Updated: Jun 20, 2022
Content warning: this post discusses mental health issues.
From my journal: I like the way my skin looks, torn and bruised. Perhaps as a reminder of the times I let go of fear, exposed myself to the elements. Perhaps as a reminder that I am alive, now, and taking advantage of that fact, but also not immune to damage and to what it ultimately means to be alive: to someday die. This body is only temporary. I will worship her and allow others to do the same. But I will not coddle her. No, I will live as fully as I can while I reside in her. With her. I will kiss every scrape, bruise, cut, burn, every scar. Every breath I will fill with love for her. For us. Every step I will be grateful for this strong, delicate body to carry me. I will love her, always.
If you told me at 16 years old that I would one day, at 26, have radical love for myself, I would have spat out a bitter laugh. “This kind of love does not exist for me,” I would think. “I’ll never stop hating myself.” Oh, sweet young thing, how far you have to go. I wish I could pull you into a hug, kiss your forehead and whisper reassurances that you would believe.
For a time, I gave up. I accepted depression as an inseparable part of me. I embraced my cynicism, my hardening to the world as some kind of cool, punk thing. I am so, so glad that I have softened. In the last few years I have learned to embrace joy. Slowly, with practice and with little leaps of letting go, I have learned to enjoy things again. Now, I can dance without shame, I can love my body as she is now, I can laugh from my belly and not care how I look. The world is full of difficult, hard things. Why should we be hard too? Let us find softness in our hearts for each other and for ourselves.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my younger self. As a teenager and into my early twenties, I was miserable. Depression had a hold on my life, along with anxiety, ADHD, and disordered eating. I contemplated suicide often, and watched several friends succumb to those thoughts. There were of course moments of joy, but my memory holds it as a dark time overall. Recently I’ve been reflecting not only on myself, but on those friends who chose to end their lives at such young ages. It breaks my heart that they will never get to see that things do get better.
I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made recently. I’m only 26 now, so those dark years are not far behind (and I’m sure rough patches will come again, as they inevitably do). But lately I’ve felt a great shift in how I view the world and myself, and peace and happiness seem to come much more easily, from much smaller things. I’m not sure that she would believe me, but if I could I would take my younger self into a tight hug, then look her in the eyes and tell her that things really do get better. That even in the darkest moments that are yet to come, you will find yourself on the other side one day with more wisdom to overcome the next challenge, more resolve to keep on living, and more passion and awe for the incredible world around you.
Of course in the moment, it is hard to believe when someone tells you these things. Surely my mother tried, and I probably responded bitterly with some angsty teenage retort. There is nothing to do about all of that now, but I have found it helpful for my present self to imagine offering compassion to young me. As someone who has dealt with a lot of self-hatred, it’s been important to find softness and even forgiveness for that part of me that was hurting so badly. I no longer feel regret about time I spent locked in depressive episodes or harm I caused as I lashed out because of my own pain. Instead, I am learning from those moments. Learning things like how to handle my emotions with more care, how they impact relationships, how to have healthy boundaries, how to show up for those that I love, how to ask for and receive help, and so on. I take what lessons I can from those mistakes and then let them go. It does not serve me to dwell on moments that I cannot change. On repeat in my head is something I heard on a podcast recently: “Forgiveness is letting go of hope for a better past.”
Forgiveness is something that I have struggled with–both for myself and for those who have harmed me. Putting it into this context has been enormously helpful. It’s not about finding some sparkling happy feeling of forgiving someone and everything suddenly being better. It’s not a switch you can flip. It’s about letting go of what has happened, and allowing yourself the joy of the present moment. It’s about working to release what things of your past trouble you, so that you can embrace where you are today. Mind you, this is not easy. But it is absolutely worth your time.
Of course there are still bad days. I continue to have occasional mornings where I wake up and just don’t feel like doing life, or memories that crop up and send me into a spiral. But I feel much more equipped to handle them now, and it is getting easier to move past those things quickly rather than have them take over whole days or weeks. There are a number of changes I have implemented over the last few months that I think have worked in conjunction to help bring me to this place of ease. They may not work for you, but I’d like to share them just in case they may be helpful. If you are looking for a sign to make some changes, this can be it. :)
No alcohol. I stopped drinking on January 1st, as a sort of experiment to go along with number 2. I did not think I would be able to complete my goal of doing yoga every day if I was hungover, and I was also coming out of a situation that had exacerbated my alcoholism. I was drinking more often and in greater amounts than I wanted to be, and using it to cope with negative emotions. I had also never really tried to stop drinking for any period longer than maybe a week or two, so I wanted to see if I could do it. I figured in February I could drink again on occasion, and try to have a healthier relationship to alcohol. Instead, after the month was up I just didn’t feel like drinking. I saw how badly things had gotten, and I had no interest in returning to that. I saw no positive to it, so I decided to continue my sobriety. Now, I’ve just hit 4 months sober and I don’t think that I’ll ever go back. I feel less groggy and worn out, and I feel more focused and clear-headed. I’m able to let go and have fun, without regrets or ill feelings. I feel more like myself.
I also stopped smoking cigarettes. It may seem like a lot to quit two highly addictive substances at the same time, but I found that the two go hand-in-hand for me, so it was easier to just stop both around the same time. This was primarily a choice made for health reasons.
Daily yoga practice. I have my mom to thank for this one–she sent me the Move 30 Day Yoga Journey from Yoga with Adrienne, and I decided to do it with her. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for several years, but never with much consistency. This challenge helped me get into the habit, build measurable strength, and reconnect with my body. I can’t recommend Adrienne’s videos enough–you can do the Move series anytime for free on YouTube, and she has tons of other videos as well as a monthly calendar each month if following a series is helpful for you. Doing yoga has helped not only physically (I’ve progressed in strength and flexibility, have less unexplained pain, sleep better, etc.), but also mentally. I feel more attuned to my body’s needs, more able to listen to myself. Yoga helps me find calm and focus when I’m upset or scatterbrained. Committing to a daily practice is an act of self-love that is not always easy to keep up, but always (really, always) leaves me feeling better at the end.
Gratitude. The magic word that you have no doubt heard as something to practice to improve your life. It can take so many forms; for me, one concrete way that I practice gratitude is in my bullet journal. At the start of each month, I leave a blank page for “Moments of Significance”. Here, I list any moments that were particularly touching–positive or negative–that I want to remember. Generally it is very small daily things, like seeing a new bird species at the bird-feeder or playing a board game with coworkers after a shift. Tuning into these small moments has helped me appreciate them more when they arise, and I find myself more joyous and thankful. I also express my gratitude for others often, ensuring that I thank someone for helping me put dishes away, or telling a friend how grateful I am to have them in my life. We know how good it feels when others express their appreciation for us. If we want more of that, we have to start practicing it outwardly first.
These are just a few examples of changes that have been helpful for me so far in 2022. I’ve set a few additional intentions for my next temporary home to continue working on my personal growth so that I can show up for others and myself better every day. I’ll talk more about those in a future post, so keep an eye out.
I hope this was helpful. Thank you, and be well.