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Stop Looking at me

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Have you ever read a book you loved so much it still forms tears in your eyes thinking about it? You know, you know, the ones you clutch so tight and hold each page as close as the next? I can recognize mine because they’re beaten at the spine, coffee splatters on the front and the pages creased over because it’s been loved on so much. I own many of these. Most of which, recycle in and out of laying on my bookshelf to being held in my hands. The one that recently had me gripped was Tuesdays With Morrie (Albom, 1997). Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in urgent care head pressed against the wall, all 6 feet of me curled in a chair that wasn’t built to hold half my limbs in the first place. But, I didn’t care. I had Morrie. Morrie made time pass as if it was nothing. A flicker, a blink, a snap of a finger. Page, after page, after page. In actuality my appointment was at 5:20 P.M. and it was nearing closing time at 7:00 P.M. Being curled up tight in that chair made me think less about my achiness and pain on the right side of my body. I couldn’t feel my groin throbbing and the headache pounding as I turn my head. Morries’ truths made me forget about how I kept circling back to if I “should” be at urgent care. Was I really in that much pain? Should I just wait it out? Is this what people classify as “urgent?” Am I just being a little dramatic? No time to sit with that uncertainty! Morrie was talking. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Surprisingly enough, this post isn’t about books or a shameless plug to go read Tuesdays With Morrie! I know, I hear all of your “what a lack of a topic sentence.” Give a girl a chance and keep reading. I was just painting a picture for you!

Morrie came to an abrupt stop when Jess came in the room. Well, Dr. Jessica to be formal, but, she wasn’t a formal kind of person. She pulled her chair up close and leaned in so naturally and just like that; that flicker, that blink and snap of a finger, she was all here. I was all hers, I had every ounce of her attention. Have you ever met someone like that? Who makes you feel like you are the most important person to them in that moment and nothing else matters? Jess is that kind of person and I took note. I began explaining my symptoms hesitantly, observing her reaction meticulously because remember, I wasn’t sure if my needs were urgent enough to be there. Half way through, she stopped me and touched my arm with gentleness saying “don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you. What do you need from me?” I exhaled the breath anxiety was holding and restarted the conversation with “I have no energy.” Now, if you know me even a little bit, you know how unnatural this is for me. “Every task wipes me out and when I turn my head I get an instant, shooting head ache. I still have a lump in my throat that is painful at fingers touch and my groin area aches most of the time.” Jess examined all the areas I was having sensitivity and discomfort to, then looked at me and said “we’re going to figure this out. I’m going to run all of the tests and check on them myself. I’ve got you.” I’ve got you. Three words that stormed my heart with a hurricane of emotions. When was the last time I heard that? I couldn’t remember. Don’t be fooled, I have great friends. Both in Nashville and other areas of the world. Who love me so deeply. But, recently I’ve had my hands messy from being in a little bit of everything you could possibly label as “busy” and so have they. The sincerity of Jess’s words and the tenderness of how she spoke them let me know, she meant it. This wasn’t a “I got your back fam” nonchalant confirmation, this was a I care for you “I’ve got you.” I know the difference between the two, do you?

I felt stripped in vulnerability. Jess saw, she knew. I didn’t feel as fine as I had just so eloquently summarized to her like I was the back of a latest novel. This not-as-awesome-as-Jess doctor came in (still good) to collect all the blood work. He asked me all the necessary questions, but, stone cold. Warmth was vacant. What the heck! I want Jess back. Where’s my girl? I felt a sudden yearning to have the comfort Jess gave. There was a word for that. A sensation that I longed for, but, I couldn’t place my finger on it…yet.

There I sat in my too-small-for-me chair, back to Morrie while the blood work was happening. I didn’t realize how much blood work was actually happening and I started feeling a little woozy. My arms felt like they had anchors tied to them and I felt I didn’t quite have my feet grounded. Soon, Jess was back (all the praise hands and hallelujahs), and she sat down close to me. The identical way she did when she originally came in. Then… I just started crying. Out of nowhere, all the tears came falling from my eyes. I don’t know about you, but, do you have a signature mannerism right before you’re about to cry? I do, and it’s a dead giveaway! I purse my lips to the right side of my mouth and that is the cue of my unraveling. In this moment, my lips were pressed so tight, the slightest alleviation of them transformed my eyes into a running faucet . I just crumbled. Yes, I physically was hot and cold with chills and I felt faint. Mostly though, I was just lonely and missing the comfort of the way someone cares for you when you’re sick.

Jess closed the door. That southern hospitality was alive and practicing in this doctors’ heart! The tears were followed by so many “bless your hearts,” and not the kind that you know….insinuates to be quiet. The “bless your heart” you tell that co-worker when they’re complaining about how it’s so hard the sky is blue today? Not that kind. The kind that let me know that hey, there, there. You’re seen, I’ve got you. She let me lay down, got me a blanket, a wash cloth, sat next to me and let me cry. Pause. Lets go back to the beginning of this story when I briefly shed light on the fact that it was almost closing time before I was even seen. By this point, it was well over an hour later and I was very much the last patient in the building. However, Jess didn’t seem to be concerned with any of that. She was fixated with what was right in front of her, not what was waiting for her on the other side of me leaving. She was present as I was allowing myself and body to be.

