Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Self-Love

**Note from the author: This is the end of a series I never thought I would be able to conclude properly. When I first began writing LTBV I was at an extremely low and vulnerable part of my life (that was almost a year ago to date). I re-wrote this particular last piece over and over and over again for the past couple of months. I just wasn’t in love with the words enough to post them, and considering this topic it didn’t seem right to publish something I couldn’t stand behind. Never have I felt more exposed with my writing, and never have I have been in love with something I have written more than each topic in this series. Here’s to the readers out there I hope you now feel like you have a shoulder to lean on with the words I have written.

By Traci Taylor
September 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

As summer winds down and my favorite season of the year approaches the feeling of fear overwhelms me instead of the usual joy of anticipation for autumn. This time last year I was in deep with depression, nearing the end of a relationship with a person that was my absolute best friend, and in turn fighting a losing battle with alcohol abuse. It was as if my world was crumbling around me without any real exit strategy for survival. I had hit a rock bottom that I seemingly couldn’t get out of without just throwing in the towel. After my relationship officially ended that second week in October I lost myself in helplessness and made an end all choice that I am grateful now I failed at attempting.

I approached the next day thankful to still be alive and decided it was time to start loving myself instead of loathing myself. Somewhere in that almost tragic wakeup call I became aware that drinking needed to come to a halt and I needed to begin living a healthier, happier lifestyle. I started a new job (left the one that was adding to my misery), got sober from alcohol for 8 months, and began writing this series (Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable) that is finally coming to a conclusion with the topic of “Self-Love”.

Sobriety was far from the easiest thing I have done in my quarter century existence on this planet, but in the same thought one of the most self-rewarding accomplishments. Through abstaining from alcohol I learned the importance of self-love and relearned what genuine happiness feels like. I know I have come a long way over the past year, but the hardest part of it all is being aware that this time of year will stick with me for my lifespan- it just depends on how I choose to fight through it. Everything does happen for a reason, and I believe my existence is proof of that.

Making sure self-love was a part of my everyday routine first started with self-care which meant beginning therapy. The best part of being able to talk to an educated individual who has no prior knowledge of your struggle is how rewarding it feels after the hour is up. I recall a day after one of my sessions where I was walking home and looked up to this gorgeous bundle of trees with leaves of golden browns, yellows, and reds. A sudden smile spread over my face with gratitude that ensured me I still have a long journey ahead of me. It was then that I felt an abundance of love for myself and for all of the life experiences I had yet to accomplish.

When winter started creeping around the corner, life got a tad bumpy again. The new restaurant I had been working at was reaching point of closing and I was weeks away from being unemployed. Needless to say I was beginning to feel that sense of helplessness again. Just when I was as stressed out about life falling apart at the seams, I got luckier than I ever fathomed was possible. Part of me still believes what happened next was one of the reasons I survived that day last October. For every day I chose to not give up on myself, I was about to experience the answer as to why.

As a kid it is hard to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that every difficult task life throws your way is for a better purpose. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones that had a childhood painted with a white picket fence of a happy family or a yellow brick road to success. Like the majority of peers in my generation I got by with finding the strength within myself despite surrounding circumstances. It is simple to ponder the thoughts of the “grass is greener on the other side” but what is more self-satisfying (in my opinion) is being at the top of the hill after the climb when you thought you would never make it from the start. Self-love is about knowing I can get to the top as long as I choose to trust that I am able to. If I have gained one thing thus far in life, it is that reassurance. If I didn’t have that last winter, I wouldn’t have the opportunity that was about to come my way or what I like to refer to as my “top of the hill”.

I had been unemployed (restaurant industry isn’t known for its job security) for over a month and a half after the restaurant I work at closed New Year’s Eve. Constantly applying to jobs, getting interviews, but no real luck until I got the phone call I never thought would come. During my numerous amounts of job applications I decided to randomly apply to a job as a lacrosse goalie coach at a well-known private school in Philadelphia (a sport I once adored and missed dearly). To my surprise I got a call back weeks later, interviewed, and was eventually hired. Transitioning from athlete to coach was quite the obstacle at first, but it is one that I quickly learned to fall in love with. It was the change of perspective on life that I needed, and I believe the opportunity came into my life at that time for a distinct reason. Similar to the reward I get from writing (sharing my voice in hopes of helping others), coaching does that much more by mentoring future leaders through a mutual appreciation for a beloved sport. Being on the other side of the sideline unravels the big picture that the learning process never stops, not even if you are the coach (or teacher).

Each morning I wake up I no longer crave the sunset, but am now appreciative of the pale blues and fiery pinks of the sunrise. I am aware that not every day will be without a struggle, but with every day there is a lesson to learn. The greatest lesson over this past year has been accepting that I am only human, and I am allowed to have faults as long as I remember to love myself regardless. It’s hard to feel a nagging grey cloud of depression surrounding you and still try to believe that you deserve unconditional love. Sometimes, in those moments, your greatest accomplishment may be getting through the day (I’ve been there- it is valid). Just remember it may not get better tomorrow, but it will (I promise) get better at some point. When that day comes you will be so thankful you made it this far. Not a day goes by that I don’t ponder what life would be like had I not made it past that second week in October last year. Everything that I have become so grateful for over these 12 months would not exist. I used to think being a hopeless romantic was believing in finding the end all love, but really the greatest love of all is self-love. Once you have that, everything else will fall into place.


Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: The Struggle of Shame

**Note from the author: This is a topic I’ve been pondering over for quite sometime. I believe it has a very big role of importance in the LGBTQ community. Personally it was what kept me in the closet for so long and something I rarely talk about in places other than my writing. As the short story series (Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable) I started months ago is coming slowly to an end I’m finding that the topics I have saved for last can get very real. This story particularly is vital for me to share and have these words available for those that are going through the same hardships I once did (and still continue to face on occasion). Remember first to find the love within yourself– that strength alone is guaranteed to get you through the hardest battles life may throw your way.

By- Traci Taylor
April 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

At a young age I was sure of my attraction to girls, but somewhere along the way exposure to shame for those feelings forced me back in the closet. The power that shame has over individuals who are struggling with identity of any kind fuels unhealthy inner hatred. I remember as a kid how much of a tomboy I really was, and how that was viewed as acceptable. However those feelings I had towards girls that I mentioned earlier (and how much I perhaps enjoyed playing “house” a little more than the others) was frowned upon. It was seen as just a phase that was supposed to fade away. Looking back on the years of my adolescence I realize I was at one point “out of the closet” but quickly put back in due to shame that was enforced upon me.

Coming out of the closet was what I consider an important milestone in my life. The process of accepting years where there was a time I couldn’t even be okay with the person I truly was. For awhile I was in denial and full of shame for feeling like I knew deep down I was gay. Shame of being who you are is still a factor in the world today, regardless of how much progress has been made. There still are plenty of people that struggle to be comfortable in their own skin because of what they have been told or taught to believe. I know because I was that person from a very young age until my early twenties.

From my experience it isn’t just one particular thing that brings out this feeling of shame. There was the teasing from peers or side comments about being a “tomboy” or “bull dyke”. That the feelings at such a young age I was so sure of quickly turned into a self hatred, internalized homophobia. I began convincing myself that I had crushes on boys, and there was no possible way I could be gay. Somewhere along the way of being teased and hearing side commentary from my surroundings I persuaded myself to believe it was absolutely wrong to feel the way I felt.

Dealing with shame brought on a world of repressed feelings for me, and my rebellious behavior as a teen in turn. The overwhelming fear of being “found out” led me to maintain relationships with boys, which to me merely felt like friendships with really great guys instead of the puppy love my peers were feeling. Reflecting back I know there were times when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, that I had thoughts of “what if I am a lesbian?” and then quickly shutting off that part of my brain. It was like a piece of me wanted to be who I was, and the other was too afraid of what sort of rejection that would bring on. It was the result of years of hearing negative things about being gay that kept me in the closet and ashamed of the person I really was.

Even after I found the courage to proudly admit I was a lesbian without hesitation, there were still incidents that I encountered where shame tried to force its way back into my life. My sexual orientation does not make me less human or without emotion. Sometimes I’m convinced people that are homophobic forget that little bit of information when they deem it necessary to express their hatred. Each day I am faced with the possibility of getting catcalled for the way I dress (aka the way I am) or even holding hands with another woman in public. This is merely an example of society pressing shame back onto what I have taken many years to personally over come. It was years of fearing that sort of hate that kept me in the closet. Today I use it as fuel to stand proud for the person I am (even though truthfully hate does hurt, even in the “tiniest” of ways).

There was a particular incident about a year or so after I came out of the closet that I was faced with that still sticks with me today. I was on a date at a minor league ice hockey game with a couple of other girls as well. For the most part our conversation (among the women) was clean and sportsman like. With some sports (mixed with alcohol) foul language can tend to slip out from the spectators occasionally, this however was not the real problem I later learned. Next to our group there was a father and daughter watching the game. The father at one point asked one of the women in our group if we could cut out some of the language we were using. At the time we all figured he was referring to some cursing that had occurred and even warned the people behind us that there was a younger crowd among us (to be respectful). What happened next took me by surprise.

During a break in the game a security attendant tapped me on the shoulder informing me there had been complaints about language used and other inappropriate actions. Then he proceeded to inform me if we didn’t stop we would have to leave the game. I of course was sure he meant the foul language again and apologized immensely. Little did I know the father had complained that I was holding hands with my date and talking about “lesbian lifestyle” that he didn’t want his daughter to be exposed to. In that moment I felt all of those years of shame come rushing back. Something I had personally worked to overcome was being forced back onto me because of an outsider’s homophobia.

As a group my friends and I were almost kicked out of a public venue for our sexual orientation. The foul language from the crowd was never the problem it was my holding hands with another woman and discussing our daily lives that set this person full of hatred off. He was so merely offended by my friends and me to the point where he felt we were disturbing him and his daughter by simply being comfortable with who we are. This sort of shame that is being projected is the exact example of why people remain in the closet. These incidents are the reasons why so many people who are struggling to be who they are continue to fight through dark depression periods.

