THE ANTIDOTE TO A LIFELONG PHOBIA.
I’ll have the commitment.
There’s a lot of talk these days about externalizing your thoughts or intentions. Saying it out loud like you’re placing an order at a restaurant as the server patiently waits for you to figure out if you want the special or you feel like a burger. I kind of thought that was bullshit. I did a lot of ordering but it was all internal. It was all in my mind, and subsequently in my body. But what I didn’t realize when I set an intention with the my move to LA almost a year ago today, and subsequent Instagram post with the turn of the New Year, is that when you put stuff like that out there, someone is actually listening. Someone is actually scribbling it down on a notepad and sending it to the kitchen.
My order: Commitment.
That sounds like an interesting order, I know. Most of my New Year’s posts in previous years included a kitschy quote about living your best life accompanied with a picture of me already living my best life, filters and all. But I liked the idea of setting a one word intention and after seeing several other posts with words like “discover”, “inspire”, and “trust” I figured, why not.
The post read;
“This year, I intend on committing. Commitment has never come easy to me. Commitment in relationships, to projects, businesses, goals, etc. I’ve always had a lot of motivation and ambition, but consistently came up short when it came time to commit to something. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, mostly because we want to keep our options open and stay flexible. I am the poster child for making a decision then deciding shortly after to go another direction, chase a different idea, and lose focus. So this year, and the years to follow, I plan on committing. To this account, to the Life by Design blog, and to serving all of you the best way I know how — leading by example and sharing what I’ve learned along the way. And hey, if all goes well, maybe even to a relationship. Baby steps right?”
Reading back on it now, it’s very clear I thought that meant committing to my business and career goals. Maybe if we’re stretching it, an actual location instead of throwing everything at the wall every couple of years and reminding myself I could be anywhere, doing anything. The last part gets me though. “And hey, if all goes well, maybe even to a relationship. Baby steps right?” I didn’t mean that, at least not then. That terrified the living hell out of me.
The making of a phobia.
Like any good phobia, I’m not exactly sure where it came from. I just know I became a skilled professional at reenacting it. In every way shape and form. Without even knowing the show was on and I was going through the motions.
My first memorable performance was a few months before my senior prom. I was completely sold on the idea that prom would be the biggest and best night of my life and with that I would be showing up in a stunning gown that looked like something straight off the red carpet.
Since online ordering wasn’t exactly the e-commerce Goliath it is today, I had to buy a dress the old fashioned way and actually go to the retail store to try it on. My hometown had a mall that housed only a few stores (only the best) including Claires, Bon-Ton, and Hollister (and of course Auntie Anne’s Pretzels but we won’t mention that), so my dad was kind enough to invite me on a business trip with him to Boston for the weekend. The plan was after his meetings were done, we’d go shopping together at the big mall there so I could find a dress. I lost my mind. That made me ecstatic.
When we showed up at the mall, I took a look around at the perfectly polished marble floors, high vaulted ceilings, and stores glowing from within and felt my whole chest flutter with excitement. I knew my dress was here. We walked into the first store and straight to the back where all the gowns were hanging in a horseshoe shape with the bends meeting in the middle at a dressing room. My dad stood back and half chatted with the store attendant while I glided my hands over the gowns, stopping to pull out one here and there to inspect it before moving on. Most of them looked ordinary to me. Beautiful by most standards, but I wanted something unique. Something that stood out from the rest. I couldn’t really describe it if you asked me, I didn’t have it narrowed down to color, style, texture — any of those things. I hadn’t really even given it much thought, I just knew when I saw it, I’d know. And I saw it.
It was perfect. It hung alone, at the end of the row as to not disrupt it’s beautiful mermaid silhouette. It was a deep magenta color with a romantic sweetheart neckline covered in delicate gold floral beaded appliqués. Over the top, laid an almost iridescent layer of chiffon, just enough to expose the detail underneath.
I reached out and touched it. I ran my hands down it. I saw myself in it. I saw the night unfolding in it; the photos, the limo, dinner, dancing. I knew it was my dress.
My dad’s voice startled me a bit, “Do you want to try it on?” “Oh. Um, nah it’s ok…let’s keep looking.”
And so I spent the rest of the day dragging him in and out of every store in that mall that had anything even remotely close to a prom gown on display. I tried to rationalize with myself, maybe I was just excited when I saw that dress because it was the first store. Maybe I really don’t want something so unique, maybe it will look weird in the photos because everyone else will have solid colored fitted silk or black beaded halter tops. Maybe it won’t fit me that well. Maybe there’s something better. Maybe I just haven’t found it yet. This mall is huge! This isn’t the crummy Johnston City Oakdale Mall, this is Boston! There’s so many dresses here, how could only one be for me?