I’ve been struggling with that a lot lately. Living in the future and not the present. It seems recently that everyone else is too- living in my future. Yes, my future. So, I should be living there to then?.… With what I’m doing, how I’m going to lead in my job, with what I’m doing with my time at 3:30 next Wednesday afternoon because I “should” be doing x, y, and z. With who I’m dating, or not dating, where I should be in the depths of my faith, with what I should study as I got back to school and with what I am “doing all day long” because that means I “should” think about doing “blah, blah, blah, blah.” It seems people have been formulating their own concoctions of how I “should” be living in my future just by looking at me in the present. People are looking at me and the ways I’m not living up to the vision they’ve curated for me in the flesh. But, they don’t see me… they’re just looking at me. Jess was seeing me. She saw I physically didn’t feel well, I was overwhelmed, I needed to cry and I needed to feel cared for. Ah, there it is. That word and sensation I couldn’t put my finger on earlier-cared for. My heart in that moment was associating being seen with being cared for. The more I lean into that idea, the more I wonder and pose that maybe, they aren’t so different.

While Jess sat with me, she asked me about my life, who I dreamed to be, what I did to earn money, about my dog, what were the significance behind the rings I wore, where I live, what my roommate is like, all the things. When I felt better, she helped me to my feet and walked me out to my car (like what doctor do you know does that)? Just when I thought she headed back inside I lost my grounded feet for a moment and she yells back“ hey! don’t think I don’t see you, I’ve got you.” “I’ve got you” translated to “I care for you.” It translated that way because it was that way.

If Jess just looked at me after her long 12 hour shift, she would have saw that I looked very much content and enamored with reading Tuesdays With Morrie. She would have looked and heard that I was very confident in my classic symptoms of a cold or virus and wondered what I was doing there. Good thing she didn’t look at me. She sat close to see the heaviness my body was feeling. She was seeing how I kept avoiding eye contact when explaining my symptoms. She was engaged enough in me and not busy writing on a clip board to hear that I did have some hesitancy in my voice. I needed someone to stop looking at me.

As I sat on this experience and notion for the week, I reflected back on the times I was also just looking at people. I look at my dancers, I look at my roommate, I look at my friends, at the grocery store clerk and at the barista. I look at sunsets, traffic and Instagram. I could be looking at the sunset without seeing that it’s so beautiful. I can look at Instagram without seeing the filter, VSCO came edits and the fakeness. Y’ALL. Instagram isn’t real, but, that’s a different writing session for a different time. I can look at my dancers without seeing that school is hard and they had a long day already. I can look at myself without seeing that, I too had a long day. I look at so many people all day long and I wonder if I stopped looking and SAW what I would see. I wonder if they want people to stop looking at them as much as I want people to stop looking at me. I wonder if they need to feel cared for too. I’m sure they do. We all do. I think back to Tuesdays With Morrie and wonder what is drawing the main character and author, Mitch Albom, back to his old professor? Maybe, it was because Morrie saw Mitch when the rest of the world just gave him a look. What was drawing me to Jess as my doctor and not blood work doctor? Being seen and not looked at.

Jess and Morrie aren’t so different. There’s that tying back to the topic sentence! I told y’all, just give this girl a moment.

What would people see if they stopped looking at you?

If people stopped looking at me, they would have seen I needed rest and restoration. I needed to be spared the gossip and belittlement and exchanged encouragement and a prayer. If people saw me they would have seen that maybe, today is not the best day to mention how they feel I should be living my future.

What would you see if you stopped looking at you?

If I stopped looking at me and actually saw me before Urgent Care, I would have seen how I’ve been yearning to feel well cared for. I would have stopped looking at future me and started seeing present me. I would have saw how present me needed some good, rich, Jesus time and a lot less screen time. I would have seen present me needed more community within my friends and my church and not just within work (even thoughI love work). I would have seen that I probably should have went into Urgent Care three weeks ago when I thought symptoms were allergies and the adjustment of new, more physical routine. I would have seen a lot. I’m very thankful for Jess who saw all the things I didn’t, while I was too busy looking.

I’ll tell you what, I’m going to stop looking at you and I’m going to see you instead. I want to see you in your PRESENT. Not in your future. I want to see your heart, not look at your plans. I want to see what God’s doing through you, today. Right now. Not what the people vision you doing in the future. I don’t want to look at their blue print of you days, weeks, months or years from now.

Why?

Because right now I’m here with you, seeing you.

So please,

Stop looking at me.

