I Am Not Afraid Of Who I Am: Cultivating Power Through Vulnerability

Monday, October 17, 2016

I am always grateful for opportunities to share my story, and potentially open minds. A mix of old and new, here is what I shared with Salisbury students today. 

This is the kind of woman that makes me hope I never have a daughter. What a slut. You filthy, diseased whore. Mentally and physically ill. Kill yourself. I hope she tours the Middle East so I can read her memoirs from prison.
Since publicly disclosing my HSV-2 positive status, this is just a short list of the reactions I have received in response to my blog and various publications. What is most disheartening perhaps, is that before these comments were even typed, the majority of them ran through my head upon learning that I carried the virus.

That day in July 2015 will forever be engrained in my mind. It is similar to most stories you will read about people discovering that they have herpes. Lying on an examination table surrounded by a team of nurses who continued giving me hugs that I did not want, nor need, to receive. There is a sense of shock. A sense that this isn’t reality. And then, there is the moment when reality sets in. I remember crying to my father, asking him, who would ever want me? Now that I have this? Who would ever love me? Or try to? Who can see past this? Who can see me?  As the tears and questions subsided, the stigma of calling my body home to a sexually transmitted disease began to set in. 

Overwhelming confusion followed the course of the next week. Several days in limbo had passed when I finally received a phone call that my blood test was negative, and I did not have the herpes virus. A sudden wave of relief poured over me. The next day, I received a phone call with a conflicting story. My culture had returned positive for herpes, signaling a recent infection. It takes a significant amount of time to develop antibodies to the virus, so it would not appear in my blood for several months. Until then, I threw myself into researching everything I could about HSV-1 and 2. Twelve weeks after my initial diagnosis, I received the results of my latest blood test: “This test confirms patient has genital herpes, HSV-2 +.” I never realized how much it affected my self-esteem until I saw the paper reflecting proof that I carried the virus, officially. For months, I masked my pain with a temporary high: alcohol. More often than not, each time I took a sip would lead to memories that I would not later recall. I consider this as one of the darkest periods in my life.

I struggled for several months associating my name with herpes. I constantly compared myself to what society had told me this person was like, and I did not see a reflection of myself in her. I am the girl who wears her heart on her sleeve. I am the girl that is not emotionally capable of having a one-night stand. The individual who transmitted herpes to me was someone whom I trusted, and had known for several years.  I was the person that society told me is not the “type” to contract an STD. As it turns out, there is no "type."  Despite society’s definitions, here I am, testing positive for herpes. I have come to learn over the last year that I do not stand alone in my confusion or my story. 

I am certain that there is a greater purpose in my contracting the virus. I have career goals aligned with sexual health and education, so I firmly believe life is steering me on this course for a reason. The stigmatization of the herpes virus is more overblown than I originally thought. The looks and responses I have experienced from members of the medical community have been snide and judgmental. From nurses whom I have spoken with on the phone who asserted, "You should've worn a condom," to glances received after picking up my Valtrex prescription at the Target Pharmacy. Most people who have herpes, do not even know they are infected. This is commonly referred to as "The Silent Spread." Even if you use a condom, you can still contract and spread the herpes virus. The only way to prevent its contraction is to abstain from sexual contact. You have cold sores? You have herpes, too. There is no "lesser" version of the herpes virus. It is our terminology and misunderstanding that leads us to stigmatize herpes and those who carry it.  This is what I hope to see change during my lifetime, and is a great portion of why I am so open, willing, and eager to discuss my HSV-2+ status. 

After my relationship with the person whom I contracted herpes from came to an abrupt stop, I found the strength, confidence, and power in sharing my story. From that moment, I decided to cultivate my vulnerability to create positive change in the world around me. My journey, with the initial hope of impacting a small piece of the world, has turned into something much larger than that. Since publishing my inaugural blog post in December 2015, I have received nearly 30,000 views. I have been published on a variety of mediums, including Thought Catalog, Elite Daily, and The Feminist Wire. Most recently, I became a contributor to The Salisbury Flyer with my own bi-weekly, sexual health column. I am fortunate to have a voice and platform for sharing my story, although myself, and others in my line of work, face a significant amount of backlash and harassment. The negativity is countered by the emails I receive from men and women across the globe who identify with my story and they often bring me to tears. The lessons from my journey continue to reveal themselves to me in unexpected ways.

The most meaningful one I have encountered thus far has been normalcy. We see the facts and figures reported by the CDC of just how common herpes is, but it is difficult to believe. It is estimated that 776,000 people in the United States contract some form of the herpes virus annually, yet we are still left feeling so alone, so lost and worthless. We all encounter stigmas and stereotypes in our lives at some point. Whether it be a disease a loved one carries, our own mental health status, or something as simple as a career path, or outside interest. We take a risk each day in our presentation of who we are to the world, and others can choose to accept or deny our reality. Those questions and fear I held in regard to love and acceptance were answered sooner than I thought. I thought it would be impossible for someone to love and hold affection towards me. I was convinced that no one could or would want to see me in a sexual light. But I was proven wrong. Not only did I learn that I am still worthy of pleasure and respect, regardless of the virus I carry, but also, that disclosing my herpes status was no longer my biggest fear.

We all are afraid of something. I find that being oneself in a world constantly trying to tell you who to be is one of the most common ones. We hide behind social norms and tend to only share the positives on social media. We all have a story, and a part of ourselves that we are afraid to bring to light. I try to approach my life in a way that reminds me that we are all carrying different burdens, and some we are more comfortable sharing than others. Some eat away at us until the day we bid the earth farewell.

I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of having my heart broken again. I am afraid of living a passionless life. But one thing I do not fear is sharing my story with the world.    

Letting Go: Time Travel Through Attachment and Memory

Saturday, October 1, 2016

A day before my yoga training began; I had a realization of one of my life purposes. I truly believe that one of my roles on this planet is to teach people how to fall in love with who they are, body and soul. I am reminded of my time in Paris, The City of Lights and Love. While dining on the Eiffel Tower, as snow glistened through the window, tears rolled down my cheeks. The experience was so surreal, and I knew. I knew I was ready to fall in love. A tad naive, and three years later, I now realize I attached that love (or what I thought was love) to a person, as opposed to my true first love, myself.

As humans, we habitually hold attachments, and often hold on to things we shouldn’t, for longer than we should. We attach ourselves to other people, even though they may be toxic to our well-being. We attach ourselves to memories, how a person made us feel, or maybe what he or she saved us from. We attach ourselves to emotions, a close cousin of memory, there often cannot be one without the other. We attach ourselves to wealth and material items, like the pile of stuffed animals in the corner of our parents’ basement that bring us back to our childhood. Each day, every person around us is carrying some kind of attachment, some kind of weight he or she may not be willing to share with the world, or even, him or herself. 

For me, detachment has been a lesson I was never eager to embrace.  Even if there was some sense of need to let go, I just was not ready. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that. Now, personally, I can see a bigger picture as opposed to fantasies in my head. I am someone who has let people consume me, even control me in friendships and romantic relationships. Even when people were not in my daily life, I was a victim of memory and emotions tied to their identities. It was not wholly the responsibility of these individuals to blame; it was my tendency to prioritize fantasy over reality.  I am a dreamer, I always hope I remain one, but I am learning that there is a much-needed dose of reality to balance that side of myself.

 My awareness of my attachments, merely thoughts in my head that I am in control of, help me release the ones that no longer serve me. The friendships that fueled negativity and imbalance, the relationships that bred toxicity and stagnancy. Fantasies of certain people and relationships, of where they could go or could have gone, held me back from other beautiful people in my life. We so easily let our thoughts consume us, take us away from our pain, or pain we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves. The past will haunt us, and if we’re not careful, it will seep into our present. It will tear through meaningful relationships; ones that never had a chance to blossom. It will take us away from friendships and leave us surrounded by things instead of ideas and voices. It will leave us lonely and empty-hearted and consumed by the mundane. It will keep us close to home, and we may never act out the courage to explore the world, or the depths of ourselves.

At the root of attachment, is fear. From a gender perspective, men are taught to hold in their emotions, while women are taught to exhale them, to bleed, to embrace their femininity. I am a highly sensitive and intuitive person. I feel everything very deeply. Love and pain are rooted within me, and I acknowledge that and let myself feel as needed. As I have become comfortable in expressing my vulnerabilities and sharing my emotions, I cannot imagine keeping them locked within me again. I was haunted for so long by my own mind, by what could be or could have been. I was a prisoner to emotions that I was afraid to disclose. Once I found that freedom in release, I was so much more content within myself and my thought processes. 

