I hate this old photo.
A life-long friend tagged me in it on Facebook last week. When I opened it up in my browser there was not one ounce of me that looked back at this moment fondly.
It wasn't my date that I dreaded seeing again. I didn't have one that day.
It wasn't my dress. While it was honestly too big for my pre-pubescent body, I was proud to wear it as I had been honored to have also worn it in my big brother's spring wedding. I mean really, seafoam green was a hot color at 80’s formals. Judging from this picture, so was baby powder blue.
Behind the focus of the lens. Standing alone in the middle of...nothing.
I hated my height. I hated my braces. I hated my big feet. I hated my skinny legs. I hated my flat chest. I hated being so lonely.
This was 8th grade recognition. They day we would celebrate moving into our freshman year at a final middle-school dance.
This is the day I took my first drink.
While in sobriety and most of my adult life I refrain from using the word “hate” I find little else to sum up what this photo encompasses. All of my self doubt. Self loathing. Loneliness. Unawareness of myself, yet full coherence of my faults.
I wasn’t popular. The boys made fun of my flat chest and the fact that I wore a tiny training bra. Made fun of when I got my braces on. And again, when I got them off.
Feeling “in-between” my parents and their disdain for each other. Feeling “small” amongst my step-sisters who were emotionally far more mature than me. Understanding things like sex and drugs. Treating me as inferior as I would let them. The baby of the family with enough years between us that we were truly experiencing polar different lives.
Alone a lot. Or so it seems. I question many of my memories now that I am sober. Wondering if that old reality I have clinged to for 40+ years is real; or a figment of my imagination.
I hate this picture.
Yet I am also thankful for this look into my past. I drank that night to fit in. I remember standing in a circle with some popular peers as we shared a few beers. Passing one at at time around the tiny hemisphere. At once, I felt a part of.
In recovery, I have been asked to share my story numerous times. At our local 12 step meetings as well as local womens’ groups, and during online podcast interviews. I have always started my story at this very moment. There are times I have pondered about whether or not the reality of my emotional self at this age. If it was really as grim as I remember it. Did I really feel THAT alone? Abandoned?
This image tells the story, just moments before that first moment of desperation. Longing to belong. Longing to be a “big girl”...to be accepted and no longer shunned or ridiculed. So unfamiliar in her own skin. Naive to a fault while trying to navigate her world.
The drinking continued. Smoking pot soon followed. Eventually a host of other drugs would accompany the beer and wine. Alcohol from our parent’s liquor cabinets.
This little girl makes me cry. I want to reach out and take her hand, and bring her into the light of friendship. Help her belong and find the way back to herself; that authentic self that was already lost.
I shudder when I realize I was responsible for her. That I took her into situations that no youthful girl should experience. Constantly seeking that belonging. Roving friendships and situations looking for a solid place to land.
Eventually in life, I landed in a bottle. With that little me so stuck in corner, waiting for me to come find her.
Another act of desperation in 2014 is what it took. Not wanting to NOT feel anything anymore. Not wanting not to live anymore. Wanting to find that child and nurture her back to authenticity.
I got sober. I put the drink down. Only then did I start the healing path back to her. Finding bits and pieces of the joy she once felt riding her bike on the wet gravel roads during spring. Bouncing her ball against the wall in the garage. Jumping rope with her big sister. Walking through the woods surrounding her home; crossing the creek to her friends’ houses. Floating on her inner tube in Northern Michigan lakes for hours on end, searching for Petoskey Stones. Reading. Writing.
Honestly. It isn’t even about starting over. Or coming back. It is about who I really am. What I am here to accomplish. Where I can be of service. It’s about honoring God’s will for me. I’m still healing, and it is a big, messy, immense, intimidating and unbelievably joyful experience. In all of my sober days thus far, I am realizing the intent of my life. Feeling all of it is excruciating at times. Simply like the day I was tagged in this photo. I want to feel all of this healing. I want to be present as that child reintroduces herself and asks for my love and assistance.
It’s kind of a big deal. Growing up. Being found. Sober.
I love that child.
The picture still makes me cry. I would be lying if I said I have no regrets. I look back at my past and at times want to go make it all better. Evolve differently through healthier choices. I can’t. I am right where I am supposed to be...for today.
Most of the time I am no longer standing alone. It feels amazing.