One wouldn’t think that this would be any sort of revelation, but for me it was. Today I saw the me that I’ve left behind, the me that I used to be, and I realized with a certain amount of awe, what a stranger she has become to me.
So often I am able to see the events behind me for what they are, experiences that have become a part of who I am, melding together to form the me that I am today. It is even difficult to look back and remember that girl that I was, for I am looking through the eyes of the woman that I am today.
Due to this I’ve been able to look back on those things I once saw as failures with a new appreciation. The hurt of being left behind by a loved one, the devastation wrought by betrayal, and the sense of not being enough in so many ways, has plagued me.
However, I am constantly reminded that it is all about perspective. It all comes down to how we see ourselves, our experiences, and our journeys. This, and only this, is what determines how those things impact and affect us.
We decide this. No one else. We decide to wallow in the filth left behind, or to pick ourselves up, dust off, and move forward.
When I truly observe my past, the experiences and people that have had a hand in creating the person that I am today, I am able to look at the people around me with profound appreciation and to, also, be thankful for the former wounds.
My wounds have created empathy, common ground, shared experience, wisdom, strength, confidence, love.
Everyone has their own story. The true human experience is full of sorrow, joy, and the boring bits in between. Omit one and you cheat yourself from being made.
Our experiences make us.
My past has made me.
Now I see me, friend.
Can you, also, see you?
The miraculous ways in which you’ve grown and changed?
The ways that your former sorrows and wounds have shaped and created you into the person that I see before me today?
Failure is scary, friend, but it doesn’t have to be. For through failure and pain, there is always a lesson.
Worry, anxiety, and fear are emotions caused by either a real or a perceived threat to our well-being — often something outside of our control.
Being out of control, I think, is the at the root of many of our hang-ups and contributes greatly to our overall sense of failure.
We create these well thought out plans for ourselves, often determined by what we perceive we are supposed to do, and when things do not go as we’ve predetermined we can often feel that there is something wrong with us, that we’ve failed by some degree, or that we are a failure.
At the age of 25 I felt old to be unwed and with no prospects on the horizon. I had measured myself against the people around me. I had watched as, one by one, my peers got married. I was the last one standing. Alone.
Which was very reminiscent of waiting after school for my mom to pick me up. I’d, inevitably, be outside in the rain (it is Washington) — at first the wait would be pleasant, as I’d be playing with other friends who were also waiting on rides — however, real fear would set in as the friend group gradually diminished to just me. Waiting for my ride. Alone.
There I was, 25 waiting for my man. All alone. To remember this now seems like such a ridiculous notion. I was raised to be strong, independent, and not need anyone to make me happy. It baffles me to think that I got caught up in this desire to be wed and felt any less about myself because I wasn’t.
I did eventually meet someone that I married. I thought I’d done everything perfectly. It was a shock when, after being married for two years, I arrived home from a business trip to find that he had packed his things and left. He wanted a divorce. He’d fallen in love with with my best friend. My carefully laid plans were in tatters, and I was completely out of control of the proceedings in my own life.
My initial feeling was a sense of utter failure, and I wondered how I was going to tell the people that mattered to me. How was I going to tell my friends and my family what a failure I was a marriage? How was I going to go to work and pretend that everything was normal? I couldn’t help but feel that there must be something inexplicably wrong with me for me to be left in the way that I was.
This was one of my first adult lessons in pain and failure.
There have been many others from that point to now, but this was the first time I felt my soul ripped to shreds. Where I doubted myself and my self worth, and I seriously questioned my desire to go on and my ability to get through the intense rejection and disillusionment that I’d suffered.
With the pain, I was advised to slow down and feel it. Let myself experience it in order to be able to let it go. What I learned from pain is that for it to be worthwhile, it has to serve a purpose. Pain can force us to reevaluate our values and priorities, and help to discover strength and wisdom we’d not known we possessed.
Failure, while a bad word for so many, is really just one step along the journey. No success is gained without first failing. Through failure comes lessons. Failure can be the redirection needed to realign with the path we are supposed to be on. Failure, along with pain, teaches lessons meant to be learned. For failure to serve its purpose, we must lean into it to improve, grow, and become the best version of ourselves.
Life is a constant journey of self discovery and growth. For this journey to be complete, unfortunately, it cannot be without pain and failure.
Additionally, friend, we can survive any pain and heartbreak, even the darkest of moments when we feel we’re standing alone.
You see, I’ve not always been the suave goddess you now see before you.
I’m awkward, and not just a little bit, but full on embarrass myself on the daily, awkward.
I remember when I was young, how embarrassed I was by this fact. Perhaps, however, it would be best to provide a frame of reference for you as to just how odd I can be.
For as long as I can remember I have struggled with social awkwardness, mostly because there is no middle ground in my thought process. I either do exactly what I am thinking or feeling, or I dwell and overthink to such an extent that I spend copious amounts of time in the bathroom due to self-induced stress caused by over-rumination.
As a preteen I used to pray for a boyfriend. I really hope this isn’t unusual. Perhaps you did this as well, friend? There have to be other ladies out there that spent their evenings fervently gripping their pillows as they asked god to; “Please, please, please send me a boyfriend so that I can finally be kissed!”
So far this all sounds very Judy Blume, doesn’t it?
Since my prayers went unanswered, I decided to take things into my own hands. I developed crushes. Many of them. I scrawled their names in my notebooks and fantasized about hand holding, shared private jokes and wearing his letterman jacket. I may have had my best friend drive by one crush’s house multiple times a day, just on the off chance that we would catch a glimpse of him.
My best moment, however, didn’t happen until I was standing in line at the Dairy Queen one hot summer evening with a couple of girlfriends and in walked…. Boys…
They casually begin a conversation and one — insert surprised gasp here — begins to flirt with me. We exchange our introductions and I remember something that I heard once. I didn’t think about it, I just said it.
“Did you know,” I said, “that if you say someone’s name 10 times you’ll remember it? Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt.”
His mouth slightly opens in shock as he slowly responds, “Okay. I have to go now.” He backs away, keeping wary eyes on me. I saw real fear reflected there.
As he leaves the Dairy Queen, one of my friend’s grips my arm, “What were you thinking!?”
I wasn’t thinking. Not really.
Whatever that special ability some girls have to be mysterious and elusive as they engage in conversation with men, I don’t have that. Instead I say men’s names 10 times, laugh too loud, and — probably — ask all the wrong questions.
You see. I just really like people. I want to get to know them, and I really want them to know and like me. Goofy, silly, smart, irrelevant me. Not someone that played at games in an attempt to woo, but me.
As a teenager I thought that in order for me to be validated I had to have a boyfriend, which is really absurd. I know now, friend, what is really important is that I have to like all the parts of me, and someday there may be someone else who is lucky enough to enjoy them too.
Because, friend, I’m a gift, something really special, and for me to even think about liking a man in return, instead of running away when I repeat his name 10 times, he will laugh with me and do it too.
Friend, it would be anyone’s wish to live a life minus regrets. To reach the end of the day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime… and be able to look back and have no thoughts of what you wish you would have done or said differently.
I wish that I could say that I’ve lived a life without regrets, but I can’t.
There are times when I wish that I would have walked away, times when I wish I would have stood up, and other times when I wish that I would have taken a risk and been courageous.
These are the thoughts that make me realize just how much bravery is required to live our lives, especially to live them fully, because life can be scary, and hard, and damaging.
Living leaves us with scars. The external and the internal.
The external ones that you can cover with clothing and makeup, and the internal ones that you cover with smiles and insincerity.
Insincerity because these internal scars, the ones that damage our hearts and minds, contribute to us behaving in ways that cause us to live a life that isn’t fully true to who we are at our essence.
Once we experience loss, rejection, criticism, or discouragement we begin to second guess ourselves, and live a life with self-doubt.
Sometimes even believing that we deserve less.
Friend, I have lived in fear because of the scars on my heart and mind.
There are times when I have felt inadequate, not good enough, and lacking in some way, and this has resulted – at times – in me not reacting as I should have or as I wish I had.
A boyfriend poured beer over my head after a disagreement. I excused this behavior and took the blame. I shouldhave walked away.
The time I witnessed a friend being talked down to and I said nothing. I should have stood up.
The times my heart felt something; hurt, love, confusion… I should have spoken up.
I remained quiet.
I didn’t take a risk.
I didn’t live courageously.
Life has risks, and they are not the ones that dare you to jump out of an airplane.
The risks come in loving someone, even though the other person could leave. The risk comes in starting a conversation with a stranger, even though you could be rejected… and in a thousand other, seemingly small, ways.
Courage happens when, despite your fears and scars, you live your life as you wish to, in a way that looking back you won’t have regrets.
You walk away. You stand up. You speak up.
You do all the scary things that life sends you way, both the big and the small.
Establish and maintain your boundaries with vigilance.
It is no ones responsibility but our own to declare what it is we want, and to maintain those boundaries. It is our job, our most important one, to take care of ourselves.
Friend, it’s hard to share with you that at times I’ve felt voiceless. When I envision how I want to be perceived in your eyes, this is the very last thing that I picture. Yet it’s true. I’ve been in situations where I have questioned my right or ability to speak up for myself and I have neglected to draw much needed boundaries.
It’s important to speak about the significance of using your voice and speaking your truth because – unfortunately – there are times we do not trust our intuition and inner dialogue. We silence ourselves for fear of consequences.
I’ve done this much more than I’d like to admit in my interactions with men, in particular. There have been strangers whom have entered into my personal space or have spoken an inappropriate comment. There have also been love interests whom have initiated intimacy when I have not been ready, or my boundaries of acceptability have been pushed and challenged.
I’ve been made uncomfortable and have remained quiet.
I’ve not used my voice.
Friend, how is a man – or anyone for that matter – going to respect me or my boundaries if I do not speak them into existence?
We need to speak. We need to speak without fear of repercussions or consequences – for the consequences of not speaking are far worse. Not speaking costs us our sense of self worth and doesn’t allow us to lead our lives as we genuinely wish to.
And, if our words are not adhered to we need to scream and shout.
It doesn’t matter if your discomfort is caused by something as seemingly benign as someone entering into your personal space, such as, an unwanted hug or a brush of the hand – or if that discomfort is the result of much more things obvious infringements, such as, inappropriate words, advances, or images.
It is my responsibility to vocalize when a boundary has been crossed, and it is the other person’s responsibility to respect the limits that I have established.
I will say this again and again, anyone who would choose not listen to my voice is not worthy of my time, my effort, or my energy.
Friend, I have had my personal boundaries tested and destroyed. I’ve let this happen, and it’s occurred by force. These are wounds I have to carry with me as I navigate life, and it is my responsibility to learn and grow from these harsh lessons.
There is no trepidation in this journey moving forward, for I have you. I have your strength, support, and encouragement to bolster me forward.
Also, I know that I won’t lose my voice again. I won’t let it stay within the confines of my mind. I will speak all the necessary words into existence.
Please promise me that you’ll do the same.
Our voices deserve to be spoken. Our voices deserve to be heard. Our voices deserve to be respected.
Friend, I am going to talk to you about something that is hard. I want to shirk from this, but know that the hard things need to be discussed.
It seems as though most women in our lifetimes have had someone touch us in an uninvited way. We’ve been put into uncomfortable situations, but felt we didn’t have a way to put a voice to this discomfort.
Or maybe we’ve been in a position that began as one we wanted, but progressed to a point where we didn’t know how to push the breaks and – as a result – we ended up going farther intimately then we wanted to. Farther then we had planned.
Maybe we felt it was easier to continue, then to say stop. Perhaps we were afraid to cause a scene, to have someone potentially lose interest in us, or to be made to feel that we had led someone on.
We’ve forgotten, perhaps, that we have a voice, that we have a right to draw the boundaries which we feel comfortable with.
Or maybe our consent was taken away from us, and we didn’t have a choice or an option to say no.
I’ve been a victim of both.
At a very young age I was asked to ‘play a game’ with the son of my babysitter. The ‘game’ involved me going into the bathroom and pushing my shorts and panties down around my ankles. He told me to bend over the toilet while he came behind me.
During the ‘game’ his sister opened the door and asked what we were doing. In childhood innocence I turned to her and said, “We’re playing a game. Do you want to play, too?
I tell you this, friend, so you know that whatever you’ve encountered, suffered, or been a victim of – you have never been alone. I tell you this with a heavy heart, partly because this experience is difficult to recount, but additionally because it’s difficult to wrap my head around the idea of others knowing about this part of me.
However, if working with teens has taught me one thing – it’s the power of sharing our stories, finding common ground, building support, and then being able to heal. This not only aids in my healing, but yours too. Our shared histories, our shared voices, enable us to find a unity that within we can find empowerment.
Giving voice to my story allows me to recapture the power that I lost in that bathroom so long ago.
Friend, in this situation my power was taken away. I wasn’t given the option to voice consent, or to scream no.
There were other times where I found myself with a partner going along with sexual advances that I was either not comfortable with, or didn’t want to engage in at all.
In addition, there have been instances when someone has said something to me, or touched me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, and I stayed quiet.
Why, friend? Why did I do this?
Because of the reasons I stated previously. I was afraid to cause a scene. I didn’t feel comfortable stopping. It just seemed easier to go along with what was happening. There were also times I was afraid of losing the interest of the person that I was with.
I’d forgotten that I have rights and it is my responsibility to assert those rights. No one else is responsible for taking care of me, nor should someone else’s well-being ever come at the expense of my own.
With this is mind, friend, I encourage you – no – I IMPLORE, BEG, and PLEAD with you to use your voice. Listen to yourself, trust what you hear, and then act in accordance with what is best for you.
There is no one who is worth your time, effort, or energy who will ignore your wishes and boundaries. There is no one who is worth your worry or concern who will make you feel guilty or ashamed for the lines you have established for yourself.
If they do?
THEN THEY ARE NOT FOR YOU!
It’s as simple and as hard as that, friend.
Yes, there may be situations out of our control that we carry from our pasts, that will always be embedded in our hearts and minds, but there is comfort in knowing that we don’t carry those burdens alone. We carry them together. We empower, support, and love each other.
For the rest, we need to find a sense of true responsibility to ourselves – to protect, care and love ourselves in such a way that using our voices is never something we question or doubt.