Recently, I left a two year relationship with a guy that seemed like my whole world only a year ago. But like great things do, it began to fall apart.

Some of it because we lacked communication, some of it because we suffered from things that we couldn’t save each other from. We stopped being there for each other because we couldn’t be there for ourselves. We stopped caring because we were so involved with our own issues. Yet, we were too desperate to let go of something that was crumbling. Eventually, I ended things a lot later than I should have. While I know in my heart that leaving the broken relationship was for the best of both of us, I still can’t help but to feel lost in a way.

I’ve left relationships before. I’ve left awful relationships that make you question everything about who you are and who you’ve been. I’ve picked up the pieces of my ego that cracked throughout months of hating myself after losing the person I dedicated a chunk of my life to. And in those moments, I had to rebuild myself.

When we go into relationships, we have it in our minds that we are combining with that person. We complete each other as if we’re a puzzle piece searching for our other half. We forget that we were already whole and that another being is just someone we interact with for a fragment of the time we’ve spent on this planet. That we are more than our relationship.

In these months following my breakup, I find myself looking in the mirror wondering if I can return to how I used to be before the relationship. Right now, I see a person who bleached their black hair blond and cut it above their shoulders, like cutting off my hair is somehow similar to cutting away marble of a statue. Maybe cutting my hair will help me find what’s missing in me?

I think about all the people I used to be and all the people I want to be and I wonder which one is it. Who am I?

I think about who I was just before the relationship. I was healthy. I was fit. But I was sad, too. I wasn’t really healthy because I could only afford ramen and I was fit because I walked everywhere since I couldn’t afford public transit.

I think about the person I was just after leaving my bad high school relationship and how I found myself then. I was a lost, lonely person in a big city starting college in a major I didn’t feel talented in. I didn’t make an effort to reinvent myself. I slowly grew into the changes as I became aware of them.

I think about the person I was the summer I went Europe. I’ve been trying to be them again for years. I was someone who bleached my bangs blonde because I wanted to prove I was daring, but instead parts of my hair fell out because I didn’t know applying heat to bleach damages your hair. I also aspired to be a hippy and told everyone I didn’t want to go to college because I’d rather be nomadic. It’s funny now how much I hate moving.

I think about the person I was in elementary school. Someone who stayed out past dark and caught fireflies in my hands. I’d have about fifty crawling on one hand. I’d let them all go. I didn’t want to keep them in a jar because I knew they’d die the next day.

I look back at all of the people I used to be and ask myself who am I now? How do I find myself after leaving a relationship that I felt defined me for years. How do I figure out my future when I no longer know what it holds? I think one thing I’ve found in the past is that you can’t find yourself through who you used to be because that person is no more. We are like crustaceans molting. We’ve grown out of our past selves. We’ve left behind the shell of who we used to be and now we’re growing into a bigger and stronger person. Our old us still can be found inside but we need to explore how we’ve changed. Some people find themselves by meeting new people, or trying new things, but most importantly, it takes time, so much time. It can be scary. It can be sad. It can be exciting and happy and beautiful because when you finally realize who you are, even if it’s just for a second, it can mean the world.

I hope that one day I will find myself again, whether or not it’s under the stars or among the iron forest that is Chicago. I hope I realize who I am now and learn to accept it and move on. Relationships are hard to move past, but we must remember that we are whole human beings and nothing can change that.