“The freedom to be yourself is a gift only you can give yourself. Once you do, no one can take it away.” —Doe Zantamata

I have a friend I’ve known for more than two decades. She was married to a man she loved deeply for about 10 years. After the marriage ended, she went through several years of healing recovery work, and then decided to open herself up to new relationships. In the home and religious structure she grew up in, the only acceptable relationship would have been with another man. For many years now, she has been in a loving, committed relationship with a woman.

We recently had the privilege of being able to meet up in person. It gave us an opportunity to sit down and discuss this journey she had taken. We openly discussed her time of exploration; and the false beliefs that had held her captive for so long, and that still caused shame to rise from time to time due to the conditioning she was exposed to. She called herself, “Queer” and discussed with me what that meant to her. We talked about the gaining of friends, and the rejection of some friends and family she’d experienced. Even though she had known love in her marriage, she expressed the kind of love she was now enjoying with her partner was beyond any love she had ever experienced before. Though limited, our face-to-face time together was cherished by us both.

As a dear friend, she’s always been so lovable in my eyes. I felt so much joy for her as I saw this new sense of freedom and authenticity in her life! Besides being the beautiful person I know her to be, I now see her utmost bravery as well. She had to work through so many false beliefs and much rigid conditioning to make the decision to be honest about her own truths. First, with herself, and then announce that truth to others—including those likely to reject her (as, unfortunately, some did). The pain and grief were there right alongside the joy of her authenticity and freedom. As she unfolded her story to me, I felt how much she’d “blossomed” in her own identity in body, soul, and spirit. What an inspiration and sheer privilege it was to witness this gift she gave herself. It’s a gift that will undoubtedly keep giving.

Are there areas of your life you want to be freer to be yourself? Have you suffered rejection for being more of your authentic self? You’re not alone—there are those standing by to support you in whatever way you need!

Cheri Thomas

Cheri works as a Peer Support Specialist for RI in Arizona. She has experienced loss and grief which has led her to write for the masses to bring voice to those in similar situations. Cheri possesses a deep passion to share with, encourage, and inspire others on what she calls the Journey of the Heart.