The truth is there has been progress in the LGBTQ community, but it is a battle that must continuously be fought every day. Shame, hatred, internalized homophobia are all very real feelings that exist and need to be spoken about. No one individual should ever have to experience such hatred for the way they identify themselves. Acceptance and understanding is the goal that needs to be reached in this society and the negativity needs to be pushed aside. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I felt comfortable enough to be who I was at a younger age without feeling that fear of rejection from the world I live in. That thought process (I guarantee) is going through at least one person’s mind who is at this exact moment struggling within themselves to accept who they are. It is imperative to be aware that hate of any form is hurtful, and it is harming the ones we love including ourselves. Eliminating shame is the key to the door of being able to feel comfortable with whom we are as individuals.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Staying Positive

**Note from the author:With the end of this series almost coming to a close I was finding it more and more difficult to pinpoint topics to write about. This week I wrote about remaining positive, because lately that’s all I’ve been feeling (along with endless gratitude). The end of last year was a difficult one for me, and I’ve made a significant transition in my life in the the way I live it. As we grow older it is easy to forget how happy and hopeful we once were. I write this for your consideration to reminiscence back to a time when perhaps it seemed easier to believe in endless happiness & cynicism wasn’t so prominent. 
By- Traci Taylor
March 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

Not very long ago, five months or so, there was a time where I didn’t think I could make it through the day, and deep inside I hoped that I wouldn’t. To many people I appeared happy, but that was far from the truth. I found it difficult to stay positive. Back in October I would have never imagined my life would turn completely around and I would be where I am currently (constantly surrounded by positive energy). Perhaps if I had known what the future held I would have had a better outlook on things, but that’s easier to consider now that life is more desirable.

One of my favorite writers J.D. Salinger once said, “I’ve survived a lot of things, and I’ll probably survive this.” In certain moments it can prove hard to be able to remain upbeat, but being able to hold out for hope that things will eventually get better tends to make it easier.

Without a doubt there is truth to the fact that the only person responsible for the mood you are in is yourself. It is all in the mindset you put yourself in. Sometimes I know it is tough to talk yourself out of a dark place, but once you do life seems tremendously brighter. I was lucky back in October to get a second chance at not feeling like I was stuck in a rut.

For some time I was fighting plenty of demons that were preventing me from being the “ray of sunshine” others may have seen. I struggled with being in the closet for over twenty years which fueled the depression and in result my dependency on alcohol sky rocketed as a way of self medicating. All of those things combined ended up being my biggest downfall. I lost a lot of ambition, and parts of me that were once hopeful became tainted with negative thoughts.

After a certain age people lose that sense of hope that we all have as children. The hopeless romantics turn into cynics and the always cheerful quickly turn into the burnt out. It is unfortunate how there is this thought that in order to be an adult you have to stop believing in the things you used to at a younger age.

Somewhere along the way something makes you lose the sparkle in your eye that you had for many years. I’ve seen, and experienced, the kindest of people turn stone cold (it’s disheartening, especially when it is someone close). I’m an advocate against cynicism; I find it boring and plain. Call it naïve, but I think it makes life more colorful to look on the brighter side of things.

When I was at my rock bottom I could almost feel the negative vibes taking over my everyday mindset (which was quickly muted out with alcohol just like any other problem I had). I was morphing into a person I didn’t even recognize anymore. The relationship I was in at the time was falling apart and it scared me, but I knew there was nothing I could do so I drank (in retrospect that is probably when I should have stopped drinking). I was in a job that made me absolutely miserable and only aided my drinking habit, but I felt so stuck that I didn’t see a way out.

Originally moving to Philly was supposed to be a temporary thing until I found a job outside of the restaurant industry, except it was beginning to feel permanent. That’s what really started to get inside of my head, and I felt as though I was at a dead end which ended up ruining all other relationships in my life. Internally I felt like I was failing and the only thing that was an escape from that reality was drinking. At the time I could see no positive outcome, and it has taken me almost five months of being sober from alcohol to see that.

Then February rolled around and I was endlessly looking for jobs since the restaurant I had been working at shut down. One day I saw an ad on Craigslist (of all places, I know) for a lacrosse goalie coach. Growing up I was always involved in sports, but a lot of people that know me as an adult aren’t aware of that part of my life.

Lacrosse was a sport that I was really into in high school and missed out on the opportunity of playing in college because of poor grades (one thing I have always regretted). There I was with this chance to get back involved with a sport that I love, and I figured if I managed to write a convincing enough cover letter maybe I would hear back.

When I eventually did hear back, I was shocked but obviously extremely excited that I got a response. Being surrounded by the positive energy of lacrosse and the team is a rewarding thing (Even Chuck Klosterman was a coach before his career took off, right?). I may only be in my mid-twenties but thus far I’ve learned a lot of tough life lessons. The most important is taking responsibility for how your life is going, and changing something if it is making you miserable.

