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Life can catch us in such an endless whirlwind of survival that we forget to pause. And yet, it’s in the moments when I pause that emotion sweeps over me like a tidal wave in a monsoon – pound upon pound of powerful pressure, a tumbling wash cycle of nostalgia, pain, redemption… a strong sense of survival and courage and strength and an immense feeling of awe at how ABSOLUTELY different I am, today.
If I could describe in a single phrase the climax of my self-discovery as I approach my 30th year it is simply this:
Somewhere along this crazy journey I have managed to slowly shed layers of fear, apprehension, anxiety, cravings for approval, obsession with perfection, worry over what I cannot change… social constructions of ideology and a past littered with an inability to simply BE… alone.
You would never think that looking back on 30 years of life, I’d be more grateful for things I have lost than things I have gained… and yet, I find myself musing the most over what I’ve abandoned – discarded beliefs and fears that have become the catalyst for so much peaceful self-assurance. These “losses” have formed the foundation for major shifts in worldview and have ultimately brought me more peace than I’ve ever had in my life before.
I’ve lost a fear of differences.
This one is a big one and may not be well-received. I believe it is a direct result of leaving religion. Over the last decade I have slowly but surely left the church, left the suffocating pressure of boundaries constructed from a fear of differences and categorized by self-righteousness, hypocrisy and ignorance. As a result, I have GAINED a unique spirituality; a deep sense of gratitude for all life and for all beliefs, so long as they open the door for community and respect and a wholesome selflessness without an abandonment of autonomous thinking. I can now approach everyone openly, with an eagerness to dissect and learn from their spirituality and personal ownership of the deeper currents of human existence … I can explore all things with a willingness to be proven wrong, to grow and learn and connect and accept and challenge. There is so much fearlessness, so much richness and possibility for me now that I have left traditional religious beliefs behind. I can now connect with those who are different from me without fear.
I’ve lost a fear of being alone.
I am finally at a place in my life where I am content, alone. I value my community, I thrive in relationships and friendships, but I am no longer intimidated by solitude. An extrovert to my core, I thrive on human connection – but I also find peace in my single existence, my sole autonomy and the thrilling escape of my own mental pathways. I can simply BE, and revel in it.
Along with this loss has come immense gain… in the form of a reckless abandonment of possessiveness and dating in friendships and relationships. I no longer expect forever. Without bitterness or fear I am able to simply enjoy the moment with someone without a fear of “losing” them… because they are not, and will never be, “mine”. I find the thrill of connecting with someone on a deep and conscious level – emotionally, platonically, romantically, sexually… whatever it is, fulfilling and valuable, even when it comes without a “forever” tag.
This loss of a fear of being alone has resulted in the gain of confidence in walking away from anything that does not add value for me or is not in the best interests of myself, my son, or the other person: my “never settle” mentality. Just as I feel no one owes me a moment of their time or attention (autonomy has become paramount, above all things), I owe them nothing. I can freely give of my love, time, affection, energy, interest, trust, etc. – but it is just that…. freely given. As is theirs. I have gained a rich sense of gratitude and an ability to dwell in the moment with others, simply from “losing” a fear of being alone.
This evolution of mindset has been so astounding and influential for me that it has even resulted in an abandonment of many social “norms” – one of them being the concept that monogamy, above all things, is the end goal of relationships and human existence. As unpopular as it may sound, I no longer believe it to be “normal” to imagine that you or your significant other will never “want” anyone else. What this means for my future relationships, I do not know – but it has relieved all pressure of a fear of someone “cheating,” given me a courageous ability to openly explore emotional and sexual expression and conversation with new partners, and completely released me from the social construct of keeping “desires” to myself because they are “bad.” I am able to respectfully discuss all things with potential mates, and open the same doors for them. The resulting levels of trust have been fathomless and resulted in deeper connections than I’ve ever had before. I have gained the deep satisfaction that comes from COMPLETE openness and trust.
I’ve lost a fear of losing the approval of others.
From an anxious people-pleaser and a lover of approval to a peaceful, thoughtful, strong-minded decision maker… where did this happen? Somewhere along the way I have abandoned my fear of the opinions of others and focused wholly on making decisions as they bring value, adventure, and new experiences to my life. Just as I have stopped judging the decisions of others, I have finally road-blocked my never-ending urge to justify my life decisions to everyone around me. I’ve gained a complete confidence that those who truly understand me will approve of anything that brings value and happiness to my life.
