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The life that shaped me

Updated on May 29, 2014

What made you into the person you are today?

Do you ever wonder why you have thoughts and feelings particular only to you? Why is it that you don't like certain types of tv shows? Why do certain events cause such a strong emotional reaction in you? Where did your morals and values come from? Have you ever asked yourself

Who am I?

What defines me?

What makes me....me?

Why am I the way I am?

What molded me into the person I am today?

Was it all the small seemingly unrelated experiences that make up my day to day life? Are all those benign little events somehow connected enough to affect the type of person I am today? Does every single second of my life make a difference?

Or do those rare life changing events matter more? Are they so dominant that they overpower everything else?

Am I defined by the way I grew up? Doctors can diagnose certain mental illnesses based on childhood events. So does that mean my life was set in stone before I was even old enough to make my first decision?

Or does the way I choose to live my adult life hold more weight? Can I choose to live completely opposite from what I was taught growing up? Do I even have that choice?

Yes, I'm young. But I've lived a very long life full of many different experiences. I wonder which ones made me....me?

Here's the life that

shaped me

I'm the definition of tomboy.

For as far back as I can remember, I preferred eating mud pies and sword fighting with the boys rather than playing Barbie with the girls. I got my kicks sticking worms down the back of my sisters shirt and I was never without a scabbed up knee or a stubbed toe. I always wanted to do everything the boys did because I always felt the need to prove I was just as capable as them. I hate being told I can't do something because it's "not appropriate work for women". Hearing that just makes me try harder and in the end, I usually ending up proving that my work is just as good, if not better than the men's. Although I'm proud of being able to hold my own with the boys, there's times ....

I wish I were more feminine.

Sometimes when I'm alone I flip through fashion magazines and imagine myself wearing those pretty dresses. I imagine myself being frilly and girly and being treated like a lady instead of just one of the guys. But whenever I get the courage to actually buy a dress, I always end up taking it back to the store because when I try it on, I feel like a fraud. I guess trying to be the son my Dad never had, made it impossible to be the girl I am. But I don't harbor bad feelings about it because..

I'm the daughter of a veteran.

Most people don't understand why I'm so proud of that. My Dad was never wounded. He never fought for our country. He's never been in combat. Nope. He didn't do anything like that. What he did was build the planes that allowed our military to defeat our enemies. How many people can say that? My Dad built airplanes. I've never told him this, but I'm so proud to have a Dad smart enough to build an airplane. I must have got my brains from him because...

I'm pretty smart too.

Even as a small child I had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I had this burning need to know and understand everything and that need still exists within me today. If I have a question, I research it until I have an answer. If I'm interested in something, I research it until I'm satisfied that I know everything there is to know about it. Thankfully, my mind is like a sponge absorbing and retaining every single tiny detail about whatever subject holds my interest at that moment. I take pride in the fact that I'm smarter than a lot of the people around me. Don't get me wrong. It's not a conceited pride. I don't think I'm better than anyone else. It just feels good to know that when someone asks me a question, they trust me to give them a correct answer because they think of me as smart. No matter what hell I've gone through in my life, no matter how many things I've lost, I've always been able to count on my knowledge. Unfortunately that knowledge doesn't make up for the fact that....

I'm so absent-minded.

I pay no attention to the world around me and I never notice the details. If I'm not interested in something, my mind refuses to learn about it. I never notice what people are wearing, what color house they live in or the type of car they drive. I can't even recognize my own vehicle. I don't hear conversations around me. And it only takes me 30 seconds to forget what you say. I don't even notice the weather unless it interferes with my plans. But, that doesn't happen too often because....

I spend 90% of my time indoors on my computer.

I love being online. The internet has helped make my childhood dream of becoming a writer come true. I may not be writing novels, and I'm definitely not famous, but I'm proud of the articles I write and publish online. I put my heart and soul into each one. My writing makes one person realize they aren't alone in their troubles, while it makes another person laugh uncontrollably. It helps one person save money while helping another to make money. It makes people think about things they normally wouldn't give a thought to. And sometimes it makes people wonder why they just wasted 5 minutes reading my article. However it affects someone, I'm happy with it because the biggest reason I wanted to become a writer was so that I would have an effect on the world, so that I could make a difference. Unfortunately, my interests are so vast, my thoughts are so scattered that I have a hard time focusing on just one subject. The reason for that is because....

