Look Up Now

A childhood friend of mine passed away nearly two weeks ago.

I found out that she wasn’t doing well only a week and a half prior. One minute, I was having sushi with a friend I went to graduate school with, ranting about our perpetual existential crises and life stresses, and the next, I was on the phone with my cousin, hearing the heartbreaking news on the other end of the line. After battling a life-threatening illness for three years, her body couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, Danielle, was losing the fight. Suddenly, the ranting and raving that took place only minutes before dissipated; reality struck me like a gust of cold wind that shook me to the core.

Only 11 days passed between that phone call saying she was in the hospital, and the message I got saying she had passed, and yet, time seemed to stand still between those days, as if preparing me for the gut-wrenching feeling of being paralyzed by grief.

Young death is an unfathomable tragedy that often reminds you of the brevity of life. It’s sudden, and it’s swift, and it shakes you so deeply, and with such force, that you can’t help but feel profoundly betrayed by the world that’s supposed to keep you safe and let you grow old with the people you love.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when she passed away. The universe often works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? That day for me was a fog. It was coasting through a short work day, and going for a drive, cursing the sky above, asking What’s the point? What’s the point in all of this? She didn’t ask for this. It was repeating to myself over and over again, She was only 27. She was only 27. She was only 27. It was somehow ending up at the grocery store with no list or plan in mind. It was walking down each aisle, angry at all of the people filling their carts with the proper fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. It was the desperate feeling of wanting everyone around me to stop what they were doing and feel even a fraction of what I was feeling. It was praying for a familiar face to come up to me and say I get it, I get it. I miss her too. This sucks so much. It’s not fair. It’ll never be fair.

It was being surrounded by strangers who couldn’t possibly know what my favorite memories are. They don’t know about the elementary school pool parties, or sneaking in bouts of laughter between getting in trouble for torturing your old neighbor together. They don’t know about the sleepovers in middle school, or the time you finally felt like you were growing up when your parents trusted you enough to go to let you go to the mall alone. They don’t know about how Ruby Tuesdays became your tradition because that was the first restaurant you spent your hard earned cash that you made at your minimum wage paying jobs at. They don’t remember what it was like to get dressed up in matching fuzzy sweaters and Kangol bucket hats (both of which I am eternally grateful faded out of style) just to take funny pictures that will forever be a part of me. They don’t know about the nights when it was just you, your cousin, and your friend, and how those quiet moments between deep breaths and tears and wishes made for the future and promises that we’d all be friends forever, laying on a blanket, talking over cups of hot chocolate, were some of the most profound moments of your life. They don’t know that those are the moments that you will hold onto when the grief gets bigger and the anniversary of her death gets further away.

And they don’t know how much you are kicking yourself over and over again for somehow allowing the last conversation that ever passed your lips between the two of you to be about hanging out soon. Soon is a concept I’ve become all too well acquainted with. I’ll get to it soon. I’ll call them back soon. Let’s hang out soon. Sometimes, soon never does come.

. . .

The holidays are trailing behind in the wake of her death. The twinkling lights and Christmas carols flowing through the airwaves are an indicator that it’s supposed to be the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and yet the older I get, the more it feels like the Busiest Time of The Year.

This year, it feels like the Coldest Time of The Year.

The holiday season always seems to creep in, taking with it the magic of what it once used to mean. August, September, and October have notoriously been hard for me – a season of big change and crippling transition, sending me straight into a time of year that is supposed to be met with gratitude, and warmth, and cider, and reflections of Remember When?

Instead, the end of November is a less-than-subtle reminder of the things we have left to do. Did I buy everything I needed to for Christmas? Did I sent out my cards? Will the gifts I order come in time? Did I miss any parties? Do I have time to finish all of the goals I made for myself for the year in the next 31 days?

In the midst of what is supposed to be a magical time of year, it’s hard to remember to enjoy it. To stop, to breathe, and to look up. To feel the crisp air and be enveloped by the scent of peppermint. To watch those twinkling lights with the same mesmerized glow you did as a kid. To feel and express gratitude. To just be present and have that be enough.

This holiday season is a hard one. It seems that these days, all of the people in my life are hurting in some capacity. Hearts are broken all around me, even when outside our windows, there’s twinkling lights, and smiling snowmen, and kids in their bedrooms making wishes to Santa, all with hopeful hearts.

