When It Hits You All Over Again

The atmosphere in Wrigleyville seemed weird and off-kilter. Every sports network seemed to be talking about The Big Sell Off, and in that particular neighborhood there was no getting around it. I walked past a popular mural of Kris Bryant, simultaneously chastising myself for getting emotional. When I shared about it two days later, I was teased for acting like someone had died. And while no one had, the past two days had me thinking of someone close to me that did. Back in 2016, I came down to Wrigley Field (after the Cubs had won the World Series) to stick a note on one of the brick walls in his honor. And since that era has officially come to an end, I found myself wondering how he would have felt about it. What he would think. And I hated having to wonder instead of ask. 

A few months prior I couldn’t sleep, my surroundings unfamiliar. I thought of his little sister’s upcoming wedding and all the ways he could be honored during the occasion. “Together Again” by Janet Jackson played like a loop and I felt the tears before I could register the specific emotion. It wasn’t long before the sniffles became muffled sobs, and I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t be heard. What’s up with you, woman?! You were euphoric a half hour ago. 

It wasn’t as much sadness as it was vulnerability.  One of the many waves I’ve experienced in the last five years. 

More recently, I was watching a documentary about the life and music of Eric Clapton. He had lost a young son with the same name. And there I was, bawling until my tear ducts had nothing left to give. 

And I suppose that’s just one of the facets of grief; the outpouring of love that you feel like cannot give because that person isn’t physically present. It happens when a memory pops into my head, one that I haven’t thought about in a while. Or I’ll start making correlations between songs, movies, little things that don’t immediately register but hit me later.

There is something about losing someone so young and so suddenly that can only be expressed from the deepest parts of me. I’m not afraid to weep, and I weep to this day because it still seems surreal. Wait, this actually happened? This wasn’t just a bad dream?

My saving grace has been the way so many that I’ve grown up with came together to celebrate his life, and still do to this day. I’ve experienced a similar loss before and didn’t mourn openly, and it led to near disastrous outcomes. It’s easy to say that everyone has different ways of coping, but to go on as if someone didn’t exist, to never mention their name again, that seems almost unfathomable to me. I give thanks that while Connor’s body is not here on earth, his memory and his spirit continuously live on. I see it in my hometown, which I have a different appreciation for compared to a decade ago. I see it in the things he loved, from hunting and fishing to the different bodies of water he spent his days on. I see it in the color green, and in country music. I remember his laugh, his smile, and his sense of humor. 

I knew that fun side of him, but one regret that keeps showing up was that I never got to truly know his heart (or at least we never sat down and had one of those deep conversations). 

I wish he could tell me somehow that he’s okay, and that he’s been reunited with those who went after he did. 

My anger has never been at God, but at the way the rest of the world seems to keep turning while trying to deal with the fact that this has impacted me without words to describe. Even as we’re still going through a pandemic and death is common, many of us hold grudges, live with hardened hearts, or don’t think before speaking, as if it could be the last time. Conflict should not be avoided at all costs, but discussion and resolution should always come from a place of love, regardless if those involved see eye to eye or not. 

I wrestle with that on a daily basis. That and wanting to tell certain people I love them without making it weird. 

I miss you Connor, now and always. 

I know you’re here in some ways, and until we meet again.

Bring It Forward

When it comes to relationships and vulnerability, there’s a lot of discussion on how to open up and share our experiences, but rarely how to navigate the sacredness and emotion of being on the receiving end. In my nearly three decades of life, I can’t recall a time when showing empathy in and of itself was the norm. Much of my childhood involved problem solving and attempted fixes, and if there wasn’t a solution, you weren’t supposed to dwell on it. Adulthood has shown me that life is a little more complex than that, and the saving grace is having at least a few people who are willing to sit with and or walk with me in various situations. 

I’ve learned a lot about being that type of person, and I think it’s one of the most important things we can do as friends, partners, and just human beings in general. How we do can be tricky to navigate, but there’s always room to grow.

Hold Space

I always try to look at it as an honor and gift when someone confides in me, or even if they’re just sharing more about their life that scratches below the surface. If they broach the subject, I let them have the floor first and don’t speak until they’ve said what they needed to say. Depending on the circumstances (i.e. talking face to face versus texting), I allow a few moments of quiet so that I can process what was said, allowing the opportunity for a response instead of just a mere reaction. If physical touch is welcome, a hand to their knee or shoulder is a subtle but meaningful way to create connection. I’m an emotional person, and I’d say it’s completely normal to tear up at times during the conversation (without changing direction or becoming hysterical). It’s also understandable to not know what to say (in the moment or at all), but you can never go wrong with “I’m grateful that you’re sharing all of this with me. I may not always understand what you’re going through, but I want to affirm that your experiences and feelings are valid And I’m here for you.”

Ask Questions And Check In

Whether before or after a conversation, questions like “How can I support you?” or “What do you need?” are paramount in showing empathy. In the early days of my recovery journey, I didn’t know what support looked like for me right away, but hearing those words allowed me to feel safe and communicate with that person openly once I figured it out (and had the language to express it). It’s not  just limited to a single conversation, and whether or not they say it, people always need something in the midst of all the heaviness. It might be meals, a hot beverage, or invitations to go for walks. It might be rides to or checking in after important appointments/meetings. Basic encouragement texts like “I’m here” and “I love you” mean the world, even if there’s no response. Empathy is not just about the moment, but the ride.

I go back and forth whether it comes to giving and receiving advice. Most of the time if I’m able to process pain or struggle out loud, I can eventually figure out how to move forward. As I’ve written this, I’ve realized my resistance often comes from the fear that the advice itself will be condescending or oversimplified. Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend about an unhealthy situation I had recently taken myself out of. At the end of our conversation, she asked, “Can I give you something to pump you up?” It was much needed wisdom, but with loving and affirming word choice.

Let It Be (Uncomfortable)

The reality is this: you will not be able to take away a person’s pain. You will not be able to change their situation, their heart, or even their outlook. You cannot force people to treat them well. And a difficult fact of life is that most things are not meant to be fixed; they are meant to be experienced, felt, and learned from. So as heartbreaking and frustrating it might be to hear about what a loved one is going through, keep in mind the importance of not making it about you. Be aware of using the word “negative” (a word I loathe because of how dismissive and projectile it sounds), as well as cliche platitudes. If someone specifically asks you to just be quiet and listen, respect that. And when you’re able to process your own feelings, take the time to ask yourself why you might feel the way you do.

As one who is almost compassionate to a fault, viewing myself as a project for a good portion of life, I struggle with the notion that “some people just can’t.” As set in their ways as some may be, I think it’s a matter of whether or not we want to. 

Yet even if the desire to learn (or unlearn) is there, that doesn’t take away the importance of having boundaries.

That can look like pausing difficult conversations, and then come back when one or both parties is in a better head space. 

Establishing that a child should not have to be a therapist for a parent (or any elder, for that matter). Even when the child becomes an adult themselves.

Refusing to be put in the middle of a conflict between people you care about.

Saying, “I care for you and I want to support you, but this is beyond my expertise. Can I help you find professional help?” 

“I’ve already listened, and you know what you need to do. Unless you make a choice, I’m not willing to talk about this anymore.” 

