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  • Writer's pictureErin Ward

Authentically Me

When I was a kid, I was quite artsy. I enjoyed filling my time with writing poetry, songs, and stories. I found immense satisfaction in doing arts and crafts of all types. I could spend hours baking, building things with scraps of wood and nails in my dad’s shop, coloring the paper dolls my aunt would draw for me, stringing dandelion chains and turning them into crowns to wear in my hair. Even outside play was a chance to express creativity for me. Rarely would I join my siblings and cousins as they played tag and various sports. I preferred to line up my dolls and set up shop making mud pies to pretend sell.

I didn’t mind being alone. In fact, a favorite pastime was wandering off by myself in the woods or the expansive hayfield behind our house, notebook in hand, finding a comfy spot under a tree, and writing, doodling, imagining. Sometimes I would share my works. But often, I would keep them to myself for fear of being laughed at. I was keenly aware of being “different” than my siblings and friends. Part of me wished I was more like them, that it was easier for me to fit in, that I was more athletic.

Mostly, I wished I didn’t feel so ashamed and embarrassed by the things I enjoyed doing, and occasionally, I felt lonely, wishing someone cool could lower themselves to join me in my weird, artsy world, see how great it was to escape here, and go announce to everyone, “Hey guys, come on, Heather has got the coolest reality over here. We’ve been missing out! Let’s join her. She’s really cool!”

I realize now, looking back, that my desire to be accepted by someone labeled as being “cool” was because of my low self confidence and inability to embrace my identity…my authentic self, the core of who I was, my uninhibited soul. Somehow, I learned at a very young age to hide who I was. I learned to mask it, and over time, my desire to be accepted took over, as I began shoving those parts down even further and conforming to the behaviors of those around me in an attempt to fit in.

Now, at 40 years old, I’m undoing a lifetime of conditioning in an attempt to unearth those authentic parts of me that I once worked so hard to cover up.

And I grieve for that girl—that carefree girl who loved nothing more than wild expression through art, writing, music, and mud pies. I grieve for the years I lost with her and the people who have missed out on knowing her and seeing her shine.

I had a somewhat eccentric style as a child. I was known for odd clothing combinations whenever mom would let me pick out my own outfits. I remember going to school one day in a bright flowered skirt paired with a white shirt with little music notes all over it that were also brightly colored. I remember people laughing and I couldn’t understand why. In my mind, the music notes were the same colors as the flowers, so didn’t that mean it matched? Of course, now I chuckle at the memory, but it serves as a good reminder of the uninhibited personalities we possess as children that are slowly stifled as we are exposed to the programming that inevitably takes place.

Gradually, we conform. We learn what is expected of our lives, what is deemed successful, what will cause us to be accepted in certain circles and what will cause us to be exiled. We learn to people please, often abandoning ourselves in the process. We even adopt the belief that we are flawed in some way when we struggle to meet the expectations set before us by society.

In a way, this blog is a part of my journey of returning to myself, the parts of me I abandoned years ago because they didn’t fit the world I felt forced to be a part of. I stopped using my voice to express through writing for fear of rejection, for fear my words weren’t good enough.

A while back, I had the opportunity to write a book. I wasn’t fully clear on all that I would include when I set out on the venture, but as I wrote, I found it quite easy to not be censored, and my thoughts flowed freely. It felt exciting to express in that way. I was surprised how easy it felt and how uninhibited I felt in the process. It jarred something awake in me. I started remembering those stolen moments as a child, filling my notebook with my thoughts and imaginings. And I wondered why I’d let myself get away from that part of me that felt so real.

It’s so easy, isn’t it? It’s so easy to shift our energy from the things that light up our souls to the things that make us look like we fit in. We learn to fill our hours with careers that consume every ounce of our energy, plan the biggest, most extravagant parties to cover up our loneliness, say yes to nights of excess drinking in exchange for the personal development we are actually craving. And then we wonder why we feel so restless and unfulfilled.

The more we distract , the more distant we feel. Distant from what? From that small child inside us who still wants to make dandelion crowns and wear colorful clothes because that’s when she feels the most free. But someone told her somewhere along the way that she had to let that go, so she exchanged her dandelion crown for a professional haircut, donned a suitable outfit in place of her vibrant apparel, and squeezed her happy bare feet into restrictive heels.

But not anymore. Because, even though it’s taken years, she has finally found her way back to that little girl spinning wild circles inside, surrounded by poetry and songs and flowers and colors and mud pies, and her whole body is screaming, “Fuck yes!” She’s welcoming that little girl back, holding her close, and promising to never abandon her again…even if that radical self acceptance brings rejection or misunderstanding from others…because she has learned that rejection of self brings far worse pain.

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