Just be you

“Just be yourself,” T said in a text message.

In attempt to sort of put myself out there, I joined a trivia league, by myself, knowing I would be put on a team with random strangers who may or may not know each other. The league lasts for only five weeks and there are six people on team. Plus, it only cost $20. So, on Sunday full of hope and gumption, I signed up.

On the launch night of the league, I was the first of my team to show up. I waited about 20 minutes before anyone else arrived and, in that time of patience-less, I texted T. I was nervous that my team wouldn’t show up, or that when they did they wouldn’t like me. T told me to just be me and if I did that then I would be OK. He then told me to put my phone away and enjoy myself.

I had only met T a few months prior and it struck me how much he understood how I operated and how he knew what I really needed to hear at that moment. It took me a second, and then I realized why.

The day I met T I was bouncy. I cracked weird jokes and everything I said came out with energy and life. I was charming and warm. Funny and sweet. Another person I met that day remarked that every time he saw me I was dancing.

I recognized my energy that day and it sort of took me by surprise because I hadn’t seen it that intense in a while. It wasn’t until T sent me the message on the night of my first trivia night did I realize what had happened that day – I was myself. Unrestricted. Unapologetic. Just me.

And that’s how I got to this moment with T where I was seeking comfort from him in awkward time. I was me, he embraced that, and we started a friendship in authenticity.

I’ve been in a lot of new and uncomfortable situations in the last year, from moving to D.C. and then to Chicago. I’ve been on awkward dates and in social circles where no one knows what to say. I’ve tried to be pieces of myself, putting out only the parts I think others would accept, and have come up empty handed. Yet, in the rare moments when I have just unleashed me – in all of my loving, sweet, chaotic, messy ways – I’ve found something honest and true. It’s in those times I’ve made the friends I can call at 2 a.m. if I am locked out or the people who will come when I invite them to something. It’s when I forget about impressing other people and their opinions and just let that light shine that I am given what I need.

Being true to yourself, as cliché as it seems, is incredibly difficult, yet one of the best things we can do for ourselves. It may take us some time and maybe we can’t be that way with everyone, but we owe it to our wonderful unique selves not to hold back. Rather, to be everything we are, blemishes and all.

I saw T’s message, and I put down my phone. I bounced a bit and then made a weird joke. I was sweet and funny. Caring and charming. I don’t need people to like me, I just need to be me.

Two Stories of Vulnerability

Vulnerability

Story One: A letter, written on a bus.

The door between us was slammed shut and I felt guilty about that. If the door was to be closed, I wanted it to be a gentle push, so softly that I heard the latch, but to do that I would need to reopen it. Or, maybe I would get lucky and the universe would determine it to be a door best left open. The only way to know for sure was to turn the handle.

So, while riding the Southbound 147, I wrote a letter to this person. I said all the things I couldn’t before and the only things I left out were anger and accusation. I wanted admiration and gentleness to pass between us, and I said as much. I put myself out there in one of the most raw forms that I could and I revealed things I often keep hidden.

Although I had written letters to this person before, this was the first one I had finished, and then mailed. It took me a few days to work up the courage to put on the stamp and walk it to the post office, but an undying urge would not let these words be unspoken. So, I put trust into God, the universe and my higher good that whatever returned was the truth of the situation. Keep the door shut or open.

Story Two: An email, written on a train.

One spot left in the showcase, and it could be mine if I replied at that moment, the email said. I boarded the Red Line toward Howard and decided that if there was no further emails indicating someone else took the spot when I hit the above-ground tracks, I would send the email.

As I waited through the six stops, I thought about all the reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t. If I was going to do this, I would have to fight through layers of uncomfortable emotions and fears. It would be so easy to not say anything at all, just keep on going where I was. I didn’t need to put myself on display that way and who would even want to hear what I have to say, anyway.

The train pulled into Fullerton. No followup email.

I’d be interested in the open spot, I said. So, I put trust into God, the universe and my higher good that whatever returned would be the path I should follow.

The consequence of vulnerability: 

Story One – The letter receiver responded, albeit kindly, to my four-page letter with four lines. It was never mentioned again and my soul, bare and raw, was the only one revealed.

Story Two – I made my debut as a story teller, leading to one of the most wonderful nights.

I used to believe that vulnerability was weakness. It was something you did not share with others because it would reveal your flaws and then people wouldn’t accept you. Vulnerability is a one-way road to failure.

Vulnerability, as I am learning, is actually how we become ourselves. When we are vulnerable, we tell the world and ourselves that who we are and what we have to offer is enough. It’s in being vulnerable that we live our most authentic life.