The reality in my world is this: people around me are hurting. People in my life are waking up every morning and putting on their best smile just to get through the day. People are scrambling to figure out if they can afford food, or water, or their electric bill. Christmas gifts are the last things on their mind. People get sick. People get sick so suddenly and so quickly and without so much as a warning. People pass away, even during the most magical time of the year. People forget you. They’ll forget how much of you was a part of them; you’ll see them and be reminded by a bright flash of the past of how much it all meant then, but it’ll be taken from you so quickly like you never even mattered. They’ll whisper words and promises to keep in touch, to stay friends, but they’re empty, and hopeless, and weightless.

The recurring theme in my life is one that is prominent this holiday season: stop romanticizing being busy. Stop glorifying exhaustion. Stop utilizing being busy as a symbol of status, when really, it’s a barrier and a wall built to keep you from your own reality. Spreading yourself thin isn’t admirable, in fact, that’s probably the reason I’ve been sick for over two months. Stop burning yourself into the ground for the sake of making sure that your schedule is filled up, leaving very little room to sleep, and rest, and relax.

Things happen when you’re busy. People you love get sick, and you aren’t able to be with them when they have important doctors appointments. You aren’t able to sit with them while they talk about how scared they are. You aren’t able to tell them that you’re scared too. People get hospitalized and you can’t swing missing work to go see them. People pass away and you kick yourself for never getting a chance to follow through with your unmade plans. You make empty promises of future plans with people, but you don’t always follow through. Because you’re busy. And sometimes, being busy has an expiration date.

So many people, myself included, wear busyness like a crown of honor – like we are deserving of some reward for the bags under our eyes, the exhaustion that weighs us down, and the stress that is undoubtedly affecting our health. The truth is: busyness is an illness. Busyness keeps us from facing reality. Busyness keeps us from showing up for people. Busyness keeps us from showing up for ourselves.

. . .

There is confusion and guilt that lingers in the weeks following Danielle’s death. There’s questioning how there are people existing in what seems to be happy little bubbles, so consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, thriving, it seems, in a world that glorifies trivialities. There’s the constant ebb and flow of the stages of grief. Today, it’s anger at how unaware everyone seems to be at the profound loss the world just experience. There’s perspective — a lightning bolt, an electric shock, a drop of cold water on a hot day — a reminder that there are so many more important and grave things going on in the world, and that sometimes, all of the extra stuff just doesn’t matter when there are hearts broken all over.

Have you ever taken the time to genuinely look up at the night sky? We are so, so small compared to the world above us. We are tiny grains of sand — just specs of matter. Years from now, none of the extra stuff we do will mean anything. It won’t matter if we worked a 70 hour work week every year for 40 years. It won’t matter if we lost sleep over deadlines, and time frames, and progress notes left undone. It won’t matter if we hit the ground running every morning, just to come home with our gas light on E every night. It won’t matter if we dedicate our lives to cultivating a life we dreamed up, but never really living it. What will matter is heart and truth. Were you there for people? Did you show up when you were needed? Did you listen? Did you love? Did you pay attention to the people who needed you, but never asked? Did you ask for help? Did you listen to your body when it told you to slow down, take a deep breath, and be where your feet are?

Most of my life has been spent with my head straight, eyes forward. I’ve known what I’ve wanted of life for a long time, and I’ve done nothing but work tirelessly at building it from the ground up. I am dedicated, I am hard working, and I am relentless in my fight to get what I want — but these days, it’s kicking me in the ass. These days are a constant reminder that if you don’t look up every once in awhile, you’re going to miss a hell of a lot.

Sitting at the services for my friend Danielle, I noticed everyone looking up. Everyone was looking at the person we came to honor. The room was full of people who knew her in some capacity, and loved her as tremendously as the next person in the room. It was in those quiet moments, between sniffles and tears, that I realized only do we ever look up when we are forced — when there is something to look up for. When we are reminded of how very fragile and precious life is. When we are reminded of how quickly it can be taken from us.

Have you ever sat at a table surrounded by people you love and thought to yourself that this is what life is about? Christmas carols humming in the background, kids playing with toys downstairs, and a gentle buzz from the homemade spiked cider filling the air. And in those moments, you realize how full your heart is, how good this life is. I want to capture those moments. Preserve them. Remember to seek them every once in awhile. Because when you are too busy, you don’t have time to appreciate the good life, and the good people that are right there in front of you.

This month was a big, bold, painful reminder for me to start looking up. And what I would do to go back and live a life that didn’t require these kinds of life-altering reminders. Don’t be so busy that you need something this big, or this bold, or this painful to tell you to look up. Look up because life is too short to keep your eyes down. Look up because the world around you needs you — the people you love need you. Look up now.

