This post will have very little to do with travel, but still fits with my quest to find myself. I found a small piece of me last night in a most unexpected place, my own hometown. The only traveling involved a short trip to the local pub, but the significance of it encompasses a much longer trip, a trip that took 35 years to make.
I started life as a fresh-faced, sweet little girl who just wanted everyone to like her. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other and I was friends with many of my neighbors and classmates. Then, as life does, I was thrown a few curve balls that started me on a road that lead to bitterness and anger. By the time I was a teenager, I had fallen away from many of my childhood friends and had taken up with some older, more “experienced” people. I did many things that I regret to this day, said many hurtful things and ended up in situations that were life-changing, and not for the better.
I ended up dropping out of high school and pursued the wrong path for many years after that. My shame and embarrassment, I realize now, are what kept me from ever venturing out and trying new things. Firstly, I figured I would just screw it up anyway, like I did so many things. Secondly, I felt that I was undeserving of any good in my life. My view of myself was extremely dim. I tried to cover it with all kinds of band-aids, but nothing lasted and nothing changed my outlook.
As I got older, I put undue stress on myself because if I did not I was afraid I would slip back into the slacker I had been as a teenager. I was constantly under stress, of my own doing, and always unhappy and depressed. Again, life became about covering up the true feelings and trying to put on the perfect persona so that “everyone” (whomever that really is) could see how changed I was.
Then I turned 40, I was still confused about myself and my worth but I became very tired. Tired of over 20 years of trying to make up for things I had done in my teens. Tired of beating myself up every single day and tired of being the person I was. I started on a new path that held some forgiveness, it was a start. I started to accept who I really was, not who I pretended to be. I started to like myself for the first time since I was that fresh-faced little girl. The transition was not easy and I am still working on it, obviously because that is a big part of my Epic Journey; finding me.
For years I avoided seeing most people I knew in high school and definitely avoided any type of reunion. I just did not have it in me to take all the rejection that I expected to get from one of those hellish events. I would talk myself into going, then back out at the last moment. I could not rationalize why any of those people would care about me anyway. So I stayed away and inside my personal fortress of shame.
Then my Epic Journey started to take formation. As the trip twisted and turned and new ideas were put into place, I started to hear from some of my high school classmates on social media. Their words were not of disgust or anger with me, but words of encouragement and motivation. This coming from people I had not heard from in just about 35 years, they were behind me. I was blow away.
So last night, I planned to see just a few of the people I went to school with at a local pub. Nothing big, no official reunion, just some old (not age old) friends meeting to catch up. I sat at the bar completely ready to lose it with fear and trepidation waiting for…well, I have no idea what I was waiting to happen. What I got instead of negativity were hugs, kisses, laughs, encouragement, sweet and loving stories from the past and a washing of my soul that can only come from true acceptance.
As I am typing this now, I am crying. Crying tears of joy for all the love I felt last night. I learned a very important lesson in turn. After high school, everyone went on to live their own lives, some had children, get jobs, experienced illness and loss. Everyone went through their own dark times and came out the other side stronger. Here I had been sitting in my lonely, self-induced prison cell, wallowing in my own self-pity for decades, never realizing that my story in high school was only one chapter in a much longer book. It was one chapter for everyone, not just me. Life went on and new chapters were written.
Of course, now I am sad again for letting my unfounded fears keep me sidelined all these years. For me, though, I have always been a late bloomer and this chapter in my life may have been long in the making, but I got here eventually. Now I have a little more self-esteem, a little more spring in my step and a group of people behind me that I would never have expected to be there. I never let them in, and that is the saddest part of this story, but it is not the end of the story. I realize now that life is fuller when you can share lives with others; to hear their stories, to share their triumphs and care in the dark times. It means so much more than just seeing my life day in and day out with no relief from the self-centeredness of my own little world.
I am so thankful for the people who made last night possible, for without it a part of me would never start to heal and the fortress would have stayed up forever. It would have been my loss, and a grievous one at that. Maybe I can finally start to write a new chapter in my life that is not clouded with so much doubt and self-loathing, maybe I can finally see a new me and it is all thanks to people I knew 35 years ago who touched my life in so many ways both then and now. Thank you!
Also thank you to my husband, Mike, for pushing me and prodding me to take some chances. He is my best cheerleader and I fear where I would be without him. Thank you so very much!!