Can we recapture our confidence?

A few years ago, my dad was cleaning out some things and gave me a frame containing my 5th-grade school picture. The image was polarizing. Gazing at myself, I immediately became overwhelmed with emotion. “That little girl looks wildly happy,” I thought. To set the scene for you a bit, it was 1995; I was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt with a sunflower in the middle of my chest, and denim overalls. My hair was about 10-feet-long and my stubborn curls swept to one side, really putting the focus on my huge round glasses and glowing crooked smile. Was I nerdy? For sure. Did I care? Absolutely not. The confidence in this girl radiates from the depths of the bright blue Olan Mills backdrop behind her and out through this image. She is yelling at me, “WHAT did you allow to happen to us?” And I can’t help but be sickened by that thought. When was the last time I really, truly felt as happy as that 10-year-old girl?

We all have confidence in the beginning. If you think wayyy back, I bet there were times when you stood up to your mom when she tried to explain that a turtleneck paired with your dad’s favorite tie was not a good plan, but you loved your outfit and strutted into 3rd grade like you owned the place. You told other people what you did and did not want to eat, wear, play, etc. If another kiddo was mean to you on the playground, you simply revoked your friendship card for the day and kept it moving. We weren’t afraid to try new sports, or activities. We found common ground with a core group of friends and felt content and safe- the outside world couldn’t touch us.

But then, one day, it does.

Suddenly, we move into adolescence, and nothing we are at our core is good enough. For me, the thick curly mane, huge glasses and (now) braces didn’t exactly scream attractive to any of the equally awkward boys I wanted to like me. I wanted to dress cooler, look cooler, be cooler. And so we let the voices of our peers (who likely know just as little as we do) exert their power over our malleable minds. For me, that spelled a LOT of trouble. I wasn’t as interested in my core group of friends anymore. I had less and less interest in healthy extra curricular activities and more interest in smoking weed in the woods and letting the boys who did show interest mold me into their version of desirable. I strayed away from the foundation of what made me happy and transformed into a person I am certain my parents didn’t recognize, wearing tight clothes and too much makeup and hanging out with one boy in particular who would ultimately take advantage of me, and my heart, in every way possible- until I could barely look at myself. Sure, I still kept average grades and had a good relationship with my parents….but there was so much going on behind the scenes that no one seemed to notice. Why is this? Because ultimately, we are all so busy trying to fit in that our young brains have no time to actually consider each other. The dichotomy of adolescent popularity and concern for our fellow humans is extreme. And this is where confidence begins to slip. We begin to rely less on what we can achieve for ourselves and more so on the opinions of our peers.

Thus, it is no wonder when we begin to shed this layer of superficiality and enter into the glaring light of adulthood, we do so feeling completely uncertain and exposed most of the time. This vulnerability makes us feel realize that we have spent so much time people-pleasing that we have forgotten what makes us happy. What we value at our core. And it is hard to recapture- but not impossible.

I myself entered 2021 with a serious bout of imposter syndrome. The person who had always supported me and made me feel capable through it all was now gone from my physical space. So traumatized was I, that it became harder and harder to concentrate on my job, and I realized that everything suddenly felt very trivial. So I began to research addiction and recovery. And realized that other children and loved ones may feel as bewildered as I did. I began to piece together a plan to start a podcast, and from there, I built this platform on which I write this very blog. Almost every day, I think to myself “Can I really do this? I am not an expert, what makes me qualified to talk to other people?” But I do it anyway. Former WNBA player Chantelle Anderson said, “We all have that moment in life where we decide to go for it in some area. From there, we need to sustain that decision by re-learning how to be confident.” In my journey through adulthood, I have been through plenty of trauma which has shaped the person who now stares back in the mirror each morning. I have decided, however, that it is time to stop allowing outside voices to penetrate my thoughts. I have decided that it is time to chase my dreams, and not make excuses and reasons why I can’t. I want to advocate for those who suffer with addiction, and their loved ones. I want to write more, speak more. I want to continue on this journey and make other people see the creative force that I am, and how hard I can work toward a goal. Rebuilding my confidence, for me, comes from re-examining my past experiences and how I let that affect my present views. I will keep them in my rearview mirror, because any learning experience is precious, but I can no longer afford to take my eyes off the road.

Every day, I look down at that school picture and think, “I am coming back for you, little one.” That happiness is in me-and I am determined to recapture my confidence, and that smile, for good.

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