Tomorrow begins a new school year. I've spent most of the day reflecting on the past year. Thinking what made me laugh, what made me cry, what did I do right, what did I do wrong. I suppose you could say it's my version of New Year's Eve.
I met a lot of challenges during this past school year, and I met them well. But only a handful of people saw the toll it took on me. Yes, the challenges were difficult, but it was so much more than that. It was me. I didn't know how to explain it. But then I found this book in a children's book store.
The book was me. It's a little girl who puts her heart in a bottle. By putting it in the bottle, she is able to protect it from hurt, but she also loses so much of herself. Once she realizes this, she tries to release her heart from the bottle but she doesn't know how.
I put my heart in a bottle many, many years ago. At 12, was so determined to hide it so deep that no one could ever break it again. I became the chameleon of sorts. People liked me because I could morph myself into the version of me they wanted me to be. And it worked. For a very long time, I convinced myself that making other people happy would make me happy.
And then something changed. It wasn't one incident. It wasn't some person. It was me. I looked at myself struggling to be all things to all people. But as the expectations of who I should be grew, it became too hard to keep up. I was exhausted.
So this summer, I made myself my own priority. I did many different things, but the most important thing I did was schedule an appointment with a therapist. She listened and offered few words. In our first session, she confronted me with the "What makes you happy?" question. I didn't know the answer.
I went to her only three times, but she helped me find myself again. She was the person who, just like in the book, helped me break open the bottle and let my heart out again. She allowed me to say out loud what my roadblocks were and helped me see a way to go through them. And what I found was, the ways out were not her suggestions, but my own.
The best part is, I know the moment when my bottle broke. I was on my first ever solo road trip. No one was with me. Almost no one knew I was going. I had no one else's rules or plans to follow. I got where I was going and I panicked. What was I supposed to do. As luck would have it, I arrived in time for Mass at a very small Catholic church behind my hotel. During his homily, the priest spoke of everyone's uniqueness. Until we can truly embrace the unique individuals that God made us to be, we are unable to truly share ourselves with the world. And that was the moment.
My heart has been released. It will be broken a million times, but it will also ache with so much joy a million times more. I am a unique, strange, overly excited, and sometimes just wacky person. And now I am a person ready, really ready, to give with my whole heart. It's going to be tough. Some people in my life are not going to take this change in me well. Some already haven't. But that's okay. I'm finally ready to live my life on my own terms.
So my New Year's resolution is this: just hang on to what you've learned. Like an addict out of rehab, you are about to return to the life you knew. Don't slip back into those old ways simply because they are easy and what others expect. Just be willing to have the courage to be yourself.