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I am obsessed with graphic tees. I love how expressive they can be and, if you pay close attention, provide inside information about its wearer. And for someone like me who hates having to describe things, a meaningful artistic expression splashed across my chest conveys a thought or belief or feeling almost immediately. We’ve all heard the saying, “Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.” This phrase got me to thinking about what would my ‘been there’ shirt say. What would yours say? More importantly, would we have the courage to wear them publicly, opening ourselves up to biting judgment and ridicule? I don’t know about you, but I have more that enough experiences filled with regret, heartache, and pain I would prefer to keep in the back of my closet next to that ugly Christmas sweater. I also have wonderful experiences I would gladly wear out like my favorite pair of sweats. 

When I think back on all of the experiences I’ve already had in life it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around them. Some are common experiences like the awkwardness of adolescence or the lasting ache that comes from losing your first love. Some experiences are unique like when I was a passenger in an auto accident involving a motorcycle where the driver ended up, head first, on the windshield/roof and I watched him die. I even remember the shoes he had on. Or when I got the highest standard 8 test score in the entire state of Texas when I was in kindergarten. They wanted to advance me two grades but my mother wouldn’t allow them to. 

Sometimes our experiences are exceptional and wonderful like when I had the opportunity to live in London, England for a year or when I went through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ temple for my endowment. Other times our experiences sucker punch us in the gut causing such excruciating agony even their scars have a bite like when I was raped when I was 14 or I was homeless and living on the streets. 

There are experiences I have had that if they were a shirt I wouldn’t keep it in the back of my closet but I’d burn that bitch to the ground and drown the ashes away with water. While I want nothing more than to forget certain parts of my life, myself, I have come to learn all of my experiences contribute to who I am and who I want to be. Accepting what has really happened to me in life, along what I have done, brings me to an honest place of strength where I am capable of  building a future instead of trying to fix the past. Instead of trying to make scars disappear I’m learning to use them to create beauty. I may not be able to erase the horrors torn through my shirts, I can use the shreds to stitch together new shirts saying what I want them to say with the power and freedom to wear them where and when I choose. 

I’m at a loss to adequately describe how simply having this knowledge is in itself incredibly healing. You can’t unbreak your leg but it doesn’t mean you’ll never walk again. I can almost guarantee those first steps will faulter and hurt so much you’ll be certain you’re doomed to crawling around for the rest of your life. But I’m going to share a secret with you I desperately wish someone would’ve let me in on years ago – there is no escaping the pain life abundantly gives us, especially pain acquired from trauma. Not only that, when we try to get out of or numb the pain through alcohol or drugs or even simple avoidance (my personal favorite) we’re ADDING to it like a festering infectious wound. 

Please, don’t allow your sorrows keep you from walking away from them. Have the courage to allow yourself to feel their burn, using their flames to ignite your steps. Because the pain will never subside until it is felt trying to rid yourself of it without experiencing it is only delaying the inevitable and keeping you face first in the ground. Knowing you’re using your pain to get you somewhere gives it purpose which makes it bearable. I’ll take that; if I can’t avoid hurting or make it go away, by all means, tell me how to get through it. 

I cry more now than I ever have before and at the most inopportune times; like when I’m on the bus on my way home from work or shopping in a crowded mall. Before I would stuff those drops back into their ducts and super glue the hatch. Now I wade straight into their salty waters and I rarely end up in the deep end. I slosh on through and then get back to my shopping. Here’s the positive side of my secret – by allowing yourself to feeling hurt and experiencing pain you create a greater capacity to feeling happiness and experiencing joy. JOY. What is more beautiful than light, love, and laughter? Since there is opposition on all things the greater your depths of suffering goes the greater your depths for love and joy goes. 

As it took time to create your battle wounds , give yourself the time needed to reach those chasms. Time, by the way, does not heal all wounds. In fact, time can make those wounds deeper and cause additional pain; however, it takes time to make each individual step. It is those steps, not time itself, providing the healing balm needed. 

Most days I’m limping along when I’d rather be running, especially when I see others who live in warm, happy homes or having deep, meaningful relationships. But then I remind myself comparison is the thief of joy, a huge stumbling block, and remember I was once covered in mud. I begin to wonder what their t-shirt would say and would I want to wear it. No matter how much I have or will experience it will never be the same as them, as you, because we’re all individuals wearing custom made t-shirts instead of a generic “one-size-fits-all”. Which is why I adore graphic tees and the stories they share. And I want to hear them all, even if I’ve been there and done that. 

So, can I borrow your t-shirt?