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underneath cjmillar82 life without a paddle

It’s funny what lies just beneath the surface, simmering, bubbling, brewing ever so quietly waiting to make an appearance until the timing is just right. It’s funny what you’ll hear if you listen. It’s interesting to me how, by simply talking a lot, people assume you don’t listen well. Distraction. Deflection. Diversion. All tactics people use to throw you off your game, win you over, convince you that the reality they’re showing you is the reality they truly are but no, don’t believe that. That’s not it. That’s not truth. Trust your gut. That is where the truth lies.

Your gut won’t lie to you. You just need to learn to listen and decipher the difference between self-doubt, insecurity, and fear from the trueness that comes with self-awareness of the good and the bad, and knowing the difference between what your gut is telling you and what you think you see in front of your very eyes.

Perception is everything – but is it really?

I just finished rewatching The Hunger Games in all its brilliance. I identify with Katniss Everdeen in much the same way I relate to Joan of Arc, and so many other defiant women in history. Not just women – individuals who couldn’t be silenced. Who didn’t do what they were told. Who didn’t listen to what people pretended to be, even when they’d look them in the eye telling their lies. You see, that’s because so often the people telling you who they really are, are so busy telling you because they have to do that to keep the lie alive to themselves. They are lying to themselves, after all.

Change doesn’t come from outside forces. Saying you stopped saying “that word” because I disapprove is like a child saying I’m sorry only because they got caught. Saying I changed because I didn’t realize how I spoke / acted / behaved was derogatory / closed-minded / petty / insecure – now that is something I will always respect.

Respect is earned, not won. You don’t win respect out of fear. That’s simply cowardice hiding behind intimidation to make the coward appear stronger to their foes. That’s not respect – not even close. Respect comes from calm confidence, security, knowledge, and trust. Confidence in your ability to choose between right and wrong beyond “what you were told” or “how you grew up” but rather is based on real world experiences, skills, conversations, and firsthand knowledge. Security in knowing that your word is your bond, your truth is the same inside and out (and never based on what makes you look better to others), and that discomfort is simply the opportunity to learn and grow and something to be explored, not ignored. Through all of those things comes knowledge, and through that with all the rest is where you will find trust.

Trust in yourself first and foremost, then trust in those around you, and even trust in your enemies because when you know people and understand people you will learn that everyone – even the liar – wants to be trusted. And if you truly listen, you’ll realize that even the liar will tell you who they really are. Not everyone uses words. Actions speak volumes too. So do facial expressions, inaction, indecisiveness, excuses, and even petty repetitive behaviors.

Listen. Just listen.

Everyone will always tell you their truth if you listen. Take President Snow, for example. He was many things, but he was not a liar and it was his own truths that allowed Katniss to trust his actions and reactions, and understand the difference between him and President Coin, even at times understanding she could also trust his words. What truths are those around you telling you?

I’m not just talking about the whispers you hear when you show up alone at the bar for the first time in a few months, or the stories told to/for/about/around you. No, I’m not concerned with the petty gossip of small town drama and mediocre minds. I know who I am, I don’t need anyone around me to tell me. I’ve spent 46 years on this planet becoming who I am today and I’m damn proud of it. If it intimidates you, then I’d say you probably need to do something about that within yourself. No amount of external talk, work, news, excuses, or even actions are going to do anything to quell those challenges in any way whatsoever unless you’re just looking for an excuse to stay home and drink. Sure, in that case, have at it.

I do, however, always listen. I talk a lot and a lot of people assume that means I don’t listen because I’m too busy chattering away. I’ll tell you I hear everything…and then some. I notice everything. The way he glances slightly up and to the left when trying to recall something farther back in memory than a few years ago. The way she fidgets with the watch on her wrist even though she has nowhere else to be and isn’t really checking the time. The way his eyes follow her movements as if she’s a prize to be won over or a tasty treat for the hungry wolfpack out on the prowl for the night’s festivities.

I listen to the older gent at the bar who has more memories than I have time to forget. I listen to the bartender chatting with the couple at the end from out of town. I know that out of the corner of my eye slightly behind my left shoulder someone is messing with the jukebox and someone else is racking balls on the table for the next game of pool.

I listen because I learn. I learn who people really are. I know who will say what to me and why, what transactional data is being exchanged – is it gossip? time? affection? attention? a chance at a moment alone? the opportunity to make an impression? the moment to boost one’s own ego with tidbits of information? what’s in it for them? what’s in it for me? what do THEY think is in it for me?

And then I walk away.

From all of it.

But I don’t forget any of it. Not even for a second. It’s all stored there, so that whenever the next thing happens, whenever I need to protect myself and the ones I love, I already have all of the information on who to trust, who trusts themselves, and who’s so busy proving to the whole world they’re doing great to know that they are anything but.

It’s amazing what you can hear just underneath the surface. People love to tell their secrets. It’s ironic really, how the whole purpose of a secret is to tell someone something they are never to repeat, but it’s the act of repeating it – or even just saying it in the first place – that makes it the most valuable currency of all. Even a large part of President Snow’s undoing was due in part to people knowing his secrets.

Oh, make no mistakes, there are skeletons in my closet. And yes, yes I know I’ve told you all a million times before (here at least) that I tend to throw them out in the street. They’re great props for scaring people away, pushing them aside, or convincing them that I am something scary. I’m not scary. I’m intimidating. But only if you don’t have your own sense of self confidence and self trust. Figure it out. I did. And learn the difference.

I have no secrets. Ask me any question and I’ll always answer you honestly – no matter whether you’re my friend or otherwise. I don’t believe in enemies. I don’t have time or patience for those, at least not this life. Perhaps there are still some stragglers back from Deadwood, and other places I’ve lived, but not this life, not here. Not now.

It’s a lot harder for someone to use you against yourself when you have no secrets and start with being truly honest with yourself – and always answer honestly whenever anyone asks you, especially about your past.

I’ve been a monster. A lover. A fighter. A victim. A warrior. A leader. A follower. A tyrant. An antagonist. A protagonist. A coward. A hero. I’ve been many things – we all have – and the sooner we admit everything we are today is a culmination of everything we’ve done, the sooner we can all learn to grow together and overlook our differences in our skin color, religion, sexual orientation, how we dress, and who we choose to live life with and instead start to look at people for who they are in their soul.

