The Thursday of O-Week I went out by myself, with the intention of running into some friends and joining them. Living off campus as I do, it is not possible to wander into a common area and find people, and my housemates had their own evening plans. I caught an Uber into Civic and stood in line outside One22, a party of one.
This would have been unimaginable two years ago, in my first year. I was apprehensive, felt foreign to myself and everything around me. Now, I felt good. Sure, I was getting looks from other groups, specifically ones made up of young men, but it was all mostly harmless, and it had little effect on my mood.
I walked up the all-familiar stairs of old Wolf, bid the bloke I was casually chatting to a good night and lined up for water. It was going to be a sober night.
And so, for the next 40 minutes I drank my water, asked random groups of girls to dance with them and kept my eyes peeled for any friends I could join to appear. I was sober, technically alone, and having a fantastic time. I felt whole, grounded, and confident enough in being a proper, full, and settled person to be able to do this, unlike first-year Karolina.
Growing older means you settle into yourself. You connect with who you are internally and carve out a little space for yourself among the nearly eight billion people who walk this earth. Your existence becomes your own. You learn to claim it and revel in it, wholly and absolutely.
Whenever I tell people I regularly go out sober, they usually respond positively saying “I wish I could do that”. I meet strangers and explain that my friends haven’t come yet, or that they left already, and they are almost always welcoming and friendly. Through my independent adventures I’ve realised that everyone is searching for connection. Everyone wants to feel comfortable within themselves.
The formative moment occurred after Laneway in February 2020. After a beautiful 10 hours of live music at the Old Mill in Port Adelaide, a friend and I headed into town for the afterparty. Tiah and I giddily ran up the stairs to Rocket, which anyone from Adelaide will know as a more indie version of One22 and danced the rest of our energy out. She went home at 2 AM and I decided to stay – the DJ was sick, I felt electrically alive and dancing was an expression of truth.
Hence, I stayed, by myself, in a crowd that was already thinning. At first, I just stood by the bar, sipping water, trying to find an inconspicuous corner I could claim. I wandered over, and immediately looped back to the bar. Too scary. I noticed a small group of people dancing like they meant it, I approached, explained that my friend went home, and asked if I could join them. Yes! Welcomed with enthusiasm, I danced with them until 4 AM, until my body gave way, and my energy was spent. I thanked my companions and got home safe.
The moment that I returned to Rocket after seeing Tiah off, I was strengthening my connection to self. When I walked over to those kind strangers, I was affirming my place in the world, and quietly saying “I exist”. When I felt the bass pulsating through my veins and my body moving in time, I was grounding myself in my own existence, taking ownership of who I was and what I stood for. I was becoming a real, full, and settled person.
Nothing really prepares you for the debilitating existential angst of realising ‘holy shit I am an actual person who is meant to have values and thoughts and a proper life’. You enter the world as an 18-year-old– fresh faced, and unable to internally answer if you even like yourself. Everything comes at you all at once, and you walk down Uni Ave feeling like a meaningless speck that is at the same time bursting with a desire to have a space in the world, to be meaningful.
The changes I’ve experienced in my sense of self over the last two years have been beyond what anyone could have explained to me. It’s like the dust has settled, and instead of frantically looking around and being uprooted from the everyday, each foot on the ground is filled with intention and with conviction.
This space you create for yourself is one you must fill, occupy, and take full ownership of. Doing so requires an understanding of yourself and enough tenacity to claim said space. It’s your little meter-squared surrounded by everyone else’s and a way to affirm your existence amongst them. Your personhood fills your body, transcends it, and grows its roots through the space. I think growing up is the process of making and cultivating that space for yourself. While maybe it always exists, you need to become whole, complete, and full enough so that you can step into it and make it habitable.
I want to get to a point in my life where I only say and do things I mean and believe in. There is a quote in the film Frances Ha, where the titular character Frances says, embarrassed, “I’m not a real person, yet”. I guess my way of living with intention is going out sober and being assured enough to dance with sweaty strangers in the dark. My space is my own, stable enough in its foundations to allow me to stand alone in the line to One22, the perimeter strengthened by my values, goals and confidence that has been through more rejections than approvals.
Becoming a person is scary. It’s a process that you have to completely commit yourself to. My way of navigating that process was giving up drinking in first year and carrying myself through social situations without the blanket of alcohol. It was journaling, failing two subjects, taking a year off uni and moving back home and doing lots of things alone and then with people. It was learning to smile and say “hi” to the person I kind of knew but whose gaze I always avoided. Your life is your process, and your space is waiting to be yours.
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