mental health

love letters

Dear Ex-Husband,  

When there’s a chill in the air, the way it felt in the end, in our perfect, corner-lot home, I wear your flannel shirt. You joked that I shrunk your laundry on purpose because I wanted to make what was yours my own. I was never good at housewife things.

When you asked me to marry you I thought, this is the beginning.

I wanted to dance to Van Morrison just because it was a Tuesday, because the snow floating onto the deck chairs looked so beautiful and the fire felt so nice. I’d hold my glass of wine in one hand, turn up the volume with the other and sway in front of the speakers. The dog’s eyebrows shifted back and forth as he watched from the couch; me watching you stand across the room, letting me dance alone, the artwork rattling against the walls. It annoyed you that I craved to simply be in the moment, untethered to expectations, peacefully content and enough for ourselves–enough for each other–safe from the pressure and the pain and the cruelty outside the cracked glass panel of our front door.

I wanted to sell all of our things and go somewhere new. I wanted to experience the world with you by my side. Let’s get in the car and see where we end up; throw our phones in the glove box and sleep under the stars.

 When you told me to divorce you I thought, this is the end.

The American Psychological Association says 50% of Western marriages end in divorce. It was September when our love story, like half of our lovelorn peers, turned into a antiseptic, bold-faced statistic on a crystal white page. We stood awkwardly–heartbroken and tear-stained–unsure if it was acceptable to still hold onto each other while the walls we built crumbled around us. I never truly felt the presence of your heart until the day I decided to eradicate mine.

I don’t know why I am writing to you now. Maybe because the leaves are changing again. Because I feel the tip of my nose go numb when I stand on my front porch and stare at the moon. You never wanted to stop and stare at anything. I know you fell in love again, but did you finally find a way to fall in love with the sky?  

Maybe if I put my heart on the page one more time, your flannel shirt wrapped around my waist, tears of rage creeping behind burning eyes, I won’t feel you creep into my mind; the way you’d sneak behind me at the cutting board making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. If I tell you how you broke me; how when I squint tight I can still faintly see your cold stare past my shoulders, while I begged you to look me in the eye. As if a year later, a wine-sodden Dear John letter could wash it all away.

 

Dear You,

 I regret to inform you that we are through.

I look fondly back on our nine years together, and with sorrow on our one year apart. I am writing to say, formally, we no longer have any business occupying the spaces of one another’s hearts.

Please remove my image from your memory promptly, and allow me to do the same.

I wish you the best.

 

Sincerely,  

Me

  

Remember how we sat around the table with my dad and sister, telling them we’d decided to go our separate ways. We smiled over stiff cocktails, cracking jokes like nothing would ever change. We said we’d remain friends; we’d divvy our things amicably, share the same lawyer, exist with separate lives peacefully, lovingly committed to our respect for the other and what we once had. Funny what difference a year can make.

I started smoking again. Last time I quit because of you, Ex-Husband; flicking my last butt onto the asphalt, watching it dance in the road like our small-town firework shows; your coat over my back with your body just behind.

Remember when we leaned against the falling-over deck rail and swapped stories, chuckling over our shared fondness for Marlboro Smooths. Encompassed by smoke and beer breath we tumbled ass over teakettle into each other’s broken hearts. We had a special way of helping each other toward the things that felt like magic while they filled our insides with tar.

I bleach my hair blonde now; like when I was tow-headed and bright eyed; before I knew the power of love outside the strong arms of my dad. We’d set our snacks aside to dance on the living room rug with the Disney princesses singing behind us. I’d twirl until my skirt floated around my waist and I felt my belly tickle my throat. You always said you didn’t like blondes.

I write all the time now; as if my heart rupturing obliterated the overgrown weeds I’d so long let flourish, leaving behind a marked trail to my true, clear voice. I’ve spent a year peeling  back my mask, finally feeling the full beauty and sting of the sun and the wind and the rain. What a year it’s been, huh.

Maybe I’m writing to you to say thank you.

Thank you for not being like the one before you.

Thank you for keeping me safe.

For loving me the best way you knew how.  

Thank you for holding me upright on my twenty-first birthday.

For taking the trash out when it heaped over the can.

For building the fire as I sat cocooned on the couch, the dog nestled between my thighs.

Thank you for not letting my wine glass get empty.

For heaping seconds on my plate and telling me I was beautiful as I felt my pants squeeze tight.

Thank you for giving up on me.

For deeming me too much, too little, too everything.

For finding the love I couldn’t give in your simple, perfect-on-paper, so beautiful belle.

 Love will never be enough, you told me; your brow furrowed and your heart tucked deep in your saferoom, protected from the world’s hazards, too obstructed to love.

But you were wrong.

I laugh from my belly now, Ex-Husband. And I cry from my soul.

I dance to Van Morrison in my underwear and stand, mouth agape, awestruck, in love with the night sky. Sometimes my wine glass gets empty, and I feel my heart twinge when I swaddle myself in your flannel; because some things are just too good to say goodbye.

 But I kiss like I mean it and write until my eyes cross. I tuck my phone in the glovebox and book last-minute flights just because. When you decided it was the end, it was actually the beginning–the place where I rose from our ashes, Ex Husband; where love, for myself, was enough.

 Thanks for the lessons. Thanks for the love.

 

Fondly & No Longer,

Yours

 

rites of passage: the dresser

Once a week I haul my dirty clothes to the laundromat a few blocks down the road in a routine I’ve unexpectedly grown to appreciate. I wheel my things from one machine to the next, carefully packing them back into their basket, only to be stuffed away carelessly when I return home.

When I fold my laundry my mind races–head down, foot-tapping, headphones drowning out the buzz of a dozen dryers. My hands stay busy and my brain has all the room to roam. I often wonder if the other patrons around me are navigating the intimate corners of their minds as well. It looks like we’re awkwardly folding our underwear in a shared space, but we’re in the thick of it together–working to solve life’s mysteries one roll of quarters at a time.

We dig deep into our stories, minds and hearts ripping wide open, with each turn and fold.  

Months before I slid up and down the hallway–my mismatched socks, his flannel shirt, plastic basket on my side. I tucked our belongings away; his nestled next to mine­. Our wedding photos shook and the silk poppies of my bouquet quivered as the oak drawers of our old chest of clothes slammed shut. Dresser drawers burst with stacks of weathered band t-shirts, while my heart burst for him.

We decided to get divorced on a work-night. I collapsed on the kitchen table and he turned away, wrangling his weeps behind tired eyes. I woke up to the sound of the dresser’s handles thumping as his calloused, oil-stained hands let it go. For seven years I’d heard the squeak and thud of those drawers before his pick-up rumbled down the driveway. I’d pretend to sleep while he kissed my forehead and tucked in my feet.

