I've always been a little hesitant to use the word "healing" in relationship to my own growth. If I'm being truthful, it makes me worry that I sound dramatic or like I lack perspective (because when I'm able to peel away the superficial pain, there really is nothing but goodness rooting me to this earth). I'm afraid, too, that people will think that I think whatever I'm going through is somehow special.
Since graduating college, I haven't had too much clarity about my life. I don't know if I'm in the right city or making the right choices. I have moments of joy but I rarely have happy days. Most everything feels murky and melancholy and hopeful and tender all at once. I'm embarrassed about admitting the depth of my grief because pretty much everyone I know is wading through the river of post-grad existentialism! My heartache isn't anything new. My sense of uprootedness isn't anything new.
And so I feel, in some perverse way, like I'm not entitled to be hurt—and to need healing—because others have been where I am before. How can I be this sad? I think. I have it so good.
But I am coming to learn that you can be both awash in gratitude for your life—for the thousand and one things that are going your way—and still experience pain at the turbulences that ripple through your life. That's okay. You can't work through it all in one breath or in one way. It's taken a lot for me to say to myself—without shame—"I'm in the process of healing right now."
Here's some of what is helping me heal. Hopefully something will resonate with you too!
GET OUT THE UGLY
I heal fastest when I am most honest with where I am. Writing is exceptionally cathartic for me because I get to practice articulating what's going on inside—it's as if I can write myself closer toward a sense of clarity. When I get out the "ugly", as it were, I feel as if I'm making space in my heart for beauty to flow in. I can only do that, however, if I'm a little bit fearless, a whole lot trusting, and kind of shameless.
MAKE ART NOT WAR
Collaging is very soothing to me, as is drawing faces (this is literally what I did every day in kindergarten too!) Creating something with my hands always makes me feel WAY better. Doodling can be distracting but it's never really mindless. And I love the satisfaction of flipping through my sketchbook and watching the pages fill up with color.
BE A NEIGHBORHOOD NATURALIST
My friend Alison gave me this advice when I was struggling to feel at home in my new city. She encouraged me to truly grow where I was planted—to walk around and take note of everything that was lush and lovely in my life. On those rough days when I'm struggling to make sense of my surroundings, it means so much to look at my neighborhood as if I were a naturalist sketching out the local ecosystem.
I am gentle with myself about a lot of things but I am very strict about enforcing a "no comparison" policy. It's a huge waste of time. Although the way my ex and I are treating each other me makes me feel like shit sometimes, what really makes me feel shitty is when I compare that experience to what others are going through. I distinctly remember talking to a friend about the relationship she has with her ex. "He really wants space, yeah, but if I reach out, he doesn't ignore me. We still care about each other." I spent that week comparing and despairing. I thought: I am too flawed of a person to be treated kindly and I didn't give Will enough space because I couldn't figure out how to balance my own needs and that's why Will hates me and my friend is a better person who knows how to do it right and that's why her ex is compassionate to her. Even writing that now, I'm like Whoa, harsh Kate! but I think that's what makes comparison so pernicious. It has us falling prey to story lines that are just not true.
Lucky for us, we can write healing stories. We can forgive ourselves and others for messing up. A teacher of mine told me the other day that "growth is rarely beautiful or graceful." Her words remind me that we couldn't have learned what we know now any other way.
TURN EVERY CHORE INTO AN EXQUISITE ACT OF SELF-CARE
In college, I often did chores surrounded by friends. We'd gossip as we scrubbed the dishes and clean the house to our favorite jams. Since moving cross-country, I've sorely missed those shared experiences (my roommates and I are rarely home at the same time). It used to make me sad and spiral-y, cleaning up my lunch in the kitchen alone. But now, I use that time as an opportunity to do something delicious. I play podcasts or listen to music or reward myself with a little chocolate for finally getting that damn chore done. It's helped me feel more at home in my new spaces—and having lived in four different houses since graduation, that sense of being almost settled is so very sweet.
DEDICATE A GOOD VIBE
At the start of every yoga class, my instructor asks us to dedicate the class to someone in our lives. It can be a distant neighbor or a close friend; it can be someone we love madly or someone who has caused us deep pain. Whenever I am hungry to heal from a tough situation, this act of "dedication" is really useful. I try to radiate good vibes someone's way and to think about their point of view. Just today, I dedicated the class to a girl that had made me feel very misunderstood. I didn't leave the class feeling like, yep, now everything between us is better! but I did feel lighter and that lightness, that love, can only grow.
NOTCH-LESS NAVEL GAZING
Although I think introspection is very valuable, when you are in need of healing, it's just as important to dive into immersive experiences that help you to transcend the ego. Be fully there for a friend. Don't think a lot before you do. Volunteer for an organization that you are passionate about supporting. Some of my most healing moments this past year have been when I forget about myself.
FIND A TALISMAN
During those rocky moments when I am in need of emotional healing, I turn to the yellow pendant that I got during a road trip with my beloved friends Abby, Alison, and Lily or the rose quartz necklace my mother gave me. These simple talismans lift my spirits by connecting me to my friends and family.
EAT WELL AND EXERCISE OFTEN
When you're in a place of healing, you need to be extra good to your succulent snail self. I try to eat in a way that nourishes me–which lately means I'm either savoring a big bowl of veggies, rice, and avocado or I'm enjoying whatever children's cereal was cheapest at the local co-op that week. And I get outside and move every day. Sometimes I think everything sucks and then I take a walk and maybe bring a breakfast sandwich with me and realize that the world is breathing and birds are SO COOL and people have amazing faces.
TUNE INTO WHAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU AND NOT WHAT YOU "SHOULD" DO
After a beloved family friend died very suddenly, it angered me when people said "Everything happens for a reason." That didn't hold true for me. It was an unbelievably senseless and sad experience.
Of course, every one of us projects onto others what we think would feel good to us were we in their shoes. We are all trying to do our best with the emotional tool kits we have. It's been an important practice for me to gravitate toward what makes me feel truly healed and not what I wish—or what I think—will help me heal.
BE YOUR FUTURE SELF
Whenever I am angry at myself for the ways I screwed up things with my ex or lonely in this city or unsure about whether I am doing enough for this world that I love and the people that I care about, I imagine my future self recalling this present moment. I know that in a couple months from now, I won't feel frustration with myself and my ex for how painful our breakup has been. I'll only feel the deepest gratitude to Will for being my first real love. We got to share in such a profoundly rare experience and I am always going to have that beautiful thing. I know, too, that I'll live in a nicer place with beloved friends in the near future. I'll be able to look back at this year of stressful sublets and laugh about my cave man kitchen and the time I had to actually shit in a bag because my roommate was locked in the bathroom. My future self is a lot kinder to me. So when I imagine her point of view, I feel a lot kinder to my present self. I'm not perfect and I screw up a lot. That's okay.
HEALING IS COMMUNAL
My Mom said this to me the other day and it really resonated. Healing is about getting back into harmony with who you are and the people you love and the community you are a part of. I'm lucky to have friends who are so lovely and a family who is so generous in helping me heal. I mean, I'm writing this now from my friend's living room in a villa overlooking the sloping green hills of Marin. And I am realizing, with such tremendous force, that my healing wouldn't be possible without the many things making up this single moment. I think of my friends, of my father's voice on the phone, of my love for nature, of the joy I get from writing. I stare at the blue-green sky and my cup of Earl Grey tea and think I am healing, wholly. I know that I'll slip back into moments of disharmony but my movement is trending toward synchronicity with my surroundings. But that's what heart-healing work is—and it's a pretty good place to be.