Thunderstorms

As a young girl, I spent many of my Summers in Chicago. I distinctly relish in one or two memories of each Summer…thunderstorms. My San Diego raised self loved a big Mid-west, rumbling, striking thunder and lightning storm that lit up the sky. I reach back in my mind and replay my cousins and I outside swimming, playing kick the can or baseball when we watched the sky go from one hue of bright and blue to dark and black. I remember our faces lighting up as we all scurried to clean up our outdoor activity and race inside to seek refuge. I can still hear the sound of my sparkly sketchers as they hit the pavement racing my cousins inside with excitement building in my little body with each stride. We would always come together as a team to plan what we we’re going to do to keep each other safe. We would run down to the basement and investigate any potential cracks or opening where the storm could possibly get us and barricade them off. We grabbed flashlights, blankets and of course all the food. Chips, dip, popcorn, candy, soda pop, anything we could get our sticky little fingers on. We were the big super heroes saving the day. We were simply saving each other from being the damsels in distress in the middle of a storm. We would create shelter also known as a blanket fort, bundle up close together, turn on our flashlights and favorite movies. One hour after another, sitting there being with each other giggling, sugaring up, and talking as the soundtrack of the big storm played in the background. Thinking of how lucky we were to be safe together.

Being from Southern California, I didn’t know much about thunderstorms. All I knew was that inside was SAFE and outside was UNSAFE. Outside was dangerous. Outside was where even the strongest tree branches fell. Where the wind pushed down everything that was deemed stable and the darkness was a big scary unknown that you don’t dare make eye contact with. The louder the storm, the closer it was and the deeper you bury yourself in your shelter and clench your eyes shut. When the power went out, or when the lighting strikes a little too close for comfort is when you lean in closer and come together to keep each other protected. That’s all my nine and ten year old self knew. Maybe, it wasn’t actually the storms themselves that I was captivated by. Maybe, it wasn’t the awe I felt watching the sky be painted from blue to black in just one stroke. Maybe, I was entranced by storms because I fell in love with the people I built shelter with. Just maybe, as a young girl thunderstorms were my catapult where I would learn how to tie people close when darkness came. That when thunder raged louder and scarier, that was my cue to bring the light in closer. To hug the love for people tighter. I discovered that when armoring up for a big storm, we can prepare by hoarding all the flashlights, the junk food the blankets we have, but, if you forget your people, you have nothing. No amount of junk food is going to validate your feelings stirring in fear and uncertainty when lightning strikes. Not even the biggest or softest blanket in the world is going serve you reassurance, hold your hand and whisper “you’re safe, I’m right here.” The brightest flashlight cannot compare to the light and warmth that togetherness radiates. Only people can do that. Thunder storms is where I learned seeking people is the best refuge amidst the biggest storm.

That ten year old girl who once ran towards physical shelter when raindrops pounded against her face is now 24 and sprints past the houses and towards the people. Instead of using my hands to gather flashlights, blankets and food, these days, I use my hands to reach for other hands. Mid reach for these hands, I find I only need to reach about half way before they grasp mine right back. Standing together, hands clutched in the middle of the storm doesn’t mean one person has their shit together and the other one is falling apart. Sometimes, it may look like that, but, not always. Actually, more times than not both of you are broken but need one another for reassurance to know you’re not alone. Other times, the hands you’re holding are carrying the same pain you are, the same experience and you’re walking together to discover the next right thing. Before you know it, you’re not just clutching one or two hands. You look up from the sadness, you uncover your ears you unclench your eyes. If for only but a moment and see you have the most grandiose shelter you could have ever imagined; a whole army of love warriors around you. What is special and unique about having a shelter of love warriors is that you experience how everyone holds your hand differently. Sometimes, people see the storm approaching before you do and start running for you. Others, come after it’s been raining hard and the wind is blowing. They grab your hand when the clouds turn dark. Sometimes people are holding your hand and they don’t even know it. That’s my favorite! The storm is still raging on all around you, but, you’ve stopped running and hiding. There’s no need to run anymore when your shelter is surrounding you.

The end of 2018 and 2019 thus far has been biggest storm I saw coming but never wanted to unleash. I kept running and running, rain kept hitting my face harder and harder as I continued to pass shelters. The intensity of the storm increased so gravely that I collapsed. My feet couldn’t carry me any longer. I fell to my knees and reached for hands instead and you know what? Shelter showed up. Isn’t it amazing that we get to reach for a shelter who will meet us where we’re at?

I unclenched my eyes and saw my sister warriors, my sweet dancers, their gracious families, my favorite dance choreographer, a church who loved me, my treasured new life witnesses and professionals whom I don’t know where I’d be without. My shelter is built on a foundation of love letters. Sweat, hope and inspiration from Wednesday night dance classes. Hugs and “I did it” faces from my favorite dancing souls and invitations from their families to holidays. Safe hands of professionals and doctors who held me tight in the place I was in and loved me through it (and continue to do so). It’s a pretty damn strong shelter if you ask me.

My sisters were and are my flashlights. My best friends Kati, Maggie, Shanna, Abbey and so many others caught the cue to bring the light in closer when it got dark. Holding my hand and stepping with me when I couldn’t even see where the next step was. Sending love in the mail after particularly trying weeks. Reminding me what my next right thing was when the wind tried to blow me away. Shinning their light in the direction of strength and love when the power went out. Replaced the batteries when they had to shine the light for a prolonged period of time. Only to reassure me they were still there through FaceTimes, phone calls and everyday texts. I didn’t know hugs could be felt or light could be seen from a thousand miles away but, that’s how strong my chosen sisters are.

My every week Wednesday dance classes were and still is my soft blanket. A sanctuary that wraps me up tight in inspiration and truth telling. A familiar comfort of mine reminding me “its okay, you’re safe here.” Navigating a storm while trying to be where your feet are is incredibly frustrating and tiresome. It’s almost impossible to do without guidance. Almost. But, I found the guidance. Or I should say the guidance showed up, because she was the one facilitating the class. This is one of those strong pieces of shelter that is particularly special. One I couldn’t have predicted or foreseen coming, didn’t even know I needed, but, just fell into my lap. When I lost sight of the floor, or my feet got tangled or my body said “quit”, Joy said “sometimes we get wrapped up in just the moves, but, just listen and tell your own story.” Before, I could tell my own story Joy showed me how to listen. She showed me listening is not waiting for your turn to dance or story tell. Listening is using your ears to hear the story behind the lyrics. The musicality and accents that might otherwise be lost. Your eyes to see how other people tell their story and grab on to their movement almost to dance in response and say “yeah, me too.” In order to listen I needed to stop moving. Just, like how I had to stop running to seek refuge.
When I just stopped moving and reminded myself to listen first, I found the floor. The floor of my shelter that would keep me safe. The only way I was able to do that was being able to decide that the shelter was safe. Dance doesn’t make the space safe, only people can do that. Joy makes the space safe, she made it safe to dance my story week after week. She deemed my storm safe and “all cleared” to experience in a way that was comforting. She’s a human who tossed me the blanket reminding me that it’s important to be seen and it’s important to be known. My feelings from the storm-the fear, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the anger came out on the dance floor every Wednesday because the foundation of my shelter was safe. Without even realizing it, Joy watched me dance out my storm every week and was a keeper of the story that brought me to it. She looked and listened to the storm raging on and used it as a soundtrack that authentically matched her choreography. Without Joy, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to unclench my eyes and look up at my shelter and see I have a big ole blanket around me to keep me warm. I didn’t know when the storm would end or where the lights would come back on but I had Wednesdays with Joy.

The food my cousins and I used to collect as a nine year olds I no longer had to search for. My shelter was always in full supply thanks to my favorite dancing gals. These hearts kept me fueled to ground my feet and stand in the storm. Their little, but, mighty hands grasped mine and their power reminded me of my own. Dancing the stories of their hearts and storms with such raw conviction, nourished my soul and cleared my sight to see I’m not the only one standing in the middle of a storm. Their innocence and honesty reminds me to reach my hands outside of my own shelter and be a shelter. With these dancers, I was supplied with the whole food pyramid. Sweet and energized on life that laughter sent us all on a sugar high. Hugs, high fives, notes and thank yous that left me craving more and more, just like the fattier foods do for me. Team work and execution that served as the nuts and bolts our time together. The technique and partnership that kept us strong, the meat of it all. Style, expression that kept us always captivated by one another. The little something extra or the side dish we all got to indulge in with one another after training so hard. There’s something different about this supply of “food” then the food my cousins and I reached for in a storm. That food kept my stomach full, this nourishment keeps my heart full.

In physical thunderstorms, we need to search for, or build shelter. We need to seek out the resources; Go to the store, buy the flashlights, purchase the food and get that blanket off the top shelf. In life’s thunderstorms we are in abundant supply to both give shelter and receive shelter. This time around, I received shelter. Everything I needed couldn’t be found at the store, or in the basement. It could only be found in people. I was fully stocked from the love of people. The flashlights, the blankets and the food I didn’t need to search far for. It was in the hearts of people where I found refuge. It was building shelter together that made this storm so bearable, almost sweet.
To this day I’m still in love with thunderstorms. The darker the clouds, the louder the thunder, the brighter then lightning, the better. It’s God’s reminder to me that He graced me with the best and sturdiest shelter I could imagine…

People.

The Reason Behind my Photo of the day 2017.

New Years Eve is one of my favorite holidays.  I would be so bold to even say it is one of my favorite days of the entire year.   I know, I know, not the first holiday most people claim as their “favorite day of the year” but hear me out.

I don’t like New Years Eve for the parties.  I don’t like it for the “midnight kisses” and clinking glasses.  I don’t like it for the ball dropping at midnight, or the cliche,“ugh” and eye rolling worthy slogan “new year, new me”.  I’m not changing at the stroke of mind night, I am not Cinderella.  I am still Samantha Athena Barnes at 11:59 PM and 12:00 AM.  Thank God for that.

I love New Years Eve for my 3 R’s:

  • Reflecting
  • Revisiting
  • Rejoicing

My soul is fueled when reflecting on the year and all it had to offer me.  When it handed me joy, I rewind and replay those memories over again.  Each time I revisit those adventures with my humans, my outsides match my insides.  I am glowing, warm, energized, barley able to contain my myself and authentically smiling ear to ear.