Some of the ugliest souls come with beautiful exteriors. Sometimes the hometown boy is really the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes the girl next door is really listening to the conversations just beneath the surface and already knows the truth. She’s just asking you to give you the opportunity to be honest with yourself.





Everything is replaceable in life in some way. People. Friends. Homes. Jobs. Conversations. Entertainment. Pets. Cars. On some level, if you really think about it, everything is in some way replaceable. Perhaps not exactly so, but on some level when life leaves us with spaces to fill, we find ways to fill them in whatever way makes sense for us at the time. We can fill silence with laughter, loneliness with distractions, things with other things, stuff with more stuff, and at the end of the day even if something or someone feels irreplaceable, if they leave, we find ways to replace them.

I am replaceable. I make no mistake and tell myself no lies. We all are. That’s why when you find those very few people in life that are truly irreplaceable, you do everything you can to hold onto them. Wraparound hugs. All night laughter. Porch swing whiskey. Camping in the mountains. Family dinners. Hikes to nowhere. Old friends. New friends. Family made and found.

Hold on to those things because those are the things that are truly irreplaceable.

Life is what you make of it, and I choose to make the best every day that I can. Every day that I am here. And I am grateful for all of them.

I’ve been talking about running away for a long time now. Going somewhere different, over 5 years in this place and I’m itching to move. But I have roots here and that makes me happy. Friends and family are different here. Not the kind that say will stick around but don’t, no. These are friends for a lifetime. Lifetimes, really if we’re being honest, because that’s the truth. I’ve been happier these past few weeks than I’ve been in a long time – certainly more so than I was last summer, or even last fall. I spent my birthday mostly alone, by choice, promising myself it would be the start of change and the beginning of a new year and it was and has been in every sense you can imagine.

Work is getting better, busier. Family is closer (sometimes figuratively rather than literally because the world is a thing and we live all over it, but that’s not the point). Friends abound. We laugh so hard our abs hurt, watching videos of ourselves from the night/week/month/years before and laugh all over again. There’s magic there in that. There’s magic everywhere if you just stop long enough to see it and believe. Always believe.

Things are bubbling just beneath the surface, I can feel it. I’ve said that before but it’s different this time. I’ve said that before too, but it is. I don’t know how to describe it, but each time I feel this, it’s as if things are getting stronger, closer, one moment closer to the next and the next and whatever is just over the horizon promising to be everything I ever hoped for.

I’m too much for most people. I’ve been told that all my life. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I used to falter between being too much and not enough all at the same time, trying ever so hard to just become nothing (and for a long time I succeeded), only to realize that I was more than that. So much more. I wasn’t too much, nor not enough. I wasn’t nothing either. I was everything else. I was, simply put, everything. I just haven’t met the person who I am everything to quite yet.

And that’s okay. Sometimes you have to try different things on for size. Test drive the car. Go somewhere different. Step outside of your comfort zone and see how things are from a different point of view, Captain.

I will always push my comfort zone. Life is pretty boring when you live in complacency. It’s an awful lot like commonplace or mundane, and far too close for comfort to be anything close to comfortable for me. We grow through change, different perspectives, new experiences, unexpected turns of events, and well, wishing on stars.

Yeah, things are different now. They’ll be different tomorrow, and the day after that. They’ll be different the day after that, too. That’s what makes life so amazing – all the differences and how every day is a new beginning to whatever story we’re writing where the ending isn’t written yet. Each day is a blank slate to write into your story whatever it is that you believe you deserve and all the things you expect to happen. Us humans have so much more control over our own destiny and decisions than we give ourselves credit for. We have the ability to write our own futures, yet so many of us go through life expecting the worst and then being semi-surprised when that is what ends up happening. I mean, really, what else did we expect when the narrative we tell ourselves is worry and anxiousness and challenges and strife? Here’s a thought – think positive and start each day writing your story to be better and you know what? It will be. Ask me how I know.

I’m doing that every day. I’m working on my book – though to be fair I haven’t in the past few weeks I had a bit of a writer’s block while sorting through things in my head. But now finally after a few weeks of that, I’m back to being me again. Going to Florida helped. Coming home helped even more. And the past two weeks brought me back to being me in a way I didn’t realize I had missed. Don’t turn your volume down to fit in – ever. Stop quieting your voice, playing up your style while downplaying your passion to be what people look for you to be. No. Stop that. I did that and I didn’t realize just how much I missed me until this past week.

Man, I really missed me. A lot.

I want to be surrounded by people who laugh like I do. Love like I do. Suck the marrow out of life and live with passion and wild abandon the way I do. Yes, life has its stressors and we all have “adulting” to do to make our way with the comforts life tells us are good and necessary. But none of that requires taking the safe option or the quiet backroads instead of flying on a jet plane to the farthest reaches of your imagination where dreams come true.

Dreams come true, you know, you just have to keep dreaming them. Even when other people tell you you’re too crazy, too wild, too different…too much.

If you’re too much for them, tell them to go find less. Those are not your people. 

Don’t shrink yourself to fit in other people’s spaces. If you give them priority, and they still push you off to make plans last minute or assume you’ll still be standing there waiting for them, stop justifying their intentions and remember that their actions show you everything you need to know. Because intentions won’t hug you when you don’t believe you’re good enough. Intentions won’t tell you everything will be okay. Intentions won’t kiss you on the forehead and cherish the way when you cry, your right eye always tears more than your left. Intentions won’t do that. Intentions are the best excuses for seeing the best in someone when their actions show you otherwise.

Don’t shrink yourself, but also be willing to grow. Look at things from all sides. Take responsibility and ownership for your own actions and faults, and learn how to get better through them. Learn from them. See the beauty in people and places and things even when they’re not the one you call home, for they have beauty in them too even when it’s not meant for you. Be something to everyone and everything to someone and when you find that someone, let yourself fall totally completely madly in love with them like you never have before and that will make all the difference.

