It was almost a decade ago but I hear the words like minutes have passed.
Sobbing on a friend’s couch, head buried into his sweatshirt-covered shoulder, after he called me up and told me I needed to take a second look at my life. I cried at the realization, I cried at the acceptance, I cried at the knowingness I’d buried and planted flowers over all along. I wanted to march over then and there, I said, and give an ultimatum.
The shoulder lifted and my friend looked me in the mascara-blurry eyes.
“We romanticize things in our minds. What it will look like, how it will be.
Don’t go over there now. Not like this. Romanticizing the drama always looks better in your head.
Sleep on our couch tonight so you won’t be alone.”
I tell myself stories often, to my benefit and my detriment. It’s a part of me I’ve learned to work with, a part of me that used to take the reins. My storytelling can make proverbial mountains out of proverbial molehills if I let it. It can also make the little moments be the most life-changing. It’s the part of me that used to get high off of fantasizing about the wedding in the ranch, the full-time theatre career, two kids with my exact upbringing. It’s the part of me that now gets high off of small-but-huge risks, the stuff that might not look the most impressive but feels astronomical.
My entire twenties have seen social media morph from a way to connect and reconnect to a way to create and recreate. I’m of the very specific age group targeted in social media’s first boom: college kids in 2004. I can’t speak for my whole age group, but I feel as if we’re even more acutely aware than others of how much or not-much social media is playing a part in someone else’s life (and also more self-aware as to how much it plays in our own). Some older generations are trying to keep up even though they might not really care, and some younger generations have it as a crutch of what they’ve always known even though they might prefer to feign indifference. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum based on how much power we unknowingly give it. Even the nicknames used to describe our internet presence are rooted in our core desires to feel safe, sustained, and of lasting impact: Our feed. Our quilt. Our digital footprint or imprint.
We’re all guilty, whether we’re posting or commenting. We’re telling stories; stories that sometimes get muddled up with the truths. We project what we want perceived, and we fashion stories out of what we see. Because what social media does is tell a grand story if you let it, a life verified by the scroll of a page and a slew of comments reading “GOALS.”
This isn’t a post about social media, it’s a post about self-love. But I do think social media can be used as a vehicle for discovery, if we choose to see it that way. I do love sosch’, but I’ve found the way I’ve utilized it in the last couple years has greatly shifted from even a couple years back. I find that when it comes to social media, I learn the most about myself now not by posting, but by listening. I find the more I listen, the more I can self-regulate. Am I sharing because I have something to say – or because I feel uncomfortable not being a part of the collective noise? Am I posting because I am what I say – or because I am scared, lonely, or just got into a fight with someone and portraying otherwise helps me fake it till I make it? Do I need a reaction from anyone, or is this truly, honestly, just for myself? Am I opening up because I feel I must to fit in – or because it’s a small overflow of the gargantuan self love I’ve built within?
Going into a new phase in life – a new year, a new job, a new relationship, a new decade – it brings up a lot. How honest have I been with myself along the way, and how have I risen from my own ashes? Have I addressed my underlying imbalances, or have I mistaken band-aids for white blood cells? Am I interested in lasting change, or am I just convincing myself I’m doing something to get there? I’ve never fully understood until now why New Years Resolutions and traditional goal-setting tactics never resonated with me, let alone worked. But I’m starting to think it’s because, deep down, I’ve always known that the mere act of checking something off a list will never get me that feeling I so desire: that feeling of being more full of life than I could possibly imagine.
Danielle LaPorte recently wrote a beautiful piece on self-love, saying that sometimes we “act” like we love ourselves so that we don’t have to change. A harsh reality to face, but one we must nonetheless (I urge you to go and read her words over here, they’re brilliant). Fake self-love can turn into a cop out for truly growing into the person you are meant to be to this world.
I’d like to add my own spin onto what D said…although it might not be the most flowery thing to read and definitely not the easiest. True self-love can only come when we lean into those areas of ourselves that make us uncomfortable, when we take full responsibility for the problem and full responsibility for the solution.
Sure, it’s easier to blame shit on your parents or exes or that punk boy in 7th grade gym class who told you to shave your legs. Sure it’s easier to find someone who will clean up the mess for you so you don’t have to touch the grime: friends, mentors, boyfriends, girlfriends, a book you read over the weekend and can quote ad-nauseum and leave it at that. “They say” that it’s important to spend some time learning who you are in this life. But what if that never happens? What if that time is spent lonely and longing, coming out on the other side no less answer-filled and no more yourself? It’s easier to place blame and agree to solutions someone else has outfitted.
But doing the work of living means doing the WORK. To not is to catch yourself in a booby trap. The bait is there, disguised as aid or sweetness or ease or love. It takes a strong will to resist, because man does it look enticing, and not at all dangerous at that. I used to think that the best things in life SHOULD be the easiest, the most carefree. Signs of struggle or lows were warning signs to get out. And, you know, sometimes they are. But it takes true exploration to be able to distinguish between red flags and the gifts of hard work and that special hybrid of both.
The best things in life, I’ve found, are never really easy. But what they are is right. Like the evening on my friend’s couch when, against my will, I came to the realization I’d been living with my eyes in the future for far too long. How things would be when XYZ happened. Checking off boxes and rushing to fill the next. Reveling in the comfort and ease of the familiar, too scared to venture into the unknown of what it would be like if I spent some time by myself – even though I was altering my needs to fit someone else’s, or altering someone else’s needs to fit my own, even though my belief-set was based in stories.
It was easier to stay where I knew I was loved enough. Because, you know, answers are never guaranteed – and fulfillment is less than a speck on a hazy horizon. Why venture toward something you can barely see?
I’m not of a religion that was brought up with the new testament, nor am I even slightly religious to begin with (spirituality ≠ religion, in my book). But religions are collections of stories, I’ve realized, and boy do I love a good story. One of my favorites…I can’t tell you where this appears or in what context. I can’t tell you the players and I can’t set the scene. But I know the lesson, I know the epiphany, and it’s what I love most. And when it comes to the words, I say it’s not just about the love we give and receive to and from others, it’s about the love we show ourselves.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Sometimes, to protect, trust, and persevere means to forego what is applauded for what is true. Sometimes it means to let go of what is easy for what is right, even if it includes the tears, the loneliness, the confusion, and the doubts; especially if it includes the tears, loneliness, confusion, and doubts. It means going through those moments to realize you wanted the ranch wedding because of the story it told of what was on the outside, not what is on the inside – and the inside is SO much better. It means going big and falling flat on your face, or actually succeeding and having the epiphany that you’ve been tied to a former version of yourself all along.
It means going on a wild, wild ride of brilliant colors and moments all sewn together by a ragged, sturdy, tear-stained thread that makes us whole and creates our real quilt and footprint. It means being brave enough to walk towards the hazy speck, and to unearth what’s underneath the flowers, and to know you are never and will never be alone, no matter what you find.
I tell myself stories often, to my benefit and to my detriment. It’s the part of me that gets high off of small-but-huge risks, the stuff that might not look the most impressive but feels astronomical. Resolutions and goal-setting are secondary – always, always secondary to the quest for fulfillment and self-expression. This year, let your lists and checkboxes come to you, magically appearing and checking themselves off along the way. Trust that the journey to self-love will bring you more than you could ever imagine – and the story it tells, I promise, will be a good one.
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