The Church of Brené Brown

“Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, 
and until you can clean it up a little, you don’t want to invite anyone inside.”

Just as a musician falls in love with a chord, or a photographer falls in love with the way the sun sets, making for perfect lighting for a picture, I have always fallen in love with words. I am deeply enamored by the way some words seem to find each other – how some words can string themselves together and sing a harmony that jumps straight into your soul.

The words above dove their way into my heart about a year ago when I first laid eyes on them. At the time, I just thought it was a beautiful quote. One year later, it seems to me that the words were a bit of foreshadowing into what the year ahead would look like.

I turned 28 on Thursday. And while birthdays, for most people, are usually always a time of reflection and contemplation, this birthday in particular brought me back to this quote and how those words embody almost exactly what 27 was for me.

The months closing in on 26 and leading up to 27 tested my strength, my faith, and my resilience. I was caught in the middle of one of the biggest transitions of my life, going from full-time graduate student and juggling all sorts of odd jobs, to settling into something much more secure and stable — two things I was so unfamiliar with. While that might sound like the ideal situation, somehow having things fall into place in one part of my life almost always means that things are falling apart in another place. At the same time that things were coming together professionally, I was met with some really, really tough stuff personally. I was reacquainted with demons I fought off long before I even hit my 20s. I came face-to-face with skeletons that I thought were buried so far in my closet. And in the last few months from 26 into 27, I learned survival. I learned how to figure things out on my own — how to stand on my own and how to be on my own. Little did I know how what I perceived as a strength would come back to bite me in the ass.

Perhaps 26 into 27 was about claiming my independence, and 27 into 28 is about coming to the realization that independence, for me, has been a lot less romantic than than it has been isolating. Independence has been a lot less about me standing on my own two feet, gracefully tip-toeing through life, than it is about me keeping people at an arms distance and wrapping my heart up in caution tape, careful to make sure there were no holes in the tape — no cracks in my shield. Independence, for me, has taught me less about what it means to be my own person, and more about what it means to keep things hidden, in fear of being seen, known, or exposed.

* * *

I’ll be honest; this post has been sitting idly in my drafts for a little bit over a month. The idea behind what I wanted to write about came to mind after having a conversation with one of my coworkers — someone who quickly went from an acquaintance to a friend. The thing about being friends with my coworkers is that they see me, even when I don’t let the light out. They hear me, even when I’m not speaking. They know me, even when I give little to work with.

Somehow, we got onto the topic of my apartment. Without so much as a second thought, I blurted out the same sentiment that I tell anyone when they ask about it: I hate my apartment. No reason why. No words followed. No further desire to discuss it. Conversation then shifted into a talk about vulnerability — how there’s obviously more to my story, how evident it is that there are some things I keep guarded, and how helpful it would be for both my personal life and my professional life if I just raised the white flag and opened myself up to the possibility of maybe letting someone else into my fenced in yard.

I am the kind of person who has only ever known how to see other people. I am best when I am serving someone else, but put the spotlight on me, and I run. I am no fan of vulnerability when I am the one that needs to reach for it. I am horrible when it comes to being seen.

After the conversation I had with my friend, she sent me a Brené Brown video about perfectionism and told me to watch, to listen, to pay attention, and to start attacking that fear of vulnerability in the face.

I went home and spent the weekend watching a bunch of feel-good TED talks, bought tickets to see a TEDx event live (crossing things off my 30 before 30 bucket list one at a time!!!), did a lot of reading about perfectionism, and got to work on writing this.

And here comes the irony – I’ve spent the last month writing and erasing things that I wanted to say. I’ve written paragraphs with intensity and passion, and with barely a second thought, deleted them. I spit out sentences that I thought were appropriate, and meaningful, and important, and shortly thereafter got rid of them. The words coming out of me weren’t good enough for what I wanted to say. They weren’t strong enough to convey the depths of what I felt. They weren’t profound enough to describe that light-bulb moment that happened when I realized just how big the role of perfectionism is in my life, how hard it is to allow myself to be vulnerable, and how much of myself I keep closed off. I struggled with putting something out there that wasn’t perfect enough, while trying to lay out a map of what it means to struggle with perfectionism. Irony.

