Living Authentically

At this moment, right now I am living the most authentic version of myself I ever have. It’s taken me so long to get here, but I am here and damn, it feels good. It’s just like a weight has been lifted from my physical and spiritual body and where feelings of distress and fear once clouded my heart, feelings of peace a optimism have replaced that same space.

I haven’t felt really compelled to share publicly because I believe, experiencing true transformation is a private process (at least for me). In March, I decided to invest in myself and signed up for a transformational women’s retreat in Joshua Tree hosted by my now Coach Brandilyn Tebo. I went into the retreat not knowing what to expect, but knew that I needed to experience healing and transformation in multiple areas of my life. Within a safe space made up of brave vulnerable women with vastly different backgrounds, I was able to pour open my heart and revisit past trauma that I had buried so deep, I didn’t know it was still causing me pain. I apologized to my inner child for being so cruel to my body and hating myself as a teen and I learned coping mechanisms for how to deal with challenges by changing my mindset from “why is this happening to me?” to “what can I learn from this?” I let go into my subconscious during meditation and felt the healing powers of  plant medicine during a cacao ceremony where we made music and danced under the desert moon. I made peace with a lot of trauma and people who had caused me past pain in that magical incubator in Joshua Tree and returned back to “real life.”

Post retreat, I realized doing one-on-one coaching with Brandi would be beneficial as I still felt unfulfilled in my job, living situation and inadequate in numerous other ways. For those of you just tuning in: to summarize, this time last year, I was experiencing depression, exhaustion and was really just tapped out mentally and physically. My mom had just been in the hospital for almost 6 months before having surgery to receive a double lung transplant and had just been released home and she was incredibly weak. At the time, I was living in LA and barely working because of my depression so I was completely broke, I felt it was my job to move home to Ventura to help rehabilitate my mom and to take some of the strain off of my dad and sister. The fact that I was moving home “because I was broke” felt like defeat. But at the time, I didn’t have the ability to take a step back and look at the entire situation to realize I was in desperate need of a spiritual recharge. I had lost so much of myself during long hours at the hospital, going out and partying to numb the pain, and not eating enough or regularly, and had lost all inspiration and drive to push myself forward. I was just going through the motions. Moving back home and being around a supportive group of girlfriends I had known for years was a blessing but again, I was blind to that at the time.

Fast forward to the months of April to June working on my transformation with Brandi. She helped me identify different areas of my life that needed improvement and gave me homework after each Skype call to work on creating actual effective change. I read books, changed my morning routine, worked on relationships with people close to me, began practicing yoga regularly again, explored my spirituality and developed a gentle and understanding approach to myself and others using the mantra, “lead with love.” It’s amazing how in situations of frustration or anger repeating this mantra and knowing that I would feel better afterwards if I approached a situation like this is so affective. I also sometimes remind myself that I’m vibrating on a higher level now and don’t need to go back to a place where I feel that I need to be reactive or combative, which doesn’t align with who I am as a person (libra’s are super non-confrontational and all about balance).

This Mercury retrograde has brought A LOT of feels (I know I’m not the only one) and this past week has been full of ups and downs. On Wednesday, I woke up and had a shit mental health day. I couldn’t really explain it, or where these feelings were coming from, but I felt inadequacy creeping in evoking anxiety ridden questions like, “why hadn’t I again moved out of my parents house and branched out on my own?” I let those feelings marinate inside me for most of the day, but then on Thursday I got right back to it. I wrote down my intentions for August inspired by all the possibility for the month and cried happily to my sister as I realized how close I am to achieving some of the goals I’ve been manifesting for my brand Don’t Call Me Pretty.

Listening to the universe and all that it has to offer instead of resisting it is the biggest thing I’ve learned this year. I looked forward to the monthly check in call I had scheduled with Brandi on Friday. I gave her all the positive updates I had and then we spent a good chunk of time brainstorming all the possibilities for where I can take Don’t Call Me Pretty including a series of workshops I’m planning to host on college campuses in the Fall. And although I am not quite where I want to be, I am finally content with where I am in this moment and I am excited about all the abundance I am ready and open to receiving.

Living authentically for me right now means spending a Friday night in reading a good book in my favorite kimono and not feeling bad about not going out, it means practicing yoga to nourish my body, it means feeling proud of myself and not needing outside validation for recognizing how far I’ve come. It means not beating myself up when I do have unproductive days. It means not feeling bad about creating boundaries. It means listening to my intuition. Most importantly it means, loving myself unconditionally.

