The following is a reprint of a guest post I did for GirlyFight.com
I was 15. Then I was 20. Then I was 25. I wasn’t thin. I wasn’t attractive. I wasn’t relaxed. I wasn’t funny. I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t quirky. I wasn’t an artist. I wasn’t a high school graduate. I wasn’t a smart girl. I wasn’t good.
I had no idea what I was. But I knew all the things I wasn’t. I knew them to the point that I had convinced myself they were all that I was. I was a definition in negatives.
Turns out, there is only one ‘wasn’t’ that fit me at that time: I wasn’t right. I was wrong. I just didn’t know what I was. No one had ever told me all the things I was. And I didn’t have examples of self-love or self-awareness to figure it out on my own. I don’t blame anyone else. The women in my life had all been sucked up by life too soon. They hadn’t had a chance to sit and ponder who they were. They had to work. They had mouths to feed. So, I just followed suit.
I knew life as a series of worries. I knew self-reflection as a series of dislikes. So, I went from an unhappy home-life to an unhappy first relationship. In that relationship I explored love in the only way I knew how: I looked for the good things about me through the eyes of someone else. I looked for my love through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy. Needless to say, people have gotten further on treadmills. I wouldn’t find my love there.
Then came relationship number two … Then relationship number three … Then relationship number four. I did what many people do. I searched for love outside. I searched for it like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. I looked in patches of tall grass. I looked behind trees. I looked for it in strangers’ beds. I looked for it in their eyes and mouths. Nothing.
Then, relationship number four fell apart. There was nothing holding it together. I had no foundation. Half of the relationship was a series of ‘wasn’ts’. I was a void. He cheated and I fell apart. He tried to heal the wound we thought he created. The fact of the matter was, he just sprinkled a little salt on the wound I had picked at for years. I had created it. There was nothing he could have done to make it right. Now, along with all the other things I wasn’t, I wasn’t enough. I fell into it.
I let it engulf me. I cried. I was jealous and I did everything in my power to make him as miserable as I was. Then one day, I realized what I was doing. Over the next few days, I realized a lot of things. I realized that I had gone back to school. I realized I had worked for an amazing woman that respected me as much as I respected her. I realized I was in the middle of an application for one of the best schools in the country. I realized I was starving for a change. Something inside of me was dying to get out. I realized that I had hope. I also, realized I was 27 years old. I had spent 27 years not loving myself.
I moved out of his house. I moved back into the house I hadn’t lived in since I was 14. I went back home and I started from scratch. The summer of my 27th year was the last time I didn’t love myself.
I was accepted to Smith College and on August 28th of 2008, I stepped away from everyone I had ever tried to find love in and I left. I moved to a place where I knew no one and I lived without love and with no hopes of finding it in anyone but me. I spent nights crying and days trying to fit in amongst some of the smartest most vibrant women in the country. I knew they were brilliant because they went to Smith, but I still had no idea what I was.
All I could do was write. I took time off from relationships and for the next two years I wrote. I studied government and photography and I read a lot. Photography became my passion. I made good grades, but they weren’t the best. I held my own in conversations with really smart women and I enjoyed life in a way I never had.
Then, one day, as I sat in front of one of the most brilliant photographers I have experienced, listening to her pick apart my work … as she told me all her likes and dislikes, I realized it. I was hearing her criticisms in a whole knew way. A few years before, I would have been crushed. The negatives would have defined me. They would have burned a hole in that wound and I would have hated her for it. But now, I wanted to hear it. I loved her for it. It was going to make me better. As I walked home after meeting with her I realized it. I was staring at my ugly snow boots, all of my hard, scrutinized work in my backpack, when I realized it. The words entered my head like a foreign language, “I love my work.”
It didn’t come as an epiphany. There wasn’t some great moment of realization when the skies opened up and I knew. I didn’t realize it until I was asked to write this post. But, those words meant more than I realized. I love myself. I don’t define myself as a series of negatives. I am defined by the things that make me great. I am smart. I am pretty. I am hilarious. I am witty. I am sexy as all get out. I am quirky. I am outgoing. I am an artist. And above all, I am loved unconditionally. I love myself and because of that, I fill my surroundings with love and I have unlimited love to offer others.
I’ll never know if getting on that plane with one suitcase of belongings is what led me to love myself, or if it was something that was bound to happen with age. I just know somewhere between 27 and 30. Somewhere between being a high school drop out crying on the floor and walking across a stage to get my college diploma, somewhere inside, somewhere beautiful, I found it. I found the person I had been hiding and I fell in love with her. I never pretend to be wise, so I don’t have much advice for people, but I do have this: If you haven’t met the ‘you’ inside, if you haven’t taken the time to fall in love with her, you should check her out. Trust me … she’s pretty fucking amazing.