Mud and Mess



Mud

Identify something muddy that kept reoccurring in 2013; what was the truth that was underneath once you washed yourself clean?

I had spent the week stressing out over midterms, and by Friday was in need of a drink (or two). It was my junior year and I had just turned twenty-one about a month prior, but was still getting used to a lot of the perks that came with it; not only could I buy my own alcohol, but I was able to legally be in a bar after ten o’clock and no longer feared getting in trouble. There was also a surge of confidence, particularly in terms of guys. I was slowly getting over an incident from the previous year and felt ready to embrace that men considered me attractive. On top of that, I had just cut my first love out of my life and had a huge hole in my heart. I didn’t expect to find anybody because I was more focused on simply having a good time.

  The friend I was with that night had gone to talk to someone else, and I immediately hit the dance floor. It wasn’t that of a typical dance club, but could still get a little crazy. I spotted a guy named Ryan who was in a class with me last semester, so I went over to him to say hello. Much to my surprise, he wasted no time in getting me to dance and I decided to just go with it. Before long before we were all over one another, and eventually he leaned in to kiss me. Without giving it much thought, I leaned in as well.

Though it was my very first kiss that I’d ever had, I certainly wasn’t expecting fireworks. On the other hand, it was weird that I hadn’t felt anything. My friends explained later on that the drinking had probably lowered my sensory levels, despite that I’d only had two the entire night. But in that moment I kind of threw my hands up and didn’t really care. At least until he suggested that we go to the bathroom. In a bar. In a dirty, disgusting, you-don’t-want-to-know-what’s-on-the-floor bathroom of a bar. Now, it was typical for a guy to suggest that we go back to his dorm or apartment, and I was most definitely aware of the concept of public bathroom sex. But this was another first and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out what he meant. The familiar feeling of being trapped started to set in, and I told him that I was leaving before grabbing my friend and not looking back until we’d made it to my place. 

As I related what had happened, I felt a sense of empowerment: I had done something because I wanted to and not because of what was expected of me. I didn’t feel bad or ashamed because I was tired of waiting for a boyfriend or a fairy-tale moment. The majority of first kisses don’t even come close to romantic, so it didn’t seem to be a huge deal. But it’s true when they say that once you start kissing, you don’t want to stop. I would go down a path that was somewhat dangerous, but would also teach me a lot about who I am as a person. 

Which leads me to say that I didn’t necessarily call it quits right then in there. There were a few more afterward, but it wasn’t necessarily every single weekend. Most of the time it was just awkward, aside from the weekend after finals, where there were no expectations in terms of what meant what and I could just go home afterward. That was a rare occurrence though: the others were often forward, aggressive, or flat-out weird. I get that we live in a culture where anything goes, but some of the conversations I found myself having were just mind-boggling. 

On top of that, I was also in a season of dating, which wasn’t going well at all. While these guys did want relationships, it seemed like it was only for the title and not because they genuinely liked me. I don’t like it when people are clingy or in my face all the time; I’m not one who appreciates constant texting every single day, which most of them refused to understand. There were also those who’d recoil once they learned that I didn’t have a ton of experience, which was frustrating. It wasn’t that my parents were strict or that I was scared; it just didn’t happen right away for me, which I’ll get to momentarily. 

It was getting to where I was starting to hate what I was putting myself through, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I thought that if I gave it time, it would get better. Once I met someone that I found truly physically attractive, then I would enjoy it. Never mind that I usually wound up in predicaments where I was damn lucky to get out unharmed, at least physically. Deep down, I resented that everything was based on assumption instead of communication. I usually felt like shit afterward and kept telling myself that I was done, but I’d constantly end up doing the same thing over and over again. 

It took a couple of months, but eventually I gathered the courage to admit to my friends just how much I was struggling. I thought that keeping everything to myself would make it easier to navigate; I wouldn’t be bombarded with advice and various opinions regarding what I should and shouldn’t do. Yet keeping my mouth shut ultimately made it worse because the constant thinking and lying to myself began to cloud my judgement. I needed help, but more importantly I needed accountability. 

As much as I believe in personal responsibility, I also stand in friends looking out for and taking care of one another, especially when there’s alcohol involved. It’s not that I needed a baby-sitter or someone to keep me under control; I’m a pretty independent person as it is and by that point had gotten pretty good at navigating the bar scene on my own. It’s more that I needed to be reminded of the reality versus what was in my head. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but it’s so easy for me to envision something that’s completely different than what actually is. In my case, the guys I met while out on the town were more than likely not the type that I want to have a relationship with, no matter how much time or chance I give it. 