I’ve lost a fear of the unknown.
I no longer seek to control the things I cannot understand or manipulate. Even in the darkest moments, moments of despair or illness or emotional pain – I have gained an ability to let things go. They may not all work out in my favor, but they will play out as they are fated to – and I will survive the manifestation of that fate. I’ve found a relentless ability to thrive on the tenacity of my spirit and a peace in abandoning what I cannot control. The freedom I feel in my daily life now compared to even a year ago is mind-blowing.
With the loss of a fear of differences, a fear of being alone, a fear of losing approval, and a fear of the unknowns… I have gained peace, self-assurance, confidence, joy, incredibly deep and powerful human connections, satisfaction, self-completion.
As I approach my 30th year, I can confidently say that the person I am now – albeit ever evolving and growing – is exactly who I would wish to be. Whether I live another week or many years, I am finally living exactly as I would wish to:
Timid betrayal of introspection
The forced security of mandated strength
Circumstance and need
Driving the willful avoidance of self analysis
Exploration of pain
The self proclaimed antithesis of progress
Admittance of burdens
A crippling foray into unknown darkness.
Time and wisdom offering shifted lens
Begrudging admittance of chosen ignorance
Real-time trauma the perpetual catalyst
Of simmering, painful personhood
Primed and ready to erupt
In a virtual fountain of brokenness and fear.
Is strength then truly measured
By a profound ability
To stubbornly fight for passionless pride?
Or simply a misplaced confidence
In a facade of ignorant self betrayal
A sham of self sufficiency
The hangman’s noose of forward progress.
//I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change//
‘Tis the season for reflection as we enter the New Year, and I’m not one to avoid a little over-the-shoulder analysis.
2016 was a brutal and beautiful year. It was a year marked by passion, courage, change, growth, and friendship. It was also a year marked by loss, pain, lies, fear, and betrayal. 2016 may have been one of the most pivotal years of self-evolution for me.
Why? Perhaps because of:
Without a doubt, this has been a heavy year. But the silver lining lies simply in the fact that I am not who I was when this year began.
I am a little less vulnerable, a little more stable. A little less unsure, a little more secure. I am a lot less afraid, and a lot more confident in my ability to navigate the darkest of days with the relentlessly altruistic tenacity that’s defined the course of my life.
This year I’ve learned an incredibly painful and valuable lesson: That the only thing in my control… is me. My emotions, my reactions, my thoughts, and my choices–these are the only things I can control. The rest is not up to me, the rest shouldn’t sway me–I am responsible for and secure in one reality: My own power to decide what I will make of myself.
The question has become not “why me?” or “how could this happen?” but “what will i do?” “how will i react?”. More and more, I’ve found peace in resorting to the overwhelmingly stabilizing epiphany of my own self-control.
I am not who I was when this year began. Loss, pain, lies, fear, and betrayal have shaped me… in the best ways. I’ve become self-aware, community-driven, future-focused, and kinder, more thoughtful, more empathic, more understanding, more patient because of this year. Because of these struggles, because of the sudden realization that I am in control of nothing and no one but me. Because of this pain, because of this awareness, I am different. And for that, I am grateful.
I pray that 2017 is a better year, for me and many others. I pray for less loss, less fear, less pain, less betrayal. I pray for more financial security, more ability to give to others, more time with my son, more stability. I pray for the strength to get through my boyfriend’s deployment with consistency and without fear, I pray to master new realities about myself and the world, I pray to meet people exactly where they are at and help them there. I pray for greater love, greater joy, greater inner peace, greater patience and kindness. But at the end of the day, I know I can give these things, create these things, BE these things, regardless of what others choose to do, regardless of the difficulty and stress that comes my way, because the only thing I can control, is ME.
//I’ve been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they’re not alone?
A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart
And a washed-out dream
They follow the pattern of the wind ya’ see
‘Cause they got no place to be
That’s why I’m starting with me
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change//
This morning I randomly decided to watch the music video for one of my favorite songs. Little did I know it would bring me to tears.
If you haven’t watched it, you may be surprised. Check it out:
It is so easy to forget. To compartmentalize in order to move on. To push your past into deep, dark corners of mental closets – safe from the light. It’s surprisingly easy, with time. Things you think you’ll never forget, never recover from, never erase from your memory… you simply do.