I tried on all the rest. Some were beautiful, and the dressing room attendants eye’s lit up when I came out wearing them. “Oh my god, that’s gorgeous. It’s perfect for you.” They told me about the styles that were in, what I should be looking for, what would fit my body type best. I nodded my head and forced a little smirk most of the time as I turned in the mirror. They were great dresses, sure. They would do. The photos would look amazing and people would compliment me for finding something special. But I knew what I wanted.
At the end of the day we walked back into that first store, I marched straight to the back, picked it up from the hanger, and headed into the dressing room to try it on. I delicately pulled down the zipper admiring all its detail, carefully stepped into it, and pulled it up around me. I walked out holding the top to my chest, avoiding looking in the mirror too soon. The attendant came around the back and slid the zipper up. I felt it close in, hugging the curves of my body. Like it was made for me.
We left the mall as the sun was setting and I felt satisfied. I knew I covered that whole place, top to bottom, making sure there was nothing else better for me. It was an experience, a mini adventure of sorts. But a little part inside of me knew I didn’t need to do that. That little part whispered, ‘You knew all along’.
Fast forward a couple months and I’m hanging out on my bed with my boyfriend, Nick. The dress is carefully hung over the door of my closet and I eye it’s beauty for a second, thinking how fantastic I felt wearing it a few nights before at senior prom.
We’re both in our soccer sweats. All grey Fruit of the Loom sets with our numbers embroidered on them and paws for the UE Tigers. We’re wrapped up in each other the way we always laid, our legs tangled together and my head on his left shoulder so I could stare up at him. We’re playfully teasing about something that happened the other night and I have a moment, a moment I experience quite frequently, where I look up at him as he’s talking and think, ‘How did I get so lucky?’ I examine his face like I’m seeing it for the first time again and think he’s so painfully good looking. My whole body aches when I see him and my laughter explodes in short bursts when I’m with him, over and over again.
Like the dress, from the outside world, he was a unique choice. He was quiet and shy. He hung on the outer fringes of the popular kids as an athlete but erred more on the side of misfit with the other BMX bikers he ran with on weekends and after practice. I was popular, smart, and outgoing. With that territory comes access to the popular boys, the ones many girls were dying to have notes written from and kisses with in the hallway, but I wasn’t interested.
We rode the practice bus together, a school bus that shuttled us from the high school to the torn up grass soccer fields at the elementary school. The first time I noticed him, he was sitting all the way in the back of the bus with his Walkman in his ears. The best seat in the house. I felt something move in my chest, and I knew I was in trouble.
But as he stopped what he was saying and looked back down at me nestled up on him, almost 3 years after that bus ride, I looked right at him and said, “You know, I couldn’t be with my first love for my whole life. There’s too much else out there, too much to be explored.” He didn’t say anything but I saw the tiny micro muscles in his face tighten ever so slightly and I can still picture it today. That’s the first time I saw a heart breaking — and the first time I broke my own.
Running the track.
We spent the rest of the summer together before I headed off to college at Syracuse University. He would stay home and attend a community college for a few years.
I picked Syracuse in the same way I picked that dress, seeing it early on, immediately sensing it was for me, but instead flying out to California to visit Berkeley, up to Boston to ponder Boston College and Northeastern University, and even Ohio State. My attraction to Ohio State? The college was huge, 67k students to be exact, so much potential.
What I didn’t realize when I shipped out to school though, is that the relationship Nick and I tried so desperately to hold onto, would soon make me a skilled artist in non-commitment. I was good in other areas of my life already, but I had no idea how good I could be. I was on the path to mastery.
We spent the rest of those 4 years in a push-pull cycle. I was caught between the possibilities of new men (ehm, boys) and the comfort of his embrace. The familiarity of it. Though, the more tension I imposed on our bond, the tighter it snapped back. I would determine he wasn’t visiting enough, calling enough, whatever, and impulsively tell him I needed space, room to breathe. Instead, my phone would start ringing and a visit would be scheduled. I’d settle a bit, fall back in love, tell him how much I missed his dark almond eyes and sideways smile, only to be blindsided by his absence. Destroyed. Phone calls would go unanswered and text messages would sit idle for days. So I’d gather myself, fill my veins with alcohol, and head out to the next frat party to find a new distraction. As soon I’d successfully redirected my time and energy to the phone calls and texts of those new distractions, Nick would appear on the scene. And on the cycle went as we took turns feeding the fire of resentment.
I graduated summa cum laude with a masters in heart break (only took me 4 years vs the usual 7). Mostly my own at that point. I had run those push-pull paths over and over again, like a dirt track that’s been beaten in the same spot for years. Each time I completed a lap, or finished what felt like a marathon, it embedded deeper. The wounds were buried so deep I had no choice but to keep opening them, keep exposing them to the air hoping they’d heal this time. I had no other solutions.
It’s a dangerous thing to be broken with no solutions though. The only way out of your own pain, is through the pain of others, which surprisingly, doesn’t help your own pain. It only makes it stronger.
