Some people spend their lives working to shake the person they used to be. Some people just outgrow that person and become someone else. But some people were their whole self, their best self already and they lose them and have to find their way back.
I’m that last person. I’m finding myself constantly digging back into who I have been, who I once was, and I’m starting to understand it’s not just a trip down memory lane. I’ve realized that I need to do two things: I need to accept the truth about myself – who I was and what it means about who I am and who I can be, and I need to find a way to live the way I used to, because it was authentic and healthy and it was my true self. Plenty of people don’t see the use in looking back and surely don’t want to be who they used to be. They look back and see someone clueless or silly. Maybe these are the kind of people who have come into themselves as adults. Maybe these are the people who have reinvented themselves. Maybe these are the people who built upon that rough draft and didn’t necessarily get rid of anything, but created something amazing out of what they started with.
For the most part, I am not those people. I’m also not looking back wistfully, some washed up high-school-has-been. I don’t look back and think “Thank God that’s over!” But I also don’t look back and think “I peaked in high school.” I look back and see that I came off the tracks. I crashed somewhere in college and for some reason thought who I used to be didn’t matter at all. Maybe I believed something someone else said. Maybe it was all too easy and I felt like it wasn’t fair, wasn’t right to keep that girl around. Maybe I was scared of her. She was capable of anything. She possessed a something that I found myself tamping down. She was maybe a little too bright, maybe a little too shiny. And since I was trying to take her down a notch or two, why not go ahead and let everyone else do the same? Why not just believe people when they say “not good enough”?
I know something though – this girl would have never ever believed anyone who told her that.
Yea, I was in eighth grade. I had my insecurities just like anyone else. But let me tell you something about that girl, in case you can’t see it for yourself. She belonged to herself. She stood tall and she walked tall and she wore a red dress that probably just barely grazed fingertip length and looked much shorter because her legs were long and she knew that she was pretty and she knew that she was smart but she was kind and she was loving and she didn’t think being pretty or smart made her matter any more than anyone else, but she knew that it gave her an advantage and she tried not to exploit that, but she was not afraid of it. She didn’t purposely give you a reason not to like her, but she didn’t really give a damn if you didn’t. She never had anything to prove. And that gave her the freedom to be herself, to belong to herself, to make decisions that were good for her, even if others didn’t get it or like it or support it. She wanted to be liked, but she didn’t need it. She liked herself. And the thing about that, is it’s contagious. Because she liked herself, she liked people and because she liked people, they liked her. For the most part. It’s simple, but it worked. At least back then it did.
This girl knew that she could come into the room and change the energy. She knew she could turn heads sometimes too. She knew in a group, she’d probably be the leader. Not because she insisted on it, but because that was just kind of how the chips usually seemed to fall. School was easy, boys were easy, friends were easy. She was a good girl with only the slightest bend towards rebellion and that generally kept her in good circles and good places with good people. And so all that, along with liking people and being nice, but not needing people to always like her or be nice to her (because she already liked herself and was already nice enough to herself), drama barely happened.
Yes, her heart got broken and she made some bad decisions, because she was human, but she kept belonging to herself. She kept ownership over her body, her mind, her self. She didn’t loan out her self-worth. She was engaged and active in her school and church and spent weekends with friends, but she spent hours walking gravel roads or paths in the woods by herself. She spent hours reading and writing poetry and listening to music just by herself, just for herself. And those places are where she met with God.
And so, God and I, we spent a lot of time together. To say I belonged to myself, what you have to know, what I have to remember, is that belonging to myself, this is not separate from belonging to Christ. Christ is woven into all the places that I exist and I do not exist without that, so it’s to be understood, that belonging to myself involves also this intimacy with the divine. In fact, the act of belonging to myself, is the act of belonging to the divine. Not that I am divine, but the divine that is in me. This is all the more reason it is crucial to not loan myself out to any lesser thing, as I have done, much to my detriment.
And the thing is, it seems that somewhere along the way it became wrong for a woman to belong only to herself (and the divine within her). She can be smart and pretty and kind, but she has to be those things for other people. She has to consider what everyone wants from her and she should deliver, lest she be selfish, shallow, stupid. You know, there is no limit to the criticisms you will receive once you start accepting input on how to be from outside sources and valuing that input more than your own. And if those outside sources know that you take God seriously, they will twist their words to make it sound like it is God’s will for you to prostitute your self for them and their needs. People love to twist the sacred and the holy for their own benefit. This is why it’s so dangerous to entertain the idea that you are not your own.
That girl in that picture didn’t let anyone tell her how to be. She didn’t live in a bubble – she didn’t not take others into consideration, she just didn’t belong to everyone else, so she didn’t honor their input the same way she honored her own (and Christ within her).
The truth is, our employers, our communities, our friends, our parents, our siblings, our husbands, our children – we don’t belong to them and they don’t belong to us. We all belong to ourselves (and the divine) first. We all belong to each other, in that big we-all-need-one-another-and-must-look-out-for-one-another way, but we don’t belong to each other in the I-get-to-tell-you-how-to-be-and-insist-you-give-yourself-over-to-me-because-it’s-your-job-to-please-me kind of way.
So I’m having to unwind years of jaunting around off the tracks. Little remnants of that girl pop up sometimes, but even if I don’t put her in her place, someone else seems to make sure they do. And I keep letting them.
It seems, the first step is being honest about my strengths – the ones I’ve tried to down play and tamp down. The ones that I’ve feared made me shine a little too bright. I have to get comfortable with being extraordinary. Because I am. (Aren’t we all?)
I mean, what good am I doing anyone, particularly my daughter, by playing some watered down version of myself, when I, in my natural state, radiate? (Don’t we all?)
I never want to come off prideful, but that turned from being humble and mindful of others to being fearful and ashamed of myself and my abilities and attributes. Instead of being honest with myself and others about who I am, I began to prefer the lie that I am mediocre and lacking because in a world that wants you to play along and give yourself away and fall into a box, to shine on your own terms, to belong to yourself, feels too radical and risky. And instead of gracefully taking back possession of myself, I’ve found myself fighting battles, hurting people, being defensive and angry and reckless trying to shed this ill-fitting skin, this lesser than version of myself. And I get maybe a quick glimpse of her, but none of that gets the girl back. All that does is throw me a little farther off track and make it that much harder to get her back. She doesn’t like that approach – that’s not how she does this.
The thing is, I wrote a poem years ago about how things like this go:
the quiet ones to watch out for, the ones
that manage to slip by you disturbing nothing
but everything just enough, before you know it,
you’ve lost things
you didn’t even know could be taken away.
fights the demons
disguised so simply.
is how wars are lost. -Losing Wars
And so, these kinds of wars must be won the same way they are lost, with quiet commitment and cunning. No quick movements, just the steady unraveling of the lies. Not so much stomping the ground and banging my fists, but more like peeling off the trash, the dirt, the junk, uncovering the brilliance and letting it speak for itself because it’s brilliant enough to do that. And the truth will come out and the light will come back and the ashes will fall and I will wipe them from my face and my hands and I will show my battle scars to anyone who asks and I will get back on track and I will do that girl justice. She will not fizzle out. My daughter will meet her and so will you. But she will not belong to my daughter or to you. She belongs to me.