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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Holding On

By- Traci Taylor
July 2015

There is no satisfaction in smooth sailing,
lessons are only learned through trial and error.

Storm clouds roll over the lit city skyline,
feelings of uncertainty rush throughout the body.

There is only one way to survive today,
it is within the knowledge the sun will rise tomorrow.

With eyes closed the answers are voiced in darkness,
holding on with an unsteady grasp.

There is an answer of future hope,
hidden at below the diamonds of the ocean.
Once discovered- eternal gratitude of self love blooms.

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: Fear

**Note from the author: Sometimes fear is more than just being afraid of creepy crawlers or feeling claustrophobic in a tight space. Often certain events in our lives make us afraid to move forward or pursue things that might not work out. The fear of the unknown can prevent a future of possible happiness. I chose to write about the perspective to help look at the bigger picture of life and what opportunities could exist if we didn’t let the fearfulness devour our thoughts.

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

Defining fear is seemingly impossible since it ultimately depends upon the individual’s mindset. Everyone is afraid of something; it is a part of being human (for those that claim otherwise they are either liars or sociopaths). Learning to give into fear is just a step of accepting and overcoming obstacles in life. Now, not all specific fears are ones that can be conquered easily (small spaces, snakes, spiders, etc.). The fears of vulnerability, loving again, failure, etc. are more reasonably eliminated after looking at them from a different perspective. After all sometimes the fear is built upon a narrow minded mentality.

There are few things in life that are more frightening than being vulnerable to another person or situation. No one likes to feel exposed without knowing what will come next. It is something I am still working on, and I realize an abundant amount of trust issues is often my own worst enemy. Through recent years I have tried to understand the power of vulnerability and how much happiness it can end up bringing despite how intimidating it feels to open up completely.

Thinking of all the negative outcomes is easier than being able to create what would happen if things worked out right (having low expectations leads to fewer disappoints, so I’ve learned). In order to develop as human beings, learning how to be vulnerable is vital. Without taking chances, and opening up to others there is no room for self growth.

Being vulnerable can also provide the chance to discover more about the person you are and create a stronger self love. When I was drinking I was choosing to avoid the fear of vulnerability by numbing everything out. It wasn’t until I hit my rock bottom that I took a step back to see I wasn’t protecting myself by masking the fear, I was actually causing harm. I knew then it was time to make drastic changes and I needed to face being vulnerable through sobriety instead of behind a mask of alcohol. Letting the greater fear of vulnerability rule only harms the individuals chance to discover more about themselves. The fear is in control and prevents the possibility of new experiences.

Heartbreak occurs in various forms, and it’s never an easy thing to go through. Tears are shed, beers are consumed, and cookies are devoured. The heart may ache for more than just losing a significant other; it could be someone close passing away as well. Either way it’s devastating. When people that were once a big part of life leave, it’s hard to manage that void. Often bitterness ends up filling the hole and a fear of not being able to trust again takes over.

It is inevitable that people will end up hurting one another, but that needs to be realized and let go. Issues of trust will end up consuming and destroying any sort of hope for others to come into your life. Penalizing the future for the past is counterproductive. Realize the fear, take note of its existence, and move forward. Most times that fear is just simply a hesitation of a made up belief that history might repeat itself. Learn to be aware that heartbreaks are unavoidable, but love can only happen again if you let it.

Without failure there would be no success. So what is it about the trials of failure that make it so frightening? Personally, I’m terrified of failure it is next in line above my fear of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz (yes I had a reoccurring nightmare as a kid that the lion would come into my room and take me away). When someone has big dreams for their future, it is a scary thing to think of that future not working out as imagined.

I speak of failure in a broader sense, not in losing a game or failing a math test (both of which I’ve gone through multiple times). Being afraid that the future may not go as planned seems to create hesitation in pursuing dreams in fear of failure. That thought is not only scary, but really just sad. Quickly when those thoughts come to mind, it’s important to take a breath and a few steps back. For years I’ve tried to live by these words, “high standards with low expectations” it proves to lessen any hurt of disappointment that failure brings on. Letting fear of failure consume you will only end up with having that one track mind of failure instead of success. The only way to succeed is through trial and error.

Each day can seem like a struggle, but when the day is finally done it ends up being an accomplishment. Fear can be as constant of a burden as anything else that life has put along the path. Being able to find the courage and strength to deal with things that are frightening in the moment only builds character for the person you will be tomorrow. Living a life filled with fear that ultimately only holds you back from endless possibilities will end up being a life filled with regret. Life is not fair and it is far from easy. When fear is the blockade to your happiness remember the bumps in the road are only temporary. Allowing fear to consume you prevents the chance of taking risks and having those risks transform into a bright future. As scary as life can get, keep in mind that rainstorms often result in blooming beds of vibrant flowers.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Coming Out

**Note from the author: I’ve written versions of this story before, but this one has more of an insight into the beginning of it all. As full as this story may seem,  I still don’t believe it is complete. There are things left out and stories that are yet to be told. I consider this one of the most important stories of all that I am able to share for two reasons: 1.) I wish while I was going through my struggle there was a piece of writing or similar story I could’ve related to. 2.) This was like tearing a piece of me off and putting it into story form. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being able to share something so personal. Acceptance is still rare in the world we live in, this is a reminder to not only keep your minds open but also your hearts.

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

Imagine living life with the persistent feeling that something is missing. Each day that passes by doesn’t feel fully fulfilled, only partially. Everything seems unbearably empty. What is worse is when the desire to become whole happens, but the fear of the repercussion is overwhelming. How unfair it feels to not be comfortable to be able to live the life that deep inside feels right. Being in the closet is like going through life with body armor, and never being able to reveal the person underneath. It’s everything at surface value. Coming out takes strength, and it leaves a person vulnerable (which is sometimes one of the most difficult things to be).

The first step is to be able to feel comfortable in your own skin, and after that there’s a desire to feel accepted in your surroundings. Coming out means ridding of the body armor, and feeling completely exposed. The vulnerability that occurs is utterly breathtaking, and the self satisfaction of living life as the person underneath that armor at the end of the day outweighs any bullshit life hands out.

I think I always knew I was gay, but along the way I buried myself deep into the closet. When I was younger, that wasn’t a big deal because I was mostly consumed with sports (somewhere out there exists a 6th grade essay on my dreams of becoming Sheryl Swoopes). To this day I’m not sure what it was exactly that kept me so far in the closet. There are a few factors I’ve come up with: fear of being bullied by peers, fear of overwhelming catholic guilt, or fear of not fitting in with everyone. Without a doubt kids can be cruel, and I certainly had a fear of being ostracized (I was already teased occasionally for being a bit on the chubbier side growing up). Being raised catholic didn’t help either, there was this notion that anything other than growing up, marrying a man, and having kids was unacceptable. Even in my younger years I had a problem with over-thinking things, so I kept quiet on how I really felt and dated boys instead.

During middle school I was still consumed with sports, mostly basketball, and at the time I had a best friend who was exactly the same way. We were inseparable to say the least, and because we were so alike we sometimes would buttheads more often than not. I think that’s what ended up tearing us a part in high school, and how we ended up eventually drifting apart completely. The reason our friendship is still a vivid memory for me is because despite how close we were, neither of us ever spoke to the other about the struggle we were both going through. I often wonder if we had confided in each other back then if things would have been easier with a relatable shoulder to lean on.

Of course that is not how things turned out. Life has its twists and turns for a reason, and ultimately coming out in a small town at a young age might have been more difficult to face than either of us could handle back then. Coming out at any point in life takes strength, I know for myself I wasn’t ready to face any adversity at anytime other than when I did. Being certain that there will be some sort of solid support system by your side helps the process.

For me I was at a point where I couldn’t stand pretending to be happy when inside I knew I was miserable. In the summer of 2011 is when I began to open my eyes to the person I really was instead of the facade I’d been portraying. Taking a walk down the streets of Cape May on a warm summer night after I just got done a shift at the Ugly Mug was when I first blurted the words “I think I could be gay”. Even then I was in denial, and still so consumed with how people would react. The tall, adorable, and handsome ginger I was walking with and confiding to that night had already gone through the process of coming out. He was (still to this day continues to be) my rock who knew the quickest way to cheer me up was to sing me show tunes.

After that summer was over and months of being in denial of trying to overcome my own internalized homophobia I was back at Millersville. I had recently broken up with my ex boyfriend, but still was sharing a dorm room with his sister (I still don’t know how I manage to get myself into such awkward scenarios). I was attempting to finally come into the shell of myself, while still keeping my private life private from some people which proved to be a difficult situation.

