Ugly Duckling: The Quest to Finding Home

“Sometimes owning our pain and bearing witness to struggle means getting angry. When we deny ourselves the right to be angry, we deny our pain. There are a lot of coded shame messages in the rhetoric of “Why so hostile?”. “Don’t get hysterical,” “I’m sensing so much anger!” and “Don’t take it so personally.” All of these responses are normally code for Your emotion or opinion is making me uncomfortable or Suck it up and stay quiet. 

Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick. Internalizing anger will take away our joy and spirit; externalizing anger will make us less effective in our attempts to create change and forge connection. It’s an emotion that we need to transform into something life-giving: courage, love, change, compassion, justice.” Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Oceanside Sunday

The last night I spent with him, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned in every direction, until the panic set in. The I can’t breathe, it feels like I have an elephant sitting on my chest panic. At one point during the night, he pulled me in closer and said, “I feel at peace.” I stared at the ceiling. Having dealt with panic attacks for years, I know exactly what to do to calm myself down when one sets in. I have this little gift (and curse) to be able to maintain a calm and collected exterior regardless of my internal state. As a matter of fact there have been times where I have been profusely bleeding or have been caught in a door and calmly asked for assistance because it was required. In situations where I feel that I can handle something on my own, I usually don’t share with anyone nor say a word.

And there I was in his bed – listening to the sound of the ocean – wondering why I felt so lonely, worthless, and useless in his presence. Why don’t I feel this empty around other people? Why do I feel so anxious around him? Why do I feel like I can’t be myself around him? Why do I feel like it wouldn’t be acceptable or allowed? But most importantly, if I feel this way, why the hell am I here? Why did I trigger my own panic attack? Do I stick around because I know his family? Because we met as teenagers? What does time have to do with anything?

“We can spend our entire life betraying ourself and choosing fitting in over standing alone. But once we’ve stood up for ourself and our beliefs, the bar is higher. A wild heart fights fitting in and grieves betrayal.” Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

I started to slow my breathing down. Little by little I took breaths that consisted of 4 second inhales and 4 second exhales. Eventually, I was able to take breaths that consisted of 8 second inhales and 8 second exhales. Those 8 seconds breaths, kicked in a little before 5AM, and I understood that that was my cue to leave. It was safe for me to drive. I remember opening the door to his apartment and being greeted by beautiful, chilly air. Sigh. What a relief. I walked to my car, caught a 1 hour nap at my place and went on with my day.

For the coming days, I focused on trying up all the loose ends at my previous job. Checking items off my to-do list felt stabilizing and grounding. At night, I would follow my routines, and process what would be my last experience with him. I sat with the discomfort that the entire experience brought forth and after breathing, holding space, and meditating, all I felt was intense anger – rage – an all consuming fire. I came to the conclusion, that it was time to let him go. A few days after, I let him know that I no longer wanted to be part of his life. And I also didn’t want him to be part of mine.

“When I asked a large group of eighth graders to break into small teams and come up with the differences between fitting in and belonging, their answers floored me:

  • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or another.
  • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
  • If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness


As soon as I let him go, I felt a deep sense of relief. That was about a month ago and I’m only settling deeper into a state of peace. I took a plunge into the wilderness and it paid off. I will find my people. I kept and keep saying to myself over and over and over.

“I want the payoff for braving the wilderness to be some kind of ritual or symbol that says, I’m part of this wild heart club. I know what it means to stand alone and brave the criticism, fear, and hurt. I know the freedom of belonging everywhere and nowhere at all. The reward is great, but believe me, when Maya Angelou said “the price is high” – she was not kidding. I have made this quest and I have the scars to prove it.

But the wilderness doesn’t issue membership cards. A wild heart is not something you can always see – and yet it is our greatest spiritual possession.”

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

“And as much as we value “going it alone” and as much as we sometimes gather together for the wrong reasons, in our hearts we want to believe that despite our differences and despite the need to brave the wilderness, we don’t always have to walk alone.” Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Yesterday at the beach (as evidenced by my photo and video), I was sitting while finishing Dr. Brown’s book. A group of guys were about to play a game in the sand. Prior to starting their game, one of the guys approached me and asked, Would it bother you if we played our music? He was already hot, but him asking that question took him from hot to irresistible in a matter of seconds. Want to know why? That simple act showed that this human being, although a stranger, respects my boundaries. In all honesty, I could have cared less! I was almost done with the book and it’s a public beach! Do as you please, sir! And as a cherry on top, I really enjoyed their EDM playlist!

When I was in seventh grade, my mother gifted me a magnet that said: Stand for your principles even if you stand alone. This wild heart of mine has been years in the making. My mother, though her many limitations, was the first person to instill within me the importance of willing to stand alone. For my readers that are curious/don’t know, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Spanish is my first language (though I started learning English at the age of 3). In Spanish, we have a phrase that says: Es mejor estar solo que mal acompañado. It translates into, it is better to be alone than surrounded by bad company. Because as Professor Brooks used to say (my favorite undergrad professor: are the company you keep. 

Willing to stand alone when you are already feeling lonely, can be heart shattering. It can make leaving unhealthy situations that much more difficult. But from my own experience, the pain doesn’t compare to spending a lifetime “trying to fit in”.  (I’m about to get woo-woo on ya!) Here’s what experience has taught me (I’ve walked away from plenty things before!): The universe rewards an authentic heart. You may have to brave the wilderness for a couple of days, weeks, months, sometimes even years, but when you stand strong in what you are, you are sending a loud message to your people, to your kind – you are making space to find where you belong. 

Transversing the wilderness can sometimes make us feel defeated. However, do you remember the story of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen? The Ugly Duckling continued seeking and searching. He embarked on (a hero’s) journey, and sought to find somewhere to truly belong. Though he faced many obstacles along the way (and tried to fit in plenty), eventually he found his way home. Only to find out that he was a beautiful swan all along. He had just been trying to fit into the wrong spaces.

“I’ll leave you with this. There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through uncertainty. Someone, somewhere will say, “Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.” This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, “I am the wilderness.” Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

As the central weaving peace to this book, Dr. Brown shared a Maya Angelou quote:

You are only free when you realize you

belong no place – you belong every place – 

no place at all. The price is high. The reward 

is great.

It is when you truly belong to yourself, that you finally realize you’re not alone.