I am empowered by reflecting back on the hardships and battles life threw at me.  To say “HEY! LOOK AT ME I DID THE DAMN THING!  I SHOWED UP, DID THE NEXT RIGHT THING AND STAYED ON MY MAT!”  Gold star, gold star, gold star.

I rejoice in all the growing pains I overcame, tears that once soaked my face now serve purpose, struggles and healing God introduced to me this year.

Phew.  Y’ALL I MADE IT! And…another freaking gold star.

On December 31st, 2016 I played back my year like a movie.  The highlight reel  featured more scenes of disappointment, defeat than triumphs, and heartfelt memories.  I remember crying more than smiling, my heart feeling anxious more than excited and feeling more uncertainty than ever before.  How could it be? How could I not remember more collections of love and joy?  I know they happened but the moments of darkness over powered them.  It consumed my light.  Where was my light?  Where were my 3 R’s?  I am a being that gravitates more towards looking through an optimistic lens2, but for the life of me,  I couldn’t remember where my collective joy was that year.

So, on January 1st, 2017 I started my photo of the day challenge.  It was my only new year goal.  I don’t like calling goals for the year “new years resolutions”.  I am not planning on resolving anything, that’s too much unattainable pressure for one human.  My only goal for every year is to grow in every facet I need to.  If I resolve something, all I’m doing is limiting my own capacity to never stop growing.  Wheres the fun in that!?

My photo of the day was a challenge for me to take a picture every day for year of the best thing that happened to me that day.  I was proving to myself that I can find gratitude in every single day.  That’s right. Every.Single.Day.  That every day there was a glimmer of kindness, hope, love that flashed across my life.  Some days they were long glimmers of beaming love and others the tiniest speck of light.  No matter how teeny tiny or massive my light was, it was deeply rooted, and saturated in love.  Love for people, from people, love from nature, kindness from the world, grace, and experiences.

There were probably more days than not this year where this deeply feeling 23 year old warrior was lost in this big, bright, messy, beautiful world.  There were other days where this deeply feeling 23 year old warrior was THRIVING.  Dancing on cloud nine, smiling until my cheeks hurt, laughed until I couldn’t breathe, energized off of natural love within the world.

2017 threw me an extreme hand of cards.  Periods of only extreme highs and extreme lows.  My heart experienced selfless, undeniable, unconditional love, deepened friendship, baptisms, milestones, a new fur faced piece of my world, a new home to live in, 20 little hearts to serve, new passions, a new church to worship, new people to hug, more hands to hold and old hands to hold tighter.

2017 also threw at me grave darkness that seeped into my heart and mind.  Darkness I didn’t even know existed.  Pain that runs deep in my being, enough tears to fill a sea, betrayal that took (is taking) a huge toll on my soul, anger that I didn’t (don’t know) what to do with, a significant loss that my heart is still recovering from, important friendships that are lost and now out of my hands reach and a mental health crisis.  It gave me lies from people I trusted and judgment-assumptions from humans who don’t know the first thing about me and never bothered to ask about my story.

2017 handed me two extremes.  Sometimes God gave me people in these moments, sometimes He didn’t, and sometimes He took them away so the only thing I could stand on was my own two feet and my faith.

Despite this, my photo of the day project serves evidence that 2017 gave me…

God painted beach sunsets on Life guard tower 61 at Newport beach.  It gave me glasses of wine and beer to share with friends exchanging laughter, secrets, and storytelling.  2017 launched my passion into education, life gave me a pup whom I rescued and she saved me-we belong to each other.  2017 gave me a College degree.  Not just me, but my family (Shout out to those fellow first generation college students!!).  Hell yeah, we did it!  2017 gave me trips where I saw snow fall for the first time, I pranced around unfamiliar cities consumed by people who shape me.  2017 gave me 13 new books to read.  Books filled with rich wisdom, raw authenticity and honest, humbling insight.  2017 reminded me I have people who would jump on planes and fly across the country just to simply be.  2017 gave me the greatest gift I have yet to discover-sistering.  The opportunity to sister and be sistered by those whom I see as they are, they see me and we love each other anyways.  I am known, they are known and are the family I choose every day, all over again, every time. This year showed me the massive bond and power the love of a family holds.  To conquer together what people say is not possible.  2017 gave (and continues to give) the art of forgiving.  2017 introduced the skill to stand up bruised, dirty, messy, lost, beaten, hopeful and feel every emotion knowing because of faith I can do hard things-we can do hard things together.  I believe this with every fiber of being so deeply I permentantly engraved it on my foot to always prove I walk with people and they walk with me.  I walk with God and He walks with me.

Because while all the loss, pain, betrayal, change, anxiety , failure, devastation and confusion was going on…

so was this;

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Step 1: Reflect

Step 2: Revisit

Step 3: Rejoice

Happy 2017.

