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?

Love Right

My last two dating relationships have involved caring for guys who were battling some form of addiction. I often found out much later, when they couldn’t hide it anymore. I did eventually set boundaries, and I’m grateful and proud of that, but yet still processing how to move forward. I’m much more aware of what I need, and what I can ultimately handle, but am still learning. And I know I’m not alone in that.

I fell under false pretenses

A mirage

And while I suppose we all see what we want to see

In those we love (or envision loving)

I took what was presented to me

Stable, gentle, strong, sensitive, yet not quite vulnerable

And while I didn’t hit the concrete

They didn’t catch me either

It was more like being dropped

One carried demons

Hurts and fears and anxieties 

That he couldn’t hold himself

Instead, drowning in drink

Reckless words and actions

Professions forgotten by the next day

And I held him too

With shaky hands

Walking a fine line

Of supporting without succumbing

A lover

Not a mother or a therapist

The next walked in on a cold city’s night

His touch, secure

A job, not tied to his past, and a life

A man’s man, I thought

He acted like a partner from night one

We got comfortable; perhaps too comfortable

My only qualm, his lack of depth

Nothing came up naturally

And the burden of broaching subjects fell on me

Here I was, terrified of bursting the bubble

It did anyway

Promises of stability, even commitment

Then silence

Anger, along with the linger of teenage cologne and cigarettes 

Fading as a year passed

Time and spoken truth were enough to push me forward

Until he tried to grab me again

Claiming he had been wronged

When he was truly running from wrong he’d done

One that resulted in serious consequences

Days I wasn’t in his arms,

 He was trying to avoid concrete walls and metal bars 

I never knew until then

He still asked for a second chance

I couldn’t go there again

When it was out of pity, and not the possibility of love

“I’m a magnet for the addicted”

I lamented

Compassionate to a fault

I understand that brokenness is real

But I don’t want to lose myself

It’s not about your past, or black and white

But love is loving well, and loving right

I believe in transparency, sensitivity, and imperfection

Grace upon grace, as they say

Yet what is grace, without personal responsibility?

Face your darkness, and own it

Before saying that you want me

You need me

Or I’m your everything 

I’m my own being

Not a half to a whole

Nearly drowning in other’s messes is getting kind of old

I need to be supported too

Let me get a word in edgewise

And me cared for too please

When You Turn Twenty-One

The weather was not in favor of any kind of celebration; a few days prior a blizzard had hit, and now temperatures had plummeted to subzero conditions. 

“I’m still going,” I told my friends adamantly, refusing to let anything disrupt what at the time felt monumental. “Bundle up, take a cab, it’ll be fine. I’m not worried.” Mom had texted me earlier, an unspoken understanding of just how significant this birthday was. I put my makeup on, did my hair, and anxiously waited for one month to transition to the next. 

Midnight. It was time. 

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I chuckle at how a number can make you feel like you’re on top of the world with nothing to lose. Invincible, almost. And while it was a completely different era compared to the one I’m in now, it feels as if it was a lifetime ago. My cousin and baby sister only recently celebrated the big day,  and while their college experiences have been different than mine, I still carry a kind of maternal wisdom when I think back to seven years ago. 

 

Don’t Take It For Granted

Regardless of where you go or what you study, this is a time in your life that you’re not going to get back once you graduate. I won’t advocate for the extreme, but at least allow yourself to enjoy some of the perks that come with being of legal age. That could range from checking out the local music scene, to beer and wine tastings, or trying your hand at a casino (once was enough for me to cross it off my bucket list). Going out almost every weekend probably wasn’t the most realistic or healthy thing to do, but I can’t say that I regret it. I was an independent person and had come from a very sheltered social scene before college, so I wanted to experience different things as often as I could. Sometimes that meant going alone and hoping I could join up with people later, and sometimes that meant staying sober if I was going to be alone. And when it was all over, when I moved from Iowa City for that last time, I could hold onto the gratitude of having one helluva four year-ride.