I honestly didn’t become truly comfortable with all of that until I took a contemporary women’s writers class, where we discussed the writings of modern-day binaries and problems that many women face. Hearing my classmates stories and viewpoints helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one wrestling with these things. I wasn’t the only one in the unnamed category between being a “innocent virgin” and a “trashy whore.”

Simultaneously, it was also a blessing (and a relief) not to be condemned by the people that mattered: my closest friends and my parents. Mom would tell me to stop stressing out, saying that it wasn’t a big deal because I’d never gone further than kissing. While that is true, why the comparison? What would I be if I had done that?

I think that I would be human. Just like everyone else, no matter what side of the line you’re on.

It has not been an overnight process; with the help of loved ones and a therapist, I’ve set standards and boundaries that I remind myself to follow each and every day. Centering myself in my faith again has been a huge step, because so often we make a point in cutting out the negative, but not bringing in the positive. I feel like I’ve come to a place where I’m learning how to develop a healthy mindset when it comes to relationships and human sexuality. It’s about staying true to my values, but also staying true to myself. And I’m still working on it.

I can’t say that I completely regret going through that phase in my life. I’m not particularly proud of what I did, but I’m wearing a cloak of shame either. In terms of what I could have done differently, I wish I would have been more assertive: saying no to what I wasn’t completely OK with, and being honest with myself when I realized how much it was hurting me emotionally. I realized that I can’t enjoy being physical with someone unless I get to know them and feel a genuine connection between the two of us. And I can’t imagine sharing that part of myself so early on, and on such a superficial level. 

I’m not going to advise people to just go out and do what they want, but I do identify with those that feel torn between cultural norms and personal values. Up until I got to college, I had no idea what it was like to be alone with a guy or go out on a date (unless you include my senior prom, which we went as friends). And while it’s normal to be curious and want to figure that stuff out, I can’t overemphasize how vital it is to be aware: once you realize that something isn’t working for you, stop what you’re doing and take a step back. Talk to a friend or relative who might know you better than you know yourself. Pray about it. Just don’t assume that time is going to make it better or easier, because that’s almost never the case.

For right now, I’m focusing on other aspects of my life. I’m definitely open to a relationship, but I want to be in a good place emotionally and spiritually when that time comes. I’m still learning what in means to put my identity and build a firm foundation in my Creator, rather than idolizing a person or a relational status. It will always be somewhat of a work in progress, but it’s also a matter of getting to know someone who’s confident  and willing to pursue me, both as a friend and a romantic interest. 

Some of you might be wondering why I wrote this; there’s no big reveal or shocker, at least to those that know me well. Yet I felt the need to talk about it because it relates to a much bigger discussion: the demand of perfection and withholding of grace, especially in regards to current generations and dating. That’s a subject that I would like to tackle more in this upcoming year, with the goal of not necessarily finding a balance, but maintaining it. More so that I’ve become passionate about the genders and how we all relate to each other. It’s layered, but not as complicated as we’ve made it out to be.

Have happy (and safe!) New Year!


photo credit: David W Oliver via photopin cc

Stepping in Different Directions





Decisions

What was the biggest decision that you made this year? How has it affected you?


On the outside, it didn’t look like that big of a deal because it was informal and we rarely ever talked at that point. But in my heart, cutting my first love completely out of my life was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; perhaps not as a whole, but definitely this year. I didn’t want to, but there wasn’t much of a choice because everything involving him was starting to become unhealthy. Adding to that, it wasn’t fair to put my fears and insecurities onto others; if I was going to get past all of those, he needed to be out of the picture for good. There were no words exchanged, just deleting his number and making sure he could no longer see my Facebook profile. It was a relief, but also just flat-out-weird; I had no idea what to do afterward, and ended up going on a bit of an adventure for the next six months in trying to figure it out. I prayed, wrote, kissed, dated, drank, talked, and cried. Not only was I letting go of a special person, but the person whom I believed I would marry one day. 

Looking back on it almost a year later, I fully understand that it was for the best. It’s a pain in the heart when you’ve invested in somebody for almost eight years, but our relationship had become one-sided. I didn’t really know him anymore and I’m willing to admit that I might not have known him at all. But I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent together for the world. 

