A year ago, I began the grueling and distressing journey of self-discovery. After losing my identity along with my fiancé, I was left in a state of endless confusion.
I had no idea who I was without him. I couldn’t even remember what genre of music I enjoyed, much less what my future looked like before his influence had taken it over. My emotions were so overwhelming that I dropped out of school, quit my job and started my life all over again in my small hometown. I went from having everything planned and taken care of to living in complete chaos.
I never learned healthy coping mechanisms. I always ran. Running couldn’t kill the troubles I faced then, so I sought more. I’d never been a drinker, but I began drinking every night. I’d only ever been sexually intimate with my fiancé, so I began using sex to replace a fraction of the affection I had lost.
I was on a high for months. I had never felt so carefree before, having all of my inhibitions taken away with whatever liquor I could get my hands on. I had more men chasing after me than ever before. I felt fun. I felt sexy. I felt like an entirely new person.
I began to hate this person the morning after I blacked out from a bad combination. I let my disappointment drive me into a downward spiral. I wouldn’t allow myself to be without a guy, nor would I let myself go a night without getting at least a heavy buzz. I craved desire and escape every second of every day. Nothing else could keep my mind off my shortcomings, so I had to kill the damage with more damage.
I would fall for the guys who had sought after me, and they would fall away from me in return. I would wake up in the mornings and bask in my depression all day, a result of hating who I had been the night before. I began to loathe myself for the failure I felt I had become.
One night, I watched a movie that challenged me to see myself the way I’m seen by those I love. I put myself in the shoes of both my mother and my best friend and saw a woman I had forgotten about—a woman who was gifted, passionate and determined. A woman of strength and value. I knew how difficult it would be to hold on to that woman if I didn’t change my lifestyle, so I made room for growth. Learning to cope with life on my own was a strange transition, but thankfully there was no addiction to complicate it.
Suddenly, I had no escape. I was stuck with myself, and nothing terrified me more than that. I didn’t know where to begin tackling my never-ending list of struggles. I was full of confusion, full of questions that nobody could answer for me. Should I embrace my emotions, or should I set them aside? How do I love myself? Is it something that I’m doing wrong, or does it just take practice? I was catapulted into a journey of self-discovery and introspection—a journey that provided me with endless bits of both direction and wisdom.
I learned to be honest with myself in whatever capacity necessary to move forward. I began admitting to myself when I was unhappy or hurt. Pretending the hurt didn’t exist was nothing but a disservice to myself and my ability to feel. Identifying my own pain helped me regain control over feelings that had been left in the hands of others for so long.
I learned to feel everything, rather than only feeling the good. I let in the hurt. I let in the disappointment, the loss, and the failure. I learned to feel everything deeply, and ride every emotion to shore. I let my mother’s line, “No feeling is invalid,” become my mantra. I found that I appreciated my emotions more when I didn’t associate shame with any of them. I found clarity when my mind no longer held heaps of thoughts and feelings waiting to be dealt with.
I learned to embrace myself for all that I am and all that I have yet to be. I looked deep within and found all of the quirks and flaws that I had tucked away, brought them to surface and vocalized my appreciation for them. I learned that nothing is ugly unless we label it as such. By constantly telling myself that all of my pieces were beautiful, I began to believe it. I found that I needed less affection and attention when I was able to recognize my beauty on my own.
I stopped apologizing for myself. It’s healthy to apologize for the legitimate hurt you have caused others, but you should never apologize for who you are as a person. I often found myself apologizing for being emotional, but that is simply who I am, and I have found the beauty in that. I took control of my own perception of myself and stopped letting others determine it for me. I learned to love and accept everything I had been ashamed of.
I forced myself to remember who I was on my own. I set aside whatever outside influences I had been using to gain identity. Every day, I would remind myself of the beauty and strength I possessed on my own. Granted, my best friend was more helpful in this area, but her help molded me into a true believer of my beauty and strength. I found strength in the memory of who I was before alcohol and men entered my life. There was a time when my passion for life was infectious, when my joy lit up every room I entered. I traveled back in time and became that girl again, then promised myself that I would never again let her out of my sight.
I learned that it was okay to do things for myself, and I took this lesson to heart by moving to an entirely different state. It was a dream I had to pursue, even though it met the disapproval of many. I let my own desires manifest. I had lived for others for so long, making all my decisions to please them. Selflessness isn’t dangerous, but completely setting aside your own well-being is. I found empowerment in pleasing myself. I found healing in what it felt like to fulfill a dream, even a small one.
I learned that life can be ruthless, but I needn’t be ruthless in return. Life is full of balance. It is my duty to put myself in the way of beauty; to create light when I’m unable to find it. Through all of the high tides and all of the low, life is, and always will be, a beautiful journey.
Author: Mauri DeFee
Editor: Caroline Beaton