“Be”. This was my mantra for 2018. “Be present”, “Be yourself”, “be happy” were all phrases I told myself to start 2018 off strong. The year before had brought on so many big emotions for me after two sudden losses only a few months apart. After the events of 2017, all I wanted to do was embrace being present and enjoying the small moments. Nature became the best outlet for this, with yoga coming in second. It was amazing to me how an hour of yoga on a Friday night or Sunday evening had the power to recharge me for the next week. As if somehow turning my mind off for that hour forced me to be present (because trying to focus on yoga poses and balancing was enough for my mind in that moment).
The real healing started once the May long weekend came around. A friend and I packed up my car and headed for our first of what would turn into many weekends spent away in nature. That weekend we drove up to Killbear Provincial Park for a camping trip. It was cold, it rained a lot and yet still managed to be awesome. There was something about spending a whole weekend unplugged from everything, waking up to fresh air and exploring new places that became so healing. I came back from that trip so relaxed and hooked-I wanted more. So the following weekend, we again packed up my car and headed for a cabin in Algonquin. From that point on, I realized that I wanted to spend as much time in nature as possible. Like yoga, I found that nature was another space where I could be present, I didn’t have to worry about anything else except for what was happening in that moment.
The word “be” carried me through 2018 and still holds an important place for me today. But as I learned to be, there is another word that became key to moving forward and growing. The word “no” became so powerful. Not the power of saying no to sex when you don’t want it (although that is key too and for another post) but the significance of saying no to things or people who don’t serve your current needs and wants. For so long, I felt like I had given so much of myself and time to others that I didn’t even recognize “no” as a frequent word in my vocabulary. Then I reached a place where I needed to do what kept me feeling happy and present. So I started saying “no” to friends I was outgrowing, behaviours I no longer had patience for, anything that was not serving me in being happy or evolving.
Lately, whenever a conversation would start about friendships, my sister would point out that I became the queen of breaking up with friends in 2018. One of my uncles likes to refer to ending a friendship as “retiring a friend”. I can see instances where you grow apart from someone and so you “retire” them. But these were break-ups. Friendships that I have invested years in. Women I had cared about but could no longer bare to spend anymore time with.
It started with my roommate from university. We had been friends for years by this point. We had seen each other through many lows and highs, growth and changes. This was the girl who first got me into working out and running – something that would later carry me through my weeks and teach me to love my body fully. Then I started coming home from weekend visits with her, feeling annoyed more often than not. I would rant to my sister and best friends. I found myself cringing when I got a text from her, and annoyed when she complained about something that seemed so minor in the grand scheme of things. Frustrated when she continuously talked so meanly about her body but refused to do anything to appreciate her body and everything it can do. I hated that she couldn’t be present when we hung out, her phone constantly going off with a flirty message from her latest online dating interest. I hated that when we hung out with other people and drank that she would criticize me to make herself feel better. But most of all, I hated that I was spending time with someone who no longer knew me. I didn’t feel like I could go to her about anything anymore. I felt she would somehow find a way to turn it around to be about herself. So as I dealt with the aftermath of two losses, I started to distance myself more and more from her. Until one night, I became so frustrated with having a friendship in limbo that I did something about it – I broke up with her.
It felt exactly as a break-up does. I felt torn and awful but also relieved and freed. I realized that I had changed a lot. I wanted to be present and appreciative of the small things. In doing this and surrounding myself with like-minded friends, I realized that this friend and I were no longer on the same page and that was okay. There was a time where that friendship was exactly what I needed until it wasn't, and it was okay for it to end. Once I ended that friendship, it got easier for me to recognize when someone or something didn’t serve me. Subsequently, I walked away from another friendship that had run its course. I started calling out family members on their behaviour when it crossed a boundary, and started saying no to things I didn’t want to do or was too overwhelmed to do.
In saying “no”, I began to realize that I didn’t have to do everything, I didn’t have to put up with anything, and in doing so I realized that everything wouldn’t fall apart around me either. I was able to set healthy boundaries and was happier. The more I said “no”, the more I found people in my circle surprised or shocked. Some not quite able to understand where this new behaviour was coming from. They would adjust and if they weren’t able to, I could at least recognize now that it wasn't my job to make them understand either. Because with saying “no”, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. “No” is enough on its own. Are you good at saying no to things and people who don’t work for you anymore? Is there someone or something that you thought of while you read this that you wish you could say “no” to? I challenge you to try saying “no” more often and see how it changes things for you.