Life shows up for us when we start listening and stop resisting.

xo Aly

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Time Alone

If I’ve learned anything in the past several months, I’ve learned that the ability to be alone and comfortable with yourself is a gift. When you get past the point of no longer needing constant outside stimulation from other people in order to avoid time with yourself, you have made a monumental gain.

Time alone is a time for reflection and introspection. It’s a time to acknowledge the noise, but to choose to brush aside societal pressures and to listen to the truth inside your heart. It’s a time to ask yourself questions like, “What needs mending?” and ” What can I work on inwardly in order to live more fully outwardly?”

For many of us, being alone is terrifying because we don’t do it often enough. Real honesty, especially with one’s self is terrifying.

We live in a culture that capitalizes on the expectation to be constantly social and when we’re not, we’re deemed things like “loner” or “un-lovable.”

What if, in Western culture, we chose to accept those traditionally negative labels, and turned them into something positive by proving that time alone creates strength and love inwardly that can then be transmitted to others?

For a long time, if not most of my life, I thought my own worthiness of love, abundance, and happiness was completely based on what I put out or allowed to the surface. Such as, if I changed something about my appearance, I could more easily find love. Or if I held a certain job title then I would gain the respect I craved from family and peers- which in some ways, is still true. But, I have seen first hand people who live on a surface level instead of purposefully who choose to never face their possible inner demons and never find peace, love or happiness in a way that feels truly fulfilling.

Being alone does not have to feel lonely. In fact, you can find peace in being alone within a group of people. For example, while practicing yoga in a class setting or participating in a group mediation. I am able to see my most true authentic self in those situations, and I think now for the first time ever, I am at peace with myself. And although I am still learning how to heal wounds from past trauma, I am finding that I am okay with this strong, beautiful, colorful and more importantly, whole person I am.

Last week during a group mediation/coaching session, I said that, “I see myself becoming the woman I want to be,” to which I received the response, “what if she’s always been there? What if you’ve been her since the time you were a child? You’re just choosing to accept and see her now.”

And I really believe I am. 

A Strong Female Lead

I was scrolling through Netflix recently and one of my top recommended categories was “Emotional Movies Starring a Strong Female Lead.” I stopped and reread this category ironically smirking to myself asking, “is this a metaphor for my life in 2017?” As I continued to scroll, many of the other categories were variations of this same title, “Witty TV Comedies Featuring a Strong Female Lead” and “Independent Movies Starring a Strong Female Lead.” There I was in black and white on Netflix. Who knew a site that was meant for mindless binging could actually reflect my real life situation so accurately.

Since this Netflix typecasting, I’ve realized that all the while I thought I was using this site as an escape to take me to places and scenarios so different from my own, I was actually choosing to watch characters who maybe mirrored many of the qualities I have gained this year.

I’ve been struggling with how I wanted to reflect back on 2017, and truthfully a lot of the experiences are so fresh, maybe I’m not far enough from them to make real judgments about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. But I want to do it, so in a year I can look back and be proud of all the things that I’ve survived this year.

I had to step into the role of strong female lead so many times this year I probably can’t even recall all of the moments. But here are some that stuck out:

When I decided to go head on into activism leaving my full time job and taking on a role helping to plan Women’s March Los Angeles.
When my mom was admitted into the hospital in February and I went to visit her for the first time, knowing how difficult it was going to be.
When my mom experienced her “dry run” where we thought she was going to receive the lung transplant we had waited for so long and then didn’t and later pulling myself out of the fog of depression days afterwards.
Helping my sister with her depression.
When I came to terms with my own mental health and finally went to therapy.
When I began to regularly practice yoga as a form of self care.
When I visited my mom in the ICU almost daily and then weekly for almost six months.
When I let myself date again and open myself up to the possibility of a relationship.
When I got the call about my mom’s lung transplant in July and was a pillar of strength while waiting 12 hours with my dad and sister anxiously waiting for the surgery to be over.
When I updated friends and family about my mom’s condition and what was going on even when I didn’t feel strong enough to do so.
When I visited her in the hospital following the surgery and held her and tried to calm her down as she cried in pain and faced the affects of the difficult recovery process. I was there when no one else was.
When I decided to move home to help out with my mom and take her to appointments.
When I finally opened up about my sexual assault that took place 4 years ago #MeToo.
When the Thomas Fire broke out and my family and I were forced to evacuate.
When I worked to spread information about the fire and ways to help the victims.
When my family and I decided to end my dog Nina’s suffering by putting her into a forever restful sleep.

 

I originally mapped out this post as a reflection of all things that happened in 2017, but it was much too lengthy and long winded. After all, I don’t want to dwell on the negative. A friend and fellow writer Sarah Doyel (The Feminist Vegan) recommended I frame this reflection as 10 questions to ask myself what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. I got the idea from Cait Flanders here.

