A Vacation, a Tragedy, & Lessons Learned

Photo Credit: Photobucket.com


“Seeds of faith are always within us;

sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” — Susan Taylor


(Once I was finished with this post, It took me a few days to decide to publish what I wrote–namely because I never intended something this personal to be seen by anyone’s eyes but my own– and it’s not the typical kind of post I put up on my blog. But finally, after giving it some more thought, I had a change of heart. You see, I know I’m not the only one who feels like they have a new appreciation of life after going through a tragic event. I hope you are able to find comfort in my words or perhaps you can even relate. Most importantly I hope this inspires you to do something to create your own peace. You don’t ever need to suffer alone.)


A person shouldn’t need a tropical vacation, a tragic death, or a catastrophic event to put their life into perspective–but that’s exactly what happened to many Bostonians and Americans this past week. The Boston Marathon Bombings took place just two weeks ago, and in the moments after those two explosions tore through the Boylston Street crowds, most of us felt the same flash of fear we experienced on that fateful September day back in 2001. It’s a fear we can recall far too well, and here we were feeling it all over again. In an instant, we knew our lives would never be the same.


I heard about the horrific news thousands of feet in the air on a flight headed back to Boston after spending a week-long vacation with my boyfriend in Aruba. We’d never been anywhere tropical before, so this romantic trip was quite the treat. After seven solid days of worrying about nothing but what time to get to the beach and which bar to go to for happy hour… our minds and bodies were thrilled to be rid of everyday worries and work-related stress.


For the first time in a very long time I felt relaxed.

I felt like I could breathe.

I felt I felt like I could see.

It was pure paradise.


As I sat there on the plane basking in happiness, recalling how how free and happy I felt lounging on the beach under the sun, and remembering how friendly, free, and happy everyone else seemed to be while on the island,  I made a promise to myself: I vowed to smile more, stress less, and choose happiness over anger whenever I could. I wasn’t going to let the little things get the best of me anymore. Finally it was clear to me–


Choose happiness and happiness will follow you.

After all, life is too short to be anything but happy.


Little did I know that while I was dozing in and out of sleep, terror was unfolding below me. I heard about the tragedy when the woman seated next to me on the plane gave me a nudge and told me there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line. I immediately started to panic about my friends, family, and co-workers who were running the marathon or planned to head to the finish line and cheer on the runners. Slowly, whispers turned to chatter and that chatter became louder and louder and more and more worried as everyone on the plane flipped off their movies and flipped on the news. Everyone just wanted to get back to Boston as soon as possible, but our plane was unable to land due to emergency  flight restrictions. We hovered above Providence for what seemed like forever until we got the okay to head to Logan.


The airport was crazy. People were understandably confused and on edge. We soon discovered that the MBTA had just shut down and everyone would need to wait in line to take taxis home. Luckily, we were able to share a cab with a student headed the same direction as us. I feverishly texted and called my friends and family the whole ride home. Thankfully, all were accounted for–but all was not okay. America had been attacked. My gut told me this was just the beginning.


It’s a strange feeling going from the highest of a high to the lowest of a low in such a short period of time, but as soon as I started to understand the magnitude of the bombings…I couldn’t even remember the beauty of Aruba or remember how I at peace I felt when I was there. In an instant, three people were dead and dozens more were injured and all I could think about was what an awful world we lived in lived in.


It felt like a bad dream, and it didn’t stop there. Boston and its surrounding towns went into lockdown last Friday after the bombing suspects murdered an MIT police officer in cold blood, hijacked a car, engaged in intense firefight and car chase with the police, (resulting in the death of one of the suspects) before staging an all out manhunt after the surviving suspect fled from his stolen vehicle on foot and hid in the neighborhoods of Watertown before being caught almost 24 (grueling) hours later. I didn’t know what else to do with myself in the days of nonstop television coverage that followed after last week’s events, but as soon as the investigations, car chases, shootouts, and lockdowns came to an end and the chaos momentarily subsided (and as soon as I could peel myself away from the TV for the first time in days), I knew I had to numb my mind with something that made me feel alive. After all, I’m lucky to be alive. We’re ALL so lucky to be alive.


And so I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote…


Photo Credit: npr.org


As I sit down at my computer and open up new, blank, blog post– ready to let the floodgates open after enduring one of the straight up scariest weeks of my life, I’m overcome with feelings of anger and frustration followed by a strange sense of self-awareness and peace. I hesitate to call these feelings an epiphany of sorts, because I can’t help but feel like that sounds WAY too preachy and dramatic– but perhaps it is a small miracle when you’re suddenly able to grasp onto new life meaning and see the soft, glow of hope and light through the heavy darkness. I suddenly saw my life through a different lens. But before I jump right into what changed, allow me to give you some background about me before all of this…


“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” –Walter Hagen


Those who know me best would most likely describe me as strong, friendly, committed, and dependable–but they would also probably label me as high-strung, hardworking, slightly obsessive, with perfectionist tendencies– aka “Type A” to the max. Don’t get me wrong, none of these traits are necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this “Type A” personality trait has been one of my greatest assets and has helped me to achieve many things in my 26 years– but at the same time, it’s also been my biggest curse.


