People say that beauty can be a byproduct of adversity, although for the first 28 years of my life, this was not a philosophy I believed in. I didn't want to, really, because believing in such an outrageous theory would also mean that a person would have hope, that she would rise above, and that ultimately, her situation would be one that she would embrace and lean into and work through, and I tend toward the opposite of those things. Running away from pain, from vulnerability--I feel like it's what I learned to do as a child, and as a young adult, to feel safe, because let's be honest: the world is not safe. Human beings are not necessarily safe. They make mistakes, they disappoint, they fire darts of pain and hurt instead of reaching out in love, and sometimes they offer grace and compassion when we know we deserve worse. Because we are humans, and sometimes that's what it is to be human: to feel and ache and also to love. Hearts that are open risk getting shredded, and hearts that are kept safe, hidden inside, away from the world and its hurt and pain and suffering, in my mind, are safe. Should be safe, anyway. But a hidden heart isn't completely bulletproof, and even the most stoic, detached people have hearts that can heave with hurt and disappointment and pain and sorrow.
Sometimes all it takes is a small spark to light a fire. Sparks can burn. Sometimes they hurt profoundly. Sometimes they leave a person so wounded, so hurt, that the feelings get all tangled up and messy, as feelings tend to be, and instead of untangling them, we shove them aside. Because sometimes that is just easy. But as the hurt and pain settle in, emotions like joy and love and compassion start to evaporate, so as we build up walls to keep out more hurt and more pain, we are also building up walls to keep out more joy and more fullness of life and more love. Self-protection is a valid thing, because living life fully human hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts so much that sometimes being numb is better than being hurt. Or being addicted is better than being hurt. Or being something, anything else is better than being hurt.
My spark this summer burned me. I wasn't expecting it, it was totally out of the blue, and it left me feeling wounded and sad. I wanted to retreat, to close up and shut down, to not deal, to blame everyone else. And for a long while, I did. I stayed hurt, which came across as angry. I stayed disappointed, which came across as defensive. I stayed sad, which came across as aloof and detached. I was in full self-protective mode, trying to make the ache in my heart go away, trying to pretend, trying to deflect. Trying to run away from what I was feeling, because I didn't want to feel it.
I had already been seeking therapy so I could learn how to be a good/better/more effective/maybe perfect mom and wife, so I went to Jen for advice on how to handle the most current hurt. My spark had lit a fuse, and I was afraid. I was stamping at the spark, trying desperately to get it to go out. I didn't want an explosion, I only wanted the spark to go away. And instead of encouraging me to run away, Jen encouraged me to run toward what I have been avoiding my whole life. Pain.
The very thing I was afraid of--an explosion--is happening right in front of my very eyes. But instead of destroying me, it's helping me grow. Which is not what I expected at all. But a spark that lights a fuse that explodes into personal growth and maturity has a byproduct of beauty, and I've gotten a glimpse of this beauty on days where I can see and experience love. Compassion. Where I can live life fully with no expectations for more or less, I can just appreciate life in the moment. Where I can switch off my autopilot mode and really enjoy the ordinary, where I can practice mindfulness and enjoy the present without looking to the past or worrying over the future.
Today, as I was getting ready to go out with my daughter, I looked in the mirror and was disappointed with my reflection. My 39th year of life has brought on some new wrinkles, lines and even a few gray hairs that I wasn't prepared for. I suppose I thought I'd look young forever, and sometimes I feel like my body and mind are betraying me. I looked hard at the mirror, and embraced my disappointment. Yes, I am disappointed. Then I looked hard into the mirror and decided that I, Heather, get to write my own story. I get to define my own beauty. I get to. It's my privilege, just like waking up to the gift of another day is. Today, I get to decide that I am not going to wear makeup, and that is beautiful. Today, I get to decide that the laugh lines around my eyes are well-earned and they make me gorgeous because it's living proof that I have spent at least some of my life laughing--enjoying, and today I get to decide that it isn't worth my time to blow dry and straighten my hair, because I want to spend my time with my daughter, and my waves are pretty. Today, I get to decide that even if no other person on the entire planet agrees with me, I am beautiful.
Not long ago, I wrote what I will call a manifesto of sorts, and if you've followed this post all the way to the end, go ahead and read it. It was written out of a battered soul and a sore and bruised heart, but a heart that I have decided is worth opening up, even at the risk of getting hurt...again, and again, and again. Because being hurt is just part of the human experience, and so is joy, and in order to live fully human, I get to experience both. We get to. Gifts don't always come wrapped in pretty paper and bows, and yet...we can still call them gifts.
What do I want?
I would like to unlearn 39 years worth of definitions: definitions of beauty, of worth, of love, and form new, beautiful, fluid renderings.
I would like to love big--to give and receive love in big, crazy, awesome, unrestrained ways.
I would like to live life fully and live it large and live it joyfully.
I would like to live without fear or regret.
I would like to forgive totally and completely and forever.
I would like to stop dwelling on the past and stop fearing the future.
I would like to be full of life and creativity, to have a free spirit and a wild heart.
And here is how I think I might do it:
1. Assume good/positive intentions and remember that I do not know the intentions of another human being.
2. Give grace to all, including me, or give grace to none, including me.
3. Put a voice to my insides (said another way, from the book Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton: tell the story of your insides with your voice).
4. Be curious--about others, about self, about feelings.
5. Lean into pain--because maybe, just maybe, this is what creates or leads to the things I want
6. Fear is not truth.
7. Spend out--use my stuff, and don't save it for another time (especially clothes).
8. Remember that I am loved no matter what.
9. It is okay to feel All The Things.
10. Perfect is not the goal.
11. Let my representative retire. (Read Love Warrior for more on this.)
12. Forgive others for not being who I want them to be; accept them for who they are.
13. Food will not fill me, nor is it the answer. (Listen to my body.)
14. How others choose to respond to me is not within my control.
15. Be vulnerable. With others. With myself.
16. Love is an endless act of forgiveness.
17. Expectations are not valid unless they are agreed upon.
18. I am a deeply feeling person in a very messy world.
19. Just do the next right thing. (Baby steps.)
20. I am allowed to break all the rules and define my own brand of beauty.
21. When I need validation, go see Jen.
22. Ask myself: Who do I want to be in this situation?
Some of these I've gotten from different books, authors and of course my therapist, who is continuing to help me grow and learn more about myself and the things I want.
Some references worth your time and money:
Brene Brown TED talks/videos on vulnerability (find them on youtube, search Brene Brown)
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
All The Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Shelia Heen
The Good Life Project podcast with Jonathan Fields (he has a book that I'd like to read!)
Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin