But how does one become that person in the first place? It starts somewhere. For me, it started when I was a child. I was cared for, loved, and cherished, but somewhere in there, I never felt 100% comfortable with myself and was never really certain of my identity. I relied on others for feedback for who I should be, rather than being okay with the person I really was. Did it start as early as I was born? A premature baby, and a September birthday, I started school early, and was always the youngest one in my class. While I intellectually was able to compete, I struggled socially and physically. It seemed like I was always behind. Do these seemingly insignificant decisions or chance events significantly alter the course of our lives?
Everything I did was to prove to someone else I was something, or even something else. Every choice I made was to hide from the person I really was. Never mind that I wasn’t quite sure who that person really was, anyway, I was still certain that people wouldn’t like her. As I grew older, I was convinced that I had to put on a costume every day to be liked . . . to be considered . . . to be relevant . . . to exist. What this looked like for me as a young adult was using a lot of alcohol and drugs to numb the fear and anxiety that came with always feeling less than. I became smarter and funnier when I was using. People seemed to like me more, but it was never enough. I put that high above everything else, including family and friends, because if I’m being honest, I still knew that deep down, I was still afraid of whom I might really be and that others might not accept me for it. I continually chased that elusive high, never wanting to accept what might be underneath, but rather seeking out a cartoon version of myself.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the gaps between all the laughs, and the good times, and the “you’ll never believe this” stories, were filled with only sadness. It was really convenient to drink more, or to be constantly looking for the next party, so as to not have to face the stark reality that I kept everyone at arm’s length, that I pushed people away, that I allowed myself to be taken advantage of, that I didn’t understand the concept of how to have any lasting and meaningful relationships. All of my relationships revolved around partying. It was a safe zone for me, but sometimes I felt like a marionette, always up on a stage. I worked really hard to craft a persona for myself. I was brash and unemotional. I was always up for a good time. I didn’t care about relationships, but I was the person to see if you wanted to do something wild. I did not give a fuck.
Stripping away the years or insecurity, poor decisions, and alcohol use, and going back to my earliest memories, that persona was nothing like the girl I used to be. I was not sure what I had become. I spent my whole life thinking if I meticulously crafted myself into the image of someone who I thought wouldn’t get hurt that I could avoid the pain. Instead, all I found was emptiness. It was an incurable sadness, where no one ever understood me, because how could anyone understand a person who wasn’t herself to begin with? It was an impossible ask of the universe and it’s inhabitants. I used this to fuel my feelings of isolation and difference, which I then used even further to contribute to and define the story of who I was, nothing more than a misunderstood soul who was meant to be a lone wolf.
Somewhere along the way, that ride became too much and there came a point where I had to step off. As my world shattered around me, the fragile façade I had spent years crafting and perfecting, I felt a freedom I don’t think I had ever experienced. I shed off the heavy overcoat of victimhood and shame, and started accepting myself for who I really was. For me, it took my life crumbling around me to finally wake me up. But nevertheless, I am here now. I know who I am, I am more comfortable in my own skin each and every day that passes, and I will never forget what it took for me to arrive at this point.
All it seems we ever want for our children is better. I think about myself, my childhood, and my development, and all I can want for my son is a better way. I want him to know that he doesn’t ever need to be someone he is not and he does not have to put on an act. Kids can do a lot of things to feel like they belong, and they grow into young adults that feel like they have to wear that same mask. Do I have to drink to be fun? Will drugs make me cool? Will I be a laughing stock if I show any emotion or talk about how I might really feel? It only escalates into adulthood. Do I make enough money? Is my car fancy enough? My house? Suddenly, we’re in the same cycle all over again, and it all traces back to a sad, terrified little kid, stepping out onto the big scary stage of life. It doesn’t have to be a really sad song.