The second irony is my career. In my career as a counselor, I am fortunate enough to get the chance to sit right in the crux of someone else’s pain, and watch as they allow themselves to break down the walls they’ve built to protect themselves. I sit with clients who are so, so afraid to share things, because once they put out the secrets they’ve hidden from the world, they’re losing an old friend — the one thing they’ve kept for themselves. And the beautiful irony is seeing clients who have the insight to know that without cutting themselves open, without allowing someone else into their world, there is no growth and there is no change. In my work, I’ve found that a measure of good work is when you are sitting with someone and they offer their truth — when they trust you with their own reality. When it’s just you and them and nothing but a room full of hard truths and vulnerabilities. And yet somehow, here I was, doing that exact work with a caseload of clients, struggling tremendously with it myself.

And who would have thought it all started with a quote and ended with a metaphor.

* * *

Before watching the video, I saw perfectionism as a part of my life that I left behind. I thought of who I used to be: an academic at heart. I looked at perfectionism as getting straight A’s in school, and beating myself up over an A- or B+. I looked at perfectionism as making sure I won all the spelling bee’s in elementary school, at making sure I was in the National Honor Society, and being a part of all of the extracurricular activities that I could fit into my life in high school — even if they didn’t fit my hobbies, interests, or who I envisioned becoming. Perfectionism meant being what was expected of me for my parents: going to school, getting a job at 15, getting the grades, being quiet, being small, being good enough. Perfectionism meant going to college and having a job to come home to on top of a job by my college. Perfectionism meant that schooling didn’t stop at at Bachelor’s degree. Perfectionism meant painting a scene for what my life is now that I have all of the things I’ve worked for: a Master’s degree, a career, an apartment of my own — all without ever stopping once to admit that maybe my shelves are a little dusty, maybe I’m missing some things, maybe life isn’t just solely about the stuff that I’ve accumulated, or the person that I appear to be. Maybe there is more.

Brené Brown says, “Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence, or healthy striving… it’s a cognitive behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this: if I look perfect do it perfect, live perfect, or work perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”

If I never talk about the things that I don’t like about myself, maybe someone else won’t see the cracks in the foundation. If I never address the things that I am afraid of, people on the outside will look to me as strong and courageous. If I never come face to face with the reality of why I keep certain things hidden, I will never be seen. And how authentic can I be if all that you get is a snapshot of who I am?

The thing is, I crave it. I think we all do. I think it’s human, and it’s innate to want people to see us for who we are. I want to be able to talk to a good friend and tell them what my fears are — how sometimes, I am fearful that I gave all I had at love in the past, and not one person has measured up, and how it’s likely that I won’t find someone who can be that guy again for me. How I fear that maybe, I won’t have kids. How I say that this is okay for me, but really, it might not be. I think we all want to be able to look at our parents and tell them what it was they did that hurt us so badly, all while knowing that sometimes, parents mess us up without even trying. And it’s not always their fault, but that’s just what happens. We are all human. I think we all want to avoid it. We want to avoid letting people in too far, so we can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being judged, or looked down upon, or seen. Because if we are seen for who we are, they will know. They will know that we are imperfect. They will know that we are scared. They will know that the picture they have of us in their minds is cropped, and airbrushed, and placed under a filter.

So, I don’t invite people into my apartment because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to clean it up a little bit. There’s a part of me that thrives in the chaos and wishes someone were strong enough to crack that wall down and come dance in the mess.

* * *

Years ago, when I started this blog, a mentor of mine told me to write my truth. She told me that the most important part of writing was honesty, and that if I could be honest — if I could write my truth, no one could take that away from me. I’ve referenced that profound piece of advice over and over again, and I sometimes forget the importance of speaking my truth and owning my truth and being the kind of person willing to tell a story based on what I know very well to be true.

So today, five days into closing the chapter on 27, and dancing into 28, here is my truth:

I am in a good place career-wise. I am in a good place with the majority of the people in my life. I am grateful, and I am happy. But, there are days when I want to pack my stuff up and run back to my parents house, all while knowing exactly what kind of chaos I would be running back into. There are days I wake up in the morning, take a good look at myself in the mirror, and ask myself how on earth can be the person that people trust enough to be vulnerable with and disclose the dark parts of them. There are days I don’t feel good enough. Not a good enough daughter, or friend, or sister, or therapist. There are days I don’t think I am where I am supposed to be — days when I feel despite all that I’ve accomplished, I’m still five miles behind. There are days that I am so fearful I somehow did something wrong, that I somehow made a mistake and I’ll regret my life in the long-term. There are days I have to sit and calculate if I have enough money to buy groceries and afford my electric bill, all while scrolling through social media in envy over new cars, and jewelry, and houses. There are corners of my apartment that are still not furnished; there are things that I still haven’t hung up on my walls. There are days I open my planner and wonder how the hell am I going to squeeze in all that I have. There are days when I can’t make commitments with my friends, because I would rather lay on my couch and watch Netflix than listen to everyone talk about buying houses, and having babies, and how much money they have saved for the this next big thing. There are days I am fearful that I am not doing enough. There are days that I really, really hope that I am.

