You may think you know who I am, but I am certain that you are misled in many ways. How do I know? Because I didn't even know myself. Just shy of 38 years old, I began unwrapping myself and exposing the deepest, darkest, most afraid parts of me for the very first time. I look back now and find it absolutely amazing that I was able to lead a life for so many years that was not me. I don't feel that I was pretending, I began at such a young age, that even I didn't know the difference. Most would say that I am an extrovert, always happy, spastic, energetic and yet each of those words actually describes my polar opposite.
Years ago, I was taking part in a training session and the question posed to the group was, I want you to close your eyes and go back to that little girl, running in the fields, playing and laughing, what was it that you dreamed about? My response was a volcanic eruption of tears. I had no idea what I dreamed about, I couldn't come up with an answer not even one word. I was speechless and the only thing I could do was cry. I was trying to hide these mysterious and overwhelming tears, but it was impossible.
Today, I understand not only those tears, but the thousands more that I have shed in the past six months. I cried such tears because I didn't dream, my dreams were robbed from me before I knew what a dream was. I did not play in the same fashion that those around me did. At the ripe old age of 5, I didn't learn to dream fairy tales, I learned how to run and how to hide. I became extremely good at running and hiding. I ran and hid so deep, that I accomplished detaching myself from my own body, feelings and emotions. I quickly learned how to become another person so that the real me could hide behind the concrete walls that little five year old girl began building. I learned to smile as it kept people believing I was happy. It worked so well and I heard people tell me all the time, "you are always so happy" that I even believed I was. In the 7th grade, I stayed the night with some friends and when I woke the next morning they said, "you even smile when you are sleeping." We went swimming and when I came up from the water they said, "you even smile coming out of the water." In high school, I can remember sitting in English class and because class is so captivating, my friends began timing me to see if I could "not smile" for 10 seconds. I couldn't. I learned early to act energetic and that was better than them laughing at the real me. I learned to talk a lot, because silence to me was scary. Plus, if I kept talking about what I wanted to say, then you couldn't find out what I was hiding. I learned the skill of understanding others, I could read between the lines. It was a skill I required as I had to stay ahead of the game to keep myself safe and those around me happy. I learned early that despite how it made me feel, it was my job to make and keep people happy, do what I was told and what was expected regardless of pain or understanding, and that you didn't talk about certain things in your life, the ones that brought the most confusion, hurt and pain.
In kindergarten, I already knew that something was wrong with me, that I was different, that nobody liked me, that the girls I called my friends were all better, richer, smarter, and prettier. In my elementary and middle school years, I loved to swing and play baseball. I knew nothing about hair, clothes or anything girly. I remember fighting with my mom over having to play softball instead of baseball. I wanted nothing to do with being a girl. I remember my friend, all proud of her new bra and the traumatic experience I went through when my mom made me go shopping for a bra. I just knew the world was going to laugh at me. I remember Christmas at my Grandpa's in the ninth grade. I walked in dressed up and proud of the "girly" red outfit and heels that I was wearing, even though I quickly walked straight to the steps and hid behind the bannister because letting others see me as a girl was extremely uncomfortable. I could tell that they were all looking at me differently, because they noticed I was in the room. I liked that they noticed me, but the comments I didn't like as they were compliments about my appearance. That day was the first time though that I felt included by my cousins that I had adored for years. Even though that meant hanging out in the basement while they tried to get me to laugh so hard that coke would come out of my nose. I didn't care, I just liked that they were talking "to" me and that I felt a part of what was going on instead of watching from the outside. I admit that for all the years prior, my actions were not able to be understood that I "adored" them because I inflicted pain upon them, the exact opposite of what I wanted to achieve. I can tell you today, there is a long list of things I would do to get a certain outcome, yet I got the exact opposite of what I was intending.
About eight years ago, I had hit an extremely low point in my life and started working on self improvement. Instead of blaming others for my unhappiness, I took responsibility for my happiness and the effects were astounding. I worked on cleaning up the worst play area a person plays in... "my own thoughts". My doctor even recently said, "Denise, it is amazing how strong your mind is." I had to tell him, "my physical shape may be weak as physical exercise has not been at the top of my list but my mind... best muscle I have, as I have been mentally training for about eight years."
I ran at this new level for years and then some things started happening this past June that at the time, I didn't understand. I also made a decision in June that I didn't know would change my life. On July 27, 2013, I attended my 20 year class reunion. I had been back and forth on whether to attend or not. I just knew I wasn't as accomplished as I should be, I didn't have a job title so what would I say when they asked me what I do? I was going to be publishing my first book, My Father's Table soon and I knew that being an author was the most embarrassing answer to the" what do you do" question. To me an author had "no value".
In 1993, as soon as high school graduation was over, I submerged myself into working three jobs and began distancing myself from my school friends. I even had a really great boyfriend, but began pushing him as far away as possible despite his effort to remain there. As soon as summer was over, I headed away to college, rarely coming back home. As soon as I finished four years there, I moved south over 500 miles away.
I wanted to go to my reunion because I always say I loved high school and the people I went to school with, I think are the greatest, most awesome people. However, within a short time of being back in town, my enthusiasm began fading, I began feeling very sick, weak, and many opposite feelings in the same breath. Something was happening and I just felt "weird". I passed it off as nervous jitters about seeing people I hadn't seen in 20 years, that surely it would be gone by 8:00 the night of the party. However, what I didn't realize is that I loved these people, but I had been hiding and I was certain in my feelings that nobody liked me and that I wasn't good enough.
The night before the reunion, someone brought up a name from my past that took our fun time to a "stop talking now or die" look from me. The subject quickly changed and shortly after I also got an email notifying me that I did not get a position I had applied for. Even though I knew I wasn't going to get it and I didn't want it, the way the news was delivered and timing was just more reminders that nobody likes me and that I wasn't good enough. Since my mood had drastically changed, I just wanted to be alone (a feeling I wasn't used to having) so I went back to where I was staying and that night, alone in the room, I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. The next morning, I couldn't tell you what I had been crying about only that I had cried a lot. My brother and I talked, I cried more and more. I wanted my dad who was no longer living. The only thing I remember my brother saying is, "Why are you so hard on yourself Denise?" I left the conversation to meet a friend and while she was sharing about her life journey, I realized that I had been comparing myself to someone since Kindergarten. It was almost reunion time and the only thing I wanted to do was stay there on that deck with my friend and hang out. I was actually okay with the idea too, but what would people say as I came home to go to the reunion, but at that moment the last thing I wanted to do was leave the side of this awesome girl and the calm that I was feeling.
I still didn't understand the magnitude of what I was experiencing, this feeling was like an intoxicating fog that somehow I was being surrounded by.
The information was instant relief. For the first time in my life, I understood "why" I could see the mom, the wife, the friend, the person I always wanted to be, but no matter how hard I tried I could never achieve. It was as if the concrete wall I had been trying to dig a hole through with a toothpick had magically turned into a door. Because of T.I.M.E., I spent training my mind, I was prepared for this new journey. I knew the only thing I had to do was walk through this newly found door to get to the other side. In that moment, I committed to myself that I would walk through that door and not stop, whatever that meant.
When the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of the change... A person will embrace the walk.
One person who knew the little girl hiding and when the moment came that I reached out, their response simple, honest and pure spoken from one heart to another.