Let Love Win

Words fail me today.

Words fail me because I shudder to think what will become of the world that we live in when hate and pain and senseless violence flooding our news outlets are becoming the norm. I can’t fathom living the rest of my life in a world where people make decisions out of fear, without truly grasping the permanency of one impulsive choice. I don’t want to believe that we live in a world where love doesn’t win, because to me, it’s the only thing we have.

It’s hard to stomach living in a world where I’ve woken up every day this weekend to another tragedy — another brutal attack. A preventable crime. Parents are now left to explain to their children that their favorite singer — a talented, beautiful, young woman, was ruthlessly killed when all she was doing was what she loved — meeting fans and signing autographs. Concerts are supposed to be fun. Music is supposed to be healing. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where kids have to fear going to concerts, where artists who dedicate their lives to sharing their craft with us, have to live in fear that if they so much as snub a fan, that suddenly, their lives at at risk. I don’t want to believe we live in a world where people are threatened, harmed, hated, killed, every single day because someone else has a problem with who they love. I don’t want to believe that I live in a world where we have to fear going to Church, or going to a bar, or going to a movie theater, or going to a concert.

I don’t want to live in a world where fear wins. Before you cast your vote, please cross fear right off your ballot. Love wins this election. Love has to win.

Tragedy strikes for all kinds of unexpected, incomprehensible reasons, and I’m not so sure it’s our job to figure out why. Maybe these things happen to remind us just how precious and fragile life is. Maybe it’s to remind us to never go to bed mad at someone else, to always say sorry, to always make amends. Or maybe tragedy happens to remind us to keep believing that magic is still real and that love trumps all, but to not let our own naivety keep us from looking out from under our rose-tinted glasses. There are monsters in this world — real monsters that ruthlessly and mercilessly take lives over petty things.

Maybe these things happen to remind us to keep searching for peace, and to give out our love to everyone in our lives before our time here is up.

Life is so unpredictable; these things happen and they rattle us, they remind us of our transience here on this earth. They shake us up, whisper in our ear to never let a moment pass us by. And then we suddenly forget. Life for us seems to continue to move on after tragedy strikes. I hope that you don’t let that happen this time, because for the people affected by the violence and the hate and the pain, they don’t just get to walk away. They don’t just get to keep on living their lives. Normal is no longer their normal. We have to keep searching for peace.

I think we often forget how lucky we really are — myself included. It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama of our own lives that we forget just how lucky we are to have this life and to have the privilege to live it — to love and be loved in return. We can walk, we can talk, we have an abundance of opportunities waiting for us if we only just take them. We have the free range to meet new people daily, to get to know them, to share their hearts and share our own. We only get this one chance. That’s it. We get one chance to do this damn thing. We get one shot at putting ourselves out there, at making a difference, at changing our little part of the world. We get one chance at loving right. At spreading love. At showing the people in our lives what they mean to us. At working towards finding peace.

These are the things I need from you:

I need you to go ahead and wear that dress that you think is a little too bright. I need you to eat the cake. Order the Venti Frappucino. Go out for ice cream with an old friend at 2 am and sit on the beach talking about the ways you want to change the world. Encourage each other. Believe that maybe you can be the one who can do it, maybe you can be the one that sparks a little change. Send the text you’ve been waiting a month to send. Screw fear. Punch fear right in the face and don’t worry about what is waiting on the other end of that text. You did your part, the rest is on them. Learn the importance of humility and go out there and be humble. Take accountability for all your wrong-doings. Say sorry. Say sorry and mean it. In fact, when you say anything, please mean it. Say yes to adventures and stepping out of your comfort zone. Anyone that knows me can attest to this: there is nothing I love more than canceled plans, but there is also nothing I regret more than watching as I cross off days on my calendar and seeing that we are already halfway through the year and I spent so much of my weekends off sitting on my couch watching Netflix.

Don’t stay with someone just because you are afraid of what the world would be like from the vantage point of being alone. There is so much bravery in coming to terms with your own independence. You can do it. You can be brave, too.

Say yes to weddings, and showers, and bachelorette parties. Say yes to driving around with your best friend with no end point in mind, reminiscing on the good ol’ days. Say yes to paint and sip nights when you don’t have one artistic bone in your body. Say yes to doing something new — to having wine and cheese with old girlfriends or trying to new Vegan restaurant a few towns over.

Book a road trip to visit a friend who moved states away. Pick up the phone and call your best friend. Talk about real things — the things that hurt you, the things that you are hopeful for, the things that you want. Put your phone down and look up. Life is much better experienced through your own set of eyes than that of an iPhone screen. Do the things that make you feel alive. Do them over and over and over again.

And above all, be kind. Be loving. Kindness trumps all. We have to believe that. We have to believe that at the end of the day, kindness matters. Kindness still wins. Even when the world around us is scary. Even when it’s dark. Even when it’s violent.

Today, please remember to just love each other — love each other well. Make sure they know it. Make sure everyone that you love knows how special they are to you and how important they are to you. And decide. Decide today if you want to live from a place of love, or from a place of fear. Decide if you want to live with hate in your heart or with love bursting from it.

I hope you choose love, because at the end of the day, after the sun sets, after all the bodies are laid to rest, after the world goes back to work tomorrow and starts to slowly forget, after the politicians rattle off their own reasons as to why our world is like this, I just need to know that there is still good to be found — that there are still things that matter.

And though I don’t have all the answers, I know this much is true: kindness is so, so important. Love is so, so important. Without kindness, there is no hope. Without love, there is no peace. Hate is a real thing, but so is peace. So is love. I need to know that love wins. It just has to. Please, let love win.

Go Pick Up The Pieces

Without ever realizing it, without ever really trying, we lose bits and pieces of ourselves just by existing.

We lose a piece of ourselves when we give a friend good advice that they don’t heed. When you leave footprints in the sand, only to get washed away by the ocean, you’re leaving pieces of yourself. You lose a piece of yourself when you back down from an argument over something you so desperately believe in. You lose pieces of yourself when all you’ve ever done, is chip away at the parts that make you who you are — when you lessen yourself just to fit inside a tiny box that someone else handed you. When you pacify people, appease them, say yes when you want to say no, stay quiet when you want to scream, do something for someone else because you just want them to look at you like you matter.

You lose pieces of yourself trying to be everything for everyone.

If their love brought with it a series of punches to the gut, you’d stand still and take the hit without thinking twice. You would let them cut you open and spit you back out if it meant feeling whole, even just temporarily. You’ll give pieces of yourself away freely, giving anything you’ve got, if only it meant feeling loved, valued, appreciated… enough.

You’ll walk around with the burn of a thousand paper cuts dancing all over your skin, desperate to lock eyes with anyone who will stop you and tell you that they will cool off the fire. You’ll try to remember these moments — remember how sensitive to the touch your skin was, how it feels to be the one standing with a chisel in your left hand and a hammer in your right, chipping away the pieces of yourself and handing them off to ravenous vultures, desperate for something else to eat. And as hard as you’ll try to remember it all, you’ll still go home at night and be the proverbial punching bag if that’s what it takes to feel anything other than the sting of desperation and the need to just be seen.

As long as you have them for just a minute, you’ll hand them the knife and let them slice and dice right into you. They’ll ring you dry and even when you have barely anything left to give, you’ll somehow dig out all that makes you whole and good and full and pass it around like side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll give and you’ll give until there’s nothing left in you but a tired, tired soul.

You become desperate for a home. And so, you’ll build one out of the empty pieces that you cling onto — the pieces that they gave you, the hollow pieces that led you to believe that you were worth keeping. That you meant something to them and that’s why they threw a stone your way. You build and you build and you put together these pieces with the hope that you will fit. That you will all fit. You don’t stop to look and see that no one else can fit inside the tiny box you built in front of you. So you shrink yourself down and compromise yourself just to feel a little bit less isolated and alone. You will do anything to believe that you have a home.

You’ll go to war with yourself. You’ll fight with yourself to try to hold onto everything that makes up who you are. They don’t deserve more than you have to offer. You’ll repeat it in your head over and over again. But it’s cyclical – the way you go around in circles, so desperate to find some sort of stable ground. And so you start throwing whatever tiny pieces of yourself that you can chip away behind you, like a trail for them to follow. You won’t say it out loud, but you hope that they pick up the pieces and that they’ll come and find you. You keep sprinkling the pieces over your shoulder because you want them to find the piece that makes them realize they were wrong about you. You want them to remember all the times you showed up for them. You want them to remember all the times you saved them. You want them to acknowledge the gifts just because, the times you thought of them, the way you wanted them to have everything they never had a chance to experience when they were younger. You want them to notice you — the real you. You want them to pick up the pieces that tell them that you are selfless, that you are worthy, that you are kind, that you are capable of being loved.

