my single wheelie case under control, my painted toenails. And I realised…I AM one of those cool people. I’m not just a wannabe, or disguised as one – but I feel utterly chilled, traveling here alone, my head upturned to the sun with my shades on, a calm smile on my face. I took a rare selfie (I’m not really a fan), to mark the moment, and uploaded it to instagram.
I felt..beautiful, inside and out, for the first time in about 10 years. It would normally feel boastful and wrong to even think that, let alone share it with anyone. But you guys have been with me through it all – from diarrhea to the drumming awake of my genitals, so we have no secrets any more. And those of you who know me well will know what a well of self-hatred I was, how mean to myself and my body I could be, how in my line of work I could see the beauty and worth in everyone else but myself. So I hope you won’t begrudge me this little moment of feeling utterly lovely, with the gentle sea breeze on my face, that inner sense of calm like I’ve never really known before, noticing glances from other more fraught travelers as they passed me. I recognised the sweaty anxiousness in them as my old self. I felt like they were looking at me and wondering how I could do this stuff so calmly and elegantly. By having my arsehole rinsed out and drinking half a farm, I wanted to tell them. But obviously it’s so much more complex than that.
I was so busy feeling serene and confident that I suddenly realised I had no idea where I was meeting the taxi driver Nay had booked for me to take me from the port in Malta to the airport; nor what they looked like or even a name. Thankfully, almost everywhere, including the ship, has free wifi in Malta, so I messaged Nay who sent me the details through straight away.
There’s something a little stressful about expecting to be met by someone when you are somewhere strange and new and for them not to be there. This was the situation that greeted me at port. As the other passengers disappeared onto buses, cars and taxis; I was left with my wheelie case by the port entrance without anyone to greet me. The old familiar tug of anxiety welled up a little in my chest, despite Nay’s assurances they were on their way and would be five minutes. As five, ten, fifteen and then twenty minutes passed by with no sign of my taxi driver, I did start to worry that I might miss my flight. However, from somewhere inside came a new voice to comfort my gibbering inner chimp. The new voice saw the traffic on the approach road to the port, and remembered the fiesta happening on Gozo that weekend, and realised my taxi was stuck in traffic but likely to be there soon. The new voice reminded me that I had left loads of extra time for my journey to the airport – because that’s the kind of person I am. And it was for precisely this sort of unexpected delay that I did that as a matter of habit, and therefore had absolutely no reason to worry. My sister confirmed all this via messenger so I just stood on the steps of the port entrance and did some yoga (yep!) while I waited. Nothing too fancy. I don’t want to look like one of those nobs on Instagram, you understand. But just enough to feel grounded and relaxed, to spread the weight across both feet, to stretch my limbs while I could. And before you could say ‘Namaste’ to me (as many of you comedians have been saying to me all bloody week) my ride had turned up.
I didn’t get her name, but she was a lovely Maltese lady who gave me a chilled coconut water and proceeded to point out all the sights and stories of Malta as we passed them en route to the airport. My lovely sis had told her in advance to drive slowly for me, because I was a nervous passenger. And because my lovely driver drove slowly and carefully….I didn’t feel like a nervous passenger. I still felt utterly cool.
Reaching the airport I tipped the driver an extra five Euros for making it so stress free, and wheeled my case into the building. And seeing that I still had a comfortable one and three quarter hours before my flight, I made the impromptu decision to take my lunch up to the roof, to the observation deck of the airport.
It probably doesn’t sound like much to many people. But when I used to be so uncomfortable even to look at a photo of a plane, when for so many years I avoided the amazingness of travel just because of them, can you begin to understand how wonderful it felt to be able to sit on the roof of an airport, in the sunshine, all by myself, surrounded by planes coming and going – taking off and landing and taxiing around me, their big engines roaring, watching them soar away? Moments like this are precious for anyone who’s ever been really scared of anything. I mean *really* scared. I chose to have my lunch right there and Nay had made sure I had a lunch fit for a raw vegan gluten free dairy free grain free queen. She’d asked Ali to make me up the raw ‘sushi’ arrangement I’d been so enamoured with when I’d seen other people eating it all week – along with some of that incredible spicy nutty sauce to dunk it in.
