For so long, I’ve been the unconscious recipient of an entrenched and socially accepted dictum: to be beautiful is paramount. To stand out among others as ‘exceptional’ is the highest and most respected aspect of living. To be perfect is what makes a person whole. Even as a young girl, I displayed these tendencies. I remember shaming others for their almost-but-not-quite perfect test scores while simultaneously longing to be among the smartest students in Project Potential. I remember the agony of my obsessive compulsive disorder; the need to touch, to say, to silence, and the embarrassment I felt when others unknowingly caught me in my rituals. I remember, as a senior, glancing in the mirror, to see a haunting reflection as both my self-loathing and physical body ballooned. And I remember my first year of college and the isolation that it brought…and the diminishing meals that ensued. I remember periods of great joy: climbing ancient Mayan ruins, sharing hot chocolate with my roommates, cleansing my body in pools of crystalline water after an arduous hike. I remember periods of great sadness: so full I couldn’t bring myself off the floor, so empty I couldn’t walk without dizziness. Nothing mattered if it didn’t mean I was engaging the same cyclical thoughts every waking moment, and by night, I was so mentally and physically exhausted that my mattress became my only friend, and the sheets were the arms to embrace me.
I graduated, I searched, and I found. I moved as far away as I could from the desert wasteland that brought on so much agony for so many years. I found what seemed to be paradise: a city with architectural integrity, a people so different from my own, and four seasons to boot. The spring was coming to a close, and summer’s heat was at its heels. And with it, all my history came rushing forward. Suddenly, I realized things weren’t going to be perfect. Moving wasn’t the panacea that I thought it would be. And so, in just a month, I was full and empty and lonely and sad. Though I loved the people I had met, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. So, like so many people in desperate need of a rabbit hole, I looked for that external approbation that I felt would make me happy and whole.
A dream…that’s all it seems today. Nothing, no one, can ever replace the fire and passion and love that I longed to feel within myself. Yet, I hoped for healing, because healing and love can undoubtedly coexist. Healing and love must coexist. However, healing and love are most accessible when they are cultivated and practiced within ourselves–we cannot hope for another person to orchestrate and manage the process.
Today, I feel gratitude because, just like millions of other people in this world, I’ve felt pain, passion, love, heartache, sadness, and resolve. I’ve been given the ultimate gift: a chance to find my way. I feel lost, and this emotion is brought on by residual demons that are determined to claw their way into my mind and spirit. The difference between then and now is that I’ve come to know myself better. I have also formed a special network of people who support me and always bring me light when I’m drowning in darkness.
I hope it’s true that one day I’ll be liberated forever. However, if and when that day comes, I won’t forget. I won’t ever — even for a moment — forget the work and determination that will bring me to a place of calm and peace. Until then, I’ll continue to find forgiveness for myself and others, and carve out a place for compassion in my heart.