I am actually studying vulnerability with someone trained in the matter and I am hoping that I can find the courage to be more vulnerable, in both the big and small moments of life. As I learned in these two moments of vulnerability, sometimes when we put ourselves out there it can lead to grand things, and other times not. Either way, it’s how I want to live.

Share with me. How have you been vulnerable? What were the outcomes? How would you like to be more vulnerable?

 

Photo found here

Don’t Surrender

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I used to only listen to country music.

I used to be a meat eater.

I used to be a full-fledge peaches hater.

I used to be a Republican.

I used to be a Democrat.

I used to be fat.

I used to be bulimic.

I used to be a reporter.

I used to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this quote from Cheryl Strayed and wondering what I am still hanging on to. I don’t just mean things from five years or ten years ago or even a year ago, but yesterday, a moment ago. Who am I convinced I should be and who am I really?

I used to be so many things, so many versions of myself that have simply faded with time and experience, some so far removed that I can’t recognize myself in the memory. Yet, all the people I used to be led me to the person I am today and they they need to be gone so that I can be her.

It’s a courageous and brave journey to discover your truth and it changes, but it’s the best thing we can give to ourselves and the world. Our joy, our life is awaiting on the other side of the true and we owe it to ourselves to go find it.

What are you holding on to that isn’t true about you? Come, let’s let go together. Let’s be us in all of our messy glory. I want to be me now because of all the hard work I’ve done to get to here, and I want you to be you now. Come, let’s go.

 

What does it mean to love yourself?

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Before, I said loving myself will be the great love of my life. But what does that even me? This week, this is what it means to me:

It means leaving a concert on Friday night because it’s 9:30 and you and your friend are tired.

It means calling an old friend when you have had a shitty day.

It means staying out till 3 a.m. eating eggs and talking about futures.

It means saying the words pounding in your chest.

It means watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother while laying in bed on Sunday.

It means giving yourself a second to believe in Prince Charming.

It means letting go of the person that all the people close to you say is wrong for you.

It means surrounding yourself with people who you want to support and who support you back.

It means forgiving yourself each time you fail to let go.

It means allowing yourself to cry. And then cry again.

It means eating chocolate before dinner but then dinner is full of vegetables.

It means stretching your body through yoga poses, allowing the energy to wash over you.

It means putting on lipstick.

It means putting your all into your work, but then leaving you work at 5 pm.

It means listening to someone and letting his pain hit you because it’s actually a gift.

It means allowing yourself to need and be needed.

It means loving those that love you and disregarding the rest.

It means not refreshing your inbox.

It means sleeping in and waking up early.

It means letting the dishes sit an extra day.

It means choosing not to hit replay when you walk by his bus stop.

It means finding people that love you where you are and letting them love you.

It means recognizing silence as freedom.

It means being late and lost but putting your phone away to enjoy the falling snow in this great big city.

It means loving the fact that your life is full of crazy stories and people who love listening to those stories.

It means silently telling the stranger that you hope she is OK and you want her to know she is loved.

It means picking the book with the most beautiful writing to be your companion for the next few weeks.

It means leaving the house without a plan but knowing the universe will bring you what you need.

It means taking time to hear the laugh that is like a blanket on a cold day.

It means watering the plants.

It means letting them apologize.

It means allowing your mother to worry about you.

It means listening to “Giants of Illinois” on repeat.

It means realizing that you are too good for that person, and then treating yourself that way.

It means remembering what is part of your higher good and then choosing that time after time, even though right now it is excruciating.

 

 

Love of the self

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The year 12 red roses were delivered to me, from my first Valentine. In two months, he would leave for Iraq.

The year I brought markers to school and showed them how to make Valentine’s while listening to Justin Bieber from my iPod. Many of them came back to me: Madam Keneuoe, I love you.

The year when he didn’t send anything and called the next day. “Do you want to break up?” I asked. “Kind of,” he said.

The year he texted: “I wish you were here. Not because it’s Valentine’s Day but because it’s a full moon and this is the last we will have together.”

The year he gave me a Goofy Valentine with spaghetti on his head because it reminded him of me.

The year we made mozzarella, spinach and strawberry salad and then went to the “Vagina Monologues.”

The year my mom sent me flowers and I asked if they were from him. They weren’t but the ones I received a week later were.

This year, I woke up before the sun. I cried. I tried to write. I tossed in my bed. Then I got up and walked to the nearby coffee shop to treat myself to some deep writing and quiche.

