I’ll never forget how effortlessly those words fell out of my mom’s mouth as my head rested on her chest. I was 15 and I hadn’t said those words out loud before. The first time I wrote them down I ended up tearing up the journal entry because I feared someone could find it and then it would be real. Because no matter how many times you try to suck words back into your mouth, you find out quickly that you can’t take them back. You have to face them.
By the time I was 15 I had been to six schools in seven years. I had already been tormented by other kids because I was different. I was athletic. I could beat boys in sports. I hated makeup. I only ever wanted to wear things from the boys department. I didn’t care to play with dolls, dress up, or be the mom in a game of house. At that time I didn’t know those things were different. My younger self didn’t understand why I couldn’t expose my chest just like the other boys—I was undeveloped and it looked the same as theirs. I didn’t get why kids made fun of me. I didn’t understand the cruelty coming my way from the boys I was beating to the finish line.
Then that night when my mom said the words, I had to face them. Because no matter how much I instantly wanted to deny it, I knew she was right.
I was different and, in that moment, every bully became right and there was nothing more infuriating to me than to think everyone else knew me better than I knew me.
Anger was the first mask I put on to hide who I truly was to the outside world.
That anger turned outward and before I knew it I became the bully I hated so much. My humor turned to laughter at the expense of others. I was angry that I finally figured out who I was, but that who I was wasn’t ok with other people. That it was used against me to cause sadness and hurt. So instead, I learned to hurt others.
Fear was the next mask I put on to hide.
I learned that if I didn’t speak up. Didn’t raise my hand. Didn’t show people what I was capable of, then I couldn’t be made fun of or hurt for it. So I hid out of fear of judgement. I dove head first into the internet to find people who were like me. Who understood. I spent a lot of time in the corners of the internet that aren’t always the safest place for 17 year old girls. I started going along with all the plans my friends had for their futures. I dressed as similarly as I could to them, even though it made me want to crawl out of my own skin to wear a skirt. I attended every school dance with a boy, participated in truth or dares, giggled at jokes I didn’t find funny, and applied to colleges I had no intention of going to.
Religion was the next mask I put on.
It was 2007 and my senior year when I had my first awakening. A group called Invisible Children had given a presentation at our school all about the war in Uganda, the LRA, and all the families and children who were being displaced. I was so inspired to help, to create change, and to do something for others and not just myself. This was the first time I realized that I could use my power for good. I could turn the anger into action. This journey with Invisible Children led me to religion. To a church that spoke of sameness in all of us. A place where they said things like “all that matters is that you love yourself, love others, and love God”. Which felt like pretty easy rules, so I was in. I finally felt accepted. I not only drank the Kool Aid, I swam in it. I started working for the church. I shared ideas, created meaningful works of art from my writing and design, and inspired others to unite for good. As vividly as I remember my mom’s words that night, I remember sitting in the lead pastor’s office the day they told me I could stay in the closet and keep working there, or I could come out and then walk out the door.
Hatred was the final mask I put on.
After years of living someone else’s idea of perfect, I was riddled with hatred. I hated that I couldn’t be “normal”. I hated that I couldn’t be attracted to a man. I hated that others hated me when they didn’t even know me.
As my hatred grew, so did my love for self-destruction. I couldn’t be who I wanted, I was scared to be honest with the world, and I thought the only way I could do the work that lit me up was to be part of a religion that no longer wanted me. So I stopped wanting anything for myself.
I spent five years in this spiral. Sleeping with any girl whose attention I captivated. Drinking away the pain I felt over years of inauthenticity. Smoking to keep my mind occupied enough to forget about all the things I wasn’t doing with my life.
By the time I was 23, I was a frankenstein of a human being made up of all the parts people told me looked nice.
When you don’t know yourself, it’s really easy to fall into relationships that become toxic and draining. She fell in love with my masks. She didn’t know me. Hell, I didn’t know me. It wasn’t her fault that we were so bad together. But I let it go on for nearly three years because I still couldn’t face my real self.
Then at the age of 26 I had enough. I was full of enough anger, fear, and hatred to level the state of Texas.
In 2015 the toxic relationship ended.
Then lost the house we bought together.
Then I lost my job.
Then I inevitably lost my mind.
There was one night when I set a warm bud light down and walked stumbled my way out of a bar and was determined to turn my life around.
I drove home—yes, drove home. Because back then I had convinced myself that it was ok to drive after drinking. Mostly because in my head if I got in an accident there wasn’t some great life that would go wasted. Just mine.
I got home and through double vision I looked at myself for the first time in years. I remember looking in the mirror at the weight that came with binge drinking. I could see the wrinkles from smoking a pack a day for years. I could feel the scars that I never helped to heal.
The next morning I woke up hungover and looked at the anger I wore since I was 15 and got angry for one final time. I got angry enough that I finally owned that it wasn’t up to the world to apologize, it was up to me to direct that power elsewhere.
Then I had to look fear in the eyes. The eyes that turned out to be my own and I had to say the words I feared the most. I told myself that it was ok, that I was forgiven, that I could be different and so could my life. I told myself I loved me, and that it was finally ok to come out from hiding.
Then I had to face all the hatred I had built up. Turns out this one was the hardest to shake, and I’m still certain that if I go looking, I could find it. But slowly—very slowly—I rid myself of the weight hatred comes with. Then, with every rep in the gym, each bounce of a basketball, every mile I ran, it fell away.
To the outside world it looked as though I had snapped. And in ways I had.
I got angry enough to change.
Brave enough to tell people about it.
And happy enough to want others to know that they could have this too.
So here I am today. An advocate for others, a believer in change, a doer of good, a seeker of truth, a philanthropist, a creative, and above all…