Redefining Yourself

There was a time not that long ago that getting dressed up with cocktail dresses and the whole ordeal of getting ready for a fancy dinner, formal affair, or just going with friends for the night almost made me have a panic attack.  It was not a pretty scene.

Standard cargo pants and fleece at Island Beach State park in New Jersey. Photo taken by Looie Voorhees

Standard cargo pants and fleece at Island Beach State park in New Jersey. Photo taken by Looie Voorhees

I am not exaggerating about the level of tension it caused me, and it filled me with paralyzing terror.  I didn’t know why it made me so uncomfortable until yesterday.  I didn’t feel like I deserved the attention, the appreciation, or even a compliment.  If I did get any of those, I was awkward.  The idea of being worthy of attention without that feeling like it’s narcissistic is something I have been working on this year.

I didn’t put the two and two together until I had to get ready for a formal event the other day.  I didn’t really feel any of that crippling anxiety because I have the self-confidence to realize that I can dress like that, and I look like I belong there.  More importantly, I FEEL like I belong there.  Even a few months ago when I wore a cocktail dress, I felt slightly awkward.

The dress I wore to Arbonne's nation celebration. Photo taken by Danielle Baldassare.

The dress I wore to Arbonne’s nation celebration. Photo taken by Danielle Baldassare.

I am still much happier in cargo pants, t-shirts, and sneakers.  The fact that I can go to these events and feel accepted, deserving, and free is priceless.  It’s also a feeling I never thought I would have.  Little by little breaking down these walls I have in order to reach my full potential.

Belonging, Terror, and Love

I have been pondering the past month about the many things that have changed in my life so much in three years.  Since I was in middle school, I have been searching for and also running from belonging to anything outside my family.  I’m fortunate enough to be comfortable with my family, which has always been my rock.  I’ve just expanded it a bit.

I didn’t belong to anything in middle school or high schooI, beyond an environmental club and to a certain extent my church youth group.  Even that was superficial.  I think everyone to some degree goes through bullying in middle and high school, and it affected me greatly-I know I am not unique in those aspects.  It was typical middle and high school tormenting, and it left deep scars of trust issues.  The groups I thought I belonged to, I really didn’t.  I felt awkward, uncomfortable, and painfully self-conscious most of the time.  So I retreated, and built reinforced concrete walls.

It was simple in mind.  Belonging equalled trust that inevitably lead to hurt, which led to me being terrified of letting myself get close enough to feel worthy of belonging.  It was one more thing to lose, one more heartbreak, and it was just easier to cut myself off emotionally.  It was damned effective.

At my community college was the first time in a very long time I felt I belonged somewhere, and it wasn’t superficial.  I found my beloved Garden Club, the Garden Elite.  I am not sure whether it was because some of them were older that I felt more at ease, or just because they were an exceptionally accepting group that made even an awkward newcomer feel welcome.  For whatever reason, I did feel welcome, and more importantly, I let myself feel that I deserved to be included.  As I am writing this, I am realizing what a defining period it was in my life.  I trusted people a little, and it didn’t hurt.  There was just acceptance, love, and I will forever be grateful to them.  I am still in touch with those people today.

Garden Elite 2002. Left to right: Monica, Taylor, me, Lauren, Dustin

Garden Elite 2002. Left to right: Monica, April, me, Lauren, Dustin

After college was a struggle to belong again, and I was back to feeling like I did in high school.  The scarcity mindset had returned, and I wondered if I would ever feel good enough at anything again.  Fast forward to three years ago.  I found friends, a tremendous group of people, and an organization who’s entire philosophy is to empower people.  I feel a true sense of belonging, love, and appreciation I never thought I would ever receive again, or let myself feel like I could let people in without fear.  I found my group, who is a part of my extended family, and to finally feel like I belong somewhere, and that I am worthy of it, is an indescribable feeling of gratitude.  I have surrounded myself with people who love and accept me for me.