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

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

Another Year Down

If I had to sum up 2015 in one word, that word would probably be tenacity.

The past few years have been hard. Learning how to live with the darkest days and appreciate the good days seems to have been my life theme for months. 99% of my blog posts seems to follow that stream of thought, but mostly just because my mental health is such an important part of my everyday thinking.

Tenacity is defined as “persistent determination”, and while I don’t often feel that way in the moment, I’ve realized that many of the big things I’ve really wanted to happen this year have happened. For the most part, I’ve made peace with the crash and burn of 2013. I’ve learned more about my family history and formed relationships with some in my biological family. I’ve moved out of my parents’ house and returned to the place that first began to teach me independence. Most importantly, I’ve experienced the pure love of friendship and learned to actually accept it and let people in, instead of holding everyone at arm’s length.

2015 held so many difficult moments for me, but as cliche as it sounds, those moments have forced me to grow. Growing is an ugly, painful experience, but after I begin to make it to the other side, I’m always appreciative of the difficulties I had to fight through. Time after time, that has been my 2015. Luckily, I’ve encountered SO many beautiful souls who have not only shown me love and support, but who have gone out of their way to help me when they can.

This year, when I’m cheering and ringing in the new year, know that I’m cheering you. I’m cheering your love, your support, your lasting friendships that have been the only light on some of those darkest days. You people who transcend traditional friendship- you who are spread all the way from Tyler and Fayetteville to Alaska and Germany- I love you.

Tyler, TX- July 2008
Tyler, TX- July 2008

listening to: Glass Animals, Iron and Wine

Loving Me

“It’s hard to pour into you”

I’ve been turning this statement over and over in my head since Monday. Monday was the day that I’ve had possibly the most honest and eye-opening conversation with a dear friend that I’ve ever had. Talking to someone who I think was finally able to understand a portion of my thoughts was a revelation. Thinking through all that we talked about, however, has been the only thing I’ve really been able to concentrate on all week. Being told that I make it very difficult for people to put energy into isn’t something that surprises me because I feel like some part of me has always been aware of that issue, but actually hearing it was something I wasn’t expecting.

There’s a line from The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky that (in my opinion) is far over-quoted and over-used, but it’s so very relevant to this topic: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I’m not sure when I first started to feel this way, but constantly feeling broken and a burden to the people around you directly affects the way you accept love from other people. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve told people in the past few months how messed up I am, how much I’m in the way, and how many times I’ve apologized for wanting to talk or spend time with them.

In reality, it’s bizarre. Even verbalizing these thoughts to a couple of my closest friends this week has left me in tears both time. It’s crazy to think that at some point, something in my mind snapped from thinking “you’re worthy of spending time with” to “people spend time with you not because they want to, but because they pity you.” I think it’s something that’s been right below the surface for at least a decade, if not longer. Thinking about school trips where I would just retreat into myself because I couldn’t stand the thoughts that I wasn’t funny or interesting, or even always being the one to end a relationship because it was better to be the one ending it than the one being rejected…I’ve been spending the past several weeks trying to nail down how those thoughts got in my head to begin with.

I could get into the whole spiel of how I think a lot of it is cultural, how we are constantly bombarded with thoughts of never measuring up to the impossibly high standards society sets for us, but that would take me down a whole different path for today’s post. I could point out the fact that I’ve had so many friends continuously cancel plans with me in the past few months that it makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong and why they don’t seem to want to spend time with me, but that just sounds like wallowing in self pity.

I do know that ever since I’ve been back in Texas, I’ve felt like an outsider, an observer, and not like somebody who’s in the midst of things. All of the people I spend time with have all known each other far longer than I have, and while getting to know them is relatively easy for me, feeling like any of them actually get me is far more difficult. I think it all goes back to the beginning of today’s rambling: the fact that we only let people love us as much as we think we deserve, so when we don’t feel like we deserve much of anything, life suddenly becomes very lacking in deep human connection.

While there isn’t an automatic fix for any of this, I think finally having some of these things pointed out to me verbally is a good first step. So for those of you who might be reading this and know me, be patient. I know I’m probably not the easiest person to connect with, but I desperately want that. So be patient. Be there. That’s the only thing I can think of right now.

Milk Grotto, Bethlehem, West Bank - March 2014
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, West Bank – March 2014

listening to: Glen Hansard

The Next One

I haven’t written anything except for journal entries in just about a month. I think the reason behind this has been pretty simple. I needed to regroup my thoughts.

So what have I been doing instead?

I’ve been reading.

More specifically, I’ve been reading things that I feel have been having a wonderful impact on my thoughts and writing projects: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Scary Close by Donald Miller, and Naked Human by Christopher Poindexter. They’re all very different from each other, but they have one thing in common: authenticity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Not just romantic relationships, but mostly the friendships I’ve formed with the people I’ve met in Tyler since I’ve been back. In fact, I had a conversation with an old friend this week about how he was proud of me for being social and actually connecting with people in town.

The thing is, I don’t even feel like I’ve been trying to be more social or getting to know everybody I possibly can. I’ve just been more authentically me. I’ve been more open and honest and friendly, and there’s a sense of freedom that comes with that. I’m not saying this in a bragging sort of way, but I think because I’ve been more willing to be wholly genuine, the people I’ve met and have surrounded myself are also like that. That sense of honesty is the breeding ground for intimate friendships. That celebration of genuine humanity- both the positive and the negative- inspires people to open up and help each other through the struggles.

It’s a very rare thing to be part of a community that is so willing to talk about their downfalls. Everybody enjoys sharing their achievements and happy moments, but it’s not very often that you stumble across a group that can be truly supportive even when people are admitting the faults that hit the very core of who they are. Because of this, you really get to know the souls of people, not just the outer shell that many of us wear on a daily basis. You are able to support their dreams with joy and without any sort of jealousy or bitterness.

Sometimes the support comes in the form of cheering on bands at local bars and restaurants. Other times, the support is having art shows and poetry readings. I got to go to my first one of these art shows a couple weekends ago, and ended up sitting in the back corner of the place writing, similar to the day that inspired my seven descriptions a while back. This was what came out of my people watching:

Willowy frames swaying with every strum of the bass. Spectators watched every hip sway and every limb move. It was a dance of seduction and passion, but you couldn’t avoid it- you couldn’t look away. The girls in the front knew what they had and the only thing on their minds was celebrating that- reveling in all that was free love- and they reached out their arms in an attempt to bring that love to the rest of the room. It was extravagant, yet bare bones simplicity. They all had pasts that had turned them into sirens, women who were so beautiful in their youth and freedom, but could drive you to the point of begging to throw your soul upon the rocks.

The whole space made you feel as if you had been transported to another world. It was a warehouse that had been converted into an artist’s safe haven. Paintings covered every wall and hung from the rafters. A stage was set up in the middle of the room for the various musicians in the room to properly express their thoughts and feelings the best way they knew how.

He had been encouraged to get up on that stage all night. Words were what made him come alive. He wove them together like a spider weaves a web, both parts artistry and survival. If everyone in the room had a title, his would have been Poet. He was the best at what he did, and while he was confident in many areas, the constant second-guessing in this facet of life made him more of an artist than he was probably willing to admit. He climbed up on the stage and even the willowy sirens fell silent, for they too felt the respect that his words commanded. There was a hush in the room as everyone sat with anticipation until he took a deep breath and began to speak.

“My name is…”

Mango's Chateau, Tyler, TX- April 2015
Mango’s Chateau, Tyler, TX- April 2015