I think part of the reason, we cling so tightly to people and material items from our past is because they are tangible. We see them as vehicles to travel back to a certain point in time. A certain feeling. We think that releasing them means we no longer will reach that part of ourselves again, or we are somehow tossing them away. But if we devote that same sense of longing of those people and things,  to ourselves, we can live through those memories on a daily basis and use them to propel us forward, instead of pulling our heart-strings in painful melodies. As we learn to devote that love to ourselves, we are able to grow and reach our true potential in friendships, relationships, and maybe even our purpose in the world. 

I wish I could return back to that moment in Paris, sipping champagne and gazing through tears as each snowflake fell. I still have a box of memories from that trip, including the receipt from the restaurant. In some sense, I have returned to that moment. I met my memories halfway, and moved forward in a positive relationship with myself, as opposed to my original fantasy. Upon that realization, I know I am meant to help others seek the same sense of happiness and inner peace that I have found within myself. 

"Memory is a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past.." 

Doing One's Church: How My Yoga Practice Began My Journey Of Self-Healing

Saturday, September 17, 2016

My collection of knee socks serves as a testament to my Catholic education. From pre-school through high school, we bowed our heads in memorized prayer each morning and afternoon--I can still recite most of them by heart. Despite this routine and obligation, there has never been a point in my life when I felt that I was closely aligned with religion of any kind. As I have grown older, more independent, and increasingly aware of my values, I have found that Catholicism, really is not my thing. I do not even know the last time I attended any type of church function or gathering.
Something my father always instilled in me was the importance of "doing one’s church." A man who came from a family of strong faith and Catholic schooling, my father stated, “There are many who attend church each Sunday and bow their heads in daily prayer, but what it really comes down to is how you live your life, and how you treat those around you each day.” I grew up watching my dad work two full-time jobs, and I never really understood the impact it made upon me until very recently. I saw him leave in the morning and return in the dark. In summer, it was not unusual for him to arrive home, covered in sweat and saw dust, at 9:30PM—and he had not even sat down for dinner yet. Although my father did not have time to physically kneel before an alter each Sunday, he made his church a reality through his daily actions. His example instilled in me this philosophy of doing one’s church—whatever that means to you. 
I fell into my yoga practice during my first year of college. It was more of a fitness-style class, so there were no “aums” or teachings of yogic philosophy.  Shortly after my first exposure, I discovered that a “real” yoga studio would be moving down the street from my apartment. Slowly, yoga became integrated into my workout routine. It soon became habitual for me to attend classes two-to-three times a week. I learned to crave savasana, and that I was much more comfortable in some poses than others. Upon graduation, I was hesitant to leave my small, hot yoga studio that I called home. I was sure that I would never find anything else like Soul. And in a sense, that’s true. There will never be another Soul, or another version of myself at that time--nothing will replace the point in my life when Soul Yoga Studio served my presence best. Although the studio and its teachers will always hold a special place in my heart, I (reluctantly) allowed myself to enter into a new home.
I will admit, I was hesitant about Thrive. It was different, it wasn’t like the small studio I was accustomed to in my college town, but I decided to give it a chance--I had to give it a chance. After all, I needed a yoga studio, especially one that offered a hot practice, and times that fit into my schedule. Originally, I chose Thrive because of its hot yoga classes, however, it became much more than a hot yoga studio to me. Showing up for yoga the week of my herpes diagnosis was one of the most difficult classes of my life. Each forward fold, each hip opener, each downward dog, I fought through shame. At what point does the pain between your ears outweigh the pain between your legs?
As I transitioned through this dark phase of my life, so did my yoga practice. Poses that once were my favorites, became some of the most difficult to work through because of the scars and emotional heaviness that became integrated into my body. I drifted from the idea of forcing myself into a certain practice, or committing to a pose because that was the teacher's suggestion. I stopped limiting myself to a strict, hot vinyasa practice, and began to enjoy the benefit and peace of mind that restorative poses offered me. Through this new definition of open-mindedness and mental clarity, I began a journey of self-healing, one that I am still working towards.  
This summer, I finally had the financial ability and intuitive sense to know that this was my time. I submitted my application for the 200-hour teacher training at the studio I was once so hesitant to join. During the week, it is more likely for someone to find me lounging in the nook at Thrive than in my own apartment. For me, yoga has evolved into more than that physical sense of well-being. For me, yoga is therapy. Yoga is the one place where I willingly let go of my phone and actually take offense when phones sound off in class. I have never found such a closely-knit group of positive minds, creative minds, and open souls than I have at Thrive. Many of my teachers have become very close friends. Over the last several weeks, attending classes has been difficult. Going through this heartache has been difficult. The unexpected outpouring of support I have received from Thrive is almost miraculous. People I had practiced next to without spoken word reached out to me and offered an ear to listen, and even friendships to be made. 
 I now bow my head and bring my hands into prayer for a different reason, one that fits me and my journey to inner-peace and self-love, closer than Catholocism ever brought me. Church was an obligation for me, and I attended because I had to. At first, yoga served that sense of obligation in my life, too, however, I began to grow towards yoga, which meant growing towards myself. My mat has become my sanctuary. My mat has become my church. And now, it is time to take my practice even further off the mat. 

Holding My Coffee A Little Closer Through The Seasons

Thursday, September 1, 2016

There is a shift in the air this morning. As raindrops trickle down to earth, the wetness on my skin no longer humidifies against the summer heat. It fades into a crisper temperature, the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up in an oversized sweater with your morning cup of coffee and linger a little longer in bed. Coffee that very well could be a Pumpkin Spice Latte in just a few short days. Although fall does not officially reintroduce itself until September 22nd, there is a definitive change in scenery today.

Volo Coffeehouse in Philadelphia
The transition from summer love to fall romance is a commonality known to many, usually referred to as ‘cuffing season.’ Ironically, at a time when relationships often reach higher levels of closeness and intimacy, some drift to the other end of the spectrum—they fall apart. You were beginning to look forward to fall, a favorite season of many. The fulfillment in that feeling of that first chill in the air when it’s not quite warm enough to wear your favorite floral sundress, but not cold enough for coats and mittens, either. The weather when you can glance over at your sweetheart and he’ll offer you his hoodie without a word or second thought. As you watch the leaves paint your daily scenery with a new sense of life and inspiration, your mind drifts from thoughts of slathering sunscreen on one another and sleeping under the stars to togetherness during the holidays: introducing him to your family at Thanksgiving, what ugly sweater you’ll wear to the annual Christmas party, curling up by the fire with a glass of champagne as you welcome the incoming year with a shared kiss.

 Fall is a time of definitive transition in both climates and hearts, but for those whose hearts are broken, it carries a bit more weight. Losing a lover during your favorite season causes you to bring increased awareness to that sudden chill in the air. There are none of his jackets draped over your shoulders, and the shared space in the IKEA bed you built together is now left empty, along with a dented pillow where he used to rest his head. The Sunday morning breakfast and coffee excursions you once made routine adventures become mundane meals which you have to relearn to enjoy in the company of your own mind. The spoon clinks against the bottom of your bowl as you finish the oatmeal that replaces his special chocolate chip breakfast pancakes he made just for you. The football games when your teams meet one another in match no longer ignite that sense of shared sexual tension and excitement, but now frustration as to the way you ended, enough of a reminder for you to switch the channel, or even turn off the television altogether. The changing leaves are no longer a sign of embarking on new adventures with your partner, but the realization of a reinvention, a deeper rooting of yourself as you begin to shed your own leaves. The realization that he is no longer intertwined with your roots and is off creating some of his own.    

By the time the trees are barren and winter’s first snow blankets what’s left of the crumpled colors, we are left feeling that fall was just a fantasy, a season that was not quite finished, just like the end of our summer romances. We lick our lips after the final sip of our cup of morning coffee by the fire, and peer into our empty mug that mirrors the blissful snow on Christmas morning. Although we have grown through the seasons, it is during these moments when we can’t help but drift back to the unfinished illusion of “us.”  

The Like-Like Factor

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

                Picture yourself in your kindergarten classroom, sitting-cross legged upon the circular, crimson rug, painted with alphabet letters. From across the room, your eyes twinkle as your crush grabs a crayon from the box. He picks up another, debating which shade of blue to color the sky with. You smile, you don’t know why. You don’t like him—you like, like him. An important distinction at five-years-old.

As our minds grow and expand, so do our hearts. A shift occurs as we begin to move past the scribbled names in our diaries, and plucked dandelions on the playground. The way he accidentally brushes against your skirt and tugs at your pony tail in elementary school begins to ignite more carnal cravings. You no longer yearn for a peck on the cheek, or a hand to hold during recess, you want more. You want his touch to linger across your frame—to pieces that still have not quite made you full-bodied. You never act on these desires, but you begin to fantasize.   

via Pinterest
High school rolls around, and there’s a new boy on your mind, a new fantasy to pursue. A boy in your math class, he’s intelligent, and picks up his number two pencil the same way your kindergarten crush held his blue crayons.  But this boy is more decisive, more complex. He does not simply color the sky as it is, he sketches your mind. He does not need to choose between colors in order to paint you into his world, you become his black-and-white fantasy. You imagine him tracing numbers down your spine, feeling the way his pencil smooths over each crevice between your vertebra. You envision him drawing emotional equations across your chest and asking you to countdown from ten as he inches ever-closer to your toes. You begin to learn this person’s body better than you know your own. You begin to bleed the led from his pencil as you share your first “I love you,” but it’s not returned. Blood turns to tears, and you find yourself wrapped in your father’s arms. He holds you close, and assures you that one day, your pain will make sense. Probably not today, or tomorrow, or even this year, but one day. Your teenage angst begs to differ. This is your first heartbreak. You walk into math class with your eyes lined in black and your body snuggled deep within his hoodie that you can’t seem to return. The world seems to stare at you as you take your seat, a new seat that isn’t behind his. The equations screeched by chalk into the blackboard are enough to evoke a single tear down your cheek. Day one of survival.

Years pass you by, and with each new man you date, you reflect back to the lovers of your life—the ones you loved, and the ones you thought you loved, and the ones you were actually in-love with. You think back to the boy with crayons, and your sweetheart with the pencil who you wanted to break in two (like he did your heart) ,and you think of your dad. You think of what he told you, and you begin to make sense of it, nearly ten years later.  You loved him, but you were never in love. You do not have to be in love with someone to love them. Every person you hold any amount of love for deserves to know your affection and admiration that you hold for him or her. In the end, it’s that difference between like, and like-like that we all want to hear.

*A heterosexual, cisgender woman's perspective

Moving Forward & An Unexpected, New Favorite Memory

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

              It’s Tuesday morning and at 7:55, I finally found myself at my desk-- covered in layers of deodorant, Chanel Mademoiselle, and dry shampoo, as I haven’t showered since Saturday evening. A decent night’s sleep took precedence over my appearance today. This is how I cope with loss and heartache.

                A solitary person, I retreat further and further into my mind, caught in the cyclical questioning of my heart. There are still have questions that have no answers, and answers that lead to more questions. The most poignant one being, “Why does this always happen to me?” Melodramatic and unnecessary, yes, but that reasoning is not enough to silence its echo. Last year, I was broken up with by a man of the same name, in another almost-relationship, who also left me for a former lover. I cannot help but compare the two tales, and relive a piece of that heartache, as well.
I think whenever there is a break up or new relationship, we have a tendency to reflect back on previous lovers, at least that is where my heart leads me. My favorite memory in my life thus far has always been of my time in London and Paris in January of 2013. There is no word to describe that adventure other than magic. Prior to embarking on that trip, my best friend’s god-brother messaged me on Facebook. He was stationed in the UK in a branch of the US military, and I suppose my friend informed him I would be tagging along. We’d chat here and there, I enjoyed his virtual company. Even if he talked about getting me naked, that was more real than asking me, “What’s your major?” I bought it.
After a day at the National Gallery, Maddy* and I returned to our flat with bottles of wine and champagne in preparation for Jon’s* arrival that evening. We showered and did all of those time-taking things women do when they get ready for a night out. There they were, dress shirt, ties, and shoes shined. Jon brought two of his good friends with him, in hopes that Maddy would get along with one. They were also extremely drunk when they arrived. I didn’t think he was that attractive in his Facebook profile picture, but in person, my God. No wonder Maddy said he was an asshole.  With those looks, he could afford to be whoever he wanted. Two bottles of wine in, and we were off for a night I will never remember. Seriously, I don’t remember a lot of it.
I remember him dragging a Christmas tree he found on a curb through the streets of London. I remember one of his friends falling down a flight of stairs and breaking his ankle. I remember the moment he kissed me on the escalator before boarding the Tube. Click. I remember the eclectic vibes surrounding Camden Market. He thought I would like it because they had a store called Cyber Dog with sex toys and electronic dance music. He was right. I remember the vintage pictures I purchased for my apartment. I remember him buying me a beer. I don’t even like beer, but I drank it. Click. I remember making out with him in the Tube and I didn’t care if people thought I was some crazy American chick.  It was the click that made me do it.
I woke up in the morning next to him in my tiny little bed where he was not supposed to be. I was naked and going to be late for the bus to Stonehenge. I asked Jon what happened and he just pursed his lips together, so I kissed him. I stumbled to my suitcase and realized I should probably eat before I puked my way down the stairs. Maddy came in screaming. Apparently Jon and I had sex in our sleep. A lot. And apparently, everyone else knew about it. Apparently I lost my clothes halfway up those flights of stairs I dreaded. There were cameras in the hallway and the company who rented the flats to us called the trip supervisors. I sacrificed my best friend for a click and now the group thought I was a slut. But I didn’t care. Click. This London Emily, I liked her.
                I lived through that memory for a very long time. I never felt such a strong spark or connection. It was the closest thing I had experienced to love at first sight. It took me two years to write Jon, who was still an ocean away, and divulge my feelings from that night, the night I knew would change my life. The night that did change my life. Although the almost-relationship with Jon ended poorly, I was not wrong in my suspicion that he would impact my life. When he returned to the US last year, we both were genuinely curious as to whatever connection existed between us from that night. As much as I did not want to chalk my emotions up to foreign soil or drunkenness, I now believe they were largely responsible for the electricity I felt that night. The events which took place over the last 48 hours, however, translated that memory of spark, into energy veined through my heart.  
                Despite the emotional turmoil I encountered this weekend, I believe I replaced that night in London with a new favorite memory. I now know what it feels like to live through my heart, and what true, genuine love for another person feels like. And although I am hurt, I risked it all, and I admire myself for that.  Since my previous post, I have received an overwhelming sense of support and comments from friends and strangers. People who relate to my story, people who admire my bravery—wishing they could exude the same confidence, wanting to sit and chat, and then there are those from college. Some I know well, others I don’t. And I think the comments from those individuals have been the most meaningful to me. People who said they knew us in college and had been rooting for us for some time, despite our lack of involvement, despite a time when we rooted against one another, despite an "us" that did not exist. Two people that had never even officially been together made a collective impact on those around us.  No matter which direction we head, or if our paths cross again, I think those comments speak volumes to our connection as friends and lovers, perhaps even transcends it.  

As honest as I have been with those around me, I owe that same sense of honesty and vulnerability to myself. I have made the decision to, for the time being, cut out alcohol. I used alcohol to numb a lot of emotion last year, emotion which I am hesitant to admit that I am still weighted by. I am beginning to wonder if I may have a variant of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is why I am also reaching for some external assistance in navigating this wave. I am a strong woman, a stubborn woman, and I tend to carry a lot of weight on my own—I prefer to. I did a lot of self-healing over the past year, but there are still pieces of myself that have yet to be touched, and this break has cut some of those wounds open again. At some point, I will likely reintroduce my love of wine and margaritas back into my life, but now is not the time to fall down. I know the person I became, a person who relied heavily on drinks to move past the pain, a person who would blackout every time she drank, a person who I did not very much care for. I do not want to see myself lose my identity again, especially now, with as much success and future that I hold in my hands. While I was strong for myself before, I believe this is an even stronger decision for me to make.
*Names have been changed

Herpes, Heartbreak, & The Man Who Brought Me Back

Monday, August 29, 2016

Red is currently smeared around the chapped edges of my lips, my hair is tangled in knots, and mascara-crusted teardrops drape from my eyes to my cheekbones. My heart is deeply weighted today.

I just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, with the sole purpose in sharing the remainder of my heart.  Saturday night, I received a phone call from the man I was almost dating. There was never a discussion of official titles, or where this was headed, we just were.  I did not expect that our relationship would reach the level that it did. He struggled to tell me there was someone else, someone from his past who took immediate precedence over label-less us. Feelings for an old flame that he needed to explore. For the second time in a year, I had been left for a former lover, and all of the cliché break-up quotes began to fill my mind. One would have thought the second time around would be easier, but this is more difficult than the first.
I made it a point during our courtship to never write about this man specifically, until now (to which I did receive his permission). There was a point in our friendship when I blocked him out completely. I put blinders on and moved forward without him, and this time, I am not so sure I can do that. Slowly, beginning last summer, I allowed his presence inside my mind. I specifically recall the courage it took me to accept his Facebook friend request. It took me a lot of strength and forgiveness to let this man back into my life, and I did so very cautiously, especially considering how things ended for me in the relationship prior to this one.
Last week was filled with an increased passion between us. He and I share a deeply intimate friendship laced with an addictive sexual connection that is difficult for either of us to ignore, and last week, we reached a definitive pique. He invited me to visit him that weekend. There was chilled Prosecco waiting for me upon my arrival because he couldn’t quite remember my favorite champagne. That week’s accumulated sexual tension between us was finally allowed release.  Despite the increased pleasure and sensations ricocheting between our bodies, I think my favorite part of last weekend, however, was the mundane. Him cooking me a turkey burger, without cheese because he knows my distaste for it. Helping him with his laundry. Making his bed. Grocery shopping. Drinking morning coffee with one another. Taking my bags to my car, kissing me, asking me if he’d see me soon.   
That was one week ago. You never think the last time will be the last. The last adventure you share, the last coffee he buys you, the last kiss that echoes amongst your bones on the two-and-a-half hour drive home. This man helped me rediscover my sexuality after my herpes diagnosis. This man taught me to place value in myself again. This man breathed life back into my heart. I am consumed with depth for him, and on Sunday morning, I decided to share that.
So after grabbing coffee with a friend, I drove to Philadelphia, unannounced, something completely out of character for me. I did not know what I was going to say, and didn’t have an agenda other than to share my heart. Once I arrived, I gathered my courage and knocked on the door, around 1PM. No one was home, no roommates to be found. I opened the door, plopped on the couch and texted him that I was there. He was out of state, and would not be back until later that evening, as he had to change his plans to accommodate my arrival. I decided to explore the city. I found myself at a wine bar and kindly asked the waiter, “What’s a good wine for heartbreak?” I ended up going with the “Crazy White,” as I thought it was an appropriate selection for describing my actions. I sat there alone, sipping, thinking, reflecting, gathering pieces of my heart—years of my heart. I had not expected to write down my words to him, but that is what transpired as I gazed over the streets of Philadelphia.  
Upon my return to his neighborhood, I walked down to Main Street for dinner. He texted me that he would be home between 9:30 – 10:30, so I lingered a little longer at the bar than I should’ve. I walked home, one margarita too many, and felt my heart sink into my throat, my bones rattled, my chest caved. My intent was neither to change his mind about his decision, nor persuade him in any way, I simply desired an honest, face-to-face conversation and communication about my accumulated feelings for him, which have been buried over the years.
I never accepted the feelings I held for this man until that phone call Saturday night. We have quite a history. A history of a somewhat, forbidden relationship in college, a mutual hatred for one another, and now, an intimate friendship. If one were to tell me that this is where I would be caught up in my feelings for him, I would have easily laughed it off.  Our relationship, as friends, lovers, and the like, is nothing short of complex. I have never been more open and honest with anyone in regards to my feelings. I have never reached this level of depth and complexity with another person with such ease. After my last relationship, I sincerely doubted that I would ever be able to achieve this level of intimacy. 
Although he and I are drifting separate ways for now, I know I did the right thing, and I can live without the weight of regret. My theme for 2016, as I’ve stated numerous times, has been honesty. Previously, I have held regret for not sharing my feelings with lovers past, and although I was given the opportunity to share my feelings with this man, and was lucky he was open-minded enough to listen, I do wish I opened my heart to him sooner. I have no regrets about my trip this weekend. My heart made me do it. My heart leaped from my chest Sunday morning and whispered, “This is what you need to do. You have to go. You have to speak. Now.” My heart that I never thought would beat again, now beats because this person walked into my life and showed me a new perspective of myself. Showed me that I am worthy of love, affection, and intimacy. I have nothing but positive things to say to him, about him, and of him, and I hope he finds what he is looking for on his journey. I do not know what is next for me, but I believe my focus is meant to shift.
Some likely will label my actions Sunday as crazy, and in a sense, they are.  I never thought I would be the woman driving unannounced, over two-and-a-half hours to spill my heart to a man who likely did not reciprocate them. I am not the woman who waits for a man, especially nine hours. But the heart has reasons for which reason does not understand, and this weekend, I listened...   

How To Find Adventure In The Now When Your Mind Is Anywhere But Present

Saturday, August 13, 2016

                Achieving success does not necessarily make life’s journey any easier. At times, I feel as though I emit the illusion that I lead a life in a constant state of positivity. Two weeks ago, it became difficult to maintain that positive mindset. It seemed like each morning brought a new mental battle: losing my ID badge, losing my keys, waking up to craters on the side of my face, and a broken coffee maker at work. Although inconvenient, these became trivial matters when compared to the more pressing issues on my mind—closed doors.
That weekend, I was confronted with my past, two doors that were shut as 2015 transitioned into 2016.  There is no “how to” guide for navigating the settled dust and cracks on those doors when a gust of wind blows them open. We know they are always present, but there is no definitive way to prepare for the day someone knocks on them. I retreated inward. I revisited the reasons why I shut those doors, and why I no longer choose to tolerate toxicity in my life. I stand firm in those decisions, but I am not immune to self-reflection. Letting my emotions rise and fall allowed me to keep the doors closed and throw away the spare keys. During those moments, my past, present, and future came to intersect, and it became more emotional than I anticipated. 
I feel stagnant. I’ve noticed myself dragging. Finding motivation to begin my day has become challenging. Instead of two cups of coffee, it’s three. My old workout routines do not find home in my heart as they once did. I seem to be seeking escape routes from the mundane, which is ironic, because I thrive in routine. This is a personal pattern I have become more conscious of as years pass, and with each cycle, I’ve learned the value of self-navigation. Instead of accepting a bad day, or accepting my sluggishness as final, I try to practice awareness by asking myself the deeper questions. The ones I may likely be running from. 

“What makes you get out of bed in the morning?” A job with a steady paycheck.  
“Why are you sitting in the parking garage until the very last minute?” Contemplating why I continue to show up to work. 

The underlying answer to these questions is my dreams, my passions. My desire to further my education. To expand upon my sense of well-being. To explore and make an impact on this world, all while uncovering layers of myself. That’s the root source of my persistence. I am lucky to be where I am professionally at 23 years old.  Although this is not the job I see myself pursuing for the rest of my life, I am successful at what I do. But that success is not satiating enough, it’s not what keeps me working towards more. The job I hold now motivates me to work towards the job I want in the future. I am proud of what I have accomplished here, and I am successful in this environment because I have to be in order to achieve the level of success I desire for my future.  
There is this fine line that I walk between the present and future, and it is difficult to maintain my presence. It’s hard to remember which time period I’m in, they seem so closely interwoven. I have to be focused on my future in order to get there, but at the same time, I have to be focused now in my work, in order to reach that point in future. The future isn’t that far away either, and I think that’s what I crave. I crave an escape until that moment in time when “future” shifts to “now.” I’ve noticed myself wanting to run more, which usually means there is something that I want to run away from, and I think it’s here. I leave in the dark, I come home in the dark. On weekends, I’m either visiting friends or am creating my own adventures. I am rarely at my apartment. Well, why? What am I trying to reveal to myself? What does that represent? 
It kind of hit me. I don’t plan to be living in this town, this state, a year from now, so I need to explore the depths it has to offer while I still call this place my home. In attempts to find a balance between now and later, I’ve been driven to more adventure-filled activities. A few weeks ago, I drove down to DC at 4:15 AM to watch the sunrise from the Lincoln Memorial, just because.
Afterwards, I hunted down a local coffee shop, because I much prefer the eclectic charm of local brews than the overpriced deliciousness of my usual Starbucks order (In fact, I can’t even tell you the last time I went to Starbucks). Last weekend I ventured to Deep Creek, MD. Friday morning, I went for a run at 7AM without music, which was a first for me.  I am someone who needs an underlying rhythm to maintain my stride. But last weekend, that rhythm became breath, heartbeat, and mountain air. Later that afternoon, I went white water rafting. It started to rain about halfway through the rafting trip, but it didn’t matter. The inconvenience of rain to some, became beauty and wanderlust to others. Being away and swept up by fresh air caused me to forget that fine line between present/future. I was forced to focus on the now. I was surrounded by a group that made me forget to look at my phone, and that’s what I’m trying to strive for in the lifestyle I am continually working towards creating for myself.  
 The tug-of-war of time that I am facing represents significant inner growth for me. I have used different coping mechanisms throughout transitional periods in my life. In high school, it was an obsession with food and exercise. In college, it was solitude and self-love/relationship imbalance. Post-graduation, it was alcohol. And now? It’s an open door to an adventure with myself. One that is long overdue...