I suffer from multiple mental illnesses,

The worst being BPD. It affects my every thought, every feeling and every action. It makes me go up and down with mood swings so drastic, I often feel like I'm 2 different people. The symptoms put such a strain on my marriage that I live in constant fear that someday John will get sick of it and leave. Of course, as much as that would hurt, it would be nothing compared to my other loss. You see....

I'm a childless mother.

I have 4 wonderful beautiful kids that I mostly watch grow up through pictures. Two were adopted by a great family about 6 years ago. I thank God every day that they're growing up happy and very loved. The other two live with their father most of the time. My kids are the reason for my every breath. They're the reason I get up in the morning, live through each day and lay my head down at night. Although their childhood was filled to the brim with joy and happiness, it also had plenty of trials and tragedies. Living through it all made me realize that I'm stronger than I thought. It hurts every second that I'm away from my children, but I know that I'll survive. I know that someday, even if it's when they are all grown up, I'll be able to be the Mom they deserve. I spend every day hoping that time comes sooner rather than later, but until then, I just try to be content with what I have right now. I can't complain too much because...

I was lucky enough to marry my soulmate, Johnny

He's my exact opposite and my perfect match. He's everything I'm not & everything I can't be and because of that, he makes me complete. Johnny makes me feel so alive because he stirs up such powerful emotions in me. We fight just as passionately as we love. Our friends are amazed at our relationship because, in their words, "Even though we spend 99% of our time arguing with each other, they've never seen two people have such a healthy relationship". What's weird about this is that....

I have such a hard time with relationships.

Because of the BPD, I usually hold my friends up to impossibly high standards and then when they turn out not to be perfect, I drop them. I do this with every type of relationship I have. Family, friends, personal or professional, they all get the same type of sabotage. Through hard work, I've been able to lessen the severity of my standards in the last few years. Because of this, I continue to be confused and amazed when my husband does something wrong and I'm able to love him just as fiercely as before. Maybe with a little more work I'll be able to extend the same feelings towards my in-laws. To be honest, I normally don't care when I don't like someone. I think of it as just part of life (you can't like everyone), but harboring bad feelings towards them in particular makes our lives harder, especially when you consider that....

We live with my in-laws.

I have mixed opinions about living here. We pay rent & our share of the bills. We buy our own food & cook for ourselves, We do our own laundry & clean the house. But others still think we're lazy & cheap.

For me, the hardest part about living here is that everyone is so normal. Unlike my husband...

I didn't grow up in a "normal" house.

I grew up with fear as my constant companion. I grew up losing one sister after another. I grew up thinking I wasn't worthy of being loved because my own mother didn't even want me. I grew up with rules that were so strict and rigid, I still get chills when I think about breaking them. I spent my teenage years sleeping with every guy in sight and believing it was love, & then cutting myself or trying to kill myself when I found out it wasn't. Thankfully, I was saved when....

I was sent 500 miles away to live in a home for wayward girls.

This was the first time I felt safe, the first time I felt like I could relax and be me. I made friends and attended daily counseling sessions with my counselor, Mrs. Crandall. She gave me what I had always wanted: trust, respect and understanding. Because of her faith in me, I worked hard to change my attitude and my actions. I learned the value of the truth. I learned the value of self respect. I learned the value of having strong morals and I learned how to stick to them. The Lamont Youth Developmental Center for Girls changed me from an irresponsible, lying slutty teenager into an honest, self respecting young woman worthy of anyone's love and trust. I still carry everything I learned from them with me today. In fact.....

Honesty is still my #1 policy.

I make a point to be honest with everyone and I expect the same in return. My values are based on how I would like people to treat me. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I try to respect that opinion because I want others to respect mine. I believe in helping others because when I needed it most, I was helped. And I believe the more you respect nature, the more you will enjoy nature. That's one of the reasons...

I love living in the mountains.

I'm from a larger city so moving to a town with less than 2,000 people took some getting used to. But it didn't take long for me to fall in love with all the small town charm and now I really enjoy living out here in the mountains. I still find it unbelievable that I'm able to look outside and only see one neighbor. That's a big change from growing up on a crowded city block where each house sits just 10 feet from the next. In the city, I used to have this tiny little vegetable garden that refused to grow anything. Every summer I would plant my seeds with hope and every fall, I would stare at my sad little garden and wonder what I was doing wrong. But I don't have that problem any more. Now we have a huge garden that eagerly grows every seed we plant. I've even learned how to can our fresh grown vegetables and how to make sweet jams out of our fresh grown fruits. I really love that living here let's me get in touch with nature in so many different ways. Living in the mountains next to the Blue Ridge Parkway means I can partake in an activity I've enjoyed all my life: hiking. My dream is to explore every inch of the Parkway, but those plans are going to be put on hold because first....

I plan on moving back home to South Dakota.

But not permanently. My Dad is really sick and I'd like to spend time with him before it's too late. So I'm going to move home and take care of him until he passes on, Then, we'll move back to North Carolina for good. Once that happens, I plan on filling our land up with animals and Christmas trees. Right now we have 10 chickens and 3 dogs, but I want horses and cows too. My husband rolls his eyes at my plans, but I can't help it that....

I grew up with such a strong love for animals.

Our dogs were the one constant in my life. I knew they loved me and would comfort me no matter what . Although we had multiple animals, too many to really count, there was only one that I loved more than anything. He was a mutt named Zippy. Our bond started the instant he was born because his mama gave birth to him on my bed while I was sleeping. He was mine from the start and we both knew it. Zippy was the dumbest dog I've ever met, but he was fiercely loyal. He used to walk me to school every day and then sit there at the front doors until school let out in the afternoon. My parents tried to give him away multiple times. They even went so far as to give him to a couple in a town 60 miles away, but he always came back to me. He made me feel important, special, worthy. It wasn't until I was sent to the girls home 500 miles away that my parents were finally able to get rid of him. He went to a farm and got to spend the rest of his days chasing cattle and bathing in the pond. After I left the girls home, I went to see him. Although he seemed to have aged ten years in the 2 that I'd been gone, I could tell he was happy. He was so excited. He stayed by my side every minute until I left. Sadly, he was killed in a dog fight within weeks of my visit. The news was such a shock to my system because....

I had never really had to deal with the death of a loved one.

My Gram died when I was 7 but my Dad sheltered me from it. My Grandpa died 2 years later but my circumstances didn't allow me to grieve for the man who called me his Katydid. Zippy was the first death I ever had to fully experience. I think it helped me prepare for the grief I felt a year later when one of my friends took her own life. The pain was almost unbearable. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had the support of Big Joe to help me through it all. I'd have to say that..

Big Joe made a big difference in the way I turned out.

He's guided me through some of the toughest times in my life. He used to come visit me when I was in juvenile detention. He always talked straight to me, never shielding me because of my age or lying to me to make me feel better. He told me I was a good person. He told me I had a good heart. He told me he was a better person for knowing me. And I believed every word because Big Joe never lied. He shared every dirty detail of the years he spent drunk and then he shared every impossible detail of the years he spent getting sober. Through him, I learned that by opening up and being honest about my own problems, I can help others in the same situation. Big Joe dedicated his life to helping teens and young adults make a better life for themselves. He's the most selfless person I've ever known, always thinking about everyone else before himself. I wish he would have let me help him when the time came to deal with his own sadness. After watching the adopted grandaughter he had grown to love be taken away and given back to her birth parents, he then had to watch his beloved Trudy slowly pass from cancer. I thought those two tragedies would make him slow down and think about himself for a change, but I should've known that wasn't going to happen. Today he's in his late 80's and he's still trying to help others. His most recent contributions? Fighting for a much needed expansion to the Sioux San Hospital and Forming another group aimed at helping teenagers and young adults. It's amazing how much those little support groups help. When I was 17, I was a regular attendee at his group. When I tried to thank him for all his help, Big Joe suggested that instead of giving him my thanks, I try to give back to the community. He's the one who cheered me on when....

I decided to volunteer at the Red Cross

Although that wasn't the first time I had "given back". In the 6th grade, I started a recycling club at school. After collecting cans all winter, we had enough money to plant flowers at the school and in the park. That was a great experience for me, one of the best childhood memories I have. I didn't get the same sense of pride and fulfillment from volunteering at the Red Cross, but it still made me feel accomplished, which is something I haven't felt in a long time because lately....

I have trouble finishing what I start.

Deep down I think it's because as long as a project remains unfinished, no one can criticize it. But once it's finished, it's open to judgement. And I just don't think I could handle hearing an negative opinion about something that I've worked hard on.

This same fear of criticism and rejection is the reason I don't have any contact with my mom. Even though I've tried again and again,..

I've never really had a relationship with my mom.

To put it nicely, she wasn't very nice to me when I was a baby. When I was 5, My Dad divorced her and she told the judge she didn't want to see me until I was 18. After a few sporadic visits over the next 5 years, she took my little brother and sister and disappeared for 8 years. So we never really had a chance to have any sort of relationship. When I finally found them, we visited back and forth for a few years, but then it all stopped. Since then I've tried 3 times to develop a friendship with her, but each time I got rejected and each time hurt worse than the last. So to protect my heart, I had to quit trying. One thing that makes it hard is that she has such a great relationship with my sister. It's always made me wonder if my sister is just an all around better person than me. Because of this, I spent many years growing up trying to be just like her. I dressed like her. I took German language in school because that's what she took. I started singing because she liked to sing. Actually, the need to sing like her led to years of practicing and because of all that hard work,...

I was accepted into an elite singing group at the age of 14.

I spent 3 years trying to get accepted. I failed the first two years but still I kept practicing. Shortly after I was accepted, I quit because I didn't think I was good enough. After that, the only time I had the courage to sing was if I was drunk. Most of the time that wasn't a problem because....

I got drunk every day.

Since I was 10, alcohol has been my drug of choice. I went through rehab twice as a teenager and after an initial relapse, I ended up pregnant. Because of that, I stayed sober for 6 years. But when I lost my kids, alcohol became more than just my drug of choice. It became my way of life. I was a functioning alcoholic. I was able to get through my job (as a bartender!), but I started drinking as soon as I was off the clock. I spent most nights in a blackout, blissfully unaware of what I was doing, what I was feeling. Then came the night that I drove drunk. To this day everyone thinks it was an accident. But truth be told, that night I wasn't in a total black out. That night, I just decided I couldn't handle anymore. I wanted to die. So I drove as fast as I could and when the corner came, I turned as sharp as possible, flipping my van 3 times. Are you ready for the irony? Do you want to know what saved my life? The fact that I was drunk. The paramedic said most people tense up in a wreck and that makes them get hurt worse, but my drunk body was relaxed so I just went with the flow of things. I wasn't hurt that bad, although it took a month for my memory loss to heal itself. I quit drinking for a while, but then started again a couple months later. Then, after a couple years of drinking a case a day, I started having pain in my kidney. When I went to the doctor, I was told I have a tumor the size of a 50 cent piece growing at the top of my kidney and since my films from 9 months earlier were clean, it had grown to that size in a very short amount of time. That's the day I quit drinking. That's also the day I called my Dad asking for his advice and his support. I wasn't sure what he would do considering that just one year before this....

My Dad had disowned me because of a stupid argument.

That's why I was surprised at his reaction when I called. There was no mention of the past, no trace of anger. Just support. Since he was 2,000 miles away, there wasn't much he could do, but it helped knowing he was still there for me. When I asked him what changed, he told me no matter what the circumstances, family supports family in their time of need.

Are you seeing the mixed

messages here?

Family first?

If that were true, I would have never grown up thinking...

It's normal to cheat on your spouse.

But after meeting my Dad's girlfriends and seeing that my step-mom didn't do anything about it, my young mind concluded that it must be normal. Eventually, this train of thought led me to initiate an open marriage with my first husband. When I look back now, I can see that I was just doing the same thing I had done as a teenager: looking for love with men that just wanted sex. And of course, I never found it. Instead I found hurt and disgust. The turning point came about when I met a woman and started talking to her and during the course of our conversation, I realized I had slept with her husband the night before. The fact that I hadn't even bothered to see if he was married made me realize I had stopped caring about those morals and values I once held so dear. And the fact that what we did would devastate this super nice lady if she were to find out, made my stomach turn with self disgust. I ended up going to my Dads and after we talked about it, I realized the only way I could continue with that lifestyle is if I got used to walking around feeling disgusted with myself; if I got used to hating myself. That day, I made the decision to change and I've never looked back. This is a big part of why I like myself more today than I ever did back then. Of course, today I'm more in touch with my own feelings. I no longer sacrifice my own happiness so that someone else can be happy. Today, right at this moment, I know that...

I'm worthy of being loved and I deserve to be happy. I'm a good person and I like myself. But....

I may not feel the same way tomorrow.

