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How This Simple Exercise Helped Me Embrace My Reflection

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Have you ever just looked at yourself in the mirror? Silly question, right? I realized a few months ago looking in the mirror is something I had not done in quite some time. Looking quickly in the morning to get ready, but never truly looking at myself. I do not know if ever realized how much I avoided looking at that person in the mirror.

Until recently, I do not believe I would have even understood why I avoided seeing myself in a reflection as I have. The day I decided to investigate the mirror was after a conversation with my amazing therapist. I wish I could tell you what exactly we discussed that day, but I don’t remember much except explaining I felt like I did not like to see myself in the mirror.

As I looked at the person in the mirror, fresh out of the shower and hair a mess, I felt awkward. It felt as though I shouldn’t be staring at myself. I then decided to turn on my camera and record what I looked at for about two minutes. My emotions went from, “This is incredibly weird!” To, “I truly hope my husband doesn’t walk in here right now.” To, “Why in the world am I crying? Who in the hell is this girl and why does she try so hard to hide?” And ending with a lot of laughter.

After those moments, I did not have any breakthrough or change, but it opened the door for me to allow myself to truly begin to heal. Those moments and the pictures I pulled from the video I took, allowed me to look at myself and realize I am worthy of the kindness and love I give others.

I am worthy of healing.

The pictures are not beautiful, they are not staged and they are not something anyone would post on their social media. However, I will share these with you.

What they are is a reminder it is so much more comfortable to remain frozen in the fire. The ease at which we remain surrounded in the past is frightening. The emotions you may feel when truly looking at yourself can be overwhelming.

I never imagined I would cry and laugh when I tried this small exercise, but I definitely did both. I barely recognized myself as I looked into the mirror, and yet felt so many memories returning.

This was the face my children look to, my husband looks at and the many patients I have been lucky to care for have seen. Yet, I barely recognized it.

Throughout my life, I have watched many people in their last moments. I have held the hand of those dying. I have held a parent on my shoulder as their tears covered my scrubs after losing their child. I have felt a heartbeat return after my hands have been placed on the chest of someone stuck between life and death. I have felt the coldness of a body after the soul has left. I have watched a wife lose her husband and husband lose his wife.

Yet, I was incapable of looking at and loving myself. I have never heard anyone say, “I wish I would not have enjoyed life.” Even though I was trusted to be with others in their worst and best moments, I could not believe I was worthy of looking at myself. I have the pictures I pulled from the video below.

Author, young white woman with wet hair taking a mirror selfie, smile on left, bigger smile on right

Many people stay where they are comfortable, because they are afraid of who they will become when they heal.

As I type those words, I feel a little uncomfortable. The truth is it is so damn hard to see through all of the pain. It is so hard to allow yourself to grow because it is freaking frightening.

What happens when the fire that shaped you dissipates and you’re left with coldness and darkness? What do you do when you’re the only person who can heal yourself enough to shine bright again and guide those around you?

We have all experienced trauma, grief, pain, anger, sadness and loneliness to varying degrees. We have all hurt, we all hurt and yet we struggle to believe we are alike. We hide behind that pain and grasp at reason to stay hidden.

We look for reasons to protect our heart and mind instead of allowing the pain to happen and the light of others to fill our lives. We fight and hate for pain we can never take away. We lose those we love instead of accepting our own mistakes. We judge instead of holding the hand of those who have fallen. We leave ourselves frozen because we are afraid of what lies beyond.

We say yes and no because we may hurt someone’s feelings all the while hurting our own. We lie to one another to make life seem easier and to ease the pain of each other without realizing the only true way to ease pain is through honesty.

Pain will heal when the hard questions are asked. Pain will heal when we grow from the stories of others. Pain will heal and we will grow when we stop carrying the weight and expectations of everyone before us.

It is frightening to heal because the joy that comes from authenticity has been shamed for so long. The joy that comes from dancing in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass has been looked upon as childish. The joy that should fill our homes is often lost in the expectations of the world around us.

My sweet friend, the healing journey is so long and so difficult. It is like climbing a waterfall in the middle of the rain. You are not the stories that happened to you. You are not the stories that happened to those you care about.

You, my sweet friend, are the survival guide that comes after.

Your story will change the world. You may not see it because you’re still surrounded in the fire, but that fire is fueled by the unhealed debris of others. It is a warm place to hide when the world seems cold, but eventually, it will devour you.

You will lose yourself in the very thing that kept you safe.

Don’t worry, that’s what grace is for. I believe grace is not just something you give to others, not just something God gives to us. Grace is the very things that allow you to rise up and become everything you have ever dreamed of.

It happens the moment you do for yourself the same things you believe you do not deserve. Grace is knowing those around us may not deserve forgiveness in our eyes, but realizing forgiveness is not for them, it is for you.

I challenge you to forgive, whatever it is that is holding you back, forgive. I believe when you forgive, you can use the strength and lessons from those moments to prevent others from feeling the same pain. I challenge you to look in the mirror. I challenge you to make every decision be a decision toward your most authentic self.

I challenge you to create boundaries, but tear down walls. You can be kind and still remain safe. I challenge you to believe for one moment your kindness and compassion are vital to healing the world around you.

Understand pain, anger, trauma and sadness will never completely go away, your grief over moments that should have been different will be the reason your future becomes exactly what you have always wanted.

This will not happen until you allow that pain to sit in its place and be recognized as a stepping stone rather than a ceiling. When we begin to understand remaining frozen in the fire and leaving the fire provide the same amount of fear, we will be able to heal. We are all afraid to hurt. We are all afraid of being disliked. We are all afraid we are not worthy enough. Just as we are all afraid, we might be missing out and not living our true purpose.

Yet, just as the joy of others brings you happiness, your joy will bring others happiness. Healing is not a straight line, there is no right or wrong path. You must start walking. There is no right or wrong way to begin, you do not have to wear certain shoes or clothes. You just need to head in the direction you have always been afraid to go.

I promise when you begin walking, when you look at that person in the mirror and tell them they are worthy of happiness, you will begin to find your own light and the darkness will no longer be as frightening.

A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog, Frozen in the Fire.

Original photos by author

Originally published: July 17, 2021
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