Chapter Three – Wedding Revelations

Last weekend I was honored to stand next to my oldest friend in the world as Co-Maid of Honor at her wedding. She was a beautiful bride, and happiness was radiating off of her in waves because she had found the man with whom she wanted to start a family. I had been asked to stand with her as she took her vows before family and God, and it will always be a memory that I treasure. However, as happy as I was for her to be marrying the love of her life, I initially wasn’t terribly excited about attending the ceremony. It wasn’t personal against her or her fiancé, but over the years I had somehow convinced myself that I did not like weddings. Marriages? All about them. But a wedding? The ceremony itself? Nah. Hard pass dude. Public displays of affection and emotion make me very uncomfortable, and I thought that they were just a giant waste of money – the ultimate scam that played off of people’s sentiments and conned them into paying for crap they didn’t need to impress people who didn’t matter. Not only did I not want to attend other people’s weddings, I was 100% sure that I never wanted one for myself if the opportunity ever presented itself. The fuss over the dress, the flowers, the venue, the guest list, the wedding party?!? It all seemed to be a waste of energy and money, and a surefire way to start your new life together in debt and exhausted. Plus, the way my anxiety is set up I can promise that at some point I would have had a complete breakdown and contemplated calling the wedding off or just eloping. I had convinced myself that I wanted no part of this ridiculous tradition, and because of my own feelings I was finding it hard to get excited to attend and participate in the happiest day of my friend’s life.

Well it turns out that I was lying to myself and did not know it until I was standing up at the alter during the wedding rehearsal. Watching my best friend and her then-fiance in front of the priest together, seeing the intimate smiles and glances they shared with each other, the excitement from both families about the union and path forward as an extended family, I felt a tugging deep down inside of myself that I thought was dead and buried a long time ago. That tugging sensation worked its way up from the pit of my stomach, came crawling up my chest and into the back of my throat, and almost came tumbling out of the corners of my eyes before I was able to snap out of my trance. I didn’t know what had come over me until I watched my friend and her dad take their first rehearsal steps down the aisle together. Then the realization hit me like a ton of bricks and almost knocked me clean off of my feet. I don’t dislike weddings at all. I had simply convinced myself that I didn’t want any of these things back when my father died twelve years ago. The truth of the matter was that ever since I was a child I had always wanted an intimate, quiet, romantic wedding surrounded by only my closest friends and family. I wanted to get married in a beautiful champagne-colored dress bathed in candlelight and the warmth of a setting sun. I wanted to walk down the aisle to an Etta James song or to Claire De Lune by Debussy. I wanted to jump an actual broom as an homage to my ancestors, and walk through a shower of cream-colored flower petals or bubbles leaving the church. I wanted to share a laugh with my new husband in the car on the way to the reception as we opened the waiting bottle of champagne and toasted each other for becoming the other person’s everything for the rest of this life and the next. But I could not picture any part of this happening without my father by my side.

Finding a man who will love me forever – a man who will love me like my dad loved my mom – is almost too much to wish for. To find a man this special and not be able to share that singular moment of saying ‘I Do’ with my father was too much to even fathom. No daddy to walk me down the aisle and give me away? No father-daughter dance? Do I acknowledge him during the ceremony or act life there’s nothing out of the ordinary about him not being there? What is a fitting tribute on my Big Day to the man who isn’t there to participate? How could I possibly enjoy my wedding knowing that on the happiest day of my life I would still feel pain and loss and grief? How does one celebrate the moment when two hearts become one when a part of my heart died the day that I lost my father? What if the part of my heart that died was the part I needed to build a meaningful and lasting marriage with a good man? Is that why my relationships fail? Is that why I have tried to convince myself to not want a wedding because I also convinced myself that I don’t want to get married to protect myself from any additional pain? All of these questions caused me to shut down and close that part of my heart off. In relationships, I would play it cool when the subject came up and say how I’m not into conventional weddings, don’t like diamond rings, and how I would be cool with a courthouse wedding and the money could go towards something more logical. Lies. All lies. But convincing lies when confronted with the fact that any wedding I have will be unconventional because my father won’t be there.   These revelations I had while I was supposed to be paying attention in church almost brought me to my knees.