My strong will and disciplined nature have helped me to study for exams, write 40-page papers, graduate Summa Cum Laude, exercise every single day, and start a blog…but it’s also been the reason why I don’t sleep in (ever), why I feel waves of panic when I can’t workout, why I’ve missed endless get-togethers and happy hours with friends (and probably missed making a few new best friends in the process), and why I pushed my body closer and closer to death as I struggled with anorexia.While fighting every day to be the very best version of yourself isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, when you take this addiction to success to an extreme level–to the point where it begins to take over the quality of your life–that’s when it’s time to change the routine.



Because the top is never going to be good enough.

That’s the harsh truth.


There will always be one more step to take, one more pound to lose, one more mile to run, one more “A” to achieve, one more hour to work… it will never, ever end. You’ll end up working your behind off to find happiness… but you’ll find that most of the time this cycle will ultimately leave you feeling isolated and alone. To be honest, it’s pretty damn lonely worrying about “perfecting” yourself all the time, and quite frankly it also sounds pretty damn vain as I type these words on the screen in front of me– embarrassing even. And yet, time and time again when I start to feel that internal stress and pressure building and the unhappiness sinking in…I’ve begged myself the same question: “What for?” My answer? “Because I HAVE to.” I’ve never allowed myself to know anything otherwise. I’ve been doing this for years.


I’ve been telling myself I’ll be able to do  a.) b.)  c.) or d.) when I’m a.) thinner, b.) richer c.) prettier and d.) more successful (etc… etc… etc…) and I’m sure many of you reading this can relate. Excuse my being blunt, but that’s pretty damn messed up, isn’t it? Not to mention extremely unhealthy. If you feel the same sentiments as me, you know exactly what I mean. The sad reality is, we’ll never be any of these things.  We’ll never achieve “perfection.” That’s because nothing will ever be quite good enough in our eyes.


I wasn’t always like this, however. I went though a period during my recovery from an eating disorder when I slowly began to come to terms with the harsh truth that I was living my life all wrong– and it was a pretty startling realization at that. I mean, I was one of the lucky people who struggled with an eating disorder, went in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for months on end, and still managed to come out on the other side in one piece. Sure my family and doctors helped put me on the path I needed to get there, but that hardworking little fighter inside of me also had a hell of a lot to do with it. Just when my doctors, and closed friends, and loved ones started to doubt me, give up on me, and throw in the towel…that’s exactly when I started to recover for good. I guess you could say my “type A” personality came through for the better at this point in my life.


The healthier I became, the more I began to realize the extent of my illness. that’s when the real scary truth began to set in–I was so close to death and didn’t even know it. Heck…I didn’t even care! And yet some way, some how I had been given a second chance– had to mean something, right? From that moment on I promised to live my life to the fullest, live it with passion and inspire others. And or a few years I did just that–I transferred schools and cut myself some slack. I allowed myself to have fun with my friends, do what made me happy, and forget about being perfect all the time. Miss a workout to go out with friends? Sure! Go out for dinner with girlfriends instead of study for 2 more hours? Okay! Take a nap and relax because I want to? Why not! I also made it my mission to make others happy, stay positive, and avoid all things (and people!) that were negative or would bring me down — after all, negative energy is draining.


Those were easily the BEST years of my life spent with the very best people. I can honestly say I was truly happy during this time… and it showed! I glowed :) . I also met my best friends and my boyfriend during these couple of years. After some time however, things changed. Over the years I slowly lost that spunky little firecracker inside of me again. My senior year in college became a year of stress and worry as I tried to figure out what my next move in the real world would be. Instead of going to my real friends, working and working out (once again) became my tactic of choice to help deal with the stress and uncertainty of the unknown. While other seniors were partying it up and living their last year of no responsiblity to the fullest, I was putting myself in the sidelines and becoming increasingly unhappy and falling back into old habits. After graduation, I immediately got a full-time job and fell into the same old pattern…


Work. Work. Work.

Workout. Workout. Workout.


I became so obsessed with wanting to be successful and get ahead (whether it be career-wise or image-wise) that it didn’t take long before I (once again) started avoiding all the fun things that used to make me happy. Sure, your mid-twenties aren’t supposed to be exactly like college…but they certainly aren’t supposed to be boring! Here I was living in the greatest city on Earth (I know, I’m biased) with my incredible boyfriend, right down the street from two of my best friends, working at an amazing, fun, young company and yet I still wasn’t satisfied. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, and over two years later I’m wondering where the time went.


Then came that tropical vacation, followed by the terrorist attacks on Boston. And that’s when the lights finally came back on. I realized I was doing it to myself all over again–going through the motions, missing out on everything happening around me, being too hard on myself…not to mention too hard on others. Was I depressed? No. But I wasn’t exactly happy either. And what’s the point of going through this amazing thing called life if you aren’t happy? Sometimes it takes a change or a wake-up call, or yes, a beautiful vacation or even a horrible tragedy to put things back into perspective and help you to realize life is beautiful– life is precious. We’re all people. We’re all in this horribly mixed up and confusing world together. We might as well get along, love ourselves and love each other while we can, because you never know when your time will be up– and shouldn’t the time we have be time well spent? Chances are most of you reading my post know this already. Life is short, so let’s make the best of it.


Photo Credit: Photobucket.com



Smile more. Love each other. Be kind. Open your heart. Be positive. Have faith. Breathe. That’s exactly what I intend to do…and this time for good.  I challenge you to do the same– I promise you won’t regret it :) . For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes…


Be content with what you have,
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
– Lao Tzu




With love &  gratitude,


Ashley Michelle