“You don’t look happy.”
Walking down a hill in Washington, D.C. an old woman grabbed me by the arm, stared coldly in my face, and uttered these unshakeable words. “Of all people, you should be happy,” she continued.
Moments later, she scuttled up the hill and left me speechless in a bustling crowd of shoppers. Naturally, I began to replay the moment in my head looking for some clue or indication of truth. I had never met the woman before, and to this day, I’ve never seen her again. I was in Georgetown buying a pair of shorts and though I wasn’t clad in my finest outfit, I couldn’t understand how this old woman could so audaciously call me unhappy.
Disheveled? Perhaps. I could even wrap my mind around unkempt. But unhappy? How could she possibly know that? In the hours to come, after first releasing my pride, I began to understand just how the old woman could see what I could not.
I was in a new relationship that was heading nowhere fast. My boyfriend, who held a position of prominence, had concocted all of these ideas about how his girlfriend should behave. He had an opinion about everything from the color of my hair to my sartorial choices. He had an opinion on the girls I hung out with and the kinds of parties I went to. In one infamous display of power, he text me at church to tell me my leather pants were inappropriate and that he’d be unable to sit next to me because of them.
If you thought I told him where to put all of his opinions, you’re wrong. I was in love and I believed that people in love changed for the people they loved. When the old woman stopped me that day I was a shadow of the vibrant, free-spirited girl I had once been. I was a figment of his imagination, not my own. Immediately, I called things off and put him on the block list so I could regain the space I needed to love myself back to life (more on the power of the block list later).
The first thing to change was my outer appearance. I dyed my hair back to my favorite color and pulled out all of my favorite clothes and shoes from the back of my closet. I was beginning to look like my old self and I knew, internally, my soul thanked me for it.
I also started journaling again and writing my wildest dreams out in technicolor. I spared no detail about the life of love I hoped to lead and got very clear about my boundaries. Adopting the mantra “Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire,” I vowed to avoid possessive and controlling relationships forevermore. I believed that true love should free you to be the best version of yourself and that true love needed to begin within.
Reading anything and everything on self-love and celebration, The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo and The Mastery of Love by Don Ruiz sat on my bedside table for anecdotal guidance on how to navigate the twists and turns of life. I sat at the feet of the masters -- Maya Angelou, Oprah, and Beyoncé -- gleaning as much wisdom as I could about their journeys to self-love, acceptance, and mastery.
That summer, I packed two huge bags and boarded a plane to Paris, France where I undoubtedly fell in love with the city of lights and with myself. I took in everything Paris had to offer and traveled all over the European Union with friends. I was doing what I wanted to do and living in the manifestation of a dream I had detailed months prior. I was living in what scholars call my authentic truth and I loved every minute of it.
I can imagine that if the old woman saw me today she wouldn’t recognize me. The passing of time has brought me closer to my greatest vision of myself. Sometimes it takes a couple of moves in the dark to find the light; to find your light. These moments are life’s greatest teachers because it is within them that we find ourselves. The faintest glimmer of self has the power to dispel years of darkness and so we must vow to always let that little light guide us home.