You would be surprised what time can do to erase your pain – this is both a blessing and a curse.
Coping requires some level of moving on. But learning, growing, changing, and channeling requires remembering.
This video shocked me back into memories I haven’t touched in forever. I held them in my mind and turned them over with fascinated repulsion as I watched it, felt it, relived it… a relentless montage in my head of the most devastating and debilitating experiences of my life.
I remember that animal-like fear. The absolute terror and pain and the mind-blowing disconnect between deeply loving someone and feeling and receiving what I did from them. I remember the intense physical effects of harsh words and threats and raised hands. I remember that indescribable feeling of being trapped, and alone. I remember the vivid nightmare of my days and the panic of restless nights. The deepest forms of betrayal. Confusion, terror, self-loathing, shame, hatred, insecurity, depression, and anger… all wrapped up into one shriveling life form that was ME. Me: deconstructed, devolving, destroyed. I was dying inside. Hidden from light and love and hope and community.
And I left. I left, I started over. I grew, I lived, I was reborn. I evolved. I strengthened. I stood up, hoped, smiled, connected, and was free. Am free. Am all of these things, and more.
In the midst of my freedom… in the midst of the intense joy I feel in living, loving, hoping, dreaming, connecting, thriving… I must not forget my pain. My pain is what brought me here. My pain is what deepened me, developed my soul, created my empathy for the world and for everyone who has been there, and who is still there.
I’m anxiously awaiting the day when I can get the IDECIDE program off the ground. When I can again connect with a community of oppressed souls and help walk them into the light of freedom – away from this pain and confusion and fear. When I can reach out and touch the abused and the destroyed and the defeated with everything I have to offer from the other side of pain. I cannot wait to begin this mission and to spend the rest of my life pursuing touching as many lives as I can. I cannot wait to give back – to find the balance between living free, and remembering pain.
I have so much to do. I do not want to forget.
Mat Kearney: Closer to Love
Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love
In the last 24 hours I’ve had two very thought-provoking things happen. The first was when a dear friend asked if I “missed being in a relationship,” after I mentioned the commitment I made to ride this year out single so I could focus on self-reflection and getting to know MYSELF through a variety of people and experiences. The second was when I ran across an incredibly dynamic and attractive individual – one of those people you just instantly connect with, that get you thinking intensely about what you want in life, somehow. You know those people – the game-changers. The “hail marys” of your life that skyrocket you into self-reflection and sometimes, powerful life changes.
Between those two incidents, I’ve been thinking deeply on how my approach to love has changed in the last decade. Thinking about the assumptions I now make about self and world, about how I’ve lost the romance along the way amidst the pain, and about the bigger picture of human relationships and connection.
I’ve been reading an amazing book lately called “Waking Up: a Guide to Spirituality without Religion” (available on amazon – highly recommend it!). In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that people tend to love one of two ways: first, for what you give them or how you make them feel, and second, for who you are. He calls the first “transactional love” and makes a firm point that this type of love exists in a vacuum – it cannot survive if practiced by one or either individual – in any type of relationship. Ironically, I’ve said this in my own way upon reflecting on my past this last few years. I say often that “it is possible to be loved selfishly, while loving selflessly.”
My own experience of platonic and familial love has been powerful and life-changing. I have an incredibly, unconditionally loving family. Parents who love each other and their daughters with reckless, selfless abandon. I have friends who will be there for me at the drop of the hat – who truly love who I am, regardless of what I can do for them, or how I’ve changed. I’ve magnetized more and more of these people this last few years, and I am deeply grateful for them.
What has been painful for me is the romantic aspect of love. I have a deep, vested interest in the success and wellbeing of every stranger I meet. Truly, I care instantly for people, and want their best. If I only touch their lives briefly, I want to touch them powerfully, positively, and inspirationally. I want to help everyone. I’ve always been that way, and I passionately love this about myself.
This is, however, crippling for me in romantic relationships. In a culture where what we have – what we own – seems to determine our self-value, people seem to be just another commodity to acquire. Something entertaining, fulfilling, satisfying – to discard when the amusement has passed or the newer model becomes available. We’ve marginalized human relationships in our quenchless thirst for the next-best-thing.
