This morning I woke up with an old Avril Lavigne song stuck in my head. Appropriate, since I had just dreamed about going back to middle school, and I listened to Lavigne’s freshman album Let Go on repeat when I was in 8th grade.
I’m used to dreaming of going back to high school. It’s a common theme. I suspect this is because I left high school after 10th grade and finished my studies at home. I could no longer tolerate the toxic school atmosphere, and “dropping out” has apparently felt like unfinished business that my subconscious keeps trying to go back and finish.
But dreaming about middle school? That like… never happens. Why would I dream of that?
I dreamed I went back as the fully crazy confident hippie badass woman that I am. I wore what I wanted, which was a rather bizarre outfit, and I didn’t care what anyone thought. Instead of getting inside on time, I hung outside practicing a semi-hand stand (something I can’t actually do but have visions of all the time). Apparently my subconscious thinks there are no decent bathrooms in the whole world (another dream theme of mine)… I went in to find a bathroom, not finding stalls open in the women’s section, which was filled with endless mothers and children. But I found one stall hanging open in the hallway. For some reason I had the impression this was a special bathroom for only certain people, but I was so confident and really had to pee I just walked right in and did my business. Unfortunately there was a dripping showerhead that was trickling water on my head which was super annoying. It was dripping so badly I couldn’t even open my eyes to see to flush, so I didn’t flush, I just left. Wow. I just left my pee for the world to see and didn’t care? Who is this person I’ve become?
I’ll spare you the rest of my absurd dream (it involves President Trump singing Christmas carols with Curious George), I just wanted to share the overall theme: I was 100% me, doing whatever I wanted and not caring if anyone disapproved. Which was the total opposite of my actual middle school experience.
I woke up with bits of an old Avril Lavigne song stuck in my head like a broken record. As usual, it generally takes me a few minutes of a song playing in my head to suddenly be conscious of it. I couldn’t really remember the lyrics or how it went exactly, so I looked it up on Spotify (one of humankind’s greatest achievements) and listened to it. And it’s sorta blowing me away because this is the exact song I needed to hear right now:
This song is Avril at 16 or 17 years old declaring that she is who she is and if you don’t like that then too bad. She’s not gonna be who you want her to be, she’s not going to be anyone’s fool.
I feel like that right now except not quite brave enough to truly be it.
I’m currently in a really angsty phase this lunar cycle. I’m just super grumpy and pissy, so tired of trying to pretend I’m normal in order to gain acceptance. I’m not normal. I’m decidedly un-normal (ok, I know the correct term is “abnormal”). Are YOU overcome with irresistible impulses to spontaneously sing and move and dance around like a bloody pagan when the moon is full? (If so, we should talk). Just sharing this as one example. The rest of the world can think I need to get off my “special” soapbox and fall in line with everybody else, but I’ve tried doing that most of my life and it isn’t working out well for me. And the worst time I had of that was in middle school.
I spent 5th and 6th grade being bullied for being loud and weird, so come middle school I decided to blend in as much as possible, and I swear I lost a chunk of my soul that year. Nobody noticed me at all. It was the dumbest, lamest, most boring year of my entire life. I wanted acceptance but all I received was complete indifference. I became invisible.
Thankfully I loosened up in 8th grade and made a couple close friends. And I listened to Avril Lavigne all year, a burned copy of her freshman CD my friend gave me as a Christmas present.
As I listened to this album again this morning, I’m struck by several things. First is that this is actually a really solid album. People then and now love to write her off or make fun of her, but Avril actually co-wrote the album as a 16/17 year old and it’s really impressive.
Second, Avril gave voice to young girls everywhere who didn’t “fit in”, including me. She was deeply feeling, but unapologetic about her standards and wasn’t going to take shit from anyone. I’m finding it a bit surreal to say this, but Avril Lavigne was actually a pretty good role model for the girls of my generation.
But as it is, any confident female gets blasted and made fun of and torn apart because there’s something about women in power that makes us uncomfortable. A powerful woman defies the status quo- she is a threat to the systems that enslave so many of us.
I haven’t followed Avril’s career since high school so I have no clue about her music or life since then. But the Avril I listened to as a 14 year old is someone I find myself looking to for inspiration today as a 30 year old.
I’m running around myself in circles the last month, and have been more or less for the past three years. How do I express who I am – who I am becoming – without compromising my acceptance among the people I know? I’m not the goody goody Christian girl I used to be. So much of that was a front- I had to hide the darker and more complex parts of me for fear of being misunderstood, judged, and possibly ostracized. I’ve been performing my own type of exorcisms the last three years, purging my soul of the lies I’ve believed and the shame that has threatened to destroy me. And as old chains fall away, a new freedom takes hold that – literally – makes one want to sing and dance… to move in new ways.
“And those who were seen dancing were considered insane by those who could not hear the music.”
People love to say shit like, “Just be yourself no matter what other people think!” But I don’t think most people truly mean it. People who are living their most authentic life are both refreshing and threatening. To witness authenticity will challenge all the ways in which you are inauthentic… and for most of us, that’s a large chunk of our day to day lives and thoughts and beliefs.
I’ve always felt like I was a person meant to shake things up and challenge the status quo. But it can be extremely lonely. I want a community in which I feel safe and valued. I don’t know how or where to find it. I’m still tending the deep wounds of being dismissed or outright bullied for being different from my school peers. In so many ways I still feel like a 12 year old, unsure if who I truly am is ok to be. I’m now 30 years old and looking at the Christian community I’ve been apart of my entire life and wondering if they too will dismiss and bully me for no longer fitting their standards.
The need for acceptance is deep among all of us. I’m not one of those people who buy into the idea that to desire acceptance from others is automatically indicative of unhealthy co-dependency or is somehow unspiritual. We are social creatures living in a world of other social creatures. We are not separate from one another and whatever your worldview is about how we got here, we have either evolved to live and thrive in community or God designed us to live and thrive in community. We are wired for connection. The trouble in life is discovering true connection with others that does not require you to betray yourself.
I’m in that messy “becoming” stage right now, where I want to bust out of my home in full flaming colors, but still hesitating at the threshold, wondering if it’s truly safe to do so. Colors make a wonderful target. Do I have, right now, the capacity and strength to withstand any possible darts thrown my way? I honestly don’t know.
So here I am, standing in the doorway, peering out. Weighing my options. Attempting to calm my inner child. Trying to embody the wisdom, confidence, and power of the grown woman I truly am. And listening to Avril Lavigne like it’s 2003…