 

Be Aware

There’s a dark underbelly to the drinking culture, especially on campus. What can start out as a way to let loose after a week of classes, papers, and exams can easily turn into unhealthy ways to cope with both stress and pain. My junior year was filled with a lot of firsts, and many of them involved grief and loss. Right after my birthday, I formally ended a relationship that I held onto for several years. Some time after that, my parents started the divorce process. And then over the summer, a friend from high school unexpectedly passed away. I didn’t drink to numb the pain, but I had already developed a habit of using alcohol as a way to try to turn sad or angry feelings into happy ones (spoiler: it doesn’t work). I saw it as a way to feel connected to my friends and even acquaintances, because a lot of them couldn’t understand what I was going through at the time. And I was afraid of making people uncomfortable, even though my closest friends stepped up to support me. Fuzzy memories, kissing strangers, it’s all fun to a point. I knew where the line was, but I was afraid of getting bored or becoming a hermit if I truly backed away from it. And despite the expressed concerns and worries, I didn’t truly try to make any changes until long afterward. 

 

Allow Yourself To Evolve

For most people, there comes a time when binge drinking and bar-hopping until closing time just isn’t as fun anymore. If they aren’t already, priorities such as work, paying bills, and having enough energy will come into play. Whatever the reason, know that your changing interests and values is not only normal, but responsible. We all have to outgrow certain things and grow up, and if not the matters of life and health will force us to. 

Living in eating disorder recovery has definitely changed my relationship with alcohol. This could be another post in itself, but it’s very easy to engage in various ED-related behaviors and claim that the liquor was the culprit (or use it in place of engaging with those behaviors). Dealing with a hangover  often leads to sleeping in late, and doing so throws of my entire day in terms of when I eat and how much I eat because I’m essentially playing catch-up. 

I’ve also witnessed the effects of alcoholism up close, starting from mildly embarrassing to downright terrifying. Dating and loving someone who struggles with addiction is anything but romantic, and it sucks to tell them that you can’t be around them when they’re drunk because of what happened the last time, or even with the last guy. And I can only speak from my experiences as a woman, but it’s infuriating to be told that, “Well maybe if you had only been sober, maybe he wouldn’t have done that.” 

Some will tell you that you don’t know how to party anymore, or exclude you from social functions because of the way your experiences have shaped your thinking. But that’s on them, and you don’t owe anyone justification or explanation regarding do what’s best for you.

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These days I consider myself an introverted extrovert, where I enjoy going out and being social, but also need some amount of alone time to recharge. One of the things I love about venturing about in Chicago is that there is such a variety of things to do, as opposed to being stuck between going to a bar or just staying home and watching TV. When I do go out, I typically turn back into a pumpkin by midnight, unless something or someone gives me enough motivation to stay awake. 

I’m not a prohibitionist by any means; my ideal night in often involves a glass of wine and a fireplace, and I’ll never turn down a margarita or a mojito. But I’m also not comfortable with how society inserts booze into the likes of every-day activities, from beer yoga to the concept of holding a cocktail in one hand and a baby in the other. Are we in that much pain where we have to include getting buzzed as part of the daily routine? 

Life is a balance of ebb and flow, but also involves being more intentional (especially as you get older). You’ll never have it entirely figured out, but that also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the work either. 

Yes, the bubble eventually pops. But from where I’m standing, that hasn’t been a bad thing.

 

What We Deserve, and What Actually We Need

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From brooding social media posts to well meaning-confidantes, it’s everywhere: Know your worth. Never Settle. You deserve the best (or better). For most of my life, particularly in my twenties, none of those things have ever sat well with me. Entitlement affects all generations for a number reasons, but our current era is awash with turned up noses and eyes avoiding the mirror, especially when it comes to both personal and professional relationships.

‘Deserving’ anything perpetuates this idea that we should only give in order to get something back.

That the only reason to be good to people or do good things for them is for recognition, validation, and affection.

That it’s everyone else’s job/responsibility to show up and be able to provide everything, and to do so perfectly.