I’m something, that’s for damn sure. Something else. Something different. Something bigger. Something louder. And of all of those things, I am so much more, too. I love 1923, it has to be my favorite show of the Yellowstone universe, and quite possibly my favorite show ever. Alex and Spencer are my all time favorite fictional couple, and the relationship they have is what I crave. Not necessarily the instant flare like they did because I am not quite sure that’s realistic (though on some level I do believe it is and I always will believe so), but also because I am so much more aware now. Every relationship I’ve ever been in has taught me something about myself and who I am, and how I can grow. And I don’t just mean romantic relationships – everyone we meet in life is a relationship in some sort and how we relate to them will always teach us things if we listen. I try to always listen. I haven’t been as good about it in the past, and the past year was rough, but I am listening again and learning so much along the way.

I am so ridiculously happy for so many people around me right now. I won’t share details, because they are not my stories to tell, but seeing so many of my close friends thriving makes me happy, too. And we’re all growing too in all the best ways. It’s kinda incredible really. My kids are fucking awesome (they are!), and so are my friends and while I say any time we’re all hanging out I can’t remember ever laughing this much, we hang out again and do it again, and we all keep laughing and smiling and life is honestly good. Really good. Amazing, really.

Always believe. Always know that every moment is an opportunity to learn something, expand your mind, grow your soul. Stretch your life and your wings and see what it’s like to learn to fly. No one says you have to be good at it. Life is all about learning, after all. So go take that leap. Try to fly. Jump off that cliff. If you don’t, all you’re ever going to experience is the same old thing over and over again and hey, if that’s how you want to live your life, it’s not my place to stop you. Just know that’s not for me.

I won’t ask you to wait for me. I don’t ask that of anyone. Just like I won’t hold your hand to catch you up. I’ll inspire you (I hope I do!). I want you to slightly terrify me in all the best ways. Make me think about things differently, see things from different perspectives, stretch realities and comfort zones, and question all the things with all the wonder of a child in amazement and interest. Yes, let’s do that.

Alex and Spencer are my favorite fictional couple because above all things, her response when he told her where he was going was dangerous, was, “let’s look death in the eye together then, shall we?” as she laughs and it is one thousand percent me. In a later episode when they’re walking along a dock to board a boat for passage back home, she’s chattering away rambling off about nothing nonstop in that chirpy upbeat way I do when I’m nervous. Spencer turns and looks at her and asks, “you’re not going to do that the whole trip, are you?” referring to her talking. To which she explains that when he is concerned or afraid, he talks less, and when she is nervous, she jammers on even more. And in response he gets annoyed and talks less and less and in turn she has to talk four times as much just to fill the empty space of his silent brooding to cover her own fear and he looks at her and smiles. He understands her. And she understands him, too. She isn’t afraid to push his comfort zone, and he isn’t afraid to let her, and open up to her in return.

Isn’t it amazing when you realize how well you really know someone is not defined by the things they like or make them happy, but by how well you know their fears and secrets? That’s the true measure right there. It’s easy to tell others about our goals, what we want to do or be or become. But talking about the stuff that scares us? The stuff that challenges our souls and makes us question what really matters. Truly opening up to someone – now THAT is something. That is really something, and it forms a bond stronger than most people can ever know unless they experience it for themselves. It’s more than that, too because opening up to someone like that means you have to first be that truthfully starkly boldly honest with yourself…about everything.

Now that’s scary. It’s also liberating and empowering.

I’ve done it, and I’ll keep doing it and I’ll learn more of it along the way. I speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear or say because I know it will keep me honest and not just with others but with myself, too. That’s important, you know. Being honest with yourself. Probably the most important and the first place you have to start because if you’re not honest with yourself, there’s no way you can be honest with anyone else, that’s for sure.

I mean are you really happy? What are you most afraid of? Are you able to look yourself in the mirror and like what you see but not just on the outside, on the inside too? Did you learn anything new today? Do something that interested you? Listen to what someone had to say with your whole being – when you see, hear and feel them? There’s so much more to life than what you see on the surface. Are you listening? What do you hear when you have the world to yourself for a moment and no one else is around to hear? Is silence deafening or inspiring to you?

You don’t have to answer any of these questions out loud, or even at all. I ask them to myself to get to know myself better, so I can keep growing and learning to be a better person. You see for all that I’m replaceable – we all are – the one thing we can’t replace in our own life is ourselves. So be good to yourself. Treat yourself right. Be honest and truthful always, because when you lie to yourself you actually teach yourself that you’re not trustworthy and pretty soon you’ll be second-guessing everything and that’s a horrible place to be. Trust me, I know. Appreciate honesty even when it’s grossly uncomfortable or absolutely not at all what you want to hear. Trust your heart and your gut and your mind – together they are more powerful than any of them can be apart. And live for yourself – don’t let anyone else tell you what your life should look like. No one has the power to make that decision but you. Take it seriously, but keep laughing along the way too.

I have the absolute most amazing friends. It is so damn good to be back, even though I never really left though I talked about it. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to keep working hard and smiling and laughing and finding ways to weave all the magic and hopes and dreams I have together for all of us.

Remember this: “Being scared just means you’re about to grow. And that frequent discomfort is the price of accelerated progress.” Also remember that who you are on the inside doesn’t matter if what you do doesn’t reflect that. Be true to yourself, always. Even when it’s hard or uncomfortable because that’s when it matters most.

I look forward to finding someone who will kiss me on the forehead because they mean it and know that they will stay. Someone I am never too much for. Someone who will look fear in the face with me, and keep on going. And you know what the best part is? Every day is one day closer to finding that person – to that person finding me – and in the meantime I get to enjoy life along the way with the most amazing people.

The Mountain

cjmillar82 life without a paddle the mountain

I am a mountain. I am not entirely immovable, but change takes time, with good reason and strong forces. Forces of nature and truth and cause. I do not move on whims or niceties. I do not change based on perceptions or conversations. I change with forces. Forces of truth, honesty, authenticity, and integrity. I am hard. I am solid. And, like a mountain, I am sure that what I am made of these days is far stronger than stone with a heart far more forgiving than the ashes of the greatest love ever lost.

It makes me hard to love. It makes me hard to listen to. It makes me easy to be the throwaway girl, because throwing me away is easier than looking back into a face of stone and learning what life is when you spend decades looking at no one but yourself.