At the beginning of 2014, I was in a hurry to get the things I thought a 29-year-old woman in the U.S. needed. I found a job rather quickly, bought some boots and even got a haircut that cost more than $20. But, of all these, I thought I needed a boyfriend.

Peace Corps put a big halt to my romantic relationships, along with a heart-crushing infatuation with a man who would never love me the way that I loved him. That was OK, I told myself on those lonely nights looking up into my thatched roof, I was living my dream and sometimes that is the consequence of dream chasing. When I get home, satisfied by these four years in Niger and Lesotho, a great and kind man would surely show up at my door as a well-deserved reward like a glass of ice water at the end of a hard journey.

He did not come. And did not come. And did not come.

I did not live most of 2014. A lightless figure, I moped through days in search of something I thought was external. Between moving to two different cities, starting two jobs and trying not to breakdown each second of the day because I missed Lesotho so much, I wanted a quick fix to my misery and despair and I thought that would come in the form of romantic love.

In D.C. and Chicago, I set up online dating profiles and accepted nearly every social invitation with the hope that this great and kind would be on the other side. I went on a few dates, fell for a man I could never be with, and drank bottles of wine by myself while texting my friends for some kind of validation that I was indeed datable.

My search for love became the focus of my attention and I believed that I was not whole until I found it. Every couple that passed by me was a reminder of what I lacked and every man uninterested was proof that I was unworthy. With each dead end in my search for love, my core rotted. I was too fat. My teeth were too crooked. My face poisoned with too many wrinkles. I was too white. I was uninteresting. I was used. I was a mess. I was boring. I was not confident. I was too confident. I was too plain. I was too quirky. Friends reassured me that I deserved a great love, but I did not believe them. Everything and all things told me that I simply wasn’t good enough.

This is not a new discovery. In the second grade, my mother and teacher cried when I beat myself up because I mixed up my ‘b’s and ‘d’s. After high school cross country meets, when my teammates gorged on greasy pizza and gas station sandwiches, I drank water because that is all I deserved after running a crappy race. At my Peace Corps mid-service conference, while my fellow volunteers took time to be proud of their accomplishments, a staff member had to pull me aside and say, “Heather, you are a good volunteer; please don’t be so hard on yourself.”

All of my life the person who has had the loudest voice in proclaiming my uselessness and grotesqueness was myself.

It’s true; I did need love, just a different kind.

On the first day of the year, as I sipped tea, listened to Bon Iver and read Cheryl Strayed, something struck me. I knew that I need to love myself, but it took me 30 years to realize that I have the power to do so. The answer to finding joy in this world was to love myself just as I am right now in this moment. To love myself for all of my flaws and mistakes. To love myself when it felt like I was the only one.

Loving yourself is not something you do like read a book. It’s not something you can pay for or wear. It’s a gut-wrenching practice that demands all of your time and energy. You have to be kind. You have to forgive. And, you have to keep going day after day.

I do not know how to love myself or where to begin. Sometimes loving myself means getting up to meditate and do yoga. Sometimes it means going to a movie and cooking myself a nice dinner. Sometimes it means letting go of certain people and asking help from others. Sometimes it means letting myself be crazy and emotional or dance around the house to that ridiculous song. Sometimes it means forgiving myself over and over.

I’ve dedicated this year to engaging and expanding the love I have for myself. I’ve deleted all of my profiles on online dating sites and am not throwing myself into situations hoping to find a partner. I am trying to take care of myself as I would a partner and get to know myself the way I would a new friend. I am learning what things make me happy and whole and then utilizing those things when I need them. When I am sad and feeling hopeless, instead of berating, I grab my own hand and say, “It’s OK darling.”

This blog was started as a way to share this journey and record all the ups and downs of learning to love one’s self. Sometimes I write things because I need to hear and I share them here because I think others may need it as well. Throughout this year, some posts will seem repetitive or overly emotional, but I will not hide or censor myself. This is a journey far too imperative and risky to get caught up in what others may think.

As I think about all my past loves (while trying not to retrace what I did wrong and why I am not good enough to have someone beside me on this day) I remember that right now I am in the most challenging and beautiful relationship of my life. This is the big, grand love. This is the love that I need to pour all of myself into if I have a shot at ever doing any good in this life.

This year, I will be my own Valentine and give myself all the love that I need.

Shining

Sometimes you are going to give your heart to someone and she won’t take it.

You are going to be the good, kind person that you are and he won’t react.

You are going to extend your hand only for the person to look at it and then walk away.

You are going to show up for someone but will find yourself standing on the street corner alone.

This is not about you.

This is not a testament of your worth.

Not everyone will take what we have to offer, and that’s OK.