Not many people are aware of this, but the whole reason we got so close in the first place was because I was going through a very rough time. My self-esteem was a roller-coaster in the midst of changing friends and distant family members, especially my parents. I should have gone to a pastor or another adult at my church that I was attending, but I didn’t trust adults back then. He supported me without judgment and ultimately helped me survive. He was the first person who ever told me that God loved me, and convinced me that cutting my wrists and popping pills wasn’t the answer, among other issues. I know there were those that looked at us with raised eyebrows, but the idea of having to explain that stuff to anyone else was unbearable. 

That’s why I choose not to be angry or hold a grudge; he took care of me in ways that I needed to be, but I had no idea how to articulate. I am not ashamed to say that it’s nice to be taken care of, regardless of all the crap out there involving self-reliance or what the true nature of a relationship is. While God should always be one’s true foundation, we weren’t put on this earth with others to walk through life alone. It took me a long time to get that, and I’m still learning. 

I did go through and grow from a season of dating, but also made the decision to take a step back from that for the time being. Most of the dates were fine and I appreciated the experience, but a lot of the guys weren’t the type that I genuinely want to be with. I totally support giving chances when appropriate, but when your instincts are telling you that it’s not going to work, it’s best to listen to them. I often had a “down the road” mentality, where I thought I would find a reason to like a guy once I got to know him better. And while I believe that can and does happen, the chances are slim when hardly any of your values line up. But the subject of dating in itself is for another post. 

I’m not going to say that I don’t miss him at times, but more so I miss the affection and the sense of intimacy that we had. However, not having him around has been like a breath of fresh air: I have standards for a relationship that go beyond just being nice and the willingness to accept me as I am. And it’s not just about deserving better, but actually needing better. By looking at the bigger picture, I understand that I need so much more than what I thought I did at thirteen or fourteen. 

Knowing what I know now, I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted. But despite all that has happened, I think it all turned out the way it was supposed to. Just because something or someone isn’t forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. He does and will probably always have a place in my heart: not in hope or wishful thinking, but in gratitude. And that’s why I’m writing this; I choose not to be cynical, but instead thank God for that particular blessing and that special time. It doesn’t always make moving forward easy, but it makes it doable.

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Quote of The Year






Words


What quote resonated with you in 2013? 


“There are a lot of things in life that are going to break your heart, but you should never let them break your spirit!” 

I’m not sure when or where exactly I came up with these words; I think I was writing in my journal one summer morning and all of the sudden it just popped into my head. It has been very much a reflection of this year as a whole, at least in terms of how I’ve felt about about it. On one hand, there has been a lot of pain, mostly in regards of the big moments. There were days where I would just lay in my bed at home or sit on my couch at my apartment and cry or stare into space. I felt so hallow on the inside, like I was in between a nightmare and reality. It was pretty much like being in The Twilight Zone. 

Everyone has a different way of mourning; there’s no one right method of expressing pain, anger, etc. But there comes a point for me when it becomes exhausting. If I’m like that all the time, I start to wonder if it’s actually doing more harm than good. I believe that when bad things happen or tragedy strikes, you should allow yourself to feel and process all that’s going on. But at what point do you begin to accept your new normal? At what point do you risk being destroyed by what you can’t change? 

I’m not saying lock it in a closet and pretend it never happened. There are always going to be certain events, words, and/or periods of time that are going to stay with you forever, no matter how much time goes by. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let yourself have moments of bliss or happiness. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be happy, while still being aware of the fact that you’ve got a broken heart. 

And that’s the thing: awareness of one thing but still allowing yourself to feel another if it comes on. I can’t base my happiness on whether or not the people around me are happy, though it does affect me to an extent. I don’t want to miss out on so many other blessings because I could only focus on the negatives. 

Don’t try to find the balance; rather, maintain it.

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A Letter To a Friend Above


Inspiration

What/Who inspired you this year? 

Rather than try to explain it all over again, I just thought I would share this. 

Dear Kevin, 

It’s been almost six months; in that time I’ve felt such a mixture of emotions that I had no idea how to explain it, and to this day I still don’t. But this is not about me, it’s about you. I feel like I’ve finally come up with a way to say thank you for all you’ve done for me, and all you continue to do for me. 