 I love you, Bear, he’d say.

I love you, I’d whisper as I rolled to steal his pillow and smiled.

We slept as a pair–two bodies together, two hearts ripped apart–for the last time that night. Before the sun came up, the metal handles chirped their familiar tune; he left for work and I emptied my drawers.

My new apartment felt hollow–a two-bedroom, one-bath I begrudgingly worked to furnish day-by-day. The movers threw my new mattress and box springs across the bedframe, propped lonely between four stark-white walls. I stretched my sheets over the corners, unwrapped my new blankets and leaned my pillows at the headboard one-by-one.

Two for me.

Two more for no one.

I consciously built a disposable world around me. I lived quietly, surrounded by simple things I could peacefully turn the lights down on and never look back. I kept my clothes stacked in bins in the closet and a mirror leaned against the wall. I’d sweep the dust-bunnies away and sit cross-legged on the hardwood, hair-brushes and makeup cluttered at my sides.

For an entire year I needed a dresser, and for an entire year, something inside me resisted. Somewhere beneath my grief, I held a simple bank of drawers in a wildly symbolic, unfavorable light. I’d walk through furniture stores and flea markets–inspecting, testing, measuring–only to find myself once again perched at the end of the bed, wide-eyes glued to the blank wall where the damned dresser belonged.

I’d dig through my mind for reasoning. It’s too big, too dark, too lavish, too broken, I’d tell myself, knowing my resistance sat much deeper than the polished wood surface I leaned my weight on.

I’d learned divorce feels like a war. Memories from the beautiful and images of ugly swirl around you as you hold your head between your knees and beg the Universe to make it end.  

I love you. I hate you.

I loved you. I’ll never stop hating you. 

You cling desperately to whatever feels steady, filled by an unshakeable fear that if you dare to let go, you'll surely float into space. You see a never-ending stream of destruction and brawl with the certainty that it’ll never change. You trudge through the wind and the rain, day after day, fighting for your new life one battle at a time.

Get out of bed.

Wash your hair.

Change your name.

Sell the rings.

Forget how he smiled at you.

Remember your pain.

You sit silently among the carnage, fighting to convince yourself you’re not going to die–not tonight. You make enemies with the furniture, desperate to release your tormented rage.

I sat with my pain and road the waves of heartache–for him, for me, for the tiny, flickering flame in the distance I prayed meant I’d feel love again. I had good days and dark days, manic days and sad days, and it was still the dresser that brought me to my knees. I was suffocated by an inexplicable weakness to tuck my new life into drawers.

Months passed, and I loaded my new-to-me dresser in the back of the truck with a friend, still unconvinced it had a place in my piecemeal home. We lugged it up the stairs and pushed it into the empty wall. I loaded my things into the drawers watching my reflection move methodically in the matching mirror. My wool socks and sweatpants mocked me, cradled in their new home.  

This is where we belong now.

It was weighty– a substantial mass of energy standing sturdy like a boldface period at the end of my tragic, romantic tale. I looked at it across from my bed, the space beside me empty, with jaded eyes. My things sat comfortably unobstructed by another. T-shirts and sweaters once harassed by diesel-soaked Levi’s lay blissfully in their lavender-scented abode.

I twisted my lip under my teeth and imagined smashing the drawers, setting the dresser ablaze in a fit of heart-broken madness. I’d watch my things light like kindling and blow all the feelings away. The neighbors would hold back their children, fearfully observing my silhouette fan the raging flames. I held my fingers in my ears as my ivory-painted drawers looked straight through me–past my pain and my pretending–and breathed softly.

It’s time to stop running now, they said.

Their brass handles clinked quietly against the drawer face as I opened them to tuck my clean clothes inside. My sweatshirt pocket sagged with quarters for next week’s laundry, and my heart did the same. For a year I’d been at odds with my world, wearing the bloodshed from my battles, hoping quietly, with hidden desperation, that I’d at last found the end.

I watched the petite, carved legs rest delicately on my bedroom floor, confidently supporting the weight of my baggage. Before, in cluttered suitcases and boxes, I’d declared myself a gypsy–unrestrained and unscathed. My clothes and I could be lost–together–without a home. Displaced and braced for our next stirring–a vagabond soul and her disheveled basket of things.

Now, everything had changed. Roots crept beneath my dresser, deep through the hardwood into the foundation, past my resistances–through my armor for fighting the darkness felt in an empty home.

I lay still in my bed, feeling the sun from the window and hearing the distant trucks humming by. My tired eyes fluttered open as I peeked over my blankets toward my bank of drawers. I reached for the other pillow–cool from a night in the moonlight–and tried to eke out a smile.

This is where we belong now.

The handles sat silently; drawers undisturbed. They burst with tired garments, worn and ill-fitting on my post-divorce frame. Teeming with fear, and also with freedom, I reached toward the ­­­­­­­­drawer pulls and started my new day.

the empowered woman

My historic railroad home sat nestled between a nearly-abandoned lot of waist-high weeds, storage crates and an automotive shop. The porch sat almost below the crumbling viaduct, connecting downtown to the west side of town. When the bridge came down, it took only a few short days. One morning I walked below it, past the broken Budweisers, toward my office and the next I found myself standing wide-eyed against the chain-link, staring blankly at the piles of rebar towering above me like curled ribbons.

Somewhere in the stacks of concrete was a tagged traffic sign I’d established an intimate routine with. Its words had greeted me with a comfortable cynicism each day since I hauled my belongings into my new, post-divorce nest; wiping clear my story of what once was in pursuit of everything new. I’d nod as I shuffled my feet home from days of too much work, too little food, just enough vodka to dull the pain. Do Not Enter Love, the sign read. It’s dangerous there, babe, it reminded me.

The town celebrated the shiny, new bridge–four sturdy lanes of traffic winding through newly landscaped terrain, rich with opportunity for development. Walkers and cyclists buzzed back and forth under the lights, gawking at the new perspective of the distant mountains. I sat on my porch, struck by the clear view of what was once obstructed, clutching my heart for that sign.

Love and I had a complex history. I’d always known it was there, bubbling below my chest, rich with gifts left ungiven, but I also knew how dark and cruel and ugly it could be as it threw me against the drywall, declaring my worth between my legs, manipulating, mistreating, and calling me by name as it stabbed me in the belly. For a lifetime, my performance in love for others was clumsy; in love from others; cataclysmic; in love for myself, laughable.