1. What makes this year unforgettable? 

In short, EVERYTHING. Getting the opportunity to help plan Women’s March LA, my unforgettable trip to Mexico City for Zona Maco, the huge chunk of time I spent visiting my mom in the hospital, the incredible friendships I relied on in tough times, turning 25, almost losing our home in the Thomas Fire, losing a best friend (Nina the German Shepherd), my own transformation and growth into the woman I am.

2. What did you enjoy doing this year? 

I enjoyed finding my calling in activism. Tough times really are times for trying and I felt like I really stepped into my purpose. I’ve been given the gift of a voice and leadership and I feel blessed to be able to use it.

3. What/who are you grateful for? 

I am grateful for my incredible support system. My immediate family, chosen family and friends who kept me going when I thought I couldn’t anymore. I have never seen/felt it before like I did this year. True love and friendship is when friends reach out and support you when you are in too dark of a place to pull yourself from. I was surrounded by that throughout this entire year, so thank you to everyone who showed me love. I appreciate it.

4. What’s your biggest win this year? 

At the risk of sounding cliché, SURVIVING. This was a year of experiencing trauma, but not succumbing to it in a way where I inflicted serious self harm. There were lows, but I was able to find a way out. I’m a survivor and I’m proud of myself.

5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year? 

It was the year of the WOMAN for me personally. I listened to diverse female powerhouse artists on a GRL PWR playlist I made, a lot of 70s classic rock and my favorite Janis Joplin because so many lyrics from that era signify a time for change which parallels the time we are currently living in.

I watched a lot of women-centric tv shows (a lot of them foreign) including Ingobernable, Las Chicas del Cable, Land Girls, Insecure, The Crown, Broad City, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and my forever favorite Jane the Virgin.

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?

This pretty much speaks for itself. I worried about my mom’s health while she was in the hospital, and my family falling apart. But GUESS WHAT, we f*cking made it!!! And by some inexplicable miracle, she received a new set of lungs and a second chance at life.

This was also my first year as an independent contractor figuring things out completely on my own and I really struggled with finances. Being on top of this is an intention for 2018.

7. What was your biggest regret and why?

Not taking care of myself and my mental health sooner. I waited until my depression was all consuming to get help. I was putting my mom and my family and basically everyone else before me. When I first started seeing my therapist she asked, “when did you lose yourself?” I’ll never let that happen again. Because now I know that if I am not whole and healthy, I’m no use to anyone else fight their own battles.

8. What’s one thing that you changed about yourself?

This is a tough one! I feel like I changed a lot of things, but one that stands out in particular is that I cut out bullshit. I stopped doing work that I felt dispassionate about, I stopped talking to guys who made me feel less than and most importantly, I learned to be honest with myself.

9. What surprised you the most this year?

I know this kind of goes along with some of my previous answers, but I really just can’t believe how much I overcame and accomplished this year. My own strength surpassed what I ever thought I was capable of, and here I am ready to take on the new year ahead.

10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?

Woooo so many things. Stop talking to that boy, he’s a waste of time, find some consistency in work before everything feels out of your control, things are going to get very hard but don’t feel like you have to support everyone, take care of yourself, remember your self worth, move home sooner- it will help with some of the stress, and most of all, inspite of all that’s going on, everything is going to be ALL RIGHT.

Looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything about 2017. It was the year of transformation. The year I transformed into a butterfly and I am now migrating into the direction of the rest of my life. Drifting forward forever more, never looking back.

Happy New Year! I hope you have a joyful, peaceful, loving and hopeful 2018.

xo Aly

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

It’s no secret that Thanksgiving is an extremely bizarre holiday. It is fundamentally based on colonialism and the idea that we should celebrate a day that represents the genocide of indigenous peoples, and ultimately the undeserved accomplishments of white people. It’s so strange to me that a majority of people (including myself) haven’t realized that until fairly recently, but I guess sometimes it takes us a while to really “wake up.”

When celebrating this holiday as a child, all I really cared about was the food- which I think is pretty standard. However, since celebrating this day as an adult, so much has changed. Three years ago, I celebrated the day with my family by inviting two Dutch exchange student friends to cook with us who had never experienced a traditional Thanksgiving. The next year a dear friend who’s a vegan joined my family and introduced us to some great new dishes (and ended up doing most of the cooking). Last year, at the height of my mother’s illness, my sister and I worked tirelessly to cook an entire meal while my mom had to painfully watch on the sidelines. One of her greatest joys is cooking meals like this on the holidays and her not being able to participate was such a hard thing to see. I remember my sister and I burning the first round of bread crumbs for the stuffing and the gravity of such a simple mistake felt much greater because my mom wasn’t able to help.

