I remember reading Eat Pray Love and thinking “Jesus, what a hot mess.”
Yet, I loved the story. Perhaps in my judgment of her being a hot mess I was fearing being a hot mess myself. Little did I know then, my own hot mess was coming.
Finding yourself is a buzz word phrase. It’s the Holy Grail of self-help and spiritual work. I had no idea I was looking for myself until my breakdown was nearly over. I also didn’t set out on a spiritual path, and yet, I ended up there. I didn’t set out on a trek, doing “the book” by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after reading Wild or India after Eat Pray Love.
I wasn’t actively looking for a breakdown—I was searching for wellness, I was searching for feeling better, I was searching for answers that seemed elusive.
But a breakdown is what I got.
I had no bloody idea I wasn’t me. “What does that even mean” I would whisper? How could you be anyone but yourself? My confusion and lack of understanding were about to be schooled by the universe.
I started my journey innocently enough.
My business was a disaster and I needed to figure out how to have a life, how to calm myself down, how to simply—be. I just knew I was unhappy, stressed out and looking for solutions so I went to a course on mindset.
The rest is not history.
The rest is a hot mess.
It took time for the breakdown to happen. The full breakdown—you know, the one where you’re crying for days in a onesie in your bathroom contemplating the meaning of life. That breakdown.
I didn’t set out looking for that. In actual fact, my entire life was about never ever being that. Ever. On no level in my life was that okay to me.
I became my worst nightmare.
Unable to get up, unable to push myself, unable to give any f*cks anymore. (Well, actually that part was okay but it was the wrong f*cks not being given, like showering or eating.)
But in between the “I’m just taking a mindset course” and “I’m sobbing hysterically in an aisle of a conference centre with 3,000 other people” I found myself.
And it was the sort of beautiful, ugly crying you would expect. I didn’t really know I was missing myself until I found her. I didn’t know I hadn’t been “me.” I didn’t grasp it on the most basic of levels. But in that moment, I understood.
I hadn’t read The Secret and I didn’t watch Oprah. Instead, I went straight to the hardcore sh*t like Abraham Hicks and T Harv Eker and Brendan Burchard and Norman Vincent Peale and Tony Robbins. Wouldn’t want to start with anything fluffy!
I heard the phrases about being yourself, but I didn’t fully understand. It made sense but I didn’t get it until I got it. Get it?
In the moment of “getting it” I realized the entire journey was about finding out why it was that I had created the mess I found myself in.
It was because I wasn’t “me.”
I had become someone else a long time ago. I did everything to please others and to make other people happy. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to need anyone. I never wanted to embarrass myself, or others and I didn’t want to be weak. I built a tough exterior to pretend I didn’t care.
As long as I was measuring myself against other people’s opinions and my success against pleasing everyone, I was going to come up short. Every d*mn time. Many people have since said to me “I could have told you and saved you the time figuring that out.”.
Actually, no. You couldn’t. Because I had to experience it myself in order to understand.
Of course, I knew I couldn’t please everyone. I knew that was part of the problem. But the real problem wasn’t trying to please everyone, it was why I was trying to please everyone.
The why—that was what I didn’t know and had to discover for myself.
Simply knowing the problem but not the why wouldn’t help me change anything long term. I had to see it, feel it—know it, in order to change.
I had rejected myself and who I really was. Bringing myself back would help me stop people-pleasing and stop stressing over what others thought, but it would also rock the boat in ways that were unexpected.
As I integrated my authentic self into my life, my decisions and my business, I was met with pushback. And with clearer vision now, I could see why I had stopped being myself in the first place.
And so I learned that as you push back and speak up for yourself, asking for what you want through the fear, you find the people who love you and who have waited for this moment. Unfortunately, you will also clearly see who doesn’t support you and who wants you to the stay same because it meets their needs.
Going through this is painful. Finding yourself was the easy part, integrating your real self into your life—that is the painful part.
The integration takes time. It takes losing people. It takes speaking up when you’re told you’re wrong. It takes putting yourself out there, not knowing how it will be received. It takes changing. It takes standing up for yourself. It takes bravely saying no to what you don’t want and yes to what you do want.
It takes courage every single day.
Not everyone is going to stay in your life. Some you choose to let go and others choose to let you go. The ones who love you endlessly though, will understand and stay with you, even if they don’t understand.
It takes courage to face that. Finding yourself is one thing. Becoming yourself is quite another. It’s not easy. It’s not magical. It’s painful. Until one day, it’s not.
Once you’ve tipped the scales, you’ll notice a freedom, a calmness, less caring about what others think, an ability to stand in whatever you are feeling and own it.
You’re just you and from there it gets easier.
Author: Tonya Whittle
Image: Mackenzie Greer/Flickr
Editor: Molly Murphy