I’d lived as a self-proclaimed whipping post–born undeserving of grace, ease, or abundance. I was thrashed by the blows of others, but above all, a victim of my own hand. Love, inward and outward, was a ploy for power, best dimmed and withheld.

My career was my security–the only place that felt safe. I’d failed as a wife, but I could soar as a professional. I attached every ounce of my worth to my job roles and strategically built the identity I believed was the antidote to my broken heart. Each time the magnet of my nametag snapped onto my jacket, the curtains were drawn. I smiled and laughed, stroking the egos of my peers. I prepared for meetings with purpose and precision–in my mind and in my skirt length. I sat across tables from the troops of middle-aged men–arrogant in their starched slacks–and I performed. They were impressed by my mind, but that’s not why they kept my seat at the table. I sat at the table anyway.

The train whooshed below us and I sought comfort between his arms. Between them I felt safe– blocked from the sting of reality. I felt a heart pulse against mine and let it beat for the part of me that lost its own rhythm. At the time I thought this was the solution. He gave me the warmth I didn’t have. He held me up so the world couldn’t see my struggle to stand. But I was a temporary fix for his own broken heart–a vodka-soaked bandage to take the edge off the dark, winter months. His feelings for me were as real as mine for him, but I knew I wasn’t enough to extinguish the inevitable ahead. I clung to him anyway.

I chased beautiful things with desperation in my eyes. Our love language was material, and each curated corner of my world was a little girl’s plea to gather love. These flowers on my desk have always meant work is great. These matching curtains have always meant I’m doing fine on my own. These leather boots have always meant I’m happy now, mom. She was as broken as I was and knew it wouldn’t ever be different. I cried for her love anyway.

Whole chapters of my life were manufactured in the shadows of self-loathing. For 28 years I’d tapped my hand on my cheek, provoking the world to swing at me the way I deserved. And then, as if the clock struck twelve, the sparkly, smiley, and small existence I’d pretended to carry to keep my keepers happy, shattered. For the first time, in the heaps of my own catastrophe, exhausted from the care-taking and the pretending, a tiny voice in me whispered, How can I love myself now? My body, exhausted from holding it all inside, collapsed into the pain and the release. I stood stripped of everything I’d built around myself–naked, afraid, and ready.

I’d spent a year with my reflection methodically picking at the blemishes in my life until they grew into craters, void of anything familiar, exposing the real and the raw beneath the tight mask I’d so proudly worn for decades. My world, once comfortable, safe, stable, wasn’t enough anymore. My marriage, mortgage, and security were collateral damage. I let the houseplants die and the neighbors talk as I ripped apart my desirable existence with a teary-eyed grin. Then the work began.

I dreamed of the beautiful, adventurous, and meaningful. I wanted love that made my breath steady, experience that made my heart zing, work that changed the world–a world that felt safe, by my terms. I wanted to feel empowered.

I looked to society’s curation of the empowered female. Instagram tells us we are bold, in our words, in our style. Celebrities tell us we speak up, confidently, unapologetic. We speak our truth, declare our worth, support our sisters, take up space. We gather for conferences, luncheons, and summits. We eagerly read and write with fervor. We wear our stories on our chest and preach the sermon of strength. We rush city halls, demand equality, place our perpetrators in the cuffs they deserve. We love ourselves with an unshakeable love–steadfast and strong.

The empowered woman is confident.
The empowered woman is able.
The empowered woman stands at the top of the mountain, arms open to the sky, grateful for the life she’s built herself–wind in her hair, smile on her face.

I built my new life piece by piece, grasping tightly to the image of the woman I could be. Letting go of expectations allowed me to create a simple sanctuary in my oddball, downtown rental. My belongings became tools for functioning, not symbols of my happiness. I lost myself in racks of vintage, filling my closet with pieces from decades past, imaging the story of the woman before me–a process I’d adored since childhood but abandoned years ago. I ate my meals in bars and cafes, laughing loudly when I wanted, somberly ruminating when I needed. My scarlet letter marked me a failed housewife and I pinned it to my secondhand sweater without shame.

I said yes to everything. Last-minute road trips, middle-of-the-day hikes, Christmas in the desert, drinks with friends, conversations with strangers. I spoke the truth without hesitation. When I felt love, I spoke it. When I felt pain, I spoke it. When I felt anger, I spoke it.

Women told me they thought I was strong. You’re so brave, they’d say with stars in their eyes, as if I was the image of their modern-day heroine. I questioned if this is what brave feels like. I don’t feel brave, I’d tell them, but maybe I am.

I parroted society’s plan for the daring, born-again woman with precision, but my smile was weak, and my heart was hollow. I’d cracked the door open to a new world, and it wasn’t until things fell even further into the unexpected that I flung it off the hinges.

I bobbed through the San Juan Islands listening to the raindrops bounce off my hood. The locals stayed inside the ferry, hands wrapped around their coffee, while I stared a thousand-mile stare. The wind and rain whipped my hair across my face and gave me permission to be broken. I didn’t have to pretend to be okay here.

The opportunity arose for me to submerge myself in a treatment program–a soul-filling sanctuary of love and beauty and peace. I ate three meals a day for the first time in years. My pants squeezed into my waist and I didn’t care. My smile stretched further across my cheeks each day as the weight on my shoulders crumbled down my back, freeing me from the chains I’d cast around myself. I painted rainbows on my toenails and walked barefoot in the grass.

Here, on a funny little farm, miles away from my reality, I crossed swords with myself. I combed through the unwritten rules I’d lived by, called my inner-critics by name and redefined what it meant to be me.

I screamed to my abusers, You broke me.
I cried to my deserters, You betrayed me.
I raged to the Universe, You destroyed me.

Pushing my hand into my chest, rooting my toes into the ground, I loved myself with the love I deserved but never felt. I held my hand as I forgave myself for being cruel and forgave the world for making me that way. My sobs washed away my armor, my cynicism swept away in the wind. It was different now.

I returned to my real world, confident in my worth and eager for change, but my newfound empowerment felt lonely. It didn’t look like before. It didn’t look like the others. My eyes were open wide to every facet, and it seemed as if everything was on the line to be tossed upside-down. My grief grew, shadowing my hot, summer days, and I felt a steady pressure of rage pulse behind my eyes. I’d plunged into the muck of my own healing, yet my world looked vastly different from society’s image of the healed.

I roamed through crowded streets and sat in buzzing bars, on the surface the same being I was before. Below it, I was unfamiliar–my emotional scaffolding, strengthened but diverging.