* * *

Apparently I’ve become somewhat a victim of growing up. I’ve somehow slid my way, not so gracefully, through my early and my mid twenties, and landed face-first in my late twenties.

I guess this is 28. I guess this is another trip around the sun for me.

There are things I want out of 28 — like health, happiness, abundance, adventure, experience. And then there are the things that I know I need to work on — like practicing what I preach, allowing myself to be open to the possibility that maybe I don’t need to go at this alone.

I think we sometimes hesitate to invite people into our lives for whatever reason. Our space is hardly occupied. Our shelves still have dust on them. There’s still boxes where there should be furniture, and a coffee table where there should be a TV stand. If only we could sweep up the rubble, or get rid of the dirt or put together a piece of furniture, we would be ready. If things looked better, it would feel better to let people in. Today, things still don’t quite match. There are dishes piled in the sink, piles of laundry that has yet to be washed, picture frames leaning against the wall that have yet to be hung, garbage overflowing the can. Our situation isn’t quite what we want it to be. We aren’t where we want to be. My hope for 28 for both myself and for anyone who feels the tremendous weight of perfectionism and the difficulty with vulnerability is this: start going to church. Start attending the Church of Brené Brown. Start looking at all the walls you’ve built around yourself, and fight back all those fears you have. Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be known. Don’t let the dust on your shelves or the rubble all around you stop you. Invite people in anyway. 

Because of August

It’s late on the Tuesday after Labor Day when I finally get around to writing this. I’ve had thoughts and words knocking on my door, begging to come out of me since Sunday night, but haven’t much time to sit down and write.

It’s the second September that I am working as a counselor and am not frantically trying to figure out how to fit in working two jobs, having an internship, going to school, and somehow trying to maintain all of my sanity and an ounce of a social life. It’s also the first Tuesday since summer started that I’ve been alone, and the first Tuesday in years that I haven’t had some sort of obligation — work, class, or babysitting.

I say babysitting for lack of a better word. Babysitting just seems too formal for the time I got to spend over the last five years watching my best friends son grow up. I spent nearly every Tuesday watching and hanging out with her son, and I spent every Tuesday the last few summers with both him and my little sister.

My sister turned 13 on Friday and started her first day of 8th grade today. My friends son starts kindergarten later this week. And here I am, on my first free Tuesday, virtually ever, trying to hang onto fragments of time that seemed to have blown right past me. It seems that all I had to do was blink and I suddenly found myself in this very moment.

But first, back to Sunday.

I was baking cupcakes late on Sunday night for a Labor Day get-together. At some point, I ran outside to take out the trash. And in the minute trek from my apartment to the dumpster, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sound of kids playing and laughing. It was odd to me. I’ve lived in this apartment for nearly a year and have never heard kids playing outside any later than sunset. And here I was at 11 pm on a Sunday night, listening to the genuine belly laughs of little kids. The sound tugged at my heartstrings a bit when I realized that it must have been their last night of summer vacation. After Labor Day, it would be back to school for them.

I thought to myself they had to have been hanging onto these few precious moments they had left. They had to have been savoring every last bit of their time away from school before the summer sun sets and they’re awoken by the bitter taste of the transition into the next school year.

. . .

I was talking to a friend in the end of July about how certain times of year are more difficult than others for everyone. We were on the topics of breakups, and how, even years later, there are traces of our ex’s that still linger in us. And it got us on the topic of big life events that shape us and change us and make certain months a little more difficult than others to get through. For many people, the holidays are the worst. For me, it’s always been summer into fall — August into September.

Now, I never intended on being the kind of person that stores all of these bad memories in some sort of self-deprecating bank, just to pull out and revisit when I’m already feeling low. I don’t think anyone really ever sets out to be like that. But, I do genuinely believe there are certain times of the year for everyone where you feel a little bit thrown off course, like the stars aren’t really aligned, and somehow, you are living in a paradoxical world, unbalanced, and propelled back to this ugly state of nostalgia.

There’s something about the way August nonchalantly makes an Irish exit and dances her way into September that has me gripping onto the edge of my seat, eyes staring straight ahead, just waiting for the exact moment when it all comes crashing down.