So now that I know the truth and can acknowledge that I actually do want a wedding one day, what does that all mean? Does that mean that my heart is beginning to heal and make itself ready to receive a man with whom I can build a life? Does this internalized moment of honesty mean I will start to attract the kind of man who doesn’t mind a little bit of conventionalism in his life, and who will also understand that the part of my heart that was my father’s will always be something I keep for myself? Will he love me enough to help me mourn and grieve during this transitional part of my life and hold me so tight that the parts of myself which were broken are made whole again through patience and prayer? Will he help me have a truly new beginning and not feel guilty about giving up my last name without my father’s blessing? Will he be someone who builds me up and doesn’t tear me down? Who won’t hurt me because that means he would be hurting himself? I think for the first time in more than ten years I am opening myself up to the possibility of this kind of commitment. And in doing so, have opened myself up to the idea of celebrating this kind of union in front of family and friends and not a judge in a courtroom with a random person serving as a witness. I’m doing the work now to make sure that I can be all of the things to my future husband that I pray he will be for me, so with God’s guidance, some real conversations with myself, and breaking down the guards I had installed on my heart against being hurt again maybe the right person will make himself known. He will love my scars, protect my heart, pray for our future, honor my father, and love me so deeply that for one perfect day we can live our fairytale beginning and vow in front of family and friends to work tirelessly towards our Happily Ever After.

A good love story is inspiring, even when the middle parts have some sadness and struggles. I will never get over losing my father, but if I can fix my heart to allow someone else to come in and make the rest of my heart feel so full of love that the part that died doesn’t take up as much space as before, I think that in and of itself will be a reason to throw one amazing celebration.

Chapter Two – My Life Is My Own

I promised myself that this week’s post would be lighthearted and funny since last week took a lot out of me emotionally. Not every step taken towards self-enlightenment has to be serious and super introspective, right? We can have a bit of fun as we bounce along on our journey! So I spent the last week waiting to be struck by inspiration to write something that is thought-provoking, but in a cheeky way that makes you laugh while having an ‘a ha!’ moment. And. It. Never. Came. ::insert mild panic attack:: So as of last night I had convinced myself that my two week career as a blogger was over – at least for this week. I justified putting off until next week what I should have been working on for the past 7 days, and prepared myself to slumber away into mediocrity. Then my best friend in my head, Tracee Ellis Ross, came to my rescue. Shout to my girl Vanessa for the Facebook tag 🙂

I watched the speech she gave at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit, and it resonated with me and gave me chills. She started off by saying how interesting it was for her to be 45 years old, single, with no kids. How no matter what she accomplished professionally, in a matter of seconds she was immediately brought down a notch or two by well-meaning people questioning her life because for many people in society having a husband and kids is the true way for a woman to measure her success and happiness in life. How a woman becomes truly fulfilled.Neither Tracee nor I are for those shyts at ALL! She made me exclaim “Yass girl!” and nod my head in total agreement every 10 seconds as she big upped herself and gave herself credit for all of the wonderful accomplishments she had made, and it will likely be a speech that sits with me in my spirit for a long time. And I thank her for it. She said that your life is your own, so just fcuking live it the best way you want! And I feel that shyt on a very deep and personal level.

For better or for worse, I have lived a life of complete duality – As a child I always did what my parents expected of me, but as an adult I have consistently marched to the beat of my own drum and done what I felt was right for my life in that moment. My pendulum swung so far in the opposite direction that a lot of my friends and family thought I needed professional help or to reconnect with Jesus or something. They might have been right, but I didn’t see it that way and kept doing what I wanted to do. Grow out your perm and wear your natural hair? You’ll never find a man or get a job. Move to NJ after living in LA for a year? Sure, why not? Date this guy or that guy or both at the same time? Absolutely! Party in NYC on a weeknight and go to work the next day on three hours of sleep? Sounds like living to me! Move from NJ to Miami? Sign me up!

My Aunt Bertha used to tell me that I needed to stop moving around, settle down, and have a family. My Nana would say she was proud of my education, but that if I was too smart no man would ever want me as a wife. And when I graduated from Howard University and brought my degree to my grandmother so she could tell me how proud she was, all she said was how she didn’t understand how I went all the way to that colored school in DC and didn’t come back with a husband. People say that ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss,’ but who the hell wants to get all mossy when they can be covered in glitter and stardust and champagne bubbles as a result of all of the adventures out there to be had!

At this point in my life, there are certain opinions that other people should no longer feel comfortable sharing with me or they run the risk of getting their feelings hurt when I read them for filth. I do not need to be reminded that my ovaries are shriveling up with each passing day and that my window for having children is closing. I have pretty consistently said I do not want children, so this threat is not a major loss for me. And I still have time to change my mind if I choose to. Not one person who voices their opinion on this matter will be financing a thing once the kid gets here, so hush up. Your kids might have completed you, but I feel pretty fcuking complete having a clean house, money in my bank account, and a restful night’s sleep. Mind your business folks, and stay out of my uterus.

