Creating a Bright Side

On February 15th, 2009, I woke up to the sound of my mom crying. My dad had just taken his last breath in their bedroom, and he was gone. That was the last day I saw his physical body, and the first day of some of the most challenging, lonely, tear-filled times.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve made it a mission to look on the bright side of things. I spent a long time embracing the victim mentality, and it got me nowhere fast. I try my hardest to not waste any more time doing that. I’ve found that the more I try to do that, the easier it is.

I’m sick with a fever but I have a job that allows me to rest, and an attentive husband who spoils me. 

I hurt my knee and haven’t been able to run for a while but I got to discover incline power walking… and that’s an underrated workout.

I hit a pole in the parking garage and damaged our beautiful new car but I didn’t hit anyone else’s car and no one was hurt, which makes the situation much more manageable.

Looking on the bright side is certainly not always my first instinct and god knows I’m not always happy-go-lucky, but I’ve really made an effort to try. When you take time to acknowledge the good things in your life, it’s incredibly hard to feel sorry for yourself.

That being said… February 15th always sucked. It just did. I’ve always tried to embrace Valentine’s Day wholeheartedly because it gets me into a loving, grateful mood just in time for this day, but it never worked. I tried looking at pictures of my dad to remember all of our wonderful memories, but that just made me cry more. I tried to plan activities from sun up to sun down to stay busy, but I ended up just going through the motions. I tried my best not to dwell on the details of that horrible morning – and the days leading up to it – but I can’t help it. It’s just always been a really shitty day.

Until last year!

Last year, I decided that since I can’t find a bright side, I might as well just freaking make one. I woke up and pulled out my laptop to get some writing done, but somehow found myself crying instead of working. Jeremy was at work and I was restless and sad. Something came over me (seriously, I don’t even know how it happened), and before I could blink I was in the car on the way to the animal shelter.

Jack came home with me that day. In fact, he was in my passenger seat before I even told Jeremy we were dog parents times two. There was no careful planning or discussion, which I truly don’t normally endorse in a relationship, but no one would’ve been able to talk me out of it anyways. I spent my February 15th snuggling a new little rescue pup, purchasing a tiny little collar, and making space for another crate in our very cozy apartment.

Today when I woke up, my first emotion wasn’t grief. I got to roll over and yell, “HAPPY ONE YEAR, JACK!” as he excitedly pawed my face. We’re obviously getting him a birthday cake to split with his brother, and I’m overly excited for that. He’s sound asleep in my lap as I write this, and his calming, cuddly personality is exactly what I needed last year, and what I need today.

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I’m still a believer in looking on the bright side. Your quality of life is so much better when you’re able to change your perspective and focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

However… we’re not superhuman. Sometimes life is really hard. In that case, be proactive and do something that will make things better. Create your own damn bright side!

Side note: you don’t have to adopt a chubby little dog, but that’s what worked for me! 🙂

 

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Dear 16-Year-Old Me

Dear 16-year-old Caroline…

It’s me, A.K.A. you, but 11 years older and a whole lot wiser. First off, stop going in tanning beds right this minute and don’t let anyone talk you into getting bangs. Just trust me. With that out of the way, here are a few other things to keep in mind as you navigate the insane world of high school, college, and early adulthood. Seriously, even if you don’t take advice from anyone else, listen to some advice from YOUR DAMN SELF.

There’s something to that peaks and valleys metaphor.

Yes, duh, you already know that your life will have plenty of peaks and valleys. EVERYONE experiences both, and you’ve heard that a million times. However, one of the most important things you’ll ever learn is that everyone will have their highs and lows at different times. When you’re up and your friend is down, love on them a little extra and don’t flaunt your good fortune. When you’re down and they’re up, congratulate them and cheer for them, even if (deep down) you feel painfully jealous. Don’t be a fair weather friend. On that note, pay attention to the people who support you in the valleys and celebrate with you during life’s peaks. They are the MVPs.

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Don’t ignore your gut feelings about certain people and situations.

One of the worst habits that you’ll pick up – and maintain through college – is silencing your intuition and discounting your gut feelings. You’ll get into the habit of drinking your way through uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing situations, which doesn’t lead to anything good. If it feels painful to show up to a certain party or place without pregaming… maybe that scene isn’t for you. If you can’t hang out with someone without a buzz, that person probably isn’t meant to be in your life. When something makes you feel uneasy, don’t be afraid to say no thanks.

That being said, don’t avoid every situation out of your comfort zone. Give everything a chance! It’s perfectly normal to sometimes feel awkward and out of place. In fact, a lot of these situations will challenge you and help you grow… but not if you’re blindly masking your jitters with alcohol. Trust me on this one.
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Trust your timeline, and scratch the idea of the “perfect story.”

Your life is not going to be picture perfect, and you’re going to be better for it. Scratch the idea of marrying a high school or college sweetheart ­­– trust me, you’ve got someone better in your future. Change your image of success. Get over the idea that you must check off a certain achievement by a certain age. Seriously, just kill the idea of having a neat and tidy little path, because that’s not going to happen. Between you and me, that would be so boring anyway.
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Embrace who you are & don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

The first part is the biggest cliché… but it’s overused for a reason. It’s so easy to look around at the people who surround you and make a laundry list of traits that you think you need to have. Be “chill” with guys so they’ll like you. Be loud and unfiltered for laughs. Be mean so no one messes with you. Be cynical, because that’s “real.”