Belonging in a Bar

You know where I’ve seen the most belonging since moving Nashville? In a bar. Sober.

Yes, in a bar downtown, on Broadway where there is a trillion bachelorette parties happening all at once, every Saturday night and most likely I know a solid three people out of three thousand. A place and scenario that usually screams out lack of belonging and ABORT MISSION, PUT DOWN THE BEER AND GO BACK TO YOUR SAFE PLACE. However, for me I found to be the total opposite.
I look around in the sea of people and I see sideways dancing,more drinks spilling on the floor than in mouths, making out against walls and yelling the lyrics to Wagon Wheel. From a birds eye view, it truly just looks like your average bar scene. But if I hone in a little closer I see people pounding down the drinks faster than they can say “I’ll have another”. I see tears. Streams and streams of tears. I hear “fighting words”. I see fighting period. I see people trying to put on their “I’m having the best night of my whole life omg wow” face when in reality they look miserable and that they might find themselves on the bathroom floor at any moment. I see people being ditched by their friends, I see people find their friends after three hours. I see misplaced punches being thrown, and women looking in the mirror longer than they’re actually in the bar. I look and I look and look some more it becomes so apparent to me that being in a bar is the most vulnerable environment I’ve been in since moving here.

Who would have thought that Honky Tonk Central and Tootsies is where I see that I’m not the only one who is broken. I’m not the only one who wants to be heard, I’m not the only one who wishes someone would just lie down in the darkness for a while and hold my hand. I’m not the only one. There are three thousand “me toos” in the room who are all just crying out for belonging using different filters. Being in this bar scene is a lot like my reality. Just a bunch of people putting on fronts to act like we all have our lives together or to make x,y, and z happy. The difference at the bar is people struggle a lot more to keep their fronts together.  If the glue that holds us all together comes crashing down, people are more likely to sit with the pain for a bit instead of scrambling to put the pieces back together before anyone sees.  People are more willing to be seen for the place and state they’re in.

A new favorite thing of mine when going out downtown is not to get drunk. I know, the exact opposite response most Uber drivers and bar tenders usually get. It’s having real conversations with people who are just trying to find belonging like me. Someone is crying? All I have to do is walk up to them and ask them if they’re okay and ask what they need. You know what happens? They cut the bullshit and they tell the truth. They say “no I’m not okay, my friends left me and I’m upset.” They say “no I’m not okay, I had a really shitty week at work and l’m dreading the week so I’m going to forget about it for the night.” They say “no. I just moved here, I know no one and I’m lonely.” They say “My girlfriend of 3 years just broke up with me and I don’t know what to do.” Honesty happens in a bar. The yearning for belonging is just disguised by Blue Moons, shots of Fireball, and long Women’s bathroom lines. Ask a person if they’re okay and they’re in shock. They’re in shock that someone wants them to be heard as much as they want to be heard. From my own observation people want to be truth tellers. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a truth teller all the time, everyday. But out in the real world sometimes, when people don’t always care to ask the hard questions, being a truth teller is really, really scary. Especially when no one else is doing it. As Glennon Doyle Melton said it best, those moments when you put yourself out on the ledge of vulnerability and admit “actually I’m not fine” only to be shut down and realize “oh we’re not doing that here”. But in a bar when people have a hard time keeping their glue together, and just let it be when it falls apart, it’s easier to be a truth teller when you SEE you’re not alone. I guess we are doing that here in a bar. When we do that honest thing, stories and longing for belonging pour out faster than the alcohol.

In my experience, I have found the three most powerful sentences in a bar are not “can I buy you a drink?”, “Let’s get out of here” or “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel” (only in Nashville). They are “That’s so hard, I know what it’s like”, “Me too” and “What do you need right now?”

I found for me, it’s not the most powerful words just in a bar, it’s the most powerful words in this particular season in my life. Those three and a genuine “I love you”. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I’m not the only one.

To the many new warriors I’ve met in the bar, had a life talk with, shared a beer with and a genuine hug….

Me too. This one’s for you. For me. For finding a moment of belonging in the midst of utter chaos.

Where I Found Hope, I Found Teachers.

I am in fifth grade. For the first time in what seems to be forever in the eyes of a ten year old I am genuinely proud of my recent completed project.  The task? To research a college I could potentially see myself attending in seven or eight years.  I walk up to the front, report in hand, pony tail swishing back in forth, dressed in my all time favorite Limited-Too ensemble for good luck and confidence inflected in my voice.  Here I go.  As I finish speaking with the feeling of accomplishment pouring out of me, my teacher takes off her glasses and poses the question “Do you know what kind of grades it takes to get into UCLA?” Accepting the question I stand up straight, respond enthusiastically with “All A’s and B’s!”  She heads to the overhead projector (long before the invention of Docu Cameras) and writes down the grade percentage I would need to achieve to be accepted by UCLA in front of my entire class. She proceeds to ask another question “Do you really think you can earn these grades for the next 7 years?” At this point my smile is upside down and my feeling of accomplishment has been substituted for embarrassment.  I reach for my pony tail to find comfort in something and respond with a whisper of “I think so” and in a matter of moments my ten year old dream is shot entirely by her following response: “Oh Samantha, I think you need to think of a back up plan.  Researching a different college would probably be best in your case.”  I race back to my seat and felt my face burn of shame in my hands and hot tears flood my eyes.

