Lessons You Taught Me

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I’m the kind of person who consistently tries to learn from her experiences, even the hellish ones. The kind of person who will dig and dig until a gem of insight is found.

Although you gave me a plethora of scars, I am happy to say that even your hellish treatment did not sway me from my self-growth tendencies. You are still responsible for your actions, and always will be, and I am much relieved that you are an ex in the past, and nothing more. But I am happy to say that I have been able to pull many gems from what happened between us.

Lessons I Learned:

  1. Hard, but healthy choices are the best choices to make. That is my new motto. Hard, but healthy choices only. So even if the path I must choose is full of obstacles and difficulties, and I must face head on with my inner demons, I will choose it, if it ultimately means I will be better off in the grand scheme. Which means, I will not stay in a relationship if it tears me up, or it is falling apart. I come first.
  2. Everyone deserves love, yes, but respect is also a necessary pillar in any kind of relationship. I will not stay if there is no respect, because then I am staying at a house with no walls.
  3. Just because people tell me I am ___, does not mean I truly am ___. Sometimes it can get hard to discern between accepting someone’s observation of you as a hidden piece about you that you may not have recognized, and situations when what people say about you are completely false and more having to do with their own issues and projections. In my mind, it comes to one conclusion–learning to build self-trust and insight, so you can better discern between the two and trust in who you know you are.
  4. Love is not the end to all means, and it will certainly not keep a relationship surviving and thriving. In some cases, it can actually keep you in very bad places (i.e., relationships with domestic violence). Communication. Respect. Honesty. Openness. Empathy. These are only some of many parts that stoke the relationship flames.
  5. Self-compassion is essential. I realized my role in the dysfunctional relationship dynamic, and my participation in it (i.e., giving into your emotional abuse, allowing you to blame me for everything, trying too much). But I realized that if I am to accept myself as a human being, beautiful yet very flawed, it naturally follows that I should show myself compassion. It is understandable why I did the things I did, and said the things I said. And I am learning from my own actions. This is the stuff that fertilizes forgiveness, both toward myself and to others.
  6. I have to have standards. Yes, there is such a thing as having ridiculously high standards. But having low standards, or none at all, is just as bad, if not worse. I have to value myself. I have to not only see, but honor my worth. I am important. And I deserve to be treated with love and respect, always. And I deserve to have boundaries when I am not.
  7. There will always be a rather large measure of life that remains unpredictable. One day, I may think things will turn out one way, or that you are the one. The next day, I will find something else, or discover that you were very wrong for me. I used to fight against the chaos and unknown of life, and at times I still do, but I’ve made it a practice to work on accepting this undeniable fact of life. Acceptance brings peace and calm… because I remind myself that even in the chaos, things will ultimately turn out the way it is meant to be.
  8. Not all relationships will last, but that’s okay. Love convinces us when we’re in it that no, this it is, this is the one. But sometimes we do this to our detriment, putting all our energy into making a failing relationship work. But we don’t need to do that to ourselves. All we have is this present moment, and that’s it. We can cherish the love we have in the moment. Maybe there will come a day when the love will be gone and we grow unhappy, or a day when that feeling of love will grow even stronger. #7 makes it so that we can never be sure. But as I am dating now, this lesson is very loud and clear in my head. I feel something with this person, it feels really good, but no need to go into future-predicting. Let the path unfold. And see what the Universe brings to your table. It is what it’s meant to be.
  9. Be with someone who will see you for all that you are, in your weaknesses and all your beauty and glory–and cannot conceive of wanting someone else… someone who treats you like the wonderful being you are. Be with someone who will put in their share of work to keep you in their life, because there is no question in their mind that you are worth it.
  10. I believed when we broke up that I would not find someone better than you. I found the phrase, “There’s more fish in the sea” too cliche to believe.  But standing where I am today, with a new potential ahead in the horizon, patiently waiting, I realize that I was in error. There are better, much better, out there in the wide expanse around me–people are so unique, complex and different, that of course this is the case. I have living proof standing in front of me at this moment that there are better. Perhaps you may be better for another some day, but you were worse for me. I am happy to move on.
  11. Last but not least, never, ever let anyone take who you are, or take your identity. This means rejecting statements that don’t resonate as true for you, or allowing yourself to be consumed by a relationship. Build a life separate from others, an identity with roots deep in the uniqueness and power of you–all the while, sharing that lovely uniqueness with the ones you love.
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the curse of exes, part 2

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Even though it’s been almost a year. Even though it has been months since we last talked. Even though you care more for yourself than me. Even though I know all of this too well.