But I’ve lived that. I’ve done that. I’ve been that. I am not the throwaway girl anymore. I am not all the I’m sorrys and the I’ll do betters, and the I’ll tell the stories you want to hear to make the uncomfortable moments more comfortable. No. I am not that.

I am the stark truth, the in your face unforgiving of myself every bit more so than I will ever be of you. I forgive others. I give others grace, and space to figure things out in their own way, without anger or judgement or fear. Because I know who I am. I have spent decades alone figuring exactly that out, so that when I come face to face with people I love, I can stand there in front of them – all of them – without question without wavering and be exactly every bit of me that I have grown to be. My forwardness. My truth. My honesty. And I will tell the truth about all things about me and around me and all things I love without question or judgement because the truth is something that simply is.

You can accept truth, or hide from it. You can hear it from others or find it yourself. I am not the harbinger of truth. I just learned after many years and many lives of living hiding afraid of who I was, afraid of being too much, not enough, too loud, too smart, too independent, too pointed, too talkative, too much a pain in the ass – that you know what?




Take or leave it. Grow with me, or don’t. Walk with me, or don’t. Your choices are yours and yours alone, just as mine are mine and I will own all of them with conviction and courage and integrity and honesty. Do not hide me in your bedroom, or ask me to be quiet. Hush my voice lest my opinions be heard. Quiet my uncomfortable silences, hush my past or hide my scars. They are all every bit a part of me as the pretty facade with the perfect hair and the pretty crooked smile and the style and the look and the laughter that makes everything else seem okay. It’s not okay.

I am not your dream girl. I am the shouting of crows when you enter the part of the forest you shouldn’t have. And should you choose to continue, just know this. Know that the in the forest there is no space for hiding, for niceties, or prettiness, or rescheduled time and life and priorities. Out here in the wilderness you live life by what matters. Family first. Take care of the home, your loved ones, and understand that sometimes life is more like survival pieced together with cobbled pieces of broken dreams and broken families and when you stop long enough to look at each and every broken piece you can see, you see greatness in all of it. Every single piece is beautiful, but you can only see that when you can also see the broken jagged edges that will also reflect back at you all of your own faults and fears and challenges, and cut you the moment you think that just because these broken pieces came together that they are safe.

Life is not safe. Love is not safe. Nothing worth living for is safe.

Safe is staying home, repeating patterns and telling yourself niceties that really are subrealities that make up the lies of everyday lives and complacency over and over and over again. It’s how we gloss over the real stuff. The hard stuff. The truly uncomfortable silences that lead us to the uncomfortable conversations that push us outside of our comfort zones and learn that life is about far more than surviving or making a complacent commonplace life that looks good based on what society tells you.

That thought repulses me to the point of physical revulsion. It’s as much a turn-off as cheap shots, trash talk, or anything else that more than cheapens perception – I am repulsed by things that cheapen the soul.

I don’t care about monetary things. I can buy my own vacations, my own toys, my own home, pay my own bills, and find my own way. Money comes and goes. Sure it’s been tighter these past two years than it has been in a long time, but my heart has also been fuller and that in and of itself is worth every bit of financial strain. Because my heart is full, and when it comes to money, I can always make more. I cannot make more time, or more family, or more friends, or more love.

I value experiences over things, and if money can give me the opportunity to share even more great experiences with people I love, I love to share that too. But it’s not only about that. It’s about moments in the woods with no one anywhere but right here. It’s about sleeping under the stars with nothing but the dogs and the sky. It’s about hiking out on trails that feel like home with no reception so no one can find you until you want to be found (but the people you love always know where you are because you’d never abandon them either).

I am a mountain. I will always speak my truth. If it is reality – no matter how hard it is to hear, even about me, and myself (and trust me, I hear a LOT of that, and more these days lately and I welcome every single fucking moment), it is still truth.

I am hard. I am independent. I am unwavering. I am confident. I am fallible. I am giving. I am loving. I am sorry. I am strong. I do not give up, but I am also learning that when someone shows you the door or tells you they are done with you repeatedly, when to listen. I am listening. I am honest. I am me.

I hear what people say. I hear what you say. I forget little, and remember more than I should. I forgive more, and forget less. I talk more and trust less. I am hesitant to ask for help, because I’m afraid of the repercussions that always come when I ask, when I know it’s a problem I could have just solved on my own. Happy to help always comes with a price, doesn’t it? She asks too much, she talks too much, I was there even when she didn’t ask, I will be there, I will help. I just ask this or this or that in return, on my time, on my schedule.

Perhaps I’ve lived alone too long to understand. Perhaps I’d rather swing a sledge and fix a circuit board and drink that whiskey all by myself. Except I wouldn’t. I welcome a partner, a friend, a family, anyone really who will stand beside me and know that I will never ask of anyone anything that I am not willing to do myself, ever, at all, without question. It’s honesty and integrity and just who I am.

So if I wouldn’t ask of others anything more than I’d be willing to ask of myself, why not just do it myself? Well, for one, there are plenty of things I am not nearly as good at as others around me, that’s for damn sure. Marketing strategy? On it. Dinner on the grill? Done. Figuring out some weird ass wiring issue and troubleshooting shit that’s greek to most people? No problem.

Weld something? Yeah that’s my kid’s thing – he’s far better at it than I could pretend to be (and I don’t even know how to turn on the machine). Bake? I’ll let the other kid own that (her home made icing is to die for, just don’t ask her to make rice lol).

Trust? Oh shit that’s hard. Honesty? Easy. Because when I am honest, 99% of the time most people just push me – and it – away. I don’t make shit up. If it’s the truth, it’s the truth. Hear it or hide. But it doesn’t change the truth. I’d rather hear it – all of it – about me and my kids and my reputation (oh that’s always fun, the stories I can tell!) and deal with it. Oh there’s skeletons in my closet, but they don’t haunt me because I hang them outside on the clothesline for all to see. If you know my skeletons before you know me, then you also know there is nothing you can do to hurt me other than break my trust. Because you already knew all the darkest parts of me before you ever asked to be let into my life. Everyone knows them. Those skeletons. Because I’ve introduced them to the world right here, a million times over.