You’ll try to hold yourself steady when you look behind you and see that all the pieces you laid out are gone, but they’re nowhere in sight. They’ve taken every last bit of you, but they never came looking for you. They never told you that they believed in you, or that they appreciated you. They never thanked you. They never gave you the kind of love that you were searching for, that you were desperate for, that you deserve.

They never used the pieces the way you needed them to. And so, you’re left empty. Broken. You gave away all that you had and they were somehow always hungry for more. And really, all you needed was for them to be on your side.

I’ve been trying to forgive myself for leaving pieces behind me, and earnestly believing that they’d be the pieces used to build the home I so desperately wanted.

You have to forgive yourself. This is not a suggestion; this is not a solid piece of advice. This is a demand. Forgive yourself for cutting yourself open and letting yourself bleed dry. Forgive yourself for feeling desperate for attention — it was never that you were desperate for attention; you just wanted to be wanted and loved and important. Forgive yourself for believing that every time you fixed yourself up just to be what they needed you to be, that it would be different. Forgive yourself for believing that you could possibly be everything for everyone. Forgive yourself for believing that breaking off pieces of yourself and giving them away freely would somehow make you be enough for them. You are enough just the way you areForgive yourself for jumping into meaningless relationships and conversations just because you need something to fill the holes left from your lifetime of attempts at leaving a trail behind, hoping that they will come pick up the pieces and somehow your story will change.

Your story can change. Your story will change. It changes now. It changes now because you decide it does; it changes now because instead of throwing those pieces of yourself over your shoulder, with fingers crossed, hoping they’ll pick them up and run towards you, you’ll keep them for yourself. You decide it changes now because this is not how it ends. This cannot be how the story ends.

Step one in forgiving yourself is this: pick up those pieces. Turn around and collect the pieces of yourself that you’ve chiseled away and stitch them back together.  There will be scars. There will be a few cracks, but you don’t need to be empty. You don’t need to give yourself away, and be rung dry, with the quiet desperation of a life you never had.

You have a home. I need you to believe that. You have a home even if the house that built you never was warm and inviting. You have a home even if the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with pushes you out. You have a home even if you’re sitting in an empty apartment, working your ass off just to get by. You have a home. It’s within you; it’s up to you to build it up with the pieces of yourself that you collect.

Stop giving yourself so freely to the people who would be the first to throw in a match after you’ve danced in gasoline. Stop giving yourself so openly and so lovingly to the people who speak to you like your presence is a disservice to them — like you owe them something for simply existing. Stop letting people hold your hand only when they feel like it. Stop taking yourself apart and rearranging all that you are just to fit in with someone else’s belief of what a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, a friend, an employee, should be. Stop picking up the phone for people who don’t answer when you need them. Stop showing up when you’re told to never come back. Stop prioritizing the people who only see you as an option — who only talk to you or make plans with you just because they have no one else. Stop trading in what reality is and swapping it with a more romanticized memory. Stop walking on glass and asking why it hurts. And more important than anything, stop giving away pieces of yourself and expecting to be anything less than empty at the end of the day.

Your story changes here, and it changes now; turn around and go pick up the pieces.

This Is How You Leave

The silence was palpable, only interrupted by the muffled sound of a quiet sniffle and tears that wouldn’t stop coming. Embarrassed, I whispered, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this. Maybe you should go. I’m sorry.” 

We were sitting side by side in my dimly lit childhood bedroom. He walked in after I fought with my mom about something that seems insignificant now. He’d been over so many times before that, yet somehow, that time seemed different. It was the first time he had ever seen me cry; it was the first time he had ever seen me as anything other than the person he knew.

I sat in a ball on my bed, head between my lap, doing everything I could to avoid his eyes. But even in the darkness, green eyes still found me.

“Why are you always sorry,” he said, not bothering to listen to my desperate plea for him to leave. “Don’t ever say sorry unless you did something wrong. You say it all the time, but I’ve never heard you say it without feeling guilty for something that isn’t your fault.”

He didn’t know it then, but that conversation changed me.

I needed to stop wearing my apologies like a shiny piece of jewelry around my neck, and giving them out so freely to the people standing in front of me holding a loaded gun.

Years later, I am still working on that.

There are things I need you to know tonight:

Please don’t apologize to the people who pour gasoline on you and expect you to dance in the fire. You do not owe anyone an apology for the things that you didn’t ask for. You don’t need to say sorry to people who spit out hateful words and say you’re to blame for them. Please don’t justify the way someone else hurts you. Don’t make excuses for the lies they told you and for the way they took the light right out of your eyes.

You have the right to say when enough is enough. You have the right to know your own boundaries and to respect yourself enough to walk away from a conversation, a situation, or a relationship that only hurts.

You do not need to give yourself to the people who don’t love and respect you fully. Please don’t let the incessant voice of guilt pressure you into staying because it’s the right thing to do. Only you know what’s right for you. You don’t need to put up with someone who chisels away at all the good pieces of you just so they can stand with their chest pushed out and their head held high to feel good about themselves. You are not the punching bag to someone else’s bruised ego. 

It’s okay to expect the best from people. It’s okay to keep coming back because you expect a change. It’s okay to have hope that all the wishes you scribbled into your Winnie The Pooh diary as a kid will come true and that you will have the kind of support you always needed. But if it doesn’t change, if those pages in your diary stay just as wishes, please don’t walk back into the ring and expect not to get hit. Please don’t go back and make up excuses for what they said or what they did or why it’s okay for them to hurt you. Please don’t try to make sense of someone else’s chaos. Sometimes crazy is just crazy.

You have the right to stand your ground. As a matter of fact, please stand your ground. Please stand your ground when no one else is on your side. When no one else hears you. You have the right to pack up your boxes and leave. You have the right to say when a relationship is no longer serving you. You have the right to stop someone from destroying you, and you have the right to walk away from anyone — no matter who they are: friend, significant other, family member. You have the right to guard your own heart. So please guard it.

Love is not conditional. Let’s scream that one from the roof top: love, no matter what kind, is never conditional. It’s not a tit for tat kind of thing. Love is not a laundry list of the things they’ve done for you, or given you, or provided you with, with a list attached of what you owe them in return. Love doesn’t have to be earned. Love isn’t approval. Love is consistent; it doesn’t grow because you got straight A’s, it doesn’t cease to exist because you accidentally left your dresser drawer cracked open, it doesn’t magically reappear when you bring home an academic award, and it doesn’t go away when you knock over a houseplant. Love is not conditional; please know that.

You need to stop believing all the lies that you’ve been fed. You need to stop putting the people who speak to you with nothing but fire on their breaths onto a pedestal. You need to stop thinking you are the sum of all the negative things anyone has ever said about you. You are so, so much more than that.

I’ll be honest; maybe I need to keep these words today. Maybe I needed to type them out to see them for myself. Maybe I needed a harsh reality check — a sucker punch straight to the gut.

At some point or another, we’ve all been fed lies. We’ve accepted lies. We’ve told ourselves lies. And we’ve believed them. You are not good enough, you are the one to blame for all the shit you’ve been handed, you don’t deserve good things, you are not a good person. 

These tiny little sentences are toxic; they climb into our head, unknowingly, and make a home there if we let them. They take up room. They take up space. They grow with every rock thrown at you. They live in your bloodstream. They scream at you square in the face until you believe them. They make you feel like less of a person. They make you feel like you are the one to blame.

Do not feed the lies. Do not feed the liars.

It’s going to hurt. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that. When you finally throw your hands in the air and tell the world around you that you are not sorry for the person that you are, it’s going to sting. It’ll knock the wind right out of you. You’ll feel desperate to turn back on your word. You’ll try your best to cushion the blow. You’ll apologize, you’ll try again, you’ll push to be the person that they want you to be. You’ll make excuses for the way they throw knives at your heart.

But when you finally get to a point where you are done fueling the fire and fertilizing the lies, I imagine it will feel a little bit like freedom. I’m hoping it will feel a little bit like freedom.

I wonder if I say it enough times, if I type it out enough times, will I really start to believe it. Will I start to resolve the guilt I feel and the self-blame I keep beating myself up with? Will I be able to come to terms with the fact that not all relationships are meant to be saved? Will I be able to resolve the one relationship I’ve spent nearly my whole life trying to mend?

Let me tell you this: I tried. I tried my damndest to be good enough. I tried so incredibly hard to be the person that everyone needed me to be. I showed up when I was needed. I got the grades. I did everything I was ever asked. I want you to know that I am not giving up as easily as it sounds, I am not walking away from something without having poured my entire being into making it come to life. I tried to look passed the lies spit out at me. I tried to look passed the years of being made to feel inadequate. I tried to stay hopeful. And believe me, I still am. I tried to say the right things; I tried to not let anger and resentment speak for me. I tried to forgive. I tried to believe that people change. I tried to recreate myself over and over again. But none of that is okay. None of it is okay.