Even still. You are the negative voice in my head, throwing fuel to the flames of my fears. You are the ghost that seems to haunt me everywhere, no matter where I go. You are the wall standing in between my current taste of happiness, to a new potential hope for moving on. Even as I look at him, your residual energy distorts his face and all I see is you. All I hear is you. And the fear shouts at me, convincing me that you have resurrected to come hurt me again, to shame me, and tell me to shut up and behave. My mind goes crazy and my emotions shift into overdrive, and I can no longer discern what is real, and what is just you.

My friends tell me, “Why are you giving him so much power? He hurt you badly and now you’re going to give him the pleasure of stealing the joy of your next relationship too?” And I do not argue, because they are right. Because not only are you an emotional abuser and raging narcissist, you are a thief. I am sure your jealousy is appeased.

Yet the fault lies with me this time. I am letting you steal my present moment. I am letting you taint everyone I encounter.

But I won’t let you. Why? Because I realize something now. Despite all the good memories and affection and times you told me you loved me, the cold, hard truth has risen from the murky water. You never truly loved me. You only fully saw me when we first met. And soon after, I became someone else to you, someone I’m not. I became what you wanted me to be.

But like hell I am going to let you make everyone else who comes into my life who you want them to be. You never cared for my happiness. It was, is, and never will be fair the way you distort people for your ego. Like hell I am going to let your distortions forever infect my mind.

Exes come, and exes go. Some morph into benign ghosts, others take the form of unrelenting demons. I’ll be frank: I wanted better. I wanted things to work. I wanted our dreams for the future to come true. But I cannot hold onto those wants anymore–you never really wanted them anyway. And I deserve better than that. I deserve better than you.

Yes, perhaps you may not understand how badly you hurt me. And perhaps I should release you and pay forgiveness for the sole reason of having a peace of mind within myself. But all the trash you gave to me, the black gunk and slime–I send it back to you. Right where it belongs.

Darling Ghost, may you rest in lovely peace.

the art of moving on

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To the grieving and broken-hearted:

I know how hard it is–to have your heart smashed into pieces, to have that large void growing in your chest where your loved one used to be. And the struggle of every day, every minute, every second. Then the people on the sidelines shout to you from the comfort of their seats, “Just get over it. There’s more fish in the sea. Don’t think about it anymore. They’re gone, but things will get better.” Platitude after platitude falls at your feet and your find yourself tripping over the how-it-should-bes.

But listen to me. It’s not a matter of knowing it will get better–I’m sure, deep down, you already know that. And it’s not a matter of “getting over it” or not thinking about it–surely if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be struggling so hard in the first place. If I could burn those cliches in a glorious bonfire, I would… why? They have it all wrong.

Because it’s not about the destination, or quick, imaginary fixes. But instead, it’s about steps. One step, two steps, ten steps, twenty, hundred, thousand steps… one at a time. Slow, slow, eyes up, moving your body forward, even when you don’t always feel it. That’s it. You got it. Rain and hail pellet you, it’s hard for you to breathe, tears stream down your eyes and you can barely see, but still, you take one tiny step forward, you push through, you don’t give up on the forward motion… it’s your solace, your last thread of hope. That’s right, the rain won’t last forever, just move forward. You can do it. One step. One more step. See how they all add up? There you go, look up, the sun is peaking out from the clouds. But don’t stop moving. One step at a time.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. Take it from someone who has experienced a myriad of grief and loss experiences, from losing boyfriends and close friends, to losing her own father. There will be days that will be dark indeed, and you’ll forget what you’re living for. But if there is one thing to put your hopes in, it is not that you will “get over it.” No one “gets over it,” and if anything, we must honor the love our loss reminds us of. Yes, it’s tough, so tough. But the day will come and go, and at the rising of the sun, you’ll have an opportunity to start fresh again. And again. No feeling is final. And all things will come to pass.