I love you. I am a mountain. I love with everything I have, and will give all of myself to everything that matters to me. Do not doubt that for a second. Just know that comes with a raw visceral honesty that will tear open every past wound and self doubt and questioning you have ever had making you wonder if you’re even anywhere close to good enough. Spoiler alert: you are, and so am I, even when it doesn’t feel like that. How do I know that? Because I am still learning and if you have the wherewithal to question who you are and what you stand for and how you grow even one iota of any second of the day, every day, then that alone is enough. You are worthy. You are enough. But I can’t convince you of that. You have to first believe in yourself.

the girl and the coyote

the girl and the coyote cjmillar82 life without a paddle

And just like that I’m feeling emotion again. It took a few days. A few days of my brain processing. Of life sinking in. Things to settle inside my head and my heart and my soul and I think I understand it now. Sometimes things come in waves, and sometimes it takes days but eventually they start to make sense and that kaleidoscope of all the broken pieces in my brain sort themselves out and come together and I feel like me again. Like me, but better. I suppose this is what growth feels like.

I realized something that I somewhat knew about myself but I didn’t realize just how much it was missing until now. For the most part, I’m not an overly affectionate person. Logic tends to rule my brain and most of my actions, and like I said in my last blog, Blind Spot, it’s a defense mechanism I’m sure. I’m even more sure of it now.

As a child, I never really had physical comforting. Sure, I had things. Stuff. Experiences I valued more than physicality. It taught me independence and appreciation in many ways. But when I am at my most vulnerable or hurting or even just struggling or feeling confused or blindsided by something I didn’t see coming, I just need a hug.

A real hug. To be told, I got you. We got this. It may be hard right now but it’s going to be okay. A real hug.

I haven’t had a friend do that for me since Jimmy died until this past year. It’s amazing having that again, from someone who also grew up without familial affection feeling alienated from the very same people who are supposed to comfort you and hold you and be there for you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. I didn’t realize that what I was missing was that I also needed that from someone who is more than a friend.

Actions, help, support, doing things together all mean more to me than just holding me and telling me it will be okay – at least that’s what I always thought. And they do mean a lot, but they’re not everything. Sometimes when I’m emotional and confused, a hug can do more than all the other meaningful actions in the whole world. I didn’t realize that before, but now I do.

Like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams hugs Will (Matt Damon) despite his resisting, and just keeps telling him it’s not his fault until eventually Will gives in and hugs him back and lets himself start to feel and understand and trust.

I expect to be thrown away – I am the throwaway girl after all – which is also why I don’t like to sleep next to someone often (that is still hard for me – I toss and turn and wake up over and over and over again trying to find where my space ends and yours begins and if it’s okay to be comfortable enough to actually truly sleep). But I don’t want to be her. Maybe that starts with when we have our differences, even when we need to work through them on our own, still being able to trust that you’ll reassure me it will be okay, we will be okay, and that there’s more to this than scheduling and conflict and date nights and laughter but also hard times where my go to isn’t going to be to go to bed alone but instead to say hey – I need some space tonight (and that’s okay that we process and deal with things differently) but also to just be held for a moment and let me be scared and afraid and terrified and vulnerable and know that you’re not going to leave forever. You’re just going to leave for now because like me, at times you need your space too and that’s okay. That’s more than okay, that’s good. I just need to understand that, and sometimes I need some comforting too. We’ll figure this out together.

I see that now, but the past few days have been hell for me. I see how close or how far you sit from me and wonder if something in us is broken. Or worse, if something in me is broken. Too broken to fix. Too beyond repair to be worth figuring out. And my brain immediately tells me to run. Even when my body and soul tell me to stand still and wait it out and figure it out and give it time, that time is torture to me. I don’t know why, but it is, and I am sure at some point as I continue to grow I’ll figure that out too.

I go numb and just turn things off. It’s not healthy, and it’s damn fucking hard to deal with from the other side, I’m sure. I wouldn’t want to deal with me like that, I know that much, and so I try to correct it in any way that I can as quickly as I can when I realize that I’m not yet being thrown away. I don’t want to be and I don’t want to run either. I think all I needed was a hug and some reassurance, and maybe some of that during all the in between so that when things do go a bit sideways it’s easier for me to not recoil. I don’t recoil because I don’t like being held or hugged, or, well…loved. I recoil because life has taught me that any of those things don’t last and so it’s easier to just not feel them in the first place. I am learning that life can be different. Like an old dog, I can still learn, it just takes a little more patience than others.

The coyotes are howling outside and the dogs bark. Off in the distance I can hear their howls echo across the mountains, both terrifying and comforting at the same time. Like a small child yearning for affection but afraid of being cast aside the moment life gets hard, I understand both their howls of the pack and the ones even further off in the distance who clearly are out there alone.

Perhaps I explain so much of the everyday in the hopes that it will help keep me grounded in the reality of feeling. It’s odd, really when you consider how passionate I am about life and sharing experiences with the ones I love, my belief in magic, my desire for greatness to always leave the world a better place than what it was before, to make a positive difference in all those around me, yet still afraid to have that for myself. It’s so easy for me to switch over to pure logic, analyzing things as they come at me, finding the realistic scientific psychologic reason behind everything (and in some ways even in this – behind my desire for affection and love) to help soothe myself into knowing that so long as there is a logical explanation I can comprehend and understand just about anything – even when it’s a matter of explaining to myself why things never work out. Or even more terrifying for me – why they will because this is different.

The stars are bright tonight. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at them. I’d stand out here and wish on one but the coyotes are still howling and I need to bring the dogs inside.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. The memories I have and the people I get to share life with again. And this brain I was blessed with that some days is a curse in so many ways, but also is the same brain that gives me the ability to sit with something and learn and digest and learn through things even when the past few days I’ve spent not even trusting myself.

I’m learning. That’s why we live more than one life. To find the people who know you. To learn from the ones who have hurt you. To reconnect with the ones that comfort you. And to find that person that completes you.

And just like that, I know once again and even more than before, this is home.

cjmillar82 too much

Blind Spot

blind spot cjmillar82 life without a paddle

Everyone has one. Some people have more than one. Some are bigger than others. Some are so small you hardly even notice they’re there until they suddenly hit you in the face. Sometimes they’re so big you get blindsided when you least expect it and wonder how you never ever saw that coming (but you should have, but really you shouldn’t, should you?).

