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Athens raised me. Cleveland shaped me.

People always say that you grow by leaving the places where you’re comfortable and I’ll admit that I didn’t really give that statement much thought until I moved away from my comfort zone. The title of this article is actually something that I joked about for a while when I would meet people here in Cleveland. I would always say, with a chuckle, “Athens raised me. Cleveland changed me.” But it didn’t. Cleveland shaped me into the person that I am today.

When I started my writing journey, I started exploring all the cracks and crevasses of myself. I really wanted to dig deep and get to the root of why I am who I am and why I am the way that I am.

Athens is where I was born, it’s where I grew up, it's where my family is, it's where most of my friends are, and it's where most of my life and most of my memories have taken place. I left Athens for five years to attend college but came back after that chapter of my life had ended. I spent three and a half more years in Athens after finishing my undergrad. I spent a total of 26 years, so far, in that town and I wouldn’t take back any of my time there.

Athens raised me. It taught me that nothing is given, it is always earned. Things might come easy for some people, but you have to work your ass off for the things you want. You can build, create and shape the life that you want but you have to be willing to sacrifice for it. Your family and friends will always be there for you, even if you think they won't be. You will make mistakes and people will not always agree with your actions. You will have to make hard decisions, like whether to leave or stay or even to return. Athens gave me many years of growing up, experiences, time with family and friends, and sports that I will forever cherish, and memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so thankful that I still have so many reasons to enjoy going home. Athens will always hold a large place in my heart.

*insert cheesy lyrics because this song always hits me hard*

“Half of my hometown's still hangin' around

Still talkin' about that one touchdown

They're still wearin' red and black

Go Bobcats, while the other half

Of my hometown they all got out

Some went north

Some went south

Still lookin' for a feelin' half of us ain't found

So stay or leave

Part of me will always be

Half of my hometown”

(, Half of My Hometown by Kelsea Ballerini featuring Kenny Chesney)

I’ve been in Cleveland for just over 3 and a half years now. I moved up here with my husband, now ex-husband, after he spent a year working in Cleveland and commuting back to Athens on the weekends. Once I decided to leave Athens, I was excited to move to Cleveland but also scared shitless. We knew no one up here. There was no comfort, no family, no friends. All of the unknowns. Just me and him, together, 3 hours away from everything I had known my whole life.

Cleveland shaped me. It made me uncomfortable. It made me face the reality that I wasn’t happy and that I was just comfortable in my current situation. It made me realize that I have to put myself first because I only have me. Yes, I have family and friends, but I only have me for me. Cleveland forced me to make the hardest decision in my life, to date, and that was to end my marriage. It forced me to become even more independent than I already was, which I really didn’t think was possible. It made me lean on my family and friends for emotional support and comfort, which I had not done much in the past. And it led me to begin my therapy journey, which was much needed, but I kept neglecting that need.

The changes that have happened since I moved to Cleveland, mixed in with a global pandemic, have taught me that this life that I’m so blessed to live, should be LIVED. I should see the world, I should experience new places, new people and I should be open to trying new things. I should open up my adventurous soul to physical adventures. And most importantly, I should focus on my happiness and being truly happy in this life.

If you’re reading this and are scared to take the jump because being comfortable feels much better than growing through the uncomfortable, buck up sis…or bro. Make yourself uncomfortable and grow to new heights. You can do it, if you want to.

So, Athens raised me, Cleveland shaped me and who knows what my next adventure will be? But I know that no matter where my next chapter takes place I will forever cherish the chapters that have come and gone because, holy shit, ALL of the memories, growth, and change have created the person that I am today and, gosh, I just really love her.

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