I may not even feel the same way five minutes from now. But regardless, all I can do is try to be the best person I can be. As long as I learn from my mistakes; as long as I do my best to figure out what lesson life is trying to teach me today; as long as I stay true to my morals, beliefs, values and thoughts, I think I'll be okay.

Now I need to convince myself that it's okay to just be normal. I have such a need to feel like I've accomplished something huge, sometimes I feel like....

My need for that huge accomplishment is the reason I'm not content with my life.

I push myself so hard to be a certain way, to do certain things, to accomplish certain goals and if I disappoint myself, I feel like a complete failure. That feeling drives my need to continually search for those same feelings of honor, pride and accomplishment I felt when...

I worked at the girls home.

One of the biggest lessons we were taught at the girls home was responsibility. One of the ways we learned it was by having a full time job at the mentally handicapped facility next door. Most of us worked in the kitchen making food for the thousands of people served during each meal. Like everyone before me, I started at the bottom and worked my way up. The highest position any of us had ever held was food server. Well, that was the highest position ever held until I came along. One day I was working like normal when the manager came up and asked if I would help her in her office for a bit. I started out wrapping plates in saran wrap and within a month I was working as her secretary. I had never been so proud in my life. Until this happened, I had always done the least required for me to keep working because I figured what's the point if I can't get promoted. But being promoted to her secretary gave me a whole new outlook. I tried harder, double checked my work, made sure I did the best job possible and always did exactly as I was told. I kept these work ethics with me even after I left the girls home. Because of this, I've succeeded at nearly every job I've had, whether I was a low paid cashier at KFC or a highly skilled trim carpenter in Mississippi. I think these ethics are one of the things that helped me when I was trying so hard to prove myself in the construction industry. Of course, I'm sure it didn't hurt that.....

I'm the definition of tomboy.

For as far back as I can remember, I preferred eating mud pies and sword fighting with the boys rather than playing Barbie with the girls. I got my kicks sticking worms down the back of my sisters shirt and I was never without a scabbed up knee or a stubbed toe.

Wait! Haven't we been here before?

Maybe all those little experiences are connected after all....

It looks like each and every one of my experiences added their own touch, their own "ingredient" to my mold.

Just because I can't choose the ingredients, doesn't mean I can't control the shape. With every experience I've had, be it good or bad, I had a choice. I could choose to view each experience as a positive one or as a negative one. I could either choose to learn something from it or I could choose not to. I could choose to move on to the next experience, or I could choose to constantly look back and wish I had done things differently.

Those choices are the events that truly mold who we are.

Photos and text; © 2011-2013 Catherine Taylor. All Rights Reserved

Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

What do you choose?

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    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 3 years ago

      Wow....there are no other words. Maybe honest, frank, open, compassionate. Thank you for sharing

    • donaldwilson profile image

      Don Wilson 5 years ago from Yakima, WA

      OMG! I didnt know what I was getting into when I started reading this. You have made yourself very transparent. I have to say that we have a lot in common, even though we've shared very few similar life experiences. Though we've never met, I like you already.

    • bigjoe2121 profile image

      bigjoe2121 5 years ago

      Cat, you are the very definition of honesty and integrity. I would have a very hard time being as open about my past as you are. Even the things that had nothing to do with me.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Thank you for sharing your story.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Your honest appraisal of how you think about your life is healing in itself. There would not be too many women who could not relate to this outpouring and know that in some of it at least they have been there too..While these things you experienced have been deeply hurtful and left you without understanding it is so good that you can put it into words and now have a partner who probably does understand you. Hang onto each other and make allowances. *Blessed* and featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen and also on Brain Matters, Hugs.

    • Jessica-Burde profile image

      Jess Mahler 6 years ago from Lehighton, PA

      Oh God . . . Been there, done that, threw out the t-shirt. Different causes, but you could be describing me 10 years ago. Yes, your life shapes you, but you can overcome it. You can decide to be someone other then who your past made you. Good luck in your journey.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      There is not a lot to say when reading this, except that "yes, you are worthy" and sometimes it takes one person longer to learn the lessons of life than another person. We are all made up of our collective experiences, and I am very glad you found writing to be such a good outlet. You have written many good articles, and your honesty in them can indeed help others. I too am giving this a blessing for the courage to put yourself out there and maybe help someone else :) Good job Cat.....

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      I can't give this a brief comment - just a Blessing for now.