August 16, 2023

Journeying from the Outside In: Finding the Courage to Bloom.

My personal journey of self-exploration has been a challenging, exciting, and fulfilling ride.

Finding and nurturing my unique identity has not only enriched my life, it has opened me up to a deeper understanding of a Universal interconnectedness.

I grew up in good ole’ Oklahoma, and, like all young humans, I believed and behaved in ways that I learned from my environment.

We come into the world with our custom-made DNA, and our environment takes it from there. My early years showcased my people-pleasing, highly sensitive, fearful, perfectionistic, artsy, and athletic tendencies. These all remain, with some more pronounced, others a bit quieter, and additional layers of identity continuing to emerge and take shape.

When we are tiny humans, we are at the mercy of other adults and systems around us. We tend to believe and act in ways that are congruent with those experienced systems. As we age, we have this amazing gift of a human mind that can be utilized for crazy awesome critical thought. We can change our beliefs, our values, our behaviors, and our lives, if we so choose to keep evolving.

I would graduate high school with an eating disorder, a dance scholarship to Southern Methodist University, and a dream of becoming a therapist once I figured my own sh*t out.

I also thought I had my life completely mapped out, as my inner little control freak likes to believe. She’s one of the much quieter voices now…yay inner work.

When I moved from OkieVille to Dallas, Texas, for college, my naïve world perspective was cracked wide open.

My heart and mind began expanding in confusingly beautiful ways.

This felt mostly terrifying to my highly anxious self, but I also sensed sparks of excitement. I spent those first two years of college battling myself on staying versus returning home as the fearful part of me begged to do so.

I would ride out the internal storm, and embrace the possibilities that were on full display when I cleared away the yuck of the unknown. Most of my identity was wrapped in the title “modern dancer.” I was still in the throes of my eating disorder, but I had also begun my lifelong relationship with the therapy world.

Many get stuck in one facet of identity and are heartbroken and lost when that piece shifts, fades, or is abruptly taken away. It’s oh-so-helpful when youth are encouraged to explore more than one talent and focus on multiple passions. Also, on the subject of therapy, I’m thrilled that the negative stigma is slowly fading. If we all spent time on our mental well-being, and went to the “head doctor” just as we do the physical doctor, we would be much more balanced and happy.

There doesn’t need to be anything “wrong” to go to therapy.

It’s a beautiful way to grow and acquire more skills to successfully navigate life.

I had grown up in a supportive, body positive dance atmosphere infused with imagination, discipline, collaboration, creativity, self-discovery, and self-empowerment.

Being unique was celebrated.

And I was in Oklahoma!

I was granted my first access into my inner weirdness, which was splendid.

I was too young to appreciate my good fortune with this incredibly rare children’s modern dance company.

Even with this positive dance community consuming a large part of my life from the ages of seven to fifteen, genetics, personality traits, and environment still were powerful enough to stir up an eating disorder.

As many others who have struggled, there are often memorable moments that spark the disorder into full throttle. Some of mine were a restrictive “diet” before prom, as well as a comment made by a human who would later tell me that his comments were out of frustration from not being able to date me. Wow, was that a trip to hear.

We live in a society fixated on the idea that looking a certain way leads to happiness.

And that “certain way” very much depends on what society deems to be the correct way!

Yikes.

Thinness is often equated with happiness, success, beauty, popularity.

And yet, our body weight is strongly determined by genetics and lifestyle habits that begin when we are young humans dependent upon others to show us the way.

I’m thrilled there is a body positive movement that is gaining momentum, and there is much conversation about how health and weight are not mutually exclusive.

My path to recovery from an eating disorder has been long and tedious.

Deeply ingrained beliefs as well as familial and societal messages are stubborn foes.

Infusing love and radical acceptance into one’s daily self-talk and overall belief system takes time and determination.

My dream to become a therapist, along with some unexpected twists and career turns along the way provided me the tools and life experiences to truly step into a deep space of loving and healing.

It’s imperative that we learn to listen and honor what we want and need, and sometimes it takes a minute for us to discern what exactly that may be.

And on that note, I’d like to talk about my affinity for the word “weird.”

This is perhaps my most favorite aspect of my identity to chat about.

And it took more than a minute for me to step into my weirdness. I’ve spent much of my life exploring who I am while grappling with the challenge of not always “pleasing the people” or fitting into some box.

I know that, for some, “weird” can be perceived as a negative, but not in my realm. I’ve come to accept the fact that I am often a walking contradiction, and that an important piece of self-love is self-exploration infused with courage to express in ways that aren’t always met with kindness and acceptance.

I am aware of my privilege to disguise my weirdness if I am feeling too vulnerable.

I can take out my piercings, hide my tattoos, dye my hair, and only date boys if I so choose. Many cannot hide, or have a much harder time, disguising their differences. Skin color, sexual orientation, physical disability, mental challenges, gender expression, and body weight are but a few characteristics that are sometimes impossible to disguise. And trying to repress aspects of ourselves can lead to dark realities: depression, addiction, anxiety, self-harming behaviors, and sometimes suicide.

Being anything but “normal” within a group is often met with judgment and dismissal. I have been dismissed within the gay community, as well as dismissed in the “straight” community for being attracted to both sexes. “Make up your mind” is a fun one to hear.

I am over the moon to publicly say that I have reached a point where I don’t care. I have worked hard to accept and love myself, and people who truly see me and love me as is, well, that’s my tribe right there.

Exploration of the concept of “identity” has become a beloved pastime for me, complete with starting up an LLC as an “Identity Coach” and focusing on the concept in my therapy practice as well. When we begin to explore pieces of ourselves that have been repressed or hidden, and we find the courage to bring them out of the shadows, we start to feel more alive, more free, more at peace. Sure, there are risks, and there will be judgment. We give a lot of energy to worrying about what others, including strangers, think. And often, we don’t necessarily respect the humans we have given power over us!

Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone just accepted that we are all our own unique little being amongst a sh*t ton of other unique beings, which somehow brings us all together in our individuality?

No size fits all.

Everything is fluid, and why do we have to choose?

What if we are going through a phase? What’s wrong with phases?

And I am starting to think more and more how most things are truly on a spectrum. Autism, sexuality, gender expression, depression, bipolar, and the list goes on and on.

I used to listen to others’ advice on how to present myself, what to say in different contexts, what not to say if I wanted to be liked and loved, and it finally hit me that I want to attract people who align with my deepest values, beliefs, and ideas around being a human. And it’s absolutely okay to be “rejected” by others when I am just being me.

We are trained at an early age to follow instructions without questioning. Don’t rock the boat. Just follow, and it will lead to “good things.” Blend in, so that you attract more. I have come to realize that the more I explore my quirks, my beliefs, my wants, and my dreams, the more quality I feel in my life overall.

I am beyond grateful for the challenges I have encountered in my 47 years on the earth.

I know there will be many more.

I have come to realize I don’t believe in “everything happens for a reason.”

Instead, I believe that the only things that are certain are change and uncertainty.

It’s the inner peace, calm, self-awareness, and self-care through all of the unpredictable sh*t that matters.

I promise myself to continue following the Universal signs that have created such richness and excitement in this lifetime. These signs have guided me to therapy as a profession, to a career as a teacher, through a divorce, through the incredibly difficult decision to not have a child, to finally knowing it was time to pack up my colorful life in San Diego and move back home to my family in Oklahoma. Almost everyone thought I was insane to blow up my beautiful life, but I knew.

And two years later, as my love of movement, therapy, body/mind connection, and writing all intersect, I am bursting with wonder about what is to come.

~

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