Sometimes there’s nothing to overthink. I’ve been doing a lot less overthinking these days and it’s been quite pleasant. Better than that. Downright enjoyable, actually. But then sometimes the reverse of that is true and things feel overwhelming even when they’re really not you just know you have a lot on your plate and something hit a trigger for you that you never saw coming. But should have, or more likely maybe probably not. It’s not your fault, you tell yourself. It’s a trauma response, I know that. I do. Leaving is it for me. It’s why I rarely let anyone close and even more rarely get attached myself. I’ve said on here before more than once, I’m sure, everything I love leaves or dies. That’s what life taught me for the most part – for a long time – but that’s not true anymore. Certainly the past few years have been very very rough, but the past few months, for a while now actually things have been pretty steadily getting better. I should know better. Maybe not. Maybe I don’t know anything at all.

Triggers and trauma responses take time to extinguish. Like taking in a shelter dog who maybe has been through some shit and isn’t quite sure if the good things of the recent times will continue because the past has taught them to expect otherwise.

I let a lot of things roll off my shoulders. I try to focus on the things I can control – such as my actions and the choices I make and how I handle myself – and let the things I can’t control roll off my back. I carry enough weight. I don’t need to carry the weight of the expectations of others, too. And so in recent years, I learned to put that weight down, and for the most part I have. I am still and always will be my own worst critic, examining myself over and over like a scientist through a microscope always looking to learn more about myself, be more self-aware, always continually working to grow, and become a better version of myself.

Life is hard, choose your hard. Choose what to fight for versus fighting over. Choose how you see the world around you, how you spend your time, and who you spend it with. Not everyone leaves or so I’m told but funny how even the simple act of leaving can still be a trigger. It’s why I switch to logic over emotion and then my brain gets stuck there and can take some time to switch back. It’s a defense mechanism I’m sure. I remember as a child when I did something and got in trouble and my father was yelling at me, me timidly asking him to please believe me that however much he was mad at me and disappointed at me that I was already far more upset with myself and that I already felt awful and could he please stop yelling at me. He yelled at me anyway. I cried. Life wasn’t all bad back then. There were good times too. Good times don’t give you triggers. They make memories. I like those.

I thought perhaps I’d work on my next tattoo tonight but I’m not feeling very creative. I need to get my head together before this crazy week of work kicks off first thing tomorrow with games three days in a row and plans every day this weekend. I need to look at places for a potential speaking event in Citrus County, Florida in a few weeks. I need to look at flights again. I’m back on a plane or traveling once a month again at least now through May. These are all good things, and work is picking up again. Hiking today was nice, too. It’s always good to get out in the woods to my favorite loop and let the dogs play and hike and have fun. Usually I do that hike alone. It was nice to have company today.

My truck has some big blind spots. Funny how when it’s something you drive regularly you know that they’re there even when you can’t always see your own.

Stretching Chaos

There’s chaos in her mind
And sometimes when she lets her guard down
The cracks start to show and her vulnerability
Bleeds through her roots of always standing alone

She runs hot, the window open to sleep in winter
Always looking north and maybe sometimes west
For her next great adventure hoping you will come along

Stretching both comfort and wings takes courage
A friend said the true test of character is how we face fear
And even more so what we choose to do when we reach the other side

Let’s look fear in the eye together then, shall we?
I’m not afraid with you


Go Fast Take Chances Really Live

the summit at Mount Moriah Cemetery Deadwood, SD CJ Millar

Friends & family. Smiles & laughter. Quiet time & excitement. The holidays are filled with a flight of contradictions, ups and downs, and a little but of everything, and this year for the first time in a long time it was exactly perfect. Sure, by the end of Christmas Day I was stir crazy, sitting on the couch with my best friend and my kid bored wishing there was somewhere to go or something to do as we marveled that every single restaurant and bar within a 40 min drive was closed…I know it’s Christmas! But where I used to live there were always one or two places we could go that would open up so that friends could meet up after family time. A place we could go to all get together so us misfits and broken pieces and jagged edges could just come together and fit in after the magic of the day wore off and the kids all wanted to be home catching up on sleep. After the Christmas wrapping made its way to the garbage, the presents were gone from under the tree, and, well, sometimes you just don’t want to be sitting on your couch watching football. Sometimes you want that laughter and good times to continue with a group of friends and loved ones.

This year, it was a little different. Even after the kids went to bed (one was out, the other asleep early), it was nice to not be alone watching TV again even if there was nowhere to go and our other best friends live over an hour away (we both agreed we should have stopped procrastinating sooner and just driven down there!) or the other person we were going to see wasn’t feeling up to it and his kid was tired from all the people-ing of the weekend (my youngest was too and hence went to bed early). It was in a lot of ways, for someone used to growing up with huge family gatherings and tons of people around, quite different. In other ways, it was another small step in the right direction after years of spending the holidays with even fewer people around us between the pandemic and distance and loss and change. It may not have been the huge gathering and celebration it used to be, and sure, some of the magic of Christmas may seem to dwindle as the kids get older (and mine came to me as teens well after the magic of Santa had already left), but after the kids went to bed, and me and my best friend watched the end of the very long football game that went into overtime (damn you Brady!), it was quiet – but peaceful and absolutely better than sitting and watching the rest of that game on the couch by myself. Thank you.

The holidays always seem to present their own struggle for everyone, so it was a welcome change this year that there was less struggle with my own thoughts and alone time than there has been in the recent past. I wish for my family and friends they felt the same, and if they didn’t, please know that my door is always open, and you are all always welcome here. Life is better when we do things together.

I am so looking forward to the year ahead. I am looking forward to being back on a plane again, traveling more, getting the hell outta Dodge (or maybe just back to Deadwood haha!), getting to Hawaii again, going to see friends in Texas, Florida, Colorado, and going back to hunter paces, road trips, theme parks, camping with and without the horses, and so much more. Life is full of great adventures if you’ll step out of your comfort zone and try something new, something different, something that scares you a little bit more than you’re willing to admit. For me, the scariest thing of all was learning to open up and let people in and I’ve done that more this year than I have in the past decades, with a few people who mean more to me than I can ever show enough gratitude for, and one person that has changed my life in so many ways that I am ever so grateful that he and his kids have become family too.

