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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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: 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: Living with Depression

**Note from the author: Being vulnerable is hard, but sometimes sharing a personal story in hopes to relate to someone reading it is worth the risk. Writing is my passion, and before I was a writer I was a reader. My favorite thing about reading is feeling a connection to the author and being able to relate through the words that were written. I believe words have a lot of power and they can aid people in many ways. I chose this topic so others who can relate are aware they are not alone. Sometimes I think it is nice to be reassured every now and then that you are not the only one who feels a certain way.

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

There’s a stigma in society about depression and how it is perceived. Unfortunately, because of this people who do not understand what it feels like to not want to get out of bed until three in the afternoon think it is mere laziness. That way of thinking is pure ignorance to the people suffering with depression. I was petrified to even consider the fact that I may be depressed because of the entire stigma around it. So, I self medicated with alcohol and ultimately became someone who was depressed with an alcohol problem.

Living with depression is extremely difficult; especially when people around you aren’t aware the smile on your face is complete bullshit. Some days aren’t as hard to get through as others, but life is no cake walk for the people who are suffering. Trying to describe the feeling is somewhat impossible, unless you have an idea of how staying in bed hidden under the covers seems easier than conquering any sort of daily routine.

Writing has been my choice outlet with coping with depression. Up until a few months ago I chose alcohol and other ways to ignore my own feelings. I was young, and I didn’t want to believe someone could feel as sad as I did, so I drank instead. I got lucky back in October with the wake-up call that I had. I knew I either had to make drastic changes or eventually really destroy myself.

Some days aren’t as bad as others, but the thing with depression is it sneaks up on you in many ways. Things can seem to be going really well in life, but then you wake up sad without any clue as to why. So, the only solution that seems logical is to stay in bed as long as possible. Although I have finally chosen to look to therapy and other healthy outlets to cope with this sadness I still don’t have the ultimate answer. I don’t think anyone does, and truthfully I don’t think it is that simple.

I’m not an expert on the medical terms, but I am experienced on how difficult it is to live with. Overall, I am a generally happy individual who loves and appreciates life. Just because I deal with depression and am now sober does not change my personality entirely. In fact I believe the people who have similar struggles and still manage to light up a room with their smile are the strongest people I know in my own life. They are the kind of people in society that should be admired.

Until now I was pretty non-vocal about the inner struggles I had been going through. Even in today’s world there are still people that are quick to judge at any particular flaw, so I think my hesitation to admit I was a drunk depressed lesbian goes without saying. People fear the unfamiliar and aren’t welcoming to things they may be ignorant to.

My alcohol problem began for plenty of reasons and spun out of control as those reasons grew. I was in the closet the majority of my life (which chances are aided in my depression) and that really sucked. At one point I was so far in that closet I was probably buried in dust with all of my TY Beanie Babies.My therapist liked to use the term of me fearing to come out for so long as, “internalized homophobia”. I took many of weeks to let that term sink in and discovered how on point she was.

I struggled to admit who I was and couldn’t even see that it was a factor in my sadness. I drank instead, a lot. Alcohol was the best friend I had who could make me blur out things I didn’t want to cope with. Dealing with things while under the influence seemed a lot easier than being sober. In fact I was drunk off my ass on tequila when I first admitted to my best friend at the time I thought I was gay.

Admitting to myself that I was gay took a huge weight off of my shoulders, but added a fear of telling loved ones in my life what took me so long to admit to myself. That was a very long road for me which I got through with support from others and lots of whiskey.

If anyone you know in life suffers from depression, I have only one suggestion: always be supportive, but do not try to fix the individual. It may seem frustrating, but the truth is you have no power over the sadness that individual is feeling. The cause for their emotional state has nothing to do with anyone; that is just how depression runs its course. It is a sort of sadness that cannot simply be changed with a flick of a switch. Just be there, be understanding, and understand sometimes with depression being alone for a few moments may be needed.

It begins to get slightly easier living with depression when a person learns to love themselves and surround themselves with positive, loving people. Toxic relationships I have found do not better a person, they only seem to make things worse (depressed or not get rid of those kinds of people in your life, trust me on this). The thing with depression is, even in a room full of people there can be an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. That’s why it is vital for those around people going through depression to fully be aware of the core truth to the suffering.

One step at a time or day by day- both expressions I find myself using over the past few months. Surprisingly life seems to be easier to tackle when it is dealt with in small doses instead of overwhelming amounts. I’m not an expert by any means, but I write from experience (after all shouldn’t we listen to those who have treaded the waters, not just read about them?). Life is about learning as you go, and appreciating each moment lived. Some days the skies are still filled with storm clouds, but it’s about being able to find the beauty in the rain that makes life so magnificent.