How many days does the sun shine without us ever paying attention to its glorious light? Yet, it shows up day after day.

I am a master at holding out hope for the people who treat me like an option, a background figure. I am not talking about just romantic connections, but people who’ve come into my life in all kinds of facets and I work so hard to prove to them that I am worthy just so I could prove to myself that I am worthy. What I have seen is that, every single time, while I put one person on a pedestal, from which he never looks down, there is an entire army of good, courageous people beside me. When one person treats me like I am insignificant, the universe sends me hugs from all the people who actively choose me to be in their lives.

It happened this weekend. After a storm of shaking sobs and doubt, I walked out into the Saturday morning sunshine. While I focused on the one who didn’t need me*, the universe reminded me that many others do. There was a friend to tell me that a tumultuous journey is a beautiful one, a 17-year-old Burmese girl who told me that the people who hurt us on are not worth keeping, a friend who chose me to call when her life upended itself, a friend asking me to come visit, an inspiring devotion that made a friend think of me, a message from a friend saying she bragged about knowing me, my mother’s loving voice, the friend who I want her to know her worth, and then a small living room with friends, music, candlelight and good food.

These are the people to focus on. These are the people that inspire me to keep giving my heart, my goodness, my all.

The others, who won’t take what we offer, are actually a huge blessing. They are not sorrow, but blessings. They remind us who matters and give us the opportunity to hold on tight to those that do.

Instead of staring at the back of the neck of the person who didn’t choose us – whatever choosing us means – let us turn to the eyes of the person who was always there. She wants your heart. He needs your goodness and kindness. She will take your hand. He will stand on the street corner with you.

Don’t let one’s ignorance of you define you. Instead, keep giving. Appreciate the darkness and shine because the people that matter need you.

 

What matters

Several years ago, a friendship of many, many years died. It had been on its way out for some time and I knew that it was no longer healthy for me, but I was still very sad to see it go. This person had meant so much to me – held me when I cried, encouraged me to take leaps, cheered me on when I finally did. Overtime, the friendship wasn’t serving either of us and it slowly faded away. I don’t think ill of this person, and I am sure that the person has well wishes for me, but we really don’t have a relationship anymore.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not good at letting go. I hold on to men who don’t care about me; I obsess about friends who treat me poorly; I spend days thinking about the mistakes I committed. Even happy memories become painful ones because I know they are gone.

I am attempting to make major shifts in my life, including letting the things not meant to be to be that. My instinct is to think and obsess, to replay memories and decide where I went wrong, but I am working hard to fight that urge. I want someone to hand me a formula for the most effective way to do this, but there isn’t one. The best I can come up with is a lot of love, gratitude and compassion.

I recently watched The Forgotten Kingdom, a movie made in Lesotho. It’s funny how a place can look completely foreign and just like home at the same time. It brought a flood of memories – walking underneath the big blue sky, faces of my daily life, nights watching the stars outside of my house, the first time Lesotho felt like a place I belonged. I cried body shaking tears and then I stopped. I looked outside my window at the Chicago sky and understood my place, even if I don’t truly understand it.

One evening, as I was sitting down to write about something else, I received an email from a friend about accepting and embracing the lives put in front of us. He said the things that aren’t apart of our future matter just as much as the things that are. “Breaking up is hard to do, whether it’s with a person or a place, but sometimes the time has come to move on, and we can’t let our attachment to the past limit our possibilities for the future.”

This hit me so hard, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last year.

Although it often triggers me, my past is not checkered or riddled with struggles. It actually contains a lot of blessings, but all of them are no longer part of my future. As my friend continued to say, “So let us celebrate! And let us appreciate! And let us honor the people and places that have made our lives wonderful, whether we speak of these people in the past tense, the present tense, the future tense, or some combination thereof!”

Today I woke up feeling lonely and struggling with what is gone and what’s not present. As the day progressed, love started to pop up and I realized I have so many amazing things in my life. I just needed to stop looking back or forward to see them.

Let’s honor our lives. Let’s thank the people that broke our hearts and the people’s whose hearts we’ve broke, the friends that faded away and the employers that rejected us. Let’s celebrate the places we once lived on and the people we used to be.

Our lives are specific and we are where are meant to be, even if those reasons aren’t entirely clear. We don’t need to find the answers and dig out the meaning, but we can be grateful. We can be compassionate.

Honor your life. Live it fully and cherish the good that exists. We can’t undo what’s been do and we can’t predict what will happen now, but, my goodness, we can seize the now.

I want to move on. I want a limitless future. I want to seize.