This year will be completely different, we are celebrating Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s house, and although my mom won’t be able to cook everything, tomorrow she and my sister and I will be able to make a few staple dishes before heading over. It’s funny how you don’t appreciate things like stressing out together over making a holiday meal until you aren’t able to do it.

I remember doing a project in junior high where the assignment was to talk about family traditions and I was so frustrated because a lot of my friend’s were Latino and had all these incredible traditions that were so rich and colorful, and I somehow wasn’t able to pinpoint my own family’s traditions. Now I see them so clearly. In the way my mom meticulously plans her recipes like an astronaut preparing for launch; in the fact that we still make a sweet potato recipe from my Dad’s mom who has been gone for years now; in the way that we have added the Dutch Boterkoek cake as one of our essential desserts; in the way we are always perpetually late; and most importantly, in the way that I couldn’t imagine spending this holiday without the people who I am most grateful for.

My gratitude was shown to me in a new light after listening to a podcast that featured two women, one who received a kidney from the other after knowing each other for a very short time. Listening to their story, and identifying with so many of the things they were talking about put my own life into perspective. Words they used and scenarios they described brought me back to moments I have tucked away in the corners of my mind. It’s been really tough for me to take a step back from everything my family and I went through with my mom’s lung transplant surgery, but somehow hearing a similar story made me better understand our own. When I was finishing up my walk this evening, I ran into my sister and mom who were also finishing up a walk (it still feels unreal to see my mom being able to trek up our hill sans oxygen tank). I told them about the podcast I had just listened to and I realized how remarkable our story truly is. My mom then shared a really intense piece of information about her donor she had been holding inside for the past four months and it made me cry. I cried because it made me realize how truly deserving my mom was to receive these new lungs. These last 4 months since her surgery, I have just been learning how to be okay and relearning to live my life, but for now I am grateful. The universe works in mysterious and beautiful ways and the fact that I’m going to get to have my family together for another year is a truly a wonderful thing.

 

The In Betweens

*This piece is in response to Rihanna’s Perspective on Her Weight Changed How I Think on Manrepeller.com.

 

It’s about a week before Halloween Weekend 2017 (a usually very important holiday for me) and I am without a costume. I have plans to go to a big party, but no motivation to begin planning a costume. I’ve noticed in the recent heatwave that all my miniskirts and shorts are suddenly too tight in certain areas. After struggling trying to shimmy into a few different garments, I give up. My ass is larger than it was at the beginning of the summer and my waistline is certainly not it’s fairly trim usual self. I look at myself in the mirror and feel like shit. I say to myself that maybe I just won’t go. I begin to process the external factors that could be causing this; moving home, stress eating, inconsistent mental health, etc. A couple days later the friend I’m going to the party with sends me texts with her own costume ideas and I still don’t feel inspired to get creative with a costume- which is an area where I normally thrive. Thoughts of self-loathing start invading my head like, “you can’t wear a cute costume, you’re two sizes bigger than normal” or “your fat ass won’t fit into anything.” These are the kinds of verbal self abuse that fill my head when I gain weight because that is how I’ve learned to view my body. As an attractive able bodied, white woman, my worth lies in my physical appearance- and more specifically my weight (or at least that’s the fucked up version of the truth that I’ve been taught).

Fast forward to the day of the party, I decide to at least try to scrap some cliché costume options together. I come up with a cat/cheetah hybrid (very original I know) by throwing on a body suit, with my go-to faux leather skirt. As I begin trying to pull on the skirt, I get frustrated because it doesn’t slide as easily on as it had in the past, in fact, once I wrestle it on and pull up the zipper, I can hardly breathe. I look in the mirror seeing a completely distorted version of myself from what’s actually there. I send a photo of the outfit to my friend and she says it looks great. I thank her, but the evil dark voice inside my head says, “she’s just saying that to make you feel good.”

Later that night, I’m at her house and we’re getting ready. I’m getting in my groove a little bit, slowly regaining some of the mojo I seemed to have lost as of late. I slay a cool cat makeup look and then begin to pull on my fishnets, body suit and then the anxiety-inducing faux leather skirt. I again look at myself in the mirror with the full look and am still questioning if I look okay, insecurity clouding my judgement. I turn to my friend and ask what she thinks. She says, “you look great. Don’t you feel hot? I thought you always felt confident?” I told her no, I haven’t been feeling very confident lately and she was taken aback, this is fairly out of character for me. I normally revel in my own vanity and female divinity that I own so well, but lately that just hasn’t been there for me.