The time between August and September is notorious for transitions. It’s always been about the start of something new and the beginning of something else ending. Ever since kindergarten, we are conditioned to know that August into September is about change. August has been about starting my first job at 15. It was about packing up my life into boxes bigger than me and leaving my hometown for college for the very first time. It was in August that I started to see cracks in what I thought was love. And it was also in August that I began the long-drawn out goodbye from the only thing I ever knew as love. It was about walking away from old jobs and settling into a new chapter of my career. It was about signing my first lease and getting ready to move out on my own. It was about struggling with anxiety over losing people who meant more to me than I would ever let myself verbalize. It was about feeling like a stranger in my own home, and even more so in my own skin. It was about trying to find even an ounce of hope in all of the rubble — trying to find some sort of stable ground to walk on when the rest of the world around me kept on turning and moving and changing.

August has always been notorious for transitions.

Last August brought with it a season in my life that I would love to not remember. It’s hard, I think, looking back on a time that you’d rather forget. If the doctor could write me a prescription to erase a few months off the calendar, then I would run straight to the pharmacy. Last August was a whirlwind. While the big parts of my life were falling together, the foundation of my life was falling apart. I had recently graduated with my Master’s and flew straight into my career. I was doing well on paper — much better than all of my classmates. But there were still jagged pieces of my life sticking out. Things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they’d be.

I remember putting all of my energy into work, and into the relationships I had with people, that I started to neglect myself. I avoided going home, because nothing about walking through those front doors ever made it feel like it was actually home. I drove around every night after work, desperate for company, and if I didn’t have someone who would meet me for coffee or a late night appetizer, I remember turning the volume up to the highest it could go, without making my car sound like a crappy teen club, and blasting every sad song on my iPod. I remember circling empty parking lots and driving on old roads that used to mean something to me. I remember pulling over to park every time my eyes welled up and cursing the sky above me. I never asked for this. I never wanted this. I never understood how you can get all of the things you worked so hard for and still not everything in your life aligned in quite the same way. The universe is funny that way, isn’t it? It pushes you without ever really trying.

The truth is, August has always been a little bit of a fight to be enough.

It’s always been a fight to simply be enough for whatever major event was about to tornado its’ way through my life. It was the fight to leave enough of me when I was leaving for college, in the hopes that the people I was leaving behind would pick up the pieces of me and hang onto them when I came back home. It was the fight for me to be the person deserving of some big old profession of love that I never did get. It was me hanging onto a love that hurt more often than not, because somehow that was enough for me. It was me trying to live in a house that wasn’t anymore welcoming then than it was when I was a rebellious teenager. It’s been about me trying to learn what being enough really is all about.

. . .

It’s important to know that I have never been good at transitions, and the foreseeable future doesn’t present itself with an opportunity to suddenly become more graceful at them. I almost pride myself on my inability to move on from things and my ability to catastrophize even the most minor of things. I make a mountain out of a mole hill when I can. I spend nights crippled in fear that I said the wrong thing to someone and that they’re going to hold it against me forever. I hear a song and I’m right back to my old bedroom at my parents house, making empty plans for forever. I feel a tinge of loneliness and I remember what it was like last August for me. And I remember all the things I’ve been bad at transitioning into: high school, college, the year and a half I took off between college and grad school, transitioning back into grad school, life post-grad school, moving out, breakups and makeups and everything else in between.

But as I sat on my couch this morning, feeling a bit lost at having nothing to do for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, I was struck by how starkly different my life is this time of year in comparison to last year. I no longer drive around aimlessly, seeking answers for questions I would never ask aloud, on the dark road and in empty parking lots. I’ve moved. I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve been at the same job for almost a year and a half. I’m learning to be comfortable with stillness. I’ve hurt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve loved. But more than anything, I am so much different than I was this time last year.

. . .

I haven’t stopped thinking about those kids since Sunday night. I haven’t stopped thinking about the carefree sound of their laughs and how effortless it sounded — like they weren’t about to embark on the next transition in their lives: entering a new grade in school.  And I was thinking this morning about my sister starting 8th grade and how she was born the day before I started high school, and just how difficult that transition was for me. I thought about going off to college and leaving my then three-year-old sister at home. I thought about how much she’s grown. How she used to be shorter than me and now towers over me. How I want to protect her so fiercely but that I know she doesn’t need me to. She’s not a little baby anymore; she’s growing up, and doing it with the grace of an adult many years her senior. And I was thinking about my friends son. How he always refers to her friends as his own. And how he and I always joke that he is my best friend. But he’s become so much a part of my life that it really isn’t a joke.