It might keep the bad stuff out for a while, and it might keep the pain of loss and letting go temporarily at bay. But in the end, a deserving attitude will eventually lead to bitterness, cynicism, and resentment. I completely understand how difficult it is to move forward after a broken heart, but there’s nothing more frustrating (and exhausting) than bearing the blame for something that someone else did.

You can do all the right things, work hard, and practice kindness and compassion, and still the world does not owe you anything. The only thing you’re guaranteed is knowing that you paid it forward, and/or left something better than you found it

While it’s true that what you put out in the world does come back to you, it doesn’t always look like what you think it should.

But humility, and the practice of being humble, don’t necessarily have to equal putting up with disrespectful behavior or mistreatment. It’s a softer, more-grace filled approach to pursuing what’s meaningful and what’s healthy. For instance, my eating disorder recovery journey has taught me a lot about what I can handle, and where I need to draw the line. I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding that no relationship or career opportunity is worth risking my physical and mental health for, and that those things need to come first.

It’s not just solely about what I want anymore, because what I want isn’t always what I need. And it’s less about knowing what I need, and more about having the courage to speak up and tell the truth, even at the risk of rejection.

I need to take my time; it’s one thing to be spontaneous and go with the flow when you’ve established a sense of trust and safety with another person, but to expect and even demand that from a complete stranger is ridiculous.

I need open communication and support, even if it’s just merely letting me know that I’m not going through something alone.

I need affirmation and acceptance, but I also need to be called out on every once in a while. If you’re not willing to grow and evolve, especially with a partner, you will run yourself into the ground.

I need a willingness to take responsibility; don’t promise not to hurt me (or anyone, for that matter), but own it when you do.

If someone can’t do that, I don’t need to make them a villain or become a victim in order to let go.

It’s challenging to be realistic and get real at the same time. My life has been colorful and unconventional, but I wasn’t forcing a lot of it either. It’s a balance of what recognizing what I’m in control of, and surrendering what I cannot. I don’t want to spend too much time defining success, because then I ended up taking what’s important for granted.

I still have a lot to learn in this season, so there’s no perfect ending. But here’s what know for sure:

You can value yourself and be soft at the same time.

You can be strong and still need validation and support.

You can keep your heart open while trusting your instincts.

What other choice is there?

I Will Go

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I haven’t known a world without tragedy

Since I was ten years old

Hearing about a crash and buildings in a city

Sitting a class not understanding a thing

I didn’t grasp it then

What it would mean

 

Where were you when the plane went down?

Where were you when the bomb went off?

Where you when the sky got a little bit darker,

When innocence got lost

 

Now every year it seems that shots ring out

Echoed by cries of “no more” and “change NOW”

We shout, debate, argue, grieve, and then go on

Then it happens again

The same cycle

Same tears

Same words

More lives lost

More questions than answers

 

It was a little more personal this time

In the city of lights, games, and dollar signs

A little more closer to “it could have been me”

Or friends or family

To which I wept regarding proximity

Numb with the realization

Of being stuck between frustrated anger

And reality

 

It’s true that no place is safe

Or only as safe as it feels

Why bullets rain

Down on those who come together to share common threads

Music, education, community

Because one filled with enough hatred

Blinded by what, we may never know

Used a weapon to take lives

 

I don’t have the answers to such devastation

This complex thread

Involving mental health, gun control, and how we relate to one another

But I will not live in fear of the possibilities

As I travel, dance, and sing

At these celebrations of music, love, and life

These staples of the summer season

Now treasured memories

I will go

Cautious, but not cowering

Mindful, but not unaware

I refuse to let darkness cloud my thinking

That’s how evil wins

Taking Off My Headphones

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With a portable CD player, I often ran out of battery every time we traveled; headsets were the norm, although I remember how they always broke in one way or another. Jumping on the iPod bandwagon in high school, I typically used it on the bus, or sitting on my swing-set for hours as a form of relaxation and escape. I liked that earbuds were becoming popular, but the Apple brand seemed to be the only ones that wouldn’t fall out when I put them on.