Life is amazing when you step into the unknown. But doing that means taking risks. Trying something new. Doing something different. Go fast take chances. But it doesn’t have to mean going so fast you’re going at breakneck speed, or taking chances so big that the risk outweighs the benefit or puts those you love at risk too. No. There’s ways to do all of this in a safe way that still pushes your limits and makes you see beyond the immediate horizon but over the mountains and the plains and the sky and the stars to everything else this world has to offer.

cjmillar82 cj millar Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park

Hiking in Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park in 2019

There’s certain fears I’ll likely never overcome, I know that and that’s okay. Take my fear of heights, for example. Heights are quite literally dizzying and disorienting to me, jut ask my DNA test (really apparently that’s a thing that has to do with depth perception) but that doesn’t mean I can’t fly. Airplanes are okay. I’ve tried bungee jumping as a kid a few times and it terrified me so I probably won’t do that again but hey, I tried. Roller coasters are amazing probably because my brain rarely has time to get disoriented from my depth perception challenges since you’re constantly moving (good because I LOVE roller coasters!). Skydiving is a no-go but indoor skydiving was a HUGE win! A wind tunnel is a pretty controlled environment so it was easy to relax and surrender control and just float/fly! I’ve hiked to places first with friends and my brother to near 2,670 feet at Puʻu Pauao on the crest of the Koʻolau mountains. And then in Deadwood alone just earlier this month along the ridge behind Mount Moriah cemetery to a height of nearly 5,400 feet where the air was so crisp and thin on a 20° morning that between that and the fear of heights I had to sit down for fear I would faint…and fall. But I didn’t. Instead I was rewarded with some of the most amazing views of my life and an experience that changed not just the way I look at the world but at myself, too.

cjmillar82 deadwood Moriah cemetery

The peak at the top of Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, SD

cjmillar82 deadwood Moriah cemetery peak

Hiking up past Seth Bullock’s grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery

Yes, I’m standing in both of those photos. The peak behind me is the one I climbed to the top of, and I was rewarded with the most amazing views.

Have you ever done something so out of your comfort zone, by yourself – or with friends – that caught your breath in your throat and had you going from fear to wonder to amazement all in a matter of minutes or seconds even? If you haven’t, I suggest you do something about it. Find something. Try something new or different, or amazing. Challenge yourself. Live outside of your box, outside of your own little world, let your walls down, let people in, let life change you because you never know what you’ll learn about yourself or those you love when you take a deep breath and open your mind to something entirely new. Whether you’re taking Robin Williams’s advice and standing on a desk like he challenged the students to do in Dead Poet’s Society simply to change their perspective on the most mundane of their surroundings – their classroom, or challenging yourself to literal new heights on the side of a mountain, a snowy peak, a ski hill, a plane ride, or a summer trail to a Hawaiian summit, whatever it is, go do it. Do SOMETHING. Don’t just live. Suck the marrow out of life, breathe in the air for more than just survival but to really FEEL life. Figure out what passion is and I don’t mean in the bedroom, I mean in the every day. Stop living the ordinary. Start living the extraordinary. Believe in magic. Do something different. Now. There is no better time.

Life is different when you’re actually living it. Go live. Really live.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Cheers to an amazing year ahead and challenging yourself to live differently. I love you all. 

Mount Moriah Cemetery Deadwood South Dakota CJMillar82

The air and the sunrise are different up here.

So Far Through

so far through life without a paddle cjmillar82

The holidays are hard for us. They’re hard for a lot of people but the hurt is still fresh here. The loss still tangible as if it was just a few years ago – because it was. Spending the past few years in nothing but survival mode, doing nothing but everything at the same time, carrying the weight of the world and the expectations of two kids and my entire childhood on my shoulders was enough to break me or make me run away but instead I did neither. I got through it. I got so far through it that I seem to have gotten myself stuck in survival mode and am right back into that now that it’s the holidays again.

I keep saying I’ve just gotta get through it. I’ve just gotta get through this week. This weekend. This one big thing. This next big thing. Then something else breaks. Something else is broken. And suddenly I’m realizing the really broken thing is me.

I feel like I could cry at the drop of a hat (or the burning out of a Christmas tree bulb) and I have been and I hate it. I despise crying. It makes me feel physically ill and then I get myself all twisted up inside and overthink and retreat back into my head and want to run away only this time I don’t want to run away, I don’t want to leave at all because I’ve finally found home and people I feel like I actually belong with. Family. Something that’s been so broken and fragmented for so many of us that perhaps that’s why we fit together the way we do. And even when we’re not broken, we all have our jagged little edges. It’s how we fit together that makes all the difference. And we all fit together, that much I know.

I need to get through this weekend. So far through but not so far that I push everyone away. I’ve never had someone there for me – let alone multiple people – when I’ve gone through some of what I am looking ahead at this weekend. I am afraid for that, but less afraid than I think I was of being alone again. I know I’ll get through this. So far through. Right through to Deadwood, and Wyoming, with people I love, coming back to people I love, in a place I call home.

I am so far through these past few years, that I have to believe the next one will be even better. This year was hard, but this fall has been incredible, and, despite the weight of the holidays and the shifting of work and timing and balancing of everything else, I know that January continues the upward momentum, and that will keep carrying on through ahead. I’ve been saying for years that those of us who put in the work, got through these hard times, and didn’t give up or shit out, or look for excuses or scapegoats, but honestly truly focused on how to keep going, keep growing, and keep looking up were destined for better things ahead. Those things are here, and more are coming, I believe that. So far, through everything, I can see where things are going and I am smiling even through the tears.

Thank You

cjmillar82 life without a paddle thank you thanksgiving

As I sit here on Thanksgiving Eve thinking of all the things I’m grateful for, and I can’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. So much has changed over the years, but I am still the same little girl, believing in magic and wishing on stars, only now I have someone that believes in me, too. And not just someone. I have the best people in the world around me. These amazing kids who know me inside and out, these friends that stand by me, and this family around me, and this incredible human that I get to spend my time with. It’s something else, really. Something entirely different for me, in all the best ways and I am forever grateful. Thank you.

This is all new. All of it. I’ve always been able to see pieces of the future, glimpses of what’s to come based on where I am – or we all are – right now. But like the book, “A Wrinkle in Time,” every little thing in life has a ripple effect and when you get caught up looking ahead in only one direction based on all the pieces of your past, you eventually (hopefully) start to realize that life will always keep changing.

