Alone in a Big City: The Realities of Leaving Home

Alone in a Big City: The Realities of Leaving Home

Two years ago, I moved away from home: away from my small riverside town to the big city of Auckland, often confused for New Zealand’s capital, but really just the one with the most people, skyscrapers and designer dogs.

I moved for uni. Well, at least that’s what I tell people. Really, it was to get a fresh start. I didn’t want to be one of those small-town people who gets trapped and starts a family without ever leaving. I wanted out. An all-or-nothing kinda girl, I either give it my all, or not at all. So saying goodbye to childhood friends, family and everything comfortable was a small sacrifice to pay for the thrill of new beginnings and exploring a city I’d only ever seen through an airport terminal.

And it was great – I knew absolutely no one, but that’s never bothered me. I loved the feeling of wandering down quiet alleyways, discovering new favourite cafes and playing tourist in what would become my new home.

The honeymoon phase was perfect.

But the truth is moving away wasn’t so much about creating a new life. It was more about running away from my old one. I’d made some stupid mistakes growing up, didn’t take the opportunities I should have, hurt people I shouldn’t have and created a person I had never planned on becoming.

I was looking for something, to figure out what was missing, and – you know – “find myself”.

And for a while, it worked. Starting anew pushed me out of my comfort zone and broke down the barriers I had put up around me that I hadn’t even realised existed. Suddenly, I was meeting new people, spending afternoons wandering through art galleries and going ice skating in outdoor ice rinks lit up by disco lights.  I got a job in a quaint little bookstore and fuelled my always-growing but often unused book collection. I was learning about intersectionality, and indigenous rights, and how to survive on three hours of sleep yet still do well in an exam.

I kept myself busy, constantly on the go. Losing myself to the big city, I was a new girl.

But slowly, gradually, I’ve realised the shiny newness of Auckland is wearing off, and the life I’ve built here has these tiny little cracks in it I’d never noticed before. Those cracks revealed what I’ve been avoiding: commitment. Connection. Allowing people into the life I’ve built up around me.

I got a call from a friend the other day. And it hit me. I miss my home so bloody much. I miss feeling comfortable. I miss familiarity. I miss not being confronted with new things every day. I miss those beautiful, stable friendships that you know don’t need constant attention to survive.

 The honeymoon phase is over, and now I can see that leaving isn’t clean and tidy. You can’t just duck out of your old life and enter a new one. There’s loose ends and hurt feelings, and bits of yourself left in both places.

 Because the truth is, I wished for this city to be an escape. I wanted the hustle and bustle to drown out the unease inside of me. I hoped the big city life and all its people would make me feel part of something. I wanted this place to heal me. I now understand that doesn’t happen. Travelling is transformative, but running away is not.

 Being alone in a big city sucks.

Those quirky alleyways are now less quirky and more threatening; going to cafes alone doesn’t have the same appeal, and what I would give to stop being a tourist and just be a local.

It feels like being in limbo. The intermission between scenes. Like I’ve stepped out of my “life” and it’s just waiting for me somewhere else, ready for when it’s time to put down roots and build a home. There’s a piece of the puzzle missing. The piece I left at home, when I started again. I wasn’t just leaving – I was isolating myself from anything that could help me deal with everything I needed to. Isolating myself from the people who loved me.

Running away from your shit never works. You just can’t. Issues, insecurities and baggage don’t just disappear when you hop on a plane, a bus or a train. It’s inside of you, and until it’s confronted head-on, you’ll never be free.

Cover by Ben Blennerhassett