I had to leave a Master’s program for my husband’s military move, and I don’t think I ever truly forgave myself.
My story is not a rare one. And it almost always begins unintentionally with the goal of “being it all” for someone else. I hear many stories of women, like myself, who begin with small sacrifices and end with a complete loss of self. We start the journey for different reasons and end at the same destination. For some, it's a desire to belong.
I was about 15 when I first compromised myself. It wasn't intentional, but my life would be forever changed. Hell, I didn’t even notice it at first. It began when I would skip school to go home with my boyfriend. Surely, if I am available whenever he wants me, he will see that I am the one for him, I thought. I would do it "just this once" and I'd go on with my life as usual. But that was not the case. I soon learned there was no amount of favors I could do that would cause him to value me- and I never stopped sacrificing. And then it became a pattern. I was constantly doing things for whomever I was dating. I had begun ignoring my own interests until I didn’t know what my interests were any longer. But what sparked this shift in me?
I can still vividly remember the day the bullies followed me speaking loudly and intentionally. They taunted me about how I would “forever be alone”. According to them, I wasn't pretty enough, didn’t dress well enough, and just wasn't cool enough. This was one of many incidents that motivated me to prove them wrong. So I set out on a quest to become "enough".
I saw a school transfer as an opportunity to become what they said I could never be. A previously outspoken nature-loving bookworm transformed. I went from a reader and a writer to a boy crazy shell of my former self. I became overly available. I wore the tightest of clothes and flaunted what I believed was all I had- my body. I exchanged numbers with anyone who asked. I gave the appearance of someone who was offering more than they intended to give. I was the definition of a tease. I wasn't sleeping with all of these guys. Truthfully, I only slept with one of them. And that’s all it took for the rumors to take over. A transformation had occurred but not the one I was aiming for. I went from being undesirable at one school to a rumored slut at another.
Nearly 10 years later, I still hadn't gotten my old self back. Most days were spent feeling as though someone was missing from my life. That someone was me, and what’s worse is, I'm still doing it. I have become a creature of complete sacrifice- putting the needs of all others above my own. I was obsessed with accomplishing my goal of being “enough” and I did it. I proved them all wrong. I got the guy they said would never date me. We even got married and started a family. But it came at the price of losing myself.
I got engaged and married only 2 months after college graduation. About one year later, we moved to another part of the country where I knew no one. The few who were familiar with me, knew me as “his wife”. In less than a year, I became an isolated mother-to-be spending all of my spare time obsessing over my pending child. Had I researched enough pain management techniques? Is my birth plan detailed enough? Since few remembered my name I was often referred to as “the pregnant lady”.
In addition to losing my identity as something other than “my husband's wife” or “my son’s mother”, I found myself losing my personal priorities. Before marriage and baby, I would spend countless hours planning and thinking about where I was in relation to where I wanted to be. Suddenly, weeks or months would pass before noticing that I hadn't checked in.
I applied for jobs, but I would often be told I was overqualified or I’d receive no contact at all. As a result, I found myself in a state of self-pity and depression. I was an active honors graduate. What am I now?
I had to look deep into my past to understand why it became so hard for me to put myself first. For some, it’s peer pressure. But for me, I was chasing what the bullies from my past said I would never have- A boyfriend.
I was willing to abandon all of my dreams to prove them wrong. Now I lack identity. That carefree bookworm is now a 24-year-old wife and mother with major anxiety always experiencing feelings of loss. I suffered too many heartbreaks on the path to "happiness".
I have been told my story is one that girls and women of all ages can relate to. So many of us have had cages imposed on us by others opinions. Sadly, we hear those opinions and internalize those negative messages. As a result, we take those cages and make them real. I have avoided so many of my hopes and dreams based on other people’s opinion of me. It is time to take responsibility for my own life story. It's my book and no one can write my ending but me.
My story does not end here. I am filled with hope that I can get a firm grasp on what it means to be myself. I have started walking the path to self-discovery, despite marriage and motherhood. It will not be easy but it is possible. I've begun my journey by spending more time on my own. When I find myself with 15 minutes to spare, I spend it alone, disconnected. I do my best to remain in the here and now. I was once told that "depression is a result of living in the past and anxiety is trying to live in the future.” As cheesy as it sounds, I have found that deep breaths help me remain present.
I love my family but I cannot help but wonder if that first compromise was worth it. Have I lost myself forever? Can I ever be that strong independent, adventurous girl again- despite my past? I have yet to discover that answer, but I know that young girl is still in there. The strength and self-sufficiency I wore proudly as a little girl are qualities that have allowed me to possess strength in motherhood. And I will use those qualities to find that young girl and be the best mother and wife possible.