If You Knew Me Then, You Don’t Know Me

It’s funny how people can assume that we are as we always were, that their version of us is who we will always be. But, you see, my change game is- and always has been- strong. Maybe it started out as necessity with every box packed, every house moved, and every time I was a new girl at a new school. But then it became a second skin. I could adapt. It was hard. But I could change if I had to.

I feel like my past is littered with other versions of me. Shy versions. Pious versions. Anxious me. Reckless me. All of these people I had to be to make my life, as it was, work. The full-time student and full-time employee, two roles co-existing in one tired individual. The full-time employee and wife and student, three roles working in tandem to drain my soul. The wife and, albeit briefly, stay-at-home mom. All of the people I’ve been and have left behind crowding the path I’ve taken to be here.

It’s strange how people can think that if they knew you then, they know you still. They try to make their version of you fit into the reality rather than accepting that none of us should ever stay the same- not if we’re growing and evolving beyond our childhood.

And those stories don’t always suit me. Of course they don’t. Sometimes the way I’m perceived isn’t what I’ve intended. Sometimes it isn’t even accurate to the reality of me. And yet it is what it is, and I try not to get tripped up by other people’s opinions.

Still, it’s strange how those opinions can sometimes reach out and snag us, as someone else’s perception twists into our reality. Do they really see us that way? Is that who we are, really, or is it a false perception?

Gaslighting can often come into play, particularly in toxic relationships. I had one ex-partner try to rewrite my past. Recently, a mutual acquaintance mentioned how we’d always argued when we were together. It gave me a moment’s pause because I realized that he’d left the relationship and rewrote it, selling his version to all and sundry. The truth is that we were not well-suited but argued rarely until the bitter end. But that’s not a convenient truth for him, and so he’s adopted the version of events where we fought like cats and dogs all the way up until it was over.

It made me question, for all of half a second, my version of events. But then I recall that he tells the reality that suits his story of us, and I have spent the time since that relationship delving into my relationship with both myself and others. I think, of the two of us, I have a better grasp of reality. I can see clearly because my goal isn’t to paint myself as a victim but to identify what brought me into a toxic relationship and how to avoid those same mistakes in the future. I used the break as an instrument of change while he’s been using it to play his tiny violin.

But I digress.

We are not who we once were, particularly after major change. While a core of us may stay the same, we do evolve. We become stronger, more sure of ourselves, and more true to who we are as individuals and what we want for our lives. It’s how we can be unrecognizable to some people from our past, as we’ve abandoned ideas that once seemed to define us in order to seek out the truth that resonates with our souls.

Think of us in the beginning as seeds. Small, uncertain of our future. Then we are exposed to darkness, to downpours, to light. We rise up from the darkness, and we slowly make our way into what we were meant to be. Our growth can get stunted. It can even be twisted when we’re not getting what we need. But we go from a little seed to something extraordinary. Tiny seeds become amazing things, given the opportunity. As do we. And we’re not always given the opportunity. Often, we have to make it.

We create the change we need because it becomes imperative for us to do so. We choose new growth over the familiarity of a toxic environment. We sense the possibility within us and go through a growth period where we want to actively nurture ourselves into what we could be.

It’s a beautiful process, but not everyone will celebrate our newfound blossoming. Many will want us to be what we once were, to stay comfortable and familiar to them even if not to ourselves. They will call it an act of betrayal for us to change. They’ll question our moral compass or good common sense.

They will try to sow seeds of doubt. And we will not let those seeds find purchase. We will not nurture them and let them grow. We will toss them out with all the other weeds of our lives.

Just because they knew us then doesn’t mean they know us now. Change happens. All those versions of ourselves and the things that happened to us take root. Our lives are changed by our choices. We become.

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