It seemed fitting that I had sushi on the way out and the way back home. And once again I managed not to spill any sauce down my top (nothing was going to ruin that little dream I had in my head of walking out through customs at the airport and running into Andre’s arms. Especially not some bright orange/brown sauce that old me would have got absolutely everywhere).
Finishing up, I got through customs, airport security and all that stuff in a matter of minutes, and found myself in a very comfortable departure lounge with 45 minutes before my gate would be announced. Enough time for a little duty free present shopping for the boys (artichoke dip, carob syrup and some of that peppered cheese I’d had on the first night, for them to try), another wee wee and to stock up on water for the journey. Also enough time for me to sit at the charging stations and charge my phone and laptop. I felt…still, utterly cool.
I considered whether I should use the time to listen to my flying hypnosis cd…but I just didn’t feel like I needed to, so I didn’t. And when my gate was called I remembered with glee that I had paid 20 pounds extra when I checked in online to have priority queuing and seating with extra leg room over the wing. If I didn’t feel cool enough already as a solo traveler, just imagine how cool I felt wheeling up the Priority Boarding aisle straight onto the plane while a hundred passengers stood looking tired and impatient in the regular queue. That’s one of the great things about traveling alone. Priority boarding for one, one way only is a very affordable 20 quid. When you’re paying it for a whole family it ceases to be reasonable. So I’ve never done it in my life before. And I was glad that the one time I decided to do it was now, so I could stay in my bliss bubble of chilledoutness for as long as possible.
I expected to get anxious when I got on the plane. I didn’t.
I expected to get anxious when the plane taxied onto the runway. I didn’t.
I expected to feel sick with nerves when the plane revved up its engines before hitting that runway. I didn’t.
I expected to feel so scared when it took off and started climbing up up up into the light cloud cover above. I didn’t.
In fact, not only was I not scared, but I kept my eyes open for the first time for the whole thing. And not only that, but I was filming the whole thing out the window on my phone with a big cheesy grin on my face.
‘I’m flying,’ I thought. You have no idea how proud of me I was in that moment.
I had my headphones, and instead of listening to the sleepy voiced hypnotherapist talking me into a state of relaxation I listened to David Bowie, The Beatles, Prince, Kirsty McColl. When we bumped through the clouds, I turned up Freddie Mercury singing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and I danced in my seat, rocking away with my eyes shut for the moment. Not because I was scared, but because I was rocking out to some awesome music and didn’t care who was watching me.
When the ladies next to me ate their crisps and soggy microwave chips, I got out the Amchara snack pack that had been made for me – lovely fresh, crunchy crudité, the sweetest pink apple, and a small portion of that raw brownie that I’d seen being made at the food demo earlier in the week.
I ate my veggies first, like a good girl, savouring every crunch, the sweetness of the carrot, the lovely flavour of the courgette. But I was transfixed on that little portion of brownie. Would it be delicious or disapointing? Would it lift me to higher realms or taste like paper pulp?
It tasted just like Christmas. Date cake with spices and cranberries and orange zest. I have no idea if that’s what was in it, because I can’t remember what the recipe was, but that’s what it tasted like to me. Probably it’s a bit like when wine tasters tell you they can taste subtle hints of wild strawberry and mint in a bottle of plonk that just tastes like wine to anyone else. But I don’t care. That little parcel of fudgey goodness was all mine, and I made sex noises and licked the tin foil clean in front of the two elderly Maltese ladies who had the seats next to me and were already giving me weird looks for rocking out to Queen as they clung to the arms of their seats during the (mild) turbulence.
For the rest of the journey I acted like any cool kid, doing exactly as I pleased, regardless of the fact we were 37,000 feet up in the air. I got out my laptop and typed up my blog to you guys. I looked at my holiday photos and smiled at the memories. I put it all away and closed my eyes to relax, sipping on mineral water, listening to Ziggy playing guitar with the Spiders from Mars. I was totally OK.
And as the captain announced we were just over Kent/London and shortly to descend for landing, I looked out my window into what was still a beautiful blue sky day even in England, and saw the river Thames, picking out the landmarks like The Shard, and familiar bridges laid out before me like tiny little models.
