I’ve felt lonely for as long as I can remember, but I was never the one who showed it.
I always played the part of the social one. Or the funny one. Or the class clown. Or the life of the party. I was the one people wanted to be. In reality, the roles I played couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I grew up in a household that was unsafe. It was a place where aggression flourished and showing any sort of emotion was frowned upon. In my family, reality happened behind closed doors, and everyone was required to wear their best smiles as soon as they walked outside. As a child, this incongruence felt normal. I never, until recently, understood the meaning of the word home.
So I became the girl who was involved in everything. I was the athlete, the dancer, the comedian, the rebel, and the party girl. I was anything that would take me away from the pain that was happening inside myself and in my home.
Around the age of 13, I began struggling with a cluster of addictive behaviors: self-injury, binge-drinking, starving myself, sleeping with men, and getting involved in abusive relationships. As soon as I would make even the slightest progress in one area, I would lose control in another. It was an endless game of Whac-A-Mole that I could never win. I continued that way for years, silently struggling.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized how out of control things had gotten. I ended up in a psychiatric ward over the holidays after attempting suicide. My life was at a new low point. My desire to live was no longer visible to me, and all of the “parts” that I was playing were getting too exhausting.
When I came back at school, no one knew how I had spent my holiday break. I was scared to be honest about where I had been, so I smiled and continued on as if nothing had happened. It worked for everyone but me. Once again I put myself right back where I started: Alone in the crowd.
Flash forward one year later. I had just finished up my first semester of college; little did I realize it would be the last one that I would complete in years. My sickness was visible in ways I could no longer hide. I entered myself into my first eating disorder treatment center and then the next. This became my life for the next 18 months.
I was no longer the funny girl, the social girl, or the life of the party. My role had switched from person to patient. I went from living what looked like an independent life to suddenly becoming someone to take care of. Feeling that way only fueled my depression.
It took years for me to come around, and although it could look like I “lost” so much time, I actually gained so much more: I’ve learned that we are not broken beyond repair and that second chances exist.
Today, I feel alive. Not only do I feel alive, but I also want to be alive. I have genuine and meaningful connections. I’ve found my people, the ones who have shown me what home is.
I’ve learned that it’s OK to be the girl who feels sad, who feels happy, who makes mistakes, and who shares her story. It’s OK to be the girl who finds a new home. It’s OK to be the girl who lets other people in.
Now I know there is only one person I have to be: the girl who stays.