Strangers grabbed my shoulders, winking as they slid into the stool beside me, stopping me as I worked, pushing their bodies into mine.

I didn’t feel ugly or dumb or small anymore. My confidence brought me peace in my physicality– something I’d never felt before–and that same confidence invited my harassment. Accepting myself lifted a weight off my chest that allowed me to hold my head proud and my gaze steady. I was finally released from my own biting provocations and immediately whiplashed into the faces of tormenting strangers. Confidence was a gift I’d given myself that, unbeknown to me, came with a dark side.

I sat across the familiar conference tables and thought about the suits in front of me and their six- figure salaries. They swapped golf stories and puffed their chests like brutish creatures behind the zoo glass. I’d avoided the simple math to discern my hourly rate, because I knew what it’d show me. Between stories they scribbled notes as I spoke. In ninety minutes I volunteered my ideas to cushion their status–their benefits, their legacy–and I ninety minutes I didn’t make enough to cover the lukewarm coffee that sat between us. My value was at the top of my mind now, and my awareness magnified the facts I’d shrugged off before.

My world and the people in it stung my skin. Like a new baby, I was tender to it all. I’d ripped the layers off one-by-one, tossing the hardened protection I’d built aside and exposing my everything to the elements. The hurt I felt from my relationships, my failures, my decades of suppressed desires for something different was amplified–no longer deflected by my masks or met with a welcoming embrace by my self-imposed identity as the Universe’s sacrificial lamb. I had clarity now, and it was clear that it was time for change.

Gone were the days of indulging the narrative that I am un-loveable, undeserving, unfit for the big, bold, and beautiful. I knew I deserved different now, and it was me who had to roll up my sleeves. I trudged below society’s portrait of empowerment–the peaceful woman on her mountain. She smiled for the scenery around her and I set mine on fire.

My eyes were open to my worthiness and I felt the discomfort of the blows I’d once welcomed with open arms. The actions I previously coveted now brought me to my knees. I found myself trapped in the canyon between the past-life I’d built to beat me and the new-life I’d found the courage to rebuild. I’d blown the cover off of culture’s image of the strong and I knew with unwavering certainty that the empowered woman does not actually stand blissfully with the sun on her chest.

I was the empowered woman now, and the pain was consuming.

The world roared clearly to me now.

Empowerment is not peace.
Empowerment is not joy.
Empowerment is not victorious arms thrust toward the sky, marking the end of the climb.

Empowerment is, in the face of your wrenching grief, feeling your heart thrash below your skin, purposefully shattering your world into a million tiny pieces so you can learn how to put it back together again. It is ignoring the magnetic pull to abandon yourself in your greatest time of need and sitting quietly with your pain. It is turning your face toward the heat and pushing through the flames, giving yourself permission to feel it all

The empowered woman goes to war with her world every day.
The empowered woman is scarred.
The empowered woman is tired.
The empowered woman does not pose proudly, pleased on the peaks above us.

The empowered woman walks through a valley–winding and unpredictable. Through the sun and the shadows, she keeps moving through her grief, away from the familiar and toward what she deserves. Her eyes look ahead–not behind, not around. Her mind is afraid, her body is steady, her hand is on her heart. The empowered woman sits with herself, loving fiercely through it all.

The empowered woman lets love in. The empowered woman lets love out.

The jackhammers buzzed through my bones as I walked past the bridge’s rubble on my way back home. Do Not Enter Love, my sign cried quietly from a distance, crumpled and discarded in a bed of now-obsolete trash. It’s dangerous there, babe.

The sun, once blocked by thick barriers of concrete, beat on my shoulders as I shuffled past. I walked toward an entirely new reality–eyes open, soul unbarred. I felt tired and lonely and afraid, but I smiled, hand on my heart, and I entered anyway.

my therapy story

The first time I found myself in therapy I was very young. From what I understand, I was having night terrors and my anxiety was present enough that my parents sought out help. She had me call her Dr. Ruth or Rose or Laura–I don’t really remember. What I do remember is being excused from grade school for “a doctor’s appointment”, an old woman, an uncomfortable couch and the vending machine outside her office she’d walk me to each visit to pick out a snack.

One day she must have declared me cured because the visits stopped. The impact of it all was clearly minimal based on my vague recollection of anything that happened between those four walls. At some point I snagged my chocolate bar for the last time and didn’t think about her for nearly a decade.

Years later, the court-mandated counseling for my parents’ custody battle. I now know that the same court sealed my sister’s and my fate to what many believe to be an arrangement that needs to be eliminated from the textbooks entirely due to the trauma it inflicts on children.

We swapped houses every other day–Dad’s on Monday, Mom’s on Tuesday, Dad’s on Wednesday, and so on. Christmas was half with Mom and half with Dad. Our birthdays were mornings with Mom and evenings with Dad. Prom night: pick us up at Dad’s, but we have to drive to Mom’s before dinner. Everything, right down the middle.

We carried our favorite things in our school bags so we could have them in whichever house we were in that night. We drove back and forth to retrieve forgotten homework, favorite jeans, the CDs to play until the wee hours of the night while we felt like we were dying from the stress of it all. I don’t remember ever feeling like the doctor actually cared what was happening inside of me–the catastrophic pain and suffering as I hauled my shit and my baby sister around, pretending like it was so great that I had two of everything. Fortunately for everyone, once the divorce was finalized, the counseling could stop. We all went back to pretending things were swell without the added pressure of a weekly appointment.

About five years later, shortly after I graduated high school, I felt overwhelmed by everything I’d stuffed away and looked to Student Health for help. I met with a variety of counselors, never really finding anyone I felt like I could connect with, but what I did find was what I believed was finally the answer to my lifetime of struggling to balance the chaos of my own brain: pharmaceuticals.

I was diagnosed with major depression and minor anxiety. The nurse practitioner wrote the prescription, I took the pills, they wouldn’t work, I’d come back, she’d up the dose over and over and over again. I got tired of waiting for the pills to solve my problems, so I switched doctors. She said doctor number one was mistaken; I had major anxiety and minor depression. She wrote the prescription, I took the pills, they wouldn’t work, she’d up the dose over and over again until I found myself a year and a half down the rabbit hole with zero recollection of the life I’d lived in the last 18 months. To this day I do not know what I did, who I was, how I operated or where the time went during this season. Something, somewhere in the fog, convinced me to bail, so I threw the pills in the trash, picked myself up by the bootstraps and became a walking demonstration of “fake it till you make it.”

