A month ago I had this fabulous, grandiose idea to write a post and share it on my birthday titled “22 values I learned at 22”. Last I checked this was the wildest year of my life and I wanted to share some of those lessons I picked up along the way. However, it is now November 5th and this shit still hasn’t been posted. So why the delay, Danika? Well, in my note book, which I carry around to scribble ideas or thoughts in, has to date, 37 lessons and details that I can’t seem to narrow in on. Some are drunk ideas (actually a fair amount are), some hurt like hell, and some are to hard to transfer onto my laptop. Instead of forcing, cramming and condensing all of my lessons into a few sentences, I am going to offer only a few.

The day I turned 22 struck a feeling of relief. A moment of transformation. Not because I felt any older but because everyone else saw me as older. There is this preconceived notion that all 21 year olds are young, stupid and drunks. I was none of those things. In fact, I didn’t start drinking until I turned 21.

I saw 22 as the year of opportunity. I had the freedom to fly, swim, run and skip through this past year. My closest friends were graduating from college and I lagged a year behind them. What I wanted was work, focus and opportunity. What I got was love, trails and devastation. This past year was a test of how much that I could handle, whether I was ready for it or not.

—-

1. Passion’s last a life time. Make as many as possible. 

Life is tricky and sometimes a massive unresolved riddle. We don’t always get answers when we want them. So we begin this deteriorating process of questioning ourselves like:

“Why am I here?” or “What is my purpose?”, and “What the hell am I doing with my life?”.

When we have a passion we inject those passion to help answer those questions by ourselves.

“Why am I coaching volleyball?… because of the girls.” “What is my purpose when I photograph?… to capture the details of people that others don’t notice.” “What the hell am I doing majoring in Film and minoring in WMGST?!… To tell stories that need to be heard.”

The questions, and the riddle of life become more manageable. The world doesn’t seem so big. It becomes graspable, holdable, and touchable.  Sometimes it crumbles. Sometimes you can’t carry on certain passions because they are stripped from you. Instead of sobbing about it, wipe the tears, find an alternative to doing it and keep moving forward.

Passion’s can be taken, but they can never be forgotten.

To build more than one is only going to benefit a healthier, livelier soul. The more you find, then the less you’ll be asking yourself what defines your existence.

2. In theory, stiletto’s are a fabulous idea. 

Stilettos. UUGH I love stilettos. I love walking into a room like “Sup bitches. Yes, you are damn right I’m 6’3″ in theses babies. Stare hard enough and maybe my calves will pop out and bite ya.”

Yes, stilettos are superb. Until you are hammered drunk and walking across Sunset Boulevard. You then manage to roll both ankles and land on your ass harder than a sack of flour, that nails the ground when thrown off of the Empire State Building.

The initial landing may have been funny until you realize the 4 to 6, maybe even 8 police men, lurk in the distance watching you struggle to get back up. Then you think “Holy shit Danika, pull it together. You are not spending the night in jail because you can’t walk in these fabulous, super incredible, hot AF, Jessica Simpson heels.” The next morning comes with the realization that you fell so hard to bruise your coccyx, eff’d up your heels and still might possibly be drunk. Blame it on the Grey Goose as much as you want. You are still a certified dumb ass.

Maybe I should just invest in a shorter pair, or maybe I should question why it is that I feel the burning desire to dress a certain way. If I can seriously injury myself, to the point of screaming in pain when I bend over to tie my shoes, then it might be time to invest in shoes that don’t have a heel that is the volume of a number 2 pencil.

 3. My body is mine to honor.

In May, I weighed in lighter then I did my freshman year of high school. Yes, standing at 5’10” and 22 years old I weighed 6 pounds lighter then when I was at the ripe age of 14 and as short as 5’7″.

Right now, I weigh in at the heaviest I have ever been. I fluctuated through my weight by 20 pounds in 6 months. I’m not gonna stand by the catchy song of “All about that Bass” and glorify that men want curves and all this nonsense. That isn’t why I am proud of my body. I am proud of my body because it is functioning, and healthy.

My body is mine to love regardless of that number I see on the scale, the size of my bra and waist band. I am OVER feeling a constant need to be a certain weight in order to feel beautiful. If I think negative thoughts about my body than I will believe those things. My body works and I am so very blessed to have good health and walk free from pain.

If I want to be an advocate for positive body image than I can stop at pinching the fat on my arm and start by loving the fat on my arm. It’s there to keep me warm through a mildly cold California winter anyway, right?

