When I look back at my 16-year-old self, I feel haunted by the girl who stares back at me. I feel sad for her. But mostly, I feel guilty for neglecting her for so long.
Though I don’t want to admit it, that girl is a huge part of me — she is me — and maybe I didn’t realize just how detrimental understanding my past self would be to growing into my future self.
For so long, I hated that girl. She was awkward, unsure of herself. She was fearful of her surroundings and the future and her untapped potential that she too often ran away from.
I resented her cowardice. I hated the way she relied on men for validation. I hated how deeply she craved intimacy, how badly she wanted someone to see her the way she wanted to see herself and undo the years of damage she had done to herself.
She didn’t want a relationship, she wanted a healer. She needed a quick fix, and she looked outwardly to other people to fix her thinking for her.
But most of all, I hated how she didn’t value herself.
Fast forward through four years of intense therapy, subtract approximately 20 pounds and a toxic relationship, and here I am: still struggling to figure out how this ghost of a person fits in to my life today, still dealing with her patterns of toxic thinking and years of self-sabotage.
Every once in a while, a glimpse of that girl comes through and I am struck with a wild phantom-pain in my chest. My heart aches for the girl who stares back at me when I look down that rabbit hole.
In my junior year of college, I locked that part of myself away in a box and threw away the key. I joined a sorority, got a job as a bartender and cut off any and all relationships with the people who no longer served their purpose in my life.
I did so with startling ease. I cut off childhood friendships with people with no second thoughts and it scared me. It startled me how quickly I could dispose of someone as if they never served a purpose in my life. It made me question if I had ever loved them in the first place.
And around this time, I started to receive an influx of attention from men that I had never received before in my life. It was overwhelming, gratifying, exciting. It made me feel good to be noticed and appreciated. Even if it was just for a night, I clung to that sense of intimacy that I thought I was missing out on for so long.
But somehow, it just made me feel emptier. Waking up in the morning and realizing the attachment you thought you felt the night before was really just imaginary felt like shit.
I started to feel like the indispensable one and it's equally as heart-wrenching and soul-crushing to be on the other side of that fence.
I decided that I needed a change. I have so much love to give, so much passion and energy for everything in my life except the one thing that mattered the most — myself.
So, I challenged myself to go two whole months without sex. For eight weeks, instead of throwing myself into other people who I knew didn’t value or deserve me, I poured myself into myself.
I cleansed myself of trivial distractions from boys entirely and I started on the painting that I'd been commissioning for someone for months.
I picked up writing more articles for The Daily Targum. I quit my job that I hated for so long, and that same day, I walked up and down George Street until I found a new one.
I started working out religiously every morning. I practiced mindfulness. Instead of playing on my phone before bed, I read books. I stopped living to please others. I stopped engaging in conversations that I didn’t want to be apart of. Whereas before I used to talk out of nervousness, I learned the pride in staying silent.
I stopped being afraid to take up space in conversations I felt strongly about. When I felt disrespected, I made my feelings heard.
I stopped living to save face with people who I didn’t care about, and came to find that I don’t owe anyone in this world anything because the only person I owed my love and loyalty to was myself.
I started to notice that when I went out into the world with no agenda, no expectations and no self-applied pressures, I had an infinitely better time. The less attention I paid to the men that surrounded me, the more they wanted to be around me.
I was happy and confident showing up places in a sweatshirt and no makeup and it showed. People wanted to be around me, and for the first time, these felt like the right people.
I started attracting energies solely based on my ability to be content with myself. I spent more time alone these past two months than I ever have before and I rediscovered something I thought I had lost a long time ago: I am actually really cool. There's no person I would rather hang out with than myself. No person understands my sense of humor, my deepest fears, my traumas, my family, like me.
It’s hard to believe you deserve better when everyone in your life has treated you otherwise. From the start, my idea of what a safe and healthy relationship looked like had been distorted and skewed. I thought love looked like attachment and for so long I sought out any person who would give me the attention I craved. I thought any guy who was nice to me deserved my admiration and respect.
Sometimes, I still faintly hear the whiny mutterings of the girl I used to be. Now, instead of shutting her out, I sympathize for her. My heart breaks at the idea that I ever hated myself.
I've spent months falling in love with her again. That young girl who believed she wasn’t worthy of love is part of who I am today and now she has all the love she could ever wish for. And it comes straight from a source deep inside herself that will never be depleted, she just has to reach for it.