I’ve never loved this way. I can honestly say that even in two long, emotional, deeply powerful, monogamous relationships, I’ve felt every day that I wanted the best of my partner first and foremost – even if their best was not me, or not what I wanted. I was more invested in their future, their health, their self-fulfillment, than in my selfishness on any level.
There is a fine line to walk here. I fully recognize that while selflessness is admirable, a martyr mentality is not a healthy approach to romantic love. What I’ve come to recognize the last few years is that love is at times, selfish. Love begins with self-love, and self-love INCLUDES a certain level of selfishness – the courage to say “I want this.” The commitment to speak up when we are hurt. The ability to ASK.
Somewhere along the way, in the darkest places of my broken marriage, in the corners of my living room – as small as possible, hiding from the world and from my shattering reality – I learned that if I expected nothing, asked for nothing, dreamed of nothing – if I turned fear into open-handed coexistence, if I took away the romance… I was less brutally torn apart by rejection and sharp words and raised fists and a relentless verbal destruction of the things I had always found most beautiful about myself.
I learned not to ask, not to hope, because there is nothing more painful than loving selflessly, and being loved transactionally in return. There is nothing more painful than realizing that you love more deeply and powerfully than your significant other is capable of loving you. There is nothing worse than being loved intermittently, haphazardly, while loving someone with love like the ocean – vast, expansive, endless, deep, constantly moving and changing but always there. There is nothing sharper and more destructive than the careless wounds of someone you love wholly and completely for everything they are, and can be.
I’ve swung to the opposite extreme these days – not to selfish love, but to the absence of romantic love. I expect nothing, hope for very little, and keep my hands open. I reassure people over and over that I’ll never ask anything of them – that I expect nothing of them – I don’t dream or read into things or romanticize anything, because it is much easier for me to accept the transience of human relationships than it is to hope that something powerful, purposeful, and earth-shattering could come into my life, and remain.
This year of committing to be single is so very intentional. These are the revelations I need to make – the observations about my extremes that I need to master, to conquer – to find that middle ground. To find the balance between love and martyrdom. To practice discernment in avoiding transactional lovers, but investing fully where I find the possibility of something lasting.
Somewhere amidst the ashes of my former life, there are burning coals of romance and hope and passion and a curious desire to be loved the very same way I love everyone else in my life.
But if there is one, simple way to explain the evolution I am undergoing, it is this:
The more I love myself, the closer I feel to love.
Sometimes you sit, and you stare at the reality that is your life, and you reflect.
Today I’ve been all caught up in my head space. I spend way too much time overanalyzing my own progress or regression. I am easily devastated by the opinions of anyone I trust, if a negative criticism is suggested.
Today someone suggested I had PTSD from prior relationships. That’ I run from potential. That I have a lot of unresolved issues.
They said this when I suggested that things were moving too fast – that it was important to slow down and build something rationally, explore possibilities without making assumptions.
I sat there, and I wondered – am I damaged?
I’ve been severely ill, abused, and abandoned. What are the ramifications of those three separate life events?
Are we a product of our circumstances, or of our choices, or of our self-awareness? All three? Does my obsessive self-reflection and desire to understand my own psyche help me progress, or do I need to learn to live in the moment? Abandon all learned behaviors and defenses in favor of possibility? What is truly wise, and what is fear-driven?
Sometimes I am so confident that I know myself, and others, I wonder if I’m blind to my own inconsistencies.
My soul is a war of traditional with free spirit – on a regular basis. Reserve and caution and respect for the culture I grew up in, at war with my constant desire to be free and open to the world, to walk around without boundaries, to rebel against the idea that I could be owned or possessed or controlled in any way by another human.
I’ve changed dynamically and exponentially this last few years. I’ve become a person that I NEVER expected to be – but someone I truly love. I never stop growing, changing, evolving, learning.
The more I know myself, the more I realize how much I have to learn.
The problem with realizing how much you evolve and open up and change is that you realize you’re boundless – your limits are unknown. Apart from your moral and ethical code, you have no idea where your journey and self-development may take you. You’re unaware of who you may be in 6 months, a year, 5 years. You can hardly ever say “I wouldn’t”… because you know the “wouldn’ts” you’ve already done.
The older I get, the more I learn myself, the more I realize that being candid with myself and others means admitting that I am a constantly growing, changing, burning, fiercely alive human being. I am passionately and intensely and humanly both consistent and inconsistent. I am reliable where it matters, and transient and changing where life ebbs and flows. Harsh lessons and beautiful connections empower and compel me to change and evolve.