And I guess this is how you leave. You leave when you try so hard that you start to lose pieces of yourself. You leave when it hurts more than it helps. You leave when the pain weighs more than the guilt. You leave when they keep telling you those lies. You leave when the love is no longer conditional; you leave when you come to terms with the fact that maybe it never was. You leave when the very people you thought were protecting you are the ones destroying you.

You leave because staying hurts more than leaving.

Maybe you’ll be back. Maybe things will change. But this time, you don’t apologize. You don’t say sorry. Because this time, you know it’s not your fault.

And so you pack your bags, turn around, and leave.

Let’s Not Bother With Small Talk

Please, let’s not bother with small talk. Let’s not waste our breath with the mediocrity of empty exchanges and meaningless conversations that end in uncomfortable silence and the awkward shuffling of feet.

Let’s not bother with words that just don’t matter and questions spit out with the force of thunder and the speed of an Aston Martin, only used to fill the silence that barely even touched the space between us.

The rest of the world can go ahead and carry on about the little things. They can talk about the weather and how remnants of Winter still linger in the April air — how frost-tipped grass is still what we wake up to. The rest of the world can go and ask us, “What’s up,” but I hope they don’t laugh when I answer, “the sky,” because that’s what I really mean. And when they ask me, “how are you,” I hope they don’t expect me to submit myself to the most common lie told, encapsulated within the words, “I’m fine.”

Please hear me when I say I don’t want any part in the mundane.

So, if weather’s what you want to talk about, I want to hear about all the ways you change with the seasons. I want to know what you’re thinking when you’re alone at three AM in the middle of the Winter, when all of the chaos of the holiday season has simmered down, and you’re left with nothing but an empty apartment and an emptier Christmas tree and nothing, but the sound of your own thoughts. If you want to talk about the sky, tell me about all the things you see for yourself when you look up. Tell me about the hopes you have and the crippling fears and the obstacles you see in front of you. Tell me about all the ways you plan on changing the world, and I will let you in on all the ways I want my small hands to move mountains.

And if you must tell me about your favorite food, please give me more than just that. I want to know about how many times you sat with your ailing grandmother, trying to master her favorite recipe. I want to know how many times your kitchen has had the lingering scent of that meal since she’s been gone. If you’re able to give me all of that, if you’re able to find it in you to tell me how you stayed up all night every Thanksgiving eve, standing on a stool, helping your mom prepare for the family meal the next day, I’ll tell you about my incessant fear that one day, I won’t be able to get down all the family recipes I was raised on. That one day, the recipes my mom keeps in a tattered notebook will die right in my lap if I don’t hurry up and get them all down.

And if how are you is the question you are dying to answer, tell me about the heartache. Tell me about how they broke your heart and what you’ve done to try and heal it since that door slammed, closing the chapter of your life without a tidy ending. Do you still wear the same cologne that she picked out, with the hope that she’ll somehow get a waft of it in the air and remember that your arms were once her home and that she’ll find the star that leads her back to you? Do you sink into your bed at night after busying up your schedule just to forget how her eyes were the only ones that knew you? Do you let the weight of heartache and cans of beer pull you down until you can’t remember how final that slamming door sounded? And if you let me in and tell me how many pieces your heart broke into, I’ll show you all the shards of glass I’ve been carrying around since the day he and I let our love die. I’ll tell you about all the months I spent looking into his green eyes and begging them to know me. I’ll tell you about all the time I spent searching those pools of green, desperate for them to make me feel seen like they did all the time before. I’ll talk about all the jagged pieces, the epic love stories that were born from my finger tips, and the nights I spent playing the songs that were the soundtrack to our love, with the hopes that he’d hear them all through the radio airwaves. And that he’d come back to me. And if you really listen, I’ll tell you about the way his face sunk in my rear view mirror while his arm waved goodbye, and he whispered, “keep in touch, okay?” for the last time on that cold March night.

Tell me about your friends. Tell me about the ways they stitched you back up after that broken heart. Tell me about the pit in your stomach you feel at the thought of losing any of them. Tell me what they mean to you, what you mean to them. Tell me what your life has been like with them in it and the emptiness it would be without the security of having them be only a phone call away.

Tell me about your parents. Tell me about how you carry your head up like your father always taught you and how your eyes are as piercing in color as your mother’s. Tell me about the way it felt hearing your mom say she is proud of you for the very first time. Talk about the way your fathers pain cut you in the core the time he couldn’t look you in the eyes when you disappointed him. Tell me about all the ways your parents unintentionally broke you, because they all do, without even trying to. Tell me how they molded you, how they shaped you into the person that stands before me. And if you do, I’ll decorate a picture of what it was like being the first born child to immigrant parents, and how my childhood was more about darkness than there was light, but how I never let that define me. Tell me about how you got by, how you survived, and I’ll tell you the same.

I want to know about the wars you fought and all the armor around your heart. I want to know the bruises that you wear on your soul and all the beatings you took that made such a permanent mark. I want to know about why you jump two feet in the air at the sound of a slamming door. I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night, frantic, unable to sleep, because you were too busy coming up with a plan to save this universe that’s drowning under the weight of vanity.

I want to know what makes you feel seen. I want to know what gets you up in the morning and moves you to get through this big ol’ life thing. I want to know the things that awaken your soul and all the things you are passionate about.  Tell me what keeps you going in a world that is constantly pushing you to feel small. Tell me who you’ve fought to become. Tell me about the demons you keep hidden in the crevices of who you are. What are your greatest regrets? What are your biggest accomplishments?

For as long as I live, for as many sunrises as I am able to wake up to, and as long as this beautiful earth makes its way circling around the sun, I want to make this time count. And I just don’t think empty conversations filled with how are you’s can ever give you that.

So please, let’s not bother with small talk.

On Humility

I just want to be real with you today and let you in on a little secret.

The world does not cease to exist if we don’t snap an iPhone photo, crop it, filter it, and decorate it with a clever caption to dangle in front of someone else’s eyes. Life will continue to move forward without logging your daily minutes.

In the last week, I held the door for a stranger at Wawa, I let a woman with a crying toddler get in line in front of me at the grocery store, I went to the gym two times, I worked a total of 54 hours, I read an entire novel and am knee-deep in the middle of another one, I meal prepped for the week, I scrubbed my bathroom floor, I got frustrated with my family, I spent time with friends, I barely slept all weekend. You wouldn’t know any of this by scrolling through any of my social media accounts.

– – –

It’s hard to remember a time in my life when moments were nothing more than just that — moments. Sometimes I forget about what it was like to pick up the phone and check in on an old friend, rather than scroll through Facebook to see their latest status. It’s hard to remember a time when Tweets and photos and status updates drenched in the quiet desperation for validation were not the norm.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I love social media for what it’s given me — a platform to share my thoughts. A space to keep in touch with friends who’ve moved away. A world of networking and finding people with words and thoughts that are similar to my own.

But I sometimes find myself nostalgic for the time that came before the days of filters and statuses and Tweets. I often miss the days when love was found, not by swiping right, but by subtle glances from across the room and uninterrupted conversations. There was a time when all of the pieces of life belonged solely to you — when nothing was done just for the purpose of putting it on display for the world in front of you.

The thing is, the whole idea behind social media is to help us stay connected. But it seems like it’s pulling us further away from each other.

I’m afraid that, one day, I’ll only be a name rolling on the credits of a long film that’s missing a plot. I’m afraid I’ll always sit behind the mask of a secondary character in someone else’s life. I’m afraid of living an empty life, governed by a deep-seeded need for approval by means of a few likes, or comments, or followers.

I want to live a life that means more than sharing things for my followers to see me as big and bold.

I don’t want any part in that. I want the things that truly matter: Authenticity. Heart. Integrity. Compassion. Connection. Humility.

Humility. That’s the stuff that matters to me. Humility teaches me that I am human. Humility tells me to take a step back and feel good about the things I’ve done, rather than boast about them. Humility teaches me to embrace all that makes me human. 

I want your humanness. I want you, in all your glory. I want the real stuff — the sticky, the sweet, the messy, the ugly. I want the actual and the real and the every day stuff. And maybe I’m the minority; maybe I’m part of some small statistic and percentage of people that want the truth, no matter how it looks on a plate. But I guess that’s really all I’ve ever wanted — to have a life that is filled with people who will just keep it real with me.

We are not created to be perfect. We are born with this empty slate and the only thing that’s expected of us is to simply be human. We’re meant to experience all of the ups and downs of life, the roller coasters, the twists, and turns. Simply put, we are born to feel — tremendous hurt and loss and happiness and hope. We were born to be real, and to be raw. We were born naked for a reason — to remind us to never hide behind the mask of something we were never meant to be.

It’s harder to drop the facade and simply be human. But, conceding victory and realizing that we don’t always have to put on this show for the people around us is more powerful than any type of mask you paint.