To an outsider it would appear that I kept it together for the next ten years without the help of doctors or drugs. But to me it was clear that I was hanging on by a thread. The difference in the storyline now was money. I was an adult with adult responsibilities. I had to find it in me to admit that I desired help and then also justify the cost. In a life with a new home, student loans, and a small business, this washed out just the way you’d expect. I’d talk myself to the edge and promptly back off it every. single. time.

When I look back, I could pin point hundreds of moments where I was screaming for help. I didn’t feel heard in the world around me and no matter how hard I fought myself, I could never find the answers. I’d bang my head against the wall, pick fights, drown out my hurt with whatever I could find.

I felt like a failure as an adult. Somewhere down the line I picked up the idea that grown-ups don’t feel. They grow out of their tears. This season of uncomfortably feeling so much was temporary and juvenile.

[spoiler: I was super freaking wrong.]

And then I started reading books about self-improvement.

And then a friend told me she’d been going to therapy. And I thought about it for nearly a year.

And then I got divorced.

And then I was stuck in an airport terminal. Rachel shared a prompt in the Facebook group to tackle something for ourselves–to let go of the doubt and just do the damn thing we felt called to do in that moment. I googled the recommended therapist and I sent an email to request an appointment before I had any time to change my mind.

This time it changed my life. This hour on the couch was the hour I had searched for 20 years to find. All those years I couldn’t understand why my brain was working against me, and it took minutes in the right room with the right counselor to realize:

Hey dummy, your brain will try and work against you, yes, but you have the power to work with it too.

I was the naysayer for most my life.

The money is better spent somewhere else.

They can’t help me.

It will just be about the drugs.

I won’t be able to find a good fit for me.

I don’t have the time.

It’s easier to not dive into that mess.

It will all be okay if I just keep chugging.

I was so wrong.

I can now look back and say, you probably can’t be sent to therapy and find value in it. It’s not like a friend buying you a pass to their favorite yoga class. Some piece of you must be ready to do the work and say the things that need to be said or you’re wasting your time. It can’t be assigned to you. If your spouse, your family, your lawyers push you into the room, the results, likely, won’t be fruitful. You have to stand on your own two feet and walk in the door. It’ll feel like you’ve got concrete strapped to your boots on the way to the elevator, but there’s relief up there, friend. I promise.

If you feel compelled to talk to someone, you should do it.

If you have the tiniest pull toward therapy, you should try it.

If you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t deserve it, you don’t have the money, or the time will be a waste, you need to stop.

the cool girl

"No woman on earth doesn’t give a fuck. No woman is that cool–she’s just hidden her fire. Likely, its burning her up."
- Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior


To be cool is the dream. We wear the shoes, get the haircut, laugh at the jokes, keep our wandering thoughts tied tight and smiles weak and absentminded. God forbid our voices venture too far beyond the rhetoric of the casual, calm, and the beautiful. The moment we dip our toes outside the crowd we become vulnerable–alone, unsure, stripped down–so we stick with the crew and stay small.

It doesn’t feel right, but it feels easier than the alternative. To step outside and to sit with ourselves long enough to discover what our individual voice sounds like is terrifying. It’s work to dig in to our heads and hearts in order to find what we desire to be; it’s easy to wear the costume and slide into the masses.

Until it isn’t anymore.


I was never cool by any stretch of the imagination. You wouldn’t find me thriving in the halls of high school. I wasn’t the star of the frat parties or the wife with the best casseroles. What I knew I could be, though, was cooled off–the closest I’d ever get to cool.

My feelings weren’t going to help me win any superlatives, so the only answer was to shut them down. I took my ideas, thoughts, questions, sensitivities, passions, and desires and cut them with cold until I became lukewarm–not icy, but by all means, not fired up.

The indifferent environment I built around myself was comfortable enough that anyone who sauntered into my world would not be off put by the harshness of being  frosty or the intensity of being too impassioned. They’d be welcomed graciously by the tepid and uncomplicated face of a simple woman who appeared to be at peace.

My reactions to life’s punches became monotonous and habitual.

It’s no big deal.

I’m not worried about it.

Shit happens.

I’m doing fine.

I don’t care.

It’s cool.

On the outside I didn’t react to the world beyond what was necessary. I ignored the fire in my gut in the moments when I knew I was mistreated, because a cool girl doesn’t speak up. A cool girl doesn’t stand up at the conference table and point to the man who speaks down to her because she’s young and female. A cool girl doesn’t tell her partner that she deserves to be loyally supported, heard, and respected. A cool girl doesn’t raise her voice or fill a room with her ideas or speak her truth­. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t hurt. She needs no help, has all the answers, and she smiles casually, while remaining perfectly kempt for the masses to see just how together she is.

I wore the mask every day, until I couldn’t anymore.


Historically, finding myself on the precipice of real, vulnerable, human behavior leaves me consumed by fear. I wring my sweaty hands and feel the feelings creep up the back of my throat. I dig my fingers into the back of my skull as I coax the cool girl out from behind my mess of thoughts. I need her to fight the fire in my belly and grab hold of my tongue. I need her to take control. She’s the spokeswoman for my head and heart and she’s cool. She’s the real deal

The problem is when I sit alone with myself and my ideas and thoughts and desires, and I feel the heat creep in, I see her for who she really is. She takes inventory the things inside of me and picks only the traits that look best on paper, crumpling and tossing the rest to the side. She feeds me reminders of how the world works and why we keep our cynicism close at hand–like a loaded shotgun under our pillow just in case something creeps in at night. She straps my heart into shackles and lets it beat just enough that it keeps my cheeks rosy for the cameras, but not enough to feel pain, or worse yet, love.

After years of living, linked arm in arm with her, I found myself once again standing at the edge. I watched the world that I carefully curated behind us–speckled with the appropriate cool-girl milestones, the short peaks and shallow valleys that a lukewarm life creates–and I decided to dismiss her. I didn’t reach for someone to grab my hand and show me how it should look to jump. I didn’t pause to question what they’d say when they gathered and mumbled whatever they thought they should mumble when you watch a grown woman leap off the edge of a comfortable cliff and let the wind ignite the fire she held tight in her chest for a lifetime.

I ripped off the mask and leapt, and I’ve been free-falling since. Some days my mask floats nearby and I claw at the sky, longing to feel the safety of hiding behind it as I let my spokeswoman fight my battles. On others I see it in the distance, recognizing its indefinite existence, knowing the distance between us is necessary for me to find the peace that we once coolly pretended we already had together. 

