Let Your Red Flags Fly

“A gentleman at the bar would like to buy your next round,” the bartender tells me. She leans close and whispers, “The guy behind me in the black shirt.” I glance over. He’s a handsome man, but doesn’t look like my type. Still, I figure what’s the harm, so I smile at him. She brings me the drink and after a few minutes he walks over to where I’m sitting. I’m not one for small talk, so the conversation quickly gets deep. Though I’m still not feeling chemistry, he’s a nice guy and we have a decent conversation. By this time his friends are ready to leave so they walk over on their way out. We all chat for a few minutes and of course I mention a few of the topics we’d been discussing—death, divorce, depression. One of his friends laughs and says, “Damn girl, don’t pull out all your red flags at once!” I immediately respond, “Why the fuck not?”

Most Likely to Succeed

You don’t notice your hair growing, until one day you realize you need a trim. Similarly, with spiritual growth, it takes looking back at where you were to realize how far you’ve come. This past year I chose to focus on authenticity. Being open and honest comes naturally to me now in most situations, but this definitely wasn’t always the case. In 1999 I graduated from high school as valedictorian and was voted most likely to succeed. I felt a lot of pressure to have something to show for myself when I attended my ten-year reunion. As the date approached, I took stock of my “success” so far. I had married my high school sweetheart; we had a dog, a cat, and a mortgage. We both worked day jobs at the university and hung out with friends at the local bars on weekends. I had all the right boxes checked off, but the truth is I was miserable. My mom had died just 2 years prior, which devastated me. I drank way too much, cried often and dreaded going to work every day. I had developed a dangerous addiction to self-harm and cut myself regularly. I hid the scars on my arms and legs just like I hid the scars on my heart. I tried to act like everything was fine, while inwardly berating myself. I was so afraid of people finding out what was going on inside my head because I knew they would all hate me if they did. My internal voice was constantly reminding me that I was flawed and unworthy. I thought being successful and having other people like me would make me like myself.

Unmasking the False Self

I was terrified to be found out, but also desperate to be seen, heard, and understood. I ached to speak my truth but didn’t dare act on it. I felt like I was flailing and yearned for a connection to something solid. I used to think the phrase “the answers are within you” was total bullshit. I remember once after making some trivial mistake, my inner voice screamed at me, “You’re so stupid. If the answers are within then why don’t you know them? There’s no way god or source or anything worthwhile is inside you, you’re a worthless piece of shit.” The words in my head came fast and furiously, telling me “you suck, you’re not enough, it’s your fault.” Suddenly I had an epiphany. This voice that was talking to me was speaking in second person. That meant it wasn’t me; it was something within me, but apart from me. Leave it to this overachiever to have a grammatical moment of clarity. This false self was hiding the real me. It was blocking the answers from me. That’s why I couldn’t access them. That sense of yearning, that pull, that thing I had been longing for all along was the one person whose love and acceptance I really needed. Myself.

Go Deep or Go Home

These days I can’t stay on the surface for long. In both friendships and relationships, if you hang around me, prepare to be pulled under. I’m showing up fully as myself and bringing it all to the table. I’m pulling red flags out of my purse like a mother fucking magician’s scarf so get ready. Unlike an illusion though, what you see is what you get. These so called red flags are my prayer flags of truth. I still have struggles, doubts, bad days. But deep down I know there is a part of me that is safe, strong, content, and peaceful. I’m not looking for someone to meet me where I am, I’m looking for others who meet themselves where they are, as I meet myself where I am. Only from that perspective can we truly meet one another.


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Erin Brandao

Erin Marie Brandao, E-RYT 500, teaches yoga and meditation in Dallas, TX. Raised by two teachers, she always felt the…

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