While running a group the other day, I asked everyone to write down one thing they are currently in recovery towards. We were in the middle of a heavy conversation about how there is so much fixation on the things we are running from, and very little dialogue about the things we’re running towards. One particular person shared that they are working towards learning how to be the kind of person that shows up.

It was one of those magical moments where I got to see my own heart beating outside of my chest and it filled me with the kind of hope that electrified my soul.

On that same day, one of the greatest people I know reminded me the other day of how easy it is to just show up. She’s never had any social media account; she’s never felt inclined to do it for the ‘gram or plan a witty Facebook post. She simply exists in this world with a pure and open heart, without ever asking for it in return. She listens to the stories that you don’t ever share with anyone else, and she’d never take credit if you thank her for listening to you rant. She doesn’t have a Facebook to run to and share a story that is not her own. Documenting for the world to see her heart isn’t her priority. Being present is. Loving is. Showing up is. She is a reminder of the person I’m fighting to be.

I’m trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t need the right angle, a ring light, and the combination of VSCO and the Nashville Instagram filter to show you all the parts of me.

The true challenge lies in chiseling away at the person we think we ought to be, and being open to showing the person we genuinely are. It’s in learning how to ground ourselves and be present. It’s staying in the moment and doing what’s in front of us without concocting the perfect caption for it in our heads.

Society and Culture will tell us something different. They’ll scream at us to be good people. They’ll say if you are privileged, you must help those that are less privileged. Feed them. Guide them. Give them your heart. Make them feel seen. But don’t forget to leave a paper trail. Don’t forget to let the world around you know that on this date, at this time, you did something good. Post it for the world to see. Let everyone know that you are a good person.

I think we need to try harder to fight against that. I think we need to dig within ourselves and think about the people who lived before us and what it was like for them. I think it’s time we peel off the mask and drop the facade. I think it’s time we allow ourselves to be fully human, in all of its sticky and messy glory. And I think it’s time we let that be enough.

This is your Sunday evening reminder to go out into this world and do good. Show up when you’re needed. Lift people up. Give people the pieces of your heart that they need, but please, please, please, do it because you feel it in your bones. Do it because your bleeding heart is telling you that there are people who need you. Take a step back and ask yourself, “am I doing this because my heart is in it, or am I doing it because my head needs a reminder of who I want to be?”

And if it’s the latter, I genuinely encourage you to shift your focus and to take off that mask and simply just be human.

It Starts With Heart

My pediatrician told me I would grow up to be 5’5”.

At seven years old, how could I argue that? Despite knowing that neither of my parents stood taller than 5’3″, I had a woman who’d known me since I was a toddler, who had spent more than my lifetime within the four walls of medical school, standing in front of me telling me that I would one day see the world from the vantage point of 5’5″.

I remember when I gave up hope that my eyes would ever get that chance. At 12 years old, I stood at only 4’11”. And when 13 came, and I saw no more growth, I became resentful of my pediatrician’s promise. I started obsessing over being short. I was wearing heels to school every day, I stepped out from underneath the cloak of the shy girl I was; I was loud, and I was bold. I was overcompensating, in part, for the pieces of me I felt were missing. But somewhere along the line, I realized that it never really was about how tall I stood.

The truth is, I spent a lot of my childhood feeling small, and I never actually wanted to be small. Not reaching a predicted height only further sealed what I thought was my overall fate — both physically and emotionally.

I decided then, in middle school, to change who I was. I put on the facade of a girl who was big and was bold, and I hoped that one day, it would catch up. I hoped that one day, I would feel as big as I pretended to be.

– – –

I showed a Ted Talk in a group that I run the other day. The speaker, Glennon Doyle, called her story Lessons from the Mental Hospital, and in it, she talked about her struggle with depression and self-worth, bulimia, and addiction. I didn’t have an agenda or a direction that I wanted to take after watching the video. I wanted the group to take in all the themes that jumped out within those 18 minutes — the importance of vulnerability as a catalyst for change, finding bold courage, taking off the masks that we hide behind, crashing into rock bottom, and coming back up for air. When I asked the group what stood out the most to them, the general consensus was these words:

“We feel so much pain and so much love and we sense that the world doesn’t want us to feel that much, and doesn’t want to need as much comfort as we need. So we start pretending. We try to pretend like we’re the people that we think we’re supposed to be. We numb, and we hide, and we pretend. And that pretending does eventually turn into a life of lies. But to be fair, we thought we were supposed to be lying. They tell us since we’re little that when someone asks us how we’re doing, the only appropriate answer is: ‘Fine. And you?'”

The common theme in the room was that, as children, we were told that our voices didn’t matter. We were taught that no amount of wanting to be big would ever make it true: we were children, and that instantly made us small.

When we cried, we were handed tissues — the message essentially screaming that your tears don’t matter. Wipe them up, sweep whatever hurt you are feeling under the rug and carry on. We’re told, at the sight of one tear rolling down our cheeks to stop crying. And often, when we were sad, it came out as defiance. We were never asked, “what’s going on? What are you feeling upset about?” We’re asked, “what’s wrong with you? Why are you being so bad?” We were taught that the only thing we could feel was fine. We were taught to quiet the sound of our voices, and to forget the feelings that were rattling our bones. And so as time passed, we assumed the role of the person who was never heard. And that’s how we grow up.

– – –

I made a career out of the deep rooted desire to never let the people around me ever feel small. But all the schooling and internship hours and the textbooks and the professors and the mentoring could never set you up to tell you what it’s like.

I remember the first time I realized how big my job is, and just how small that epiphany made me feel.

I was sitting with someone who could only be described as a warrior. Her story is not mine to share, but I need you to know this. I need you to know that when she showed up at my door, she was hiding behind a hard shell. As time went on, I had the honor of watching her take her chisel and pick away at the pieces that she so intricately built around herself.

On this particular day, she was talking about where she thought the onset of her problem lied. She was fed, as a kid, the age-old adage: be seen, but don’t you dare be heard. Just like Glennon Doyle spoke about in her Ted Talk, this person was always told to hold her head up, to puff her chest out, to paint a smile on her face, and to always respond with, “I’m fine,” when asked how she was doing. I listened to her deconstruct all the lies she had ever been told, and I watched as she started to believe them.

You’re worthless. You’re a mistake. You’re a piece of shit. 

And as she rattled them off — all the lies she’d ever been told, I noticed she was looking down, fidgeting with her hands: a clear sign of nervousness that comes from being vulnerable. It was in that moment that I realized how much I really connected with this person. I remember all the times I hid behind the small things out of feeling insignificant and small myself. And I remember how nearly impossible it’s always been for me to look someone in the eye and speak my truth.

Silence filled the room, and I knew she was waiting on me to change the topic, for me to ask another question, for me to divert my attention elsewhere.

I didn’t have any words to offer that would make an earth-shattering difference. She needed my silence. She needed to believe, in that silence, that her voice mattered.

The drive home that night was brutal. I regressed back to the adolescent version of myself. My mind was spitting back all the insecurities I thought I once weed wacked my way through. Who had the audacity to choose you to be the one who gets the hear their story? How could you be enough for them? How could I cower down to this small version of myself and have this job that I had to show up at and be big and bold and somehow make it work?

But something really important happened. That person kept coming back. She started to identify feelings that were suppressed by the liars and the voices that told her she was never enough. She started exploring more and with each passing week, that wall kept coming down. There was a pivotal moment, when I checked in to ask how she felt things were going. She told me that the moments that were most important to her were all the ones when I allowed her to just be there, with all of her heavy stuff. It was the moments I didn’t try to redirect, or to change, or to dig. It was in the moments she felt heard, and she felt seen, and she felt important.

That was my tent pole moment.

Hannah Brencher talked about tent pole moments in her November Writing Intensive. She describes these moments as the ones that plant themselves in the ground and mark a very obvious shift in your life. They’re the poignant moments that knock you off your path a little bit, and make you believe that you’re on your way to being different. This conversation changed it for me, and I’ve never been the same.

– – –

It is such a privilege to be the one invited to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain.

I don’t make many promises, but I do promise that if you ever get the chance to sit with someone while they tell you the whole story, it’ll be intense and it’ll be overwhelming, and it’ll hurt like hell. It will feel like a series of sucker punches to the gut. You’ll question why you were the chosen one. And when they keep coming back, and when they allow themselves to slowly take off their masks, you’ll ask yourself a million times how you were enough for that very important role.

That’s what I struggle with the most. The truth is, I don’t know how to be enough. I don’t know how to love hard enough, or listen intently enough, or be good enough. And to be the person who gets to collect all these heartbreaking stories and crack open a shell full of pain and build on the bits and pieces of hope and help stitch together recovery — well that’s the the stuff that makes what I do golden. That’s what makes it all enough.

I’m starting to learn that enough isn’t pretty sentences with words intricately stitched together that sound bigger than they really are. People don’t need that.

