A few weeks ago I was having a phone conversation with a friend that I hadn’t talked to in a while. We caught up and then laughed about some of the more outrageous things that happened when we around each other. As we sighed in delight at our shenanigans, we began to relive the moments of first meeting each other. It was all fun until she began to mention how I revealed information about my troubled past to her within our first meeting. My stomach sank as she retold the stories of the pain I dealt with as a child.
Growing up in Mobile, Alabama was a very difficult time for me and my family. Each person dealt with their own problems, while also facing combined issues. There were a lot of tears, a lot of trying to understand “why did this happen,” and questions of: “God, I thought you were going to protect me, what happened?” While dealing with these moments, my two older sisters and I decided to just keep our past where it was. We wouldn’t discuss it, not even with ourselves, or with our baby sister who was born during a transitioning period in our lives. She grew up in a great household, very privileged, slightly spoiled, and we wanted to keep her ignorant to how things were before she came along.
It wasn’t until 8th grade that I started opening up to people about it. I first told my “boyfriend,” who essentially used my past against me once we “broke up.” (Those childhood relationships, I swear, we took things soo seriously, didn’t we?) So, when I got into high school, I decided that I would just keep my past to my best friends. My four best friends became my sounding board of support and understanding and could finally piece together the puzzle of my personality that others wondered about. Being open and honest for the first time was so freeing to me. I didn’t have to talk around my past anymore, I could finally address it and there was a strength in doing so.
But, when I got to college, I feel like I got a little haphazard with it. Looking back on it it was like: *handshake “Hi, I’m Kendra, I suffered as a child. What’s your name?” Granted, the people I shared this information with became and still are some of my closest friends; but looking back on it, I get confused by my behavior. I feel as though for so many years I felt beaten up by life, robbed of a childhood, seeing invisible, mental scars from looking at old pictures or even in the mirror. I felt so hurt for so long, that holding on to it, and being able to say: “Hey, I survived” was like some type of award. It came to the point that I refused to move on from the pain. Refused to let it go. Refused to heal, because I needed to feel it. I needed to know how far I came. I needed to continue to feel that sorrow. I began to realize that I was addicted to the pain, addicted to feeling as though I had survived and I did matter because of it.
About two years ago or so I was doing an interview about a book I contributed to and they were asking me about my passages in it that described some of the hurt from my past. While delving into it I just began to feel so exhausted and felt like fighting the urge to say: “Could we please talk about something else?” At that moment I realized we couldn’t talk about anything else, because that pain was what I used to define myself to so many people in my life and in the book.
I began to realize that past hurts should be there to help shape us, not define us, and holding on to them can be damaging if you don’t allow yourself to grow from them. I’m not telling you to be ashamed of your past, and continue to hide from it, but when you feel like your identity is wrapped up in your hurt, then maybe you should consider letting go of it. You are a survivor, but just know that you can also be something more as well. Don’t let wading in your past emotional pool stop you from swimming in the oceans of life, because you can miss a lot out there if you stay in the shallow end.
Kendra Koger is afraid of drowning, but you can swim to her twitter account @kkoger.