I hate that I can’t remember how we met exactly, but it what most likely from somewhere or through somebody in high school; maybe because you played football with my brother, or through a very mutual (and kind-hearted) friend of ours. We didn’t interact or talk much at first, at least until I was a junior and you were a senior. And when we did talk, you always made me laugh or make my cheeks turn red with embarrassment.  I sensed that there was something unique and special about you, like we were kindred spirits. It might have been the height factor or the fact that we usually had a way of surprising people. Either way, it was a different impression.

And we would become kindred spirits when you came to Iowa City during my second year of college. You introduced me to Spotted Cow beer and simultaneously made fun of me for being terrified to try whiskey (which I did eventually). The following morning, you serenaded me with Scotty McCreery and I thought it was so damn cute. I can only imagine you shaking your head at me for smiling at those memories.

And then of course there was the following night, which had me laughing so hard I thought I was going to pass out. But on a serious note, I’m beyond thankful that you helped keep me safe and calm when I was initially afraid of ending up in a bad situation. The whole reason I’ve never forgotten it is because two weeks later someone else would come up to visit and leave me in the hands of a creepy dude who probably intended to take advantage of me that night. So now anytime a friend is willing to walk me home or make sure I’m OK, I always take it to heart (in a good way). 

I wish with everything in me that I had invited you to come up for my twenty-first birthday celebration. I thought about it often, but in the end assumed that it would be too hard to travel and find some place to stay. Still I can’t help but wonder how you would have reacted at the sight of me drinking like a crazy person; you might have very well joined in at some point, or maybe just offered to carry me home. Not that it wasn’t fun as it was, but it would having you and the others there would have kicked it up a few notches.  That will always be one of my regrets about our friendship. 

The other one is not taking part in celebrating your life in the days and weeks after I got the news. I wanted to put my arms around people and just be with them, but I kept saying that I needed to talk about it. The truth is, I was suffocating emotionally and making bad decisions because of it. On top of that, I was being given the message that openly grieving was only appropriate for those that were closest to you. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I don’t have to be the best of friends with someone in order to care about them. And from hearing about all your acts of kindness for others, both big and small, I’m sure you felt the same way. 

Though you’re no longer here on earth, your spirit and your legacy have made such a profound impact. In the midst of the numbness I experienced, I began to take a hard look at what I was doing with my life; not just in terms of wisdom versus stupidity, but what my gifts were and the way I could use them to make a difference for others. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to, at least physically. But after talking with my therapist, I understood that everybody has their own strengths, and I just happen to have a knack for using words to show love and compassion. 

But more than that, whenever I think of you I’m reminded that life is to be actively lived, not something to just exist or survive in. To  make sure that the times I spend with my loved ones always end on a good note, and to not be ashamed of letting them know how much I care about them. I’ve been through a lot this last year, but I’m choosing to focus on the good instead of zeroing in on my anger and wallowing in pain. And above all, you motivate me to take chances because of how precious life truly is. It’s what keeps me going in my journey to become a published writer, as well as to have love in my life. I could go on, but you’re probably shaking your head at how sappy I’m being as it is!

I miss you so much; you’re a wonderful human being and a great friend, and I hope that I was able to do the same for you. I love you and cherish the memories I have of our friendship, and will never ever forget about you. In fact, I think I owe you a proper visit; while I loved talking to you at random moments as I’ve watched the sun go down, it’s about time I paid my respects. But regardless, thank you for what you’ve taught me and what I’m still learning.You will always be my pal, Otis, and have a special place in my heart.

Love Always, 
Alyx

Update: I also wrote a poem in his honor as well, and rather than post both links separately, I’m including it here

A Bright Light


The Right Stuff

What went right for you in 2013? (Prompt credit: Kat Mcnally) 

In hindsight, 2013 was a bit of a bleak year for me, but I do my best not to look at it that way. In the midst of the loss and grief, there were a lot of good moments; This was mostly due to having finally become totally comfortable with the friends that I have in my life right now. And not that I didn’t have them in previous years, but this was the first year that I wasn’t terrified of being vulnerable with them. I didn’t have to hide or sugarcoat anything, but more importantly, I felt like I could be myself because I’ve finally begun to accept who I am as a person. 