I’m struck by the brilliance of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from these kids in the last couple of days. Time will always be a fickle little thing, won’t it? There are still going to be different dates on the calendar that send shivers up your spine, but time plays tricks on you and convinces you that we can somehow have these moments back. And because of that, I’ve feared August. I’ve feared remembering what used to be and wanting desperately to get the good back and stay as far away from the bad as possible.

I think we need to start living our lives a little bit more like kids do. They transition so seamlessly. They don’t hold onto things unless they’re important. They move on faster than we do as adults. They forgive easier. They know they are enough without ever really having to question it.

It always comes back to the subtle way the breeze gets cooler and the humidity disintegrates. It always comes back to the way the Jersey Shore sheds its summer skin and grows crisp orange leaves. It always comes back to these seasons of growth.

Because of August, it always comes back to transitions. And without transition, there would be no transformation. And what kind of life would that be?

Yardsticks and Mile Markers

There’s a profound shift that takes place immediately after you graduate college.

Life as you knew it suddenly changes drastically. You will choose to take a year off before going to graduate school and spending three years working towards your Master’s. You’ll have friends that never moved back home — friends whose college towns loved them so much, they offered them a job they couldn’t refuse. You’ll have friends that work odd hours and friends that work nine to fives. You’ll have friends that are content with their lot in life and you’ll have friends that go to home at night wearing the weight of depression like a cloak around their neck.

You’ll try to hang onto bits and pieces of your youth, all while feeling the incessant pang of a childhood long gone before you were quite ready to let it go. You’ll start to feel a range of emotions you never knew existed. You’ll be eager to get your hands dirty and be knees-deep in checking things off your bucket list. You’ll be hopeful. You’ll be confident that this life is going to be exactly what you dreamed it would be. You will be faced with rejection. You’ll stay up all night applying for jobs, crossing your fingers that someone out there will just give you a chance. You’ll lower your standards for what you want out of love. You’ll feel a bit like a failure. You’ll spend nights going through old moleskin journals from all the years you spent scribbling down every single one of your plans. You’ll question your intentions. They were real plans, weren’t they? They were honest, hopeful, well-meaning plans. They were true to who you were. They were exactly what you wanted. But here you are, sitting on the edge of your bed, grappling the truth of what your life has become: monotony.

You’ll start to feel like you’ve let yourself down. You let down the teenage girl that used to lay on the beach at night with her closest friends, under a blanket of New Jersey stars, making big, big plans for what life was going to be.

You didn’t write a New York Time Best Selling novel at 18.
You didn’t move into an apartment in the city with your girlfriends at 22.
You never took any time to travel.
You’ve never even seen much more than what the East Coast has to offer.
You don’t know what a healthy relationship is supposed to be like.

The truth is, you thought things would be easier. You thought that being an adult meant that you were always sure of things — that you would know, without a question, if what you were doing was right. But you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how many candles you blow out on your birthday cake each year, because you will always be full of questions. You’ll question your passions. You’ll question your choices. You’ll question if the skin you’re wearing is really fit for the person you are. You’ll question the plans you had for yourself. You’ll question your parents. You’ll question friendships. You’ll question your successes and your failures. And you’ll want to give up and go through the motions when you feel like the seams that keep your life sewn together are starting to come undone.

You’ll feel like you’re being flung across a boxing ring. And you’ll get mad. This is supposed to be what growing up is? This is supposed to be fun? This is supposed to be better than what I’m leaving behind? You’ll go from feeling stagnant to feeling like you’re riding a one-man roller coaster with no handle bars to hold onto. And the truth is, it’s a little bit of both, isn’t it? Sometimes, you’ll feel like you’re at a standstill. Like you’re wearing weights on your feet and you can’t possibly run without falling flat on your face. And other days, you’ll feel a gust of wind pushing you towards the finish line, and you have no choice but to ride that wave out.

You’ll surprise yourself at the first taste of envy.

One day, you’ll get a text from a friend saying they landed their dream job. They’ll tell you that they got offered $10K more than they expected and they already had intentions of moving an hour away from your little hometown.

“I’m happy for her,” you’ll repeat those words out loud three times, as you let it all sink in.
I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for her, aren’t I?”
You aren’t sure who you’re repeating yourself to. You aren’t sure who is really listening to you.

You’ll go out for a celebratory dinner, followed by celebratory drinks. You’ll count on the bottomless champagne and the glittering lights and the music permeating through the walls to get you through the night. You have no idea what that sinking pit in your stomach is, but you paint a smile on your face and you cheer along when you’re supposed to.

