When the Safest Thing You Can Do is Let Go



“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Joline BaylisMy life over the last few years has undergone changes that are nothing short of miraculous. When I look back at myself three years ago, I have a hard time seeing any resemblance to the person I am today. I spent most of my 20’s in a daze, a stranger to myself, living with a partner who never understood me, for whom I had twisted and molded myself into a grotesque charade of the person I thought I had to be, and poisoning myself with Prozac to avoid facing the fact that everything about my life and the way I was living was utterly, terrifyingly wrong. I had gained over 100 lbs from the medication, and from spending all my time sitting at a desk job by day and watching TV in bed at night. I detested myself, and I had resigned myself to a life that stretched out flat and unwavering before me. I remember saying to my best friend during one of my rare honest conversations with her, “I guess this is just how my life is going to be. I always thought it’d be different, but I guess this is just what happens when you get older. I guess this is just gonna be it.”

Prior to that I had always been a passionate, fiercely emotional and creative person. I’ve always loved singing, writing songs and poetry. Every moment was a chance to learn, to ponder, to devour life’s experiences and gifts, and dig my hands deep into the mysteries of the heart and mind. During those dark years, I would remember my younger self, and marvel at how easily I had allowed myself to be consumed and transformed, how quickly and completely I had destroyed myself. I had always seen myself as a strong and powerful individual. But the fear of being alone, a lack of belief in myself, desire for security and a misguided sense of obligation had me clinging for my very survival to things that were slowly but surely killing me, both metaphorically and literally. The days, months and years bled together as I trudged through a pharmaceutical fog that obscured my sight and turned my thoughts to a constant, droning loneliness I couldn’t explain. If you ever asked me, I would say, “I’m fine.” I was drowning in denial. I was heading for a staggering collapse.

That collapse was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I was in my office at work one day, on my lunch break, with the lights turned off, headphones in, listening to music and staring blindly into the darkness. Suddenly, a song came on (this song as luck would have it), and somewhere deep inside me, something broke. The walls I’d spent years building to contain and protect myself crumbled into dust, and I found myself looking straight at a sickening truth. I saw for the first time, clearly, what I had done to myself and how far off-track I had gone. I called out in surrender, pleading with a God I hadn’t felt in years, to help me. I couldn’t see how it was even possible to salvage the life I had ruined. I had no idea where to start, but I was ready to let go and admit that I had made a huge mess of it all, and I prayed that somehow something would show me how to get back on the right track.

At that moment, everything changed. I feel like the three years since that moment have been an accelerated process of growth and rebirth. Life answering the desperate call I made in that office. I left the suburbs and the relationship, moved to Vancouver. I went off the Prozac, started running regularly, lost most of the weight I’d gained, and started to rebuild the person I thought I’d damaged beyond repair. I began to make friends, started going out to see live music as often as I could, and I started to feel a twinge, a desire to perform again, to join the community of artists that is so vibrant and alive in the East Vancouver neighborhood in which I found myself. But I felt like an outsider, with nowhere near enough courage to join in. I watched from the sidelines for a while, but I could feel the itch getting more persistent.

After about a year, on the Thursday before my 30th birthday, I worked up the courage to get up on stage at an open mic at Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive. I was terrified, and completely convinced that I would be ridiculed and sent packing back to Surrey. I was too old, too fat, not pretty enough, not “cool” enough, not talented enough. I did not deserve to be there. I did not belong. But I did it anyway. If there was one thing my experiences over the last decade had taught me, it was to have a deep distrust for my own limiting fears. So I got up on stage and I faced my fear head on.

That first performance was… not bad. Probably about a 7. But it was another turning point for me. From that moment on, it seems like music has been drawing me deeper and deeper into its depths. In the two and a half years since I braved the open mic stage, I have met a staggering amount of incredible people, artists, musicians, many of whom I’ve played with, many of whom have become amazing friends, all of whom have inspired me and helped me to find my way to a life I had long since given up on entirely. I have played with a number of fantastic local bands, written a handful of original songs (that I actually like!), recorded an EP (with plans to record a full-length album this Fall), toured Northern BC and Alberta, and recently begun playing outside during the days down on Granville Island, which means for the first time in my life, I am making a living entirely off of music. If you had told me three years ago that I would be living the life I have today, I would not have believed it was possible.

Here’s a recording of one my early performances at the open mic:

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all fun and it’s not all easy. There are days when I don’t think I can handle the uncertainty, or when I still feel like I don’t have what it takes. When I left my relationship, I thought I would simply swap the “wrong guy” for the “right guy” and everything else would work itself out effortlessly. I had no idea what I was signing up for. After three years of being single, I’m not sure that I would have willingly set out on this journey if I’d known what awaited me. It can be lonely. But although I’m alone, at least I have a chance at being myself. When I’m on stage, all of the emotion, the volatility, the complexity that I tried to eliminate in myself, it’s all vital and welcome. It animates me, it draws people to me. I’ve seen the power in it. Sometimes all I can do is stand awestruck and quivering with gratitude when I comprehend the second chance I’ve been given.

(The first song I wrote in over 12 years! I can’t describe my relief when this song came around.)

And sometimes, I catch a glimpse of how far I still have to go. It is at once exhilarating and totally overwhelming. And even though I’ve seen first hand how devastating it can be to run from life’s challenges and take the easy way, I still find myself getting complacent. Looking for a safe place to rest, for some kind of satisfaction that will let me stop pushing, stand still, and relax. Lately, I’ve seen some warning signs. Some behaviours and habits that are eerily reminiscent of that stranger who wore my face for almost a decade. With music in particular, I’ve found myself hesitating, avoiding making a commitment. Leaving myself a clear exit path, lit with excuses, and always there as an option, should the going get too hard or the threat of failure and humiliation loom too large. When set out to find the way back to myself, I had no idea music would be such an integral part of that path. But it is. It will not be ignored. Every time I try to evade it, I find nothing but struggle. I feel the tension start to brew. I’m starting to understand that blossoming is a process that occurs again and again. These days, I try to recognize it sooner, and save myself the trouble of trying to avoid the inevitable.

Right now I have the sense that I am facing a new wave of growth and challenges. I have been resisting for a little while, sabotaging myself in subtle ways, and holding myself back out of fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown. I am committing myself to facing these fears and once again stepping off the ledge that I’ve been resting on. I think it’s about time I embarked on the next leg of the journey, and I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to share with you the things I learn along the way.

Sometimes confidence eludes you. You don’t believe you’re up for the challenges ahead. Sometimes you can’t even fake it. The only thing you know for sure is that you can’t stay still forever. And that knowledge keeps your feet moving, one in front of the other. It is enough.