I wrote that sentence not too long ago: without a man I feel naked.

And I immediately wanted to erase it. Or at least rearrange it, or reinterpret the words, somehow reorganize this truth to make it less … pathetic. But instead I just cried, and sank into the disappointment (in myself), the shame, and the insecurity that surfaced as a result of facing it. And then I waited for more. NAKED. What did I really mean by that? I asked myself. More words came. Stripped. Bare. Exposed to the world.

This is a vulnerable share, and I share it, as always, with the hope it will ignite something in you. How would you finish the following statement: “Without _______ , I would feel naked and exposed.” Is it relationships for you too? (Love? Hookups? Or just superficial but constant conversation on social media?) Is it your nightly drinks? Or nightly binge? Your job? Your phone? Whatever feels most scary, or even terrifying to admit, write THAT down.

For roughly 15 years of my life, the men I’ve loved gave me shelter from lots of everyday pain (which I’ve written about before) but there’s more. They also gave me a default sense of PURPOSE (to love him, care for him, connect with him) AND a default IDENTITY (“I’m so and so’s girlfriend”).

Now, check this out…

As long as at least a good portion of my purpose and identity was intimately tied up with someone else, I alone, could never TRULY fail, I alone, could never REALLY be FULLY responsible for anything. Because “I, alone” did not exist!

You catching this? It’s a game changer. Love and relationships was my armor. Without me knowing it, my unconscious was doing a damn good job of keeping me removed from the big bad world of expectations. In other words, keeping me (emotionally) safe, from failure, rejection, disapproval, etc. (Something to consider: what might your thickest armor or greatest attachment be doing FOR you?)

Thing is, eventually, not only did seeking this “safety” outside myself backfire (i.e. tons of pain caused by being in the wrong relationships for too long), but it also stopped being enough. I ached to know myself more completely. To know myself without this armor. To believe myself emotionally capable and strong, especially in my most distressing moments.

For almost a year now, I’ve been single. And I don’t mean “texting a few guys, Facebook messaging a few others, meeting up with an ex every once in while” kind of single. I mean I’ve intentionally taken any form of romantic, intimate relationships off the table. Why? To see what was left. To see what lie beneath the armor. To meet myself, bare and exposed. And doing this for real, learning to claim my life as my own, I’ll admit, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

When people ask me whether or not they should give up coffee, or bread, or dairy, know what I say? I say, “Well, how badly do you feel you need it? The more you need it, the more I’d recommend you give it up.” And not as a punishment but as a catalyst for self growth. When you can completely give up the thing you’re attached to (even if only temporarily), it throws your psyche into a disoriented state (“how do I soothe myself NOW? how do I get through this moment? this day? this life?”). In that desperate state you become forced to “dig deep” as my dear friend and I say, into the well of your inner resources (emotional, psychological, and spiritual), of nourishment and soothing.

For many of us it takes years, decades, or even a lifetime, to become comfortable reaching inward instead of outward when times are tough. I like to think of it as a process of coming home to ourselves, the only process I’ve come to believe can bring us true freedom.

I never ask my clients to go anywhere I haven’t gone myself. So, yes, I want you to know I am still in it. I am today, and always, growing into owning this journey that is only mine to take. It’s true, without a man I may feel naked. I may feel exposed. But it’s also true that I finally feel free.