On this day a decade ago, my 19th birthday, I was in a hotel room with my sister in the bed next to me, my parents in the adjacent room, in a state of pure panic.
It hurt to breathe.
I couldn’t see straight.
My mind was strangely blank (a rarity for me, being a word fondler) and I struggled to pinpoint exactly what was causing my terror.
My family had taken a sojourn to a neighboring town to stay at a mall/hotel/ in one of the ‘themed’ rooms as a kind of special get away. Under the sea I believe it was - quite fitting. At the time I was in the deepest, darkest pit of my eating disorder. I was sick on every level you can be sick and in many ways I was both aware and unaware of how bad it really was.
We were in the dead of winter, surrounded by ice and snow - a land that is in my opinion totally uninhabitable if not for the sheer strength of the human will - an environment that matched my internal world at the time.
I was curled up in my bed, internally screaming for love, attention and affection. I just wanted someone to hold me and tell me it was going to be ok, that I was ok - but at the same time I would never allow anyone or anything to get close enough to actually do this for me, because the pain of needing - needing anything - was equally unbearable to the pain of having my needs left unmet. I lived in a kind of limbo land where the pain and suffering of the world I could not alleviate drove me to attempt to make myself ever smaller, ever less in need, ever more invisible - while simultaneously becoming the largest, most intimidating suckubus energy in every room I entered.
The rigid control I had developed in my ED was the only thing that powered me through my days - without it I was lost in a sea of emotional distress so deep and twisted I could do nothing but lie in bed drowning in it, wondering how it all had gone so wrong. But that same rigidity left me paralyzed any time my routine was rocked. There was no functioning outside of it.
We returned home from that weekend trip all a little more exhausted, a little less connected and a lot more unhappy. I stood in the kitchen for a good hour that Sunday night completely unable to make a decision on what I as going to eat for dinner because the last two days had been so out of routine. There was a screaming match with my mom that left us both in tears. My dad eventually stepping in and talking some sense and love into me that finally allowed me to relax enough to consume something.
I think this was the lowest moment of my life.
I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. There was a sense that if I could just figure out the right thing to say or do I could have taken the worlds pain away.
At the same time I felt like I was the CAUSE of so much of the worlds pain because I was so messed up. Broken. Helpless. Every attempt I made at fixing myself only made me more deplorable. Every turn to try to help someone else landed me right back feeling like a total fuck up and failure.
The world was going down and I was going down with it - and I was possibly only adding to the velocity of the plummet.
Ten years later, that story feels like something from another lifetime. I can remember that place, but I can’t visit it so much anymore.
Today, I woke up to a totally different world. 29. In the tropics, surrounded by what can only be described as the beauty of nature I haven’t done much of anything to deserve. I got to move my body followed by a chat with a kindred spirit about the meaning of life (what else would we talk about?) Some work that feels purposeful and a nice long meditation in the sun. My best friend/sister/wife, husband and I took a mountainous hike up to a beautiful temple where we got to bask in the centuries of cultivated presence. We shared a meal together, listened to some good ol' Guru Singh and enjoyed each others rather crass humor until it was time to sleep.
The thing is, all those external changes are not what makes this birthday so much different from the one I had 10 years prior. It’s the inner world that’s so different. The experience of the experience that’s changed to allow for this newness.
I have worked really hard over the last ten years to integrate that wounded child that was my whole being at 19. I have learned to accept the bits of me that no one else could or would - and not only have I accepted them I can now say I embrace myself the way I wanted to be embraced all those years ago but never allowed for.
This last year in particular - my 28 - was a year of tough lessons. Lessons I had been running from for years while at the same time laying the foundations to integrate. I finally chose to see my co-dependencies for what they were and I chose to stand in my own love that said even if I am alone, I am going to be myself. I chose to put up boundaries where I was all fluidity and leakage before. I chose to look my habits of work and relating square in the face and get super honest about what I was doing and why. I chose to change. A lot. In ways that utterly terrified me - and would simply horrify the 19 year old version of me. I saw and I saw and I saw this year - and I acted on that seeing. At 29, my life looks totally different than it did even at 28 because 28 made no room for pretending things were any other way than how they actually were.
All the old, rotting foundations were exposed and I dug them up. I am in the process of relaying the new stones - this time with true awareness and compassion. This time with slow and steady movement. This time from an adult perspective - one where I get to see how things work and decide for myself if that is something I want to stand upon. There are no more authority figures telling me what I should and should not do - this is both liberating and scary. I am the end of the road now.
I am responsible for my life - and this is the cornerstone of my new way.
I have come to see that my capacity to love others is truly only as great as my capacity to love myself - and that all the rejection, denial, self hate and attempts at killing myself were doing no one any favors. No one was getting happier due to my misery. No one healthier from my lack of health. No one felt more comforted and nourished by my rejection of comfort and nourishment. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn - and truth by told I am still learning it - but I am happy to say it’s really sticking these days. I have seen the damage my 'self sacrifice' did not only to me, but those I was attempting to sacrifice for. I am cleaning up the messes I made.