Also, being on a diet was single-handedly the most brainwashing thing that I have EVER done to myself. To limit myself to certain foods because I’ll “look better” was shameful. Food is culture. Food forms friendships. Food forms opinions and ideas. Now, why would I ever limit myself to just one idea… just a salad with the dressing on the side, please. Nah, hell no. I’ll have the Pad Thai with extra shrimp and a large Vietnamese beer, please and thank you.

My body is mine to love and to treat with respect. It is not mine to starve, overly lift weights and take mirror selfies of my abs. There is no honor in comparison. Yet, there is honor in living truthfully, wholly and culturally.

4. Someone, somewhere is looking up to you. 

Surrounding myself with a group of young girls through my 22nd year transformed my character. I wanted to be someone that they could come to with questions about volleyball and life. I wanted to create a space where they felt comfort when home and school couldn’t provide it for them.  I wanted my girls to develop life long friendships with their teammates. I wanted my girls to look at each other and think “Woah, how blessed am I to have teammates like theses?”

At that time, I didn’t realize what I was doing. These girls were looking up to me. Not because I was their coach and teaching them the fundamentals of volleyball. But because they saw me as human. They connected to me. They leached onto me like a parasite, for hope, compassion and an open ear.

The advice I gave at necessary time-out’s, after tournaments, during practice, was all absorbed because they knew that I believed in them and irreversibly they believed in me.

They saw my flaws, and instead of criticizing me, they respected me. They saw me as a human floating through life just as confused and broken as they are. They saw me as powerful instead of  some subordinate figure to their other coaches. They listened to what I said. They agreed about my criticism. They  felt love when I praised them. I will continue to praise them for as long as my heart with beat and my brain will function.

Someone, somewhere is looking up to me. It humbles me and I will never take that for granted.

5. When life gets foggy… get back to Nature.

My favorite place on this stunningly massive planet is just a 6 hour drive away.

Yosemite National Park. Woah Nelly, it is my version of Disneyland. To me, it is God’s greatest creation. Every time I drive into that park I learn something about myself. I got the opportunity to escape with one of my best friend’s and her family. This trip shattered my world. I breathed the cleanest of air. I listened to the language of Yosemite, the singing of the grass, the life of the birds, and the strength of the river. By day, I stared at the strongest granite rocks in the world that have been carved  by a damn glacier.  By night, I lost myself in darkness; yet, I was guided by the billions of stars sprinkled through the sky.

On my last day, I went swimming at the bottom of Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls, is the largest waterfall in North America. Shit is real big, yo.

The water level was low enough, that I was gifted a once in a life time opportunity, to swim underneath it. Shit was real cold, yo. LIKE, REALLY COLD.

The water froze my bones. I found myself gasping for air as I swam. I felt my lungs collapsing, and my heart pounding through my chest. My skin was just skin, my muscles were just muscles, they could not move. My brain refused to tell my feet to paddle and my arms to stroke but somehow I was swimming.

I, in that moment rejected the notion that to be alive is to be comfortable and accepted the notion that to be alive means to feel something. Pain. Pleasure. Whatever it was — I felt alive.

I accepted my place on earth as I was testing my body, my courage and my willingness to be uncomfortable. I became awakened. Like a newborn entering this world. I entered into a new version of me.

A new faith in God. A new version of risk-taking. A new Danika…. all found under the strongest granite waterfall on Earth.

6. Jose, Stella and Jack are here for fun and not a substitute for a counselor.

I really like alcohol. Like a lot. This past year has been a time of acquiring some good taste in it. That undeniably magical liquid became apart of my week to week, and at certain times, day to day regiem. Nothing sounded better after a long day, of driving 93 miles, than to sit in my backyard with a cold long neck bottle to my lips.

Except it happened one day. I snapped. I started to abuse it. What was just in time was a six letter word.

S-U-M-M-E-R. I had three whole months to be a drunk mess.

I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have school. I slept till noon because I was up until the early morning drinking. There is a certain time and place for things. This summer was my time to learn when enough is enough. I drank in different states, with different people and in really sketchy situations. My brother would say, “Dude, you have a problem.” I refused to face it because I knew he was right. The real moment that opened my eyes was the day Germany beat Argentina for the World Cup, and I avoided getting a DUI riding on a beach cruiser on the Newport Peninsula. I thought I learned from that moment but there I was 3o minutes later running out of Ralph’s, with a stollen octopus ballon in my hands.

It might be funny to a stranger, but that day set me over the edge. I really needed help. The only person who could help me was myself. Since that day I have had my fair share of idiotic drunk moments, however they happen on the occasion, and not everyday. I guess everyone needs that moment to spark an understanding that the time to gain control is now. Not tomorrow. Not when school starts. Now. So I did. I am slowly getting back to recreationally using alcohol as a time to relax, to celebrate, and to socialize. Not to cover up pain.