Without the mask or my spokeswoman nearby, I  feel it all with an intensity that knocks me off my feet over and over again. The decades I stuffed away released as if they were spring loaded deep in my gut since the beginning. They became tighter inside me with time and pain and my bullshit make believe, until the springs couldn’t compress any further and my body couldn’t hold it and my heart was ready to either stop beating altogether or break free from the chains and the lies and the attempts at doing, being, feeling so fucking cool.

When I find myself reaching for the mask, which I do, often,–feeling hurt from the past, feeling uncertainty for the future, resisting joy and love and happiness for fear that pain is on the other side–I always come back to one question.

Just what is it that I am actually afraid of happening?

In any moment that I call on my spokeswoman because I’m certain whatever is happening inside of me is too much, I am absolutely petrified by my fear that once the pain starts, it will never stop.  

What I realize now is when I hold it tight to my chest, not only do I feel it, it also can’t escape. It has no place to go except inside of me. My fear of the feelings inspires me to clutch it closer, as if hiding it from the world will also hide it from me, and it burns me up until there’s nothing left to burn.

Despite my attempts at inspiring it away, casually leaned up against the wall in my cool-girl leather jacket and Ray Bans, the pain exists regardless of where it’s harbored.

Inside or outside.

When we are pulled together or falling apart.

When we sit at the popular table or stand alone.

With the trendy haircut or bed head.

It doesn’t fall for our bullshit and sees right past our cool costume.

And here’s the kicker:

When we drop the games, throw our mask into the wind wear our  vulnerability on our sleeves, the healing  can finally start.  

sweet girl, let it out

You’re smiling, yes. Your house is beautiful, your hair is shiny, but you’re floundering. You’re holding onto the  fire–clutching it to your chest so the world can’t spot the smoke–watching it burn your flesh away.


Dear strong, beautiful, pulled-together sister,

Looks like things are going well.

I saw your posts on Instagram. Your house looks beautiful.

Your kids are so smart!

Sounds like work is keeping you busy.

How are things going with that new guy?

Can we talk about what you’re using to make your hair so shiny?

No.

I see right through that half-assed grin you’ve got plastered on your face.

You’re falling apart. You’re trudging through.

 I’m just going through some shit.

It’s been a long week.

I haven’t been sleeping well.

The baby is teething.

The boyfriend is pissing me off.

Work is dragging me down.

That time of the month, you know!

No.

You are in it. You can’t touch the bottom and you lost sight of the top.

You’re smiling, yes. Your house is beautiful, your hair is shiny, but you’re floundering. You’re holding onto the fire–clutching it to your chest so the world can’t spot the smoke–watching it burn your flesh away.

You quickly turn the conversation around.

How was your vacation?

How’s your dad?

What’s next for work?

Are you hanging in there?

No. 

We don’t need to talk about me. And, really, we don’t need to about you.

But I need you to talk about you.

I know it’s easiest to hold what’s haunting you close and push everything else away, but I’m asking you to reconsider.

Sweet girl, let it out.

Open up the gates and let it pour.

Shout it from the rooftop.

Scream it into your pillow.

Wear out the pages of your journal.

Call your best friend.

Nuzzle into the nook of your partner.

Breath the heavy breaths.

Cry.

Sweat.

Clench your fists.

Yell until your throat is raw.

Say the words that sit on the tip of your tongue that you hold back with ropes and chains every damn day.

Of course, you’re scared. Of course, it hurts. Of course, it’s uncomfortable. It’s not pretty to sit in the mud with your pain–and it isn’t supposed to be.

Find your person, your place, your notebook–whatever it is you need– and pull the curtains on this bullshit show. Tell the truth. Get ugly. Drop your artillery, strip yourself naked.

Whatever it is you do, just please–let it out.

the magic of girls

The feeling of support that can only come from a woman who’s been there, felt the pain and found the way out—that’s magic. And you, with your flaws, your insecurities, your fears and whatever memories you carry with you from the past—you deserve the magic.


I clearly remember sitting, curled up on the leather sofa in my childhood home as my mom said over and over again, “girls can just be so cruel.” Our disgust for our own gender bonded us together the way Steel Magnolias or BOGO sales do for other mother-daughter couplings.

I was a painfully shy kid and never quite blossomed socially. I kept my handful of girlfriends close and avoided any large gatherings, paralyzed by the fear of being seen as the awkward, dork I really am. I kept my head down and my mouth closed, silently watching as my teenage peers bobbed through life, seemingly blissful, wrapped up in their American Eagle polos and Abercrombie perfume.

College wasn’t any different. The story was the same—a little more sex, drugs, and booze and a slow creep into husbands, mortgages, and kids. I became a wife, a business owner, a real-life, professional adult and nothing changed. I’d hide behind my glass of cheap Merlot at networking events, smile and nod, as I wallowed in my own insecurities.

These women don’t want to connect with me.

Look at her hair. Why the hell would a woman who knows how to blow out her hair like that talk to me?

Oh listen to her laugh. She’s so full of shit.

Don’t tell them anything. They’ll use it against you.

Women can just be so cruel.

I stuck with the boys, rolling my eyes through every baby shower, matrimonial celebration, and girls night—clinging to the belief that Coors in the garage was easier [read: safer­] on my heart than pink wine on the patio.

To be fair, women can be cruel though.

When I was 6 years old my cousin forced me into letting her stick gum in my hair just to see what would happen.  I cried as my mom coated my blonde curls in peanut butter, knowing I was bullied into this bubble-gum pink mess.

A girl who claimed to be a best friend in junior high took to AOL Instant Messenger with my classmates to tell me how pathetic they thought it was for me to miss a day of school after finding out my parents were getting divorced. Oh suck it up. It’s not that bad. She later cultivated a rumor that my friend Ashley and I were a romantic couple. We laugh about it often now, but in the moment it felt like the world was crashing around us. It was a teenage nightmare.

When I began attending bridal shows to market my bakery, a woman old enough to be my mother took to barraging me. She left false reviews, spread rumors and attacked my then-husband in his place of work, making false claims, lying, and being nasty all in the name of “protecting” her adult daughter who was a competitor of mine in our small town.

Girls can be so cruel, and women can be even more cruel.  And they’re the ones who should know better.

The real crime here is that I lived 28 years with that phrase from the leather couch, meant to be an empathetic embrace between mother and daughter, repeating in my head.

I don’t know how to talk like them.

I don’t know how to dress like them.

I don’t belong in a room with them.

I can’t get close to them. They’ll hurt me.

I can’t let them in. They’ll use it as ammunition.

Unexpectedly and very fortunately, there is a bright-side to this story.

