The Second Year in San Francisco
By Elizabeth Dreeson
I did not fall in love with San Francisco instantly. It never asked me to. It did not make me feel like my presence necessitated justification.
San Francisco did not go to great lengths to impress me. It didn’t need to. But I mistook its modesty for monotony instead of valuing its nuances. I expected it to try and prove itself to me the way that it felt like New York constantly was. But New York never made me stop and look the way that San Francisco does. There was never time.
The people here are just as ambitious without projecting competition rooted in insecurity. San Francisco’s reputation speaks for itself. Neither New York nor SF cares whether the feeling is mutual, but the latter was patient with me while I made up my mind. But I didn’t reciprocate its patience. In fact, I gave San Francisco an ultimatum.
I had lived here for a year and was discouraged by the job that brought me out here. Being from the East Coast, I expected instant gratification. But the West Coast taught me to value the process, even if the lesson is painful.
It was hard to adjust to soporific San Francisco after living in the city that never sleeps, but I fell in love with it once I started paying attention. I love that San Francisco is a sensory city–from the whiffs of eucalyptus my fiancé and I encounter in Golden Gate Park on our walk to synagogue on Shabbat, to the fog horn that lulls me to sleep most nights. Instead of being suffocated by New York’s imperious concrete jungle, I love that I can see the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking out above Golden Gate Park, the Sutro Tower depending on the fog’s mood, and I wouldn’t even know there was a skyline if it weren’t for the Salesforce Tower reminding me that I am indeed in a major metropolitan area.
Eventually I learned to live without late-night delivery options and efficient public transportation. In other words, I learned to love San Francisco for what it is instead of wanting it to be something that it’s not. And then I started treating myself the same way.
I experienced a sort of Great Awakening out here when repressed sexual trauma resurfaced during the burgeoning #metoo movement just a few months after we moved out here—as if I didn’t feel isolated enough. But San Francisco gently pointed me in the right direction.
I discovered two unexpected safe spaces from my conversion to Orthodox Judaism, which is the only space I’ve encountered where men don’t feel entitled to touch me. The synagogue we found offered us an unconditional community when we moved here without one, and we met a Ukranian couple who introduced us to Archimedes Banya, which is now our favorite place in San Francisco. Despite the gratuitous nudity, it is a bastion of body positivity and respect where every body is beautiful. It shocks me that I feel less threatened at the Banya than I do at bars or clubs.
This same friend also facilitated the most profound psychedelic experience of my life where I articulated my sexual trauma for the first time. I later learned how to integrate this experience at Lightning in a Bottle, a transformational festival in Southern California, where I attended a lecture about how psychedelics can be a tool for healing from sexual trauma. After the festival, I sought out these speakers and volunteered at a psychedelics conference in San Francisco hosted by Chacruna, where I was encouraged to pursue somatic therapy, which is an alternative therapy geared towards alleviating PTSD. There are currently only two schools in the country that are training somatic therapists. One of them is in San Francisco. Clearly, I had been mistaken when I believed that I had been brought here for my career. I was brought here to learn that my career wasn’t able to flourish until I learned how to take care of myself. The more I learned about the city, the more I learned about myself.
And San Francisco not only taught me to be patient with myself, but to bet on myself. I took what felt like an enormous risk and quit the job that had exacerbated my depression without anything concrete lined up. And I threatened to leave this city if I didn’t find a good fit professionally. I was ready to give up on San Francisco, just like I gave up on New York, but San Francisco never gave up on me.
San Francisco didn’t let me leave because it knows I still have work to do. I found a transitional job that satiated my curiosity about the startup experience, and it made what I had written off to be a transitional phase tolerable before stumbling into a job at one of the most iconic cultural institutions in San Francisco, and it has given me so much pride for this sophisticated, soporific city. I gave San Francisco a second chance, and it proved to me that it is the quintessential second year city. And I’m proud of this city because I’m proud of myself. I feel guilty for flirting with San Francisco because I know one day I’ll leave. I miss it already. You can’t leave your heart in San Francisco if you don’t find it here first. And you can’t love a city if you don’t love yourself.