As adults sometimes it is easy to lose that sense of positive, “childlike” hopefulness about the world. Sometimes I truly believe that is the downfall of society. Too many people that you pass on the street have unpleasant looks on their faces, and it is gratifying to pass a stranger with a kind smile. There isn’t enough positive energy or politeness in this world. It is vital to remember that every struggle in life is not permanent, even if it might be tough right now. From personal experience I know it is easy to get wrapped up in a dejected mindset and have it ruin you. Life is meant to be something enjoyable, and somewhere along the way that can be forgotten. The key to it all is finding reasons to smile about why you woke up this morning, even if it is simply for the sun rise or the smell of the coffee brewing.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Working in the “Industry”

**Note from the author: It’s quite impossible to sum up what working in the restaurant industry is like. Being able to understand it, is having experienced it firsthand. From my own perspective it is something I enjoy doing, until I stop enjoying it for the day. I think that sentence will really only translate to those that can relate to the relief of getting done back to back double shifts. The moment I dreamed of being a writer I was aware that meant pursuing what I wanted and waiting tables to survive. All in all the industry has given me plenty of things that I am grateful for and material for stories that I have yet to write. This piece is for all those working in the industry to get by while following their dream, or those that do it simply because they realize waiting tables can make you more money than most 9 to 5 jobs

By- Traci Taylor
March 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

Working in the restaurant industry has its ups and downs, but the beneficial guarantee is the abundance of life lessons that take place. The past seven years I have acquired a lot of knowledge in regards to how quickly other people may resort to stereotypes to those that treat the wait staff a certain way (I think the saying is that the proof is in the pudding). There is a part of me that absolutely loves interacting with guests and providing service with a smile. However there is another part of me that often dreams of a job where it is possible to get weekends off.

Being in the industry can change a person: how they treat servers when dining out, how graciously they tip, and how they judge the people they are with for doing both of those things. The moment I decided I wanted to be a writer I was aware that it could mean many years living off of tips (just a suggestion- if quality service is given it is polite to show gratitude with more than just a “thank you”) and being employed as a server. What I didn’t know was all of the stress, life experience, and exposure to all sorts of personalities I would encounter along the way.

I was seventeen when I landed my first serving job in my hometown of Cape May. The thing about restaurant jobs is, if you stay at a place long enough the people you work with quickly turn into family. That was especially the case at The Ugly Mug because it was in a tight-knit community and I worked with the same people for about five years. They were the people that lavished me with hugs the summer I came out of the closet, and were the shoulders I leaned on without a doubt during the process.

Waiting tables for twelve plus hours a day with the same co-workers for over five years an unusual bond tends to grow unlike any other working environment. Without realizing it, being in the industry, quickly turns into a home away from home. It can be stressful, and that is why it is important to have a close relationship with your co-workers to be able to lean on them for support. Somewhere after the long work hours and drinking until sunrise after endless shifts, those co-workers end up being extended family.

My drinking habits increased when I became a server (I suppose I fall into a stereotype myself with the industry and alcohol abuse problems). The restaurant environment is one that addiction dependencies do run on the higher side for various reasons (merely stating from personal observation). Having to pull doubles multiple times a week and the general stressful environment only aids the dependency issues. I got wrapped up in a daily drinking habit, but for other personal reasons ended up losing control (if I ever actually had it in control).

Drinking is a common way to unwind after any shift at a job ends. The industry however is a bit different; it is sort of like living the college party lifestyle that never really stopped for some people. In a way I think it is the only outlet that seems fit to be able to deal with all of the difficulties that have to be dealt with shift after shift (for front and back of house staff). From an outside perspective it may not make sense, but for those in the industry it is the “norm”. Drinking tends to feel like it eases all worries and eliminates the stress (believe me not everyone that dines in restaurants are the kindest of people) at least until the next shift begins.

Not every guest that dines out is polite, and the majority of the time it is because they don’t know true restaurant etiquette (or they just really are unpleasant human beings). For that reason alone is why so many servers wish that in order for people to dine out they must have had to work in the industry for some amount of time (imagine a place where everyone tips a decent percentage and always thanked their server afterwards). I’ve worked in both high class establishments and local pubs; neither is excluded for having the occasional disgruntled guest. Some people forget that their servers are there to help them enjoy their experience.

I know just like not every guest is perfect, not every server is either. Any job that makes you a miserable mess, you should probably consider doing something about. Nothing in life is permanent and a negative attitude not only hurts you, but the people you are surrounding as well. I’ve had to remind myself at different points in time (in job scenarios, but also other things)that I am ultimately the one in control of my happiness. Sometimes when people find themselves in a comfort zone they forget that by changing one simple thing in their life (like a miserable work environment) it can make all the difference.

As soon as I entered middle school I got a job, I was raised to know in order to get the things you want you must work for them. I’ve worked in retail (corporate and ma & pa shops) and I even tried scooping ice cream for a year or two before I was introduced to the restaurant industry. Once you are in it, it’s hard to get out. The money is great (when it’s not the off season) and you meet some pretty amazing people that make up for all the crap that happens.