You do it for her. You do it because she’s your friend. And you’re happy for her, aren’t you?

You’ll start expecting it — that feeling, again. The bitter taste of jealousy and confusion. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes, it knocks the wind right out of you, and other times, it makes you grip the chair you’re sitting in. But it’ll always sting.. even just a little bit.

You’ll scroll through Facebook and see that someone you grew up with bought a house. A beautiful little cottage with a white picket fence and wrap-around porch — the house of your dreams. You’ll see a girl you went to high school with posting every moment of her day, working for a well-known, high-end fashion magazine. That was never part of your plan, but you still get green with envy in a way you can’t seem to rationally explain. You’ll see pictures of engagement rings, and sonograms, and nurseries. Your heart will break every single time you scroll through social media and see an ex boyfriend fall in love with someone who is very much the opposite of who you are. You’ll question if you were ever enough, or if it was all a little game. You’ll see posts from a girl you grew up with talking about her plans and intentions to publish a book of essays, and you’ll die a little bit inside at the 100+ likes and comments encouraging her to do so. You’ll get pissed off — wasn’t that what I wanted? Wasn’t all of that what I wanted for myself?

Your friends are getting married. They’re having babies. They’re buying houses. They’re moving into next chapters of their lives at lightning speed, and you’re still trying to catch up on the three years you missed while you were still in grad school. So, you start to create mile markers in your head for where you should be.

You should be in a committed relationship right now. You should be paying a mortgage. You should be making plans for a wedding, and a honeymoon, and a family. You should be settling down. You should be setting up registries and picking out color schemes. You shouldn’t be living in an apartment that hasn’t ever felt like home, you shouldn’t be getting stood up by boys who don’t come close to what your standards used to be, you shouldn’t be working extra hours and extra jobs just so you can afford to be in another string of weddings next year. You shouldn’t be making trips to your parents garden for vegetables because you have to choose what you can afford: your electric bill this month, or food. You shouldn’t be sitting on the edge of your bed, clutching your old moleskin journals, wondering where the hell all this time went and why the hell haven’t you gone after all the other things you wanted for yourself? Things outside of a degree, and a good career, and good, stable ground.

When did we let ourselves become robots? When did we start allowing what we don’t have to dictate how we feel about ourselves? When did we start using other people’s achievements as yardsticks for everything we are not?

It’s cute in the beginning, I suppose, this little act of self-deprecation. It keeps you on your toes when it starts. But it becomes a habit — a dangerous cycle. You become whinier. You start to become empty of all the hope you once had and instead of discussing thoughts and ideas, you discuss your shortcomings and how they compare to others’ achievements. People stop encouraging you; they stop filling you with empathy and compassion. Because the things you swore you’d have done by now are just thoughts you scribbled down in that moleskin journal long before you were faced with the things that somehow matter more now: rent, an electric bill, student loan payments, being a bridesmaid over and over and over again, house warming parties, weddings, baby showers, taxes, health insurance plans, retirement plans. The list goes on.

I’ll be honest. These days, I’m just trying to get by. These days, I’m trying to set up camp in the valley that I’m living in. These days, I’m trying to forgive myself. I’m trying to forgive myself for tiptoeing around that dangerous trap of comparison — a huge pool that I always swore I’d stay away from. I’m trying to forgive myself for expecting more than what is possible of me. I’m trying to forgive myself for holding up a mirror in one hand and a yardstick in the other, measuring who I am against who I wish I was.

These days, self-forgiveness is the theme of my life. You have to forgive yourself for being a little irrational. Your emotions might not always make sense; you’ll find yourself getting angry over something minor. You’ll find yourself seething in jealousy. You’ll sometimes find yourself sad when you see the things someone else has, even if it’s a life you never wanted for yourself. Your feelings may not always make sense, but they’re always valid. You’re allowed to be hurt, and you’re allowed to cry about it. You’re allowed to feel a little stuck every once in awhile. You’re allowed to kick and you’re allowed to scream. But I’ll tell you one thing: you’re also allowed to forgive yourself.

You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not quite being where you thought you’d be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not being what everyone else wants you to be. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for not always remembering the things you have accomplished. You’re allowed to forgive yourself for comparing your life to someone else’s. And most importantly, you’re allowed to forgive yourself for being human.

I’m learning that daily. You’ll have to forgive yourself over and over again until you wear the words on your skin. Say it with me: I’m only human, and that’s my saving grace.

I’m only human,
and that’s my saving grace.

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.