7. Love knows no boundaries and timing is a bitch. 

I say that with confidence and resilience.  I was given a script, from the moment that I took my first breathe on earth.

Name: Danika Iselin Hale Miller

Born: November 3,1991 at 5:53 pm

Sex: female

Gender: Girl.

What gender brings is the structured ideology that involves all shades of pinks and “pretties”, delicates and softness. I live on this narrative as a heathy, beautiful caucasian baby girl. As my sponge of a brain soaked up every moment of information, I learned what it means to be  a girl. With the help of Walt Disney, I learned to be a princess. Story after story. Bullshit after bullshit. Fairytale after fairytale. I mindlessly consumed it all to believe that this story of Cinderella will soon, one day be mine. That I will find my “Prince Charming”, my “Happily Ever After…” and never have a fucking worry in the world.

What homedawg, Walt forgot to add in theses stories is that love is blinder than a bat. Love is blind to age, race, and gender. Love is stronger than a missing slipper or a dying rose. It is as powerful enough to control the human brain and squeeze a beating heart till it bursts. No matter how hard you throw your feelings out of the window and spoon-feed yourself to think, “No, you do not love this person. You can’t love this person.”  It comes hurling back into the window like Nigel the pelican, when he flies into the dentists office to save Marlin in Finding Nemo. Life gets a wee bit messy.

This year I learned what I don’t want in a person. As I learned what I don’t want, I realized who I did want. He was right there in front of me the entire time. I needed that person, he was who I had been missing. He enlightened me in knowing how I deserve to be treated. What hurt the absolute most is that I can’t have it. I can’t have the love that I know can fit for me.

It may not be perfect but it was worth the try. It may not work but damn it could have worked for a second. Because once you find that love, the love that makes you mad, excited, vulnerable and happy all at once– you know its worth fighting for. When you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world you want to keep that feeling for as long as possible. You will give up anything to keep that person who makes you feel that way.

The stars couldn’t align. Our luck wore out. We tirelessly tried everything to make us happen. The world wasn’t ready for us. As hard as it was to understand, we had to let go, we had to be okay with not being okay.

With the help of Mick Jagger’s sexy voice, and my sticky life moment, I learned that I can’t always get what I want.  I slipped and fell. I fell and broke every metaphorical pivotal functioning bone in my body. The pain pierced through my veins and I believed that I was dying. I gave my life for that love and I could never regret it.  Who I love is my prerogative. It is not the world’s job to know at all times who it is that I love. That is why timing always beats love. Just like how paper always beats rock. It swallows it whole so you can never see it again. But hey I guess that is how the game is played, right?

8. “Get in the game”

I met a man in Yosemite. His occupation is a “life coach”. He got a “vibe” that I was in Yosemite for a reason. Well, what better reason than to meet him? This man gave me the best damn advice that I needed at the time.

“Danika, get in the game. Life is not a spectator sport. You either do it or you don’t.”

He continued on with his visual metaphor of skydiving, “You can’t kind of jump out of a plane. You have to commit to jumping out of a plane.” His views on tandem skydiving are as follows, “Do you want to be known as a human fanny pack? Because that’s what you are if you jump out of a plane connected to someone else.”

From that day on, I regained a little bit of my broken heart and started to put the millions of shattered pieces back together. I got my head back into the game.

Every decision that I make, is made because I refuse to let life pass by. I refuse to spectate my own life. I am heart broken. Yet, I can’t keep letting my pain stop me from this incredible, remarkable fucking crazy life that I have. I am in my game. I am playing it at my pace. Winning and losing. Sometimes I lose more than I win. But hot damn I am doing it and not afraid of all of the terrible things that could happen.

—-

The days I turned 23 was a day of intense gratitude. I was immensely overwhelmed with love from friends, family and strangers. It was the best way to say Au revoir to 22.

As seasons pass, and minutes turn into hours, I will never forget 22. As age defines the very existence of the human body, and as the years build I hope that I will confidently say that 22 was a year learning to feel alive. The good and the bad of “living”. The tears that I painfully wept, the laughs that I uncontrollably bursted, the relationships that I created, and hearts that I crushed at 22 lays at ground zero for 23.

Where will I go? What will I do? Whatever comes my way, whatever shapes, shakes and breaks me will only build onto what I learned at 22.

So cheers, cheers to opportunity, to dreams, to molding old and new passions.

Cheers to love.

Cheers to me.

Cheers to 23.

 

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