So, for the most part that semester was spent still in the closet up until before Christmas break. I was hanging out at my ex boyfriend’s apartment off campus drowning myself in tequila shots and watching Christmas movies. Some would say it was the tequila; I like to call it liquid courage (alcohol after all for so long was what I depended on to help ease me through situations) that had me on his front step crying my eyes out. In that moment, which I’ll never forget, I realized for so long I was living a lie and I could no longer take the unhappiness it was causing me. I was on the phone with my best friend at the time that had only come out to me over a year ago. Sometimes I think being surrounded by people who had to deal with a similar coming out process helped me conclude what I was afraid of admitting for so long. It was the beginning for me. It was the start of a continuous struggle of having to come out, but most important the start of no longer having to hide who I was.

Pretending to be something you are not, sucks. There is no other way to sugarcoat it. Going through life not being able to express fully who you are makes life feel dull in certain ways. It wasn’t until I began telling friends, family, and other loved ones the secret I had been holding back for so long that a weight felt lifted off of my shoulders. In some sense it was liberating, but also absolutely terrifying. The reason I stayed in the closet as long as I did was the fear of not being accepted, but I hit a point in my life where I wasn’t going to let that fear stop me from living my life to the fullest.

Letting any sort of fear have that kind of control over your life isn’t worth it in the end. The same goes for anyone in your life that can’t accept you for the person you know you are on the inside. Those who are meant to remain in your life will, and those that bring any negativity into your life in any way aren’t worth keeping around.

Being away at a school in a different state where no one really knows the person you were in high school helps a lot when dealing with coming out. There isn’t any needed explanation of telling someone “I’m gay”, it just is and the night continues. That’s more or less how my coming out at college went down. Within the same instance I knew exactly how gay I really was because nothing felt more natural and exciting than being with a girl for the first time. I was both awkward and giddy all in the same moment (those two adjectives sum me up completely). Coming out at college was easier for me than the rest of the process. I enjoyed that semester to the full extent, but soon came the time to go home for the summer and tell everyone that mattered to me back in my hometown something that I had been keeping quiet.

In terms of family coming out can be scary and difficult for a lot of reasons. From my personal experience and also observation from others religious or conservative beliefs are some of the major factors as to why people fear coming out to their family. There is also just the initial fear of how your loved ones will react to you revealing a piece of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. It’s complete vulnerability. I was always close to both of my sisters and dad, so revealing a part of me that I had been keeping tucked away was difficult. My sisters were a bit thrown off at first (I think their gaydar was broken or I was just really convincing at being “straight”) , but through everything they were completely supportive. I’m lucky enough to have sisters who no matter what life could throw at any one of us in the end it’s a bond that will never break.

The funniest and hardest part of my coming out process was telling my dad. Keeping things from him was a lot harder than the process of actually telling him I was gay. The one person I confide to about everything is my dad. This is where the hesitation and fear of telling him played out because of religious beliefs. I was sure because of religion he wouldn’t be able to accept me, regardless of how close we were. I’ve seen both sides play out, and thankfully I was lucky enough to receive unconditional love regardless of my orientation.

At first when I told him he I had something big to announce he threatened to kick me off the car insurance if I had received another ticket (I assured him it wasn’t anything so serious, but I’m really not that bad of a driver). I remember just kind of blurting it out and seeing the surprised look on his face followed by the words “You know you’re allowed to be catholic and still be gay”.

Not enough people who come out to parents from a strict religious background hear words like that, and I really wish those kids could hear what I got to. That who you are attracted to does not mean you are defected or no longer deserving of love.

My coming out story with my dad doesn’t end there. Much like my lazy eye, big ears, stubbornness, and hopeless romantic heart I also get my strange sense of humor from my dad. A few moments later on in the evening he went outside to wash his car and within a few seconds stormed through the front door. As he ran up the stairs I asked him what was wrong and he replied, “Well you literally surprised the shit out of me!” while holding his behind.

That was the beginning to an unforgettable summer. Each and everyone one of my friends that I came out to showed me nothing short of absolute support. I’ve learned it’s important to always surround yourself with people that are going to hold you above water and keep you a float. My first summer out of the closet in my hometown was filled with wonderful memories and it makes me realize I would never want my coming out story to be altered in anyway. I was surrounded by co-workers where during those long restaurant hours and busy shoobie nights transformed into family members. They held my hand through it all and kept a permanent smile on my face. I learned love and heartache that summer too, but then I wasn’t aware that it was merely the beginning of my story.

