I search for words, but none come. My face feels hot, so I know my cheeks are probably turning a ridiculous shade of red, or at the very least severely pink. I start to feel sick to my stomach – which is strange, because I haven’t been sick at all up until this moment. It must be the anxiety firing on all cylinders. It’s the anxiety of trying to avoid the fight that I know must be coming. Am I the only one sensing tension in the air? It’s like a bubble swollen to the point of bursting, getting bigger and bigger until the inevitable happens and it explodes. I’d do anything to keep that from happening – so I stay silent, bite my tongue, and wait for the moment to pass.

I don’t want to admit it, but that could have defined one of several instances in my lifetime. Replace one person with another, swap out one year ago for five years ago – it doesn’t matter. The common denominator is me. I’m the one who hasn’t really managed to change. I’m the one who continues to try and avoid rather than stay and keep her feet firmly planted. I’m the one who’s afraid of confrontation.

It happened again, just a few days ago. I had an interaction with someone – not a friend, not really even an acquaintance. It was a person I’ve seen around in my neighborhood, and when I approached them with the intention of it being a passing conversation, that’s not how it turned out. I could tell from their body language, the tone of their voice – this was not going to be pleasant. I knew I had to stand up for myself in the situation, but all I could do was stand there, completely dumbstruck, before murmuring a passive word in farewell and hightailing it out of there.

I remember mentally kicking myself later, thinking of at least a thousand things I could have said in reply in the moment. The best comebacks are always the ones that come to mind after the fact. But it didn’t matter. The opportunity had passed, and I was left, once again, feeling like I’d failed myself somehow.

I try to avoid conflict. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s the kind of thing that I would probably cop to if someone ever asked me what my biggest weakness is. It’s taken me several years to realize that this is probably one of the things I struggle with the most – but it’s also something that I’m trying to work on.

I know it’s not going to be easy. I spent such a long time knowing that I had a problem with it and not doing anything to make a difference, and so now I’m not really sure where to begin. Like anything else, I’m taking it one step at a time. Baby steps. There may not be any noticeable difference to the casual observer, but any time I manage to assert myself – it’s going to feel like an accomplishment worth being proud of. If someone gets my order wrong at a restaurant, I might actually speak up instead of just accepting the food as is. If someone cuts me off in line, I’ll point it out to them rather than stepping back.

I’m not saying I won’t be picking and choosing my battles. There are just some fights that aren’t worth having. But I think I was shying away from everything all across the board – and so then I was afraid to say anything at all. And every time I don’t say what’s on my mind exactly when I need to say it, I end up regretting it later. I end up feeling like a little part of my soul shrivels up inside.

They say life’s too short for a reason, but it’s also full of so many moments, and chances, and opportunities. It’s not too late for me to start saying something when I start to feel backed into a corner, or shamed for my beliefs – and I shouldn’t have to feel like I don’t have the right to raise my voice on the issues that really matter to me.

I’m definitely still a work in progress. I’m still growing, and I’m still learning about myself, about my place in the world, and about where I want to be.

But I also know it’s time I stop apologizing for it.

[Featured image via Shutterstock.]