Don’t think you’re on the right road
just because it’s a well-beaten path.
Growing up in Appalachia, women always had grace, class, and sweet iced tea in the refrigerator for unexpected visitors. They smiled when called ma’am or darling and kept an immaculate home. Many Appalachian women also abided by two rules: it’s impolite to say no, and (my mother’s favorite adage), be as nice as you possibly can be, and everyone will realize you’re the better person
For me, this translated as always say yes and play nice. I thought this equated to being compassionate and sensitive. What’s that? You’re stranded on the side of the road four hours away during an ice storm? I’ll get you. You want to be intimate on the first date? I don’t want you to dislike me, so okay. You think I’m hateful, unworthy, and a crybaby? You’re probably right.
Playing Nice or Playing the Victim?
I played nice for so long that laughter turned to appeasement, confidence turned to tolerating harassment and verbal abuse, kindness turned to obligation. As I allowed others to treat me unkindly and without respect, living soulfully became impossible.
I always thought that I kept everyone at arm’s length with a smile on my face because I didn’t want to be hurt. In reality, I was so angry with myself for those specific moments of being run over that I willingly began playing the victim. It became easier to sabotage myself and continue down that road than to work hard and become a strong, outspoken, vivacious woman again—which wouldn’t unfold until years later, after spending the night in the middle of nowhere.
Angry for Having Lost Myself
In 2009, I left my Appalachian roots behind and hightailed it to the West Coast with my fiancé. But there was an unexpected pit stop in Marfa, Texas, population 2,000, where I changed course forever. Splitting the long drives cross-country, my fiancé slept as I descended onto this plateau of immeasurable prairie grass hemmed by stately mountains. The sunset was hypnotic, a brilliant rust so unfamiliar as it slipped off the horizon. There was nowhere to hide. I was breathless and exposed.
Sitting by the motel pool in the dead of winter, the urge to cry was unbearable. But I didn’t know what to tell my fiancé, so I fought it. I was enraged, and for a long time I’d diverted my attention to blogging, drinking, eating, and sleeping; but in a one-horse town on a Monday night, the only people for miles are nuns, and I had to look at me.
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I couldn’t remember the last time I was truly happy and laughed genuinely. Once again, I was angry that I had deprived myself of that. Then a flood of memories came back when I was strong, truthful, confident, and beautiful. Those traits were still there. Standing alone amidst tumbleweeds and dust devils, watching the Marfa mystery lights with a thermos of bourbon, I finally heard myself. Never in my life had a physical moment connected so intensely with a spiritual one.
Who Am I? How Can I Be Myself?
We resumed our drive the next morning, and I was exhausted. Once our cross-country journey ended in San Francisco, I didn’t know how to be nice to my fiancé for two months, because my only thought was, “Who am I?”
I was paralyzed. I spent every day huddled on the floor between the bed and the wall pouring over job ads, trying to find anything that would give me a role to fill. I had no idea how to be myself.
That moment of clarity in the desert ultimately led to rediscovery, which was uncomfortable. I wasn’t leaving the apartment because all I had was myself, and I didn’t know or trust that person. And one day, I rode a bus and ate alone in a restaurant for the first time in my life, terrified.
Taking the Unbeaten Path to Authenticity
My year in San Francisco became the most humble year of my life. My clothes didn’t even fill one dresser. I went from being a corporate guru to stocking the fridge in a law office. As cliché as it sounds, taking the unpaved back road on this journey and abandoning the familiar was liberating. My clothes fit better. I was glowing. My fiancé and I scraped by, but we were living in a gorgeous Edwardian apartment and eating amazing yet simple meals.
Indulgence was a scoop of ice cream or a good beer. Date nights were no longer extravagant dinners in ties and dresses, but walks to the park after work to find my fiancé on a blanket reading. Then, we would wander across the city for hours until we decided to call it a night. We didn’t judge or expect anything that year, and we appreciated everything.
I knew that it would be hard for me not to fall into old habits once I moved back to Virginia. I am "a yes man" again, and the anger toward myself builds each day. I feel as though I scattered pieces of myself across the country—my heart in San Francisco, my freedom in Marfa—but that’s not true. I know that I am capable of practicing kindness toward others and myself while being authentic.
I wrote to a friend after reading Baron Baptiste’s Journey into Power:
I’ve been reading this book for a yoga workshop, and there was a passage about releasing yourself from the lies of everyday life that define you, and that you may not like who you really are at first, but at least it’s true. I was so sad because I realized that’s what happened in Marfa. I finally saw myself for the first time in many years and was mad at who I had allowed myself to become. At the same time, I was so happy and even scared to find “me.” I think I’m longing for the day to come back or at least searching for a way to bring a piece of that here!
Just Being Me, Authentically Me
I’m now making it a point to live authentically. Being immersed in a yoga teacher training program has taught me a lot of techniques, one of which is to stop trying to win the Oscar. Essentially, stop playing roles. The first question people ask in the DC area is, “What do you do?” My answer is, “Hi. I’m Julie.” This usually prompts, “Yeah, but what do you do?”
My next answer is, “Well, today I took the dog for a walk and had a nice nap.” I’ve stopped being the consultant, the dog owner, the victim, or the gardener and started just being Julie.
The next step is to get rid of baggage. Once a month, I go through every closet and donate items I haven’t worn or used in awhile. We tend to live excessively, and it’s liberating to not let material possessions define you. Then, of course, there’s getting rid of mental baggage through meditation. Even if I only have five minutes, I pull into the parking garage at work, fold my legs in the driver’s seat, and close my eyes. Dropping the day’s to-do list allows me to focus on the now.
Lastly, I make it a priority to stay connected with genuine friends. Real friends will be honest with how you land. I’ve started having regular check-ins with friends who will speak honestly about the energy I emit.
By the way, my friend replied to that email: “You will find a piece of Marfa if it is within you now.” It is here, deep within my chest. It radiates soothing sunlight and power. It is beautiful and it shines.
©2013 by Lori Deschene. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
Tiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself: 40 Ways to Transform Your Inner Critic and Your Life
by Lori Deschene.
A collection of vulnerable reflections and epiphanies from people, just like you, who are learning to love themselves, flaws and all. The book combines authentic, vulnerable stories; insightful observations about our shared struggles and how to overcome them; and action-oriented suggestions, based on the wisdom in the stories.
Click here for more info or to order this book on Amazon.
About the Authors
Julia Manuel (author of this article) is a writer and strategic communications specialist in Northern Virginia. An assistant with a Baptiste-affiliated yoga studio, she hopes to empower students to achieve unity between mind and body while giving back to the community that has helped her live authentically. She contributes to her yoga studio's blog, focusing on wellness and inquiry.
Lori Deschene (author of the book) is the founder of tinybuddha.com, a multi-author blog that shares stories and insights from readers from all over the globe. She launched the site in 2009 as a community effort because she believes we all have something to teach and something to learn. She is the author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions, and her work has appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review , Shambhala Sun, and other publications. (Photo: Ehren Prudhel)