Soon, on your journey forward, you’ll find yourself somewhere you would’ve never imagined. New people. New opportunities. New skies. New scenery. New feelings inside you. Yes, that grief may come to visit you along the path, but instead of devouring you as it once did, it will walk along side you, like a mournful companion–but then you keep moving, and he leaves once more.

If there is one certainty in this world, it is its impermanence. The world is always changing. So are they. And so are we.

coping through life’s ripples

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I woke up today an emotional mess, bombarded with static thoughts–but the one thought that stuck to wall was, look how much he fucked me up.

At that point, my mind boarded on that thought train. Before I used to be so open and willing to show my emotions and love. But after my ex scarred me the way he did, I’m so scared to. I’m so on edge that every guy that comes along will do what he did–take advantage of me, blame me for everything, shame me for who I am, emotionally abuse me, disregard me. Now at the get-go, I’m distant and hesitant. He totally fucked me up.

But then, my wise mind challenged me. Is the blame all his though? Certainly he is still at full fault for his actions… but look how far you’re internalizing how he treated you. It’s bled into your whole worldview. But is the whole entire world like your ex?

The answer to that is pretty clear.

Today’s emotional roller whirlwind has shown me how much pride I take in keeping myself contained and together. How much I play the counselor role, the old soul everyone goes to for insight or advice. I am uncomfortable with my own emotional gunk. I provide everyone with love and acceptance for their gunk–but I cannot say that I do the same for myself. That’s perhaps why I had put up with my ex for as long as I did.

At this very moment, I feel pushed up against my own humanity–against the part of me that is scarred and in deep pain from the depths of my past, from my recent ex to my childhood. The part of me that is a bundle of anxiety and a dense well of depression. The part of me that wants to know right away and figure everything out now, rather than submit to the unknown. The part of me that needs human connection so bad, it hurts. The part of me that fears that need, of getting hurt, or losing what and whom I love.

Although I understand that people are not perfect, that those we love can and very well will hurt us, that we will all experience grief and loss at some point, it does not dull away the pain. It does not take the pang of its influence away. It does not still the ripples as it rolls across the surface of our hearts. One of the books I read said that grief is the most complex and difficult human experience. I completely understand why. I am always looking for resolutions to things, but this is one arena where resolution struggles to come to light. I’m beginning to see that maybe the goal in grief is not necessarily to find resolution.

I miss the good aspects of my ex, yet feel so much anger and hurt for the destruction he left inside of me. I thought I was done months ago, but here I stand, still picking up the pieces, still scrubbing his toxicity away. The whole world is not like him. All guys are not him. That I can absorb. But still, I watch the drops fall and the ripples fan across the water–feeling them shiver through my being.

Oftentimes, I try to leave my blog posts on an uplifting message or pearl of wisdom, but today, I find myself more inclined to end on authenticity. There are still too many pieces that don’t make sense. Too many parts that still need healing. I don’t have everything figured out. But I am, at the very least, willing to learn to be okay with that.

the curse of exes

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I was on a date last night and in the middle in the date, I found myself, in the back of my mind, comparing the person to my last ex. Mentally, I took a step back–woah, what the heck are you doing?

I felt guilty, because I am a firm believer of recognizing each person by their individuality, their own uniqueness. Even when people have similar issues or patterns, there are still things about them that set them uniquely apart from others. So I try not to typecast people. I try not to project my own past experiences onto others.

But as I sat with this new guy, I thought in my head, my ex was different than this. He was more flirty and affectionate. But this guy is still just as hesitant and withdrawn in some ways. And I started missing my ex. I missed the physical connection we had, the affection he gave, the good parts of him.

Just like with any kind of grief and loss experience, I guess there will still be moments where you will miss what you lost, even when you feel you’ve moved on. With that said, I am still acutely aware of my ex’s flaws and all the negativity and toxicity he held. Things are still better the way that it is–in no circumstances do I want him back.

