I have something to admit to you.
(As I type this, I feel fear and sadness slowly churning in my stomach. Nervous anticipation.)
Why? Because “admitting” this could lead to you judging me. Maybe you will judge me, maybe you won’t. I can’t control either your judgments or acceptance or the thoughts you will think. But there’s a part of me that judges myself about this, so it’s easy to project that you will judge me, too.
Sound familiar? I am also wanting to share myself with our community in service of deeper connection and understanding. So you can know me better, so we can know ourselves better. And I trust that all of you will receive this well, with acceptance and heart. Because that’s just the kind of community this is. Understanding. Heartfelt. Giving. Loving. Supportive.
So what is this embarrassing admission?
I stayed in last Halloween. Alone.
So maybe you understand why I have some shame around that (maybe you have a similar shame pattern). Or you may think “So what? Why is that a big deal?” This goes right to the heart of shame. It tends to keep us alone because we’re afraid to share it. Because we’re afraid others might think less of us. Because of our own self-judgments about ourselves.
I transferred from a small middle school (12 kids in my 8th grade class) to a huge high school (hundreds of kids in my 9th grade class). The transition jarred me. And I withdrew a lot. I had tons of self-judgment around what being alone meant. Aloneness = Loneliness. I especially judged myself when I stayed in on nights where everyone else was probably hanging out with their amazing friends. Friday or Saturday nights or those “partying” holidays (like Halloween) were the roughest for me. I was very shy and didn’t think I could make friends, so my own doubts around my “coolness factor” had me avoiding a lot of opportunities to become friends with people.
So I stayed alone a lot. In fact, the hardest time every day at school was lunch time. It seemed like every kid at school had a group of people to eat lunch with. Quite a few times, I would walk past all the lunch tables filled with potential friends, chicken out, then sneak into the woods to eat my lunch alone. And what did I get really good at doing while I was alone? Judging myself. Pitying myself. Little did I know, but I was practicing feeling like I wasn’t enough …
Three years ago before I had my big breakthrough around herpes (my herpes opportunity), Halloween rolled around and I found myself pitying myself again. Nobody will love me with herpes. Nobody even wants to hang out with me as a friend. Who am I kidding? I’m nothing. I turned off all the lights, curled up on the couch and attempted to watch a movie. I ended up crying on and off for most of that evening. I felt so, so sorry for myself. So much pity. So much. Much like those lonely lunches in high school.
So I say all of this not to throw myself a pity party and have all of you feel bad for me. No, no, no. Quite the opposite. I look back at these times with tons of compassion for myself. I see how that belief that I’m not enough and people don’t like me still lives in me even now on a certain level. It might be smaller than it once was, but it’s still there. I have the best friends I’ve ever had in my life these days. I’m enjoying such fulfilling and deep relationships across the board. But of course I still have bouts of loneliness, too. Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough and nobody in their right mind would want to hang out with me. I still feel sometimes that I have to prove to people that I am enough instead of just being present.
So that is what got sparked in me last night. The dreaded lonely Halloween.
Originally, I was assuming I was going out with a few of my best friends, but those plans fell through. I found that old, familiar empty feeling in my chest, and my heart heavy with grief as I considered that I might not go out for Halloween. (I’m feeling that sadness creeping back in even as I type this now.) I noticed that voice in my head creeping in, trying to convince me that nobody wants to hang out with me. I noticed that self-pitying machine sputtering back to life as I overheard groups of people laughing together they walked through my neighborhood.
I had moments last night where I was able to pop out of it, to see it for what it was: I was simply staying in on a Thursday night. No biggie, right? I also had moments where I was deep in self-judgment and just feeling sad. That old story and pattern would take over every now and again. On a certain level, I still believe that staying in means that nobody wants to hang out with me. It was back-and-forth like that in my mind for most of the night.
Whatever your story is, whatever has hurt you in the past, whatever pain you still hold inside now … Living is a process of feeling deeply while healing these old wounds. Healing old patterns. Re-evaluating old stories. We’ve all got ‘em. Whatever triggers all of this old pain, whether it’s being alone on Halloween — or thinking of another word that starts with H — treat it as an opportunity to accept yourself in the moment, just as you are. Our imperfections make us who we uniquely are. Can we honor our pain when it comes up, let it go, then be grateful for our awesome life, too? I believe we can.
So, in honor of Halloween being the time where many wear masks, here’s to taking our masks off after. So we can truly see one another for who we are. Enjoy your weekend, Herpes Opportunists. Whether you go out and party it up with friends or choose to stay in or anything in between. Regardless, know that you’re worth it and that tomorrow is another day.