Most importantly, it’s always possible to do these things while still affirming and communicating love. 

And there is Grace. For when we react and project, or assign shame and blame. Grace for when that person overshares, especially at inappropriate times. For when we lash out, or end up completely isolating ourselves from the world. It’s never too late to try, and then try again. 

We can’t go back to pre-internet times, or life without social media. We can’t pretend that the world isn’t saturated with news and opinions, or pretend that it doesn’t influence how we see it. But we can bring it forward, a new way of relating and connecting with those around us. And while it might be different, who says it can’t be better than the decades before?

Championing Creativity

I can’t say if creativity is bequeathed at birth or somehow manifests itself over the course of a person’s life. At four years old I could talk somebody’s ear off about fairies and princesses, supposedly making up elaborate stories as I went along and apparently never shut up. In middle school I was aptly nicknamed “The Boom box” because I sang whatever popped into my head, writing poems as if they were song lyrics. Ten years later I’d be cooking in my apartment with off the cuff recipes, discovering that a bagel sandwich with peanut butter, Nutella, and bacon is a pretty decent combination.

It might have been an antithesis for my lack of athleticism, but I’ve always had a competitive streak: I grew up in an incredibly sports-oriented family, and feel like a little kid whenever I get to watch my favorite teams (especially hockey). I also know several who are pretty damn good on the field as well as with an instrument, so that’s not to say that you have to be one or the other. Yet, it’s interesting how the right-brainers are met with skepticism, doubt, and even discouragement: they’re deemed idealistic at best, and unrealistic at worst.

Creatives tend to feel deeply and take notice of everything, almost to a fault. They know it’s partly because of who they are, and partly because it’s what they’re supposed to do: if you don’t pay attention and capture the details, the moments that matter most, then you won’t have anything to go off of. Inspiration can be a matter of waiting, but it’s also a matter of discovering.

For some, the threads of expression become a way to survive, especially when they can’t quite grasp what’s going on around them. As a teenager I wrote myself raw, where my dreams, thoughts, and feelings came out more clearly on paper than in actual conversation. I was in that confusing in between stage of not-quite being a kid, but definitely not an adult.  Artistry, whether in the form of writing or music, was the comfort and support I craved and used to escape. I was told that I had a God given talent, but sharing it seemed to result in pushing people away, or I would become frustrated at the lack of empathy and understanding. I developed a sense of perfectionism, wanting to protect what I viewed as sacred, not to be blotted by the opinions of those who could only see from a distance.

“So…what are you going to do with that?”

It’s a question that most high school and college graduates are faced with, and a valid one. That being said, it’s often loaded with open-endedness and doesn’t really help in planning a future. It’s more thought provoking to ask, what are willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to give? And most importantly, how many times are you willing to pour your heart out and bare your soul, running the risk of getting sucker punched with a “You’re not good enough” at the end?

Not everyone wants to make a career (let alone a life), out of that, and it’s completely understandable. It’s a challenge, finding the balance of giving an audience what they want to see/hear, and saying what you want to say. There’s no shame in not wanting to stop loving what you do because you might be demanded to produce more than authentically create. The words are in my bones, but I’m not in a place where I’m ready to devote each and every day to being a full-time writer. I’m not ready for the isolation and quiet fury that comes with the territory, and I’m certainly not in a place financially to do it. I’m young and I want to establish myself first, which is why I went into marketing and content writing. It’s still cutthroat and competitive, but it gives me opportunities to be part of a team and form relationships, which I get most of my energy from.

I have a story to tell, and I will continue to do so regardless of the professional path I take. It takes courage to bleed vulnerability, knowing that some won’t understand where I’m coming from, and might even see it as a personal attack against them. I would never say anything to purposefully hurt anyone, but I can’t promise that it’s not going to be a tough pill to swallow.

I hear the skeptics, and I respect their opinions. But if you really stop and think about it, creativity is what keeps this crazy, ever-changing world going. None of us would stay sane if it wasn’t for art and entertainment, which is why I shake my head when people gripe about the latest book or movie/television phenomenon. Why is it so wrong to take a break from reality every once in a while, as long as you know how to separate fact from fiction? While some of it is definitely trash, it’s not the job of the creator to facilitate discussion about right and wrong.

For me it’s not about entertainment as much as it is about connecting with people; I’m much better at writing than I am at talking, so nine times out of ten I’ll give them an essay or something to read first before I try to articulate whatever it is that I’m mulling over. If they get weird about it, I’d like to think it’s because they see something in themselves that’s hard to face, or they just don’t get it. And that’s OK.

It comes down to doing what makes you come alive, and what makes you feel authentic. It doesn’t just involve pursuing happiness, but pursuing what makes you whole. Stop overthinking and trying to figure it all out, but go out and experience life. Ask questions. Allow yourself to go deep, get close, and get personal.

Occasionally I hear talk about schools motioning to remove art and music programs from their curriculum, and the prospect makes me sad. If this has to happen due to lack of funds or teachers, I hope that they can still incorporate it into learning somehow. Teach kids what it’s like to listen to the radio, music and movies that previous generations grew up with. Encourage them to play, be messy, and find joy while doing it. The world is certainly scary, unkind, and not the safest place to be in; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful either.


Never lose that sense of child-like wonder, regardless if time or experience makes you age. Explore. Write. Paint. Build. Be curious. Play. Stitch. Re-purpose. Finish.  Savor. Breathe. Learn. Create. And live.

On Technology And Being Alone

Put down your devices or be ruined by them. This is the message preached by various videos gone viral over the last couple of months. At first I went along with what you might call the “technological backlash,” having spent a lot of time in therapy working toward a healthy balance in regards to using my phone and computer. It wasn’t until I watched a particular TED Talk near the end of the semester that my perspective started to shift. Profound and thought provoking, I had to choke back tears as we discussed it for my career and leadership class. I related to it on such a deep level, and realized that perhaps being so connected isn’t as cut and dry as people think. 

There’s no arguing that (rapidly advancing) technology has a dark, even ugly side. I’ve witnessed the internet bring out the worst in some, and I’ve had relationships that were built on a false sense of security because we communicated almost entirely online or via texting. Yet when it comes to addressing this unsettling reality as a whole, attitude really does make a difference.

The problem is way bigger than being glued to Candy Crush or sharing ridiculous cat videos on Facebook. That being said, the solution is much more than demanding less time on social media and pointing out why we’re supposedly better off without it. 

Electronic communication and the internet is not the heart of the issue. Rather, fear and loneliness is. 

Like Sherri, I’m convinced that we are the way we are because we don’t know how to be comfortable with being alone. 

And I say that because for nearly a decade, I was one of those people. 

From the time I was twelve, the mere idea of physically being by myself was absolutely terrifying. Part of it may have very well been pre-conditioned; at the age of ten I can recall being told by a school counselor that I needed to be actively playing with other kids instead of just watching or walking around on my own. By the time I reached junior high, I genuinely believed that weekends without a packed social schedule indicated that something was wrong with me. High school and college were a little bit different because it was more about experiences and not wanting to miss out on them. But age and maturity didn’t make me immune to the sting of rejection; the build up to the weekend made me anxious and desperate to plan things in advance to avoid being left out. And when a lot of those weekends were spent watching movies instead of going to parties or night clubs (at least for the first two years as a college student), my overactive imagination went into overdrive.

In that time, online communication and texting was less about hiding and more about just personal preference. I’ve always said that writing is like a second voice because it gives me the ability to articulate thoughts that are difficult to talk about in person. Back then, it was easier to discuss a subject in a text or a Facebook message first because I could choose my words carefully and not run the risk of being misinterpreted. I admit that I initially started blogging because I didn’t know how to contribute my own opinions in a face-to-face discussion. And even though I’m older, there’s still some truth in that for me today, but it really depends on the topic.

But I still found myself over-analyzing, second-guessing, and ultimately working myself up to where I just didn’t know what to do anymore. I tried limiting my time on social media to twice a day, and when that didn’t work, I would try to only check it when I saw notifications on my phone. Yet it wasn’t long before I started to feel the way that some do when they go on certain diets; they mess up or “cheat” and experience instant shame or frustration. 

I struggled very much with anxiety for most of my senior year of college, particularly as graduation neared. At one point I even sat down with my therapist and discussed on the possibility of going on medication, as I’ve noticed that my mind tends to shut down and leave me unable to think about anything whenever I become seriously overwhelmed. (I initially thought this was due to texting, but it also happens when I’m in public places that are extremely crowded). The combination of that and having a creative mind that goes in all different directions can be a ridiculous recipe for a breakdown, which did happen once or twice. 

“It’s not just about your habits,” she explained. “It’s also about the story you keep telling yourself whenever this kind of thing comes up.” 

It was a story in which a lack of response meant that they didn’t want to talk to me or see me. It meant that they didn’t care and I didn’t matter. Is this story true? For some, perhaps so, but  a lot of it can be chalked up to simply being lazy or being forgetful. We all do it to some extent.

On the other side, a lot of people experience those feelings and wonder if they could have said or done something different. It’s so hard not to take it personally, and in some respects after a certain point it does become personal. But the bottom line is that you can’t control what other people think or do because of it. What is said or done in love and kindness should not result in guilt or shame. 

Yet I wonder if this kind of mindset would exist if generation after generation wasn’t raised to believe in vulnerability as a bad thing. If people were comfortable enough with not only telling, but showing a loved one that they cared, would the person on the other side of the screen be driving themselves crazy?

How would it be if people believed that all emotions are valid, and that they have every right to express them out loud?

 How would it be if our culture stopped focusing on the meaning of life based on age or gender, but based on what it means to be human?

In my personal experience, it’s all about awareness. Despite that I use my phone and computer a lot, I do have instinctive limits. I can’t explain what it is exactly, but I get this feeling whenever I sense that I’m using one or both too much. It’s like a combination of anxiety and annoyance, and when that happens, then I know it’s time to take a break. Of course, I still do things to help increase that awareness: I rarely use headphones anymore and choose not to take my phone with me when I go for walks or work out. Paying attention to the triggers helps me moderate how I use it without having to avoid it altogether. 

Finding comfort (and even contentment) in actually being alone is something that I’m still working at as well. It took a long time for that little voice in my head to quiet down; the one that constantly asked what are they all doing without me? One of the concepts pointed out in the video is that spending time alone teaches us how to relate better to others, and to better understand ourselves. When I genuinely reflected on it, I realized just how much growth took place when I was completely by myself. Some of those times were incredibly lonely, where I often wept like a baby and had to grit my teeth in order not to slip into a deep depression. But when I re-read various journals and just allowed myself to be still, I was filled with an indescribable amount of peace. Once I found true joy in that, I discovered that my faith grew deeper, I became a better writer, among other things. I actually find myself craving it when I’m around people for long periods of time, although I’m learning how to cope when I can’t. 

Once I learned to be comfortable with admitting that I was lonely, it seemed like the stigma fell away. When that happens now, I see it as a natural reaction that is temporary and will eventually pass.

Yet that doesn’t change the fact that cyberspace now resembles that of an addiction, and electronics are the ones that feed it. 

But it’s not just what we do that exemplifies this culture. It’s the way we view it. 

In other words, we romanticize the past and villify the present. There needs to be a balance that’s healthy but understanding of the world we live in. 

I don’t think kids under the age of thirteen should have a smartphone or a tablet, but I’m also not a parent. Technological overload doesn’t mess with the human mind, but a lack of boundaries and moderation does. 

The internet can destroy, but it can also unite. I never discovered that so many others had the same questions and doubts (regarding the current state of Christianity) until I got into blogging. There’s no verbal communication, but the stories did and still do speak to me. And I’m grateful. 

Texting is terrible for planning and having important conversations, but I love the fact that I started a prayer circle because of it. 

Social networking has its hangups; it does cause jealousy and insecurity, but it’s not right to blame those who are simply trying to share their happiness with others. There are certain types of posts that I would rather not see on Facebook or Twitter, but it’s not my place to go running interference. The only thing that gets under my skin is when I find out about the death of a friend or family member through someone else’s Facebook post, rather than get a phone call or even just a text beforehand. While I get that those affected don’t want to openly talk about it, it’s still disrespectful to others that knew the deceased person, even if they didn’t have the closest relationship. Pardon going off topic, but it’s a serious matter and one that I feel very strongly about.

 Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get the hype over a supposed “golden age” where everybody talked to each other all the time. If I didn’t want to socialize, I read books in the middle of class, and I can imagine those of previous decades hiding behind newspapers or just flat out ignoring those around them. Would they talk more if they didn’t have distractions in front of them? Probably. But sometimes it’s more a matter of someone simply wanting there own space. In circumstances such as public transportation or crowded areas, most likely they’re doing what they feel is necessary to keep themselves safe.

And though traditional means of communication are changing, there are other avenues opening up alongside that, particularly in terms of careers. I love being creative with various platforms, from coming up with catchy slogans that will fit one hundred forty characters or discovering various means to promote an upcoming story collection. Technology is providing certain kinds of jobs that didn’t exist a decade or so ago, and being able to network has mind finding a job so much easier. Also, why bash a tool that has helped me stretched my creativity and help reach more audiences with my writing? 

That’s the underlying issue in all of this; people spending all this energy arguing and fighting against things that they don’t use or aspects that they’re not even part of. No one’s saying that you have to be involved with social media or own a smartphone, and not doing so doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Technology would be less overwhelming (and concerning) if there weren’t crusade-like arguments that perpetuate all of it. 

I get that some, if not most networks are often a breeding ground for negativity, and it can get really old after a while. But why try to convince somebody who probably isn’t going to listen, and instead just change a few settings so you don’t have to see that stuff? (de-friending or blocking seems a little bit drastic). The fact that anyone spends time and energy trying to dictate what others do online says more about them than it does about those being criticized. It says “I refuse to take responsibility for my own actions,” which is the kind of attitude that contributes to more problems than just what goes on in cyberspace. 

If you are seriously concerned with what someone else is doing on the other side of a computer screen, then be an adult and talk to them about it. Otherwise if it’s just something like seeing too many selfies or pointless articles, maybe it would be a good idea to just stop scrolling and get off of the computer for a little bit. Again, no one is forcing you to do anything. Everyone should be able to express themselves freely and not feel like they have to cater to their friend/follower list. I’m very conciancious of what I share and the fact that not all will appreciate it, and that’s OK. I’m doing it because I came across something that made me happy or made me think, and I want to do my best to create a positive environment online. I’m not going to apologize for that.