But I found myself struggling. I know this new guy is his own person, and I need to allow him to speak for himself and show me who he truly is. But my past and all the feelings attached murk up the water and make it harder for me to see clearly.

As nice as this new guy is, he does not seem as affectionate as I would like and appears to want to take things extra slow. I took an Uber home, and I ended up talking to the driver about my date–she told me in our conversation, “Don’t wait around for a guy. I made that mistake, I thought eventually he would change, but I ended up waiting for 6 years. You’re single. Date around. Don’t wait too long, you’re worth more than that.” I felt like the Universe was speaking to me then. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I think this is what I would call the “curse of exes.” Even if you know better, you’ll sometimes find yourself comparing the person in front of you to who you were with in the past, or to your past. Maybe it’s out of protection or fear, or out of grief and loss, or perhaps even as a signal that what you’re getting now is not enough for your needs. I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but what I can say at this juncture, is that it’s okay to feel what you feel. And maybe there is merit in holding space for both opposing forces–like recognizing your ex had good, as well as egregiously bad, qualities. That you can recognize that the person in front of you is most certainly different, but they may trigger something in you, speak to your own unique experiences.

As I always say, it is what it is. And people are the way they are.

the tension in life

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In Harry Potter, there are these creatures called “dementors.” They guard the wizard prison and by nature, they are dark, cold, and soulless. They suck every joy out of the unfortunate person within their proximity, leaving the person to feel as if they can never be cheerful again. Dementors even have the power to suck someone’s soul out of them, a fate worse than death. J. K. Rowling has said that dementors are a metaphor for depression.

Having suffered with depression for more than half of my life, I can see the clear parallel.

The wizard who wants to scare away the dementor has to cast a Patronus charm. A patronus is cast when one focuses on one’s most happiest memory. It takes the shape of an animal, vibrant and full of light.

The significance of that too, is not lost on me.

When I think of my “Patronus” and happiest memory in my life, I think of when I was thirteen, isolated and unpopular. One day in winter, a boy that I liked grabbed my cold hands and said emphatically, “I will warm them for you.” It was incredibly touching, and a memory that was seared onto my brain with love and adoration.

But then I think of my dementors–my demons, my depression. And my most saddest, and arguably most traumatic, memory. I was fifteen. I arrived to the emergency room, anxious yet oddly numb, wishfully thinking that my dad was going to be okay. A family friend asked me, “Do you want to see your dad?” When I said yes, he led me into the dark room. I stared at my father lying in the bed, still as a stone. Sitting in the chair next to his bed, I reached out and grabbed his hand–but it was stiff. Cold as ice. And I knew. He’s dead. Why did no one tell me? He’s gone. He’s dead.

These two memories, are intricately linked and tied together. Hands. Warm hands. Cold hands. Connection. Love. Death. Loss.

As I reflect on all this, I think of Jon Foreman–he stated that as human beings, we are constantly living in tension, like a guitar string strung between two poles. While we often make attempts to fight against the tension, he asserted that perhaps instead our goal should be to make beauty in the tension.

And this is one of the biggest tensions we must face in life: Love vs. Pain / Loss. Or even more so, Love vs Fear.

I’ve spent most of my life fighting the tension. Living in fear, while also running from it. Fearing love, while also desiring it to the point it physically ached. But this is the tension: to love, despite our fears of hurt or loss. To love, even when we don’t know what will come. To never cease loving, even as we are drenched in pain. If we avoid loss or pain, we also have to cut out love. And having lived that way for many years, I can say with confidence that avoiding loss does not mean you will not experience pain–in reality, it is a confirmation that you will feel pain. Except it will be a different kind of pain… the pain of loneliness, of isolation.

I’ve experienced some of the most painful losses, but I realize now that this is a part of living in the tension of life. It is a part of living life in full color. We love and give love, empowering, inspiring, and giving warmth to others in the brave act. But then we lose and we suffer.

We will hurt, that is a guarantee. But eventually, we will be okay. With all of these swirls of human emotions, we are inspired, we grow, we make beautiful music. They are the raw materials that we use to build our lives and amplify our voices in the world.