In college, I scuffed up my second generation Nano from carrying it around campus so much, and went through several pairs of those tiny speakers because they were either getting worn out or crushed in my backpack. I would honestly just walk to class or work out at the gym like I was in another world, daydreaming about all the things that I wanted to do or whomever I had a crush on at the time. There were a lot of playlists involving John Mayer, Kesha, The Glee soundtrack, and 80’s power ballads.

As my final semester progressed, I started to leave my beloved device at home; I realized how silly I looked wearing a shit-eating grin for no apparent reason, and most likely came across as unintentionally rude when my friends tried to say hello or have a conversation, and I didn’t respond because I couldn’t hear. I accumulated many scrapes and bruises from tripping and falling (i.e. not paying attention), and received the occasional dirty look due to bumping into random people on the sidewalk. Yet I also wanted to take everything in and appreciate all that was Iowa City, because come graduation I wasn’t going to have it anymore.

As I ride a lot of public transportation in order to get around, I choose to challenge myself beyond just being hands-free. I make a point to thank the conductors and bus drivers for making getting from point A to point B as easy as possible. If I’m at a store where there’s a cashier or barista, I’ll ask them how their day is going. The goal is to always take as many opportunities as I can that allow me to engage with the world around me, especially if it’s uncomfortable at first.  And most of the time, it is.

It’s enlightening to say good morning to fellow walkers passing by in the neighborhood, or to give someone a genuine compliment and see just how much it makes them smile. I’ve discovered that meet-cutes still exist, and that you can flirt on the CTA without being a creep.

Yet, it’s just as disheartening when you want to start a conversation, but you don’t want to yell over Bruno Mars or the latest TED talk. Sometimes I’ll notice that nearly everyone around me is staring at a screen, like it’s a shield from all the apps and online games that we’ve seemingly become addicted to. Shortly after the election, I witnessed a situation between two women where one used a racial slur against the other because her baby was being too loud (giggling, not screaming or crying). I was wracked with guilt over not having done more than just tell the shocked young lady to have a good day before getting off at my stop. And it’s tough wanting to be kind, but to not put myself in a potentially dangerous situation when sitting near someone who’s drunk or looks like they’ve been taking some kind of substance.

I’ve been practicing, but I don’t always get it right. As a partial introvert, I understand those who don’t have the energy to make small talk after a long day. For some, their commute is the only alone time they have before going home to a house-full of kids or roommates. If you can’t communicate much during the day, it’s normal to want to return text messages or personal emails as soon as you get the chance. And as it goes, sometimes we just do things out of habit. If you want to change your habits, you have to figure out why you have certain ones in the first place.

When it comes to being in public, my hunch is that it has to do with fear; the fear of giving someone the wrong idea if we give them the slightest bit of attention. The fear of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fear of being alone with our thoughts, and having to face the possible truths that come with them. These fears are valid, but what good will come of allowing them to dictate how we interact with our surroundings? You can ignore the person making crude/sexual comments about your body, but that’s nothing compared to standing up for your humanity, with dignity. You can get pissed at the person attempting to talk your ear off, or calmly explain that you’ve had a tough day and that you’d like to be left alone.

We can’t backtrack and act like technology doesn’t exist, or wish that it would just disappear. We need to learn to deal with it, to peacefully coexist instead of making it the enemy. You don’t have to completely unplug, but at least start by turning the volume down or wearing one earbud and leaving the other one out. If you’re going from one place to the next, focus on doing something positive (like smiling or holding the door open) rather than just avoiding taking out your phone. It takes baby steps, and at first it feels really weird, like you’re missing a limb or you have this wide open space to contend with. I’m still not entirely used to it, and I find myself mindlessly scrolling from time to time. A lot of it is generational, because I remember what it’s like to grow up without being attached to something at all hours, so that makes it easier to take a break from it.

