I was G-chatting with a friend from elementary school today, and he mentioned that he had no idea who any of us was at that age since no one has reached who they are now that young.  He’s right and he’s wrong.  In some ways, we are never “who we are”.  We are constantly evolving, learning, and growing into ourselves.  It is true that we start to develop personality traits that we carry throughout our lives, but when?  Are we born with some of these thing?  Are they learned and encouraged by our environment and the people in our lives?  Do they come from experiences and life lessons?  The simple answer is yes.  All these elements add to who we are in some way, but if some of them didn’t exist would we really be any different at our cores?  At what age do these things really start to shape who we are?

I like to think of the personality traits we posses as children as words.  When toddlers first learn words, that’s all they are.  They have a meaning, but they stand alone.  As we grow older we start to string these words together to make phrases, and eventually sentences.  This is much like how we start to build ourselves into the people we will become.  We collect bits and pieces of ourselves as we grown, and eventually we can fit them together like a puzzle to make a complete picture.  I was the same person I am today when I was in elementary school.  I just didn’t know how to express it without being told I was wrong or different.

This is where the second half of our conversation comes into play.

In the 80’s there were two kinds of children.  Normal, healthy children, and broken children.  In my schools the only kids anybody bothered to worry about were children of divorced parents.  They were considered the highest risk children in our community.  It wasn’t that abused, neglected, molested, or troubled children didn’t exist, because we did.  We were simply not acknowledged because no one wanted to admit we existed in our community.  Instead we were convinced there was something wrong with us.  We were taught we were wrong and bad.  We were hushed, and we stayed hushed because we believed it was our fault.  We were bad children.  We were separated from the other kids and sent to institutions for cases when we really just needed a mentor or a support system.

It is in how we managed to deal with our issues ourselves that we began to become who we are today.  Some of us simply stopped growing and have either become co-dependent or misanthropic as adults, not knowing how to cope with real life.  Some pulled together and created their own support systems and families, encouraging each other to strive and grow.  Me?  I got dark, but I never completely let the shadows consume me.  I buried myself in school and let a few close friends enter my life.

I was lucky early on in the aspect that  for the formative years I had my mother to guide and encourage me.  She knew I was different.  She knew I knew things kids weren’t supposed to know at my age.  She also knew that none of this had to be a bad thing.  I still had trouble, but she kept me from shutting down completely.  Then she died.  I was 12 years old.  Being a teenage girl trying to figure herself out is hard enough without having just lost the only resource she ever had.

I had no idea who I was when I went into the eighth grade.  I was one of a handful of pagans I knew, I was a diabetic, I was bisexual, and I was “that weird girl”.  I was dark, sarcastic, morbid, and a little too honest with people.  I had all of three friends, but I never felt alone.

In high school I saw a few of those children I had grown up with lose their fights with themselves.  I still had no idea how to adequately express who I felt I was inside,  but I was learning.  I was still being told over and over again by adults around me that I needed to “be myself”, but none of them really knew what that meant any more than I did.  Then I graduated and had the summer that really solidified the woman I was becoming.  I had new experiences I would have never dreamed I could have.  For once in my life I was calling the shots in my life, and it felt good.  It felt right.

When I moved to Philadelphia I met a group of people who would, over the years, become my family.  They are my brothers and my sisters, and sometimes my conscience and my foundation.  They have gotten me through more hard times than I care to admit, and without them I’m not sure I would have made it through the past nine years.  They have never judged me or told me I was broken.  Instead, they have seen the potential I have to be who I want to be instead of what the negative experiences in my life had the opportunity to make me.  They have seen the person I am when you strip all those things away and look at my core.

When I left Drexel I knew it would change me.  I was no longer “the student”.  I was now a real adult.  I needed a job.  I need a place to live.  I needed to be able to take care of myself.  I was also pregnant, which meant I no longer had time to worry about who I was or what I wanted.  I needed to be “the responsible adult” and “the single mother” all while dealing with what ultimately constituted date rape, a mental collapse, and the fact that I had just walked away from the only future I had ever known.  I was this woman for three months.  Then I miscarried, and I was no longer even that.  I felt like no one.  I felt empty.  I felt more than alone.  I had no idea who I was.

It was then that I started to become the person I am when I cease to be myself.  I went through a few renditions.  I went through a slut phase, a tortured artist phase, a lonely wanderer phase.  I was a girlfriend, a fiance, a mistress.  At many of these turns I was told I was wrong.  I was still being told, after all those years, that I was broken and inadequate.  Still, in the end of all these things, I was me, and it dawned on me I didn’t have to worry anymore about it being wrong.   I was who I was, and no thing, no one, and no moment was going to change that.  It was then that I started living my life to my standards.  I had jobs I loved.  I met people I could not live without.  I loved indiscriminately.

Not long after that I met Hubby, who not only encouraged me to express every aspect of myself but loved me for it.  For years I was convinced I was broken, but the last three with him have shown me that there was never anything wrong with me.  My mom had it right all along.  She’s been gone for fourteen years, but her lessons are still coming thorough loud and clear.  I will never again let society tell me who to be, who to love, or who my family can be.  I will not let the world tell me I’m stupid, ugly, or unlovable.  I will not let them tell me the way I think, act, or express myself is obscene or unacceptable.  I will never again feel like an abomination.

Do I still have broken moments?  Of course I do.  Will I let them run my life?  Never again.

So, my question for you, my friends, is this: Who are you when you cease to be you?  Think about it.