I used to think there was this magical age I would reach when I had it all figured out. When I was twenty, that age was thirty and then when I was thirty, the age became forty. Now that I’m 46, I’ve kind of given up on the notion that I will ever figure it all out. What I have come to realize is the journey never really ends and I’m not so sure that I even want it to at this point. I enjoy the fact that it’s less about figuring it out and more about being curious and showing up in new ways. How wonderful it is that we get to reinvent ourselves as many times as want. How cool, that with a little creativity and courage, we get to do things differently in any given moment. Old patterns and habits don’t have to dictate new ones. Just because old lessons come to visit, doesn’t mean we have to return to old ways of dealing with them. The old lessons show up to show us how far we have come.
Realizing this, has been a huge blessing for me because honestly, there were many years that I didn’t like myself much. Had I been stuck in the same old view of myself, life would have continued on, in the same, mostly miserable way and did, for longer than I’d like to admit. I judged everything about myself. In social situations I envied my friends who seemed to always have easy and witty conversations while I was struggling to think of things to say. I never had a knack for small talk or mingling at parties. I judged my intelligence. I wasn’t great with tests and traditional book learning when I was younger. Actually, even when I knew the material, I often choked when it came to tests. I second guessed my ideas and my wisdom. I criticized every aspect of my appearance, from the freckles on my face, to the shape of my thighs. I even found ways to judge the shape of my mouth when I spoke and the sound of my voice. I did destructive things to fit in and in doing so, I hurt myself and others. It was a dark time, sprinkled with a bit of light here and there that gave me hope. Somewhere in me, I always knew there had to be an easier way.
Thankfully, over the course of our lives, we become great artists as we reinvent ourselves again and again, each time more beautiful than the last. In my life, I define this as grace, coupled with some divine intervention. There are so many sayings that speak to the fact that we must stand in the darkness before we can find the light. Without darkness there would be no need for the light to begin with. So there I was, tripping and lost in the dark, with hands outstretched before me, desparately trying to find a way to put down the enormous weight I had been lugging around with me for years. I had looked under many rocks to find the instructions for how to do this. There was the rock of seeking validation from others. There was the teetering boulder of addiction that I daringly stood next to many times, but fortunately never got flattened by. There were pebbles of self-love that were too small for me to see. I looked under rocks of courage in the river to find a new way, but their secrets were clouded with sand and debris when I picked them up. I continued to make decisions based on self-loathing and approval-seeking, until I found myself buried under all of the rocks. It was at this darkest moment, that the light finally appeared. It was the moment when I finally realized that I was not defined by my past. I didn’t have to wear it like a dented badge of honor or keep reliving it or punishing myself for it. I could neatly pack up the tent I had pitched in the darkness and build a foundation and a solid structure right in the center of the light. It was at this moment, I realized I was an artist and I was my own blank canvas. My possibilities were endless.
Prior to this I spent a lot of time trying to mirror others that I admired. I didn’t trust myself to create an original work of art because I thought I was too inherently flawed and incapable. I tried on depressed poets and creative friends for size. I tried destructive and angry alongside seductive and manipulative. They all felt like a scratchy wool sweater or a turtleneck that choked me. Eventually, I started to experiment with versions of myself that I outgrew, but at least they were my own, original creations.
The biggest shift happened in my late 20’s. I woke up. I stopped defining myself by the opinions or validation of others. I put some of the weight of my mistakes and the mistakes of others down. I quit smoking cigarettes. I started running. I let the unhealthy relationship go. And maybe most importantly, I started to make decisions based on what was best for me, rather than what I thought other people wanted me to do. I reinvented myself. I painted a picture I actually liked to look at. I used bold colors and words that resonated with me. It was a paradigm shift that transformed my life. I started showing up differently. I created new energetic patterns. I reframed some of my experiences and hung new more positive experiences right next to them. My new sunlit home with the solid foundation was filled with grace and love. Struggles have come and gone over the past 20 years but once I found the path to the light, I never lost sight of it again. I have chosen to sit in the darkness at times. I’ve even been overcome by darkness, but I always know where to find the light again. It is in me. It is me. At 28, I started on a new path and every year since, I have found treasures along that path. I found health, radical self-love, my own innate wisdom, friendships and love. I found my resilience, my voice and my worth. I reclaimed my body for myself and released my shame to the ocean tide. I have felt the breeze on my face and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I have experienced pain and heartache and found the gifts in both. I have learned to love my freckles and the shape of my mouth and in discovering all of this, I have not only learned to love myself, I have learned what it means to truly love another.
I didn’t turn 28 and just figure it all out. It was more like 2 steps forward and one back with several detours along the way. I am thankful for the teachers, friends and family that stepped in when I needed help. I realized there was strength and insight in the struggle itself and that falling down didn’t mean I had to stay there. As I learned, I also started to see that sharing my experiences helped others and helping others helped me. Before I knew it, I had freed myself from a vicious cycle and created a cycle of creativity, freedom and growth. As I continue to learn and grow, I have come to love the process of becoming my true self in any given moment, knowing that it is never static. My moments of doubt still arise, but these days, I greet them from the light rather than the darkness. Old lessons still come to call but I show up differently. I am continually and joyfully reminded of how far I have come and look forward to the rest of the journey.