Having worked in restaurants in both a city and small town environments I must say there are some differences and similarities between the two. Most importantly I have respect for the people in the industry because I have experienced it. I know the money doesn’t always make up for all of the stress, and the occasionally unpleasant people you may encounter on a daily basis. The years I’ve spent in the industry have exposed me to a lot of things I don’t think I would have experienced otherwise. Not only has being a part of the industry given me lifelong friends in each place I’ve lived, but as a writer I must admit there’s no better source for material.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Power of Music

**Note from the author- This piece was written on a lighter note than most of the topics I’ve touched upon over the past few weeks. I believe music is a very important aspect of life and sometimes it is taken for granted. I wrote this to remind others that music is indeed created for enjoyment, but there are also other reasons music is a vital part of the lives we live. Just take a moment, read, soak it in, and then listen to the music play.

By- Traci Taylor
February 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

There are many ways of expressing emotions in life, but what seems to be one of the most powerful forms of expression is music. It can alternate moods, trigger certain memories, tell stories, and draw connections between people. Imagining a world without music is quite difficult, but envisioning that world puts in perspective the vital role music plays in everyday life.

I had a conversation with someone once about how certain songs have the power to bring back memories of specific moments from the past. The reality of that is both joyous and sorrowful because not every bit of music brings back pleasant memories. However it demonstrates the significance songs can have throughout life. Often music is used as an aid to get through certain moments whether it may be a good or bad life experience.

Music has always been my core inspiration as a writer. I was never that musically inclined (minus being able to play a few guitar chords) but have always turned to music to spark creativity. I read an article not too long ago in Billboard when they interviewed Stevie Nicks and she mentioned the power advantage that a writer has. Just like stories inspired by life events, sometimes it is easy to forget that music is created in the same sense. Stevie’s words in the interview really kind of summed up my feelings about writing and music:

“That’s why it’s good to be a writer, because you get to lash back…. Just because a relationship ended badly, and shitty things happened, you cannot tell that to the world. But you can write a song about it, in three verses and a bridge and a chorus, that tells the really magical moments….”

It is an outlet of expression, there is no limit to music and that’s what makes it so fantastic. No matter how someone may be feeling there is more than likely a song that was written about that exact emotion. The connections with music and emotions are endless, regardless of the mood or genre.

There are genres for different emotions; it just needs to be narrowed down to the individuals taste. Although I am an advocate for mostly older tunes (there seems to be a more authentic feel to music from the past, in my opinion) I do indulge in music from the current era. The only true way to take full advantage of music is to explore all genres from different decades, and listen without bias. Music much like literature or any other art form is about expression, putting it out into the world, and hoping it makes some sort of impact.

Sometimes things that happen in life aren’t easy to deal with and there doesn’t seem to be any solution of making the situation better. That’s usually when I blast music, loudly. There are particular songs (sometimes despondent ones because there’s nothing better than a great sad song) that really help to brighten things up a bit. Never underestimate the power of a good crying session with the soundtrack of some of the best sad songs.

Sad songs are fantastic and having a playlist filled with them is something I am an advocate for. Whenever I feel that awful overwhelming feeling of melancholy kick in I listen to one of my favorite songs, “Landslide”. Ever since I was a kid this song has been the one that somehow has the power to bring tears to my eyes. For some reason it reminds me of my dad and whenever I begin to miss him, I like to listen to it. Recently I found the Fleetwood Mac album at a local record store in the city and the first time I heard this track on vinyl, I swear chills rushed through my body. Hearing music on vinyl is more than just listening; it’s an experience of sorts. Perhaps that is why I’ve always been so interested in collecting vinyl records over the years. Vinyl shopping and listening to records are my absolute favorite form of therapy. When in doubt, put the records on. When words are put to rhythms and beats it creates an escape for the listener to get lost, even for a few minutes.

Another song that can make me sorrowful is, “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor, This song I had on repeat for weeks after I got the news of my friend Logann’s passing. As dejected as I felt, sometimes sad songs have a way of providing comfort just to get through the day. Melancholy moods can’t always be cured with more sadness, sometimes that’s not the best solution. In which case music can still be the answer, just perhaps more upbeat tunes (that’s why music is so great, there’s a whole endless selection to choose from). My go-to “pick-me-up” music varies upon mood, but it’s usually: Glenn Miller, Grouplove, or certain Rap music (Kanye, Childish Gambino, etc.).

When I just need a little boost of confidence I tend to turn to Yeezy or Childish Gambino. (Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if people would listen to music without bias of an artist’s personal life it would be easier to hear the talent in their sounds). I’ve also been known to freestyle Notorious B.I.G. , but that was back when whiskey was my water and I’m not too sure how confident with my rap skills I am sober.

