OK I KNOW I NEED TO LIGHTEN UP – BUT HOW?

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept it, and light a match.

I know the moment I truly started on my self-improvement journey. I Googled ‘How to stop hating yourself’ in 2016, which led me to a book called Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself  that changed my life. You probably know the rest if you’ve read the post.

Recently, after a difficult but loving conversation with a dear friend about how our relationship was feeling heavy, I Googled ‘how to lighten up’ and found nothing useful. Not one single article or listicle I could relate to.

What the shit!!! It had worked once when I needed a solution. But this time I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the same.

If you’ve ever read my Instagram captions or my blog – it’s not a stretch to say I’m a heavy person. I’m introspective and tend to get myself elbow deep into the piles of shit most people want to avoid at all costs. It’s the reason this blog exists after all…but it also means I can also come off as intense and a little dark at times.

We all have dominant traits that make us who we are, but when they get out of control they can mess things up in all areas of our lives. We all find ways to manage the internal see-saw. 

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The part of me that hates myself screams “who the do you think you are trying to write a book? Trying to become boxing instructor? Who gives a shit. And moreover, what do you know about any of this?” The part of me that hates myself believes that my urges to numb out every emotion with a grocery list of unhelpful techniques will never change for good. The part of me that hates myself tells me that I am a burden to my friends and family. That I have too many thoughts and feelings. The part of me that hates myself uses shame and fear to motivate me. The part of me that hates myself uses “why even bother” as an excuse to avoid vulnerability. This isn’t about proving other people wrong. It’s never been about proving other people wrong. Besides, I learned a long time ago people’s conclusions about you are less about you, and more about them. I’m trying to prove that part of myself wrong. I am, in fact, becoming the person I also hoped, dreamed and fought to be. Sometimes that part of me just needs a little proof and a lot of love. Sometimes I need to force that part of me to stop yelling and start listening. This isn’t some Bell Let’s Talk shit that exists only one day a year. As much as I can write this caption, I can’t write a clean beginning middle and end to this. This is just what goes on in my head and my work is fighting back against it. Sometimes I have the strength to win that fight, and sometimes I don’t have it in me. And that’s when I reach out for help. 💭🤝 #wholeheartedliving

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I used alcohol to manage as an adult. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I wasn’t an alcoholic before I stopped drinking almost 8 months ago. However, I showed signs of being a problem or grey area drinker. I would deal with negative feelings by drinking or eating them down so I could continue being the life of the party. I was still bitter and aggressive but at least after booze it was in a softened, silly half-cut kind of way. With alcohol, I could take myself from being in a mood where I wanted to cry from stress, to slurring sassy comments and texting people I shouldn’t be texting to generate some fun in the moment.

Alcohol was the easy lever I could pull anytime I needed to lighten up. 

When I first got sober, I lightened up immediately. I felt like I had found the ultimate life hack. All of the ease with none of booze-adjacent struggles. I was saving money! I was making better decisions! I didn’t have the booze blues anymore!!!

Then, inevitably, I dug into the work of recovery and shit got REAL. Sobriety and recovery are not the same, which is a fun fact that hit me like a brick to the face about three months in.

Believe me, I know I was a bummer to be around. I was groping around in the dark in an attempt to figure out how everyone else dealt with bad days on top of having, what felt like, a complete shit show of an existential crisis. I was doing my best, but I truly felt like I couldn’t lighten up.

So I tried all the normal stuff: yoga, meditation, therapy (the counsellor I had when I was in early recovery wasn’t a good fit for me unfortunately), journaling, and mostly texting and talking to my friends when I was feeling shitty. Which was a lot. I also revisited eating and Netflix as coping mechanisms.

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading, writing, reflecting and questioning lately. I guess when I think about it, the other three all feed into my writing. I’ve changed a lot and done a lot since finishing my degree and getting an “adult” job. My opinions are different, my hair is different, my mindset is different. I am older. I am more educated on the ways of the world. I now need special cream for my face (goddam eczema). But there is one thing that steadfastly has not changed, and I hope never will: I love writing. It is a warm blanket after being out in the cold for too long. It is a way of making sense of the world. It is a way of bearing witness. It is a messy mud puddle that you can’t wait to jump in. It is an unruly teenager that sneaks out in the middle of the night but makes you proud at the end of the day. It is trying to herd a bunch of hyenas on acid. Here’s a pic of my writing happy place with a new backdrop. I definitely wrote this while feeling a writer’s running high. Let’s be realistic: It’s not always sunshine and rainbows and sometimes I gotta rip the words right out of me, but it’s meant to be. It’s still love even when it’s hard. #instarealtalk #truth #vulnerabilityisstrength #mentalhealth #bravingthewilderness #writersofinstagram #selfcare #selfacceptance #calledtocreate #winnipeg #everydaygratitude #liveoutloud #parentsupport #findyourself #shameless #gratitude #desksetup #deskdecor

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Nothing seemed to help. I felt like a black cloud all the time, which was one of my biggest fears about giving up alcohol: I wouldn’t be fun anymore. And as it turned out, it sort of came true, but it taught me something really important.

I got into the toxic habit of treating a lot of close people in my life like my personal therapists. It’s healthy to ask for support and to talk things out, but there’s limits and boundaries to how much your loved ones can really help. Besides, now that I have a good therapist I’m trying to see regularly I can safely say that those are much more productive conversations and it means I don’t have to put the people in my life through unpaid emotional labour. Which isn’t cool.

Fortunately, my friends and family were willing to talk to me about what they were feeling instead of just running in the other direction.

So after my failed Google search, I started thinking about a new way forward in my recovery.

I thought I had to word vomit, exercise, or numb out all the darkness out in order to lighten up.

I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is accept the darkness and all that comes with it, and light a match.

I couldn’t find lightness in numbing because it obliterates everything — both good and bad. Denying negative or heavy emotions also isn’t realistic because it denies a part of you that exists for a very good reason. So now, I’m trying to stop grappling around for a lever or light switch and meet my internal struggles with unconditional acceptance instead of intolerance. I want to be empowered to make my own light.

Part of the journey has been figuring out the people, activities, and places that create light in my life. Especially my newly sober life.

So far, I’ve figured out that reliving ridiculous moments is a great way to light that match. My go-to memory involves a public park bathroom in New Orleans with a broken lock and yeast infection medication. Nothing reminds me how absurd life is quite like that moment.

Also on the list of things that seem to light a metaphorical match in the darkness: Being outside. Riding a good spin class. Looking at old vacation pictures. Writing. Laughing.

I’m looking to add to the list, but I’m still figuring it out. If all else fails, I just lay on the floor and listen to Magic by Coldplay. Can’t lose with Coldplay.


I recognize that seeking professional help isn’t always accessible or financially feasible. Here’s an article about different types of therapy options for different price points.

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ON REALIZING THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY: FORWARD

I’ve finally figured out how to describe what it feels like to go from who you were before to the vivid, sparkling present. It kinda feels like a form of…grieving?

I couldn’t find a photo I liked for the header so please enjoy this photo of me from Grade 7 when I still had a unibrow but didn’t really know *how* to pluck it and only wore black t-shirts because I always had sweat stains. Simpler times.

I’ve always had a habit of talking about who I used to be. Especially when I would go on  dates, which, as my counsellor has pointed out to me, isn’t really relevant to who I am now.

It’s no secret. I have a lot of regrets and pain in my past which is why it’s such a *subject* for me. I mean, I’m writing a book about some of the stories FFS.

I’ve spent WAY too long ruminating it and letting things that happened years ago dictate how I would feel about myself on a day to day basis. I’ve allowed regret to make me feel like a Bad Person. I don’t know when, but at a certain point I have accepted and fundamentally acknowledged that my past is a part of me, but it isn’t *me* anymore.

So I asked myself the other day, at what point does the past intersect with the present?

When does the ‘before’ become the ‘who I am now’?

And how do you know when you’re internally shifting from one to the other? How do you know when it’s over?

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I only have a handful of photos from when I was a teenager because I didn’t have Facebook until I graduated high school. I almost completely erased them all or lost them over the years. This one is from 2008. In most of the pictures of myself from this time I am drunk, and if I recall correctly, this photo is no exception. I couldn’t bear for many years to look back and reflect on this time I spent struggling, feeling misunderstood and trying to fit in. It would always bring back a flood of memories about eating disorder recovery, depression, therapy, pain, binge eating, drinking till I blacked out, heartbreak and academics. Even typing this I still remember sitting in a bathroom stall scratching the skin off my knuckles till they bled. I remember shutting my parents out. I remember having my first panic attack. I remember believing that I was only in university classes in high school because I knew how to work hard, not because I was smart. But I also remember wearing a hoodie with a tall collar to cover up hickies, winning an award for having the highest grades, setting the carpet on fire in the drama room, making out with boys in forests and under bridges, fighting with my one of my best friend’s and making up in a food court (thank god @jocelynhummelt ), getting an underage drinking ticket, writing a 30-page screenplay, giving people who tried to cheat off me the wrong answers and being an unpaid production assistant on sets 😂 I haven’t always been able to look at photos like this one and remember both sides of the same period of my life. The parts that make me laugh and the parts that hurt my heart. I know it’s the magic of hindsight, but also I’ve learned that you can’t have one without the other. I still have both sides in me and that’s ok. I was messy, deep, loud, raunchy, creative, all over the map and over the top then, and I still am now. I wouldn’t change any of it.✨☺️✌️#10yearchallenge #throwbackthursday #tbt #teenagerposts

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Grief is associated with death. Which totally makes sense. But I think it also can be a way to describe the natural response loss or perceived loss, not just of someone or something you loved, but of anything. I’ll give credit where credit is due – I started thinking about grief differently when I read chapter seven of Rising Strong by Brené Brown.

I think this is the best way I’ve found so far to describe the internal shift between the before to the vivid, sparkling present. It kinda feels like a form of grieving.

Now, I won’t say that what I’ve felt is anything like losing a loved one who was close to me. I wouldn’t ever make that comparison. But I do find it interesting that the emotional process of moving through grief has been similar.

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with the stages of grief and loss below is a briefing:

  1. Denial and isolation;
  2. Anger;
  3. Bargaining;
  4. Depression;
  5. Acceptance.

People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.

I think it clicked when Brené explained in Rising Strong that change that is perceived as loss can spark grief.

I guess 2019 has been sort of a weird grieving process for me. A confusing, emotional, slow, weird sobering process letting my past go. A movement between the ‘before’ to the ‘who I am now.’ I’ve written about on my blog while I was in the early stages of it, but I’ve always struggled on how to express what this whole thing has felt like now that I can get my head around it.

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Sometimes our past has the ability to confront and/or overwhelm us. When triggered we tend to lose perspective and begin to act from a place of insecurity, fear, and hurt (rather than awareness and authenticity). When being faced with our past, it’s important to remain aware, engage in a dialogue with ourselves, identify our needs, and seek perspective or support (if needed). •• • • • #selfawareness #awareness #reflection #relationships #boundaries #triggers #mentalhealthtips #selfesteem #mentalhealth #psychology #psychotherapy #counseling #therapist #selfdiscovery #selfcare #selflove #lifetransitions #identity #authenticity #emotion #privatepractice #onlinetherapy #onlinecounseling #millennialtherapist #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters #past

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It’s a confusing process to release your past self and way of life. It’s that moment where you deeply realize everything is different and there’s absolutely no way to go backward. It’s only forward from here on out.

For some people this might feel more like one chapter ending and another beginning, or a subtle slow shift until one day you realize you deal with things so differently you barely recognize yourself.

But once I read Rising Strong, I realized it’s felt a lot like grief. Which is kind of upsetting in itself, because who am I to compare losing someone to leaving behind a part of myself? But it’s a loss. I held onto it so goddam tight. But now that I’ve forgiven myself and come to terms with almost every part of it, it’s feeling like getting out of bed in the morning and not knowing what to do with yourself. It’s having nostalgia about the past, while knowing you can never go back. 

It’s saying goodbye to the story I’ve always believed to be true about myself.

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My past self still haunts me. Not always, but sometimes. Slipping in when she finds an opening. She is a spectre. Not quite a memory — a way of being. Coming back to remind me that at one time I was a different person who set fire to everything just to watch it burn. I can’t see her when she visits me but I know she’s there. I can feel her replaying old memories on a projector onto the back of my mind. The full body sensation of shame that puts you right back there in that moment when your world revolved around whatever was happening. I feel my spine tingle, and I know I’m not safe here. I plant my feet and observe that everything keeps moving even if I stop. I can’t go back to that place and time where she was thriving and making me believe that destruction was the only option. I remind myself she’s a spectre. Gone but never forgotten. Her lessons and scorched earth are part of who I am today. She left me with almost nothing so as an act of survival, and mercy, I left her behind so I could start over. I was built from a new blueprint on the rubble she left behind. #realtalk #poemsofinstagram Photo by @mskanishaszekely

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I can say “I’m different,” all I want, but it really appears in the smallest of moments.

Walking home through downtown late at night totally sober and passing groups of people on the street searching for where to go next. Hearing slurred voices cheering and yelling and conversing while I’m on my balcony. Feeling the twinge of desire to participate but knowing that’s not my path anymore. Finding my way in this new way of life. Smiling to myself and sleeping soundly. 

Being so fully present that I can’t ignore things anymore. Learning how to tell people when I’m hurt and tackling conflict head on. Accepting that my “cut and run” mentality has kept me emotionally protected but not connected for far too long, and knowing it isn’t brave. Coming face to face with my people pleasing tendencies. Looking around and realizing the people I love most are imperfect and worthy of love, and so am I.

Having those dates where you return home and walk in the door and either a) smile to yourself as you hang your keys up and brush your teeth because it felt GREAT b) come home and yell WHAT THE FUCK MAN to yourself in your apartment and go straight for the carbs because you are seriously questioning your own judgement or c) come home, let out a big sigh and text your friends asking “why do I do this shit again?” Trying very hard to not overthink shit, but also not ignoring the obvious. Yenno?

Laughing. Laughing so much. For me, laughing at when shit goes wrong and knowing it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean I’m a Bad Person. It just means shit happens. Being able (for the first time in my life maybe) to not take everything so seriously!!!!!

Sitting with the moments where it occurs to me I’m not living my values and feeling the bodily sensations come over me. Feeling the shame story cloud my brain. Sensing the alarm bells go off in my head to drown the feelings – peanut butter, Netflix, anything – because they are seriously uncomfortable. Resisting the screaming urge to turn away from myself in that moment. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. Finding the courage to get curious. Exploring ways forward that are within my integrity.

Realizing my tendency to worry endlessly. Realizing my tendency to overload myself even though time and time again it sucks the life out of me. Realizing my codependent tendencies. Owning my tendencies and accepting it all. In some cases, admitting that if I can’t find a solution on my own, maybe a therapist can help. 

Being truly, truly happy in a way that I don’t think I could really feel before.

Catching myself hustling for the approval of people who will never understand me, love me or respect me. Finding out that connection really has to begin with how you feel about yourself. Knowing, deeply, that you cannot plant a flower in concrete and expect it to grow. 

Letting go of the sense of certainty about my future I clung to so tightly. Deciding to uproot myself for a while (fall 2019) because it feels right. No clue what I’ll come home to or how I’ll feel on the other end of the extended trip I’m planning. Dealing with the fear related to that.

Crying so fucking much. Because there have been many times where I can’t keep it together during these confusing times where my past tendencies push up against who I want to be now. Releasing because my body can’t keep things packed down anymore after years of doing that.

Forgiving myself for what I cannot change and allowing it to make me better. Because as I’ve figured out the hard way, there are no other options or shortcuts past this part.

“…When I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.”

The Book of Forgiving

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As I write this, I’m sitting on my balcony listening to Beyoncé’s Homecoming album drinking a non-alcoholic beer thinking about every summer before this one. I’ve never felt this different. Maybe it’s because for the first time ever, summer doesn’t really represent what it once did for me. It doesn’t hold the same kind of reckless promise, but I’m realizing that’s for the best. Summer doesn’t mean I start worrying about wearing shorts or preoccupying myself with the grand question if this is the summer I will *finally* grow a thigh gap. The answer is no. It will always be no, and that’s a-fucking-ok with me. Hotter weather just means I continue to wear what’s comfortable and makes me feel like…me. The idea of an open afternoon conjures bigger plans then sitting outside getting sunburnt while drinking pitcher of sangria followed by a nap to sleep it off (only to wake up in the evening hungover). It might mean I get up early to go for a hike or read a chapter of a book on some good grass somewhere. It definitely means no hangovers. Summer doesn’t mean I feel heightened expectations or weird irresponsible urges to have a fling. Be impulsive because of the heat and beer. Avoid tough conversations because they aren’t “good vibes only.” Summer just means I’m gonna keep doing me, loving the absolutely shit out of the people in my life and being honest with myself and others about what’s working and what isn’t. I don’t need to go wild to feel alive anymore. The start of this summer feels wayyyy different than every single previous one, and I’m just gonna tip my head back, feel the sun on my face and take it all in 🌞 P.s. The day after a breakup I was trying to distract myself so I ended up spending like $200 on decor in Marshall’s and bought this stone squirrel. Her name is Spinelli 🐿 #sobercurious #summer #livingoutloud #wholehearted

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It’s quite simple: I was always worthy of love and belonging but I never believed it, so I never acted in ways that aligned with those beliefs. Even now I struggle to believe it half the time but half the time is better than no time. I am still in it, this process. Progress over perfection and what not.

I suppose I am grieving the part of my life where I did not love myself. Where everything was a sign I was a Bad Person. Where there was very little questioning and a whole lot of self-destruction. Where I only directed criticism at myself and not kindness. Where I so badly and deeply wanted connection but was too scared to show up authentically in order to really let it happen.

It’s weird…because I thought at many points in my life I did this work already.

I thought I had done it. But I know better now. Even as I write this I’m still not done, but I know there’s a difference between this process and maturing.

Maybe there were some token moments of accepting that I couldn’t change the past, but they weren’t coupled with a healthy dose of compassion and forgiveness. There was an attempt to own my story and who it has made me into, but no execution. I wasn’t ready to accept my story.

I know it’s different now because there’s only one way forward.

Which is what my favourite movie scene is all about and I will endlessly repeat this quote because it’s too perfect:

I was a slut. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?

Silver Linings Playbook

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ON CELEBRATING THE FACT THAT YOU ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE

I believe people make decisions about other people based on this super rough formula I totally made up:

It’s whatever information they have in front of them, plus the trust factor (what you are willing to share with them and the likelihood they will get more information in the future) and physical proximity, plus shared tendencies and hobbies, multiplied by their individual life experience (shared life experience can make you much more likely to get along), divided by differentiating characteristics and values. What makes people different? If you are someone who puts themselves out in the world, has a vocal opinion, acts differently than the majority of society (for example, if you don’t drink),  dresses differently, has taken an unconventional life path, experienced a specific type of trauma etc. etc. You’re going to be different and therefore less likely to be able to connect with just anyone.

Obviously this is not very scientific, but the reality is that we are constantly processing some variation of this formula when we come across new people.

My name is Raegan and I am in rehab from being an over the top people pleaser. I come by it honestly — I get it from my mother (she works in sales and it made her exceptionally good at her job).

It’s a characteristic that I’m working very hard to overcome and I know I’m not the only one who a) deals with this and b) finds it hard to swallow, especially when I look at the ways it’s done more harm than good over the years.

I find the formula above freeing. It reminds me that there’s just no way, based on all these factors, that we are going to emotionally connect with a good chunk of the people we meet — it’s just a fact of life. It also reminds me to take off the tophat (this isn’t an audition, Raegan) so people can see the real me. Because the formula doesn’t work when you change to fit the mould of what you think the other person wants.

Some people don’t struggle with this. If you are one of those people please SHOW YOURSELF IN THE COMMENTS.

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

So how did I (collectively: we) get to this place where I (we) care so much? Based on research, it looks like fear, anxiety and pressure play a big role, which isn’t very surprising.

Pressure….

  1. To be likeable and nice.
  2. To appear as though you have a squad* or a lot of friends.
  3. To feel accepted (which is why being different can be so damn hard).

We’ve all heard the phrase “nobody likes a people pleaser.” So why are there so many of us?

Short answer: we are hardwired to belong, so don’t feel too bad.

“The need to belong, also often referred to as belongingness, refers to a human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group.

The need to belong involves more than simply being acquainted with other people. It is instead centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of the group as well as providing the same attention to other members.” (Full article here)

If there’s something I’ve learned from reading ‘Braving the Wilderness,’ by Brené Brown, it’s that belonging begins with ourselves. It really starts and ends there.

“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.”
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

You are not for everyone, and you will not belong everywhere but that’s a good thing. You deeply deserve to be appreciated for who you are, and celebrating the fact that you are not for everyone is an extension of that.

REJECTION SENSITIVITY

This is hard to admit, but I know the pain of what happens when your opinion of yourself is based on other people’s opinions of you. Essentially, it means your self-esteem is as fragile as a sandcastle and some mean kid can come and kick it over at any time. I spent all my teen years bending over backward to be liked. I gave everything to everyone and as a result I got dumped, treated like a doormat (you don’t exactly command respect when you are like this) and had one person flat out say they didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I definitely developed rejection sensitivity as a result.

Taking baby steps to get to know myself and show my true self to people, knowing full well that I could be rejected, is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my adult life. For me, part of working through my rejection sensitivity is celebrating the fact that I’m not for everyone in a healthy, glass half full kind of way that honours and shows love & gratitude to my true self. 

It doesn’t mean I suddenly don’t give a shit about how I make people feel. It means I can say no and not feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. It means not chasing people down who don’t want me. It means not going over the top when it comes to simple apologies. It means taking the power back and not letting other people dictate how I feel about myself. It means I’m no longer apologizing for who I am as a person.

There’s always room to grow and I know I’m not perfect, but if you don’t like the real me, you can pretty much kick rocks.

“Taking ownership of your own fears and anxieties is the first step toward improving your relationships. Rather than expecting others to heal you, start by healing yourself.

This requires you to take a good look at the anxiety that fuels your neediness and longing for approval. The more you can deal directly with that anxiety within yourself, rather than trying to work it out through relationships, the more you will begin to heal those old wounds.” (Full article here)

Every day I accept more and more that I am a serious, opinionated, life-loving, risk-taking, aggressive, acquired taste and I don’t need to change who I am to make people like me. I am healing. I am going where I am wanted.

If you feel you are not in a place where you “belong to yourself” yet, as Brené would say, that’s ok. Don’t blame yourself. It’s pretty damn human.

When you aren’t sure if you are people pleasing, ask yourself:

  1. Am I being genuine?
  2. Am I working for approval?
  3. Am I being agreeable to avoid conflict?
  4. Am I reacting genuinely, or am I objectively crafting responses?
  5. Am I caretaking, or am I responding truthfully?
SHARING YOURSELF IS SCARY

Here’s my question: does the way you are interacting with others honour your sense of self-worth? How committed are you to rebuilding, healing and sharing yourself authentically even when it’s scary? Even if you make a commitment to yourself, then stumble or break it, it just means that you are willing to fall, f*ck up, get back up, honour that commitment to yourself and KEEP TRUCKING. Struggling doesn’t make you any less strong.

Here’s one more Brené quote before I send you on your way:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

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HOW I LEARNED TO FIGHT FOR MYSELF

What made me put on the gloves and get in the ring.

For the majority of my life, I was misguided. I have no illusions about this. 

I went through some heavy stuff when I was younger (that I don’t feel comfortable disclosing), and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me and the relationships with the people around me.

I don’t need to tell you too much to paint the picture. I’ve thrown up in someone’s parents’ flower bed, yelled at my parents while drunk, fooled around on a soccer field and been taken home in a cop car. I was never one for drugs, which to this day — I’m still very scared of.

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I think I’m 16 or 17 years old here? Honestly I couldn’t tell you.

If you know me now, some of this might come as a bit of a surprise to you. I do talk like a trucker most of the time, which is one of my old habits that hasn’t quite bit the dust yet.


A guy I dated when I was 22 called me something along the lines of “a drunk whore,” (that’s G rated for you) and that was the first time my inner fighter lifted her head, provoked.

I had taken those hits before from people before many times. Metaphorically, my ribs were bruised, lips fat. I was sitting in the corner defeated for most of my late teens and early 20s. But this time was different.

Why? Because prior to that moment, I would’ve said “you’re right.” I’ve written about this before: I hated myself, and I wore the insults people flung like a fitted leather glove.

But I had begun rallying and building up strength in the corner, and I was determined. This was the period in my life when I first discovered self-help books and realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles and flaws.

Everyday it felt like it took all my mental capacity and emotional energy to try to change my thoughts about myself. For those who have never tried to change destructive thought patterns/loops: it’s the mental equivalent of continually practicing a jab-cross-hook-uppercut on a punching bag all day every day. For years.

I worked so hard to make the small amount of progress I had made, I wasn’t about to let someone-that-I-will-not-name come and knock me out cold.

I don’t know how to describe it, but it was in that shitty moment that my months of repeating affirmations changed into an actual belief. Before I would say to myself “you are worthy of respect,” but didn’t believe it in my gut.

But it dawned on me that’s not who I was. I didn’t deserve that title. So put my boxing gloves on and got in the fucking ring. And I’ve been fighting for myself ever since.

I’m not perfect, and I’ve never claimed to be. 

I’ll admit to my flaws and the harm that I’ve caused.

Not all of my choices have been smart. 

Not all of my words have been kind.

I’ve struggled with alcohol use.

I’ve done uncharacteristic things out of shame.

I’ve been deaf and blind to my own emotions.

My words and actions have come from a place of insecurity.

I’ve been self conscious and acted accordingly.

I am sorry for my mistakes.

I do not come from a self-righteous place where I’m claiming that I have figured it all out. I do not come from a place where I’m standing before you saying I’ve always known better. I’m still learning in every way.

I didn’t always understand what it means to be body positive.

I didn’t reflect on my internalized misogyny. 

I didn’t always know about intersectional feminism.

I wasn’t always capable of admitting to my faults. And I don’t deserve a medal now for doing so.

I absolutely haven’t always been the person I am now. Everyday I’m fortunate to wake up and try to live out my values better than I did the day before. I am ready to be wrong and call myself out when I slip up.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the reason I am the way I am now is because of what I’ve been through. I have so much empathy for people who are in the middle of that struggle where they want to fight for themselves, but aren’t ready.

With all of that being said, I’ve come to a place in my life where I know I’m flawed — but I’m learning, growing and still deserving of happiness.

I deserve to love and care for myself. 

I am worthy.

I am enough.

And that is the biggest and bravest statement I can make out loud. That I love myself, not despite my flaws and experiences, but because of the person they’ve made me into.

There are people who have tried to put me in my place again since that moment, but I’m still ready to fight for myself. Elbows are down, gloves ready at my chin, ribs are protected. I’m not trying to throw punches, but I am ready to protect myself when necessary.

All we can do is the best we can in the moment, with the knowledge we have at our disposal. I believe that applies, always. We can have the “wrong knowledge” and still believe we are doing what’s right.

I know now he called me a whore from a place of pain, and I don’t hold it against him. We all do shitty things when we are in pain because we’d do anything to make it go away. I know this firsthand.

Admitting your flaws is cool, but you wanna know WHAT’S EVEN COOLER??!?? ADDRESSING THEM! WORKING ACTIVELY TO UNLEARN HARMFUL THINGS YOU TOOK IN GROWING UP! That’s the growth bit. But it starts with stepping up and being able to admit your wrongs or harm, say you’re sorry (when relevant), speak your truth(s) and move forward (ideally with self-compassion, because that tends to make things easier).

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In my personal guidelines of engagement under ‘Read First’ in my highlights, I’ve included this super helpful graphic by my sis @killing.georgina. The reason I’ve included it is because, as stated in today’s posts – most people with white privilege don’t know how to make a sincere apology when they’ve caused harm to BIPOC. This simple but powerful graphic teaches you how to make a sincere apology that doesn’t include ‘buts’, explanations of intent, fragility, defensiveness, further harm, passive aggression or falling apart. Ria also wrote a post about it on Medium in an article called “Oww, Ouch: How to Apologize”. If you find this graphic useful, I highly recommend supporting Ria and her writings on her Patreon at Patreon.com/killinggeorgina.

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Nobody wants to come out, be vulnerable and say they haven’t been perfect. It’s scary and it gives people a chance to hook you in the ribs; but showing up in that way and exposing yourself (in a positive way) puts you on a path to living your full potential. We’re all human. We’re all flawed. We still deserve to shine and love ourselves.

We don’t need to fight each other, but we do need to fight for ourselves. That’s why my  affirmation is “fight for yourself.”

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HOW I’M UNPACKING YEARS OF SELF-OBJECTIFICATION

This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

When I was 19, I won a booty shake contest at a local bar (specifically, The ‘World Famous’ Palomino Club, if you live in Winnipeg).

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Me at 19 😂 Sweating profusely, wearing a Hollister plaid and clutching the cash I just won courtesy of booty shake Monday at The Pal. Exhausted, six or seven drinks deep likely and ready for an after-bar McDonalds run. I don’t regret participating, but I recognize now that shaking my 🍑 in front of a crowd of strangers and doing things to get them to cheer me on is the perfect marriage of objectification and self-objectification.  Self-objectification is what happens when you think of yourself as an object of others’ desire first, and as a person second. I wrote all about realizing the impact of self-objectification on @whatcomesnext.co this week, and wrapped it up with the things I’m doing in my everyday life to undo the damage. This post took too many drafts and discussions to finish, but it’s out there and I’m proud 🤷‍♀️ Link is in my bio. #tbt #truestory #olderandwisernow #throwback

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Why did I do it? I was drunk, a friend was egging me on and my boyfriend at the time was unimpressed when I said I was thinking about it. So naturally, I did it to prove a point.

But when I was up there, it felt weird and performative. Even with four (maybe even five?) shots of Fireball in my system, I couldn’t reconcile that feeling. But I walked away with a bunch of cash and bought myself a Big Mac so I wasn’t thinking too hard about it.

Self-objectification (SO) is thinking of oneself as an object of others’ desire first and as a person second. 

In simple terms, self-objectification is objectification coming in an incestuous full circle.  

According to a study done out of Eastern Michigan University by Kroon & Perez, “regular exposure to objectifying experiences socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts.”

As someone who attended my fair share of therapy growing up, and went through an eating disorder treatment program, I’m surprised that the first time I heard about the concept of self-objectification was when I started trying to put words around this thing I was feeling and noticing.

Let me paint you a picture: A guy sees a beautiful girl in a crowd. Maybe she’s sitting in the corner, or has an imaginary spotlight following her as she floats around the room. Her personality or character doesn’t matter. Everything else melts away, and nothing shines through but her beauty. He chooses her because she’s a mythical creature who’s MYSTERIOUS!!!! Why? Because we know nothing about her other than what she looks like.

Oh, not to mention the fact that we’ve also been socialized to believe that beauty = goodness of character.

Iliza Shlesinger has a bit in her Netflix special Elder Millennial on the fun scenario I described above.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve shoved myself into a tight dress (the one in the photo below is leather and especially terrible) and hoped somebody noticed me. I was totally oblivious at the time how much I was setting myself up for disappointment.

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Typing that makes me want to light my computer, and my entire soul on fire. Don’t try to tell me that’s not what we’ve been force-fed in movies and TV. That’s what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner growing up; If we are picked out of a crowd based on looks, it means we are valuable and valued.

The danger with self-objectification is that it is associated with a number of ills including body shame, appearance anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Think about how that manifests itself for a second: women who self-objectify put all their value on being seen as a sexual object, then when they finally get to the part where they are supposed to be *~SExuAl*`~and have sex, they’re supposed to shut off everything they’ve learned up until that point and “enjoy themselves and be free.” BUT they are typically so preoccupied with the way their *INSERT BODY PART* looks that they can’t. Even. Enjoy it. (NOT THE FIRST TIME I’VE TALKED ABOUT THIS FOR A REASON)

When I did let good men into my life, there was almost a part of me that discredited them for liking me for who I was as a person. After all, I had been completely brainwashed into thinking the only thing that was valuable about me was my looks, and I found it hard to believe someone was going to give a shit about my personality, goals, dreams and hobbies.

I shrugged off accomplishments and thwarted off feeling proud for YEARS. I didn’t think it all meant anything compared to the cultural currency of beauty.  This narrative of “how to be a woman” hung over my head playing puppet master, making me do things I knew weren’t right for me.

The worst part is — I had no clue.

My self-objectification was so internalized it was totally undetectable. I wanted to be mad at myself, but I know from reading other women’s stories that I’m not the only one.

Not only had I objectified myself, but I knew I had also done it to other women. For example, every time I would worship someone for their body on Instagram without any regard for their humanity.

I actually felt sick to my stomach when I initially started doing research for this article because it felt like too much to wade through. But here I am writing this, so I guess you could say I put on some rubber boots and I’m getting to work.

I don’t regret participating in that contest (being under 20 is the perfect time to do dumb stuff like that), but I recognize now that winning money by shaking my ass in front of a crowd of strangers and doing things to get them to cheer me on is the perfect marriage of objectification and self-objectification.

Once you understand self-objectification and see yourself acting it out, you can’t unsee it.

I’m still coming to terms with the catastrophic damage that years of self-objectification have done. The diet pills, drinking to be less self-conscious, jealousy, following fit girls on Instagram as weight loss motivation and the *all-consuming concern* that someone will see my cellulite.

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2015. Closest I’ve ever come to doing a boudoir shoot and I look so serious. I’m wearing a HUGE pushup bra (I have small boobs, don’t be fooled) and I didn’t want to take off my jeans because I was too self-conscious about my cellulite at the time. Photo by Kanisha Szekely.

When you strip it all away, it’s simply a way of existing in the world. A story we tell ourselves that has been told to us for generations. Awareness is everything. You can contribute to the narrative the media has rammed down your throat, or start to rewrite it.

For me, this isn’t in line with who I want to be, so I’m ready to let it go.

I read in a Psychology Today article that learning about SO reduces its impact (thank goodness), and they suggest that we actively work to…

  • Override self-surveillance (e.g. sitting a certain way to look skinny, looking in the mirror constantly to check yourself)
  • Reduce our contact with sexually objectifying media (e.g. stop reading appearance-focused magazines)
  • Reduce contact with sexually objectifying people or groups (e.g., discussing another woman’s appearance with your friends because of something they posted)
  • Choose clothing based on comfort
  • Challenge sexual objectification when we hear it or see it
  • Decline to participate in demeaning the appearance of ourselves and others
  • Counter critical self-statements
  • Compliment on things other than appearance
  • Cultivate sustainable ways to affirm our worth

Learning about SO helped me find the missing puzzle piece in understanding why my self-esteem was non-existent for most of my life. I’ve gotta say, it’s actually kind of a relief to know what to call it now.

I know it’s going to be a struggle. I know I’ve stumbled already. I know it’s worth it.

The most interesting thing about me has nothing to do with the way I look, and if there’s something I’ve learned in my self-love journey I know I’ll never be satisfied with a well of validation that always runs dry. I have a feeling the next time I get on a stage to prove a point, it’ll be empowering. Not objectifying.

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2014. Winning a community radio award. This photo captured a spark of genuine pride.

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