Amongst all the misconceptions about the field of counseling is the one where people think we, as therapists, have all the answers. People believe there is an answer key in a book somewhere, and that we can open that book and direct you towards the road you need to take. And my God, if that were the truth, I would give this all up. I would ask for a refund and throw in the towel and say that this isn’t what I want to do. Because if it were that easy, I’m not sure it would be worth it.

As much as we believe it to be true, people don’t need another map with a red X marking the destination.

More than answers, we just need each other. We need each other to show up to remind us that we are not alone. We need to be validated. We need to know that our thoughts matter and that our feelings matter. We need someone to ask, “how are you,” and stay with us long enough to hear the answer when it’s not just, “fine, and you?”

I guess I’ve been wrong all along. It’s not about constructing a life so big that you forget to be small. It has nothing to do with being bold and being loud and forgetting the person you are underneath your own shadow. It’s about heart. That’s the stuff that matters. It’s about having the heart that is willing to sit with someone when they need it the most. It’s about hearing other people and letting them feel known — letting them be seen, and letting them find it within themselves to believe that they are more than just that small child who was taught that their feelings didn’t matter.

It starts when you drop the facade; it starts when you stop trying to be bigger than you are. It starts when you stop letting the fear of being too small be the barrier the stands in your way. It starts with heart — because that’s all we ever really need.

Please Don’t Miss The Point

To the sweet stranger I see at Dunkin Donuts every morning – 

You probably have no idea who I am, and why should you? You and I are nothing more to each other than strangers passing by on our morning journey towards being appropriately caffeinated. The truth is, I find myself thinking about you — probably more often than I should. I think about the way you come staggering in not far behind me, around 7:25 every morning. I think about the way the employees greet you with a, “good morning, Sir! The usual?” and have a large coffee with milk and two sugars, a glazed donut, and the paper ready before you get to the front of the line.

Beyond the morning routine, I wonder about you. I’ll be frank; I wonder if you’re happy. You carry your head like you’ve been sucker punched by life, but the soft creases around your eyes and mouth make me believe that despite the losses, your life was filled with joy. And even though you are merely just a stranger, I really hope that’s true. I really hope you lived a life that you are proud of and that you are able to look back and say you did all you could. I hope you never missed the point.

It’s become second nature for me to see people passing by and feel this tremendous need to know them.

Sometimes, I see older couples walking arm in arm, and I draw up a picture of how sweet their love must be. I map out a story about high school sweethearts who built a life together, and weathered their way through the storm of growing older, and still somehow found home in each other’s eyes. I see people eating alone at a diner and a sinking feeling crushes me to my core. I go over all the potential ways their story led them to sitting alone in the corner of that diner. I think about the spouse that died, leaving them with nothing but memories and a seat in their favorite breakfast spot. I see young people walking through the park with their infant baby and I wonder if they realize how very lucky they are to be filled with so much love in their lives. I see teenagers at the mall, surrounded by a sea full of their friends, and I wonder who they are beyond the poorly done makeup, latest trend of clothes, and hair styles that will go out as quickly as they slid in.

The truth is, I spend a lot of time fearing the concept of time, and desperately trying to look towards strangers in the hopes that their eyes will lock with mine and I will feel some sort of comfort in knowing that I am not alone.

These days, the fear of time seems to be the uninvited house guest that’s crept her way into my life and set up camp inside my heart.

I sometimes miss the naivety that came with childhood and the bubble of invincibility that we lived in. We saw the future as this elusive fairy tale, and when we made plans for who we wanted to become, we saw no path but a straight one leading us right there. All we saw was an infinite number of possibilities — an infinite number of chances to get it right — an infinite amount of time.

It wasn’t until things happened to us — when life happened, when tragedy struck, did we realize how fragile our time here was. And after facing heart break, or death of family members, or fatal car accidents involving peers we just saw in class the day before, we put our fists in the air and promised to live each day like it’s our last. We proclaimed the cliche and thought we really meant it, and we did, until we found ourselves right back where we were: going through the daily motions, but never really sinking our teeth into making our stay here matter.

The problem is we always think we’re going to have more time. We rationalize putting things off because we are busy — because we’ll have another chance. We think we’ll have another opportunity to go after what we wanted for ourselves ten years ago. We think we are given an infinite number of chances to fall off our bikes and get right back up to start over again. We push off doing what we want to do because there will be more time to chase what makes our hearts full. We think we’ll have more time to catch up with family and friends that we haven’t seen. We think we’ll have more time to tell that boy how we really feel. And even though we know that time is never a guarantee, we somehow are so convinced that we are the exception to this.

Let me tell you a thing or two about time. Time wasn’t on my friend Pat’s side when he was walking on that dark road that February night in 2009 and his life was cut short at only 21 years old. Time was not on my neighbor’s side, the healthiest man I knew, who fought his way down to his very last breath after a cancer diagnosis and a stroke that took everything from him. Time wasn’t on my side when I put off watching the movie Groundhog’s Day with him because he told me for years the movie reminded him of the time he drove me around getting my working papers signed when I was 15 and applying for my first job. Time wasn’t on my aunt’s side when she was diagnosed with cancer and suffered tremendously right down to her last day. Time wasn’t on my cousin’s sides, when all the adults in their lives scrambled to find them a stable home after my aunt died, only to leave them broken and drowning in a custody battle when they were in their early teens. Time was not on my side when I thought that green eyed boy would still be around when I was ready to let my guard down. The point is that time is not our friend. She won’t always be on our side.

Time is a constant reminder that our stay here is finite. That this space we occupy is never for keeps, but only for rent, and we never know when our lease is going to be up.

And I guess that’s the fear, really. I fear that if I blink, I’ll miss something. I think that’s why I cling so fiercely onto strangers that I pass by. I wonder if they’ve ever felt the same way.

I don’t want to miss the point in all of this. I don’t want to sit around, stewing in the fear that I will never hit that bar that I set for myself. I want to run towards it. I want to hit that bar. But I find that I’m stuck sometimes — paralyzed, even.

– – –

I’m realizing that all we really are are just bits and pieces of matter.

We are grains of sand; we are tiny specks on a screen shot of the planet. We are so, so small in comparison to how vast the universe really is. We are inconsequential fragments occupying this space. But small or not, we are here. And it is our duty, our job, to make something out of the time we have. What we do with our time matters. What we do with our lives matter.

The older I get, the more that I’m finding that if you don’t pay close attention, if you even, for one second blink, you’ll miss out on some chances.

I hope you never keep your eyes closed long enough to ever miss the point. I hope you don’t wish time away. I hope you don’t miss the important moments and the not so important ones and realize that they count too. I hope that even when you are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life, that you slow down. I hope you wake up early enough one summer morning and really soak in a sunrise. I hope you watch a snowflake land on your palm and revel in the beauty of what it means to be unique — that just like snowflakes, we are all uniquely made. Similar to others, but not quite the same. I hope you find the kind of love that makes your heart swell ten times its size and I hope you take the time to really be in love. I hope that when you’re sitting with an old friend, ranting and raving about life, that you’re really listening. I hope you hear through her whining that she really needs you. That she’s struggling, but that she doesn’t want to admit it. I hope you are able to put down the phone and see life through your own pair of eyes, and not through the scope of a four inch screen.

I hope you make the decision to go after the dreams that keep you up at night. I hope you chase the things that make your heart full. I hope you do something that you feel matters. I hope you find the courage to walk away from people who no longer serve you. I hope you find the strength to leave a dead end relationship. I hope you find the bravery to be okay with being alone, because that is better than being lonely lying in bed next to someone.

I hope you always feel seen. And I hope that you see others, too. I hope that you stay present. I hope you never miss out on the opportunity to speak openly about how you feel. I hope you never take for granted the love you have in your life or the people who never leave your side, no matter how oblivious you are to their feelings. I hope you stop pushing off what you want to do and just dive head first into doing it.

Our time here is limited. Please, please, just don’t miss the point.

The Battle Between Quality & Quantity

If I close my eyes tight enough, I can see back to that August night nearly nine years ago, when I sat with a group of my closest friends, hoping that the silence and our tear-filled eyes would keep us there in that very moment.

We found out then that heavy hearts just don’t beat quietly, and when the silence broke, we did everything we could to bottle up all the last words that we said. Carrie Underwood was playing on repeat in the background, drowned out by the sound of desperate voices clinging onto our youth.

And she says, ‘I don’t want this night to end, why does it have to end?’

We talked about all the ways we would keep in touch. We would write letters, send cards, mail each other care packages. We would have our own version of what the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants had. We calculated the miles between all of our colleges and mapped out the road trips we’d take. We made plans for all the weekends we’d see each other, and all the holiday’s we’d come back to this spot. Our plan was fool proof. Nothing would change.

They’ve been dreading this moment all summer long; the night before, life goes on.