Candor means admitting that sometimes, I do not know what I want. Sometimes, that is purely because I understand my own capacity for evolution – and not because I’m damaged, broken, or unresolved in any way.
I am simply human.
If you look back on a brief synopsis of my life the last decade, you’d wonder how I am who I am today, how I am where I am – and where the hell I’m headed.
With the amount of fear and crying and that tight throat feeling I’ve had this last decade or more, I should be a bitter, jaded, angry, person. I should be cynical, fearful of change, living in anxiety and closed off to risks. I should be, but I am not.
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” – we have all heard it, but it’s not automatically true.
What doesn’t kill you can leave you broken. Your pain can debilitate you. Change you, degrade you, hurt you. Leave you alone in the darkness.
What doesn’t kill you can leave you destroyed – a shipwreck of humanity on the shores of broken dreams and one too many prayers for salvation.
It can make you stronger. But you know what the difference is in that “or”?
It’s just YOU. YOU are the difference. Your choice is the difference. Your determination, your ability to keep your chin up no matter how many times life throws a left hook and drops you. No matter how many times you’re beaten down and broken and hurt and afraid, no matter how many times you hit the “can’t” wall – no matter how many times life abuses your hopes and tarnishes the beauty of your optimism – YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE.
You decide what you will make of your pain. You decide what will come of your past. YOU. YOU DECIDE.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL TO ME. The little things are precious. Human connection is empowering. The ability to relate to others in pain I’ve experienced is priceless. Faith is a beacon. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I live hopeful, determined, progressive, disciplined, driven, strong. The world is bigger, more open, less limiting for the limitations I’ve experienced.
Life has never been easy for me, but my callouses are hard-earned, and impenetrable. I’m tough as nails, because I CHOSE TO BECOME STRONGER.
I am deeper, wiser, kinder, more hopeful, more loving, more outward-focused, more joyful, because life didn’t kill me. It didn’t break me. I pick myself up every damn time, and I FUCKING CHOOSE TO LIVE.
Here I am in sunny San Diego, surrounded by amazing friends, strapped again but LOVING the fact that I GOT MYSELF HERE. I toughened up, I CHOSE. I DECIDED TO BE STRONGER.
What didn’t kill me made me BEAUTIFUL.
Never forget that YOU are the determining factor in your life… who you become will be a result of what you choose to do with what COULD kill you. BE STRONGER. BE WISER, BE MORE FAITHFUL, DRIVEN, PASSIONATE, OPEN, LOVING, KIND, POWERFUL, CAPABLE…
I believe in you.
Fear is no true motivator.
Have you ever been chased by something? When you are being chased by something you are afraid of – something you are running from, there is very little direction as to where you are running to. Your gut instinct is simply to get away, to escape.
If you are running through the woods and being chased by a bear, you may have some idea of a direction in which you want to go, but at the root you are only focused on getting away. You want to be ANYWHERE but there.
You will never realize your full potential in life if you spend it running from fears.
People who work, live, love, and act out of fear are crippled by the inability to set a straight course. They run a zigzag pattern through life because they just want to get away.
When you are motivated from fear, there is no true course, no steady hand, no real grip on the helm. There is only a frenzied and impassioned desire to escape.
Fears can drive you, but they will not make you.
“We all walk in the dark – each of us must learn to turn on his or her own light.” – E. Nightingale
If you’re looking for passion, joy, fulfillment, success, and completion in life, you must first stop running.
Face your past. Face your insecurities. Face your fears: of failure, of loss, of pain, of being alone, of repeating mistakes your parents made, or mistakes you’ve made before. Face fears that seem rational, or irrational. Put them in their place. Turn them away with a steady hand. Set your course, and stop running FROM something.
If you want to realize your full potential, you must instead learn to run TO something.
When you stop allowing your fears and past regrets to chase you, you have the ability to press on powerfully and purposefully TOWARD your goal. Your vision becomes clear. Your course, straight. You pass milestone after milestone with steady steps, a consistent pace. There is no zigzagging away from what is behind you, there is only pressing on toward what is in front of you.
You will never fully illuminate your present path until you’ve exposed the darkest corners of your soul to the light.
Deal with your fears, deal with your regrets, and leave fear behind.