It’s not bad to occasionally reminisce about “back in the day”; who doesn’t like talking about their extensive CD collection, along with everything that came before that? But fighting against (inevitable) change and always longing for what used to be seems like a battle that will ultimately go nowhere. 

Like loneliness, technology is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just part of life. You can either embrace it and roll with it, or waste your days being cynical over something that you can’t control. 

Trust me when I say that once you do, it definitely gets easier to deal with.

photo credit: Anne Worner via photopin cc

Through The Rain

I knew that he was gone when I saw faded glimpses of lightening flash behind us, followed by the low roar of thunder. It started to drizzle slightly, upon becoming a torrential downpour as the four of us made our way out of the concert arena and into the impossibly crowded parking lot. At one point the rain was coming down so hard that I had to shut my eyes in order to ease the sting of sweat, make-up, and water that were now seeping from my eyelids. I clung desperately to my mother with both hands, praying that I wouldn’t slip or get knocked over or lose my glasses. Don’t let go! Just get to the car….

In a way, that is how life has been for me,  particularly in the weeks and months after my friend’s passing occurred. My lack of experience with loss was almost like walking in complete darkness. The inability to mourn and grieve freely caused both my mind and body to go into autopilot; after my family had gone to sleep, I would sit in my pitch black room and cry as quietly as I possible, or read the stories that were posted on his memory page until my head ached from staring at the computer for two hours straight. This went on for a week and a half until I got back to campus, the day of the funeral service.

I believed that once I could get away from my hometown, I would feel better. And in a way, I did; I had more people to talk to about it, but I can’t remember how much we actually talked about it at first. And while it wasn’t often because of busy work and summer class schedules, down the line I kind of started to hate rehashing the same thing over and over again. I wanted to move on, and yet the mere idea of it felt like betrayal.

Self-medication became the norm; when I wasn’t with my friends, I tended to go out on the town alone, sometimes multiple nights in a row. It wasn’t so much about the drinking as it was just being around others, even if a lot of them were strangers. I did meet quite a few of them, but rarely anything went beyond the dance floor, save one guy who got my number, texted me an hour later, and hasn’t contacted me since then. It was the darker side of Cinderella, except I went to bars instead of a ball and walked out with an empty heart rather than a missing shoe.

But the levee gave way soon enough; during the first two weeks of August, I could barely function without something triggering a tear-fest. There were periods of time where I would just sit on my couch and cry, not knowing the reasons why or how to stop. In a way, they were the tears that I should have cried at home or even at the funeral.  At the urging of my grandparents, I finally made a motion to talk to one of the group leaders of Intervarsity; up until then I had gone out of my way to not talk to pastors or anyone involved in the organizations that I had been part of, at least regarding everything that was going on. I was terrified that I would just be met with a bunch of cliches about how my friend was in a better place, and that if I just kept praying, went to church, read Bible verses, etc. all the pain would go away. I didn’t want any numbing cream with a Jesus-approved sticker, and I didn’t want to risk the rejection. Unfortunately, I had gotten to where I couldn’t keep silent without it eating me from the inside out.

It was a long and exhausting conversation; it didn’t automatically make everything better, but it was the start of setting myself free from this emotional prison that I had kept myself locked in for weeks. Spiritually, I was practically bone-dry. I didn’t know what to pray about exactly, but I did read the Bible and write when I felt the need to. On a very random morning,  I came across a verse that has practically spelled out where I was at: when my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path (Psalm 142: 33).

It has been almost four months since, and I am not going to deny that I am a changed person because of it. I have a love hate/relationship with alcohol and I occasionally get angry when others seem to put getting drunk before their own safety or that of others. However, I do try to make the most of the time that I have with friends, and I feel like I’m getting better at figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.  Looking back, I now have a deeper understand of why I felt and reacted the way that I did:

The very idea of knowing I could lose a loved one in just a span of a few hours (or moments) was absolutely terrifying. After the news was confirmed, I reached out to multiple friends as a way to keep myself calm; I didn’t care that it was two in the morning or that each text was somewhat long and sappy, I needed to feel connected somebody. In the days that followed, I wrestled with whether or not I just have waited to absorb it before telling anyone else, particularly those from college.  While I don’t regret telling that I care for them, I am sorry that they might have been uncomfortable about it. Nothing done with the intention of showing or giving love should not be felt in shame.

The root of my pain wasn’t solely in the tragedy, but also in the disconnection from my friends and family afterward. I understood that there are appropriate places and settings to grieve, yet I felt like I couldn’t even do that in my own home. I spent so much time and energy putting the needs and feelings of others above my own, and I paid for it later on. As I mentioned in an early post, I feared being called selfish or undeserving.Back then, I would have rather been alone than to risk being looked down on, even though both make me miserable.

And I know everyone deals with this kind of stuff differently;  More specifically, “being strong” may work for my parents or my siblings, but it doesn’t for me, at least when something had happens. I can’t pinpoint the reason though, considering they all seem very reserved in that regard. Comparing pain levels (i.e. someone always has it worse then you) does not make it diminish or disappear.  While that may be true to an extent, everybody is hurting in some way. There are other phrases to use in order to put it all in perspective without denying another person’s (or your own) pain. 

There is such a thing as feeling before you can feel better.  For those on the other side of the fence,  It may be personal nature to go into problem-solving mode, but that’s not what the grieving person needs. They need to be held. They need to be loved on. They need to be given the space to just let it out. When you don’t know what to say, those are the times when actions will do more than words ever will.

It doesn’t take much for me to care about a person. I don’t have to see or talk to them all the time in order to learn to love them. Being observant as I am, I can learn to do so in one night. Hence, it is possible to make a list of things that made my friend so special, despite our lack of conversation and interaction. Along with that, it is possible for one act of kindness to impact my perspective on someone. Not just in our friendship, but for other friendships as well. 

When I reflect on that rainy night, I was literally holding onto my mom; looking at this from a spiritual standpoint, it all seems like a metaphor for what I’ve been through and how I’ve grown since then. Realistically, I haven’t been holding onto my parents, or anyone else for that matter. In the times where I can’t see, where I’m blinded by whatever is going on in my life, there’s only One that I can hold onto.  

Then again, maybe I’m not holding onto Him; rather, He’s holding onto me. 

    photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

    Adulthood On a Slide

    When the Miley Cyrus Video Music Awards spectacle happened, everybody was all up arms about how she was “too sexy” and basically flipped the bird to her younger fans. I’m not disagreeing with that, but I saw something that may have gone over everyone else’s heads: she was trying to announce to the world that she is no longer a child,  when realistically she’s just shy of being a  year younger than I am.  While watching her performance I thought, there is a difference between being an adult and being an idiot; she was obviously going for the latter.

    A week or so later, a distant/extended relative of my maternal grandmother made a point to compare college to a country club, and then made an even bigger point of informing me that the real world absolutely sucks. That Sunday in church, the closing prayer was “help us grow up before we grow old” while friends are starting to panic  when we’re not even halfway through first semester yet.

    It all kind of makes me sigh and wonder what adulthood even means these days.

