When I got the text, I really wanted to go.
I wanted to go to the party. I was feeling a little lonely and could have used a distraction. I really wanted to go, but in a space deep down in my gut, I knew I couldn’t.
It wasn’t obvious at first, this sinking feeling that zapped me of energy and made me feel a deep sadness that came over me like velvet and forced me to fall to my knees.
And then, I knew what it was. It was the feeling that had been building in me for the past few months. As I have released and processed and let go of all these personas I no longer am, the parts I have hidden and kept locked in the basement of my soul started to unchain themselves and climb up the stairs.
The feeling was simple but so deeply profound and viscerally honest: I can’t put on the mask today.
In a matter of a few seconds, I pictured myself at this party: arriving, getting a drink, introducing myself to people I didn’t know. I imagined people introducing themselves to me, asking all the normal questions we ask strangers in an attempt to size them up and have them make sense to us; even for the night.
I imagined myself at the open doorway of denial, retreat, deflection, and diversion. They were inviting me to come inside for another go around. Like an addict being offered drugs, I was tempted to take them, once again.
A feeling of discontentment rose inside me as I thought up this scenario. I felt my face get hot, my stomach lurch with shame and nausea, and my palms start to sweat. I felt adrenaline pump through my veins and the buzz reach my head. I felt paralyzed and a little drunk.
It’s simple, really. My spirit is exhausted. And it is exhausted trying to contort itself into the limited framework that makes up our world.
I can no longer pretend. Not even for one more evening.
I can’t be fake happy for one more person when I don’t feel happy myself. I can’t congratulate anyone else on their awesome new job when I’m still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. I can’t coo over someone’s baby or swoon while listening to the story of how they were swept off their feet when I feel like the biggest fraud in the room.
I feel like a fraud because, well, I am. And mostly, I am a fraud to myself.
How many times have we all looked in the mirror and not recognized the person staring back at us? This person who has remained silent, kept their dreams under wraps, and agreed with things that do not resonate because it was easier/polite/expected of them? This person who is now screaming to be released from the prison of their own making. This person who just wants to find a safe space.
As I went to send a reply, I felt something in me shift. It was subtle, yet palpable. I knew if I said yes I would feel more alone than ever. I knew this attempt to distract myself from the inner work I had to do would pull me farther down into the rabbit hole.
It was time to confront myself. To ask the hard questions. To feel all the feelings and allow them to guide me. It was time to be brave.
So often, we are living lives (and lies) that are not our truth. Our authenticity has been hijacked by a barrage of “Be this!” “Do that!” “Believe this!” “Don’t think that!” It’s debilitating. It’s exhausting. It is completely soul-crushing. It’s so confusing at times that we wish we had a big old map with an arrow that said, “GO THIS WAY!”
The idea of walking into a situation filled with people who were likely more than willing to keep up the charade suddenly felt like a betrayal to myself. It was as if someone handed me a Santa costume and said, “This is who you are allowed be for tonight. Stay within this identity and these guidelines and you’ll be just fine.”
But I’m not fine. Not even close.
That invite prompted a deep awakening. Something that seemed so innocent had me knocking on the door of my own soul. I needed clarity. I needed reassurance. I needed my own light to turn on so brightly that it dimmed all those voices that I have adopted as my own.
This potential room of strangers suddenly felt like every person in my life that I have kept up the charade with. I felt cornered, trapped, naked, and imprisoned. Exposed.
And I wasn’t even there.
The dread was the old pressure to fit in, be cool, go with the flow, laugh at the jokes, and keep up the damn charade. Smile even when you feel like sh*t. Don’t let on that you’re lost and afraid and terrified. Just keep smiling…wider now.
What we are yearning for is our own light. Our own truth. Our own brilliance. Our own quirky, delicious point of view. Our own beautiful existence. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when the world doesn’t approve or agree.
We are allowed to change our minds. We are allowed to question the rules and the status quo. We are allowed to say, “Nope! That doesn’t light me up and I am still lovable!” We are allowed to honor what feels right to us and not have to explain ourselves.
As I politely declined, I felt the weight of the world drop from my shoulders. I felt relief that I didn’t have to pretend, avoid, and lie. I felt liberated even though my life still lay in pieces on the floor. Pieces that I don’t know how to pick up or mend or even love yet.
But now, it was okay. Because the pieces are mine. I have claimed them. They may be dusty, broken, shattered, or bent at the corners, but I don’t have to share them. I don’t have to fix them before I am ready. I don’t have to hide them or feel ashamed of them.
Because what is behind the mask is much more beautiful than any masquerade.