For the past year, I have written about leaving a life of should. I have shared how I did what my father wanted me to do, how other traumatic events molded who I was, and how my whole life was about pleasing other people. Now I want to talk about coming out of the closet—but it’s not what you think. I’m not talking about my sexual orientation, although I do identify as queer, I’m talking about a larger closet that encompassed all of who I was. The closet that was filled with thoughts that controlled me and allowed others to control me. It was the closet of should.
The closet was so dark that I didn’t even remember what light was, and I could no longer see myself. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I felt trapped. I didn’t realize I was in a closet and I didn’t know life outside of it.
When I started to overcome the thoughts that had kept me in it and decided that, regardless of how bad it was outside, I was going to leave, other thoughts came to keep me there. “If you leave, you’ll lose all of your friends, you’ll lose your business, you’ll lose everything.”
The closet is better referred to as a dungeon, but when I was in it, it didn’t scare me. It seemed normal because it’s what I knew. The more time I spent outside, though, the more I realized how much the closet had sucked. It’s like a toothache—you don’t realize how much it hurt until the tooth is removed and you no longer feel the pain. The pain had been increasing every day and every year, but I got used to it, then I got used to more pain, and on and on. Unlocking the door of the closet, which was locked from inside, and stepping out into the light, I was ready to pursue my life and figure out who the heck I was.
Getting out of the closet was a huge decision and a big leap. I remember the moment when something I knew deep inside came out of my mouth. It was the realization that I would never be able to live my true life and be happy if I stayed in the situation I was in. I realized I could free myself from a life of should. That not only could I do it, but that I was going to do it, no matter the cost.
I was finally willing to give up everything for the one person in my life who was worth it, me. And through that choice and others to follow, I learned to rely on myself and not look to society or those around me to dictate who I should be. I had to have the radical faith that I would be alright and leap into the unknown.
What’s cool about taking a leap like this is that when I was brave enough to take it, all the resources I needed appeared exactly when I needed them. I felt like the universe was converging to help me find my way, but I had to take that first, most difficult step. I had to choose me. With each decision after the leap, I became stronger. The muscle of relying on and listening to myself got bigger.
Be warned: it’s a sneaky closet, and you yourself may be in it right now without realizing because it’s comfortable and familiar. You might wonder as you read this, “Oh crap! Am I in a closet? And if so, how do I get out?”
Maybe you aren’t stuck completely. Maybe you only slip in when you visit family or are around certain people, then you squash down who you really are into a little box and shove it under your bed. The way you can tell is how it feels. Being outside of the closet in the light may feel a little scary, but it always feels like freedom. The closet can feel comfortable or safe or easier, but it never feels like freedom. To live an authentic life requires courage and facing fears, but it’s worth it.
If it’s so difficult, why would anyone want to do what it takes to get out of the closet? Because you are meant to do and be more—we all are. We can’t do the things that we’re meant to do until we escape. I expended an immense amount of my energy living a life of should, and once I stepped out of that life, I was free to do so many other wonderful things that not only bring me joy, but make a difference in the world. I had always been passionate about raising money for charities, but who was I to think that I could start an initiative that would directly impact underprivileged kids? I had stayed small and just didn’t have the bandwidth.
Coming out of the closet of should is my proudest accomplishment. Spitting in the face of what I was supposed to do was the bravest thing I’d ever done and the most important.
This year, I’ll share the many lessons I’ve learned living my best life. I feel more joy and more positively impact those around me. What the world really needs from all of us right now is kindness, and that starts at home with ourselves.
Sandy Eichel is a happy ex-should-er.