I recently listened to a podcast where the hosts interviewed a number of people from different stages of life: a 20-year-old, a 40-year old, a 60-year old and so on. Each were asked the same questions: Do you feel that, right now, you are a different person than you were a few years ago? And do you think, right now, you have fully grown into the person that you are meant to be? Each person, in each age demographic, had the same answer to both questions: yes.
No matter where we are in life, we tend to think this is the person we will continue to be. It’s almost impossible not to — it’s not like we can see into the future and get a gage on the person we might be in 20 years. There’s no way to know how we will change in life, so I’m learning that its best to enjoy the process of growing.
But it’s not always that easy. Throughout my entire life, I’ve had a very complicated relationship with growth and vulnerability. My mom died when I was nine, and it’s something I’ve spent my entire life trying to grow from and reconcile.
My mom’s battle with cancer was heartbreaking, and it undoubtedly changed my life and my family forever. But if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to the person that I am today. My trajectory of growth would be unimaginably different.
After my mom died, I became fiercely independent. I cared for my younger brother, I got myself to the dentist and I found myself playing Santa Claus on Christmas Eve when I was nine.
It took me a while to learn that this level of independence wasn’t common for kids my age. Eventually, I started to realize that my friends didn’t typically get through the day without help from a parent, they didn’t need to forge their parent’s signature on receipts and class permission slips, they didn’t need to solve most of their problems by themselves.
I took pride in my independence, but as I got older it was joined by judgmental tendencies and a false sense of security. I found myself judging my friends and classmates when they raised issues related to their dependence on others. I much preferred my own ideology: don’t depend on other people and you won’t get hurt. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t realize that not everyone kept up an emotional wall as concrete as my own.
As I grew, my comfortability with independence manifested into promiscuity and the constant search for an adrenaline rush — which, let’s be real, aren’t completely unheard of coping mechanisms when it comes to finding yourself in the midst of chaos. I am still exploring these aspects of myself as I navigate my young adult life and am working to hold myself accountable for practicing them in a healthy, positive way. Part of this process is being fully aware of my actions and intentions. So, here I am. Holding myself accountable.
Right now, I’m primarily focused on the way I am growing in terms of my relationship with vulnerability, which as I mentioned before, has always been a complicated one.
For years, my mom’s death clouded my perception of what it means to love and trust. I am constantly afraid that those I love are going to leave me. Therefore, I remain very careful of who I choose to keep close.
I’m working to navigate this by, first, gaining familiarity with myself and learning to feel comfortable and powerful in my own skin. By reminding myself that I, if no one else, will always be there for me. This will make it much less scary to give a part of myself to someone else.
Not only has this helped me grow mentally, but also creatively. Recently, my ability to express myself through art has blossomed. I feel as if, through it, I can finally access a part of myself that has been missing for a very long time.
Throughout this last year, art, therapy and my desire to be self-aware have helped me come to terms with some of the more difficult parts of my identity, including my severe social anxiety and my history with an eating disorder. Most importantly, I’ve learned to be honest with myself — something I feel that I’ve never truly been able to do.
My new relationship with growth and vulnerability has changed my life in unimaginable ways. I’ve felt a change in the way I carry myself. I’ve felt a change in the way that I am able to open up to people, even if just in the smallest ways. I’ve felt a change in the way I’ve been able to voice my own wants and needs without fear of dismissal or rejection. I’ve been able to assert myself in a room in a way I never could before. I’ve even started leaving notes for myself in my phone like “Reminder. You are so powerful,” so I don’t forget the potential and influence I bring with me everywhere I go.
Four years ago, I could not have imagined the person I have become and am constantly becoming. At that time, I was an anxiety-ridden 16-year-old who had little-to-no genuine self-confidence and a deep, subconscious fear of giving up control. Today, I feel like a passionate, confident and self-assured young woman.
That’s not to say I’m anywhere near the end of my journey. Life still gets hard. But now, I’m better equipped to handle whatever life throws at me. When I feel myself slipping, I force myself to remember that it is all a part of growing up.
This is only the beginning of my journey with self-love and growth — a journey that I wish more than anything I could share with my mom. But sometimes, something as simple as tweezing my eyebrows or humming an Abba tune will spark a jolt of nostalgia and I remember that while she may not be here, she is still with me, in a way. As I grow, I watch the parts of her that live within me grow, too. And it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.