I keep seeing these ten year photo comparisons on Instagram and I thought "Hey, I could do one of those," but when it comes down to it, I don't think a ten year comparison is really all that fair to do when the first photo would be of someone who was still in high school and hadn't even gotten to experience the real world yet.
When I got to thinking about it some more, I knew that a photo comparison wouldn't really share much... But maybe a blog post would. Because while I've changed a lot since then physically, the place where I've seen the most change has been on the inside.
Flashback to January 2009 when I was just about to turn 17, and I was on the brink of something. I think like most people, I spend a lot of time trying to figure myself and improve on that, and that year was no exception. In the beginning of that school year, I'd been confronted with a truth about myself that I had never recognized before: I was horribly, terribly depressed, and it showed.
I began quasi-seeing someone I'd known since elementary school in the fall, and that all ended very swiftly one day when I had what was honestly a temper tantrum. My mother had said something about a dead relative that I didn't want her to say in front of me in the presence of company, and I lost it. The guy got in his car and left, and later texted me to explain that he couldn't be around that kind of negativity-- that I brought people down, and he didn't want to be a part of that. He needed people around to lift him up.
We never spoke again after that, but that was my wakeup call. I realized that day that what he was talking about was depression, and what I was feeling on the inside was festering and oozing out like a deep rooted splinter. I don't know how I couldn't see it before, that other people could see my suffering in the form of my moods, and it took me by surprise. I decided to finally enter therapy to work on myself. I didn't want to be a horrible person to be around.
On one hand, with that last conversation he split me open and left the insides on the ground, jack-o-lantern cadaver style, and though I was ready to tackle myself, I was at a very fragile, weak state in my life. I was trying to learn to love myself, and all I was actually learning was that that seemed impossible. I felt impossible to love.
Meanwhile, a connection was brewing with someone else, and I needed to feel loved. He made me feel like he could take all of the broken pieces of me and put them back together, like he could love me into loving myself. I thought it was all going to be so easy.
I don't remember there being a start date to our relationship, it just happened one day, and we were in the midst of it in the beginning of 2009. Over the next several months, he worked his tendrils into the cracks of my mind, the ones that I was trying to close, and found my weaknesses. He exploited them to feel strong, better about himself. It happened very slowly, but eventually I found myself in a place where I was being controlled in every aspect. I had been forced to delete every male I knew from my social media and my phone. I was not allowed to delete my text messages so he could check them at will. My wardrobe consisted only of yoga pants and T shirts, because they were the least offensive and other men wouldn't look at me if I didn't appear put together. I couldn't do my hair or my makeup anymore. I had to be constantly texting him, because if I wasn't he would accuse me of cheating. I fell deeper into depression, and eventually I stopped going to therapy.
We always got into an argument right as I was trying to go to bed, and each and every argument felt like the last one, but he had broken me so far down that I had convinced myself that there was no one left to love me if he walked away. So I spent hours every night on the phone with him, crying, begging him not to break up with me. My mother could hear me on the phone from her room, but didn't know the nature of the phone calls, only that I was keeping her awake. She had two young kids, and sleep was hard to come by. She'd scold me to go to bed, so then I had two things to worry about: making sure that he didn't end our relationship over some stupid "mistake" I'd made, and making sure that I stayed quiet enough that I wouldn't disturb anyone, lest I have my phone taken away and make him even more mad. I didn't get much sleep that year either.
The final straw came in the summer, when I was over at my best girl friend's house. Outwardly, he and I were very in love and cute with one another, drawing the awe of people we knew, who would often talk about us as "couple goals." Whenever we were alone, on the phone, he'd make a kissy noise to say goodbye. I'd have to do it back. It normally didn't bother me, but this time I wasn't alone. I was with my friend, who I knew would make fun of me if I did it. He heard me hesitate, and I set him off again.
I spent hours outside on the sidewalk in front of her house, sobbing on the phone, trying to get the okay from him to get back inside to my now annoyed friend, who at that point couldn't understand why she'd invited me over in the first place if I was just going to be outside on the phone all evening.
Eventually he got tired of fighting, and gave in. I was allowed to get off the phone. We weren't breaking up that day, but I knew eventually I'd have to stop spending time with my friend, too, because if she was going to make fun of the kissy noise, she didn't understand our relationship, per his logic.
Embarrassed at what had just happened, I went inside, tearful, and told my best friend a new truth, one I'd just realized: I was in an abusive relationship.
She spent the appropriate amount of time needed comforting me and consoling me, and then she gave an ultimatum. He'd finally slipped up and let someone see the monster he was, and she wouldn't let me go on like that. I had to either end things or she'd out me to the adults.
I broke up with him a few days later. Over those few days I gained my strength back, going against his wishes and doing things I wasn't allowed to do anymore. He'd been working a lot, and I'd gotten a reprieve from his focus. It gave me time to dwell on things and develop a resolve. I told him the truth during the breakup, that I thought he was emotionally abusive because he was insecure about himself, in an attempt to make him see the error of his ways so he wouldn't do that to anyone else, and left it at that. We never spoke again.
On days like this, I want to hug 17 year old me so badly. I want to tell her that it's going to be okay, and that it's going to make her stronger. I want her to know that after that, she'd learn to take no shit from men, that she wouldn't be a victim forever. That her next relationship would be one of the best, like the universe was taking pity on her for what she'd been through, giving her someone to ease her back into caring about someone else that way. That eventually, one day, she'd find the person who really would put the pieces back together.
But of course, she didn't know all of that. She just mustered up what was left of her broken courage and walked into the world without the person that she was convinced was the only person who could ever love her, and despite that did it anyway. On days like this, I want to thank her for not going further down that path, and letting it get worse than it already was.
I'll be 27 in under a month, and I don't have it all figured it out. I can't wait to tell my sisters that one day: that adults are frauds, that they don't know what they're doing. We're all just trying our best. But trying your best really does heed results, because I'm not that girl anymore. Not even close.