We made promises and plans for the future. After college, we’d get apartments together. We would travel together. We were going to take on the world together. We promised that no one would ever love as deeply or laugh as fiercely or feel as close. We promised that despite the miles, and schools, and states, and new friends — nothing would change the fact that we had history on our side.

They take one last drive around town and man, it already looks different. He bangs the wheel and says, ‘life ain’t fair. And this growing up stuff, man I don’t know; I just don’t want to let you go.”

At 18 years old, the promise of forever felt real.

The best way to describe where I am today is somewhere stuck in the space between moving on and nostalgia.

The years following college graduation and really settling into adulthood are strange in a number of ways. You suddenly get sucked into the vortex of what real life is about. You went from being on the very same page as all of the people in your life, to occupying the same space, yet somehow living in different time zones.

You realize that living out your dreams of squeezing 6 friends into a studio apartment in Manhattan sounded so much more romantic when you were 18. Truth be told, when you’re 18 years old and looking towards the future, it’s so hard to see beyond those four years of college. It’s hard to imagine life when your friends – especially the ones who were so much a part of your existence, are not your priority.

The truth is, we blindly made those promises to each other nine years ago.

We never could have anticipated what was to come. We didn’t have a crystal ball that told us what it was like to turn 22, and then 25, and then 27, and how things would evolve during that time. We somehow had blinders on to the real world. We thought that growing old together would be the same as growing up together, but with more freedom than our parents granted us as kids.

The reality is this: you look around and you’re suddenly real adults, and you’re not sure when that happened. You scroll through your Facebook feed past several engagement photoshoots. People your age are announcing pregnancies — planned pregnancies. They’re buying houses and learning how to garden and choosing curtain patterns. You start really understanding the importance of a 401K, healthcare plans, and the seriousness of keeping a good credit score.

Your life becomes a routine. You wake up, go to work, make a living, go home, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. If you’re lucky, after rent and utilities, student loan payments, and credit card bills, you’ll have enough money at the end of the week to get together with your friends. And if you’re really lucky, getting together with your friends can be more than just half price appetizers at Applebees. But if you’re anything like me, you’re tired (because my God, adulting is exhausting). Canceled plans are like Christmas morning, and days spent sitting on your friends couches are the only kind of hanging out you have the energy for.

Life is no longer solely about socializing. It’s about savings accounts and deadlines and job interviews and trying to figure it all out. It’s about toying with the idea of marriage, or maybe putting yourself out there and finding a boyfriend, or maybe trying to make this whole thing work alone. It’s saying yes to being in (A LOT of) weddings, and deciding if you’re going stag, or bringing a plus one. It’s going to showers – both baby and bridal, and trying to muster up the energy to cook healthy meals, do your laundry, and stay up late enough to watch prime time television.

You suddenly become the center of your life, while your friendships are soft-focused in the background.

And when you look into that lens, you see the few people who stand out. These people are your soulmates. These are the elastic friendships that make their way around all the growing up stuff. These are the people you carry with you above the rest into adulthood. They’re the ones who bend with you, who stretch with you — the ones whose lives still flow with your own. And there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the people who sat in that same circle nine years ago — nothing either of you did to cause a rift. But there is a tangible difference between your friends and your soulmates — and the difference lies in the elasticity of their friendships. There is a deep-rooted and profound appreciation for these people.

There is more planning that goes into seeing your friends. Hanging out with them is no longer natural. We don’t just pick up our phones, send a text, and meet at the swings on the beach. It takes an invitation sent out a month in advance. It takes planning, and effort, and the hope that when that plan comes up, you’re not exhausted from the week before. It takes, ‘okay, you bring the veggie platter, you bring the salad, you bring the cheese and crackers, and I’ll bring the dessert.’

Your soulmates are the ones you can talk to all day or not at all. They’re the ones who require no real plans when you get together. They can come home once every other month and you see them for a half hour for coffee or Chic Fil A, and conversation is effortless. They’re the ones whose house you run to after work each Thursday to watch your favorite Shonda Rhimes shows. They’re the ones who you can call up and say, “hey, I’m going to Target, wanna come?” and they’d be on their way within seconds.

Your relationship with your soulmates are effortless.

Their couch is your couch. They are the family that takes you in when there’s a pending snow storm, so you don’t get snowed in alone. They’re the ones who never have to ask what’s new, because their daily phone calls to and from work are exactly how they know what’s new. They’re the ones who know how you feel at any given point. They’re the ones that really get you through this whole life thing.

And don’t get me wrong, accepting this is much harder than it sounds. It’s hard to fully accept that life can’t be like what it was like when we were 18 and full of wonder. Life just can’t be about funneling beers and shaking off our hangovers the next morning with pork roll egg and cheeses on the beach. Life can’t be about the big and bold plans to live together and take over the world.

I’m inching closer to accepting that this is the way it is — that this whole growing up thing is about relinquishing the preconceived notions I had when I was younger. All of those promises and wishes that we made nine years ago were genuine and real then, but they aren’t timeless. They can’t stay true.

The truth is I can’t be all the things.

That’s the part I’m struggling with the most. I want to believe that I can close my eyes and go back to that night in 2007 when we promised that nothing would change. That, no matter what, we would still be everything to each other.

It’s hard to admit that I can’t be everything to everyone, though I desperately wish I could. I want to be your friend, but I want to be the best friend. I want to be the person that shows up at your door step with a tub of ice cream, 90s romcoms, and a box of tissues when you’ve had your heart broken. I want to be the one who shows up, unannounced, with a car full of girlfriends, a bottle of champagne, and reservations for a girls night out when there’s something to celebrate. I want to be your girlfriend, but I want to be the best girlfriend. I want to find your favorite childhood memories, and spend a weekend recreating all of them for you. I want to be the one who shows up with all of the things you need. I want to be the best sister, best daughter, best writer, best counselor, best employee, best person.

I want to be all the things to everyone, but I just can’t be.

So, I guess that’s where I’m at these days — still stuck somewhere in between growing up and nostalgia. I’m learning to slowly loosen the grip on the idea that I can be everything to everyone.

And maybe this is a harsh lesson that we all need to learn. That we don’t need to apologize to our younger selves for making promises that we didn’t all keep. We were so, so young. We had no idea how life would unravel. All we saw was the immediate future. We saw the freedom of life outside of our hometown. We could have never anticipated that the future was more than just having fun with your friends.

On any given day, after shedding the excess layers of fat, I’m realizing that this is perhaps what we all need: people who show up, people who sit with us, head on our shoulders, and hear the noise in our silence. We need people who make life effortless — who make friendship effortless. We need people who see through us, who gets us, who grows with us.

Maybe all we need is someone who shows up and says, “I will be here on the days that you need me and the days that you don’t. I’ll sit with you through the tough stuff and dance with you through the fun stuff. We can stay in on a Saturday with too much sushi in front of us, or we can book a road trip to the Poconos for a weekend. We can talk all day, or we can say nothing at all. But I promise you’ll never doubt this. You don’t have to be all the things to everyone; you just have to be all the things to some and that will be enough.”

Today, this is all I need. Quality over quantity. People who make this growing up thing easy– because as we all know, going at this life thing is hard enough as it is without the people who make the ride effortless.

I Never Wanted To Be A Cliche

Someone once told me to write my truth.

“Be honest. Write your truth; no one can take that from you.”

Those words came to me nearly four years ago when I was gearing up to take on this little project. I was apprehensive. For most of my life, I’d scribbled in journals, jotted down daydreams, and made private blogs that never met the eyes of anyone I knew. Publicly opening my heart was new.

At the time, I was doing something so dangerously outside of my comfort zone, I almost felt like I needed a life jacket just to step into it. But those words of wisdom were so important to me. They are the words that remind me today that I shouldn’t worry about sugar coating it. Writing shouldn’t be about waiting for inspiration to strike, or when the positive, uplifting, and motivational messages seem to be pouring from my fingertips. Life just isn’t like that– it doesn’t come at you cropped or filtered. Life is real and raw. And writing should be real and raw. It should always be about writing what you know — it should be about your own truth.

And so, the driving force behind this little machine has been about owning up to and writing my own truth. It’s been about confessions — about getting down to the heart of the matter — the things that hurt, the things that heal, the truth.. my truth. It’s been a nearly four-year-long honesty hour.

So, I’ll be honest. I’ve been avoiding. I’ve been avoiding a lot of things – this blog, friends, acquaintances, commitments, plans. Nearly everything aside from my two closest friends, my coworkers that I see daily, and my every day responsibilities. I’ll admit that I’ve fallen a bit down the rabbit hole, but not quite all the way; I’m still hanging on.

