I thought for a long time that my cynicism defined me. I liked the sharpened edge I lived with — or at least that’s what I told myself. I clung to to my labels of being slightly pessimistic, sardonic and exclusive. I genuinely thought this made me more interesting, showed I was selective and had standards. Really it just meant I was a closed-off bitch. 

But I clung. I thought I needed my pain and sarcasm to drive me. It became what others expected of me: to be the honest, outspoken voice in the room. Need an opinion? Danielle has plenty of them, and she’s not afraid to show it! I feel slightly embarrassed now how attached I was to the old me, to my bitterness and underlying anger. 

I had no reason to feel this way, but my family’s multiple divorces, my personal experiences with heartache and the sometimes unpleasant young women in school made me cast everyone into the same net. As I grew into myself, I felt it my duty to put others in their place, to be unafraid to be unpopular, to speak my truth and possibly the truth of others who were not yet willing to speak their own. There was tons of self-righteousness in me. I’m sure there still is, but now I’m much more aware. 

Since I decided to let my past pain remain in the past, I’ve struggled with a new identity moving forward. Who would I be without my furrowed brow and bullshit meter? How could I simply meet someone without feeling the need to size them up ten seconds in? And could I still be funny without using my sarcasm as a defense mechanism? 

I’m fortunate enough to be friends with many artists, those who know how to channel their emotions into a truth we can all understand. For many, this pain, this depth, this heavy heart is imperative to fuel their creativity as musicians, painters, dancers, and writers. We become so attached to this pain that we lose sight of who we are in the present, let alone the potential of who we will become. 

The truth of the matter is life is often painful. We can't avoid loss, heartbreak, illness or tragedy. At any given moment, each of us is dealing with something, enduring a challenge, overcoming an obstacle, outgrowing a relationship. These are markers in our constant evolution. 

So, deciding to release the past doesn't somehow alleviate the experiences of pain in the future. We live, we learn, we move on. I've learned far more from my current state of being, from my quest to be open, honest and present than anything ever gleaned from dwelling. And that state of mind brought people, opportunities and lessons that my formerly rigid self would never have attracted. 

Everyone experiences pain, which means we can all empathize with others. A heavy heart, a wrenching gut, eyes burning from excessive tears — most of us can relate, and the details don't matter. 

We wallow in our own sadness, feeling as if no one could possibly understand, but the truth is that we could never know exactly what someone else is experiencing. That should free us to connect more and shelter ourselves less, to wipe off the bad days and feel grateful for the good. 

Just as pain echoes the same frequency, so does love and joy. We can relate to those human experiences too. And the positive emotions have a far greater an impact on a soul than any negativity could ever inspire. We must remember that life hands out doses of it all, and it's up to us to choose which we'll carry. 

My past mistakes and pain have inspired me to write in hopes that others on the path will resonate and perhaps feel less alone. The reason I’m compelled to share is because of the tremendous growth I’ve experienced over the years. I feel so renewed, so light, so optimistic that I’ve come this far. It gives me hope for my growth ahead. 

I’ll never forget the pain; it now acts as a beacon and reminder to keep learning and moving forward, but it also helps soften the impact of new pain. I no longer ask, “Why me?” or resist negative experiences that come my way. They pass much easier when I accept them, feel them totally, then burn through them so I can remain open to beauty. My level of compassion has grown exponentially since recognizing how much we all share, whether we see it or not. 

Pain doesn't define us. It informs us. Let it awaken you, but don’t let it keep you drowning in a pool of misery. It will pass, as everything does. You don’t need your pain to be creative, to come alive. You don’t need the opposite either. You need simply to be aware. 

Be still, breathe evenly, and open yourself to all the possibility that lies in your being. This runs deeper than any story could ever tell. This is the innocence you were born with, before the world started making its mark on you. 

We all share this. We just need to detach from the story and go back to that pure state within. That source gives us the freedom to be refreshed and courageous moving forward, unafraid to repeat the mistakes of our past, open to succeed and fail in our future. 

Do you feel your pain makes you interesting? Is there something that defines you that you’d prefer to release? What fuels your drive and personal ambition? What is keeping you from being happy? The answer can only be found within. Trust yourself, give yourself permission to live freely and openly, and merely observe the changes in your life moving forward.

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