The following excerpt is from a larger essay that I wrote about healing, which I read at my first literary reading last night: 


Reflecting on these last three and a half years has been similar to looking in a mirror; so much change has happened in one place, where I barely recognize who I was during freshman year. My mom used to ask me, “What happened to that happy little girl who would make up stories about fairies and princesses all the time?” She was still there,  but had been buried underneath a lot of layers, and I needed to be in a healthy environment to find her again.  I’d like to think that the core of our being never really changes, but just takes on different shapes as one goes through different seasons of life. This is particularly true for seasons of hardship and suffering. But just because there is pain doesn’t mean that there can’t be joy, especially when you’re surrounded by those that mean the most to you. 

I see that healing is not a destination that must be reached in order to proclaim that all is OK. It’s a daily process of forgiveness and facing reality head on, along with surrendering what I can’t control. Above all, its all about choosing to actively live, rather than just exist or survive. And I don’t think I would have learned any of that without those who first became my friends and eventually like a second family.

 They’ve heard my stories and seen my scars; those etched into my wrist as well as my memories. They know when I’m happy based on my giggle and laugh at how I tend to recall the most random facts or events. They’re aware of my independent spirit, but remind me that it’s important to ask for help. They see right through my attempted perfectionism and shower me with grace and acceptance.  Some drive me crazy, but that doesn’t mean that I care for them any less. And there are also those who motivate me to stay grounded and be a better person.

 I feel that I’ve been at a crossroads lately: there’s making peace with the past, while accepting that there’s going to be stuff that I’ll never completely get over. As I write this, there are a lot of changes that are beginning to take place, which is a breath of fresh air and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m now an adult and realize that moving in new directions is inevitable, but it’s still a little scary when your future is full of unknowns. I have my own dreams and ambitions, but am unsure as to how to make them a reality. My biggest fear is getting caught up in the chaos and losing sight of how far I’ve come; even more so, that I will lose myself all over again.

What I can do is rest in the fact that God has a way of  bringing everything together the way that it should be;  that the people that are meant to be in my life will always be there, even if it’s just in the doorway for a little while. Nothing will ever be exactly the way I envision it, but that doesn’t have to influence how I see myself. And that’s what real healing is; learning how to live somewhere in the middle of what is both bitter and sweet. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m not completely broken either. I don’t always make the best decisions, yet I choose not to wallow in regret. For the first time in a long time, I can say with confidence that I’m starting to feel whole again. I still have a ways to go, but I’m grateful knowing that I don’t have to do it alone.

Amen.

photo credit: -Reji via photopin cc

Sentiments Behind The Song




Music 

What is your favorite song from 2013? 

This year was a great year in music, and I love sharing new songs/artists that I find through my “Music Monday” series. From “Sunny and 75” by Joe Nichols to “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, it’s so hard to choose just one. But if I had to pick a favorite I would say….


Mirrors, by Justin Timberlake


Call me an old-fashion romantic, but I’m a sucker for love songs, and this is about the closest thing to one this year (at least within the pop genre). I don’t consider them a lost art, but I tend not to hear them very much now a days. While I’m not sure if I’m believe in the notion of a “other half,” I can get behind the idea of two people complimenting each other. More so, they bring  out the best in each other and make their lives better, which is part of what this song is about. 

I’ve never admitted this before, but listening to it reminds me that love does exist. Despite what I’ve been through and what I’m still working through, I don’t need proof in numbers or success stories to know that it’s possible. It’s just a matter of being open to it and having the right attitude. 

There is a very powerful music video for this, but unfortunately was unable to find it on Youtube.

And yes, I would one day like to slow dance to this!


My Favorite Self(ie)

Picture 

Post your favorite picture from 2013, self-portrait or otherwise (prompt credit: Kat McNally




I didn’t know how the costume would turn out; I just wanted to dress up as Audrey Hepburn for Halloween. I already had a black dress and paid close attention to make-up tutorials. My friend did my hair and I managed to find a ten-dollar necklace and earring set. 

It was one of those times where I looked in the mirror and truly felt beautiful. Not because I chose something other than a skin-tight get-up, but because it was simple and yet it was also glamorous. It actually was the beginning of a change in how I do my make-up and how I’ve been trying to present myself as a little more sophisticated. 


One of my friends did the hair bun and supplied the fake pipe for this impromptu photo shoot. While the gloves and tiara are noticeably absent, I think I pulled off an “Audrey” well.

