Being Known

“Shame caused me to hide…the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” -Donald Miller, Scary Close

I wanted to expand upon my last post. Not the relationship part…that will come soon enough in a more lighthearted manner. No, I wanted to expand upon feeling fully understood. Feeling known.

I’ve been a huge fan of Donald Miller for almost ten years. I first fell in love with his writing voice during my freshman year of college. Some of my fondest memories that first semester are of sitting in the laundry room of my dorm, reading Blue Like Jazz and listening to Iron & Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. I realize that doesn’t sound like a particularly thrilling time, especially for an eighteen-year-old who was experiencing freedom for the first time, but I credit those moments as the ones when I started to fully think for myself.

I’m not a fan of most “religious” writers. I don’t like the voice of someone who is obviously trying to convert their readers to their worldview. It’s pushy and desperate and doesn’t feel genuine. If I’m going to be approached with an entire worldview, I want it to come from someone who fully accepts their faults, acknowledges that they don’t have all the answers, but are trying to be their best. I like being able to read words by someone who lives through their flaws.

Scary Close came out in early 2015. I had been struggling with finding my voice and felt like I had lost the ability to connect with anyone on any kind of level. I was feeling lost and unable to trust. Miller’s book was all about relationships and feeling intimacy. This didn’t always necessarily mean romantic intimacy, but just connecting and being known by others.

Through a series of events, I had lost that. In my writing project, I had written myself into a character that “left destruction in her wake and in a way was proud of herself for being able to attract people enough to destroy their idea of love” because I saw myself in that life. I saw myself unable to be known by people because I had lost my ability to trust. I know that some of that mistrust should have been consciously aimed at myself instead of others, but that year was a mess of epic proportions, and I avoided self-blame at all costs.

Somewhere along the way last year, I hit the wall. I learned that I had been avoiding any of the blame for my actions. Perhaps blame isn’t the correct word, but I was tying all of my mistakes and faults to the people who had hurt me. I wasn’t willing to accept that the bad experiences had actually shaped anything about me. There was a moment close to the middle of last year that I had a breakdown in front of others. I was being pummeled with questions about my divorce from a guy I barely knew, and by the end of the night, I was in the passenger seat of a friend’s car unable to breathe or speak. I texted that friend the next morning, apologizing for the inconvenience my panic attack had caused, and his response was so simple and so true: “There’s no need to apologize. It was a true human experience”

That was the first time in a very long time I realized that I shouldn’t be apologizing for the permanent marks my experiences had left on me. Being in the midst of painful moments is as much a part of being human as any joyful moments are, perhaps even more so. All of us experience hardships, and acting like those things don’t exist chips away at our humanity. In my quest to become fully exposed and at peace with every piece of me, I’ve made it a point to not hide my experiences. If the people around me know what I’ve been through, what both pains and soothes me, they are shown my true self. If they choose to spend time with that true self after being made aware of all my flaws, my ability to trust in them grows. This is the way a healthy relationship develops.

Black Rock Lake Park, Texas - April 2015
Bluebonnets at Black Rock Lake Park, Texas – April 2015

The Good is Better Because of the Bad

I’ve been rewatching Skins. There’s a scene in the fourth season between Effy and Freddie where she looks at him and tells him that all of her bad memories are gone, and she only has love left. She had been dealing with manic episodes and psychosis, subsequently getting sent to a hospital and having constant care from a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist helps her to “delete” all these bad memories, but it eventually is shown that this is even worse for her mental health. She loses so much of who she has become because she no longer has bad memories to remind her of her growth and change.

There have been several times in the last few years where I’ve wished to just delete moments in my life, especially regarding past relationships. I would love to be able to remove moments like my marriage and really even just meeting my ex. I convince myself that being able to delete the hurt and pain, the insecurities and fears that I developed would make me a happier person. I go back and forth between this desire and trying to embrace the failed relationships because they’ve taught me how to be stronger, to stand up for myself, and to leave when it turns toxic. I know that facing these issues is the healthy choice. I just don’t want any of that to tarnish what I have now and who I am now. I’m struggling with balancing my past and my future, and I’m not quite sure how to merge the two.

I had never intended to get married again. I allowed myself to become completely absorbed in that relationship that I lost who I was. I’ve labeled myself as damaged, unlovable, undesirable. I had a couple people come through my life after my divorce that I thought would maybe be a long-term part of my life, but I was unaware of my self-sabotaging these connections for quite some time. When I finally noticed my pattern and the unhealthy consequences, I made a conscious effort to change. When I met Josiah (which is probably a story for another time) and as we grew in our relationship and made the decision to get married, I tried to stay aware of my sabotaging tendencies.

