What is courage? The benefits of breaking yourself open

I’ve met a lot of incredibly inspiring people over the past several years. From barefoot backpackers to headstrong hitchhikers and bad-ass businesswomen to carefree creators, I’ve basked in the glory of many humans I consider to be the bravest of the brave.

For a long time, I believed these people were courageous because they carved out their own paths and dove headfirst into their passions without hesitation. But, I’m starting to understand their courage in a different light.

It’s not their dedication to their passions that’s brave, nor their drive to do things differently. I now see that their courage lies in their ability to transform. Their never-ending desire to break themselves open and metamorphize into someone completely different. Their ability to leave behind pieces of their previous life and accept themselves as transient beings who were born to be in a constant state of change.

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

—Henry Bergson

The people in my life who I deem to be living in true abundance (with balanced minds and hearts) have all accepted that life’s challenges, the ones that break and shake us, should never be fought against. Feeling sad, scared, small, and broken aren’t just necessary feelings, they’re forward-moving ones. They’re the ones that change us and the ones that bring us to a state of peace within ourselves.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to be “free”. I drank all I wanted, ate what I wanted, lived how I wanted, escaped whenever things got overwhelming, hopped to a new city when I felt restless, went out on benders to fill myself up, and focused on finding fun instead of what I needed to thrive. For years and years I lived with an emptiness that I felt physically deep in my stomach. It was an overwhelming loneliness that always lingered no matter how many people I surrounded myself with. I heard someone use the term “hungry, empty ghost” recently and I’ve never felt more understood. I wasn’t a person. Instead, I was slices of the different people I kept in my life to make me feel full.

It wasn’t until I decided to break myself, to change how I was living completely, that I realized just how sick I was. It’s been a process—five years of chipping away at problems that have existed since childhood and being too scared to truly destroy my life and rework it. To be honest, my total unravelling didn’t start until about 10 months ago when, during a depressive episode, I put my foot down and realized I had to find a way to feel whole or I was going to die.

Since then, I’ve changed everything. I’ve focused on me. I’ve focused on really feeling my feelings. I cry all the time now—28 years of tears I’ve bottled are finally being released. I’m fucking proud of myself for coming this far. I’m not a shell anymore. I’m not a Pacman ghost, eating and drinking and drugging away the hurt. I’m full, and I’m not afraid of releasing things that no longer serve the me I am today.

The highs I used to get from partying are nothing in comparison to the highs I get from lifting weights, or writing a beautiful poem, or publishing an article that helps other people heal. The highs I used to get from dating toxic people are nothing compared to the highs I get from nailing a barre chord, or hiking next to rapids, or a deep sober conversation with my friends, or knowing I’m on a path to a career and life I’m in love with.

It took a lot of breaking to get here, but I’m so happy to have broken myself. And the chick I am now? She’s worlds different than the girl I was before. Along the way I lost a couple parts of myself that I thought I loved, but the ones that grew in their place are better suited to where I am in life now.

To become one of the backpackers or hitchhikers or businesswomen or artists I admire so much, I’m having to accept that life is in a constant state of flux. Every second I’m changing, but really, that’s the most beautiful part of being alive. The bravest individuals are the ones willing to feel every second of their lives, good and bad. I’m not there totally, but I’m getting there, one chip at a time.

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