    There’s no arguing that it’s different for everyone, but part of why so many may struggle with it is because people from the age of twelve and onward are given mixed messages, and they end up burning the candle at both ends. On one hand, young kids (particularly girls) are told that in order to gain approval by their peers or be popular, they have to dress a certain way. But then morality cries that girls are completely dismissing their youth by wearing revealing clothing or piling on the make-up.

    Then come the teenage years, seven years which can be emotionally taxing and confusing. There are those that have to “grow up” early; they take on a parent-like role for their younger siblings, they have to help contribute to finances or give up a paycheck entirely. Some move out on their own or go to college. Add in curiosity about alcohol, sex, perhaps drugs, and things can get complicated. The icing on the cake is when teens get put into a glass box for the sake of “protection” instead of learning how to actually cope and properly handle it.

    Once you’re in your twenties, it can go two ways: you’re either an upstanding role model with a good head on your shoulders, or a selfish, lazy party animal. You’re considered stupid and irresponsible for making choices that your parents probably made twenty-five or thirty-something years ago. Showing emotion and being vulnerable is taboo because few know how or even want to deal with that. You’re not allowed to voice your doubts or ask questions; rather, you get your college degree and a warning that it’s all downhill from that point on.

    While it’s true that a lot of those things are stereotypes, it all points to the same pattern: one extreme or the other. And it could just be me, but I’m beginning to think that it doesn’t really have to be like that at all. You can still have fun and be responsible, and you don’t have to exist on a teeter-totter.

    I’m still in the threshold of all of it, but I’ve come to understand enough that “adulthood” doesn’t have to be as daunting as most assume that it is.

    You’ll never have it “together

    The phrase “I have to get my shit together” is slowly becoming one of those that are like fingernails on a chalkboard. A friend once said it  mid-rant and I had to hold my tongue while trying not to cringe. Let’s face it: no matter how hard you try and no matter what you may think, you will never completely have it all figured out. You can plan and prepare all you want, but most likely it won’t happen exactly as you envision it to.  It’s like trying to carry a multitude of bags in an airport: stack ’em, sling ’em and what have you, but eventually you will get tired and stuff will get messy. In other words, too much preparation only leads to insanity. Emotionally, I missed out on a good chunk of my senior year in high school because I was worried about functioning in college. Do what you can and let God take care of the rest, or at least deal with something when it happens and not beforehand.

    Needing is NOT weakness 

    It has taken me two decades, but I’m finally in a place where I don’t balk at the idea of asking for help. It’s easy to stand up and yell “look at me now, world!” in regards to how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished. Honestly though, I didn’t get here without some kind of guidance. Sure, I had to dig my heels in and fight for what I wanted at times, if not all the time. I’ve made choices when everyone around me thought I would fail. But I have gotten where I am today as a result of love and encouragement, despite all of that. In a way, I’ve learn to see pessimism and negativity (from others) as a motivation; not to prove anybody wrong, but to continually ask myself, just what am I capable of? How far can I push myself? Most of the time it works, although occasionally I do question the reasoning behind that determination.

    It’s become common culture for needing someone to be viewed as weak, although life has shown me the opposite. True strength lies in taking the hand of or upholding another, because it shows that one simply cannot go through life alone. Once you stop using anger, isolation, and self-reliance as a form of protection, your experiences with others will become so much richer.

    It Takes (A lot Of) Time

    There is no such thing as “growing up too fast” and being successful at it. Young celebrities think that they can go from teen royalty to sex icon in just a matter of months, but reality does not work that way. Old habits and routines are not things that you can simply switch on and off; it all takes adjustment and getting used to. And just because you go from one phase to the next does not always have to mean doing a one-eighty and becoming a completely different person; you just learn to take it down a few notches, and/or do certain things in moderation. Overall, you cannot control how others see you or whether or not someone will take you seriously. Shout it and out tell the world all you want, but that doesn’t mean that the world will listen. And if you’re going to do anything drastic, make sure it’s for you and only you. 

    A lot of people are probably in the same place you are: they’re scared and uncertain, wanting to make sure they don’t just end up living in the mundane day in and day out. Be patient, because you will get stuck and possibly even fail on more than one occassion. That’s not a bad thing, really; it teaches you how to be humble and recognize that there is something bigger than you out there, whether or not you believe in God or some sort of higher power. 

    I still have a ways to go, but I’d like to think that the basic definition of adulthood is simply outgrowing and evolving. Like it or not, we all do and most of the time don’t even realize it. Embracing your sexuality is part of it, but it’s more about perspective and maturity,  and I think that’s where I’m at right now. I no longer carry this gigantic weight on my shoulders, instead of walking in peace and faith as opposed to shame and hurt. Things still do happen, but for the most part I’m calm and relaxed. I’m learning not to take shortcomings too personally, and to see people as human beings.

    I don’t believe in “glory days” or that the best parts of life always take place when you’re young. Though I’m in no rush to get older, I’d like to think that there is something beautiful about every life stage, despite not usually recognize it in the midst of the daily grind. Cherish what you have and be present in the current moment, but don’t be afraid to move forward. If there’s one big lesson I’ve learned this year so far, it’s that each day is a gift. Age should not mean that you lack anything, but that you gain something; wisdom, experience, whatever it may be, you have more of it. 

    My hope and prayer is that in the midst of all of it, that I don’t lose my child-like sense of wonder and zest for life. It’s a sad misconception that one has to give that sort of thing up once they reach a certain age. What they don’t realize is that it’s the ability to see beauty in everything, and take notice of the small stuff that keeps you going. When the road gets tough, sometimes it’s the truth that all will be OK eventually that helps you to hold on. You can have joy without ignoring pain, and you don’t have to ignore the pain in order to love life. Some call it living in the past, but I’d rather see it as setting myself free. 

    As I finish writing this, one thought occurs to me: maybe we shouldn’t call it growing up, because we never really stop. As I mentioned, you can outgrow things and want to go in a different direction, but there’s never a point where you say “I know all there is to know and I’ve done all there is to do.” From now on, maybe I’ll just call it growing.