I still feel unworthy. I still feel like my ex and my past haunt me. I still have family and friends who ask me about him and if I’ve heard from him. I suppose the biggest reason I wish I could delete all of the bad memories is because I’m tired of my past demanding to be my present. I’m so excited for what my future is going to hold, and I’m thrilled that I have someone who makes a consistent effort to understand. I know those bad moments will eventually fade until they’re tiny specks in a very distant memory, but I’m trying to accept them as ways to fully appreciate what and who I have in my life now. I think that’s the key in all of this: trying to appreciate the lessons learned from all of the hurtful moments. It’s just a very difficult thing to remind myself day in and day out- the bad is worth remembering because it makes the good so much better.

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Navy Pier, Chicago – June 2016

Reflections

“There’s a beautiful melancholy that settles over the river and village as the weather matures from summer. The air holds a bit of chill and even the birds’ singing is subdued.

This is my favorite time of year. I feel it perfectly captures the time in my life that I had the most struggle. I used to love autumn for the colors that blanket the trees everywhere, but now it’s that moment right before the change – the trees still as green as they can possibly be, telling the world that there may be a dead period approaching, but they are still full of life and will be back for another year of green beauty. In a way, the yellows, oranges, and reds are their final goodbye to us for the year. That last love letter that tells of beauty coming in the next year.

I am overwhelmed by places that get to experience all four seasons. The lucky spots on earth that have snow in winter, are covered in blooms in spring, have sunny weather in summer without too much heat, and have the fiery colors in fall to cover the earth. If I found a place like this, I don’t think I’d ever move away. Of course, every season has a time and place, and change is part of our natural process. Loving every season for what it brings to the world is necessary, but the beauty of fall is unattainable elsewhere.”                   -personal journal from September 4, 2014

I’m in the middle of a mental leave of health from work. Being in this period is part unfamiliarity and part undesirable old friend. When I first started truly struggling with depression a few years ago, I was unable to hold down a job. Every little thing overwhelmed me and I would go days without moving off of the couch. I’ve very lucky to have found a job that understands the importance of mental health, but the idea of returning to a place that I’ve been absent from is intimidating.

The good parts that come out of this are time, mentally regrouping, and most importantly, writing. Life had been keeping me so busy that I couldn’t balance work, a personal life, and my projects. It’s probably just a self-organization issue, to be honest, but part of my mental health recovery is learning coping mechanisms and how to better schedule my life. Perhaps this is just an opportunity for growth.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to refocus my writing efforts. I started a project last year that I’ve shared a bit about on here, and making it ready to publish has moved high up on my priority list. So much of the writing comes from a personal place, and I’ve jotted down bits and pieces of this book scattered throughout various journals. I went back a bit too far in my journaling and discovered a few pieces of reflection written while I was still living in Germany (the italicized quote at the beginning being one of those reflections). I was struck by how the cycles in my mental health seem to repeat themselves, but at the same time evolve cycle to cycle. Each time, I learn a bit more about how my brain works and how to overcome the darker moments.

I’ve been repeating “every season has a time and place, and change is part of our natural process” over and over in my mind the past couple of hours. It’s so fitting that I’ve found that bit of writing in a time such as this. It’s a pleasant reminder that this is hard, even paralyzing at times, but a new season will be coming soon. A new season full of hope and growth, of maturation and clarity. This is a shadowy part of life, but it will soon give way to a new part, and I’ll soon be able to make sense of it all again.

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Potter’s Marsh, Anchorage, AK – August 2014

 

Learning to Believe

I’ve taken another short writing hiatus. Hiatus is probably too ostentatious of a word….I’ve been wrapped up in a cozy little life I’ve formed for myself, and I’ve not cared enough about being disciplined to keep writing on a regular basis.

For the past month or so, I’ve felt like I’ve been on another planet. The holidays had me all sorts of mixed up mentally, and I wanted nothing more than for them to just speed by. Christmas didn’t really feel like Christmas, at least not the kind of Christmas I used to look forward to every year. The good part about this Christmas, however, was finally making peace with my new life.

I went through my divorce toward the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. For all of 2014, I assumed the mask of “divorcee” because that’s all I knew to identify myself by. For the majority of 2015, I was the girl who was mostly interesting because she had lived abroad and traveled to interesting places across the world. Moving to Arkansas meant another new start, but it wasn’t an interesting one. Moving back to Arkansas was meant to serve one purpose: allow myself to finally finish what I started in the form of a college degree. I returned here knowing that it wasn’t going to be my final destination, just a stepping stone to greater things.

Being back here has been harder than expected. My only friends who I had up here were ones who knew my old married identity, who knew my ex and the rest of my ghosts. They knew me as that person, and weren’t around first-hand for my transformation that I’ve been going through for two years. That’s not to say my relationship with those friends is hurt or hindered, it’s just more difficult returning to friendships when you aren’t the same person you were. But for the past two years, I had been able to grow and cultivate friendships with people who hadn’t seen me at my worst, so the dynamic has been different.