I am in seventh grade.  Twelve years old at this point, with my parents sitting in my fourth teacher conference of the school year.  Its only December.  The school counselor opens my file, which is a novel and poses a question I don’t know the answer to… “Samantha do you know what grade colleges start looking at your test scores?”  I respond with a glimmer of hope in my voice that I thought it was tenth.  Looking at my records she states “that’s a mistake most students make, it’s actually right now.” If fear, disappointment, and defeat could all be reflected synonymously, it would be in this moment.  If she were right there is no way someone like me would be going to college.
I felt my face burn of shame in my hands and hot tears flood my eyes.

I am a Sophomore. Fifteen years old now and present for yet another meeting.  Don’t worry, I’ve drafted a few more professionals on my team besides my teachers and school counselor.  Now invited to these riveting meetings I have the School Psychologist, Special Education Specialist, Guidance Counselor, the Principal, all six of my teachers and the true MVPS-mom, dad and sometimes grandma. If there were an award for the most parent-teacher conferences to have in one year, I would’ve won first place.  By this point in my life I have established three common ground rules for myself during these meetings: Don’t look at your file, don’t speak unless spoken to and cry later.  This meeting was unlike any other meeting because one thing was present that was absent in every other meeting: Hope.  Instead of the broken record speech about how my IQ was too high to receive Special Education accommodations for my learning disability, I was told “I think there is something we can do, I think I can help.”  To this day that statement is music to my ears and words I hold very close to my heart.  Thank you Ms. Karp for your belief in me in this moment and beyond.
I did not feel the burn of shame in my hands.  Hot tears did not flood my eyes.

I am now a senior in college. Twenty-two years old, a month away from graduation and four months away from pursuing my dream career as a teacher.  How did I get from that hopeless fifteen year old teenager to here?  My answer is simple.  My teachers.

To every single one of my teachers- The good, the bad, the damaging and the inspiring,

Thank you.

Thank you to the teachers who told me to “consider other colleges.” Who reported to my parents that I was lazy, did not try and who suggested my parents take dance classes away.  Thank you to the education “professionals” who told me my IQ was too high for Special Education accommodations.  Who didn’t believe in my capability or capacity to process complex information and who limited my future and dreams as a result of my learning disability.  Thank you to the teachers and professionals who were responsible for my tears, who told me “I can’t” more than “I can” and who crushed my confidence.  Without you, I would never have been able to wholeheartedly appreciate the value of compassionate teachers and fathom the power a teacher’s unconditional love for their students.  Without you, I wouldn’t have found my passion to serve as an advocate for student’s with disabilities.  Without you, I never would have found my internal drive to fight against your words and prove them wrong.  Without you, I never would have pushed myself as hard as I have and continue to do.  Without you, I wouldn’t have a model of teachers I will never be for my future students.  A statement that may sting and drip with anger but raw and some of the most important life lessons I’ve discovered as an aspiring future educator has been reflecting on having you as a teacher.  I never would have fallen in love with teaching as much as I have without the experiences in your class.  I never would have developed a deep, limitless and unconditional love for inclusion and for children who struggle, learn differently and have disabilities.  Someone needs to to be their support system, their source of comfort, tell them “they can” and celebrate their victories.  Someone needs to tell them that people like you who tell them “they can’t” are wrong.  Someone needs to stand with them when life is dark and be the light.  That someone, who you once degraded is me.  I advocate and believe in them because teachers like you don’t.  It is a strong passion of mine that I never would have discovered without you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart because I would not be where I am today without you.  My biggest thank you is for being the teachers you were, because without you I never would have meet my all time favorite teachers who have forever impacted my heart.  It was because of you, I was led to them.  It was because of you I needed them.

Thank you to the teachers who fought for me when no one else wanted to stand beside be in battle.  To the teachers who saw me as a human with feelings, passions, dreams and goals instead of seeing me as a test score, statistic or a grade.  Thank you to the teachers who stayed hours after school helping me prepare for tests, presentations and papers due.  Thank you to the teachers who wiped my many tears shed during math class and took the time to know me as a learner and reteach lessons that was catered to my dominant learning style.  Thank you to the teachers who cared deeply about my being far beyond the classroom.  Who came to my dance recitals, kept in touch after graduation and wrote letters of recommendation for potential jobs.  Thank you to the teachers who taught me how to be my own best friend, how to self-advocate and who helped me find my voice.  Thank you to the teachers who celebrated my first semester of straight A’s with me, who applauded progress over perfection and saw mistakes as an opportunity for growth.  Thank you to the teachers who showed me getting to college was an attainable goal not out of my reach when society told me otherwise.  You are the role models who have constructed and shaped my own expectations of what a successful teacher is.  You are my life evidence and visual when I think of success, selflessness and servant leaders.  You were the face of advocation for myself and others when no one else was. You went above and beyond to ensure I had access to everything I needed to not only be successful for one, two or three years, but to be successful AND HAPPY long after my time in school ends.  I strive to be the teacher you were to me for my future students.  If I am half the teacher you are then I can authentically say one of my dreams came true.  Thank you for demonstrating that unconditional love is not an adjective but a verb and is the most important thing a student can take away from a classroom.  Thank you for emulating unconditional love every single day.  Thank you for being tangible hope in my life so that I can now be tangible hope for others.