I’ve spent the last year of my life running on a hamster wheel, desperate to get to a finish line that just wasn’t quite there. I spent hours huddled up in Starbucks studying for (and later passing) two really important exams that led to graduation, certification, and licensure. I graduated with my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I landed a job in the field and even progressed into a position that I thought was years away, only three months into my career. I packed up what little belongings I had and moved. I watched friends get engaged, I watched friends get married, I watched as friends pack up their things and move states away. I fought with my family, I fought with myself; I fought through some of the most challenge seasons of my adult life.

The truth is, I selfishly didn’t expect life to just keep on moving.

Being a college student was about how many nights I could spend at the local pub and still maintain a 4.0 Being a graduate student in my mid-20s was about trying to keep myself afloat– how to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, or from forgetting what day of the week it was, or trying to keep up with friends who seemed light years away. I was doing fine if I kept my head just a little bit above water. I was forced to follow a strict schedule — I was a student, working two jobs, interning, and trying to maintain relationships and some semblance of sanity. I had blinders on to the world outside of my own.

I almost naively expected time to stand still. I expected to cross that stage to get my diploma and be greeted on the other end by this world that waited three years for me to catch up. 

Moving forward has been difficult for me. I could sit here and tell you how grossly ungraceful I am at transitions, or exits, or new beginnings. I could tell you that I hate change. I could tell you that surviving the shifting of orbits doesn’t really fall onto my resume as one of my strengths. But please, name someone who is graceful at change. Name someone who is actually good at it. Tell them to come find me. Tell them to teach me how it works, cause I haven’t got a clue.

I wish I could look back on the last nine months of my life and pinpoint the exact moment when the path I was flying down started to get a little turbulent. I don’t remember when, but I do remember a coworker, who I’d interned with prior to both of us working together looked at me in the months following graduation and asked me, “What happened? You had it all together when we were in school, and now you’re literally falling apart. You’re crumbling right in front of me.”

It’s just as dramatic and funny as it sounds, but when someone you’ve worked side by side with nearly every day for the last year says something like that to you, it sticks. What the hell did happen to me?

I was struggling. I started to become a pressure cooker. I was filling myself daily because that’s what I thought I needed to do. I was making plans with people and listening to them talk about their lives and finding myself barely listening on. I was detached. I didn’t care about the matching his and her towels, or the future vacation plans, or the joint bank accounts, or the new jobs. I didn’t care about the baby planning or the wedding planning or the flavor of the week they were dating. I wanted to be present; I wanted to be supportive and attentive, but it was hard. So I rationalized by making all these plans in the hopes that one day, some of the circuits would align and it would make sense and I would somehow find myself enjoying the conversation in front of me. I was filling myself with people, and plans, and things, and going home every night and hating myself for it. I kept filling and filling, and despite overflowing, despite coming to a head and essentially bursting, I was never full.

I found that I stopped caring about things that I used to care so fiercely about before. I was losing enthusiasm for people I cared about. And it wasn’t fair to them. It wasn’t fair that I was struggling with my own stuff and to take it out on my relationships with other people, but that’s how the tape played out. I was struggling with closing the chapter of my life as a student and entering this new phase of my life: the one where I struggle to live on my own, to make it in this field, to bare the burden of some of the most beautifully broken souls I’ve ever met, and to still have to face my own realities at night.

And so, I started to avoid things.

I started protecting my heart. I stopped filling myself with things that made me heavy — the things that made me go home at night and tip over to pour right out of me. I stopped answering texts and disconnected myself from my phone. I started detaching myself from things that seemed to be just filler. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I’m just tired of it. I’m tired of things that lack substance. I’m tired of relationships built on small talk. I’m tired of friendships that aren’t meant to span a lifetime. I’m tired of feeling like I have to force a conversation– like if I don’t have something witty to say back to a random text message that doesn’t interest me in the least, I become fearful that the person on the other end is mad at me. I’m tired of feeling a little behind, like I can’t contribute to a conversation because I don’t have a mortgage, and those matching his and her towels, or plans for a baby. I stopped writing because I didn’t have anything good to write. I didn’t have anything positive. I didn’t want to be the person who whined and moaned and waited for some miracle that never came.

But I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? The truth. The not-so-pretty reality: that life isn’t perfect. That you can get everything you worked so hard for and still feel like something is missing. That you can get to a certain point in your life where some relationships aren’t serving you and you have to let them go. That you feel like an elephant is sitting on your shoulders every day, but you don’t dare tell your friends just why you don’t want to get together. Because the truth is, there isn’t a reason. You just physically can’t do it.

The truth is I always swore I would never look back.

A lot of the last nine months have been spent staring into a rear view mirror, wondering if there was anything I could have done differently — what I could have done to just hang onto the things I never wanted then, but strangely want back now. I’ve been decorating my walls in memories and moments I never thought I’d miss. I somehow planted my home right in the heart of Nostalgia Lane. I’ve been stuck here ever since.

So much of my life was about moving forward and looking towards the future. I spent years investing significant time into chipping away at what I thought was the grander picture. I spent my entire childhood desperately craving adulthood. I never planned on being the girl that missed all the things she was running from.

I’ve suddenly become that 20-something cliche.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. I wanted a hipper hair cut, I wanted my license, better clothes, a car that I could drive with the top down. I wanted freedom. When I was in high school, all I wanted was college. That would be freedom. I wanted to live away from my family, and the house that built me. I wanted adventure and new beginnings. When I was in college, all I ever wanted was a career. I wanted a place of my own. I wanted a life I could say I proudly built with my own hands. And when I was in graduate school, I wanted to go back and have fun. I wanted time to slow down. I wanted life to stand still. I wanted the chance to have a couple do-overs.

The saddest part of growing up is this: time doesn’t stand still, no matter how hard you fight for it to. Second chances are few and far in between. You just don’t get do-overs. 

Just like grains of sand along the shoreline, you can try to gather it all in your hands, but it somehow still just slips right through your fingers. And what I would do to go back and apologize to all those all-knowing adults that stood right here, where I am today, and told me to slow down, to take it all in, to stop worrying so much, to write it all down, to remember these moments, these feelings, this laughter. To enjoy it all. I swear if I had a chance to do it over, I would take back all the times I rolled my eyes at them.

Because life comes without warning. One day, you’ll turn 18 and you’ll feel invincible — like nothing on the planet could touch you. And then you’ll turn 20; you’ll find yourself stuck between saying goodbye to being a teenager, and being so unsure of what being in your 20s even means. You’ll taste heartache and you’ll know that even though you are young, with the world right in front of you, you aren’t invincible. You’ll look back to mornings where you packed eye liner and mascara in your backpack, and ran straight to the bathroom at school to put it all on before anyone could see you. You’ll look back on the nights you spent fighting with your parents about the length of your shorts, or the cut of your shirt, or the inappropriate writing across the butt of your sweats, or the skin tight dress you absolutely had to wear to Homecoming. You’ll smile at the memories and feel a knot of pain at how far away they’ll seem. You’ll turn 22. You’ll graduate from college and you’ll look back at middle school graduation and think to yourself, “how the hell could I think that this would be better?” How did I think that facing the unknown was a hell of a lot better than being 14, and hanging out in the mall, gossiping about boys, and buying new hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works. And one day, you’ll be 26, inching closer to 27. You’ll feel a surging rush of emotions as you walk across the stage to get your Master’s. You start a new job, you’ll struggle despite essentially having it all.

And then you’ll be 27. My God, 27 sounds a bit old, doesn’t it? Like you’re meant to have some sort of grip on who you are. But, you’ll slip down the rabbit hole just a little, and you’ll try to climb your way out of it.

Some days, I feel so incredibly guilty for looking back and pining over memories when I have wonderful things in front of me. But what I’m finding is that growing older is equal parts living and equal parts being nostalgic. It’s about small glimpses into the past and remembering what it was like being 18 and carefree and driving to the beach at night with our heads halfway out the window. It was feeling weightless. It’s about what life was like, what it’s like now, and what it could have been. It’s about looking through a lens into your past and cursing yourself for not holding onto those fleeting moments that we never knew were so important. Like sneaking out for the first time, blowing cigarette smoke off rooftops, making wishes into the starry night sky. It’s about not realizing that these small moments were actually big moments. It’s about missing moments that you had no idea would mean so much.

I think a lot of my struggles the last few months have something to do with how fiercely I cling to nostalgia like my favorite childhood blanket, in the hopes that it’ll all come back to me.

The thing is though, those memories do come back. Just not in the way I necessarily want them to.

They’ll come back to me when I am standing at the end of the aisle watching as one of my longest friends walks towards her husband-to-be and memories come flashing back about the first time we slept in tents outside, huddled around a bottle of vodka, telling stories of what we wanted for our lives. The moments will come back when you are sitting side by side an old friend and really see them for the first time. When you see how much of you is in them and vice versa. And how different would your life be had they not been there for all of the big things: for high school, college, and graduate school graduation. For all the times your family broke your heart and the times that the boy who they never approved of, came back and drove right over it, as if almost knowing you needed your heart to survive. Moments of the past will come back when you look at your beautiful baby sister and realize she is not a baby anymore. Not even close. It’ll be in saying goodbye to friends you grew up with and hoping and praying that living states apart won’t change a thing, but all the while knowing that it changes everything. And when these moments do come back, I’m learning that it’s all okay.