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One of the first times I realized that my body was special or desirable in a sexual way to the white cis colonized male mind, I was probably a Sophomore in high school and my friend’s boyfriend made a comment about my butt while I was wearing a skin tight one piece bathing suit before a water polo game.  It was my uniform, I was an athlete about to get a pool and brutally wrestle other players while attempting to stay afloat, I couldn’t believe I was being sexualized. I was so uncomfortable after the comment was made, but then it gave me a bit of confidence because it validated my worth and gave me a power I didn’t necessarily have to work for. During that game I was so painfully aware of how my body looked that it probably affected how I actually played, in fact I know it did. These types of comments continued in high school, I spent time hanging out with older girls who encouraged me to go to college parties with them where I was conditioned to be just another “hot girl.” This is how I learned to base my encounters with men around, I could use my body and looks as tools without having to put my emotions on the line. It was easier to act like a fantasy girl than a real woman that they might reject. This lasted for many years later (I’ll go into detail in another blog post). Comments from male strangers about my body became common place upon entering college at Chico State. I thought virtually any attention like this was “good” because I thought it meant I was desirable and ultimately worthy of the space marked female. Chico was the first place I got cat called for being “thick,” I was so out of touch, I didn’t even know what it meant at the time. All I knew was that this comment came after I had gained about 30 lbs. from my freshmen year and I was truly unhappy with myself.

About a year later, when I moved home, I lost that weight and then some by obsessively writing down everything I ate militantly abiding to a points program. There were so many nights where I had already used my daily points allowance before dinner time and agonized about how hungry I was but didn’t want to go over the limit. I lost weight fast. Similar to a diet competition I had done in my senior year of high school with some friends to try to only eat about 700 calories per day. This was the time I considered an Iced Carmel Macciatto a “meal.”

Everyone complimented me on this new weight loss as though it were one of my biggest accomplishments. I had just turned 20, and found that this new ability I was gaining because of my physical appearance was empowering. I was then a size medium/small in the waist, 6 in dress size and 28 in pants. I looked thin and long and I liked it because I was getting attention and special treatment for the way I looked. It helped me land a job as a hostess having had no prior experience, it helped me get good grades and gave me a fair number of guys to turn down- after all, I couldn’t focus on anything else but keeping my weight under control, right?

After that year, I went to study abroad in Spain for the summer. It was there that I was reminded how much I enjoyed food and indulging (mainly on bread and wine). I met a friend who opened my eyes to a new view of my own body. On a train ride to a friend’s country home for the weekend, she described me having an hourglass figure likened to the sensual goddesses in greek mythology. My softness and gentle curves were beautiful. I had never heard my body talked about in this way and I certainly had never thought of it like that.

Fast forward to about two years later (I was 22), a couple friends turned me onto the idea of plus size modeling. I was about a size 8 at the time, not technically considered plus, but definitely not a “straight” model (sizes 0-4), nevertheless I decided to pursue it. A friend shoot some basic photos of me in different poses, I wrote down my measurements and sent them off to a few agencies. One popular agency in LA who preached inclusion and acceptance completely ignored me, while another in the UK got back to me quickly and said that although they thought I was “gorgeous,” I just wasn’t the right fit. I took this literally as my body was inadequate in some way. I had already failed at being a normal size model and now I couldn’t live up to this requirement either. I was a mess, but retreated inward not talking to friends or my boyfriend at the time about it. At the same time I was wondering, where was the space for the in betweens? For the women who have curves, but our hips aren’t wide enough and our legs are not long enough and our bellys are just not flat enough?

At the time I was struggling to finish my last full year of college, and really wasn’t finding a real sense of purpose in any aspect of my life. So I thought I’d go with relying on my looks, an obvious choice given my track record. I was dating a materialistic artist who had an affinity for for pretty things- I apparently was just another “pretty thing.” He would manipulate what I wore, how I did my makeup, wore my hair and even sometimes what I was eating.

I have been defined my entire life by these influxes and changes in my weight. Virtually every important or pivotal moment I have associated with what my body looked like at the time. I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time but haven’t really had the motivation until reading about Rihanna’s own perspective on her weight, she has been talked about heavily in the media over the past several months because of her recent weight gain. In which her response is that she, “has had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type.” The word pleasure, never crossed my mind in relation to weight gain which I, like so many other women have traditionally been taught is completely negative and devalues you as a human being. I realized that I too have the pleasure of a fluctuating body type and I can certainly learn to work with the in-between moments and sizes. The pants size 12 does not define me and adversely, neither does a 6. I know where I feel my best, and it is certainly not now but I have to learn to appreciate and take care of my body at various stages.

One thing this article talks about that really struck a chord with me is that 59% of black women describe themselves as beautiful compared with 32% of Hispanic women and 25% of white women. More black women also agreed with the statement, “I am happy the way that I am,” when they looked in the mirror. “Growing up, black women are taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough.” These are survival tactics in a world that doesn’t appreciate #BlackGirlMagic like it should.

Of the many things white women steal from black culture, we could really take a page from this. If white women work to relearn their worth and teach girls from the get go that they are whole and beautiful just the way we are, these statistics wouldn’t be so startling. Progress is tangible and I think we can really make it happen. I’m going to do it, starting with me.

xo Aly

 

Transition

I feel like I’m hitting a wall. It’s a frosted glass wall where after a year of shit, I can finally start to see the other side- the frost is thinning, the glass becoming more clear, but the other side still feels far away. There also feels like a weight is being pressed upon my back and shoulders, pushing and pulling in different directions until I break. And today I did. I cried- sobbed actually for the first time in a long time as the feeling of defeat overcame me. I’m actually not sure if that’s the right word, maybe it’s combined with a sense of relief or maybe even catharsis. For some reason today, my ongoing fight with sluggishly slow internet at my parent’s house was enough to make me crack.

This year has been unimaginably hard, so much so that it is too painful to even bring up some of the memories of events or even to look at the past reflection of myself. I am a person who has a flair for dramatics and extremes but this is no exaggeration. Thinking back to my birthday last October SO much has happened: I quit my job, discovered my passion, worked on Women’s March, was interviewed by multiple platforms, won a couple awards, began to start a business, hustled hard being financially stable and then unstable learning that activism doesn’t pay bills (especially not student loans); overcame difficult bouts of depression hitting my lowest of lows by accepting I needed therapy and then consistently going; I lost myself, found myself, learned self-love and the importance of self-care; was a pillar of strength for my mom, my family and myself supporting my mom through a chronic illness, six months in the hospital, a double lung transplant and all the brutally tough moments in between; I opened my heart, stopped talking to fuckboys (knowingly), gained friendships, rediscovered yoga, wrote a lot, began training for a half marathon, and most importantly GREW as a whole. This is the year I evolved and grew into an adult or the person I am meant to be. Although my bank account doesn’t reflect anything impressive, my passion and strength of my heart proves so much more.

I have been living back at home for nearly a month and each day has presented its new set of challenges and obstacles. I forgot what living and working with a tight-knit family unit is like, it’s a lot of work. Especially in my mom’s recovery process from a double lung transplant. Many of our arguments are about who is going to make the grueling drive to take her to one of her almost daily doctor’s appointments at UCLA. This means blocking out my entire day, or my dad’s or whoever is able to take her just to sit in traffic in the commute on the 101 freeway to and from Ventura. No one knows what it’s actually like to deal with a family member healing from a major surgery unless they’ve gone through it, because you are learning to heal and how to re-do a lot as well. The person recovering is essentially stripped of all their basic everyday things that make life easy to live i.e: being able to walk, cook for yourself, go to the bathroom, drive, etc. Fortunately, my mom is strong and working hard to get better physically but it is a really long process. Last week I was overjoyed when, we went to a physical therapy appointment and she was able to walk on her own to and from the car and not have to be pushed in a wheel chair. These kind of small victories are what keep us going and have been throughout the entire duration of this illness for the past 8 years.

I am happy to be able to be back at home with my family and spending time with my mom, there is however the fact that I am turning 25 in a week and am having somewhat of a crisis about it.

Ventura is an escape as a safe, mild tempered beach town where at least half of my high school class still resides or has moved back to “start a life.” I moved back for all the typical reasons a struggling millennial might have for wanting to live a life free of the chains of rent or at least (some) bills. It’s a change of pace from Los Angeles and has allowed me to clear my head a little, but it’s not where I’m meant to be and frankly I am really afraid of being “stuck” here.

I have been pouring my heart and soul into my business Don’t Call Me Pretty for the last 10 months, trying to figure out what I am going to do with it. Actually, if I think back to when the idea started as my senior thesis project in college, it’s been about 2.5 years in total. One of my plans while living at home was to really get it off the ground and while I’ve worked on it a little, it’s been hard with everything else getting in the way. Life never stops so you can start something. I’m learning patience is a virtue I really need to work on acquiring. And its been especially hard putting so much into something that doesn’t have an immediate financial pay off.

Last week, I was spending time with a friend who was telling me that she put all cash down for her brand new car and she doesn’t have to make payments on it. Of course I was happy for her, and I know she works incredibly hard, but it definitely dampened my mood. Earlier that day I had finally submitted the TED Fellows application I had been working on for weeks, and although it wasn’t a new shiny car, it felt good to me. Several of my friends are starting to make investments like that and comparison always rears its ugly head as it reminds me that I am still driving the same 2004 Toyota from high school, and probably will be for a while longer. But in those moments, what I don’t take into account are the hours I spend jotting down ideas and notes and working on graphics for Instagram, and coming up with workshop ideas and researching noteworthy women from history who I think would be inspiring for others to see. This is all for Don’t Call Me Pretty.

For a long time, if not my entire life, I’ve known I was going to do something different and I really wanted to make my mark on the world in a positive, impactful way. I remember when I was little and was discovering how much I loved art and music and writing and thinking to myself, “why do I do I have to choose only one thing for a career?” Later on in college, I chose to study Interdisciplinary Studies which allowed me to design my own major comprised of many other majors. It was much more difficult because it pushed me to think outside the box by doing a lot of self-guided work, but in the end I was glad to have taken that path. Because of my flexibility, I have had great successes in my career for being so young. I can sit in a board room with a team of marketing executives and show them a social media plan and then also meet one-on-one with a celebrity client to snap photos for her Instagram. Because of this, I have been able to develop a career path where I can work with multiple clients from home on a daily basis. These kinds of things make me feel proud of the person I am and a little more at peace with all the nagging voices swirling around inside my head.

So even if I can’t afford to buy a new car, or travel to place I desperately want to visit, or even move out of my parents house, I can take a step back and be proud of what I have accomplished and what I’ve made it through. Earlier this week, my mom and I were in the car together in the commute from one of her  appointments and she looked at me and said in a convincing tone, “Aly I think this is going to be your year.” I think that sentence even convinced me.

“This is your one and only life. What do you want to tell people about it?” – Jessica James

 

Savasana

Tomorrow marks my third week of consistently doing yoga- by consistent I mean 2-3 times per week. But I am not taking this as a loss or beating myself up as I would in the past, especially with high intensity workouts where I didn’t feel like I was doing enough until there were beads of sweat rushing down my forehead and neck. I would like to work up to practicing yoga more, but this in itself feels like an accomplishment for me. To find consistency in a life that feels anything but and for someone who has been struggling with depression for the last few months, this is something I can give to myself that is a gift and an act of self care. It reminds be to stop feeling defeated by things I can’t change, and to take literally one hour out of the day to recenter and feel thankful that I am able to be present in myself.

Tonight during a class at a new studio, I had a particularly intense experience where I felt what letting go really feels like. I concentrated the pain and hurt my heart has been feeling and let it transfer down my arms and flow out of my finger tips. I let go of pain and disappointment- pain of watching someone I love struggle so unjustly everyday, disappointment in myself for not being able to hold a full time job while trying to maintain my mental health and some of the elements that make depression so dark and all consuming at times.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and I have spent a greater part of my adult life not admitting that I have “issues” as western textbooks may say, and that I need to let my guard down, set aside my pride and ask for some goddam help. I had a discussion with someone recently and they said, “the hardest thing isn’t admitting you have a problem, it’s being consistent and showing up for yourself to get the help you need.”

Flashback to March when after my mom’s “dry run” with her surgery, I felt the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt in my entire life over the course of just under 24 hours. It took me not wanting to get out of bed or really eat for a couple days to realize I needed to go to therapy. Something I have been in and out of for most of my adult life. I have found therapists I like, and then I have had therapists who listen to my story and all my “problems” and criticize me for not coming sooner, when really, the biggest step was me being there at all.

Currently I am attending a group “crisis therapy” for people who are going through intense situations. I had an extremely difficult time coming to terms with the fact that I could be placed in a box with such a loud and problem riddled name. With its hard vowels and sense of urgency, it’s a name that surely suggests I’m not a normal functioning human or one who couldn’t climb out of darkness on my own. It’s a 6 week “course” and so far I’ve been to one out of four meetings. At first, I was angry with myself that I couldn’t even show up, but then I realized that me even taking the initiative to show up that one time and open up to complete strangers was enough. Opening up to anyone really has been extremely difficult for me, especially over the course of the last year or so.