But I now knew how to battle. Suit up in your armor (4 inch heels, skin tight dress, messy bed-head hair and just enough smoky eyeliner), head to the battle field (the Meat Packing District — NYC’s clubbing scene), find a good looking guy, flirt just enough to show interest but not too much. Give him your number, act uninterested in seeing him for a few days, go on a date, maybe two, continue to act uninterested, make him come to you and he’s yours to discard whenever the initial excitement wears off. In the case that you actually are interested, give it a few weeks (usually right before the point of intimacy) — then find something fatally flawed with him. Something that makes it easy to rear and say, “Yep, red flag. I don’t need that shit.” Tell him off.
If by small chance the battle took an unexpected turn, unfavorable to my position, I would call in outside forces. Mostly in the form of other men to show I had options. Prove that I was wanted. It also came in the form of proving I didn’t give a fuck. Never show you’re bothered by the turn of events, never make yourself weak and exposed. Vulnerable. And never, ever, admit to liking him. For the most part, it worked. Just long enough to get him back where I wanted so I could be the one doing the rejecting, and another loop was completed.
In the extremely rare case that weeks turned to months, I would see my vision clouding in from the peripherals like light from the outside slowly being shut out and I’d panic. I needed to run. I wasn’t ready to commit. I wasn’t ready to settle down. Most of all, I wasn’t ready to face myself.
Besides, I never felt it in my chest the way I did when I saw that dress, Syracuse University, and Nick for the first time. I just wasn’t sure if it was because it wasn’t right, or because there was no longer anything in there.
I spent the rest of those 7 years in New York claiming my independence and freedom. I refused to pick a career path that looked like the one my friends were safety investing in and instead worked remotely for my father’s small business, freelanced, started my own business, traveled frequently and dreamed about all the possibilities life afforded me. I could do anything. I could be anywhere.
When you can do anything and be anywhere, you’re also reluctant to buy any furniture. I wanted to stay light. Nimble. Ready to run. I moved to and from several different apartments with not much more than a shitty mattress, a handful of boxes, and a few suitcases full of clothes. When I moved to Brooklyn, my father drove down in his pick-up truck and helped move me into the walk-in closet sized room. We quickly dropped my mattress on the floor and dragged my clothes in. That afternoon, we went to IKEA and I picked out a few items that would fit into the room, all the while knowing I could throw that shit out at the drop of a dime and be somewhere else.
That urge came up frequently, usually as the lease neared to an end. What did I want to do with my life? Where should I go? Who could I meet? I threw it all up in the air every time and felt both elated and overwhelmed by the possibilities. Near the end of my stint in New York, as I was dreaming up plans to run off to California, my friends started to pry about what my next move was. I told them about my idea to take off to the west coast, maybe with just a couple suitcases, and they looked at me kind of funny. They were drawing up plans to close on 3 bedroom homes in the suburbs with their husbands, I was searching for short term room rentals with strangers on Craigslist.
Flipping the script.
Once I finally landed in LA, I declared myself anew. New city, new me. Except with my few belongings (I did ship a small pod full of stuff in addition to those two suitcases, I’m not that badass) I had somehow managed to bring that worn dirt race track with me and with it all of those deeply embedded wounds.
I’m aware there’s a problem at this point, but I’m not sure of the source. My solution is to avoid the problem, stop dating, be on my own and commit to my work. Commit to building a life. Commit to something. Even if it’s small manageable exposure. Incremental exposure. Baby steps.
My order is already being made in the kitchen though, and the chef has added a few items. The first course came shortly after my landing in the form of another guy. I play the game on auto pilot, run the track, and freak the fuck out. I’m out of my element now, this battle field is new and I’m already weakened from the stress of the move. I question everything, including my ability to have any sort of meaningful relationship ever again, then like a squirrel trying to cross the street that’s all the sudden terrified by an oncoming car, I run back to safety. Though safety is a dangerous place now. A place I haven’t seen in over 2 and a half years. The difference, it was still a familiar danger. A danger I understood. A danger known as Nick.
Since I had been successfully avoiding him all that time, reassuring him in the *nicest* (most volatile) way possible that it was over and done with, in accordance with the game he was begging for my for return. The plea had two parts. One; the reason I couldn’t fall in love again was because we were soulmates destined to be together. And two; that he had done a lot of self reflecting and was a changed man. I bought the first one. The second one, not so much.
I decide I’m either all in or I’m out and I have to commit, really commit with no guys in the rungs of my text messages, social media inboxes, none of that. I have to show up fully. Allow myself to fall in love again. To me, that’s like standing on the edge of a 60 story building when you’re terrified of heights or jumping into a pit full of King Cobras when you’re terrified of snakes — it’s my biggest fear.
