Like many of you, I went through A LOT in 2016.

I, like you, have many stories to tell about the twists and turns my life has taken.

I, like you, have dealt with loss, grief, intense emotional pain and heartbreak.

I’ve been to very dark places (and back) in the last year, but each challenge offered me a secret, silent gift - a giant lesson. And let’s just say I’ve been willing to listen...

In the last year, I’ve come to realize that I have a deep spiritual side, many creative passions, and an inner drive in my soul that just won’t quit. By experiencing (and allowing myself to truly FEEL) loss and pain, I have gained a clear vision for the joy and abundance I desire to have in my life. I’ve decided I’m going to do whatever it takes to make my life what I know it can be. The pain also taught me that I’ve been dampening this passion - this super-spiritual, boldly creative side - and minimizing my energy by stalling, distracting myself, and taking care of everyone else… all because of fear.

So, here’s a secret you might not know if you’ve only “seen me” on social media or met me a few times in person: I, just like many of you, am terrified of REALLY being seen, being heard, and ultimately, of being rejected. I, like you, struggle with feelings of doubt, worthiness, and judgement from others (and myself!) Fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear of success… you name it! It’s probably on my fear list, too.

The huge personality you see - the “sparkly” energy, the positive outlook, the big, bold love I choose to share with the world - these characteristics are authentically who I am in my soul, but it’s taken me YEARS to learn to accept myself, silence the judgmental voices in my head, and let my sparkle out to shine. Who you see now is a result of years of serious getting to know myself (lots of therapy, writing, and scrapbooking). I’m allowing myself to be honest, mindful, and really FEEL all of my emotions when they arise. I’ve been consciously choosing to face my fears - OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Falling, messing up, getting humiliated - it’s all been part of my journey to learning to authentically be my big, brave self. I’m FAR from perfect (and who wants that anyway? That’s boring!) and I most certainly haven’t got it all figured out, but I know in my soul that I become more courageous each time I allow myself to FEEL that fear, say “thank you” to it for existing to guide me, and THEN DO IT DO ANYWAY.

So… in 2017, I say - CHEERS TO BEING BRAVE!

Here are 6 things that totally changed for me last year:

My fiance called off our wedding. Three weeks before the big day. Total shocker. (Yeah, that really happened in June, 2016). Perhaps I’ll share more about this “story” in a future post, but let’s just say this incredibly traumatic experience was one of the most powerful, wonderful gifts I’ve ever received from The Universe. (And HECK YES I still believe in love!)

I’ve been seeking out my tribe. Once upon a time, I had no friends. No – I mean it! I had tons of people around me - “acquaintances” you could call them - people who thought they knew me. But there was no one in my life who really knew my innermost thoughts, my motivations, my secrets. There was no one I could be truly myself with. Then one day I came across the word “tribe”. I began to think about and write about what tribe means to me. As someone who is been always intrigued by sociology, culture, power hierarchies, and relationships, I wondered where my tribe was…? What I slowly came to realize was that my tribe was not there because I was not being completely myself -I was not letting myself be seen - I was hiding behind smiles, perfectionism, and strength. Since beginning to allow myself to become more vulnerable, talk about my weaknesses and flaws, and let others help me, my tribe has revealed itself. I made a very specific effort to create a list of characteristics that are important to me when it comes to choosing members of my tribe. It's almost as if the universe read my list, because in the last year, I’ve met and grown relationships with a few of the most amazing individuals I have ever met. They listen, and they care, and they see me. THAT is priceless.

I let go of perfection. After reading a few books and listening to many podcasts from the likes of Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell, and Brene Brown, I decided it was time to be okay with being good enough. I began to listen to people's stories of struggle and ask hard questions. As I listened, I realized that there are so many similar stories of fear, being seen as a fraud, and not being perfect, and I've decided that it's totally okay for me to be flawed, fearful, and vulnerable. Who wants someone else in their life who is PERFECT? Yuck. Being "imperfect" in my own unique ways actually makes me who I am and reminds me of my humanity.

I learned to tap into my feelings. In February, 2016, I attended a Desire Map workshop run by my amazing friend, Angie Cole. Taking this weekend to myself to really delve back into my motivations, my desires, and the true urges that drive me to make the decisions I make completely turned my life on its head. (I actually refer to my life now as “Before Desire Map” and “After Desire Map”. This weekend of writing, reflection, and connection with other women allowed me to open my heart and begin to let in both joy and pain. (Who knew this would come in so handy later in the year?!) As a perpetual optimist, pain is not my comfort zone, and I used to run from it whenever possible. Now, I choose embrace pain as part of the healing process. I am learning to feel the feelings that need to be felt so I can move forward and get out of the cycles where I sometimes get stuck. I am embracing the struggle of dealing with these feelings and enjoying each moment when I get to let them go and return to a place of peace.

I re-discovered my journals. As I mentioned above, I journal and scrapbook… A LOT. All my life thoughts inside my head have swirled and twirled, begging to get out. They've always nagged at me, asking quietly to be written down or spoken out loud. Over time, they get louder… and until they are released, they will not leave me alone. I learned in my early years, however, that sometimes, when I share my innermost thoughts and swirling, twirling emotions with other people, it makes them incredibly uncomfortable. As a way to “get the thoughts out” and express my emotions visually, I’ve kept scrapbook-style journals (beginning in 1996 when I was a freshman in high school).

Like many teenagers, I was a little awkward, a little weird, and juuuuuuust a bit lost. My homeroom adviser, (thank you, Mrs. Shaw!) suggested I take a semester of a creative writing class she led, and as someone who had done a lot of reading and writing as a child, I was intrigued. I signed up for a semester... and I never left. I retook creative writing every semester, and began to amass an incredible collection of magazines, flyers, and inspirations. I saved everything from ticket stubs to playbills to little notes scribbled with words of love. I wrote about boyfriends, adventures, and created a bit of an autobiography.

Recently my friend Angie uncovered a crate of my journals in the basement (they’ve always traveled with me - to every dorm room, apartment, and house) and, as she skimmed through the pages I’d created about my thoughts, my sexuality, power, identity, gender, art, writing, and psychology (and as I started sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat), it occurred to me that I had NEVER SHARED THESE JOURNALS WITH ANYONE. Angie was the first person who had ever asked to look at my collection of articles, quotes, lists, photos, magazine clippings, and inspirations. (Talk about an “ah-ha” moment.) But why had I never shown these to anyone?

I used to tell myself an effective story that “no one really cared enough” to ask me to look at them, but standing in that moment (with Angie squealing with delight as she flipped through the pages) it hit me - that’s just NOT TRUE. (Stop telling yourself stories, Abbie!) It’s ME who has been fearful all along of showing my inner world to the (possibly) judgmental outside world. Fear often guides our choices, and even the bravest of souls feel fear. And so... I’ve always kept my writing, my journals, and my creativity a secret. (Until now!)

I’m telling my story. Learning to speak about your life out loud is seriously scary. Uncovering and talking about the “whole story” is even scarier! But I’m DOING IT. I’m actively practicing getting quiet, being still, listening to the guidance I am receiving, and letting go of the past. I remind myself that I must let my thoughts, my passions, my talents, and my feelings be seen and heard. They are worthy. I must BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO BE MYSELF and trust that who I am good enough.

It’s time to tell the true story. The WHOLE story. (Are you with me?)

After all, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." -Maya Angelou

Comment, Share, Cheers and Be Well. Love, ~AbbieMcG, From The Nest