In the fall, Rachel, Sara and I came together with a vision to support women. The details were fuzzy, but we knew we wanted women to feel loved, lifted up, and on-freaking-fire about the lives they have ahead of them. We were all deep in our own lives, going through our own junk, dealing with changes, growth, and heartache, but we knew we needed to create something.

I felt the familiar twinge from my youth, nudging me to close-up and keep them at a distance, but deep, beyond all the hurt and fear, I deeply desired what we had and what we were building.

Enkindle is the bright-side—the unexpected, but so embraced opportunity to see the women around me for who they are, and to love the crap out of them for the work they’ve done, the tribulations they’ve overcome, the mistakes they’ve made, and the dreams that keep them up at night.

Ironically, Rachel and I knew each other for years from working in the wedding industry together, but we were never close. It wasn’t until we showed each other our scars that we discovered just how valuable we could be in each other’s lives. Funny how we spend so much of our lives fighting to stay protected, but the real stuff begins when we throw off our armor and get in the mud. She introduced me to Sara, who became my business partner and a sister on the front-lines of living these real, authentic, lives before I ever met her in person.

I began living a life surrounded by girls. I didn’t have the trendy polos or generic perfumes like the cool girls in high school, but I had real, raw connection, and like the Grinch on Christmas, my heart grew three sizes. I’m sure of it.


My message to any girl who’s ever felt like she doesn’t belong is this:

Girls can be so cruel, but babe, girls can be incredible.

The gifts we have the power give one another can be so damn beautiful.

The feeling of support that can only come from a woman who’s been there, felt the pain and found the way out—that’s magic. And you, with your flaws, your insecurities, your fears and whatever memories you carry with you from the past—you deserve the magic.

Let them in and love them hard. It’s worth it. 

a plea to cut yourself some slack

We can't even begin to live a life with purpose, filled with work and hobbies that fill us up, loving the best we can and nurturing ourselves the way we deserve if we don't recognize when the thing we need the most is a break.


This weekend I found myself curled in a ball with a high fever and body aches totally unable to even begin to pretend that I was tackling much more than brushing my teeth. I knew it was coming too. I'd run myself ragged for the last 6 months, gambling with my body over and over again. To make things worse, I haven't been so hot in the emotional department lately. I've exhausted myself playing tug-of-war with my heart and my brain, and I'm just tired. 

This morning I am fighting through the flu-hell, buzzed from DayQuil and coffee, and I want to have something incredibly inspiring to tell you. I want to tell you that my fever nightmares showed me the path to happiness and I can now present the keys to life in 5 simple steps in the post below, but I can't. I am as tired today as I was yesterday. I am as heartbroken today as I was yesterday. 

What I do know is this: If you know you need to cut yourself some slack, please do it. 

If you are wearing down from life, physically or emotionally, please just pause. Take a breath. Go outside. Call a friend. Take a nap. 

We get so caught up in the hustle. We glorify being busy and fill our schedules to the brim with work, passion projects, self-improvement tasks, and chores. We push forward every day proclaiming our strength and power. We are women who can do it all, hear us roar. 

But can we really roar if we don't stop to catch our breath? Today, I argue strongly, no, we can't. We can't even begin to live a life with purpose, filled with work and hobbies that fill us up, loving the best we can and nurturing ourselves the way we deserve if we don't recognize when the thing we need the most is a break.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how you can cut yourself some slack this week. Join me in picking one (or ten) and not letting guilt creep its way in. You not only deserve this, you need this. 

  • Cut one thing out of your calendar for the week. Reschedule an appointment, take a rain check on a social outing. There's always time to do it again. 
  • Get the coffee with the stuff you like. Just don't count the calories today, OK?
  • Watch Netflix on your lunch break instead of running errands. The post office will be there tomorrow.
  • Rock the messy bun. Use the dry shampoo. It's not the end of the world.
  • Skip spin class and go for drinks with your girlfriends. Talk about what's really on your mind.
  • Close your email. Call your parents.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode and go for a walk. Listen to your favorite music or podcasts. Don't you dare check your email. 
  • Cut some corners on dinner tonight. You don't have to do the Martha Stewart thing evvvvvery day. 
  • Take a mental health day. You know when you need it. Just take it.
  • Send the call to voicemail. You can handle it another time.
  • Plan a schedule-free weekend. No plans, no chores, no pants, whatever.

And the thing that might be the hardest, but also the most important...

  • Let yourself feel whatever it is you need to feel right now. Stuffing it away doesn't do anyone any favors, especially you. 

maneuvering your mind for follow through

We consciously know we want to improve our relationships, take on a new endeavor, experience something awesome, find love, read 100 books, go to therapy, lose 30 pounds, feel the rush of skydiving—but then we hit the roadblocks. 


This time of year the process of goal setting takes on a fun, exciting veil. We get jacked up about wiping the slate clean, starting fresh, and reinventing ourselves as we declare "new year, new me!" over and over again. But the truth is, goal setting is complex and confusing. It takes hard work, soul-searching, and time spent asking and answering hard questions.

Jen Sincero talks about how the subconscious and conscious mind work in opposition as we live our lives in You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life (an incredible book, which happens to be the first-ever Enkindle Book Club book in the Facebook group!). She explains that our subconscious mind runs the show based on information we've gathered since childhood and learned from people around us as we established our beliefs about how the world works. These beliefs become the guidelines for how we live our lives, and conveniently, we are typically totally unaware of their existence. 

These could be beliefs like: 

Money is evil. 

Love leads to heartbreak.

Sex is a sin.

Self-care is selfish

Regardless of what they look like, we all have them, and they are self-limiting, especially when it comes time to set goals. When we put pen to paper and establish what we want to change, how we want to grow, or expand our knowledge, we typically are coming from a very conscious place. We consciously know we want to improve our relationships, take on a new endeavor, experience something awesome, find love, read 100 books, go to therapy, lose 30 pounds, feel the rush of skydiving—but then we hit the roadblocks. 

Our subconscious mind throws everything we believe we know about how the world works in our faces and we fall off the wagon, make decisions that don't align with our goals, and go back to what we are used to, which just so happens to be the opposite of what we are trying to do. Sincero compares this to trying to drive the car with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. 

So what's next? 

First, plug into that conscious mind and write those freaking goals down. This isn't a time for excuses, it's a time for dreams. Think freely and make a mess. 

Next, gather the facts. Have you tried to do this before?  Where did you fall off? 

Now, you have to dig in. Look at the places in your life that you desire to change. Really step back and look at what stories you've told yourself in this arena. Maybe you desire to connect to yourself with a routine yoga practice, but constantly find yourself going back to the idea that spending time and money on yourself is bad, selfish, a waste. These ideas certainly didn't come from the place where you set that goal. 