I also do not need to be reminded that the pickings for a good husband diminish with age, and that the risk of me finding the kind of man I could settle down with is fading like many of their hairlines. GAH!! Why on EARTH would I SETTLE for just any random guy when I can be FABULOUS by myself? I am free and complete in myself, even if I am a work in progress, and if I am to give up any part of that freedom it will be for a phenomenal man who doesn’t want me to settle down but who wants to run wild and free with me!

Along those same lines, I am not in the construction business so I am not looking for a man who is a project for me to build up into who I think he could potentially become. Fcuk. That. Foolishness. Forever. I am working on building myself right now, I ain’t got the time nor the inclination to build up a whole nutha capable adult. I’m not saying any man I date has to be 100% perfect or established, but I’m in a ‘refining’ stage in my life right now, not trying to start off a relationship with a dude who isn’t anything but a blueprint. Give that assignment to someone else, I don’t want it.

I do not need to be reminded that I am fluffy. Do my thighs rubbing together when I walk offend you? Does my soft midsection trigger you into having some sort of psychological breakdown? Do you think fat is contagious like a cold sore or leprosy? Do you think that my dance card (or bedroom) is empty because I’m not a size 6? Do me a favor and send me your address so I can order you some business of your own to attend to from Amazon or Ebay or wherever. I’ll even spring for overnight shipping to expedite taking this extra time off of your hands because that is the kind of person I am. You’re welcome. My fluff factor isn’t anyone’s business but my own, and poking my soft edges or telling me how much prettier I would be if I lost weight will get you dismissed from my life and cursed out in ways that would make Richard Pryor blush.

MY LIFE IS MY OWN!! And so is yours! And that is a wonderful thing!! If I never get married, I am still a complete person! If I never have kids, I will still have a happy life full of love and family! If I never lose weight, I am still pretty bish! ::flips hair and re-applies lipstick:: As far as I am aware, we only get one shot at this thing called Life, and I do not intend on living it to make anyone else happy but myself. And there is nothing wrong with that! I am selfish with loving myself, but that selfishness makes it possible for me to love others unconditionally. I apply the same standard to them that I want applied to myself, and as a result I have formed the most meaningful relationships with people who I know love me for me and whom I love and respect in return. We’re all just out here trying to be great, and for some of us that greatness is found down a path that is different from what we were indoctrinated to believe we needed to go.

LIVE YOUR LIFE! Love who you want to love, eat what tastes sweet on your tongue, love with reckless abandon, always keep a bottle of champagne in your fridge to toast the happy times, and let other people find their own unique way to the finish line of Life. Being the most completely happy and fulfilled version of yourself will let the Universe know what gifts and blessings need to be sent your way, and you will be in the position to receive it with open arms and an open heart. Be the best and strongest version of YOU, and get ready to be blown away by how that freedom reverberates out and affects others around you in a positive manner.

My Life Is My Own. It hasn’t always been and will not always be easy, but until the day I die it will always be authentic. Living my best and most fulfilled life is is the best gift I will ever be able to give, both to myself and to everyone else I meet as I keep skipping down my Path with a glass of wine in my hand, my dog by my side, and a trail of glitter marking my past adventures like the Black Girl Magic version of Hansel and Gretel.

Cheers!

Chapter One – Fearful No More

I truly cannot think of anything more tragic, more heartbreaking, and more of a waste of time than living a life of fear. It is such a ridiculous concept that I am ashamed to admit that this is what I have managed to do to myself for the past 34 years. I’ve always doubted my intelligence, my abilities, my God-given gifts. I’ve shunned compliments like the plague (I told y’all I wasn’t faking being modest or humble), and used self-deprecating humor to shield myself from the inevitability that people will pick me apart, tear me down, look down on me, or otherwise make me feel like a lesser person. Always.