I want real, face to face connection, and I’m not ashamed to say that I need it. If that makes me an old soul and a lone wolf, so be it. I’m willing to be a leader in order to feed myself.

When “Fixing” Is Not The Answer

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It is a scene that I’m all too familiar with, a sign that I’ve either hit a wall bottomed out again: I’m crying uncontrollably, emotions taking over my entire body to the point where I can’t even move. The tears were probably triggered by something specific, yet there’s an overall exhaustion, loneliness, or a combination of the two. It’s an emotional black hole, where the cause is probably different, but my thoughts remain the same:

I can’t do this anymore.

I feel isolated and alone.

I’m depressed and barely functioning.

When is this shit going to actually go away?

 I want to get better NOW.

You might have been there before. You might already be in the thick of it.

It’s definitely not my first rodeo: I’ve been in therapy for  five years now, to where I have people asking me if it’s really helping because a lot of the time I don’t act like it. It’s hard to explain that it has made a difference, though the feats are often small and not easily seen by those on the outside. I still get stuck, and  it’s frustrating as hell because I feel like I should have a grip on it all by now, especially the triggers of depression and anxiety that tend to ebb and flow over time. I’m still considering the possibility of medication, but would like to get a psychiatrist’s perspective before making any decisions.

I had a moment this past summer, just wanting to be done with it all. Not suicidal done necessarily, but done with the darkness and living out the definition of insanity (which some will argue I’m still doing). I won’t call it an epiphany, but I thought of something in that moment, and it has stayed with me ever since:

What if it wasn’t about fixing ourselves, but feeding ourselves?

On the other side, what more could we accomplish if we stopped trying to fix other people, but instead support and encourage them to seek nourishment?

Perhaps that’s why I’ve seemed to be going in circles over the years: I sought outside help believing that it was a one and done thing, and that I’d be fine after sorting through all my baggage. What’s more, I believed that it would lead to love and acceptance from those whom I wanted it from the most, and all would be right and well.

It’s tough to acknowledge, but real healing doesn’t work like that. There’s no formula or specific set of instructions to follow, and not every situation comes with a timeline. Processing is necessary, and medication can make circumstances more bearable and easier to deal with. But the real work has to come from you alone and for you alone. You are the solution, because you are the one who is ultimately in control of how you choose to view life, despite your experiences while living it.

Feeding yourself, I’d like to think, is doing anything that makes you feel alive, at peace, and allows you to stay true to who you are. It might involve working out, creative projects, community service, going to church, prayer, and investing in quality time with both yourself and with others. It’s a way of putting talk into action, rather than sitting around and bemoaning your story all the time. Yes there is pain, and letting it go is a lot easier said than done. But what other choice do you have? You can choose to be a victim (and from my experience, that has only led to regret). Or you can choose to be resilient, and be surprised at just how much you can do when you have an open heart and mind to the possibilities of what’s right in front of you.

You are not broken, because you are not an object or a robot. You’re messy and you feel deeply. You’re hungry for connection and real relationships. You’re human, and you yourself need the same amount of love and care that you put into anyone else.

It’s overwhelming and unfamiliar, which is what ultimately makes it scary. I’m always a work in progress, so I can’t say what it truly feels like to get “there,” so to speak.  Yet, I tell myself to just keep going. Take it easy. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Whether you’re pursuing nourishment literally or figuratively, it’s something to be savored, enjoyed, and ultimately worth holding onto.

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I say this all with the uttermost compassion and understanding, because I’m still striving, working, and occasionally crawling to get where I want to be  I don’t know what road you’ve had to walk or what hell you’ve endured, and that might be all you’ve ever known. I can’t tell you what to do, but I hope you’ll do something that brings you healing, peace of mind, and wholeness.  Regardless of where you’re at, remember that you are brave, you are strong, and you are loved.

To love yourself is to feed yourself.

You’ve got this.

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Why I Re-defined “Letting Go”

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You need to stop worrying so much.

You need to let this go.

You need to move on.