Music contains the type of power that can trigger memories from over the years that transport back to specific periods in life. There are some songs from the past that can bring back very vivid memories that were once forgotten. Personally hearing anything in regards to Whitney will forever remind me of that drunken night in Philly. The night she passed away was my first night with a girl and my friend repeatedly screamed “Traci loves Philly” loudly in the next room (never once did I imagine I would relate Whitney Houston with my coming out story). The memories music can draw attention to certainly aren’t always upsetting ones, there are also happy unforgettable (even momentous lesbionic) moments.

Even childhood memories can be triggered by certain songs from the past. My sisters and I had a tendency to make ridiculous music videos growing up whenever boredom struck. Now whenever I hear “Thong Song” or “I’m like a Bird” I laugh and cringe simultaneously. As fun as it was in the moment I dread the thought of anyone other than the three of us watching those videos (thankfully no one owns a VHS player anymore). Little were any of us aware at the time that those songs would contain such ridiculously humorous, yet precious memories of growing up together.

Everyday the soundtrack to life is being made by the song you choose to play. That very tune will have the power to bring you back to that moment in time, whether it seems to have significance now or not. Music itself tells a story with its lyrics and rhythms that it contains, but it is what that song means to you that make it memorable to your life.

Take a moment when you get behind the wheel and listen to those songs that make you feel an overwhelming sense of emotion. There’s nothing more intimate and relaxing than being able to drive around aimlessly listening to the music through car speakers. Since I moved to the city I no longer have that luxury, so I choose to walk around with headphones instead. While I walk I tend to look up at the skyline of endlessly tall buildings against the warm blue sky and reflect with a smile that I am the one in control of the creation to the soundtrack of memories to my life.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Loss

**Note from the author: At first I began writing this story inspired by the memory of my dear friend Logann. Then, I got news my mom-mom was in the hospital (update: she is doing well). This week was a tough one for me, but it really influenced me to keep writing and enforce the message that this story conveys. Life is too short, and not often enough do we show gratitude for the loved ones that surround us.

By-Traci Taylor
February 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

In life the only guarantee given is that it eventually ends. Despite knowing the inevitable, dealing with losing a loved one is never easy. Every day after that person is gone from this earth, things begin to seem a bit duller. Certain things that may be reminders of a brighter time now leave a lump in the throat and salty tears streaming down the cheek. At the time it feels like nothing but a darkened sadness. Eventually it’s easier to look at the reminders as ways that the ones that have left still live with us within memories. Death is not something simple to cope with, it’s permanence that is hard to face.

When I was younger I lost my great Uncle John and I don’t remember much about his death. I was a kid that couldn’t comprehend the significance of loss yet, and then it only meant feeling sad when he was no longer there to joke with on Christmas morning. As far as I know he had died from old age, I was no older than five when he passed. Being so young I didn’t yet know the impact of what living life after a loved one is gone really felt like.

For all the obstacles I have faced this year and the strength it has taken me to get through it all doesn’t even compare to the pain that takes over from losing someone. I was never able to meet my dad’s parents, they had both passed away before I or any of my sisters were born. He still talks about them a lot, and his face lights up with a smile every time. Sometimes being able to remember the happier times filled with laughter make not having the ones no longer around even the tiniest bit easier.

The second time I lost someone close to me was harder, and I was only a few years older. I still remember the last afternoon I got to spend with my pop-pop before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. I was eight years old and he took me up on the Wildwood boardwalk to play miniature golf, and afterwards grab soft pretzels and water ice. Even then I was still too young to know the importance of the moments I had left with him. Overall I’m not sure there is an age where it gets easier to cope or be aware when to cherish every minute with loved ones.

For awhile I considered myself lucky to not have had to deal with the process of losing someone I was close to. Just being around people dealing with the grief and pain, I feared having to know what it was truly like. Losing my pop-pop was hard, but at age eight I didn’t truly know the meaning of overwhelming sadness. Intellectually being aware that death is a part of life doesn’t make the emotional devastation of loss any easier. Some losses in life just stick with you and alter the way you view the value of it all. That’s what Logann’s death did for me.

I was twenty-two years old in my last semester at college and it was the morning after the Super Bowl when I read the news that my childhood friend passed away. When I first woke up that morning I had a persistent knot in my stomach, and the moment I read on my newsfeed that Logann was gone cold shivers rushed through my whole body. I was in utter disbelief.

The one person that could light up an entire room with her smile had just lost her final battle to addiction. It had been years since I saw her, but even the memories of her are still colorfully vivid in my mind. To this day I am filled with regret that the last time I did see her it was through a window of a convenient store and I didn’t bother to say hello. She was working at the cash register, and I wish I had known in that moment it was my last chance to see my childhood friend. Life has a twisted way of teaching the hard truth on how to be appreciative of the people that mean something to you.

To this day I am unsure of how many lives she was aware she brightened with that golden smile and contagious laugh. Every day that passes I still stumble upon certain things that remind me of Logann. She was my right hand lady at the first job we had at Sunset Beach and those memories I still hold dear to my heart. The truth is, in a way I looked up to Logann and I never saw those demons she was struggling with I only saw the “force to be reckoned with” exterior. The reason I suffered gauging my own ears wasn’t for some “hipster” fad, it was because Logann had plugs and somehow convinced me to go for it. Her extraordinary free spirited attitude was the thing that I admired most. I never knew another side of Logann other than the ray of sunshine that had the ability to brighten anyone’s day.

