Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I sneak out of the bedroom and tiptoe into the kitchen. I don’t go there to grab a snack or make the quintessential sandwich on white bread with mayo. Instead, when I am awake and my mind is racing, I head to the kitchen because that is where our pantry is—the one just big enough for a step stool that doubles as a seat for me at 2 a.m.

Perhaps even more importantly than a place for me to sit, the pantry has a sliding door. It’s quiet. You know how some doors—no matter how slowly or strategically you try to close them—squeak and creak like you’re in a horror movie and that’s the noise that gets you killed? Yeah, well, this door is much more well-behaved.

I slide the noiseless door to the side, sit on the stool, and nestle up next to the vent. If I’m lucky, the heat is on. The soft sound of warm air blowing into a tiny space is soothing.

I’ve learned that when life and people and decisions and circumstances seem too big—the best thing you can do is to make everything small. Maybe you have a favorite blanket you meld into, or a ratty old hooded sweatshirt that offers a giant layer of protection when you need to hide out and disengage for a minute.

We all need our safe spaces.

But when our lives are infiltrated by others who don’t allow us to be ourselves, our core shelter is threatened. Our very existence becomes exposed.

This time of year, everyone’s exposure is heightened. We go from tended and secure routines, grocery store lists, and sleeping arrangements to what can feel like utter chaos. We buy and do and say things we wouldn’t normally—things that aren’t “us.”

And yet we always have a choice to be who we truly are.

I’ve been following the story of Gabrielle Union’s and Julianne Hough’s firing from America’s Got Talent, over their choice to stand-up against offensive on-set incidents at NBC. While the age-old injustice of inappropriate comments and behavior wasn’t surprising, one headline stuck out to me:

“Dwyane Wade confirms Gabrielle Union was ‘fired’ from ‘AGT,’ praises wife for being ‘an advocate for our community’.”

When I read that, I thought, What would our lives look like if we advocated for our self-community?

Clearly, Gabby Union has convictions, moral standards and principles she is passionate about upholding. As she should. As we all should. Amen to her and every other human being who is sick and tired of not being seen for who they are.  

Her message is exactly the message we should be sending. Which is, if you do not treat and respect me for who I am instead of who you want me to be, then I am not putting up with it. I will not change who I am just to make you more comfortable, so you can shut the lid on the box you’re trying to stuff me into.

No more excuses. No more blame. No more spending countless hours apologizing to others for who you are—including your boundaries and daily decisions.

What if instead of retreating to a little closet to shut out dangers that infringe upon our true selves, we made the choice to only allow safe people and experiences into our lives?

Maybe this is the year (now that we are in its last month!) you say no to a few things. Or, just say no more period. No more accepting treatment you don’t deserve. No more pleasing everyone else around you at the expense of self.

I’m not encouraging selfishness. Quite the contrary. I am championing you not putting yourself in harm’s way again this year, whether around the wrong people or in the wrong place. You know what kindness to yourself means. No one can take that away from you, nor your gratitude for who you were created to be, unless you choose to let them.