One of my goals for the year is to practice being vulnerable, asking for help, and owning my story.  This greatly challenges my normal behavior, which is to stuff those feelings down, pretend it's all good and basically just wait until I implode—a product of my subconscious belief that successful grownups don't have feelings.  

Our minds are bonkers, you guys. In order to make the changes we desire for our best life, we have to recognize that. 

This brings me to what I feel is the most important practice in goal setting. You have to become aware. The only way to work around the subconscious mind is to become intimate with it. You must understand why it is putting you through this fresh hell before you can maneuver your way around it. You will most definitely meet roadblocks, but if you are aware that you are just stumbling your way through your mind and remain committed to your goal, you're going to get there. 

I'll leave you with a portion of solid-gold quote from Sincero that I will likely Sharpie on my bedroom wall, I love it so much. 

"You are perfect. To think anything less is as pointless as a river thinking that it's got too many curves or that it moves too slowly or that its rapids are too rapid. Says who? You're on a journey with no defined beginning, middle, or end. There are no wrong twists and turns. There is just being. And your job is to be as you as you can be."

Here's to the curves and rapids in 2018, friends. Let's dig in. 

15 ways to fight the frazzled feeling and reset

You’re frazzled, anxious, and feeling far from “boss” territory. We’ve all been there, struggling to do the work, feeling snappy and sassy, and generally failing at whatever the task at hand may be.

Here are 15 quick ways to tackle that uninspired, exhausted, no-good feeling and reset your brain for a day of more butt kicking and less hair pulling.

  1. Just shut your stinking computer and walk away for a minute.
  2. Grab your kids, your dog, or your favorite podcast and go for a walk.
  3. Tackle a mindless project. Laundry, dishes, weeding the garden. It doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t require too much brain power.
  4.  Adjust your surroundings. If you’re working from home, go grab a table at your favorite coffee shop. If you’re in the office, snuggle up on the couch at home.
  5. Find the playlist that gets you going. This is one of ours.
  6. Treat yourself to something special. Maybe it’s a pedicure, a cupcake, an extra bit of chocolate milk in your coffee this morning. It doesn’t matter as long as it feels like a treat.
  7. Plan something to look forward to. Schedule drinks with your girlfriends or book a flight somewhere dreamy, and circle that date on your calendar to keep you chugging along.
  8. Put on that outfit that makes you feel good. Wear it 3 days in a row if you have to. We won’t tell anyone.
  9. Make something with your hands. Getting creative in even the simplest of projects can be therapeutic for your soul and help get the wheels turning in your mind.
  10. Dig deep into the internet for the things that make you laugh out loud. Babies with drawn on eyebrows, cute dogs doing funny stuff, teacup pigs in boots. Take it all in.
  11. Call your bestie. She always knows what to say.
  12. Write (or talk) it out. Whether you prefer to journal with pen and paper or let it all out on a voice memo to yourself, give whatever big or small thoughts may be rolling around in that head of yours some space in the world.
  13. Start a routine. Whether you get up early to do yoga or sneak into the chocolate chips after your kids are asleep, get something on your schedule to look forward to each and every day.
  14. Get some air. Step outside, even if just to enjoy your coffee on the porch or to watch your dog do that leap-through-the-snow funny business. Fresh air has a special way of working magic.
  15. Call it quits for the day. Sometimes a day is too far gone. Don’t dig your heels in just to suffer over work you’ll probably end up redoing tomorrow. Take the mental health day and don’t you dare feel guilty about it. 

How do you like to flip your day around? Share with us in the comments!

holiday anxiety

Jess shared the essay below on her experience with holiday anxiety along with a collection of other women from across the world. The project's mission is to create awareness and open up conversation on mental health during the stressful holiday season. Read their stories and share yours at Behold.Her. 


My relationship with the holiday season is complex. I absolutely adore the season for the opportunities to give and celebrate with loved ones, gather around food, and plug into that childlike joy that comes from twinkly lights and the smell of sugar cookies. However, I am paralyzed by anxiety when it comes to the day itself.

My parents separated when I was a teenager and the holidays became the pinnacle of heartbreak. Even before their divorce, we spent the day shuffling from house to house, visiting grandparents, aunts, cousins and then loading up and doing it again. Once our parents also had separate houses, this just added to the chaos. We never sat still and enjoyed the company of anyone because we already had one foot out the door to head to the next location. I remember feeling sick with guilt for being with one parent and not with the other, and as we made our shuffle to the next house, the same guilt would creep up in reverse.

This mess of pain and guilt and anger and sadness has stayed with me from childhood, when I thought surely my life was uniquely broken— to adulthood, where I’m now certain I’m in good, anxious, irritated, stressed out company. 

This year’s holiday season is particularly uncomfortable. I am recently separated from my husband and celebrating the holidays alone for the first time in a long time. The idea of sitting solo at the Thanksgiving table doesn’t worry me, but the inevitable conversation about my alone-ness at these holiday events is and will continue to be absolutely crushing. I already feel myself pulling back, declining invitations, and looking for excuses to fill my calendar to avoid these moments. 

Getting divorced has taught me a lot about other people, and one of those things is that they are so, incredibly, freaking uncomfortable with talking about hard things. They either divert to awkward babbling or douse you in pity and sad eyes. Neither of which cultivates a comfortable conversation space. Neither makes me feel good. Throw in the pressure of having a holly-jolly time and too much mulled-wine and it’s a nightmare.

The proverbial cherry on top is that I do not celebrate the holidays with any religious ties. I float comfortably between the titles of agnostic and atheist, with zero desire to discuss my beliefs or belittle anyone’s opposing beliefs any day of the year. Christmas day is traditionally an occasion spent hiding my tattoos, avoiding conversations about Christ, and now carrying the sinful burden of my divorce around the table with my very conservative family. (Sidenote: I could write a whole new essay on how to awkwardly make it through family prayer/not audibly gag when we 'pray for our president.’)

I don’t have any words of wisdom for surviving the season. I truly believe that everyone suffers through their own unique heartbreak, anxiety, confusion, and frustrations around the holidays, and the best thing we can do is own it—put our stories out there, support and love one another, and take our friends for drinks the minute they make it back from their family’s home. 

To anyone who feels their chest tighten at the thought of the holidays, know you’re not alone, you’re not broken and like any other season, this stressful, hard season, will pass too.

Also, if you’re up for running away to a beach somewhere to avoid it all, let’s freaking do it.