Sure, sometimes you can be those things. Sometimes you’ll naturally be the loudest girl in the room, and sometimes your sassy or cynical side comes out. However, don’t feel like you need to be a certain way 100% of the time. Don’t play a role. It’s okay to also be sensitive, sappy, quiet, and vulnerable. It’s okay to admit you have hurt feelings instead of going on the attack. It’s okay to ditch the Chelsea Handler persona and just be you. PaperSphinx_Eucalyptus_11b

Invest in your friendships. Be obsessively grateful for the people in your life.

You don’t do everything just right, but you do have a knack for picking good freaking friends. Cherish the people in your circle. Of course there will be bumps in the road, but those friends will be invaluable when you need them the most. Tell your friends how much they mean to you, and tell them often. It’s inevitable that friendships will naturally fade away over time, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t real. One day, you’ll miss the times when friends would enter your childhood home without knocking. Love on your tribe.
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You have the best parents in the world.

You cannot comprehend how lucky you are right now. You will not fully comprehend the gift you’ve been given until years later, when you get out into the “real world.” Your parents have given you everything you could possibly need and more – show your gratitude. Thank your mom for editing your papers and hug your dad when he makes you chocolate chip pancakes. Bite your tongue when you’re in a bad mood and want to lash out. They will not be here forever, and one day there will be no more hugs or thank-you’s. Don’t have regrets.

PaperSphinx_Eucalyptus_11b Take note of the things you’re doing when you lose track of time.

Seriously, pay attention to the stuff that gets you excited. Chase those things. Grow your passions and build your life around the stuff that you love, rather than pursuing the stuff that looks good on paper. Spoiler alert: You really can make a career out of the stuff you love doing, and that doesn’t need to be a 9-to-5 office job. Think outside the box.
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It’s OK to be the person who cares more.

There is nothing embarrassing about expressing your genuine emotions. It’s okay to be the person who is most enthusiastic or most smitten. It’s perfectly fine to tell someone if they hurt your feelings. It’s okay to tell someone what they mean to you, even if it might not be returned. It’s okay to feel things intensely, and your feelings are valid. Show up and put your cards on the table, and don’t apologize for caring a lot.

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You don’t need to have an opinion on everything, and you’re NOT always right!

You have a big mouth and you… enjoy being right. That hasn’t changed in 11 years. However, you don’t need to have an opinion on everything and life definitely isn’t always black and white. Some of your core beliefs at 16-years-old will change as you gain life experience and see more of the world. You are very sheltered, and you’re very wrong about some things. I BEG YOU, learn the value of keeping an open mind and a closed mouth.

I’m now 27 years old and learning more every day. When I start to feel like I have everything figured out, I get a new wake-up call that reminds me I don’t. Let yourself evolve. Celebrate your victories but don’t get cocky. Mourn your losses but don’t be a victim. You couldn’t guess in a million years what the future holds for you, but I promise it’s better than you could ever imagine.

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Find What Resonates

A while ago, after I posted my 1,000 Days of Sobriety blog post, a friend made the comment along the lines of, “Thank God you’re an alcoholic so you have something to write about.” I was a little offended – my husband was a lot offended, bless him – but I mostly brushed it off… that person kind of had a point.

It’s planted a little self-doubt in my head, though. Am I beating a dead horse? Yes, Caroline, you’re sober. YAY YOU! Move along. Should I really write about it so much? Why do I feel so called to share?

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Champagne Toasts

Alcoholism, or any addiction really, is an insane thing. No matter how chaotic life is or how glaringly bad the problem gets, you can’t see the mess until you’re out of it. You’ll make excuse after excuse, rationalize the most irrational things, and pretend everything is completely fine. Until you finally, finally get the gift to see that it’s not. It’s not fine, it hasn’t been fine, and something needs to change.

One day, when I was 24 and sitting in group therapy, I had a strange internal dialogue. A woman was speaking to the group. She was much older than me, a divorcee with a string of DUIs and a broken family. She had been drinking for longer than I had been alive. A thought popped into my head.

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5 Things I’ve Learned (and Loved) About Being Engaged

When we got engaged in November, a lot of people told me to ~enjoy this special time~ and soak it all in. To be honest, I usually rolled my eyes when I heard that. I was pretty open about wanting a shorter engagement and simply wanting to be married. I don’t like planning things – seriously, I freeze up if I have to pick a restaurant for a girl’s dinner – and to me, “being engaged” just meant “planning a wedding.”

With eleven days to go until the BIG DAY (!!!), I am happy to report that these past ten months were a lot more special than I anticipated, and I learned a lot more than just how to create a wedding seating chart. Here are the top five.

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Lukewarm Is No Good

“I began to realize how important it is to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all, become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” –Roald Dahl

A few weeks ago, my friend Kelly Boylan invited me to be a part of an amazing project called “I’ve Got Your Back.” To say I was thrilled is an understatement. Kelly is incredibly talented and I had already binge read all of her IGYB interviews before she asked me to be a part of it. In Kelly’s words, “I’ve Got Your Back” is “inspired by my own journey with self-acceptance. It’s inspired by my feminist beliefs and a desire to build sisterhood and community. It’s inspired by the beautiful women in my life. Each woman photographed is an inspiration in her own way.”

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Teaching People How To Treat You

Yesterday, I had two conversations that stuck with me. They were completely different, but they both put me in that introspective mood that had my wheels turning all night.

The first conversation was with a woman who was upset with her boyfriend. His social media usage (specifically towards other women) bothered her, but she didn’t want to seem petty or “psycho” by asking him to stop liking/commenting/following other women on his various apps.

The second conversation was with a friend who had received an uncomfortable and hurtful comment about her body. She brushed it off at the time because the situation was so unpleasant, but privately she was in complete distress over it.

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