Two years have passed since she has been gone and it’s still a hard concept to grasp. Losing someone to an addiction is a double edge sword. In a way there is a relief that the person you love is no longer fighting that unbearable load of horrific demons. On the other hand, that person you love is no longer a phone call away when all you want to do is hear the familiar sound of their voice.

Day by day I am finding it deep within me to live for the memory of the ones that are no longer here, but have impacted my life tremendously. Being almost four months sober from alcohol I am beginning to live life with a bolder attitude. The people I have lost in this life are still very much alive in my heart.

Fairly often in life you are reminded that the only thing constant about it is that it changes. I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count, and it’s probably the only lesson I remember from my science courses. As much as there is an awareness that things constantly change, there is never a way to prepare for the life altering experience of losing someone. It’s like picking up a beautifully structured snow globe, shaking it as hard as possible, putting it back down, and then looking into the same globe that appears to now be filled with a distorted image. Nothing is ever quite as picturesque as it once seemed, but life continues on regardless.

Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable: Coming Out

**Note from the author: I’ve written versions of this story before, but this one has more of an insight into the beginning of it all. As full as this story may seem,  I still don’t believe it is complete. There are things left out and stories that are yet to be told. I consider this one of the most important stories of all that I am able to share for two reasons: 1.) I wish while I was going through my struggle there was a piece of writing or similar story I could’ve related to. 2.) This was like tearing a piece of me off and putting it into story form. Nothing makes me feel more alive than being able to share something so personal. Acceptance is still rare in the world we live in, this is a reminder to not only keep your minds open but also your hearts.

By- Traci Taylor
January 2015
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series

Imagine living life with the persistent feeling that something is missing. Each day that passes by doesn’t feel fully fulfilled, only partially. Everything seems unbearably empty. What is worse is when the desire to become whole happens, but the fear of the repercussion is overwhelming. How unfair it feels to not be comfortable to be able to live the life that deep inside feels right. Being in the closet is like going through life with body armor, and never being able to reveal the person underneath. It’s everything at surface value. Coming out takes strength, and it leaves a person vulnerable (which is sometimes one of the most difficult things to be).

The first step is to be able to feel comfortable in your own skin, and after that there’s a desire to feel accepted in your surroundings. Coming out means ridding of the body armor, and feeling completely exposed. The vulnerability that occurs is utterly breathtaking, and the self satisfaction of living life as the person underneath that armor at the end of the day outweighs any bullshit life hands out.

I think I always knew I was gay, but along the way I buried myself deep into the closet. When I was younger, that wasn’t a big deal because I was mostly consumed with sports (somewhere out there exists a 6th grade essay on my dreams of becoming Sheryl Swoopes). To this day I’m not sure what it was exactly that kept me so far in the closet. There are a few factors I’ve come up with: fear of being bullied by peers, fear of overwhelming catholic guilt, or fear of not fitting in with everyone. Without a doubt kids can be cruel, and I certainly had a fear of being ostracized (I was already teased occasionally for being a bit on the chubbier side growing up). Being raised catholic didn’t help either, there was this notion that anything other than growing up, marrying a man, and having kids was unacceptable. Even in my younger years I had a problem with over-thinking things, so I kept quiet on how I really felt and dated boys instead.

During middle school I was still consumed with sports, mostly basketball, and at the time I had a best friend who was exactly the same way. We were inseparable to say the least, and because we were so alike we sometimes would buttheads more often than not. I think that’s what ended up tearing us a part in high school, and how we ended up eventually drifting apart completely. The reason our friendship is still a vivid memory for me is because despite how close we were, neither of us ever spoke to the other about the struggle we were both going through. I often wonder if we had confided in each other back then if things would have been easier with a relatable shoulder to lean on.

Of course that is not how things turned out. Life has its twists and turns for a reason, and ultimately coming out in a small town at a young age might have been more difficult to face than either of us could handle back then. Coming out at any point in life takes strength, I know for myself I wasn’t ready to face any adversity at anytime other than when I did. Being certain that there will be some sort of solid support system by your side helps the process.

For me I was at a point where I couldn’t stand pretending to be happy when inside I knew I was miserable. In the summer of 2011 is when I began to open my eyes to the person I really was instead of the facade I’d been portraying. Taking a walk down the streets of Cape May on a warm summer night after I just got done a shift at the Ugly Mug was when I first blurted the words “I think I could be gay”. Even then I was in denial, and still so consumed with how people would react. The tall, adorable, and handsome ginger I was walking with and confiding to that night had already gone through the process of coming out. He was (still to this day continues to be) my rock who knew the quickest way to cheer me up was to sing me show tunes.

After that summer was over and months of being in denial of trying to overcome my own internalized homophobia I was back at Millersville. I had recently broken up with my ex boyfriend, but still was sharing a dorm room with his sister (I still don’t know how I manage to get myself into such awkward scenarios). I was attempting to finally come into the shell of myself, while still keeping my private life private from some people which proved to be a difficult situation.