I compared myself to other people constantly. I was always happy to cheer on my friends and their successes, but every time I did well and received any praise or accolades for myself I somehow felt like a fraud. Those good grades, soccer championships, nominations for honors societies, etc. were not really for me. Not the “real” Ashley. The Ashley who suffered from intense stomach cramps since the age of 4 stemming from anxiety (What does a 4 year old have to be anxious about?!). The Ashley who would have severe mood swings and cry all day in private, but then put on a big smile for a drill team performance or a student council leadership conference. The Ashley who was constantly being compared to her mother (tall, thin, brilliant, kind, gorgeous), her brother (tall, thin, brilliant, mild-mannered, handsome), or anyone else perceived as being ‘more than’ or ‘better than’ me. This inferiority complex became a crutch to avoid putting myself in uncomfortable situations, but also became the driving force behind my desire to be successful. The trouble with this approach is that I am never satisfied. I have no gauge with which to measure what I consider to be success in the long run, which further feeds my feelings of never being enough. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I have always tried to fade into the background of social situations in which I found myself, even if it did not appear that way on the surface. I guess I am what people now call an Introverted Extrovert. I was (still am) the person who would be devastated if I wasn’t invited to a party, but very rarely accepted the invitation and always tried to find a way to avoid going or leave early if I actually did accept. I left most slumber parties early as a child because I wanted to sleep in my own bed, I refused to do anything that could possibly cause me one moment of embarrassment (karaoke? I would rather die.), and if I ever lost a game or something I would get very down on myself and vow never to play again. I still hate losing. I hate it with a goddamn passion that burns white hot deep within me with the heat of 1 million suns. But I am getting better. White hot sun flame is a definite improvement from what I felt in my teens and twenties.

When interacting with strangers I wanted to lower their expectations of me to minimize the risk that I might be found to be fraudulent or inept in any of my thoughts or actions. I also had to fight the voices from some close family members who seemed to enjoy pointing out my deficiencies which only magnified them in my eyes. My issues never really stemmed from my parents growing up, but my anxiety, depression, and fear of total and utter failure can be traced to other branches of my family tree.  I had to fight my demons while trying to slay other people’s as well, and that was a very heavy burden for a child to take on against her will. And it did damage. Serious fcuking damage that reverberates through my spirit even today.

By the time I got to Howard University, I was so unsure of myself and terrified of Life in general that I squandered my four years at The Mecca. I hid my insecurities behind books (#SafeSpace), did not get involved with organizations where I probably could have contributed a lot just by being myself, didn’t go out and explore Washington DC because I was convinced I would end up dead in the Potomac River somewhere if I left campus,  and hung out with a very small handful of friends who never really forced me out of my comfort zone. They loved me and allowed me to always be myself, but I wasn’t pushed or challenged and that was all I really wanted – a safe place. I tried very hard not to make mistakes or take chances that normal college kids took just in case I had a less-than-desirable outcome, and I was convinced this would happen given my overall bad luck that was playing out in my head. Only as an adult do I fully grasp how warped this way of thinking actually was, and I will carry some regrets with me for the rest of my life.

This fear and uncertainty haunts me even today. As a kid I was afraid of being made fun of or not being “enough” to be successful, and as an adult I face those same fears every day. Fear that I am not doing my job well or somehow failing as a boss to my team. Fear that I can’t change jobs or career paths because what if I don’t 100% know immediately on Day 1 how to do my job and people think I am stupid? Fear that I can’t lose weight or get healthy because I have tried and failed so many times that it’s just easier to stay fluffy and not risk facing that failure again. Fear of Love because I have been abandoned, lied to, cheated on, emotionally abused, and sexually violated. Fear of marriage because I might get a divorce. Fear of kids because I might be too selfish for them, can’t give them the life I had growing up, or I might become one of “those moms” who lose themselves in their kids. What if I emerge 18 years later totally unrecognizable to myself and those around me?

I realize how very narcissistic this all seems – to think people give me as much thought as I give their perceived opinions about me…it’s just part of the fear and anxiety that has taken up residency in my own mind. Sigh.

But a wonderful thing has finally happened. I am finally tired of it. All of it. Exhausted really. I promised myself that by writing this blog every week I will be brave enough to live my life without self-doubt moving forward. I will fall. Spectacularly, with flair, and flat on my face. I will not, however, let myself be crippled with the delusional paranoia that everything I attempt will end in disaster and with the taunts of other people cheering on my failures. My Season of No Fear starts right now, and I will no longer let anxiety dictate my direction in life or my happiness! I will share my successes and failures, my highs and lows, my inadequacies and my triumphs. I will take a major step out on faith and finally see in me what so many others have seen in me for my entire life. And I will do it all my way. I’ll apply for a job that scares me. I’ll flirt with the cute guy at the parties I’m going to force myself to start attending. I’m going to forgive myself for eating and drinking my emotions over the years, and show my fluff some love with more veggies and shyt like chia seeds and kombucha and start healing my body from the inside out so I can live a long and healthy life.

I’m giving myself permission to be ok with who I am in this moment because I know that I am going to be fine. In the past I would succumb to my feelings of fear and inadequacy, but now I will embrace it and tackle it head on. The more I love and accept myself, the less afraid I am about what comes next and the more forgiving I am about what has happened in the past.

This blogging journey is a critical step in my self-healing, and I am feeling inspired! I’m doing something for myself- I’m taking control. I’m giving fear both middle fingers and toasting this new-found self-love with a nice cold glass of Chardonnay to celebrate! Cheers to you all!