Gems To Hold Onto

Unforgettable

What are five things that you don’t want to forget from 2013? (prompt credit: Hope Wallace Karney

1. If something is intentionally done with love, there should be no guilt or shame afterward

-My therapist offered me this piece of wisdom early on in the semester; I love letting people know that the mean something to me, whether it be sending a random text, a hug, or offering to do something nice in any way. At the same time, sometimes I wonder if I’m heard or get taken seriously because I do it a lot, and at one point I was questioning whether or not I should scale it back a bit. However, this year has taught me how to cherish people, and if that means coming off as somewhat cheesy, I’m not going to apologize for it. 

2. Don’t forget to bring the good stuff in!

-One of the trends that often goes around the internet (especially the blogosphere) is how to remove negativity from your life; it could be people, it could be limiting your time on Facebook or in front of the TV, etc. But rarely have I ever heard or read anything relating to how to include what is positive and what is happy; it doesn’t necessarily have to fill the empty space, but it can if it ultimately makes your life better, then I don’t see why not. 

3. Make time for those you love

-For many, the term “busy” doesn’t just define a temporary season, but a way of life. I understand that some careers or oriented that way, and that there are those who are constantly used to being on the go all of the time. But from my own experience, doing so eventually gets exhausting, both physically and mentally. I’ve also realized that my second love language (next to physical touch) is quality time. I’m fascinated by people’s stories, and having a strong support system is what has helped me to get through the many rough patches I went through this year. Again, I recognize that some have little to no control over their academic/work schedules, and that realistically time is not something that is freely given. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year in particular, its that life is fragile and nothing is ever guaranteed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look back on my years and wish that I had seen more of my friends and family. So even if it’s just stopping by a loved one’s house after work or catching up over lunch or coffee for an hour, don’t forget to surround yourself with good people. At the end of the day, I’d rather keep my sanity over success, whatever that make look like. 

4. Indulge in fun (and child-like) things

-Along with making time for loved ones, it’s also important to make time for doing fun stuff. It doesn’t have to involve going out and getting drunk, nor does it have to involve alcohol in general. In the last five months, I re-discovered activities that I used to do as a kid, and I still get a kick out of at the age of twenty-one. To celebrate the fourth of July, my friends and I went to a local carnival and had a barbecue. In October, we went apple/pumpkin picking and then had a pumpkin carving party. It’s no secret that I love watching Disney movies and I’m determined to host a game night or two before graduation. Contrary to popular belief, adulthood doesn’t have to always be about choosing what’s necessary over what you want. In other words, it doesn’t have to suck. You just have to be creative (particularly if a budget is involved) and intentional with what you’re doing if it’s a big event. That being said, it’s OK to be spontaneous too!

5. Let yourself BE

-If there’s a singular roadblock to being vulnerable, it’s when you focus on how to say something rather than just saying it. I’ve spent so much of this year trying to explain certain happenings and feelings in a way that everyone can understand, and in the end I wound up making it harder than it needed to be. In the grand scheme of it all, I cared too much about what other people thought and landed in an emotional prison because of it. While whole-heartily do my best not to intentionally hurt other people or cause conflict, I’ve learned that the more you try not to hurt somebody else, the more you end up hurting yourself. The reality is that not all will understand or empathize with the situation, nor will they care. It’s not a question of whether to be selfless or selfish, but how to set boundaries and take care of myself. And it’s a process that I’m still going through. 

There are plenty more gems of wisdom that I picked up this past year, but these are the top five. What are yours?

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The Edge of Hurt and Grief

Grief

What did you grieve for this year? What did you lose? (Prompt credit: Kat Mcnally)


I’ve written so much about specific losses and pain this year that I almost can’t bear to do a summary of it again. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything left to say on the subject, at least from a general standpoint.

We all know what it’s like to experience pain and suffering, as well as the fear of allowing someone in during that tough time. A lot of us also know what it’s like to be on the outside, to watch another person cry out to God or anybody for that matter, begging to close the wound. Though I’ve experienced most of the former this year, I’ve actually gained a lot of insight about holding others up when they’ve practically doubled over. I thought I would share some of it in the form of a letter. And for the sake of clarification, I say “outsider” because he or she may not have been in that hurting person’s shoes before.

Dear Outsider, 

A friend of yours has basically told you that their heart is broken: a loved one might have passed away unexpectedly. Their parents or parent-figures might be choosing to separate or divorce. A significant other ended that relationship. It could be a number of circumstances, but one thing is for sure; he or she is devastated and going through a period of mourning. They might not outright say that they need you, but it’s apparent in their voice, their eyes, or the way they go from full of life to utterly lifeless. 