It’s something that I’m told often, but on the outside don’t seem to be very good at. I always thought it implied forgetting that it ever happened and never talking about it again, at least not in the presence of the subject of conversation, or others involved.

But what if there’s a different way? What if we’ve been actually been going about it all wrong?

Somewhere between Christmas and New Years last year, I helped mediate a difficult but necessary conversation with my immediate family. Thoughts and feelings were boiling over, people were lashing out, and hard things needed to be said. I went back to my grandparents emotionally drained, no longer lividly angry, but unsure how to feel about what had taken place both that weekend and over the last several years.

“You don’t have to decide anything now,” my grandfather said to me after I explained what had transpired. “Feelings are feelings, and they change all the time.” I’d heard this before, but it was clear and gentle coming from him. For the first time in a long while, somebody else’s advice actually made sense. Almost a year later that thought process is still taking shape:

It’s not forgetting the situation entirely, but putting it into perspective.

It’s not never talking about it with people, but changing the way we talk about it.

And instead of forcing the pieces together in order to understand, let the pieces come together on their own.

It is possible to grieve, process, and ultimately feel while still moving forward. But we do so without wrecking our brains over the “why” of everything. Why doesn’t this person want me/accept me/love me? Why did this happen, and in this way? Why won’t anyone tell me what the [blank] is going on? And on and on it goes, as the stress levels rise and sleepless nights turn into haggard mornings, until one day we don’t recognize ourselves anymore.

It’s human nature to want answers, especially when something is unexpected and painful. I once spent many years chasing (and longing for) answers, apologies, and at one point I wanted to inflict the exact same hurt that someone had inflicted on me. I wanted relief, and as much as I hate admitting it, sometimes I wanted to be the one to have the last word. None of it ever came to be, and in the long run I don’t think I would have been satisfied. I wanted those that hurt me to be the ones to heal me, and most of the time it never goes both ways.

Maybe it’s easy to say now because I’ve become comfortable with not knowing, at least at this moment. Maybe I’ve been through enough where I’m confident that no matter how gut-punching the past is, and how terrifying the future is, I will always get through it. It might be by the skin of my own teeth, but I do.

I don’t want to ever completely ignore what once was, because I would be denying how it shaped me as a person, and what I’ve learned from all of it. I don’t want to forget how to accept people for who they are, how to have compassion and show compassion. I don’t want to forget what it feels like to be mistreated, so I don’t treat others the same way. Ultimately I want to remember how far I’ve come, so that I can be a light for someone else who’s walking a similar path.

Despite what’s argued otherwise, I do believe that it’s possible to tell a story purely for the sake of providing context, rather than throwing a pity party. Acknowledging where a problem began is not the same thing as holding a grudge or calling out a person’s faults. And reflecting on an experience does not necessarily mean you’re stuck in the past. If I didn’t reflect or think about things, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Rather than “let it go,” I choose to let it be. I still feel and have my opinions, but I ultimately choose to keep going in order to keep living. Sometimes appropriate boundaries are necessary if I’m trying to move forward from toxic relationships or periods in my life. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it definitely helps. Counseling is a beautiful resource, and I will never stop advocating for it. Feeding does more than fixing ever will. And slowly but surely, good things start to happen: you feel lighter, stronger, and more self-aware. But it’s always one day at time, one foot in front of the other.

I came to better understand all of it when I ran into an old love at the end of this past summer. It was after a mutual friend’s funeral, and I’d actually had a dream/premonition a night or so prior that we would see each other again. He hugged me and exclaimed that it had been a long time, never mentioning that it had been three years without any sort of contact. We caught up on life and I got to meet his little girl, a mixture of sweet and awkward and feeling seventeen again. For a few brief moments I wanted him to take me aside and hold me the way that he used to, but I think that was just the grief talking. Life had just been turned on its head a week prior, and I was completely overwhelmed to the point where I couldn’t think straight.