What I’ve found in my little hiatus from the world is this: maybe it’s okay to be a cliche. Maybe it’s okay to be just like any other 20 something millennial struggling to get by. Maybe it’s okay to say yes to guacamole on your burrito, even if you can barely afford your student loans. Maybe it’s okay to say no to plans because you need time to yourself to decompress. Maybe it’s okay to distance yourself from people. Maybe it’s okay to feel like you’re missing something. Maybe it’s okay to still not know what you want, to still not be engaged, or married, or have a kid on the way. Maybe it’s okay to be 27 and still renting, without having even let the thought of a mortgage cross your mind. It’s okay to be a 20 something cliche. In the end, it’s all okay. It will all be okay.

Dear 2015,

You came in quite like a wrecking ball; you were a blizzard that swept in before Autumn was ready to pack her bags and walk out the door. And if I traced your storm all the way back to its’ icy roots, I would’ve known all along. I should’ve known.

I should’ve known that the cold and snowy month of January would be the preamble to my year. That the ship I felt so damn confident I was navigating well would hit some glaciers before making it safely to shore. I should’ve known that there would be some dark nights — nights that I found myself questioning if I had any fight left in me. Nights that brought me to my knees, challenged me, made me question my intentions. I should have known that there would be some nights so turbulent that I would feel so sure I needed to dock the ship, just to see if I could dig out a map that somehow showed me a different route.

I should’ve known early on that I would learn what it really meant to weather the storm. I should’ve known that I would face some of the coldest nights, only to wake up to the warmest mornings. I should’ve known that the sun always, always, always, washes away any trace of snow and ice. 

I should’ve known, but I didn’t. But, 2015, how can you ever know? And I guess that’s the beauty of everything in life, isn’t it? That you can have all these grand expectations for how something will turn out, and it turns out to be something completely different, something even better than what you imagined?

2015, I’ll be honest with you. As icy and cold and turbulent as you were, you were one hell of a perfect storm.

. . .

I was watching an interview Adele recently gave, when she said, “Things get really serious when you become an adult, and you don’t realize you’ve become an adult until randomly one day, when you’re doing something and it comes up and says hello to you, like out of the blue. And it scared the life out of me. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not old at all, but I feel it.”

And ever since hearing those words, I haven’t been able to shake them.

2015 was the first year I really sunk my teeth into adulthood.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment it happened. I wish I could tell you that on this day, at this time, I became an adult. But it doesn’t quite work out that way. By legal standards, I’ve been an adult for nine years. But 18 year old me is a far cry from who I am today. Just as Adele says, it all happens randomly. One day, you’ll be doing something — something simple, like grocery shopping, cooking food for the week, planning a vacation with your girlfriends, and it happens. It’s never a big or a grand gesture; it sneaks up behind you and rears its ugly head, and you are never the same.

2015 was the first year I felt the actual shift of growing up. Sometime this year, I took a long and hard look at myself in the mirror and really noticed the difference. It was the first time I saw the way my face has changed over the years — how subtle, soft lines are starting to form around my eyes and mouth. How my eyes tell the truth, right down to my core. It was the first time I noticed that my hair falls a bit differently than it did when I was younger. How I am more prone to letting it fall naturally than to straighten or curl it. How I no longer feel the need to hide behind a smokey eye. It was the first time I realized that I’m not the same as I was at 22. And for some reason, 22 has been the age that I’ve clung onto — the year I graduated college — the year that I felt time stood still. But 2015 was the first year that I realized 22 was five years ago, and I am so much different than I was, even then.

. . .

The thing is, 2015, I’ll be honest. I’ve spent so many December’s wondering what the hell happened — wondering where the hell it all went. I’ve looked back on years that seemed to come and go — years where I felt all I had to do was blink and life shifted. I’ve spent a lot of time lamenting over the years that slipped through my hands. Somehow, I went from being a naive high schooler, so desperate to grow up, to a college student who just wanted time to stand still, to a graduate student, just trying to figure it out. I’ve spent so many New Years Eves’ throwing myself a pity party — stuck in between wanting to hang onto the who I was, and the who I was working on becoming.

You were big in so many ways. I just hope you were there for it all. I hope you caught everything I did, everything I felt, every accomplishment, every short-coming. Did you hear the quiet whispers and the secrets I didn’t share with anyone else? Did you see me struggle through all those difficult goodbyes? And did you see how goodbyes just seemed to follow me throughout the year? Did you see how hard March and April were for me? How I struggled to keep my head above water in those last months of grad school? And did you see how happy I was in May when I walked across that stage and got my diploma? Did you see how fun the summer was, how much I was enjoying the freedom, all the while chanting, ‘no more teachers, no more books…’ And did you see where it all crashed and burned at the end of summer? How isolated I felt, how hard it was for me to pick up the pieces and rebuild? And did you see me do it? Did you see me get back on my feet with such grace that it almost feels as though the end of summer never happened? 

2015 was a year of transition. It was a turning point. Years from now, when I look back on my life, 2015 will be where I stop and think, “my God,  that was one hell of a year. That right there — that’s where it all changed.” That was the year I learned to let people go — to let them move on with their lives, but still be a part of mine. That was the year I left a job that no longer served me. That was the year I spent so many afternoons locked up in Starbucks studying my ass off for my licensing exams. That was the year I passed that exam, made my way through the last few months of grad school with most of my screws in tact; that was the year I landed my first job in the mental health field. It was the year I got a place of my own. It was the year I fought, relentlessly, through some rough weather. And that storm — that perfect storm set me up for the year ahead.

My hope for 2016 is that I add to my life — that I really surround myself with the idea of quality vs quantity. That I immerse myself fully in relationships that make me whole. The people you surround yourself with have such a profound impact on how you feel. I’ve spent so many years desperately clinging onto relationships that did very little for me. I justified these one sided relationships because of history — because they had been in my life for so long and how dare I throw that away. 2015 taught me that not all people are meant to be a part of your life forever — some people come in and only stay for a chapter, or a scene, and others stay for a lifetime. So my hope for 2016 is that I stay towards the people who add to my life — the people who care about me, care about how I am, care about what I’m doing — the people who celebrate with me, who cheer me on, who encourage me, who push me, who challenge me, who sit with me when all I need is a glass of wine and a distraction — not the people who make me feel like I am suffocating. Not the people who make me feel that I am not enough.

My hope for 2016 is that I learn to unplug more and stay present in the moment. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and looked over at the table next to you, only to see that every single person is staring at their phones? Life is not meant to be lived through a four inch screen. My fear is that I am just like these people you see and scoff at, stuck in this generation that doesn’t know how to look up. My fear is that I’ll miss it all, and I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t want to be the girl clinging to her phone, who jumps to conclusions when the person on the other end doesn’t answer immediately. I don’t want to be the girl whose relationships with people lack depth because she’s scrolling through social media when hanging out with friends. I don’t want to be the person who forgets just how much she loves face-to-face conversations and hearing stories from someone sitting in front of them.

My hope for 2016 is that I give up trying to go at this whole life thing alone. That, when needed, I ask for help. My hope is that I stop trying to control everything around me. That I stop being so hard on myself when I don’t get it right. My hope is that I learn to forgive myself — because the tough stuff is not meant to be dug at alone. And I need to forgive myself for thinking it could be. My hope is that I stop breaking promises to myself. That I cross off all the things on my to-do list, and that I stop making poor excuses for why I’m not going after what I want.

My hope for 2016 is that I take a leap outside of the safe little box I live in and do more, see more, experience more. My hope for this year is that I live — that I make plans and follow through with them. That I see places I’ve never seen before. My hope is that I spend less time dumping money into having things and more money into experiencing things. My hope for 2016 is that I start following through with my plans instead of making wishes and hoping that one day, it’ll happen.

Because I want one day to be today. And I don’t want to waste another second waiting for one day to come.

. . .

So, 2015, I’ll leave you with this –

You were good to me, and I am so glad for that. You taught me resilience. You taught me patience. You showed me heartache. You showed me courage and humility. You taught me to be fearless. And above all, you taught me that life is not worth living when you’re stuck inside a box. I waited 21 years to finish school — to close that first big chapter of my life and meet myself — grow into that adult that I worked so hard to be. And now that I’m here, I’m ready to move forward — ready to knock down those walls and take a step into this next chapter of my life: assuming the role of who I am today.

So with that, I’m wrapping up that box and leaving you behind. I’m stepping outside of those walls in 2016 — walking away from that box. I’ve waited long enough.

With love,
Jackie