Now here you might be feeling like you can’t do or say much, especially if you haven’t been in their shoes. But trust me when I tell you that that line of thinking is probably the worst way to go about it. No one in this world is ever without something to offer, regardless of what roads they’ve walked or what they’ve been taught. Let me repeat that again: there is always something to give, whether it be big or small. The key is the will to step out of what makes you feel comfortable and step into the role of a supporter, confidant, and friend. Keep in mind that this is not about you, this is about the person who is looking at you with pain written across their face, and is trying to tell you that they’re going through some level of hell

It’s natural to approach any situation as a problem that needs to be solved; we live in a society that’s constantly busy, going from one thing to the next. At best, we rattle off a list of do’s and don’ts and how-to’s. At worst, we serve a course of “suck it up and move on” or “stop crying and be an adult.” We rely on gender norms in order to cope. The reality is that this may not be a problem to solve or even a pain that you can take away. This may be something that they have to deal with for the rest of their life. 

One way to go about it is to ask the question, “what do you need?” You’re not making assumptions and you’re not acting like you have the answers (in which it’s OK if you don’t). Your friend’s response could vary, but many people simply want someone they can pour their heart out to without fear of being condemned or criticized. Another way of putting it would be that they just want you to listen; I’ve found that in order to become a good listener, you must learn how to be silent and give them their space until they’re finished. Or at least do so until he/she invites you into the conversation, either by asking what your opinion is on the situation, or how they should go about moving forward (which I’ll get to momentarily). If you don’t understand something or need clarification, ask questions to keep the conversation going. The best response might be “I may not have been in your shoes, but I respect where you’re coming from.” 

Another important aspect is acknowledgment that you’re there; making eye contact and keeping it affirms that you’re giving them full attention and that their words aren’t just going in one ear and out the other. I can’t speak for everyone, but physical touch has always been a way for me to connect with others. Sometimes it’s just touching their shoulder or taking their hand at some point. Other times it’s putting my arm around them or giving a hug/holding them afterward. This can be tricky because there are those who are not touch-oriented; be aware of those boundaries and respect them if they’ve been set. Yet, I can say from personal experience that a hug is the best way to reassure someone that they’re not alone, especially if you don’t know what to say. There are circumstances where actions speak louder than words, because words are not always needed. 

Out of everything, what you want to communicate the most is this: I hear you, I see you, and I respect that’s how you feel. 

That being said, there will be times when something is beyond what you know or are able to do. Your friend might need a therapist or counselor who can give more feedback and insight than you alone. However, communicating this is not the easiest thing to do; choose your words carefully because it can come off in a way that you didn’t intend. Affirm that you care about the person and that you will be with them through this tough time, but along with that, it’s a good idea for them to seek professional help. You’re not walking away, but you’re not taking on something heavier than what you can handle. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to end after one conversation: call them, text them, encourage them. The best messages are often the ones that simply let somebody know that you’re thinking about them; this is especially true if you know that something is going on but the other person hasn’t or may not want to bring it up. 

I’m not writing this to give you crap, and I understand that a lot of this is easier said than done. What’s the point of trying to take on the weight of somebody’s world if you can’t carry it? Here’s the thing though: despite what you’re told, you don’t have to go big or go home in order to make a difference in the life of another person. That’s what love in action is all about; being able to do the small things with a big heart. 

Instead of being one who complains about the lack of good in the world or how unfair life is, be one who makes a point of putting good back in it. 

With Sincerity and Compassion,

The other side
I have learned and come to understand a lot about grief and loss in this last year alone. As stated in the letter, it doesn’t just have to only involve the passing of a loved one. It could be a broken relationship that’s beyond repair. A separation or change in family dynamic. Realizing that one chapter is closing and that a particular stage of life is over. Yes, this is all encompassed in grief; and I know this because I’ve been through it or am currently experiencing it right now. 

I cannot describe how alone I’ve felt during these times, and how that isolation still fills me every so often. June is, and probably always will be a very difficult month. A couple of weeks from now will mark an anniversary of a loss that I still feel to this day. I never said goodbye, nor did I mourn with a community. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get over that. 

And for that reason, I became resentful of the people I felt like should have been there more than anybody. I felt emotionally distant from my family. I explained to friends who were on the outside that I had very simple yet specific needs, and yet they still felt like they couldn’t help. Damn it that hurt…a lot. 