The green of England, divided like a quilt, spread out beyond London to Bedfordshire, where we were landing, and my tummy turned a little somersault thinking of André meeting me at the airport like men do in films. Wondering if he’d missed me. Hoping he would think I was beautiful. Wishing he’d kiss me.
The fields came closer and closer into view, and I got out my iphone and filmed out the window as the gorgeous lush landscape of my home country filled the glass, welcoming me home. And where I would normally be bracing myself for some landing-strip disaster, reading and re-reading the safety information card ‘just in case’, and imagining the worst….I just smiled and carried on filming out of the window as trees, buildings and cars grew from tiny sugar cube models into fully formed reality. As the plane bumped down with a hard thunk and a bounce, I just laughed out loud. You can even hear it on the video. I laughed! And catching myself in the act, I nearly welled up with tears at the realisation that I had flown on my own, without any fear, without any stress for the first time since I was 13 years old. Thirty years of terror transformed by what…yes, years of working on it with hypnotherapy and books and logic and mind over body and decent pilots doing their best. But also…transformed through my own self-growth, and the wonderful bubble of blissful serenity that had grown around me in Gozo, and followed me all the way home to England.
A nice young beardy weirdy helped me with my case off the plane and up and down flights of stairs till I got to passport control, who let me through again (for some reason this always surprises me as my passport photo looks like Myra Hindley with those crazy eyes and cat’s bottom mouth). I knew that the other side of the customs corridor was my sweetheart, waiting for me. Or was he?….I’d pictured that moment, with him waiting for me with open arms (sometimes carrying flowers, but I ditched that particular detail in favour of the more realistic version), so many many times while I’d been away. I didn’t want to risk walking through that door for him not to be there and instead to have to wait for him like I’d had to wait for the taxi driver in Malta. This time, I wanted it MY way. It had to be right. So I messaged him.
He was stuck on the motorway somewhere. He’d been chatting to his brother and missed the turnoff and was now trying to back track after traveling the wrong way for some time. He was cursing and swearing and grumpy. His chimp (Kim Jon Un, as we call him at home), was well out of its box.
‘Sweety, it doesn’t matter,’ I tried to soothe him. ‘You’re on your way, and that’s all that counts. I just can’t wait to see you. Just let it go, be happy to see me, that’s all.’ But Kim was already driving, and Kim wanted to rant about the traffic and the bad luck and the annoyance after having left well in time to meet me.
But nothing was going to puncture my bliss bubble, so I decided to stay the other side of customs until André had found his way to me. Which, after some considerable time and traffic and poor signage, he did. ‘I’m here.’ he said. And I was through those doors like lightening…wheeling my little case as fast as my little legs could pull us both, spotting him the other side of the barrier in arrivals up the other end of the hall…and I scooted up to him, leaning over the barrier, reaching round the back of his head to pull him in for one massive snoggy, completely unashamedly smoochy kiss that involved quite a bit of tongue and absolutely no modesty at all.
Traffic was really bad on the drive home. None of it mattered. We had so much to tell each other, and I couldn’t stop looking at him and smiling. I had missed him so much, but in a really good way, with no miseries at all.
About 10:30pm, when I’d been traveling for 13 hours, we reached our home. The dog practically cock-a-doodle-dooed when she heard my voice the other side of the door. Her greeting involved the traditional flinging herself at me repeatedly, sniffing my nethers deeply (just to check it was really me, you understand), and licking my ears over and over once I’d sat down. My lovely son, Jude, had had a shower in honour of my home coming, and let me boing his long ringlets (a rare honour he doesn’t allow me very often these days), as well as giving me the biggest hug.
The boys both told me I looked radiant, and happy and glowing. And I glowed even brighter with the joy of being noticed and appreciated.
Home safe with the people I love most, it is hard to believe I was only away a week. And yet in that week I’ve experienced so much, learned so much, felt so much, changed so much. I’m still me, you understand, but Jude tells me I keep smiling all the time and he wants to know what I’m thinking about. ‘I’m just happy’, I keep saying. ‘And I’m plotting how to go back there and take you both with me.’