I debated on reaching out to him on Facebook afterward to thank him for taking care of me all of those years ago. In the end I had decided against it because I didn’t see the point in disrupting the boundaries that I’d set or the progress I’d made. I’d come to terms with the ending of our relationship long beforehand, but seeing him was definitely a positive bookend and confirmation. He had served a meaningful purpose, and I was content with that.

It truly is different for situation. Additionally, it’s extremely important to note that mourning the end of a physical life is extremely different than mourning a season, phase, or relationship. You might experience triggers, dreams, and moments every so often, which may or may not mean anything. In some respect, certain events and times in your life will always have some impact, and that’s okay. What matters is how you choose to use it for good, and whether you allow it to drag you down or build you up.

There is life again. There is love again. There is beginning again and re-purposing the pain. See it, choose it, and pursue it. One day at a time.

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What If I Don’t Want to Guard My Heart Anymore?

Whether you grew up in the church or spent the majority of your teen years in a youth group, you were probably told that your heart was “deceitful” (Jer. 17:9), but that you should “guard” it, because “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). I mostly heard it in relation to how to navigate the already confusing landscape of dating, particularly when I fell in love for the first time when I was only thirteen.

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Yet that responsibility was also being imparted to me (in a non-religious way) before I walked through the sanctuary doors. I learned to subconsciously believe that being liked and accepted meant that I had to present myself in a certain way. That I shouldn’t allow anyone to see my complex or emotional side until we had known each other for a while. And if I wanted to be loved, I needed to put on a happy face.

I tried to act in a way that was safe and comfortable, but was put off by the concept of friendship (and perhaps more) becoming a revolving door that people would walk in and out of. It was a cycle of hoping, overanalyzing, and then closing myself off. Deep down, all I really want was to get to know others and be known, but I couldn’t tell the difference between what was healthy and unhealthy. I carried it with me from junior high through college, and even today I’m still shaking it off.

But it’s not just about what we learn from our upbringing; unfortunately, we live in a culture that constantly warns us against the dangers of taking risks and getting too close. From relationships to careers to fulfilling our lifelong dreams, it’s all about doing whatever we have to do in order to avoid pain.

Nearly everything these days is saturated in fear. In some respects it’s completely understandable, but when it comes to personal interaction, it’s getting kind of ridiculous. There’s no formula that guarantees love and acceptance after opening up to someone. And because we’re all flawed human beings here, we’re all going to get hurt at some point. But there’s a difference between pain that results from our own impulsive or bad decisions, and pain because we knew what we were getting into and the other person did not show up.

As my own convictions and beliefs have been reshaped through the years, I’m beginning to see that taking “guard your heart” so literally is actually more harmful than it is helpful. It gave me the false idea that I had more control in relationships, and that if I went about it so carefully, I could in turn make people care about me without taking too big of a chance. It led me to believe that I was responsible for others’ emotional reactions and making sure that they didn’t disappear as I peeled back the layers. I glorified self-protection, and eventually became self-reliant. What I thought would bring me closer to God actually took me away from Him, and I regret what I missed out on as a result.

On the contrary, I don’t propose blindly following feelings and emotions either: you can want something so desperately that you can’t stop thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Treating your heart like a runaway train is just as dangerous as treating it like a caged animal that has to be under lock and key. If God created us with this thing that is essentially the center of our bodies and physically keeps us alive, then it can’t be all that terrible; it just needs a little guidance.

I’m entering into a new season, and one that involves a lot of vulnerability and taking leaps of faith. I don’t want to guard my heart anymore as much as I want to guide it. The process itself is for another post, but it really comes down to getting real with God about everything, and being grateful for new opportunities, regardless if they’re just for today or for a lifetime. It’s a matter of trusting Him completely, rather than relying on my own limited understanding of what’s happening at the moment (Proverbs 3:5-6). And it’s experiencing the peace that comes from gratitude and surrender, allowing that to act as a protector rather than trying to do it all myself (Phil. 4:6-8).

