The winter of 2005-2006 was the darkest of my life.  I was 19 years old at the time, withdrawn from college, working my first full-time job in retail, and in an extremely unhealthy relationship.  I was isolated from my friends and family.  I felt completely alone, unseen, and unloved.  I didn’t know how to get myself out of that state of mind or being.  On a dark night in January 2006, heartbroken and helpless, I sat on the floor of my bedroom trying to convince myself to commit suicide.  I don’t remember the day because a lot of that time is a blur.  But I remember that night clearly.  I remember the way my body felt.  It was hollow, aching, and exhausted.  Tears poured from my eyes and onto the carpet.  I was telling myself over and over that no one loved me, that I was worthless, and that the world would be better off without me.  My saving grace that night was that I didn’t want to really die, but I just didn’t want to live the way I had been.  I may have hurt myself deeply that night, but I thank that young version of myself for staying in the fight.  It would take another year before I got any relief from my pain, a beautiful 2 year respite, and then the inevitable resurfacing of patterns and habits in 2009 that had gone unhealed.     

Despite all of that, she is the version of myself I am most grateful for.  She decided to stop digging the hole she had been digging her whole life, to say there must be something other then this hole, and she looked up.  She saw light.  It might have been the tiniest speck of light really far away, but it was better than the endless darkness beneath her feet.  She started to climb.  She would slip and fall back into the hole, over and over, and she would cry.  She would look up and say it’s impossible.  But the ever present darkness surrounding her would make her start climbing again anyway, despite the seemingly impossible task ahead.  She closed her eyes and asked for help.  She didn’t know who she was asking, or if she were praying or begging, but she put her heart out there.  And then a root appeared right when she needed it to, offering her a safe place to grab hold of so she wouldn’t fall back to the bottom.  She never fell back to the bottom again, but the top was still so far away.  The climb was the hardest thing she had ever done, but over time she came upon more roots that would help guide her to the top.  The more she climbed, the stronger she became.  She began learning to maneuver the vertical climb, adapting her body and mind to the struggle.  More roots were presenting themselves the higher she climbed, some were so long she was able to lean on them when she needed to rest.  She began to enjoy the struggle.  The light continued to grow brighter.  The impossible suddenly became possible.  She climbed faster, harder, and more determined than ever.  Until one day, she reached the top.  She closed her eyes and began to cry as the light engulfed her.  Now the hole was just a little dark speck on the ground that she had the freedom to walk away from.  In order for her to make it to the top, she needed to make the decision to climb.  If the roots hadn’t been there for her, she may never have made it.  The roots had been there all along, she just needed to reach out for them.  Once she began to walk away from the hole, she came upon a mountain.  The mountain stands so tall she cannot see the top.  She considered all the effort she just put into climbing out of the hole.  She knew no one would fault her if she decided she had gone far enough and chose to just stay put.  But she had witnessed the impossible become a reality of her own creation.  She may have been covered in dirt, but she was stronger than ever.  She knew without a shadow of a doubt that her life’s work would be to get as far up that mountain as possible.  So she began to climb again.

I use this metaphor often to describe the 3 paths every human being always has the option of taking: digging themselves into a hole, staying unmoving where they are, or climbing to new heights.  This paints a picture of the last ten years of my life.  I was born in a hole my parents had created in their own lives, and all I knew was how to dig.  The light was possibility.  The roots were the people I have mentioned in this project, along with so many more.  I needed help, people offered it, and I accepted it.  What I am grateful for most in regards to myself is that I listened to these people.  When they extended a hand, I took hold.  They could have offered their help, advice, experiences, and friendship and I could have turned it away.  I could have ignored what they were offering because I was too stuck in my dark story.  I could have continued to believe the life I wanted was impossible.  But I didn’t.  I needed to find the will to live within myself, but I also needed to find those that could help guide me through unknown territory.  I could not have made it to the top without them, and I could not have made it to the top without being me.

Now, let me really introduce myself.  My name is Nikki Lanoue, and I am the happiest person I know.  Every moment of every day I’m alive I design in a way to enhance my existence.  I love who I am.  I love how I spend my time.  I love my body and what it does for me.  I love my mind and what it’s capable of.  I love my friends, as they are all the most amazing, loving people I’ve ever met.  I love my family and accept everyone for exactly as they are.  I exchange my time for money in ways that help make people feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.  I take care of myself by eating well, exercising/moving daily, receiving bodywork, spending time with friends/family, spending time alone, meditating, and holding myself accountable to stay in the light.  I travel the world.  I’m self-employed.  Anything that makes me feel uncomfortable, I lean into it instead of fleeing from it.  Anything that challenges me, I embrace as something that will help me grow stronger.  I learn from my mistakes, my experiences, other people, and books.  I am honest.  I have integrity.  I am loyal and responsible.  Who I am on the inside is exactly who I project to the outside world.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to every single person who has had a positive impact in my life.  I am here because you took the extra step, because you cared.  In honor of all that these people have done for me, I will forever share my story and experiences in the hopes that I can have the same impact on someone else the way these people have had such a profound impact on me.  I now risk being seen as the person that might be a little over the top, that might share too much, that might go on rants about the amazing aspects of life she has experienced.  I will forever share the books I read, or give shout outs to those I love on social media.  I will continue to make an effort to touch the hearts of others in a way mine has been touched.  

I love myself.  In the truest, deepest way I’ve ever experienced love.  No one on the Earth will ever know me as well as I know myself, or love me as much as I love myself, because I am the only person that is with me every single moment of my existence.  This is what I hope to inspire in others.  How can anyone learn to speak the language of love if they’ve never heard it spoken before?  We need each other to thrive as a tribe, but being the person you want to be and having the life you want can only come from within.  When we want to see change in our lives and in the world, we must first change ourselves.

I was given the seed of change 10 years ago. I have grown into a brilliant tree that will continue to reach for the light as long as I live.  My roots will continue to grow firmly into the ground so that others may have something to grab hold of when they need it.  I will continue to drop fruits from my branches in hopes that new seeds of change will grow.  My tree stands amongst a forest of other amazing trees.  In this forest, all are encouraged to climb.

The full project can also be viewed on Flickr.