Coming out of the closet can be frightening, but when the time is right (only you know when that time is) a weight is lifted off of your shoulders. Life is filled with bumps in the road, but coming out isn’t a bump it’s a personal triumph. No matter how early or late you decide the time is right to come out, realize this is only the beginning. The rest of the journey isn’t a promise of paved roads, but this is the start of living life on the right side of the closet.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: The College Experience

**Note from the author- This is the longest story in the series, and I still left out a lot of detail in this one (not all things or drunken stories are ready to be told, just yet). College was a time where I experienced a lot, more than the average individual I would say. It was during those years I discovered who I was and finally began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Not everyone has the same opportunity or experience with college, but that’s sort of how life is in a broader sense anyway isn’t it? No individual lives life the same exact way. I am who I am today because of every decision I have made along the way. Also because of the people who have come into my life and influenced it in even the tiniest of ways. Everything happens for a reason, and that’s the basis of this story.

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

College is an important part in life for numerous reasons and I’m not counting the thousands of dollars of debt that’s more or less guaranteed to accumulate while attending. I have more positive reasons in mind than that. My college experience put me completely out of my comfort zone, out of the closet, gave me lifelong friendships, and broadened the way I thought.

Receiving a diploma is a fantastic feeling, but really it was all the events and stepping stones along the way that made me appreciate my higher education. There were struggles, doubts, and lots of drunken nights. I never thought I’d have to pull countless all nighters with Shakespeare or be sitting on my ex’s front porch in the middle of winter drunk off tequila realizing I’ve been in the closet for 21 years. That’s just a glimpse into the journey of how well (or not so well) college treated me. Every story starts somewhere, and for me it was an unexpected one.

In my senior year of high school I had a few offers from colleges to continue to pursue my position as a lacrosse goalie. The only problem was that I slacked off in high school and my grades were too shitty to let me actually accomplish anything right away so I ended up in community college. I’m not saying I would have gone very far in lacrosse, but if I decided to get my shit together instead of worry about pointless teenage things who knows where I’d be now (I’d be exactly where I am, but my advice is to not let high school crap consume you).

The time that I spent at ACCC I learned a few valuable lessons. I was lucky enough to have an extraordinary communications professor who was also my adviser for those two years. She is the main reason I can develop and deliver a spectacular speech with what appears to be flawless confidence. For that reason and others I disagree with a lot of the community college stigma that exists. With a couple of exceptions with professors I went on to have, she was by far the most passionate professor in my experience of being a college student.

After two years in community college I made the decision to transfer out to a University. My first choice was a school right outside of New York City (pipe dream and far too pricey). I ended up going to Millersville University (smack dab in the middle of Amish country) and the reason I ended up there is exactly why I believe everything happens for a reason. If in the end the school of your dreams doesn’t end up being a reality, just turn your reality into your dream.

I remember struggling to adjust to the school and not knowing anyone in a place where everyone knew everybody else from high school. One of the definite down falls of going to a college in a small town. Not to mention I was technically in my third year and transferring to a new school where everyone in my age group already had established their friends.

Getting adjusted wasn’t easy, and it didn’t help that I wasn’t the “join clubs to meet people” type of person either (I was and still very much am a loner). Lifelong friends don’t happen within the first week that usually ends up occurring within a blink of an eye without any conscious realization that these people may remain in your life for a long time. Looking back I did actually meet one of my lifelong friends within the first week, and she introduced me to every other person from Millersville that ended up becoming more like family than anything else. However, that part of the journey doesn’t happen until a couple of years later on when my closet is filled with button ups, Van shoes, and beanies galore instead of my super-gay-self buried inside.

It is hard going away to a place where no one knows your name, but you’re too frightened to put yourself out there. My social anxiety was so bad that I barely ate the first few weeks because I was too afraid to venture into the Anchor (one of the dining halls) alone. I took the definition of a loner to the extreme. Within a month that quickly changed.

