There’s something about a person who has endured great struggle and hardship. I’m not talking about those who are mired in the struggle, unable to ever fully extricate themselves from its depths. I’m referring to the people who take their struggle and turn it into growth opportunities, however unwillingly. The ones who take what seems to be an insurmountable problem and make it work for them.
There’s something raw, complex, and deeply beautiful about watching that sort of transformation, how it takes someone who is likely ordinary and turns them into something other.
I feel like I recognize those souls because mine has been through the same wringer. Well, not exactly the same. Our struggles may differ, but how it hones us seems oddly familiar. We often become more raw, more authentic, and begin embodying this fierce truth of who we are and what we need.
To those who haven’t been tried by these fires, it can be intimidating or even off-putting. We become outsiders because we can no longer go through the motions of a regular life. Instead, we’re diving deep into the ones we need, and it can make those who knew us before think we’ve changed beyond recognition.
The truth is somewhat different. It’s not that we’ve changed. It’s more that the masks we wore and all the things that we learned to be to cover our truest selves have fallen away. We’ve been tested in ways that we never expected to be- by life, by circumstances, and often by our own misguided choices.
And yet we’ve survived. We’ve even learned to thrive. Yes, we seem different, but it’s because we’re real now. And real isn’t comfortable, especially not when we have a society where reality television is scripted and everyone wants their entertainment to end in happy ever after. Reality is hard, and we might appear that way to someone who isn’t yet ready- and may never be ready- to reach in and find their own raw selves.
It would be easy at this point, with so many others shying away from who we’ve become, to feel a certain way about it. We could easily begin to pile on guilt and shame for having changed into something so unrecognizable simply by freeing ourselves to be real. It would be easy to go back through the motions of adapting a disguise to blend in with everyone else. We could try to forget the lessons we’ve learned and pick right up where we left off. We could certainly try.
But I think that once a sea change has happened, it’s tough to go back. I’ve never been able to personally close my eyes to things once they’re opened. It can make life more difficult in some ways, but in other ways, it frees us to be ourselves and to form relationships with other people who are being themselves.
We can connect in a way that the people who wear the veneer of something or someone else can never do. In fact, I often find that I connect with people like this quickly, at an almost visceral level. Our bonds tend to form fast and to go deep, and all of a sudden, this person I haven’t known long becomes essential to my life. We’re connected, bonded, and are able to enjoy an intimacy that wouldn’t be possible if we still had that filter. When we recognize each other, we often realize that it is safe to dive right in.
In those moments when we’re being criticized for our realness, we might forget just how beautiful our souls have become. We are capable and resilient simply by virtue of having taken all that life has thrown at us and turning it into art or beauty or knowledge. We’ve stood through one wave of struggle after another, even when we felt like we couldn’t survive another.
And yet here we are. So when someone tries to cast doubt on the result of all of that hardship, when they try to throw shade on just how far we’ve come, we have to remember that we came by this path not entirely by choice. We might have liked to stay safe and protected in the world we knew. But we are survivors, and there’s no shame in having taken ugly things in this world and making them beautiful.
Don’t ever doubt that it’s beautiful. Don’t ever question if being real and raw and authentic is worth it. Don’t ever let a safe soul make you feel like you’re less than extraordinary and powerful and almost unbearably strong. Heroes don’t always wear capes. Authentic living isn’t always applauded. But transforming out of the ashes is a gift, and it’s exactly what we’re meant to do.