When I was 13 years old, I used to think that I wasn't lovable. I had this inherent belief that I wasn't worthy of full, unadulterated love.
Self-worth was a battleground for me - a constant fight to prove to others and myself that I had something beautiful inside of me - just as the other girls around me so effortlessly possessed.
I remember many mornings getting ready for school and carefully applying concealer to my broken out skin. A new pimple emerged every day, and with each new outbreak, a deeper well of self-consciousness grew. I based so much of my self-worth on the state of my complexion that instead of listening to what others were saying when talking to me, I'd follow their eyes to see if they were observing my breakouts.
I'd look at other girls who never had to deal with acne at such a young age and become envious, wishing I could swap lives with them. I thought they must have it so easy - going through life with a flawless complexion. Most nights I'd pray for my acne to disappear by the time I woke up, offering God a lifetime of dutiful service for clear skin. Oh, the things I'd try to bargain to be free from pimples...
So I tried my best to cultivate poise and attraction when in school, and I'd use humor as a way to make others like me. Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy a lot of my teenage years - but before I reached high school, middle school was a special kind of torture. Between enduring severe breakouts for the first time in my life, to losing friends who were my closest allies, and feeling the pressures of trying alcohol and drugs, middle school was a really tough time for me.
Then, one day, I met a boy who didn't seem to notice the same appearance that I did when looking in the mirror. I met a boy who saw me, for me. He was tall with dirty blonde hair and ocean blue eyes. He liked bands I'd never heard of before. He was creative and artistic, and believed in anarchy (which I didn't understand, but thought was incredibly cool). He went everywhere on his skateboard (which I thought was super sexy) and he showed me the first PETA documentary I'd ever seen on the horrors of what animals endure in factory farms. To this day, I'm still a vegetarian from it.
He was the type of person who always introduced me to new worlds that I'd never experienced before, and I couldn't get enough of him. He made me feel beautiful and seen, and I began to understand what falling in love could do to a person.
I fell asleep smiling with excitement for the following day, to be able to see him in school and talk about things I never discussed with friends. I woke up in the morning and felt pretty, rather than focusing on flaws my mind loved to accentuate before. I couldn't wait for the weekends so we could hang out in his backyard or a park, and meet his friends at parties (who were also all anarchists, wore mostly black, spiked their hair, and rode skateboards).
I had a boyfriend! My very first boyfriend. I wanted to showcase our love to prove that I too could be accepted, welcomed and admired. I too could be loved.
Life was the sweetest it had ever been for me; I never knew how happy I could feel.
As the months passed, I began placing a large portion of my identity into my relationship with M and lost myself in him. Anywhere he was, I wanted and needed to be. I wanted to talk to him throughout every hour of the day, and since texting and calling on cell phones was a new thing at the time, I enjoyed our endless conversations over the phone or in person. If we weren't talking or together, I felt this ache of wanting to be closer to him.
I wasn't my own person anymore. The girl who longed to be accepted and seen was now addicted to the high that a first love can bring.
If I didn't hear from him for a few hours, I began thinking something was wrong. Maybe he didn't like me anymore. Maybe he was getting tired of me. Maybe he finally saw me for who I really was - unworthy, undeserving, and incapable of being loved.
At around four months into our relationship, we went from seeing and talking to each other every day, to seeing each other once over the weekends and talking just a few times during the week. When I saw him in school, there was a growing distance between us that felt more friendly than romantic. I was panicking inside, with constant knots in my stomach, unable to eat, sleep, or focus on school.
What was happening? It was just a few weeks prior that we couldn't get enough of each other. I couldn't get enough of him. What happened to him not being able to get enough of me? Was it something I said? Was I acting too clingy? Was he not attracted to me anymore?
The questions and uncertainties that rolled through my brain made me feel helpless and paralyzed. It was my first time in love. It was the first time someone ever chose me. It was the first time I ever felt the nauseating pains of realizing that the box I had placed all of my happiness in might be taken away at any moment.
I didn't even want to approach M and ask if something was wrong because I couldn't face the truth. There was a part of me that knew if I asked him what was going on that I would have to meet my heartache, and I wasn't ready for darkness to completely settle in. I had just gotten used to moving through my days as though there were a permanent dusk - battling my anxieties and talking myself into believing that everything would be okay - I would be okay. I just had to wait things out and hope that M would come back to us.
But, as I'm sure you already know, that didn't happen. As I knew it wouldn't, too.
When we did finally break up, there was no clear communication on our ending. We just gradually stopped talking, or rather M cut all ties with me.
(To read the full story of our breakup, click here).
It's interesting how so much of our beginning experiences in life shape our identities in some way or another. It's funny how something that happened in our youth can still affect us years later.
I caught myself feeling insecure recently, and wondering if the love I truly seek will ever find me. Will I ever really be seen?
Those old feelings of unworthiness rose to the surface, and I remembered the young girl who wanted so desperately to be loved - who fought for love outside of herself, because she believed she wasn't lovable, even by herself.
This is the first time in many years that I'm alone and choosing to be so, with no distractions, no partners, no flings - just me. Within this solitude births both power, insight and magic, and also the occasional loneliness.
Now that it's almost two decades later, I no longer look to others to fill the void that I sometimes feel. I no longer place my happiness, identity and self-worth in someone else. I no longer seek externally for what I already possess within.
I wrote a post a few months ago on how life always comes full circle. I think of that now, as I'm alone again, for the first time in almost ten years, and although I've grown a long way from the girl who fought to be seen by others, to be loved by others, to be chosen by others - I begin the journey again of choosing myself.
I choose me, and I'm so grateful to discover and meet myself again.