I think about all the teachers I’ve had quite often.  When I’m sitting in classes I’m passionate about,  when I’m up until all hours of the night working on homework, when I receive an A and when I receive a grade other than an A.  I think of them when I’m organizing my tasks for the week, when I’m studying for an exam, when I’m in tears over stress and when I feel like I could rule the world.  I think of them most when I tutor the forty children I’ve fallen completely in love with over the past two and a half years.  Most of all, I think of them when I fall more and more in love with teaching and when I adopt children’s struggles, triumphs, goals and defeats as my own because that is what they did (or did not do) for me.

Thank you to all my teachers who relentlessly showed up for me and my potential with open hands nothing but love to offer.  This one is for you, all you are and all you do.  Where I found hope, I found you.

Love,
Samantha Barnes

An Open Letter to my Eating Disorder

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Dear ED,

You stole part of my life for years. Robbed me of dance classes I couldn’t participate in, dismantled friendships, borrowed only to never return my confidence, self-esteem, and happiness. The worst part is, I was proud of you. I took a sense of pride in working out twice as hard as anyone else beside me, finding the resistance to refuse that piece of pizza, and being thin enough that people thought I was a model. I thought having an eating disorder was the only thing I would ever be “great” at. The only thing I would ever amount to.

I will never get those years back that you took from me. I will never get to re-dance those dances I missed, attend all the social outings you talked me into ditching, gaining back those friendships lost, and catching up on the hours of sleep I lost. Or gaining the time I spent in therapy, doctors appointments, and crying over how I wish that your voice would spare me that day.

What no one tells you about having an eating disorder is how exhausted you are. Conditioned to follow your demands dripped with hatred; destruction was draining physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. No one tells you what happens behind closed doors-the amount of tears shed, the internal battles fought between your heart, mind and soul, the repetitive calorie counting, the secret exercising after everyone else has long drifted to sleep, the feeling of my hip bones piercing through my skin and the never ending voice whispering “it’s not enough, you’re not enough.”

You used to scare me, but not anymore. In fact, I owe you a thank you.

Without you, I would have never understood how to celebrate what my body has the capability to do. Without you, my heart would have not experienced the love and support of true friendship. Without you I would have not been able to fathom what it felt like to really fight for happiness. Without you I would have never been exposed to the art of vulnerability and authenticity. Without you I never would have rebuilt my passion for dance. For these things I thank you, because it has helped shape me to who I am today.

 

Here I am two years out of treatment reflecting on the life I have right now in this moment and appreciating the place I am in as a human being just as I am. I made choice to live life without you but you sneak back into my life every now and then. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week, sometimes for a month disguising yourself as perfection, anxiety, and people pleasing. I have my own moments of relapse, I am not perfect nor would I ever want to be. But no matter the facade you play, I can recognize your voice anywhere and proceed to kick you out of my life. My mind is not a vacant space for you to rent. There is no room for you at my inn because my mind is already booked with my dreams, my goals, my memories, my friendships, my valid fears, my hopes, my creativity, my motivation and my love. There is not an ounce of space for you, you can’t have a spot. To be honest eating disorder, I haven’t even fully figured you out yet, but I have figured out how much better life is without you. I have figured out what happiness feels like without you, what friendship feels like without you and what love feels like without you.

Somewhere in the world right now, you have eight million people held hostage in the grasp of your hands. Eight million people who’s time is being wasted believing lies about them that aren’t true. Eight million people who’s passions aren’t being pursued. Eight million people who’s support system and friendships are crumbling before them. Eight million people who cry themselves to sleep. Eight million people who skip meals. Eight million people who lost their joy. Eight million people who don’t remember what it’s like to live without a fiery voice barking orders in your ear. Eight million people who have a false representation of what love is. That is eight million people too many.

 Recovery is a life long commitment and sometimes I forget that. However I promise I will fight you today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, ten years from now, any day because I know my love and strength will kick your booty any day!

To those who pull the covers over your head and cry yourself to sleep, those who can’t get themselves out of the gym, the people who deprive themselves meals, the dancers and athletes who only see fat in the mirror, the patient frustrated, drained and exhausted in treatment—something ED doesn’t tell you is recovery is worth it. You will find your worth in something much greater than anything your disorder can give you. I’ve been in your shoes, some days I’m back right there with you but the greatest weapon we have against ED is each other and our love.
Love,

The girl who found her joy again