I am so excited to finally let you all in on the INCREDIBLE people who contributed to this “BRAVE” series!
The first is my sweet friend Lisa. Lisa’s story of being brave is so poignant, so beautiful, and yet it comes from experiencing so much pain and brokenness. She has walked tirelessly through sorrow and grief in these past few years, and her strength and courage has continued to grow. She is a delightful friend and lover of cats and Target and cute shoes, and she and I have enjoyed many hours enjoying these things together.
So thankful for her and how very BRAVE she is.
As I’m sitting here in my living room with a cup of coffee and 2 napping cats by my side (an ideal situation for me), I contemplate the meaning of the word “brave”, and realize how my various definitions of that loaded term have shaped my life in significant ways. When asked to write for this blog of my dear friend, I humbly accepted, yet wondered how on earth I was going to write about being brave when I’d spent most of my life feeling quite the opposite.
I have tried my whole life to be brave, but what I didn’t realize until recently is that for the vast majority of my 25 years of living, my conception was off of what it meant to show bravery and courage. I grew up in a family where issues and feelings weren’t discussed, so I assumed that this was the norm and that I could show courage (strength) by keeping that happy face mask well-polished and by not giving the slightest inclination that anything was ever wrong. This false perception was only intensified when my older brother passed away in 2012 and I knew the time to be brave had really come. Moments after the doctor pronounced my 28-year-old sibling brain dead from an overdose of painkillers, my grandma hugged me while whispering in my ear: “You are the rock, you have to be brave. You have to be strong for your parents.” I accepted this well-intentioned yet ultimately harmful challenge and ran with it. Showing very little emotion or sign of distress, in the following 3 months I would move cities, change therapists, and start graduate school, all while working a full-time job. Dazed and confused, yet holding my head up high, I started to seek out new ways to help me maintain my “brave face” while grief threatened to creep it’s way into my seemingly well-maintained life. I thought there was no way I could keep up with the pace I was living at if these dreaded feelings were present, so I started numbing my pain with alcohol. I didn’t know at the time that this unhealthy coping mechanism would soon manifest itself into full-blown alcoholism.
I had tried so very hard to keep myself together but the more I tried and the more I drank, the more I realized that my life was becoming completely unmanageable. My brave face cringed as my world caved in on itself and everyone around me could see it happening. I soon quit my job, dropped out of grad school and moved 500 miles to live back with my mom while I attended multiple treatment programs. At the time I thought of these decisions and life events to scream nothing but the fact that I was cowardly and weak.
I can’t explain all that’s occurred over the past 2 years to make me realize this, but today my definition of brave is much different. It is no longer pretending that life can’t touch me; it is no longer running from my feelings in fear that they will overcome me. To me now, courage looks like a girl walking in alone to her first 12-step meeting, afraid and crying yet finally willing to admit defeat and accept help. Courage looks like truly and authentically feeling your feelings. Courage looks a lot like vulnerability and telling the truth – like opening up your messy life to others and trusting that someway and somehow, beauty can be made from your ashes. Courage looks like waking up each day, knowing that each decision in life is a choice between life or death, and choosing life even when it’s the harder and sometimes more painful choice.
I’m blessed with the opportunity to live life with a lot of BRAVE people today, and they look nothing like my former self. I still have so much to discover about myself and this world we live in, and I aim to do so by showing up to my life…bravely.