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Living Authentically: Rising From The Ashes of Your Past

Because this is my first blog post with The We Spot, I wanted to introduce myself. But I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill intro. I want to introduce myself in a vulnerable way that lets you get to know me on a deeper level. The best way for me to do that is to tell you about how I learned to live authentically after years of hiding.

My story starts with a big secret that I carried around for 30 years. I carried it like an anvil of disgust and self-hatred around my neck from the ages of 12-42. Keeping my secret was a 24-hour-a-day job. Doesn’t that sound horrible? Thirty years!? But would you believe me if I told you that my secret was, at the end of the day, the best thing that could have happened to me? I’ll explain.

So…What’s The Big Secret?

My life-altering secret is that I have something called trichotillomania. Without even seeing your face, I know what you’re thinking…what the heck is that? Trichotillomania (trich for short) is a body-focused repetitive disorder (BFRD) that makes people have the urge or desire to pull out their own hair. I explain it as being similar to people who bite their nails.

As an anxious little girl, I didn’t have the tools to deal with anxiety in a healthy way. The day I found and pulled out a curled eyelash, I discovered a way to channel my anxiety. It wasn’t a healthy way, but just like nail-biting, it was an outlet.

By the end of my 5th-grade year, I had pulled every one of my eyelashes out. I knew that I obviously looked different without my eyelashes, and I knew this wasn’t a “normal” thing to do, but I continued. I needed that release, and up to that point, trich was the only thing that I had found.

Enter Brad and Jamie (not their real names)

Because I knew that what I was doing was strange, I made the decision to tell people that I had an eye infection that caused my lashes to fall out. I did tell one friend the truth, but by the time 6th grade started, she and I drifted apart as kids do, and she had told many people my secret.

I spent my middle school years being bullied relentlessly. Brad and Jamie were the ringleaders. And because they were “popular”, others followed suit. I can’t possibly know why, but Brad and Jamie spent our middle school years fixated on making me miserable.

Brad would tell anybody who would listen that I pulled my eyelashes out. For a meek girl who just wanted to be invisible, this was torture. I felt like a freak show attraction; being stared at, laughed at, and talked about, “That’s the girl who pulls her eyelashes out” was something I heard pretty much on a daily basis.

I dreaded the bus ride every day. That’s when Brad, Jamie, and their friends really let me have it. He would tell me how disgusting I was while miming pulling out his eyelashes. Jamie would spit in my hair and shoot spit wads at me. The laughs that came from those watching the taunting were terrible. 

I was a bully’s dream target, sitting stone-faced and silent, never once standing up for myself. Knowing that speaking up would only make it worse, I sunk further and further into myself every day. I internalized every word and action of these kids and learned to hate myself.

During those years, I desperately wanted to disappear. My entire existence became trying to dodge fellow students who knew the truth about my secret and made no secret of the fact that they enjoyed taunting me about it. I was quite the joke during those years. But I made it through.

To High School…And Beyond!

Even though I appeared to be doing the normal high school things, my life goal was still complete invisibility. I had learned in the previous years that being seen meant being miserable. My goal was to survive my days without somebody asking me what happened to my hair or “aren’t you that girl who pulls her hair out?”

I had no sense of self-worth and I didn’t feel like I deserved anything good. I considered myself a weird, disgusting freak of nature who needed to constantly apologize for existing. 

When I graduated high school, my self-esteem was so broken that I married the first guy that gave me a “protective” vibe. I badly wanted to feel safe and protected, and I thought he was the best way to do that. Unfortunately, that “protective” vibe was abuse in disguise. So after a few years of marriage and having two sons, I divorced him and spent the next 20 years being a single mom.

Walls of Steel

Those 20 years were what I now call my “shut down years”. Everything that I had been through up to that point caught up with me and I shut down. The world felt unsafe and cruel so I built up emotional and physical walls of protection. 

I pushed people away and didn’t foster friendships or relationships outside my family, and I gained a significant amount of weight. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I have since learned that people who have been through trauma gain weight as subconscious armor.

Life was exhausting. I was barely existing, fighting debilitating depression. I had raw, open wounds in my heart and soul, and I spent every day trying to appear okay and normal. But that anvil around my neck got heavier and heavier every day. Having to take care of my kids was, quite literally, the only thing keeping me from leaving this world. I knew that I couldn’t leave them.