Discernment is important, but I refuse to resort to legalistic measures, hoping that God will somehow bless me if I follow some silly formula or outdated process. It’s entirely possible to proceed with caution and listen to your instincts while still enjoying the journey of exploring something new and putting yourself out there. When I don’t do that, I miss out on the joys of learning, growing, and perhaps even healing. Yes, that is the real tragedy in putting up walls; it’s a refusal to have faith that He is in the business of healing and miracles, even those that come from pain, suffering, and re-piecing a broken heart back together.

I’m not going to tell you to not get hurt, because a painless existence is not of God. The truth should set you free, but it shouldn’t hold you back and keep you hidden either. Pay attention, but remember that experiences are meant to be treasured, not dictated.

And remember this: You’re going to be OK.

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When Hard Things are Good Things

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We can do hard things.

A trademark mantra of one of my favorite writers, one which I’ve been repeating to myself when I need to get out of a corner and be brave and proactive. I often put things off because I’m afraid; not necessarily of rejection, but afraid of feeling like I should have to take responsibility for it. The possibility of achieving my dreams is a lot scarier than the possibility of failing; it comes down to having a lot more to lose, of being on the verge of something big, only to discover that it was too good to be true. It can be exhausting, like trying to grab onto a treat that consistently keeps getting dangled in front of my face, and I just can’t reach it. Eventually the vulnerability and risk-taking leaves me rubbed raw, and I need to take some time out.

Yet, the constant emerging from and then returning to a former shell is not a healthy way to live, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

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As you can see, I recently made the switch from Blogger to WordPress.

It was a slow prompting; I initially just wanted to re-do the look and feel of my original platform, having had the same template for the longest time. But after scouring various websites and failing to find something a little more sophisticated, I began to wonder if it was time to go in another direction. Apparently Blogger isn’t taken seriously by most internet writers anymore, and so I wasn’t surprised by the lack of growth. I had a decent following on social media, but comments and conversations had all but stopped. My writing style had deepened, and it would need a place to evolve.

When I first started blogging six years ago, I needed a safe space to write about things that I was either too scared or intimidated to talk about with other people. I had it in my head that being deep and emotional was what separated me from my peers, but at the same time I still had a lot to say and wanted to express myself. I have to be able to at least process it on paper first before I can try to articulate it in conversation, because that’s what I’m more naturally inclined toward.

But that fear has been shifting little by little, and so has my purpose for writing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become an explorer of new ideas and an advocate for various angles; not a contrarian by any means, but always posing the question, “What perspective on this subject hasn’t been covered yet?” I’ve realized that I enjoy advocating for the middle ground, because it’s neither a perspective of defeat nor one of romantic idealism. And I’d like to think that sometimes we all need a break from choosing one extreme or the other.

At the very least, I want to give readers something to think about, a breath of fresh air. There’s a lot of cynicism and fear out there, which has led to frustration and confusion because we don’t want to be alone, but we don’t want to experience heartache either. It’s one thing to know that you’re not the only one, but it’s entirely different when you’re the only one talking about it. If being an example means encouraging others in the process, then let it be so.

It’s not hard and it’s not complicated, but it certainly seems that way, especially in the age of the internet. I want to get to know people and be known in return, but it’s overwhelming to think about the possibility of being so exposed and vulnerable to the masses. Yet, how else do you learn how to be comfortable in your own skin? At what point do you stop apologizing for loving yourself, and confidently own how you think and choose to live your life?  And why do we hide knowing that what we have to give and put out into the world is ultimately healthy and good?

There’s this sad idea that when you’re young, you have to be superficial and not care about what truly matters to you. Am I too far off in saying that most likely, every single one of us wants connection, depth, and intimacy?  We either don’t know how to do it, or assume that no one else wants to, so there’s no point in trying. And that has left many starving for emotional and spiritual nourishment.

In the age of being divided, I’d like to build bridges instead of putting up walls.

Whether you’re making the transition with me or entirely brand new, thank you and welcome! I look forward to the continuing journey, and sharing it with all who come along for the ride.

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