    photo credit: Rachel.Adams via photopin cc

    From Man, To A Monster, And Back Again

    Trigger warning: Rape, rape culture, sexual violence
    Day 20- Fear
    Describe something that scared you. How did you overcome your fear? 
    I’ve always thought to have good relationships with guys, but I’ve actually been struggling with those views for a while now. I’ve only mentioned it in passing because I was still in the thick of working through it, and in many ways that is still true. I will forewarn and say that I’m not glossing over anything or mincing words, although I won’t include names out of respect for those involved. 
    It was back in March, when a couple of family friends came to campus to visit me for the weekend. We went to a nightclub downtown, and immediately got separated upon entering; I’m not sure where they went exactly, but eventually I wandered over to the dance floor because I was getting bored. I hemmed and hawed between leaving them to their own devices and trying to see where the night went, given that I didn’t get out much at the time. Simultaneously, I also wanted to take care of my friends since neither knew the area very well, along with how brash both the campus and city police force could be. If either one of them were to get into trouble, it would lead to serious consequences.
    When a guy approached me and asked me to dance, I said yes, having no problems with having done so before. It was fun for a little bit, at least up until he tried to kiss me. I hadn’t experienced my first kiss yet, so I was not about to give it to someone that I wasn’t even attracted to. “Just a little kiss?” he asked. I told him that I didn’t want to and proceeded to carry on.
    I’m not sure if it was solely because of my refusal or what, but a moment later I felt his hand reach out in front of me and between my legs, squeezing my vagina as hard as he could. Honestly, It didn’t occur to me to tell him no, because I had been repeatedly told that in college, “it’s what all guys at bars do,” and not to make a big deal about it. Thought it happened within a matter of seconds, it was actually physically painful. It hurt so much that for the next two days, I had a hard time putting jeans or pants on. Once the lights came on in the club, I took the first chance I had and bolted out the door.
    Upon leaving, I found my friends outside near a bench and insisted we get the hell out of there. Meanwhile, they’re telling me that they want to go find a party and that we should split up. They were way past drunkenness, and I felt as if I had no choice but to agree. I had very little money to spend on a taxi, and the night ride service was done after three in the morning.
    I started walking toward my apartment with the mindset that if I couldn’t find a party, at least I could go home. Creepy Kevin Federline (that’s how I remember what he looked like) showed up again out of nowhere and was adamant about walking with me, despite my firm rebuttal of preferring to be alone. I felt trapped, because everything was starting to close down, so there weren’t many places I could go to get help. It seemed even less safe to go to the cops; the buzz of the liquor had worn off, but I was extremely tired and therefore appeared to be more out of it then I actually was. I didn’t want to run the risk of getting a ticket or being arrested for public intoxication. In that moment I went into survival mode, believing that it was better to have him walk with me than walk alone and have him pull a sneak attack.
    On the way back, he asked me a lot of personal and sexual questions, most of which I didn’t know how to answer. I did my best to be nonchalant about it in hopes that he would take a hint, but he kept persisting. Taking it a step further, he put his arm around me and attempted to sweet talk me about dating and what I wanted in a relationship. By now I was more irritated than I was afraid. I wriggled out of his grasp and told him “I do have pepper spray, and if you touch me one more time, I will spray you!” He immediately pulled away, but that didn’t make me feel any less guarded.
    We got to the intersection where I usually crossed to get to my apartment, and I said that I could take it from there. He tried to kiss me again, but I refused and then practically sprinted toward my building. I waited up until the others got home because they didn’t have keys to get in. Again, I couldn’t even begin to process what had happened until I was getting dressed the next morning.
    I felt like a different person in the weeks that followed, and not in a good way. I wasn’t sure if the guy had seen the exact place that I was living in, so it was hard to fall asleep at night. The building was more like a Motel Six, where you could walk right in as opposed to having to go through a hallway, and needing a special key or code to get to that point. Not to mention the lock didn’t work well (and I know because I accidentally kicked the door in once). I avoided going out until shortly before finals and I made absolutely sure that it was with friends whom I could trust completely.
    I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work through the ordeal, since I had a whole lot of other crap going on in my life. I did tell a few of my close girlfriends about it, most of whom I knew would react without judgment or asking why I hadn’t handled it differently. And while I do kind of regret not bringing it up, I chose not to discuss the matter very seriously with those that I had been with that night; I tried to do so very casually, and all I got was “I’m not responsible for what I do when I’m drunk” which indicated that going any further would be a lost cause.
    Of course, I had no intentions of making my family aware, but one relative did see that something was up and eventually got it out of me. It wasn’t a very detailed explanation, so I wasn’t surprised when I was told that enough time had already passed (four months up to that point) and that I needed to move on.
    In a way, I did get what she was saying; I hadn’t been raped, so why was it a big deal?
    The thing is, while that slimeball didn’t take my virginity that night, he definitely took my sense of safety. I have never viewed myself as an overly sexy person and I don’t try to purposefully get attention, so I assumed that no one would try to come after me. But then I thought the other tiny incidents that I had pushed out of my mind: a guy calling out to me on the sidewalk asking me if I would sleep with him, and then when I ignored him, he told me that he could easily rip me in half. Another being a little too rough with me the first time I went out dancing, where I was first told that that kind of behavior was typical. I was hit on by at least three or four different guys during my twentieth birthday celebration, and that ended with my friends and I being followed out of the place. When you look at the bigger picture, that is a big deal.
    I didn’t realize just how much it affected me until I started my junior year. I was constantly on alert while walking around at night, even though I lived much closer to campus and it was only a ten minute walk. I couldn’t, and still have trouble with looking a man in the eye in passing, regardless of the time of day. I was judgmental and suspicious of every guy that I saw on the street or on campus, mostly because of the manner that they spoke in or even what clothes they wore. There was even a night where a guy was walking behind me and I got so freaked out that I yelled “what the fuck do you want from me?!” before running all the way home. I didn’t stop or look back until I was inside and had locked the door.
    Being around any man, in any capacity, was absolutely terrifying.
    I decided to continue doing group counseling, and knew I needed to discuss if I was ever going to truly heal. It took a few weeks, but eventually I did gather the courage to talk about it.It was really tough, both in group and in general to be vulnerable; I was ashamed by the choices that I made, and didn’t want to face the pain and rejection that could possibly result from such honesty. This was especially true of the Christian student organizations that I was involved with, as well as most of my guy friends. Around campus, you’re either a good person or a bad person, and there doesn’t seem to be much of an in-between. This seems especially true for women.
    Emotionally and figuratively, it seemed easier to become defensive and automatically assume that the people I interacted with the most weren’t going to understand. I particularly kept it from my guy friends for a long time because I didn’t want to dump everything on them and make them feel like they had to make it better. I needed to be able to see clearly first and work it out in an environment where it could be properly addressed before I told certain people.
    It turns out that there were a lot of difficulties underneath what I’d been through. I realized that I didn’t know how to say no or communicate effectively when something, be it physical or emotional, upsets me or makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have a close relationship with my Dad or my brother, and that has bothered me to an extent. The big thing was that I hadn’t opened up to a man since I was sixteen years old.. There were several others that came into my life after that, but any attempt to connect with them on that level was immediately shot down or turned out to not be worth it. For a while, I thought it was better not to try.
    In the last nine months, I have been slowly working my way back to viewing the opposite gender in a healthy light. I’m still somewhat hypersensitive when walking around at night, but I do take the Night-Ride bus if I’m going home at ten o’clock or later. I haven’t been to the nightclubs since then, although I still enjoy dancing and can’t promise that I won’t ever go back. I will no longer allow random men to touch me or give me a hug if they ask (it has happened many times). I no longer care if it gets to the point where I have to be a complete bitch or get other people involved in order for a creep to stop bothering me. I’d prefer not to make a scene, but self-protection ultimately  precedes over being nice.
    I’ve come off the pedestal of thinking that all men are heartless; I have met and gotten to know some that are absolutely wonderful and respectful. However, it does still take time for me to fully trust and invest  in someone, which is for another post regarding intimacy.
    This kind of situation is just about me; there are millions are stories regarding both women and men who endure this kind of hell, often way worse than what I experienced. It’s not enough to just avoid specific areas or establishments, because it can happen just about anywhere and at any time. Go on hollaback.org and you’ll read stories about incidents on subways, trains, and even just walking down the street in broad daylight. Any place can be potentially dangerous, depending on how crowded or deserted it is.
    I don’t know if there is one broad solution to solving this problem; there will always be sick idiots out there who think that they’re either entitled or claim that they can’t control themselves. While it’s important for women to be aware and keep themselves safe, one can only do so much before they feel like they’re isolating themselves from daily life. Men need get it through their heads that if a woman tells them no or makes it clear that she has boundaries, they need to respect that and back off. Even if there are mixed signals or scantily clad clothing involved, that does not give a guy the right to feel her up or take her home. I don’t advocate for the hookup culture, but if that’s what you want,  go find someone that’s sober and will give a clear and verbal “yes.”
    This is not an issue of sensitivity or how a big of a deal something is; this is an issue of comfort and personal space. I know that if I don’t like something or become uncomfortable, than dammit you’re not going to be able to convince me otherwise.