Hiding my hair loss was also a full-time, stressful job. With only my school years as my touchstone, I KNEW it was imperative that nobody find out. I wore a very uncomfortable hair topper to work every day and prayed that I wouldn’t ever get stuck outside during a windy day. If the doorbell rang at home, there was a mad dash to find a hat to cover my head before I answered. 

I was sad, lonely, and scared. I was living the least authentic life I could. And then…

I Rose Like a Phoenix, Baby!

At 38, I came to the startling realization that my boys were getting older and needed me less and less. I knew that despite my walls, I wanted someone to share my life with. I finally gathered up some courage and joined some dating sites. It required some cheerleading from those around me, but I did it. 

After about a year of online dating, I met my now-husband. Before I go any further, I want you to understand something: I’m a full-fledged, card-carrying feminist. I believe that women are capable of everything, and NEVER need a partner to validate them, but I have to say that this man’s unconditional, patient love helped lift me out of my self-imposed isolation and self-hatred. I started to believe that my worth had more to do with my soul than how much hair I did or didn’t have. 

As my self-acceptance grew, I felt more and more courageous. I knew what I had to do to continue my journey of learning to love myself. It was a Saturday morning. I gathered up all my newfound (but still small) confidence that I had, sat in the safety of my bedroom, and made a video. I told my truth. All of it.

With shaky hands and enough anxiety for 20 people, I posted that video on my social media platforms that morning. Scared doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt.

How were people going to respond? How many nasty comments would I receive? I had flashbacks of me on that bus getting spit on and humiliated. Had I just made a HUGE mistake? 

But it was done.

Once I felt brave enough to look, you could have knocked me down with a feather. Nobody was nasty. Nobody! It was actually the complete opposite. I was bombarded with love; receiving beautiful comments, private messages, and phone calls all day. I couldn’t believe that I was being loved and accepted. I had done the scariest thing I could think of doing, and not only survived but rose up from the ashes of the past 30 years. That was the day I learned that the world isn’t a scary, cruel place. There was so much love everywhere. 

Life is Hard…And Beautiful.

In the year since outing myself, I have experienced the most amazing healing journey. For the first time in my life, I am getting to know myself. What are my beliefs and values? Who am I and what do I want my existence on this planet to look like?

I’ve also done intense inner child healing work. Every day I talk to my 12-year-old self and tell her how wonderful she is. I mother her with loving kindness and acceptance, and I let her play and exist without any barriers. I protect her at all costs.

Another aspect of my healing journey was getting up close and personal with the wounds on my heart and soul. I let myself sit with the pain that exists in each one and honor that pain instead of running away from it. I’ve learned that when I let the pain speak to me, I’m giving it the room and love that allows it to heal. 

We’re All Weird…And Amazing!

For the first time in my life, I’m free. No secret weighing me down. No hiding any aspect of who I am physically or emotionally. I have renewed relationships with my family. I finally have room in my healed heart to love myself.

We spend so much time during our lifetimes trying to live up to what society thinks we should be or what our parents or partners think we should be. In my case, I was living my life from a very damaged place in my soul; allowing past hurts to dictate my thoughts, feelings, and life choices.

Release yourself from the notion that you have to exist in a certain way. There aren’t rules for this. Whatever your truth is…live it honestly and out loud. The moment you start to own and love who you are, you’ll find the desire and bravery to move toward authentic presence and power. 

Living my story was hard. The emotional pain was excruciating at times. And I am thankful for every bit of it. I love who I am now. I love the life I’ve created. Give yourself this gift. Let go of anything that holds you back from living authentically. Live your truth out loud.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, its employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Andrea Stallsworth

Andrea is an empathic introvert who is learning to live her life in an open, authentic way. As a single mama for 17 years, Andrea happily put all of her time and energy into raising two wonderful sons who are the absolute light of her life. Since her boys have become adults, Andrea has jumped head-first into a journey of self-discovery and self-love. She is now married to an amazing man, and the happy couple spends most of their free time exploring the Rocky Mountains that they love so much. Andrea is a professional copywriter with her own agency and gets great joy from helping women-owned businesses successfully market their products and services. Andrea’s greatest desire is to use her own journey of life experiences to help others break free from the chains that are holding them back. She is dedicated to providing a safe space for others to live their truths out loud without hesitation. She lets her “freak flag” fly and invites others to do the same!

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