I was a late bloomer. Like many people, I grew up in a family that constantly judged, criticized, and fought. It was so painful that I would hide away in my bedroom, reading books and writing. So I focused on school and gymnastics. School was easy for me. I did not have to work hard to get good grades. If I would only be a little bit focused in my attention, I always got A’s. But I was miserable.
My Escape Plan
The pain of my childhood was palpable, and it was relentless, day in and day out. During some periods, I was seriously depressed. I needed something to give me hope, and I found my escape plan in a book about colleges. Stanford University, where everything is sunshine and hope, far away from the dreary drizzle of Oregon. :) I set my intention in tenth grade, and I looked at the page with the entry requirements to Stanford so many times that the book was permanently creased open to that page.
By sheer force of will, I made all straight A’s and was valedictorian. I was the editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper and co-editor of the literary magazine. These were remarkable feats considering my utter lack of social skills and my misery. Not to mention the “C” grade that I narrowly escaped during the first semester of senior year calculus.
Throughout high school, I quite literally thought of myself as ugly. Looking back, I can see this was just a very shabby self-image projected outward. I had internalized all the criticism and judgment and shame from my family. This manifested in wearing clothes that were not flattering, weighing about 20 pounds more than I do now by senior year, and having hair styles that did not suit me. It’s almost like I was trying to make myself ugly.
During a particularly low moment, I remember writing a journal entry declaring that I would somehow free myself from this nightmare. I had no idea how this would happen. So I just kept doing whatever it was going to take to get into Stanford. And during my senior year of high school, a deep transformation began for me. It started with reading some books, like the Stranger by Camus. I would frequent used book stores and thumb through the musty old pages for hours, looking for answers. I started wearing a lot of black clothes and frequenting coffee houses even though at the time I did not drink coffee lol. And I began to question everything.
For so long, I had been desperately trying to meet the standards of my parents and my teachers and my peers. Yet the more I tried to please them, the more miserable I was. Finally, mid-senior year, with my entry into Stanford pretty much sealed, I began to rebel. I grew my hair out long (and have never cut it short since then, actually). My mother had always told me that my hair was “too thin and stringy” to be worn long and she gave me androgynous bowl cuts as a child. Fuck that. I was going to have long, feminine, beautiful hair. And in spite of my mother, my hair grew out thick and beautiful and eventually even developed the luscious waves that I had always wanted as a child.
Oh, the joy I felt the day I got that admission letter from Stanford. My ticket to freedom. And in the months between getting the letter and my first day of college, I began to imagine how I would transform who I was in the world. I figured that it was a totally fresh start. Nobody there would know my past, nobody would know that I was an awkward social misfit … so I could recreate my life completely.
Meanwhile, I kept reading those books … and my mind kept opening to the possibility that there was something available to me in terms of freedom of thought way beyond what I had experienced in life thus far. I was very intrigued by the relationship of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir. (Some years later, I would go to Paris and sit in the very cafes where they sat and wrote, but I digress.)
Ugly Duckling to Swan
Anyway, back to the summer before college. I lost about 10 pounds that summer, still heavier than I am now but much closer to where I wanted to be. There was a significant turning point in my self-image that summer. I did not date much in high school. My first kiss was something I forced myself to do because I feared if I waited any longer the fear would become totally paralyzing. Not very romantic, I know. I even forced myself to have sex for the first time, for the same reason. I just wanted the fear to be gone. But I was dating a guy the summer before college, and we spent a lot of time together.
One magical day, and I’m not going to divulge all the details of it here, I had one of my early spiritual experiences. My then-boyfriend and I were with a group but the two of us separated on our own, and he was telling me how beautiful I was. You’ve got to understand, I had perceived myself as ugly and awkward my whole life. My cousins were beautiful, yes. Other girls at school were beautiful, yes. Models in magazines were beautiful, yes. Erika was ugly. End of story.
So we were arguing about this lol. This was not false modesty on my part. I was absolutely certain that I was ugly. He finally dragged me into the bathroom and flicked on the light, and he held me there in front of the mirror. Even standing in front of the mirror, I literally could not look at myself. I kept turning away, refusing to look, scared of what I would see. So he took his hands. He lifted my face and he held it firmly so that I would face myself in the mirror.
“Look,” he said. “YOU are beautiful. You are gorgeous. You are amazing.”
And finally I looked, and what I saw in that mirror amazed me. It was as if I could suddenly see beyond years of the illusion of self-hatred and shame. Tears actually welled into my eyes, as I stared into my own eyes. For the first time in my life, I saw an image totally unlike my shabby self-image. “Oh my God,” I said, “I am beautiful.”
“See?” he said. He was very cocky in his own way, and I can still see him nodding, very pleased with himself lol.
After that day, my image of myself was forever transformed. I now saw myself as the Ugly Duckling who had somehow without even realizing it been transformed into a Swan. And it was with that self-image that I entered college.