     Unfortunately not many want to openly discuss this stuff, but the only way a difference will ever be made is if we stop making excuses are start standing up for something. This kind of crap isn’t normal and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s disgusting, and no one should have to live with the shame of another person’s choice.
    If you can, take the time to share this with people that you know. If a friend or a family member approaches you and admits that they were in this type of circumstance, don’t brush them off or tell them to let it go. Everyone has different ways of handling stuff that scares them, and it’s not your place to tell them how to do it. Listen carefully, and if you don’t know how to respond, simply say “I hear you and I respect that you feel that way.” It might very well be a situation that needs to be reported to the police.  But overall, a positive and non-condemning response can and will make a world of difference.
    I don’t see myself as a victim, but rather someone who has been through a lot and is managing to overcome it through telling the truth and having faith.  The more I hear about these stories, the stronger my feelings become. I don’t want pity or apology, but to live in the comfort and truth of not having to hide anymore.

    It happened to me, but you can impact whether or not it happens to anyone else.

    Update: Several years have passed, and most likely there are people who are wondering why I’m still talking about this. This was my first experience in being exposed to rape culture, but it wasn’t the last. There were several incidents my junior and final year of college, none of which were as severe but still left me shaken. It was never a question of “why did he do that?” but rather, “why didn’t I fight back? Why didn’t I stand up for myself? Why did I let him push me around?” There are a lot of possible reasons, but I’ll elaborate more on that another time. 

    To this day, I still haven’t had a full, in-depth conversation with the other two that were with me for a short time that night. I considered it and weighed my options carefully when one of them told me that they planned on visiting me last summer, but it never worked out. I just never saw the opportunity to bring it up again. And yes, the possibility of ruining that relationship by having that conversation is what scares me the most. 

    As much as it hurts, I accept that not everyone will see where I’m coming from. When you haven’t walked in another person’s shoes, it’s hard to know what to say, though there are times when words aren’t wanted or needed. I chalk it up to being a generational thing, but that’s not an excuse to invalidate another person’s experience, especially of it’s painful or traumatizing at worst. 

    For all of the horrors that continue to happen every day because of other people’s choices and warped views on life, I will continue to speak up on this matter. I know now that what happened to me was not a punishment for underage drinking or using a fake ID. It was not because of what I wore, nor what I said or didn’t say. It’s true that I did make some poor choices, but nothing where I deserved to be preyed on by a twenty-six year-old grown man who probably had every intention of having sex with me that night.

     No one deserves to objectified or have their dignity taken from them. No one deserves to have their worth defined because of what they do or don’t do with their bodies. And I make no apologies for saying this, but no one deserves or their life threatened or taken because they choose not to sleep with a certain person or attend a high school prom with them. There’s so much bullshit that absolutely sickens me, and I don’t have the words to fully describe it all.

    While I genuinely believe that not all men are like this and not all men rape or commit violence,  this does not excuse the fear, shame, and humiliation that women have to endure because of the culture that we live in. I say that not because women are the only ones that go through it, but because I can only speak from what I’ve experienced as a woman, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard. I shake my head as I angrily agree that probably all of us have and will go through some form of this crap, regardless of what we do to protect ourselves from it. But damn it all, I’m ready to put my foot down. 

    photo credit: DanielJames via photopin cc

    Painting A Brighter Picture

    Believe in yourself.

    Believe in what you can do

    Just Believe.

    I have heard those words a million times over, in some form or another. But in these last six or seven months, they have come to mean very little to me. I am not trying to discredit the power that they have, because it has helped me in the past. Yet as I look back on the triumphs and obstacles that I have faced within this period of time, “believing” doesn’t necessarily do it justice.

    Rather, the better term would be “envisioning.”

    More specifically, my success has more or less come from the fact that I could easily see myself doing those things. I could see myself living in an apartment, despite being five or six blocks away from my classes. I could see myself moving forward and living my life without certain people in it. I could see myself growing and maturing, ultimately not being held down by pain or past mistakes.

    So far, I think I’ve done pretty well.

    To me, the notion of having a vision for your life (or anything, for that matter) is like painting a masterpiece. Not I’m not an artist per say, but I don’t think it would do a whole lot of good just to try and create what you want simply based on what another person is telling you. You have to close your eyes and genuinely see it, whether the idea is being given to you or not.

     Simply believing in your abilities can only do so much. When you can’t picture yourself having a positive experience or achieving a particular goal, it’s hard to genuinely believe in it. 

    In a way, they go hand in hand. 

    Unfortunately, there is a bit of a rough side in making a dream into reality. There are times where you’ll work your tail off in order to make it happen, and sometimes it just doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. Or you become so focused on following through that it consumes you, and you forget to enjoy the journey.

    That’s why it’s important to be flexible and be willing to take a different direction, if that’s what the situation calls for. Becoming hooked on every little detail only leads to disappointment. 

    One very powerful lesson I’ve come to learn is that what you want isn’t always what you need, and that there is a timing for everything. That can get confusing, especially when you’re in a place or with someone that feels so incredibly right. 

    I realize that not everyone believes in God, or a higher power, for that matter. But lately I’ve been trying to get into the practice of staying calm, and ultimately handing the reins over when the time comes for it. As I said in an earlier post, I do what I can and then let God take care of the rest. 

    As for my own personal vision, I’m not going to say that I don’t have one. I’m a writer after all, so my mind gets creative and likes to take me away into the future every chance it gets. And now that I’m getting older, I do have to think about my future as far as a career and how I’d like to live my life in that sense. 

    At the same time, I’m not one to plan it all out step by step, image by image. I’d like to think of it as doing a rough sketch and filling in the colors as I go. I don’t want to be consumed with what is not one hundred percent guaranteed to happen, whether it be right now or ever. I’m slowly getting into the habit of balancing the act of enjoying the present moment, and planning for future endeavors. 

    Generally speaking, I am painting a brighter picture for myself. With my writing, I try not to look at making millions of dollars, but instead focus on getting my work out there and making an impact on anyone who reads it. In my personal life and relationships, I am surrounded by people where we can both accept each other and take care of each other. And for me, personally? Well, I’m trying not to be a perfectionist so much and just find joy in wherever it may be. 

    Don’t be willing to settle for whatever life hands you, simply because it’s easy or it’s what is expected of you. If you have a dream, go after it with everything you’ve got. If you have a vision, do your best to create it until those doors close. You never know what it could teach you or where you’ll end up.

