The day I knew I'd lost myself, I was driving home from a party, drunk. I had just arrived home from an unforgettable summer lived in Spain. And coming home felt like reality had just body slammed me down. Before I left, I was a cheerleader at my university. I was small enough for the guys to toss me up and hold me like a trophy above their heads. My entire life was centered around how I looked & how people perceived me. I figured as long as my image was perfect, everything else would fall into place. Little did I know that I was actually living a lonely life surrounded by people who only knew me for the mask I wore.
The night of the party was the first time I’d seen my friends in months. I’d spent so much time obsessing over what I’d wear. I wondered what they’d think of my new haircut. I had gained a significant amount of weight while I was abroad as I carelessly shoveled unfamiliar foods into my mouth everyday. I routinely gave myself the excuse that it was a once in a lifetime experience and I didn’t have to feel guilty for putting on some pounds. I also had traded in excessive training in the gym for hours on end basking in the Spanish sun. I hoped no one would notice.
When I arrived, I noticed the tone in their voices sounded differently than I remembered. Nevertheless, I was just happy to see them again and I could hardly contain the excitement to tell them about my experiences. After all, I had finally let go & let my image falter a bit. I was so much happier because of it. But it wasn’t long before the comments flooded in. “The food must have been great there!” or “I’m guessing you won’t be competing this year.” My favorite was when they’d ask, “Soooo… when are you gonna start hitting the gym again?” I hated how self conscious it made me feel. Even though I figured they were just trying to relate to me on common ground, it made me want to throw on a big sweatshirt over that new shirt I was so excited to wear so my newly founded flaws would be hidden. Anything that was said sounded like a judgement. In truth, it was my own insecurities morphing the experience.
I took several shots of tequila to silence the critical remarks swarming my mind until I wandered into someone’s bedroom where I laid face down regretting boarding the plane back home. I dreamt I was back on that beach, eyes closed, listening to the people converse in a language I didn’t understand. When I awoke and felt the flood of emotions rushing to that place in your throat that signifies you’re about to burst into tears, I quickly said goodbye. I stumbled down the stairs claiming I was completely sober and I didn’t need anyone to call me an uber. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing another human being any longer.
I sat in my car with the music softly playing as I wept. I would’ve stayed there forever if it weren’t for my friend and his new girlfriend nearing my car. I smiled, waved, and put the car in reverse.
The whole way home, I wondered if anyone knew I was drunk. I became hyper focused on the road until I began to consider how far I was leaning over the steering wheel. I even remember praying that God would get me home safely, which was ironic because I didn’t believe in Him yet.
Low and behold I arrived home safely, physically, but my heart and soul were spiraling deeper into a pool of danger. I booked another flight not long after that night. I couldn’t help but long for the freedom I felt there. The cycle of escaping the pain in my heart was relentless. It felt like the only way to feel okay was to leave behind everything I’ve ever known & start over.
As time passed, I spent another year living in Spain. It was there that I discovered you can’t run from what’s inside. I cried myself to sleep every single night in a lonely new apartment 5,000 miles away from everyone & everything I knew and loved. It wasn’t until my new roommate Holly began to talk & pray with me about my depression. I thought she was weird at first for persistently trying to help me through my struggles. After all, I thought it was hopeless. But at the end of the day, it was comforting to have a friend who empathized with my pain. And although it was embarrassing to be vulnerable and open up at times, we created a lifelong friendship because of it.
It wasn’t long before I began to feel like life was more than self-isolation & masking who I really was. I finally realized that I wasn’t alone. I realized that there were people who loved me for who I was rather than what I looked like or what I did. I also accepted the fact that in order to heal, I needed to dig deep into my heart & deal with a lot of hidden pain. It took a lot of time, a lot of failure, and a lot of heart to heart conversations to push past the damage that was created in me through the years. But once I did, I was able to come back home & live my life free of the judgement & lies that used to berate me.