Cheaper Than Therapy – An Introduction

So it finally happened. I decided to write my very first blog post ever. I have had all of these ideas floating around in my head for what feels like forever, and then one day after being bullied (encouraged) by friends to just do it, I said “Eff it! I’m gonna write my thoughts and feelings down and then share them with a bunch of strangers on the Internet!” And it actually sounded like a good idea…which should have been an immediate indicator that this shyt was about to get real and I might want to re-think my decision.

What could have possessed me to take on such a cliché and yet terrifying step towards public exposure as writing a blog? What makes me think that anyone would ever really give a crap about what I write or think or feel? What makes me so narcissistic to think that people will look forward to my posts or secretly make me their best friend in their heads while saying, “Yes ma’am!!” when reading my latest rant on this, that or whatever? I guess because I feel like I cannot and am not the only person sitting back every day trying to put the last few years of their life together.

A bit of background: I am a 34 and a half year old Black woman from Texas. I live in Miami now, am a proud Howard University graduate (The REAL HU!) where I studied exactly what my parents wanted me to study. I never worked because I was always supposed to go to law school…which I never wanted to do. I graduated with honors, came home for a year, and then ended up in Los Angeles less than one year after my father suddenly died with law books and law school loans out of my ass. And then I quit. Just walked the fcuk away after a year and a summer and never looked back. Ifinished my first year with a near nervous breakdown, average-ish grades, and no fcuking clue about what I was actually supposed to do with my life. I spent my entire life being such a great student that I had no idea how to be an adult.

So then I started to make every bad decision that should have been made in undergrad as an adult. I got into debt, worked jobs I hated for less money than I should have been making, I traveled, I fell in love and lost myself, fell out of love and numbed myself. I moved thinking I could outrun my problems, but the way interest compounds on your problems means that eventually they catch up to you and it is never pleasant when that happens. Which brings me to this very moment. Sitting at my dining room table desperately trying to figure out what comes next. How does a person make such a dramatic life turn that they look back in five years after they have a book deal, new career, loving family, etc. and say that these dark times were worth it? Were necessary? For this lady here – she starts a blog. A place to draw in a tribe of other people just trying to sort it all out. One day at a time. One glass of wine at a time. I don’t know what my greatness is or how to help other people find theirs. But I can be open and honest and painfully exposed and hopefully we can all help each other figure out how to take the next steps into our Greatness.

And this shyt ain’t easy. I am an extremely private person on Social Media – I have a private Facebook page, don’t use SnapChat, I refuse to Tweet, etc. because I don’t like people seeing just how imperfect I am. My thighs touch and all of my 5’10” of height is in my upper-body. That is imperfect enough for the common person to see, as far as I am concerned. I mean, do you really want to let people into your thoughts, fears, insecurities, inappropriate and off-color jokes and open yourself up to their ridicule, their ire, their conflicting opinions? Do you? DO YOU REALLY?!? You have to be drinking pretty heavily from the Fcuk It Bucket to decide to do this, but if there’s one thing I do well it is drink <shrug>.

So here we are…wherever ‘here’ is supposed to be. The inaugural post for Cheaper Than Therapy – the blog where I will talk about real life shyt because blogging is cheaper than seeing an actual therapist. It’s also less destructive than drinking a bottle of Chardonnay a night while trying to figure out where it all went so terribly wrong and how do you make everything fall into place without movie magic or three wishes from a creepy genie in a bottle.

So many questions. So many random thoughts running through my head at any given part of my day. So many overwhelming feelings paired with underwhelming results to sort through. How did I get to be 34 years old, unwed, single af, and have no kids except for my furbaby? Where did my time go?  What is my passion and how do I harness it to make money off of it without actually having to get up everyday for work making someone else rich or their dreams come true? How do I change careers? Do I relocate again and keep running? Where would I go? How do some people have so much money to travel at my age and I am trying to clip coupons for my weekly Aldi shopping trip to save money for my monthly Target run? How are some people on the Gram and SnapChat looking like they’re living their Best Lives EVER and I am watching HGTV on a Saturday night trying to figure out how a 24 year old recent graduate can afford a mortgage on a $500,000 house when I am just one of the lucky few in Miami to not need a roommate?

Guess it’s time to start figuring out what next with the help of my ancient MacBook Air, my innermost thoughts/jokes/fears/confusion, and my bottle <ahem> glass of vino. I most assuredly cannot be the only person who has no fcuking clue what they’re doing, but like I said before…blogging is a helluva lot Cheaper Than Therapy.