    An In-Between

    One of the great things about being a sophomore is that it has given me a much broader perspective. For close to a year before that, I was testing my boundaries and pushing my limits in an attempt to see where I fit in the puzzle of the collegiate layout. I felt like I had to be this type of person, or I should be that type of person. It was very much a time of questioning and experimentation.

    Through it all, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again: Stop trying to be who you think you should be, and start embracing who you actually are!

    There has always been some part of me that has been aware of what makes me unique, and what sets me apart from others. I am definitely one who likes to “stop and smell the roses” or at least slow down and appreciate the small joys that I am given. I observe tiny little details about things or people that otherwise tend to go unnoticed. I have an extremely sharp memory, and when something or someone impacts me in a positive way, I can recall almost every single thing about that experience

    My reasoning behind that isn’t solely because I almost didn’t live past infancy. It is true that life moves incredibly fast and that you only get so many opportunities to do certain things. But there was also a time in my life where I spent nearly five years steeped in depression and self-loathing. I was in a dark place,  where I questioned whether or not it was worth it to keep going or to fight through it.

    When I think back on it as both an older and wiser woman, I try not to think of it as a waste. I’ve come to learn that everything does have it’s own time, and maybe I wasn’t meant to start pulling myself together until now. But that dark period has motivated me to seize every moment that I can, and soak it in for what it’s worth. It is what enabled me to choose to get help when I did. I clearly remember saying to myself “I don’t want to spend any more time wallowing in all of this. I want to get better and move forward.”

    That being said, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune to hardship or pain; it just means that when it does happen, I will choose to approach it from a different perspective and handle it with grace, dignity, and strength.

    The second aspect of my true self is that I have a very diverse and multi-faceted personality. I like doing a multitude of things with different people, and I don’t allow a singular aspect of my life to define who I am. I’ve grown up perceiving myself as sweet and kind, almost to the point of being slightly naive. It wasn’t until recently that I noticed that I have a fierce and feisty side; the side that tends to both surprise and scare anyone that gets to know me well enough.

    I realize that some may take that as me being fake or superficial; after all, how does one have multiple sides to them without having ulterior motives? In my case, I think it just happens naturally. That’s how I’ve come to define authenticity as a whole; when you’re being authentic, you don’t have to purposefully try to pull it off. It just shows.

    What I mentioned above has often been a discomfort for me simply because I am afraid of how others will take it. Being vulnerable and telling it like is has been a huge blessing, but also a little bit of a curse. There have been acquaintances  that have never fully turned into friendships because they don’t know how to feel about who I am. They might be intimidated. They might be scared. In turn, they either keep me at a distance or walk away completely. 

    Whenever that has happened, I’ve wondered whether or not it has anything to do with me. And if it does, what do I do about it? Do I dumb myself down a little? (or just around specific people). Do I keep my writing (especially blogging) even more under wraps then it already is? Am I being vulnerable too much, too soon? 

    The reality is that I cannot control how anyone sees me, or the choices they make as a result. No one forces them to make the kind of decision, so I can’t blame myself when I was simply being myself. 

    And besides, I’ve discovered that when someone decides to cut you off for no apparent reason and with no explanation, you really didn’t need them anyway. 

    Concerns aside, I am proud of myself for how far I have come in the last six months or so. Living authentically has helped me to not only gain a better perspective, but it has allowed me to cultivate stronger relationships with my friends and family. Overall, it has taken a huge weight off my shoulders because I’m no longer using the majority of my strength and energy to craft this near-perfect presentation of myself. 

    And as scary as it may be sometimes, it’s important to have the confidence to share your gifts and abilities with the world. I put a lot of myself into my writing, especially on this blog. I do my best to be honest and real with people, along with being genuine about what I choose to share. 

    Yet, the best way to be authentic isn’t just by talking about who you are, but by living it out through your daily life. Again, it’s not something you should have to constantly try to do. Just be. That’s a tough one for me because I make these little mistakes and tend to beat myself up for them. But the more comfortable you become with your flaws, the easier it gets. 

    My main struggle now a days is being vulnerable; when to open up to certain people, or even if I should. I recently spent the weekend with a few close friends of mine, and was in turn introduced to some of her friends that had come into town. There were several times where I found myself discussing things that I normally wouldn’t talk about with someone that I had just met, at least if I had time to think about it before the conversation happened. 

    Then again, I felt comfortable and at ease with these people. When that happens, I tend to live in the moment and say whatever comes to mind. Since then, I wonder if I should have watched myself more closely. Yet, I look back on it and think of how nice it was, and how I still have memories of it nearly two weeks later.

    As time has passed and I have become more confident in myself as a whole, I have felt both liberated and relieved. That is one of the greatest feelings that can come from embracing your own uniqueness. The joy of understanding that you’re not doing it to prove anything to anyone, or to gain their approval. You’re doing it because it is simply who you are as a person.

     In a world full of editing, doctoring and all-out superficiality, having the courage to demonstrate the kind of boldness is a gift. Don’t let it go to waste at the expense of someone else.

    An Eighty Year-Old Woman Once Told Me….

    I am currently into week two of the blogging and writing challenge a year with myself. One of the topics for this week is “If an eighty year-old wrote you wrote the current you a letter, what would they say?”

    I’ve done similar exercises like this beforehand, but never to this extent. I’ve written letters to my thirteen year old self, and my current self five years ahead of time. So, it will be interesting to see where this takes me. 

    Dear Alyx, 

    I am sitting here right now, back at you, my nearly twenty year-old self. You’re at the threshold of becoming a woman; a woman with big dreams, glorious determination and ambition, and a mighty heart. In a few days, you’ll be going back to school to begin the second semester of your sophomore year in college. You have a vision of what you want for these next three months; a vision that involves gaining more independence, but at the same time deepening the current relationships that you have in your life. You want to start achieving what you’ve set out to do on your bucket list for the year. And you’re perfectly capable of going after exactly what you want. What you do get will be worth it, and what you don’t get, you’ll learn from it. 

    But I also sense that you’re scared; you’re scared because making that vision a reality involves letting go of a particular friendship, a friendship that you so much idealized, but has done nothing more than prove to be toxic and full of stress. You’ve tried your best to be there for this person, and you can’t come down on yourself because it didn’t work out. 

    You’re also afraid to leave your family, especially during a time where you have brought them so much joy and vice versa. You want to be there for them as well, especially your little sister. 

    Here’s the thing, sweetheart: You’re at a time in your life where for the most part, you’re now in charge. You’re not really living at home, surrounded by your parents struggles. You should no longer feel obligated to put your life on the backburner to take care of anybody else. You have a chance to pave your own way and to make your own decisions. For crying out loud, stop doing things because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do, and start doing things because it’s what the small voice in your heart-the small voice of God, is telling you to do. 

    And don’t think for one minute that you know all that there is to know. You have come a long way, but you still have a lot to learn. Seize opportunities when you see them, but don’t rush to get to a particular place. Soak up and appreciate as much as you can. 

    I’m not going to tell you what will happen over the next six or so decades. That is one of the most joyful things about living; that is, being present in the moment and not worrying about the future until it gets here. 

    With love, 

    Your wise and beautiful eighty year old self