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This weekend, I went out to a bar with a girlfriend (something I used to love doing, but now I find it hard to be social with strangers) and almost immediately after arriving and finding a table at the bar, a pair of machismo dudes latched onto us. She and I had a powwow and decided it was fine to keep them around in hopes that they would take care of our drink tab ($15 for a vodka soda). We talked and flirted and joked around and everything was fine. As we made our way to another bar a few doors down, one of the guys payed special attention to me. I didn’t mind it, because even though it goes against most of what I stand for as a fiery feminist, sometimes it’s nice to hear “you’re so pretty” from a stranger who’s about to buy you a drink. We took a seat at a table and I sat next to him and we started talking. It was just small talk, poking and prodding about what I do, where I live, where I’m from- formalities that I think actually tell you nothing about a person. When people answer menial questions like this, I usually instead watch their body language, their eye contact, listen to their tone of voice and you can always tell how sincere they are being. When we were having this conversation, I was a couple drinks in and my guard was up as usual. After a few minutes, he blatantly called me out on it. He said “you’re a really guarded person aren’t you?” I didn’t respond, he proceeded with, “I can tell you’ve really been through some shit. You hide behind your looks and your personality. But you know what? If you don’t let anyone in, you’ll continue to be this person. And you’ll still be coming here alone in 5 years…” at which point he gestured to a small pathetic corner table with a mismatched older couple looking lost. His words jabbed me like an elbow to the throat, air escaping my lungs, my mouth feeling dry- because loneliness and being alone is really one of our biggest fears as human beings right? Especially as a 30 something woman in LA where your “biological clock is ticking.” I sat with my mouth agape, stunned, totally caught off guard. I was expecting a night of being out to be a fun escape, not a harsh slap of reality. I couldn’t believe that my facade I work so hard to keep up hadn’t fooled him, because it was certainly fooling everyone else. And even if his words weren’t entirely true, and maybe he was just trying to sway me into giving him a chance in my pants (which I probably would’ve fallen for in the past), they still felt painfully real which felt heightened by the Russian vodka I’d been taking down rather quickly. Instead of going along with it, I threw back my drink and dragged my friend to get another shot.

For the past few days, his words have been echoing in the back of my mind like a looming dark cloud that I can’t clear away. That night brought me even more uncertainty and unfortunately lead me down a path of heartache that I don’t want to remember or feel right now (or ever). Little did said bar philosopher know that I gave my everything to a guy who took advantage of it, all the while I was watching my mom’s health and livelihood get significantly worse. I tried to lean on him as a pillar and instead of standing tall, he succumbed to drugs, self loathing and materialism which were all used as pawns to push me away. I was just another drug to him, another material possession that had to try and fit into his world without him ever actually making space for me. Even though it’s been a while, I’m still not ready to do that for someone because I am already using almost my entire emotional capacity to stay afloat and support people I care for unconditionally.

Today I ran into a guy I sort of dated last fall, he was the closest I came to something “real” in a long time. He had a string of his own issues including being a recovering heroin addict, and I think when I was talking to him back then, it felt okay for me to be vulnerable and talk about real things because he had no choice but to expose himself. I quickly realized that was toxic and our combined negativity and issues were just a breading ground for depression and more gluttonously addictive behavior. When I saw him today, I was reminded of where I was six or seven months ago, how using my body for temporary pleasure was a form of therapy. But obviously not anything that worked, or was remotely healthy. We exchanged awkward niceties and then parted ways, who knows if we’ll see each other again.

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I have been able to find solace in the yoga pose “savasana” this is the pose you typically do at the end of a class where you literally just lie on your back in a receiving position with your palms up to the universe. The goal is to let everything sink into your mat and just be present where you are, in that moment. The instructor of the class will usually start saying things like “feel your arms getting heavy, your body spreading…” “there is nothing you need to think about, nothing you need to be doing right now. Just be here and be present.” Tonight, while doing savasana at the end of class, I started crying. I was glad the dozen or so people around me had their eyes closed because I just wanted that moment of vulnerability with myself. I cried because the teacher was telling us to think about what we’re grateful for, and how we can spread kindness and happiness to others, and then he went into telling us to think about someone we care about and to send good energy their way as we would hope they would do the same for us. I thought about my mom. I thought about how many things I am thankful for in my life and that something inside me really makes me believe that we will get through this. I let go. I let go of a lot and it was overwhelming because I’ve been carrying so much for a long time. Now I’m realizing in time I’ll be able to open my heart again, but first I need to heal it a bit and find peace.

Yesterday, as I was entering the doors of the ICU to visit my mom at UCLA, I passed two nurses chatting and one said, “It’s not so much what happens, but how you deal with it.” I thought it was serendipitous for me to overhear this piece of advice during a tough day. Everyday presents it’s own set of challenges, but it really does ultimately depend on how you handle them. x