The long tunnel to joy

In Colorado when you want to get from one side of a mountain to another, sometimes you have to drive through it. Not around it, not along the edge, but right through that giant rock holding all those trees and rivers and animals. The mountain stretches up, up, up to the sky and as you look back down to the road, you realize that they’ve carved out a relatively small crevice for your car to zip through to the other side.

Even if you don’t have claustrophobia, something about being out of the reach of daylight makes it seem possible that the mountain holding up that tunnel could crash in at any moment. Despite millions of dollars spent to hold up that tunnel or the hundreds of thousands of passengers who have traveled safely in and out of that space, I’m convinced the thought can’t escape even the most relaxed souls: you just might be the one the mountain caves in on. Of course, the tunnel never does collapse, and if you're like me when you reach the other side, with the Colorado blue sky above, you look over your shoulder and wonder, “That tunnel? Looks pretty solid to me.”

This past year and a half has been a lot about me emerging from that tunnel of my 20s and leaving it behind, even though its torture is so terribly familiar that it kind of feels comforting. But the reality is: I’ve never felt so unconditionally loved or free in all my life. The things that taunted and tormented me the most are now non-existent. It’s not even just a mental tick of dissociation that’s helped make it simply seem better. Things are really, really damn good in my life. I went to the mall last weekend and bought a $98 sweater from Madewell, and I don’t even feel compelled to hide that from you or justify it by saying I used a coupon and that I have a big event this month where I’ll need a sweater to keep me warm. I bought it because it was beautiful and because I don’t own a warm sweater like it and because we have the money to meet my needs.

This year I have moved on from jobs that were not fulfilling me creatively, and I didn’t suffer financially. In fact, when I stopped working with a lot of clients to make room for a select few, I moved into a downtown apartment with stunning views of Dallas and have eaten at numerous amazing restaurants. I’ve had spa days at the Ritz and W Hotel, respectively. I’ve had diamond pieces designed from family jewelry. And I’ve spent a tremendous amount of money experimenting in the kitchen with expensive food that someone shopped for me and brought to the door of my 19th floor apartment. I get my hair dyed and cut on the regular. I bought all the makeup I’ve been running low on—in one trip to Sephora and not piecemeal because of a restrictive budget. And I don’t think life has gone one week without fresh flowers from Lee, from Whole Foods or somewhere else.

On top of it all, I held out for the dream boat of my wildest dreams and he's here, y'all. And we're getting married in December. All those years of the dating tunnel, I didn't casually dismiss what I wanted and chalk it up to "Welp, marriage is hard work" as a way to assuage some instinctive feeling that I was dating the wrong person. I dropped those assholes (sometimes with help from VERY smart women in my life and sometimes from veritable angels in heaven proper). It wasn't so much that I knew my own personal worth or had amazing self esteem either, but I did know what I'd fought for to find some semblance of peace in my life as an adult--and I'd be damned if I brought someone INTO my life that took that beauty away. I also knew what resignation sounded like; I knew what emotional manipulation felt like; and I knew (from lots of right turns and wrong turns) what I needed in a partner to build a life I could be satisfied with. Lee and I have talked about how we thought we'd have to find someone who was "just OK" and truthfully we hadn't been in super hopeful places the day we met for a business lunch. But as Lee said, "It was all the right feelings and also knowing where I was weak and needed someone to be strong." See, y'all? He's a Dreamboat Supreme.

The weird thing is that in the midst of ALL this goodness, I have become tremendously scared of death. In fact, for the first two months of being engaged, I felt overwhelming feelings of impending doom and death. I cried most days, actually. I don’t think it’s all bad or a sign that I have something tremendously wrong with me. Death, in a weird way, is a reminder to breathe in what I have today because nothing is guaranteed tomorrow. But I also think this recurring theme of death is a sign that I’m looking for the bad to return more than for the good to remain. And that’s quite self-defeating if I want to create a life of appreciation and contribution.

The thing is, this life is good, y’all. And I’m tremendously blessed. And I'm writing this to remind myself about all that goodness and so you can remind me of it, too. This weekend was another great, big reminder of that juicy happiness that just seems to float around me these days. Lee and I were surrounded by friends and family who love and support us at a couples shower in north Dallas—and the resounding message from everyone was, “You’ve always been the folks in the background, helping and taking care of others. It’s your turn now.”

So this tunnel analogy, as commonplace as it may be, is the easiest way for me to tell Lee and those closest to me when anxiety is creeping in, when the tunnel feels like it’ll cave in soon. When this happens, they know to hold my hands and pull me back to the other side so I can stop thinking about the mountain falling to pieces and start looking at how the mountain stands tall and strong. And that it hasn’t caved in once before and that the sun is waiting to shine on me, if I turn my face toward its gaze.