The tension is where the beauty happens. The melody of our lives is when we dance on these strings of tension. Be brave, your melody is worth it. Be courageous, your melody is needed. I dare you. I dare you to live out your purpose. That the melody within you would soar above the fear, above the crowd, above the past, above the pain, and that the song that you were born to sing would come to life.” – Jon Foreman

empowerment junkie

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As I was brushing my teeth tonight, I was thinking of all the dating profiles I’ve been trekking through. What stood out to me were all these guys who tout themselves as “adrenaline junkies,” professing their love for many adventures and need for a fellow, like-minded partner. All these pictures of them climbing mountains and racing cars, and meanwhile, there I sit, finding pleasure tucked away at the corner of a cafe, with a steaming chai latte and a good book.

For me (and I bet for many others), dating is a surefire way of feeling shitty about yourself. Sure, I’ve done a lot of self-work and I have more confidence than I ever had in my life, but there are still a fair amount of moments when I get down on myself. For example, my recent thought train has been, why am I only attracting weird, or frankly, unattractive, men? Why are all the nice, good men not into me? I’m not perfect, but I know I have a lot to offer. Am I not pretty enough for the men I want? Am I too boring with my artistic tendencies and love for psychology and self-growth?

But when I stared at my reflection, my mouth full of toothpaste foam, a realization occurred to me. I do go on adventures. Just not the conventional ones people think of.

And this is what I mean. In the seventh grade, I wrote a love letter to a boy I had a crush on, and was coldly rejected. He told me firmly, “I would never date a girl like you.” That moment is still embedded into my brain with nails of pain. Fast forward through relationships, I held much fear in baring myself as a result, but I always took the risk to bare my feelings anyway. Even still, I’ve been rejected, heartbroken, and disappointed by love more times than I can count.

It doesn’t end there. As any writer can attest to, I’ve amassed the typical, bloody history of rejections from literary agents, magazines, and anything and everything under the publishing sun, as I’ve chased after my dreams of publishing my writing. Cue more disappointment.

I’ve been looking for a new job for months to no avail, and yet I still search and apply. Even in my current love life, I’m still putting myself out there, despite the emotional abuse I endured in my last relationship only six months earlier. I try to balance the don’t-show-your-feelings approach to dating that has been pervasive in my generation, while attempting to honor my true, heart-on-my-sleeve nature–never letting go of my value for authenticity in any procedure to life. Even though more disappointment and pain are a guarantee, I still find myself moving forward.

Long story short, my realization was this: yes, I have had my heart stomped on, been rejected in numerous ways, disappointed and let down… but at least I’m living my life by putting myself out there. While many, many others go on “adventures,” travel to foreign countries, and seek the next adrenaline hit, I too travel in my own way. I also take risks–emotional risks. While a couple of those adrenaline junkies jump out of planes to avoid their inner self or repressed turmoil, I consistently choose to face my demons head-on. I fight and slay, every single minute of my life. I’ve suffered with bouts of depression for at least half of my life and continue to experience them today. I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts and the ugliest of internal monsters. I fight against an Inner Critic more relentless than any beast of a story book. And I’m here today, alive and very much well. I’ve climbed my own mountains (and still climbing), survived the hellish of snowstorms, slaughtered a host of monsters. I’ve accrued many ghastly scars, but you would never know at first glance.

On top of that, all of these difficult emotions I continue to feel–the sadness, disappointment, rejection–are signs of my living life to the fullest. I experience the full spectrum of emotions as a result of my internal adventures. And before I start beating myself up for not seeming like a more interesting person, I have to only look at what life has brought to my table in these past 28 years. I’ve gone on more adventures that many of the general population actively seek to avoid. I may not be an adrenaline junkie, but I’m an empowerment junkie–someone who is constantly exercising her mind and trying to grow to her full potential despite her setbacks.

So people can criticize or judge, but it doesn’t matter what they think. They don’t know me. But more important than that, it’s time that I start appreciating the unique and wonderful person that I am. And the truth is, there is something of value in the way I live my life. I’m in the arena, getting dirty, taking risk after risk, boxing monsters… all the while, daring greatly.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt