Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Self-Love

**Note from the author: This is the end of a series I never thought I would be able to conclude properly. When I first began writing LTBV I was at an extremely low and vulnerable part of my life (that was almost a year ago to date). I re-wrote this particular last piece over and over and over again for the past couple of months. I just wasn’t in love with the words enough to post them, and considering this topic it didn’t seem right to publish something I couldn’t stand behind. Never have I felt more exposed with my writing, and never have I have been in love with something I have written more than each topic in this series. Here’s to the readers out there I hope you now feel like you have a shoulder to lean on with the words I have written.

By Traci Taylor
September 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

As summer winds down and my favorite season of the year approaches the feeling of fear overwhelms me instead of the usual joy of anticipation for autumn. This time last year I was in deep with depression, nearing the end of a relationship with a person that was my absolute best friend, and in turn fighting a losing battle with alcohol abuse. It was as if my world was crumbling around me without any real exit strategy for survival. I had hit a rock bottom that I seemingly couldn’t get out of without just throwing in the towel. After my relationship officially ended that second week in October I lost myself in helplessness and made an end all choice that I am grateful now I failed at attempting.

I approached the next day thankful to still be alive and decided it was time to start loving myself instead of loathing myself. Somewhere in that almost tragic wakeup call I became aware that drinking needed to come to a halt and I needed to begin living a healthier, happier lifestyle. I started a new job (left the one that was adding to my misery), got sober from alcohol for 8 months, and began writing this series (Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable) that is finally coming to a conclusion with the topic of “Self-Love”.

Sobriety was far from the easiest thing I have done in my quarter century existence on this planet, but in the same thought one of the most self-rewarding accomplishments. Through abstaining from alcohol I learned the importance of self-love and relearned what genuine happiness feels like. I know I have come a long way over the past year, but the hardest part of it all is being aware that this time of year will stick with me for my lifespan- it just depends on how I choose to fight through it. Everything does happen for a reason, and I believe my existence is proof of that.

Making sure self-love was a part of my everyday routine first started with self-care which meant beginning therapy. The best part of being able to talk to an educated individual who has no prior knowledge of your struggle is how rewarding it feels after the hour is up. I recall a day after one of my sessions where I was walking home and looked up to this gorgeous bundle of trees with leaves of golden browns, yellows, and reds. A sudden smile spread over my face with gratitude that ensured me I still have a long journey ahead of me. It was then that I felt an abundance of love for myself and for all of the life experiences I had yet to accomplish.

When winter started creeping around the corner, life got a tad bumpy again. The new restaurant I had been working at was reaching point of closing and I was weeks away from being unemployed. Needless to say I was beginning to feel that sense of helplessness again. Just when I was as stressed out about life falling apart at the seams, I got luckier than I ever fathomed was possible. Part of me still believes what happened next was one of the reasons I survived that day last October. For every day I chose to not give up on myself, I was about to experience the answer as to why.

As a kid it is hard to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that every difficult task life throws your way is for a better purpose. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that had a childhood painted with a white picket fence of a happy family or a yellow brick road to success. Like the majority of peers in my generation I got by with finding the strength within myself despite surrounding circumstances. It is simple to ponder the thoughts of the “grass is greener on the other side” but what is more self-satisfying (in my opinion) is being at the top of the hill after the climb when you thought you would never make it from the start. Self-love is about knowing I can get to the top as long as I choose to trust that I am able to. If I have gained one thing thus far in life, it is that reassurance. If I didn’t have that last winter, I wouldn’t have the opportunity that was about to come my way or what I like to refer to as my “top of the hill”.

I had been unemployed (restaurant industry isn’t known for its job security) for over a month and a half after the restaurant I work at closed New Year’s Eve. Constantly applying to jobs, getting interviews, but no real luck until I got the phone call I never thought would come. During my numerous amounts of job applications I decided to randomly apply to a job as a lacrosse goalie coach at a well-known private school in Philadelphia (a sport I once adored and missed dearly). To my surprise I got a call back weeks later, interviewed, and was eventually hired. Transitioning from athlete to coach was quite the obstacle at first, but it is one that I quickly learned to fall in love with. It was the change of perspective on life that I needed, and I believe the opportunity came into my life at that time for a distinct reason. Similar to the reward I get from writing (sharing my voice in hopes of helping others), coaching does that much more by mentoring future leaders through a mutual appreciation for a beloved sport. Being on the other side of the sideline unravels the big picture that the learning process never stops, not even if you are the coach (or teacher).

Each morning I wake up I no longer crave the sunset, but am now appreciative of the pale blues and fiery pinks of the sunrise. I am aware that not every day will be without a struggle, but with every day there is a lesson to learn. The greatest lesson over this past year has been accepting that I am only human, and I am allowed to have faults as long as I remember to love myself regardless. It’s hard to feel a nagging grey cloud of depression surrounding you and still try to believe that you deserve unconditional love. Sometimes, in those moments, your greatest accomplishment may be getting through the day (I’ve been there- it is valid). Just remember it may not get better tomorrow, but it will (I promise) get better at some point. When that day comes you will be so thankful you made it this far. Not a day goes by that I don’t ponder what life would be like had I not made it past that second week in October last year. Everything that I have become so grateful for over these 12 months would not exist. I used to think being a hopeless romantic was believing in finding the end all love, but really the greatest love of all is self-love. Once you have that, everything else will fall into place.

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Morning Dew

By- Traci Taylor
May 2015

Gratitude comes from within the sunrise,
not the sunset.
The dew of morning lingers momentarily,
time is never endless.

Moments take years to appreciate,
it’s never what is expected.
Hope is what remains for the innocent,
the cynics surrender early.

When the sky is like an oil painting,
the dreamers rejoice.
Vulnerability is rewarding,
but only appreciated when the sun disappears into the ocean.

Vulnerable Heart

By- Traci Taylor
April 2015

I loved in the lights of a city
When those lights dimmed,
I discovered darkness.

Hopeless and without love,
a demise to my open heart.
Seeking answers with only crickets of a reply.

It was the sound of the ocean waves
that brought me back to myself
My will power to still believe in endless love.

Finding the light within myself
was the answer of hope I was searching for.
No longer was the fear in control.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: The Struggle of Shame

**Note from the author: This is a topic I’ve been pondering over for quite sometime. I believe it has a very big role of importance in the LGBTQ community. Personally it was what kept me in the closet for so long and something I rarely talk about in places other than my writing. As the short story series (Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable) I started months ago is coming slowly to an end I’m finding that the topics I have saved for last can get very real. This story particularly is vital for me to share and have these words available for those that are going through the same hardships I once did (and still continue to face on occasion). Remember first to find the love within yourself– that strength alone is guaranteed to get you through the hardest battles life may throw your way.

By- Traci Taylor
April 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

At a young age I was sure of my attraction to girls, but somewhere along the way exposure to shame for those feelings forced me back in the closet. The power that shame has over individuals who are struggling with identity of any kind fuels unhealthy inner hatred. I remember as a kid how much of a tomboy I really was, and how that was viewed as acceptable. However those feelings I had towards girls that I mentioned earlier (and how much I perhaps enjoyed playing “house” a little more than the others) was frowned upon. It was seen as just a phase that was supposed to fade away. Looking back on the years of my adolescence I realize I was at one point “out of the closet” but quickly put back in due to shame that was enforced upon me.

Coming out of the closet was what I consider an important milestone in my life. The process of accepting years where there was a time I couldn’t even be okay with the person I truly was. For awhile I was in denial and full of shame for feeling like I knew deep down I was gay. Shame of being who you are is still a factor in the world today, regardless of how much progress has been made. There still are plenty of people that struggle to be comfortable in their own skin because of what they have been told or taught to believe. I know because I was that person from a very young age until my early twenties.

From my experience it isn’t just one particular thing that brings out this feeling of shame. There was the teasing from peers or side comments about being a “tomboy” or “bull dyke”. That the feelings at such a young age I was so sure of quickly turned into a self hatred, internalized homophobia. I began convincing myself that I had crushes on boys, and there was no possible way I could be gay. Somewhere along the way of being teased and hearing side commentary from my surroundings I persuaded myself to believe it was absolutely wrong to feel the way I felt.

Dealing with shame brought on a world of repressed feelings for me, and my rebellious behavior as a teen in turn. The overwhelming fear of being “found out” led me to maintain relationships with boys, which to me merely felt like friendships with really great guys instead of the puppy love my peers were feeling. Reflecting back I know there were times when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, that I had thoughts of “what if I am a lesbian?” and then quickly shutting off that part of my brain. It was like a piece of me wanted to be who I was, and the other was too afraid of what sort of rejection that would bring on. It was the result of years of hearing negative things about being gay that kept me in the closet and ashamed of the person I really was.

Even after I found the courage to proudly admit I was a lesbian without hesitation, there were still incidents that I encountered where shame tried to force its way back into my life. My sexual orientation does not make me less human or without emotion. Sometimes I’m convinced people that are homophobic forget that little bit of information when they deem it necessary to express their hatred. Each day I am faced with the possibility of getting catcalled for the way I dress (aka the way I am) or even holding hands with another woman in public. This is merely an example of society pressing shame back onto what I have taken many years to personally over come. It was years of fearing that sort of hate that kept me in the closet. Today I use it as fuel to stand proud for the person I am (even though truthfully hate does hurt, even in the “tiniest” of ways).

There was a particular incident about a year or so after I came out of the closet that I was faced with that still sticks with me today. I was on a date at a minor league ice hockey game with a couple of other girls as well. For the most part our conversation (among the women) was clean and sportsman like. With some sports (mixed with alcohol) foul language can tend to slip out from the spectators occasionally, this however was not the real problem I later learned. Next to our group there was a father and daughter watching the game. The father at one point asked one of the women in our group if we could cut out some of the language we were using. At the time we all figured he was referring to some cursing that had occurred and even warned the people behind us that there was a younger crowd among us (to be respectful). What happened next took me by surprise.

During a break in the game a security attendant tapped me on the shoulder informing me there had been complaints about language used and other inappropriate actions. Then he proceeded to inform me if we didn’t stop we would have to leave the game. I of course was sure he meant the foul language again and apologized immensely. Little did I know the father had complained that I was holding hands with my date and talking about “lesbian lifestyle” that he didn’t want his daughter to be exposed to. In that moment I felt all of those years of shame come rushing back. Something I had personally worked to overcome was being forced back onto me because of an outsider’s homophobia.

As a group my friends and I were almost kicked out of a public venue for our sexual orientation. The foul language from the crowd was never the problem it was my holding hands with another woman and discussing our daily lives that set this person full of hatred off. He was so merely offended by my friends and me to the point where he felt we were disturbing him and his daughter by simply being comfortable with who we are. This sort of shame that is being projected is the exact example of why people remain in the closet. These incidents are the reasons why so many people who are struggling to be who they are continue to fight through dark depression periods.

The truth is there has been progress in the LGBTQ community, but it is a battle that must continuously be fought every day. Shame, hatred, internalized homophobia are all very real feelings that exist and need to be spoken about. No one individual should ever have to experience such hatred for the way they identify themselves. Acceptance and understanding is the goal that needs to be reached in this society and the negativity needs to be pushed aside. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I felt comfortable enough to be who I was at a younger age without feeling that fear of rejection from the world I live in. That thought process (I guarantee) is going through at least one person’s mind who is at this exact moment struggling within themselves to accept who they are. It is imperative to be aware that hate of any form is hurtful, and it is harming the ones we love including ourselves. Eliminating shame is the key to the door of being able to feel comfortable with whom we are as individuals.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Staying Positive

**Note from the author:With the end of this series almost coming to a close I was finding it more and more difficult to pinpoint topics to write about. This week I wrote about remaining positive, because lately that’s all I’ve been feeling (along with endless gratitude). The end of last year was a difficult one for me, and I’ve made a significant transition in my life in the the way I live it. As we grow older it is easy to forget how happy and hopeful we once were. I write this for your consideration to reminiscence back to a time when perhaps it seemed easier to believe in endless happiness & cynicism wasn’t so prominent. 
By- Traci Taylor
March 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

Not very long ago, five months or so, there was a time where I didn’t think I could make it through the day, and deep inside I hoped that I wouldn’t. To many people I appeared happy, but that was far from the truth. I found it difficult to stay positive. Back in October I would have never imagined my life would turn completely around and I would be where I am currently (constantly surrounded by positive energy). Perhaps if I had known what the future held I would have had a better outlook on things, but that’s easier to consider now that life is more desirable.

One of my favorite writers J.D. Salinger once said, “I’ve survived a lot of things, and I’ll probably survive this.” In certain moments it can prove hard to be able to remain upbeat, but being able to hold out for hope that things will eventually get better tends to make it easier.

Without a doubt there is truth to the fact that the only person responsible for the mood you are in is yourself. It is all in the mindset you put yourself in. Sometimes I know it is tough to talk yourself out of a dark place, but once you do life seems tremendously brighter. I was lucky back in October to get a second chance at not feeling like I was stuck in a rut.

For some time I was fighting plenty of demons that were preventing me from being the “ray of sunshine” others may have seen. I struggled with being in the closet for over twenty years which fueled the depression and in result my dependency on alcohol sky rocketed as a way of self medicating. All of those things combined ended up being my biggest downfall. I lost a lot of ambition, and parts of me that were once hopeful became tainted with negative thoughts.

After a certain age people lose that sense of hope that we all have as children. The hopeless romantics turn into cynics and the always cheerful quickly turn into the burnt out. It is unfortunate how there is this thought that in order to be an adult you have to stop believing in the things you used to at a younger age.

Somewhere along the way something makes you lose the sparkle in your eye that you had for many years. I’ve seen, and experienced, the kindest of people turn stone cold (it’s disheartening, especially when it is someone close). I’m an advocate against cynicism; I find it boring and plain. Call it naïve, but I think it makes life more colorful to look on the brighter side of things.

When I was at my rock bottom I could almost feel the negative vibes taking over my everyday mindset (which was quickly muted out with alcohol just like any other problem I had). I was morphing into a person I didn’t even recognize anymore. The relationship I was in at the time was falling apart and it scared me, but I knew there was nothing I could do so I drank (in retrospect that is probably when I should have stopped drinking). I was in a job that made me absolutely miserable and only aided my drinking habit, but I felt so stuck that I didn’t see a way out.

Originally moving to Philly was supposed to be a temporary thing until I found a job outside of the restaurant industry, except it was beginning to feel permanent. That’s what really started to get inside of my head, and I felt as though I was at a dead end which ended up ruining all other relationships in my life. Internally I felt like I was failing and the only thing that was an escape from that reality was drinking. At the time I could see no positive outcome, and it has taken me almost five months of being sober from alcohol to see that.

Then February rolled around and I was endlessly looking for jobs since the restaurant I had been working at shut down. One day I saw an ad on Craigslist (of all places, I know) for a lacrosse goalie coach. Growing up I was always involved in sports, but a lot of people that know me as an adult aren’t aware of that part of my life.

Lacrosse was a sport that I was really into in high school and missed out on the opportunity of playing in college because of poor grades (one thing I have always regretted). There I was with this chance to get back involved with a sport that I love, and I figured if I managed to write a convincing enough cover letter maybe I would hear back.

When I eventually did hear back, I was shocked but obviously extremely excited that I got a response. Being surrounded by the positive energy of lacrosse and the team is a rewarding thing (Even Chuck Klosterman was a coach before his career took off, right?). I may only be in my mid-twenties but thus far I’ve learned a lot of tough life lessons. The most important is taking responsibility for how your life is going, and changing something if it is making you miserable.

As adults sometimes it is easy to lose that sense of positive, “childlike” hopefulness about the world. Sometimes I truly believe that is the downfall of society. Too many people that you pass on the street have unpleasant looks on their faces, and it is gratifying to pass a stranger with a kind smile. There isn’t enough positive energy or politeness in this world. It is vital to remember that every struggle in life is not permanent, even if it might be tough right now. From personal experience I know it is easy to get wrapped up in a dejected mindset and have it ruin you. Life is meant to be something enjoyable, and somewhere along the way that can be forgotten. The key to it all is finding reasons to smile about why you woke up this morning, even if it is simply for the sun rise or the smell of the coffee brewing.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Working in the “Industry”

**Note from the author: It’s quite impossible to sum up what working in the restaurant industry is like. Being able to understand it, is having experienced it firsthand. From my own perspective it is something I enjoy doing, until I stop enjoying it for the day. I think that sentence will really only translate to those that can relate to the relief of getting done back to back double shifts. The moment I dreamed of being a writer I was aware that meant pursuing what I wanted and waiting tables to survive. All in all the industry has given me plenty of things that I am grateful for and material for stories that I have yet to write. This piece is for all those working in the industry to get by while following their dream, or those that do it simply because they realize waiting tables can make you more money than most 9 to 5 jobs

By- Traci Taylor
March 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

Working in the restaurant industry has its ups and downs, but the beneficial guarantee is the abundance of life lessons that take place. The past seven years I have acquired a lot of knowledge in regards to how quickly other people may resort to stereotypes to those that treat the wait staff a certain way (I think the saying is that the proof is in the pudding). There is a part of me that absolutely loves interacting with guests and providing service with a smile. However there is another part of me that often dreams of a job where it is possible to get weekends off.

Being in the industry can change a person: how they treat servers when dining out, how graciously they tip, and how they judge the people they are with for doing both of those things. The moment I decided I wanted to be a writer I was aware that it could mean many years living off of tips (just a suggestion- if quality service is given it is polite to show gratitude with more than just a “thank you”) and being employed as a server. What I didn’t know was all of the stress, life experience, and exposure to all sorts of personalities I would encounter along the way.

I was seventeen when I landed my first serving job in my hometown of Cape May. The thing about restaurant jobs is, if you stay at a place long enough the people you work with quickly turn into family. That was especially the case at The Ugly Mug because it was in a tight-knit community and I worked with the same people for about five years. They were the people that lavished me with hugs the summer I came out of the closet, and were the shoulders I leaned on without a doubt during the process.

Waiting tables for twelve plus hours a day with the same co-workers for over five years an unusual bond tends to grow unlike any other working environment. Without realizing it, being in the industry, quickly turns into a home away from home. It can be stressful, and that is why it is important to have a close relationship with your co-workers to be able to lean on them for support. Somewhere after the long work hours and drinking until sunrise after endless shifts, those co-workers end up being extended family.

My drinking habits increased when I became a server (I suppose I fall into a stereotype myself with the industry and alcohol abuse problems). The restaurant environment is one that addiction dependencies do run on the higher side for various reasons (merely stating from personal observation). Having to pull doubles multiple times a week and the general stressful environment only aids the dependency issues. I got wrapped up in a daily drinking habit, but for other personal reasons ended up losing control (if I ever actually had it in control).

Drinking is a common way to unwind after any shift at a job ends. The industry however is a bit different; it is sort of like living the college party lifestyle that never really stopped for some people. In a way I think it is the only outlet that seems fit to be able to deal with all of the difficulties that have to be dealt with shift after shift (for front and back of house staff). From an outside perspective it may not make sense, but for those in the industry it is the “norm”. Drinking tends to feel like it eases all worries and eliminates the stress (believe me not everyone that dines in restaurants are the kindest of people) at least until the next shift begins.

Not every guest that dines out is polite, and the majority of the time it is because they don’t know true restaurant etiquette (or they just really are unpleasant human beings). For that reason alone is why so many servers wish that in order for people to dine out they must have had to work in the industry for some amount of time (imagine a place where everyone tips a decent percentage and always thanked their server afterwards). I’ve worked in both high class establishments and local pubs; neither is excluded for having the occasional disgruntled guest. Some people forget that their servers are there to help them enjoy their experience.

I know just like not every guest is perfect, not every server is either. Any job that makes you a miserable mess, you should probably consider doing something about. Nothing in life is permanent and a negative attitude not only hurts you, but the people you are surrounding as well. I’ve had to remind myself at different points in time (in job scenarios, but also other things)that I am ultimately the one in control of my happiness. Sometimes when people find themselves in a comfort zone they forget that by changing one simple thing in their life (like a miserable work environment) it can make all the difference.

As soon as I entered middle school I got a job, I was raised to know in order to get the things you want you must work for them. I’ve worked in retail (corporate and ma & pa shops) and I even tried scooping ice cream for a year or two before I was introduced to the restaurant industry. Once you are in it, it’s hard to get out. The money is great (when it’s not the off season) and you meet some pretty amazing people that make up for all the crap that happens.

Having worked in restaurants in both a city and small town environments I must say there are some differences and similarities between the two. Most importantly I have respect for the people in the industry because I have experienced it. I know the money doesn’t always make up for all of the stress, and the occasionally unpleasant people you may encounter on a daily basis. The years I’ve spent in the industry have exposed me to a lot of things I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise. Not only has being a part of the industry given me lifelong friends in each place I’ve lived, but as a writer I must admit there’s no better source for material.