While still very much in the closet, I was convinced I wanted to find my fellow “hippie boyfriend” with long hair that loved the Grateful Dead as much as I did, that hope quickly became true. A few weeks in to the first semester my roommate introduced me to her friend from back home that lived below us. He played guitar exceptionally well and I soon found myself smitten within a short period of time. All in all he was the first real friend I made at Millersville and through everything he was always kind hearted. Even during the whole, “The real reason we broke up months ago is because I’m gay” text I sent him (not only was I a drunk, but a master at drunken texting).

Alcohol played a gigantic role in my life during college. It was the Meryl Streep of my college career (except not as classy, obviously). Both good and bad days were filled with booze. There didn’t even need to be a reason to drink, in fact most of the time drinking was just a result of boredom. Other than the sleepless nights I spent studying for exams or writing papers, the rest of my cherished memories involve alcohol in some way. I think my friends had it more in check than I did though; after all I was the one going back to a desk filled with water bottles of vodka and wine.

I was going through a struggle that was much bigger than me, and I didn’t even see it developing. I do remember it getting worse through the time period of having to come out to everyone in my life. That’s really when my college years changed, I think I was finally enjoying them the way they were meant to be enjoyed. I was beginning to live life in general the way I was meant to live it. It’s hard to grasp what that’s like unless you’ve gone through a similar inner struggle like that.

It was the start of my second year, second semester at Millersville and it was the beginning of a lot of memories. There are plenty of specific moments I could pinpoint, but overall I just remember on the surface being happier than the months before. I was in the process of coming out, but also embracing every bit of feeling comfortable in my own skin. Most of this time was spent driving to Philly visiting my best friend, getting drunk, and meeting girls. Philly weekends were always a favorite of mine, for more reasons than just getting away from the dorm and campus (let’s just say I know where I was when Whitney Houston died and the death of a diva has never been more memorable for me or my first year of being out of the closet).

The truth is I probably spent more time complaining about my school than I did bragging about it. I was never much for school spirit after I graduated high school, and the only thing I joined in college was the school newspaper for a semester. Classes were hard, papers seemed endless, and even now I still cringe at the mere mention of Shakespeare. I’m not saying I would relive those years again (I don’t think I find that appealing in any sense). I do believe that all of the struggles made me appreciate things more, and it definitely made me grateful I stuck it out for the best year I ended up having at Millersville.

My good friend that lived across the hall from me my first year in Millersville (whom I still refer to as “Meg from across the hall”) is at the core of every story, every punch line, and every friendship. After all she was the drunk who paraded around my dorm room shouting “you’re definitely gay” while my boyfriend at the time stood in the corner like a deer in headlights. College teaches a lot of things: how precious snow days are (or at Millersville, rain days), how to manage time while cramming, how waiting last minute doesn’t always work out, but overall how important the value of forming friendships are. Within six months I gained friends that became family and had the most thrilling semester of my college career.

Throughout life in general friends tend to come and go, that’s just how things seem to work. People change, grow a part, and despite how sad that fact is, it’s the truth. However some friends grow with you and those are the ones that somewhere along the journey transform into family. I still don’t remember the exact moment I met everyone in our group of friends, but I remember how instantly close we all became. Never have I met people so warm and welcoming as the friends I formed that last year at Millersville.

The couch at 1604 quickly became my home away from home and every single one of those guys and girls earned a permanent place in my heart. It’s coming up on two years since I’ve graduated from Millersville, and there are times I even still miss Thursday nights at HoPie. Certain things make me nostalgic for college, but I think that sort of happens to everyone after those years are a thing of the past. What I value about those memories is still being able to reminisce about them with the people I experienced them with. No matter the time spent a part, or the distance between the bonds that were formed years ago haven’t broken. Going away to Millersville I gained more than an education and a degree, I gained a secondary family.

There’s something special about the experience of going away to school and being in a place where no one knows your name. It creates an opportunity of a blank canvas to paint with whatever colors your heart desires. In the moment you aren’t always aware of the beautiful memories you are in the process of making. That appreciation doesn’t come until it’s over and all of those late nights studying or drinking until the sun comes up are things of the past. College is merely one large stepping stone in life filled with a bunch of tiny ones in the four, five, or however many years it may take. Enjoy it, soak it all in, and remember these years are merely the beginning of becoming who you are. Let go of feeling afraid to fail, and paint a portrait of colorful, memorable moments. In the end it’s not about the classes that kicked your ass, it’s about the people that made the years unforgettable.