I usually like to drive. I tend to plan things too much. I tend to build this schedule of what things look like in my mind and then when life changes or things get in the way, I let my anxiety cripple me and tell me over and over again that I was wrong, I was not enough, I’d never be enough, and crumble. Then I get back up, start over, and do it all over again. It’s like I could only see my future based on all of my past(s), and the one thing I never saw before is that I am so much more than that. We all are. We can’t live life stuck in the past and while sure, we can (and should) learn from it, that isn’t exactly what the future is all about.

You see, I’ve spent most of my pasts alone. All of them that I can really remember anyway. Sure, I had friends, and people I’d meet, some I’ve been lucky enough to meet over and over again life after life and that’s amazing in and of itself. But there’s more to it than that. For the first time, I can’t see a clear future but I know that whatever it holds, we’re building it together. That’s better than seeing what’s next or (thinking of) knowing what’s around the next corner. There’s a power and a beauty in that which I’ve never experienced before. For a change it’s nice to not always be driving. For a change I am actually enjoying being a passenger, because I get to share this ride with these amazing people. With people who want me to be there with them. With people – and especially one person – who understands when I’ve had a hard day, how much it means to me to just say hey, it’s amazing to see you. I don’t care where we go or what we do, I just want to spend time with you – and to simply be happy handing over all of the decisions to someone who can say in return – we’re good – and just let me go along for the ride as we figure things out. Together. Laughing and smiling. Venting and bitching. Laughing some more. And smiling. I don’t think I’ve smiled this much my whole life. It’s incredible.

So I am here writing this that I hope I’ll actually finish tonight and publish and share because I came here to say thank you. I have a few things I’ve started and saved in drafts from these past weeks that I haven’t shared. Partially because I don’t know what to say, or I reread what I’ve started and add to it but it feels disjointed and nonsensical to me. Writing about the first snow, the magic of the world blanketed in the first soft carpet of white as if the entire world was brushed with fairy dust and a little bit of dreams falling from the sky. But how crazy does that sound? Very. It is crazy. I am crazy. Crazy about you. Crazy about life. Crazy about sharing all of these experiences from here until whenever forever with the people I love.

Life is all about sharing experiences. It’s how we truly open up to people. Driving down the road pointing out this house where you used to live. This road the deer ran into my truck on. This memory down this lane from ages ago. These places I’ve been that bring back memories. Not because we’re stuck in the past, but because I want you to know all of me, and you want to share all of you with me, too. Now that’s what’s truly crazy, right? The part where somehow in very little time I went from being the cynical standoffish overly independent individual to opening up and letting someone see that hey, I really DO believe in magic but not just for others. For me, too. I am finally starting to believe that sharing that magic with someone may not be quite so terrifying after all. It is terrifying. But only because I trust you, yet somehow I am not afraid of you hurting me, or of being too much or not enough. Because somehow I am comfortable just being me. And somehow I am starting to believe that me is, somehow, enough for you. How did I get so lucky? Thank you.

Thank you, too. I wouldn’t be here without your wraparound hugs and shoulder to cry on when I spent the entire summer looking for reasons to run away. You gave me a reason to stay. You (and there’s more than one of you) reminded me and convinced me that my friends are worth staying for even after these kids grow up and move away. That when you finally remember how to breathe and just stand still, the best things in life will come to you (and they did, thank you).

Life isn’t always easy, nor is it going to be, but I’m okay with that because I know you’ll be here with me. I have so much to give thanks for, and this Thanksgiving and all weekend long I look forward to a lot more smiles, a lot more laughs, and even more to love with so much more still to come. Thank you. I love you all.

find your tribe love them hard cjmillar82 life without a paddle


Life Like This

life like this cjmillar82 life without a paddle

Is this real? I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and a good morning text on my phone. I fed the animals, watered the plants, took care of the horses, mended some fencing, and laughed at the dogs. Made coffee, sat on the porch and checked email. And I’m still smiling. Is this real life? Do people actually get to live like this?

Suddenly everything seems a little bit brighter. My days are filled with family and friends and people I love. My nights are filled with laughter and good times and dreams. My weekends are always epic to the point that I’m running out of words to describe just how amazing they are because each one is better than the last and things just keep getting better. Is this real?

It sure feels unbelievable to me. I’ve never had this. I’ve never smiled this much. And I’m hard pressed to remember a time when I was ever this truly genuinely happy. No, not everything’s peaches and roses. Work is still ramping up slower than I’d like, but it’s heading in the right direction and suddenly I feel like I can take it in stride. No, the weight on my shoulders hasn’t gotten any lighter – if anything it’s possibly gotten a little bit heavier – but that’s okay. I can take that in stride too, today.

Alone time is productive and positive these days. Getting lost in the woods isn’t about disappearing for a while, it’s about finding myself and, yeah, smiling some more. I rode this weekend for the first time since August and like any time I’ve had a break from riding for whatever reason, I’m reminded how much I missed it. I’ll ride again this weekend on my other horse, maybe wander the state park for a few hours before the last football game of the season – one where my kid finally gets to play and I’m so happy for him. Then I’ll go see a dear friend and celebrate his brother and laugh like time doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ll be on the back of that bike with this unbelievable man for another incredible 65-and-sunny Sunday that will keep me smiling for days. I’ll spend time with these amazing kids, make more memories, and appreciate the time we have together before life changes again. Life always changes. But damn, I hope how much I’m smiling never does.

I’ve got some hard days ahead that feel a little bit less daunting, if still knowing that they are going to be absolutely devastating to get through. Thing is, I know I’ll get through it, and for a change, I won’t be alone. The holidays seem a little less heavy on the horizon, and while I know there will be days I’ll need to be alone to make it through – the past few years have not been easy – I also know that there are even more good days to look forward to just ahead.

Do people really get to live like this? What did they do to deserve it? If you know, can you please tell me because I’ve never had a life like this and more than anything I’ve ever known, this is something I don’t want to lose. I know that much. So if you know how to keep this, what people do to deserve this, please let me know so I can keep doing it for the rest of my life. And just keep smiling.