So, for the most part that semester was spent still in the closet up until before Christmas break. I was hanging out at my ex boyfriend’s apartment off campus drowning myself in tequila shots and watching Christmas movies. Some would say it was the tequila; I like to call it liquid courage (alcohol after all for so long was what I depended on to help ease me through situations) that had me on his front step crying my eyes out. In that moment, which I’ll never forget, I realized for so long I was living a lie and I could no longer take the unhappiness it was causing me. I was on the phone with my best friend at the time that had only come out to me over a year ago. Sometimes I think being surrounded by people who had to deal with a similar coming out process helped me conclude what I was afraid of admitting for so long. It was the beginning for me. It was the start of a continuous struggle of having to come out, but most important the start of no longer having to hide who I was.

Pretending to be something you are not, sucks. There is no other way to sugarcoat it. Going through life not being able to express fully who you are makes life feel dull in certain ways. It wasn’t until I began telling friends, family, and other loved ones the secret I had been holding back for so long that a weight felt lifted off of my shoulders. In some sense it was liberating, but also absolutely terrifying. The reason I stayed in the closet as long as I did was the fear of not being accepted, but I hit a point in my life where I wasn’t going to let that fear stop me from living my life to the fullest.

Letting any sort of fear have that kind of control over your life isn’t worth it in the end. The same goes for anyone in your life that can’t accept you for the person you know you are on the inside. Those who are meant to remain in your life will, and those that bring any negativity into your life in any way aren’t worth keeping around.

Being away at a school in a different state where no one really knows the person you were in high school helps a lot when dealing with coming out. There isn’t any needed explanation of telling someone “I’m gay”, it just is and the night continues. That’s more or less how my coming out at college went down. Within the same instance I knew exactly how gay I really was because nothing felt more natural and exciting than being with a girl for the first time. I was both awkward and giddy all in the same moment (those two adjectives sum me up completely). Coming out at college was easier for me than the rest of the process. I enjoyed that semester to the full extent, but soon came the time to go home for the summer and tell everyone that mattered to me back in my hometown something that I had been keeping quiet.

In terms of family coming out can be scary and difficult for a lot of reasons. From my personal experience and also observation from others religious or conservative beliefs are some of the major factors as to why people fear coming out to their family. There is also just the initial fear of how your loved ones will react to you revealing a piece of yourself that you’ve kept hidden. It’s complete vulnerability. I was always close to both of my sisters and dad, so revealing a part of me that I had been keeping tucked away was difficult. My sisters were a bit thrown off at first (I think their gaydar was broken or I was just really convincing at being “straight”) , but through everything they were completely supportive. I’m lucky enough to have sisters who no matter what life could throw at any one of us in the end it’s a bond that will never break.

The funniest and hardest part of my coming out process was telling my dad. Keeping things from him was a lot harder than the process of actually telling him I was gay. The one person I confide to about everything is my dad. This is where the hesitation and fear of telling him played out because of religious beliefs. I was sure because of religion he wouldn’t be able to accept me, regardless of how close we were. I’ve seen both sides play out, and thankfully I was lucky enough to receive unconditional love regardless of my orientation.

At first when I told him he I had something big to announce he threatened to kick me off the car insurance if I had received another ticket (I assured him it wasn’t anything so serious, but I’m really not that bad of a driver). I remember just kind of blurting it out and seeing the surprised look on his face followed by the words “You know you’re allowed to be catholic and still be gay”.

Not enough people who come out to parents from a strict religious background hear words like that, and I really wish those kids could hear what I got to. That who you are attracted to does not mean you are defected or no longer deserving of love.

My coming out story with my dad doesn’t end there. Much like my lazy eye, big ears, stubbornness, and hopeless romantic heart I also get my strange sense of humor from my dad. A few moments later on in the evening he went outside to wash his car and within a few seconds stormed through the front door. As he ran up the stairs I asked him what was wrong and he replied, “Well you literally surprised the shit out of me!” while holding his behind.

That was the beginning to an unforgettable summer. Each and everyone one of my friends that I came out to showed me nothing short of absolute support. I’ve learned it’s important to always surround yourself with people that are going to hold you above water and keep you a float. My first summer out of the closet in my hometown was filled with wonderful memories and it makes me realize I would never want my coming out story to be altered in anyway. I was surrounded by co-workers where during those long restaurant hours and busy shoobie nights transformed into family members. They held my hand through it all and kept a permanent smile on my face. I learned love and heartache that summer too, but then I wasn’t aware that it was merely the beginning of my story.

Coming out of the closet can be frightening, but when the time is right (only you know when that time is) a weight is lifted off of your shoulders. Life is filled with bumps in the road, but coming out isn’t a bump it’s a personal triumph. No matter how early or late you decide the time is right to come out, realize this is only the beginning. The rest of the journey isn’t a promise of paved roads, but this is the start of living life on the right side of the closet.