I have come to understand that love means a million different things. Love is dynamic and interactive and requires our full attention. That my loving the world is not a one size fits all equation. Nor is it black and white - that I am either fully responsible for saving all of humanity from it’s plight OR I have no say in the matter whatsoever and may as well just tend to myself. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Love means seeing the damage done when I was in a state of self denial and reality rejection - and tending to those messes. I am standing in the imperfection, loving who I was, and as an adult now owning the results of the madness, choosing to be different now and making amends where pain and hurt still remain. I didn't know better then and that is ok. But I do now, and I am taking my responsibilities seriously.
Sometimes loving the world means giving of resources. Sometimes loving the world means giving of my time. Sometimes loving the world means ‘real talk.’ Sometimes loving the world means not talking at all. Sometimes loving the world means offering suggestions and alternate perspectives. Sometimes it means letting people find their own way. Sometimes this love needs to be expressed through fire and effort - other times it is a letting go and a relaxing of tensions.
And so it is with self love.
I can see now the folly of my ways. I can see that the self sacrifice only ever led to a me that was less capable of serving in the way I am capable of serving. It also led to a me that was less capable of receiving in the way I am here to receive.
Because I am but a thread in the tapestry of life. Here to give, here to receive, here to be a part of what makes this whole thing beautiful. I am a part of the whole picture, the whole picture and only a piece all at once.
I have learned that life is about putting things in their proper place. That nothing need be rejected, denied, eradicated, healed or release - but all things simply given room to find their highest order. It is my job to see the chaos, bring awareness to the chaos, and then do the work of bringing about order through increased information.
THIS is the PROCESS - the ACT of loving something. Seeing the pain, acknowledging that pain as a call for more information (love), bringing that, and allowing for that information to guide my actions.
I’ve learned that the inner turmoil is where I have the greatest influence over the chaos of the world. Where I can bring love to me, where I can bring integration, order, structure, complexity and functional fluidity to all the disjointed, fragmented, uninformed and simply lonely aspects of myself, I bring peace to the world. Both in my way of being and in my actions. I see that the chaos I allow in my own being is the chaos I create in the world. Both are ok - we all have choices - but I honor and respect that fact that we all win when I choose the former.
I have learned that there truly is no such thing as self sacrifice that benefits the whole - because we are all one. What TRULY benefits me, benefits the whole. If it is truly benefiting the whole, it is benefiting me. I see this now. No question. Not sure anyone could convince me otherwise. We are here to be interdependent, and I am happy to work my way in that direction until I become benevolent in the sense that all my actions serve to uplift all of us. In any small or large way. Because this is what we ALL deserve.
I can’t say I’ve mastered this all at 29. Not by a long shot. Perhaps in another decade I will be solid in all of this.
What I can say I have masted at 29 is the fact that I am truly grateful for where I’m at on the path. I am able to experience joy in my sadness, rightness in my anger, truth in any and all painful experiences. I no longer see life as good or bad, right and wrong - but rather a series of experiences that are teaching me all about reality and truth. Life has taken on a kind of perfection that maybe is a little too boring to be instagram worthy - it’s not picturesque all the time nor is it what many would consider to be ‘perfect’ - but to me it is. It’s all the things - and again it’s that internal space that has made all the difference.
I love this life now. Even in the moments when the sadness makes it hard to breathe. Even in the moments when I am looking for love and validation that seems far. Even in the times when the world seems so needy and my ability to give seems so little.
Because I can always return to that peace I’ve found through being ok with me in whatever is occurring, I always find my power there. The nurturer is ever present and every time I call on Them, my clarity and compassion, my intelligent action plan, my grace in the mess returns. I can see the value in all things - not always right away, but eventually - and I can bring order to the chaos - blessing the chaos all the same.
I am grateful to feel all that I feel. I am grateful to have known the depths so that I could find this inner love that permeates all darkness. I am grateful to see that there is no bad or wrong thing - only that which lacks information and placement. I am grateful to know that all is a part of love. I am grateful to have lost what I have, to have gained what I have, and to have lived as I have. I am grateful to have the understandings I do, and I feel humbled to have them.
My intention this year is to rest more. To live more in that inspired, creative rest that generates the best kinds of action. The rest that comes with conductivity.I know I can err on the side of pushing, and that disciplined part of me has been such a blessing - but It needs some TLC too. I am in love with my nature, and I am excited to see how it will continue to expand and evolve.
Thank you for reading this. It is my hope that in my own learning to make all that I am ok - even the parts of me who DON’T want to let things be ok - will be a demonstration that makes this task easier for you.
All the joy seems to be living on the other side of that simple act.
Heres to all of us.