I have branched out and made new friends. I’ve been lucky enough to have made some incredibly fast friends with the people I work with. We’re a small staff, so we spend five days a week together, and the sense of family is very strong. When meeting this group of people, I struggled with the question of “do I reveal my married past and everything that went with it, or do I act like I have a normal and easy past?” as I do with every new group of people I meet. I’m good with keeping the important stuff to myself and acting like my life is just fine, so that’s been my default approach to any new friends. It’s safer.

However, for the past several months, I’ve tried to not wear a mask around the new people in my life. I’ve been growing more and more confident when letting people see who I really am underneath the easy going, content outer shell I present. Using the conversation I had with a close friend about how I make it hard to allow people to love me as inspiration, I’ve been working hard on laying out most of who I really am from the beginning of a friendship as a way to separate the true friends from the casual acquaintances.

It’s been so difficult. There is such a sense of rawness and lack of control living a more vulnerable life. You’re much more susceptible to hurtful criticism when you show the bad parts with the good. Recently though, I’ve discovered how rewarding no longer hiding all the layers of my life can be. Sometimes, when you share yourself entirely, you stumble across people who are capable of truly understanding you.

So I’ve found a small community of people who care about me in spite of all my flaws, even though I’ve made no effort to hide that person I’m a little ashamed to be at times. I’ve been surrounded by people who embrace me even when I may feel difficult. Even more mind-blowing, I’m finally starting to feel appreciated and special, instead of having to mentally remind myself of this fact over and over again. It’s beginning to become a learned fact. For the first time in my memory, I feel treasured not only for the cool stories I might have or how “interesting” my experiences seem, but for what thoughts and emotions make up the core of who I am. There’s a sense of peacefulness that overwhelms every other thought when you are finally able to believe how much you matter to another person.

Louvre- Paris, July 2014
Louvre- Paris, July 2014

currently listening to: Spotify’s Discover Weekly

Self-Living

A year ago today, I had huge hopes and dreams.

A year ago today, I was leaving part of my heart in Germany, but I had a plan. I was moving temporarily to Texas as a stopping point until moving to Alaska at the end of 2014. A year ago today, I was in love.

Those close to me know the story. I had finally gotten out of a marriage that was only doing me harm, and I had reconnected with someone who was the first person I had ever liked. We hadn’t gone into anything with the intention of a relationship being the outcome. We were both still recovering from abusive relationships and found comfort in having someone to talk to who could understand those wounds. What started off as casual emails turned into long Skype sessions and eventually just constant conversation during those precious hours that we were both awake. I visited him that August, and those twelve days were spectacular. Nobody had ever understood me that wholly before, and I had never understood someone else on that level. I thought he was it. The end all in partners.

Becoming involved with someone so soon after my divorce wasn’t something I had planned. I was still in the stage of not wanting to ever be with anyone because I didn’t think I’d ever be able to truly trust someone again. I hadn’t given myself time to heal, because part of my moving to Germany was a way to run away from the problems and allow myself enough time to gather my thoughts before dealing with the serious issues lurking in my subconscious.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise when I moved back to the states, but everything almost instantly fell apart and I had no idea what to do. Suddenly, I found myself unwanted in Alaska, unwanted in Texas…unwanted practically everywhere I wanted to be. However, as I struggled though most of this, I began to realize part of the issues was that I was putting my value in terms of how other people viewed me.

I’ve been back from my reality break in Germany for exactly a year now. For a year, I’ve been trying to learn how to see my value outside of others’ opinions, outside of how people act toward me. It’s been a struggle. A massive struggle. It’s been something that I fail at on almost a weekly basis. The person I thought could actually love me through all the monsters changed their mind. Losing that love has caused a down-spiral this past year, but it’s thrown lesson after lesson straight at me.

In a week and a half, I’ll be getting yet another fresh start. I’m moving back to the only place in the states I’ve moved to solely for myself. I’m returning to school, I’ve got a new job, blah, blah, blah….the only important thing to me in this moment, in this reflection time leading up to my move is this: I’m moving to continue my growth as a person. I’m moving to learn more about myself, to prove that I can survive on my own, to fight my own battles, and to discover what I truly want out of my life.

In my life so far, I’ve tended to live for others. I’ve concerned myself so much with pleasing those around me that I’ve lost sight of who I am and what I can accomplish. If I could condense different advice I’ve gotten from a multitude of friends this past year into one phrase, it would be “you have to be more selfish”. I hate that advice mostly because I’ve been taught to not be selfish my entire life, so the idea of living more selfishly is completely opposite of what I’ve known forever. However, living that way has cost me so much in the past few years. Living that way has prevented me from doing things that I can truly be proud of. Living that way has stifled the life I want to be living.

So this year, I still have huge hopes and dreams. This year, I’ve got goals. I’ve got direction. I’ve got a version of me who is finally learning to be strong on her own. No more outside influences, no more giving up what I want for other people, and no more relationships until I can get myself on the right path. This is probably the most intimidating step I’ve ever taken in my life, but with great risk comes great reward, right?

Alaska - August 2014
Alaska – August 2014

listening to: S. Carey