Grief isn’t measurable; everyone is hurting, regardless of how close they were to the person. So for people to tell me that I needed to be strong and stop dwelling on it is complete bullshit. I still think about it. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. There’s no expectation for anyone to wake up one day and suddenly not feel the sadness ever again. It’s always there, if only a dull ache that beats against your chest when something triggers a memory. 

I’m in a place right now where I need to do what feels healthy for me. It may look selfish and/or stupid, but quite frankly I’m tired of hiding. I don’t expect everybody to understand or agree with it, and that’s OK. What’s important is that I do what is best to ultimately be a better daughter, sister, and friend. It’s not about making people understand, but learning how to live whole-heartedly despite the fact that some don’t. 

That’s all right with me.
photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc

On Quiet Places and Togetherness

Nourishment 

The way we nourish ourselves determines our ability to shine a light in the world; And nourishment doesn’t just come in the form of food and drink and sunshine. It’s equally important to nourish your spirit. What made you feel nourished this year? (Prompt credit: Kat McNally

2013 was definitely a year of being spiritually thirsty; I was still struggling over the concept of faith and having God in my life, and what that meant. For anyone that has ever questioned their beliefs, living in the age of technology can make the journey even more perplexing. Instead of just books or sermons, there are now tweets, personal blogs, and podcasts dissecting every Biblical or spiritual topic imaginable. The constant what-if scenarios can drive any person crazy. And I realized that maybe that was the problem; I needed to stop enveloping myself in all the fluff and get back to the basics, specifically with prayer and having quiet time again. 

When my friend passed away earlier this summer, I was in agony. I felt like I didn’t have very many people to lean on at the time because it seemed like hardly anyone around me wanted to acknowledge the situation, let alone talk about it. I was never taught how to deal with death as a child/teenager, particularly when it’s sudden and unexpected. Subconsciously, I understood that my faith (however much or little) was the only substantial thing I had to cope. While it might have seemed typical that I was only turning to God when life became nearly impossible, it was also the beginning of an understanding and a sense of peace that I’d been longing to feel for several years. 

It didn’t happen right away; in the days following the accident, I was numb and kept thinking that this all was just a nightmare. How do I pray? What do I even pray about? Memorizing Bible verses and relying on cliche Christian phrases felt like using band-aids and Neosporin. I needed to grieve. I needed to allow myself to hurt. But there was little to no room for that in the time that I was at home, at least that’s how I interpreted what I was being told.

Going back to my apartment was like army-crawling out of a minefield, but slowly I got a grip and began to develop a routine. Mornings were spent writing in my journal or reading a passage in my Bible. Sometimes I played meditation music in the background. Sometimes I prayed out loud. And other times I simply wept and could only ask God to hear what was on my heart because I couldn’t articulate my thoughts. I went to church every so often, but there are some things about church that still make me anxious and fidgety, but that is for another time. 

Despite the frustration and uncertainty of that time (my writing gig and main reason I had stayed at school for the summer was constantly up in the air) I appreciated being able to meet with God wherever I felt safe and comfortable. It did not make the pain go away, but gave me a way to process it. It did not make everything better, but it did give me some clarity. For once, I was not measuring my faith based on a sermon or whatever was going on around me; I was looking inward. 

And as scary as it is, nourishment has also come from being vulnerable; there are quite a few people that I’ve become incredibly close to this year because I was willing to be open with them about a lot of things. It was hard because I hadn’t done it in such a long time, at least without feeling rushed, like I had to put it all out there in a month of meeting them. I took my time and was careful that I letting them in for the right reasons, which is where I learned a lot about connection versus attachment. Attachment is where two people become close rather quickly, and more so that they do so in hopes that the relationship will be the solution to either one or both persons’ problems. Connection takes its time; it can be instant, sure, but you don’t truly get to know a person within a day or so. I’m fascinated by people and think it’s great when you can still learn about them, even after you’ve known each other for a while. 

Not only has it helped me deepen relationships, but it’s opened my eyes to one of my biggest struggles: the struggle of being able to say “I need you.” However, that is also for another post down the road.

But that’s how nourishment works; you keep watering/feeding yourself, and hopefully it becomes second nature. When your nurture yourself (and allow others to nurture you) you begin to no longer make decisions out of fear, but of love and faith.

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