I'd like to say I can't believe I fully recovered... or I can't believe I found love... or I can't believe I now help others. But those wouldn't be true statements, because I CAN believe it. I always knew I could recover. I always knew I would find love. And I always knew I had the capacity and nurturing spirit to help others. I have always believed in possibilities and my own determination.
What I wasn't so sure about was being able to find myself... the self I had lost. I can't believe that I...got the real Arielle back.
I wrote a post earlier this month on my personal blog, when my mind was going back in time, remembering and realizing things of merit. When I read the Hungry for Change prompt for today, that post immediately came to my mind. I called it "The Real Arielle" and I'll share it with you, because I hope that you can get the real you back too.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. During a physical for entry to kindergarten, when asked to cover my right eye and read a chart, I pretended to faint dead away to showcase my dramatic talent.
I used to talk to anyone who would listen. I used to dance and sing. I loved everything. Everything. I didn't even know the expression back then, but I can tell you: I thought the world was my oyster.
A little later, I thought I'd be a writer, an art teacher, a mother. I had a slew of friends, an eye for clothes and shoes (even in elementary school), and if I knew the answer, then you can be damn sure I raised my hand.
I loved school, hated sports (one of my pretty little black flats once flew off my foot and across the field during a game of kickball), and life was mostly good. Whatever came my way, I could cope. I had the self-reliance, the gumption, the eternal optimism and creativity.
And then came middle school.
Popular AND a good student, I was content. Puberty hit and tossed me to the wolves. I was a victim of what has become the classic "mean girls" scenario. Shunned by all, I went home crying every day. My mother tried to console me with explanations of "They're jealous" or "It's not the end of the world," but to me, it didn't matter the reasons and to me, it was the end of the world.
It wasn't a matter of blame. When a year had passed and the bullying stopped as abruptly as it had begun, I forgave eagerly, hopeful for a better future. The "why?" never persisted - all I knew was that for some reason they had wanted to break me down, "show me". They wanted me to feel pain, to be un-popular, un-wanted, un-loved, forgotten, shunned, snubbed, and alone. Even though they were all nice once and they were all my friends, they backed each other up and ganged up on me. Ignored me. Mocked me. Wrote hateful notes to me. And the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months, and soon, a year of my childhood--and a crucial year at that--was gone. Drowned in tears of misery and loneliness.
I don't bring this up to act like a victim or to indicate in some preposterous way that these girls ruined my life. I certainly wouldn't want to be held accountable for something I did at age 11 or 12. I write about this experience merely to explain how it changed me and I take full responsibility. "Outgoing" changed to "reserved", "opinionated" became "accommodating", "present" became "hidden", "vivacious" became "subdued", "filled" became "starved".
I retreated into myself. I became a prisoner of suffering. And suffering became so familiar that I clung to it, used it to cope, used it to keep myself in check. I did it, not the girls. But it became my way of life, my new personality. And sadly, as I remained that way for years to come, it was the Arielle that everyone knew.
Even after the bullying had passed and other torments lingered, like my relationship with my father or the punishment I inflicted upon myself in the form of a ripening eating disorder, I was shy. Quiet. Waiting for others to speak for me. Waiting for someone else to take the lead. Reserved. Unsure.
My high school friends saw this girl.
My college friends saw this girl.
But before this girl existed, there was another girl. The real Arielle. The one waiting inside. The one who was actually born into this world.The vivacious, curly-headed, smiling, leader who was ready for the world to be her oyster.
Somewhere in my last year of college, along the edges of my recovery from an eating disorder, among my decision to audition for the Vagina Monologues on a whim and later perform the role I snagged, between the pages of a 90+ page undergraduate senior thesis I adored and best friend who cared for me and coaxed me into flesh and blood instead of a shell of a girl, I started to get the real Arielle back.
My husband Rick never met the shy, reserved version that had been wrapping the authentic Arielle like some flimsy paper for so many years. He met a bold woman with kind words and a flair for writing, a woman who at first glance looked as though she was coming into her own, getting started. But really, she wasn't getting started. She was going back - GETTING back - the Arielle that got lost. She wasn't reinventing, she was revisiting.
Even as I write this, I can be sure that those of you who've met me in the last 5 years or so are sitting there in disbelief that I was ever SHY. Or RESERVED?! Yet, when I tell some of my older friends the things I'm doing, they laugh in shock the opposite way, as if to say, "You? Shy, little Arielle?"
Three years ago when I started making weekly YouTube videos, I never dreamed I'd have over a thousand subscribers and even more viewers. But what's more, SIX years ago if you'd have suggested to me that in a few years time I'd be filming motivational speaking videos for thousands to see, I'd have laughed nervously and said, "Never! Not me!"
But little Arielle, the actress with her delightfully staged fainting spell down pat, would have said, "Of course I'd love to speak on YouTube, but why stop there? I want to speak all over the place!"
This post just sort of poured out of me, because earlier I had to write down some of the things I do... and I realized with a start of satisfaction that the real Arielle is here. She's been here. She's back. I'm a recovery blogger of 4+ years, an almost L.M.S.W., an ANAD eating disorder support group leader, an ANAD resource person, a speaker, President of my Graduate School's Student Association, etc. etc. etc. If I continue, it will sound more like a resume than a blog post, but the point is that... everyone who's met me in the last few years, who knows me now - they see the real me.
Someone told me the other day that I was "such a natural leader" and I laughed. But then I thought - why the hell am I laughing? People who knew you 10 years ago would laugh, but YOU don't have to laugh. This person only knows the REAL you. She never saw the other Arielle.
This person I am now, it's not someone NEW. It's not an evolution. It's who I've been ALL ALONG. So if you knew me in the dark days, that's what I'm trying to tell you. And if you know me in the bright days, you're lucky. Because here I am! It's me. The real Arielle.