Growing up, many of my classmates and peers from church would go to Mallorca or The Canary Islands* or Crete for one or two weeks of sunshine, food, playing in the pool, and relaxation during the summer break. My family never did. It's not that I felt like I missed out, I got to do way cooler things when I was out of school. It was that it made me different.
My faith also made me different. Denmark is a Christian country, they even have a protestant state religion. But most Danes feel like talking about religion is "way too personal". The standard reply to "do you believe in God?" would sound something like this: "Well... I believe there's something more between heaven and earth than I can see." And that's about all they want to say about it. I heard it many times.
My religion was different. It was all about preaching the good word of the Lord. Once again I felt different.
My brazen outgoingness also made me stand apart from my peers. In a world of adolescents, pre-teens, and teens, who made it cool to be shy, who made awkwardness seem better than confidence, I learned to hide that part of me. They did so, of course, by bullying. Anyone different, yet trying to fit in would get their fair share of teasing, ridicule and questions asked simply to provoke. Not respected for being different, not accepted when trying to fit in, I simply hid.
It's no wonder that I spent most of my later teens and early adulthood in each of the extremes: trying to stand out even more (but not in a good way) or trying to be as normal as possible.
First, in my later teens, I fell in with a crowd from church who all wanted to be as different as possible. But not in the way that I was different. My outgoingness and confidence were not desired qualities in this crowd. Rather it was a strange combination of rebels and good girls/boys. All were "good Christians" but somehow we also all wanted to take things to the very edge of what was deemed acceptable in the church. We would dress differently, listen to some obscure and wild music and dance weirdly at parties. Think Bjork, with a touch of Green Day. I learned to like this music, not because I chose it, but because it was "cool", eccentric and weird. Although this crowd did eventually lead me to Barcelona and to leaving that church, both amazing experiences, it was just trying on another kind of different. One that also didn't fit.
Once returned from Barcelona (a story for another episode) I was done being "different". Since that hadn't really worked for me I thought it was time to squeeze myself into that box called "normal", the one that seemed to make everyone else around me so content. Unburdened by belonging to a religion I was now free to take on the Danish normal. The one where I didn't have to talk about religion because it's considered a private matter. Where life was about dating, having a good job, having friends to party with, and talking to your girlfriends in not so low voices at Sunday's brunch about this weekend's escapades. Basically, living in an episode of "Sex in the City". In this time I did make some healthy discoveries. I made great strides in learning about my own opinions. Those that had been so ruthlessly driven by the church were now mine to figure out. I would find myself in conversation not saying a word because I didn't know how I felt about the given topic. Was this my opinion or the church's? It was good and healthy for me to have time to figure this out for myself.
But I was anything BUT healthy. I battled with what was "ok" and what wasn't. I ate and drank away my feelings and spent way too much time watching TV. But that's "normal" isn't it? I guess I had yet to figure out that normal and healthy are not always the same thing. It was a downward spiral of unfulfillment, increasing insecurity, feeling wrong and out of place. Because of course, I didn't belong in the box I was trying to fit in. I got more and more self-critical. This wasn't working! Why wasn't this working? There must be something wrong with me.
Enter a terrible emotionally abusive relationship that further gave me proof that I indeed was wrong, I was broken. I doubted myself so much that I gave my power away and shriveled into a shadow of myself. One that this so-called partner could prey on until there was nothing left. My wakeup call was when it turned physically violent. It jolted me out of my snooze box. I left immediately and I have never seen his face again. Slowly but surely I started finding myself again. I found people who didn't seem to care that I was different. In fact, they loved it about me. Therapy was a huge help, my therapist helped me realize what healthy was. To heck with normal, to heck with different. I learned to ask "who am I?" and "what's right for me?" rather than try and fit into anyone else's world.
From here I finally moved forward. But not before the world around me burned. My family did not understand this new me. I had a nervous breakdown and lost my stressful sales job. I was an exposed raw nerve-ending in a life I had never wanted to live in the first place. This lead me to a new career path and to India where like so many others I found clarity and well, myself. To be continued...