I know if we open that door again, and he disconnects, I’ll be absolutely destroyed. It sounds dramatic, but I actually fear I may not survive. My health is already in the worst condition it’s been in a long time, with the onset of one of the worst auto-immune like inflammatory episodes I’ve ever experienced and I’m frequently cycling from anxiety to depression. My support system of family and friends is also now over 3,000 miles away on the other coast. To top it off, I’ve just come into awareness that I have some deeper childhood wounds I’ve worked very hard to forget and I’m spiraling.
Nick shows up in LA shortly after I give him the green light. I’m so anxious the week before my hands shake as I put my makeup on in the morning and my chest flutters in an unfavorable way, a way that now feels like inescapable terror, not elation.
We come back together like we never left, laying the same way, laughing about the same things, sharing the same stories. But in between those moments I’m reeling. I feel like a caged animal with no where to run. My tiny studio apartment leaves no room for hiding and the whole time I feel like I’m concealing a deep secret that I’m not who I’ve made myself out to be.
I’ve worked hard over the years to show up in life as my best self. The good side. The fun-loving, adventurous, spontaneous, creative, kind, caring, outgoing side. The side that shows I’ve built a business, a social media following, and a mobile lifestyle that affords me the ability to travel frequently while living in beautiful cities like New York and Los Angeles.
All of those things are true, but I couldn’t stand to look at the dark side. The one that fears I’m not enough. The side that thinks I’m not healthy enough, physically and mentally, financially stable enough, successful enough, happy enough. That I couldn’t fulfill the picture he had of me in his mind, the one I had carefully crafted from a distance, because it wasn’t all of me. It was only the parts of me I wanted to show.
All I can think is I just want him to go away so I can figure my own shit out. The way I’ve always done it. I can take care of myself. I just need some time to get this turned around then he can come back when I’m better. Healthier, happier, more successful. This is too soon, too close.
I try to run but I quickly realize I’ve built my own prison (a mixture of my fears, insecurities, and more cheap furniture) and he’s now inside the walls. I have no energy to fight the way I used to, with sharp words and arguments, so I detach. I numb out. I loose all my energy and go in and out of brain fog the entire week, wondering why I can’t just stay with it, be in the moment. I know for sure this is it, he’ll head back to the east coast and I’ll fall apart inside this little prison.
But he stays. He stays through all of it. He listens to all my fears, massages away my pain, draws me hot epsom salt baths, and holds me while I cry — brushing the hair out of my face as he adds little bits of humor to lighten the mood. He reminds me who I am and how far I’ve come. He reminds me he’s here. He’s not going anywhere. That it’s all ok and I’ll be ok.
And for the first time in my life, I realize I don’t have to do it all alone. That having another person in your corner, seeing you for all that you are, isn’t such a terrible thing.
Committing to commit.
Opening that wound one more time and rewriting the story was all my mind and body needed to truly start healing.
When it finally closed, it allowed me to truly see that 16 year relationship for what it really was. Two perfectly whole good people coming together to serve as each others greatest teachers at a time when it was most needed. But that time had passed and that chapter was closed. We were leading very different lives now. Our paths had diverged.
As we peacefully walked away from it, I realized I’ll always have a scar from that wound, but I don’t have to operate on default from it anymore.
And for the first time recently, I’ve been able to see myself at that racetrack, but another part of me is a bystander in the bleachers now. Nodding my head as I watch my fears creep in and realizing, though I may start to run when the trigger is pulled, that I don’t have to stay in that well worn dirt lane. In fact, I don’t have to run at all. I can step off of it and into the grass. I can say how I feel, I can show up as my true self, all of me — even the bad parts. I can be seen and still be loved for it. I can stay.
I’ve learned to stay with my emotional healing process (one that’s simultaneously healing my body), I’ve invested in making my little studio into the artist’s enclave I’ve always dreamed of (including a few pieces of West Elm furniture for good measure), and with my lease renewal up next month, I’m staying in LA. I’ve stopped saying yes to every opportunity that comes across my table and chasing every new idea that pops into my head — leaving space to commit to the few projects I feel will most serve in this world. And I’ve created a vision that feels so clear and attainable I can almost reach out and touch it like that dress. Only this time, I’m not afraid to try it on.
As my reward, I’ve seen more growth in all areas of my life; personally, professionally, and spiritually, than I have in my entire existence. With that, came the return of my intuition. Stronger and louder than ever. That feeling in my chest and throughout my whole body that tells me, ‘This is true for you’. Then it whispers, ‘As long as you have the courage to pursue it.’
Life by Design was born out of a need for my own self-healing after decades of unresolved illness. It wasn’t until finding the courage to look within that I discovered it was my own belief system holding me back from experiencing a truly thriving life. We all have access to that thriving life. We just need to rediscover our power and ignite the healing-self. Only then can we unapologetically live a life by our own design.