On a hike along Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, my best friend and I reminisced over past relationships and our current single states. We evinced pride for putting ourselves first and focusing on our health and well-being. But then my friend mentioned something about forgiving herself – that even as we heal, we sometimes forget the blame we put on ourselves, even when we’re not to blame.
A month ago, I took a leap of professional development faith and attended a Bossed Up Bootcamp in DC. I had heard about the organization and its founder from a friend of mine, and I came to respect the organization and its mission even more when I listened to Emilie Aries on the podcast, Stuff Mom Never Told You. I didn’t really know what I wanted out of my career anymore, but as a woman, I wanted to feel empowered. I wanted to find the strength and stamina to continue to fight for the issues I believed in.
And while this may come as a surprise to many who know me, I actually do well in strange social situations. There is something about no one knowing who I am and where I’m from that gives me the freedom to play different roles and practice different personas. I love being in a room full of strangers. But it does take a lot of energy out of me.
Except I didn’t feel so free and excited at this Bossed Up Bootcamp. I had trouble connecting with folks. I felt excluded even though no one was excluding me. I couldn’t find the energy to “play pretend.” I couldn’t even find the energy to be myself. So, I just let myself be. I did get to know some amazing women, and I connected on an individual level with a few members of my cohort.
When I left that weekend, I felt exhausted and depleted. Why had that been such a struggle? These women all seemed so sure of themselves, and so sure that they were going to make it in the world. There is nothing wrong with that, but for some reason, I couldn’t emulate their excitement. I could only envy them for their energy.
At the end of Bootcamp, we were introduced to the Life Tracker. We chose a vision for four areas of our professional and personal lives: Work, Love, Wellness and Other. Then, we created three action steps for each vision. We gave ourselves motivations for achieving those action steps. And then, most importantly, we chose one vision to prioritize for the month, above all else.
It didn’t mean we couldn’t continue to work on all visions, but that we acknowledged doing everything at once is not always achievable (hear, hear, Type A persona). So, as much as I wanted to focus on my writing and my work for the month of February, I acknowledged that what I really needed was love. And my vision for love was “feeling supported.”
For the better part of my 20s, I was involved in two back-to-back toxic relationships. These relationships, in many ways, destroyed my self-esteem and damaged my mental and emotional well-being. I am lucky that I eventually found the strength to leave these relationships. I have been happier in my 30s. I am a stronger human being. I am writing again, and not just on this blog, but silly and fun sci-fi and spy stories (that I will never publish, so don’t ask).
I left that last relationship a little over a year ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. And even though I am healthier and happier, I am still scarred. In many ways, I blame myself for getting involved and staying involved in those toxic relationships – for letting others determine my own value and worth. I know my own value and worth, and I eventually realized that I deserved better. Those were not supportive relationships. So, it’s understandable that even now in certain toxic environments and faced with potential toxic relationships, I am apprehensive and ashamed. I’m ashamed that I let people bully me, that I let them get the better of me, that I let them make me think I am less than what I am.
None of that is true. I have built a wonderful support network in my eight years on the East Coast, and I have met, above all, some truly amazing and strong women – women who have become lifetime friends. So, at the end of Bootcamp, I recognized that what I need more than anything else is that feeling of support. I needed to feel loved, so that I could continue to fight the good fight and remember that I am worth it.
A Vision of Support
My three action steps included the following:
- Spend quality time with close friends – I spent each weekend in February after Bootcamp spending time with three of my closest friends. I knew that I needed a place where I could just be myself, where there was no judgment and anxiety. I didn’t have to plan. I could just be.
- Ask my best friend to text me once a week with words of encouragement and support – my best friend did more than that – she texted me funny gifs, heart emoji’s, words of love and virtual hugs multiple times a week. It is amazing the difference this made in everyday life.
- Don’t plan a party for my birthday – plan a hike with one of my best friends. I love hosting parties, but when it comes to celebrating myself, I knew hosting or planning a party would only bring forth anxiety and stress. I try to please people too much. I want everyone to be happy and have fun. But this year, I just didn’t have the energy for it. So, instead, I planned a hike with my best friend. We went to Harpers Ferry. It was rainy, cold and muddy, but I didn’t care. She didn’t either. We made the most of it, and I enjoyed it immensely.
It’s now the end of the month. I haven’t decided what vision I will focus on next. It could be my personal brand – it could be my physical strength or it could be more self-care. But for the first time in many months, I feel whole. I feel capable. I feel loved and supported. I achieved more than I ever intended this past month, only because I gave myself some leeway and just let myself be. I needed emotional energy, so I focused on that, but in gaining emotional energy, I also gained many happy moments, a fit body, better blood sugar control and some peace of mind.
I didn’t write much. But that’s okay. I know that if I want to move forward with my writing and my dreams, I first need to forgive myself for moments that have impacted me as a person but that were traumatic to experience. I know I am better off for surviving the scars of my 20s and using that fuel to ignite my 30s. I am 31 now. I am not completely healed but I am getting there. I can be proud of that.