Well, my God. After being practically invisible in high school, I walked into my freshman dorm with a feeling of hope and possibility. The male attention started immediately, and it did not stop. I had an experience I had never dreamed was possible for me, which was to be perceived as one of the “hot” girls. And I lived it up. :) It was a totally amazing year full of parties and learning. I had no idea it was possible to be that happy.
My First True Love
Toward the end of my freshman year, with my confidence bolstered by quite a few mostly positive romantic experiences and having somehow created social skills out of thin air, I felt ready for a more enduring relationship. I do not remember when I first saw him, but there was a guy who immediately caught my attention. He was 6’3″, absolutely gorgeous, like a movie star. The kind of guy who would not even look at me in high school. I felt something I had never felt before.
One night at an exotic erotic party, I ended up dancing with a guy who was ALL over me until late into the evening. He was Italian and VERY aggressive. I was wearing only my black hat, a negligee, and a coat to go over it for the walk home. I’m not sure I was even wearing underwear. He was so aggressive that I had to keep pulling my dress back down or I would have been naked. My friends had all gone home, and I was honestly a little scared to let this guy walk me back to the dorm. I scanned the remaining guests at the party to see if there was ANYONE I knew at all. Nobody. Then, just when I was really starting to panic … I saw Brian, the guy from the dorm that I had a crush on.
Somehow I signaled to Brian, and somehow he intuitively picked up on what was happening immediately. He walked me home, and all the way back to the dorm, the Italian guy continued being extremely aggressive, and Brian just made jokes about it all the way home. I was laughing my ass off. Brian and I got the jokes. We are pretty sure they were lost on the Italian guy completely. Finally, we got to the dormitory entrance. The Italian guy could not understand why he was not coming in, but we managed to say as graceful a goodbye as we could.
Then we went back to my hallway and spent some time laughing and chatting with some of my friends down the hall. When it was time for bed, I excused myself to my room. He followed me. And as I leaned up against the wall, and looked up at him from under my little black hat, he leaned down and kissed me very gently, just once, on the lips. I went to bed with my heart all a flutter.
With a grace that still shocks me, I managed over the next few weeks to dance with this man a dance that was so fluid and beautiful, it could literally be a Hollywood movie. I didn’t see him at all for a few weeks, then there was a chance meeting in the cafeteria where I did my best to be subtle and not scare him off with how attracted I was to him.
There was a dorm party we all planned together, where I somehow managed to get in his presence a few times without being obvious about it. And finally, there was a party at another dorm where again, I just ran into him. He passed by a model-gorgeous woman to hang out with me for the rest of the evening. We walked home together, and we actually climbed a tree into the window of his bedroom. It was totally romantic. Mostly what we did together was laugh. He had an amazing sense of humor and later did stand-up comedy. That was the first night we spent together, and after that it was just obvious we were going to be together. We pretty much lived together that summer (I had my own room but spent barely any time there), and it was truly the romance I had always dreamed of as a girl but never believed I could have.
The Beginning of “Commitment-Phobia”
Now we get to why I am telling you this story in the first place, for an article called “In Celebration of Commitment-Phobia.” This relationship with Brian was literally just awesome. We had all kinds of adventures together, always right on the edge of getting in trouble. We had the kind of relationship where we would ride double on Brian’s bicycle and get pulled over by cops. If you could hear the conversation that would ensue between Brian, who definitely had authority issues, and the cop, you would ROFLYAO. Haha :) My dad called him the “pimp.” My best friend from high school was absolutely shocked that I was dating a guy like this. And he was exactly the kind of guy I had always wanted to be with.
Still, about six months into our relationship, tension started building, and I felt restless. I’m pretty sure I was the one who suggested the idea of having an open relationship. We were both incredibly successful with the opposite sex, and somehow a little bit of the magic had been lost now that we were monogamous. Plus, I was at college to expand my world, and I felt the relationship was now making both of us smaller than we were before.
Happily, he was on the same page with me. And so we opened our relationship. For the next three plus years, we had a relationship of freedom. When he was around, we would have adventures together. When he was not around, I would have adventures on my own, and I dated a lot of different people. What I remember most is that he always came back to me. It did not matter how long we were apart, when he came back the magic was still there.
Eventually, our lifestyles diverged too much and we let it go. But when I look back on all of my relationship experience, which is quite varied, this open relationship was the happiest and most free relationship I have ever had.
To be continued … :)
Erika Awakening, High Priestess of Miracles at TAPsmarter
About the Author:
Erika Awakening is a Harvard Law School graduate and former practicing attorney. She left the rat race to become a location-independent entrepreneur, holistic life coach, blogger, speaker, healer, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) expert. Erika Awakening is one of the world's foremost experts on eradicating limiting beliefs and lifestyle design on your own terms. Learn more about Erika Awakening
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