When I was a young kid I just wanted to fit in. Unfortunately, by other people’s standards, I was never deemed cool. My mother dressed me in Sears best back then with Toughskins jeans, multi-colored plaid shirts, and Kangaroo sneakers. I didn’t have a cool backpack to carry my books either. The front seat of the school bus was my safe haven. And I really didn’t have a single close friend who wanted to sit with me in the cafeteria during lunch. My best friends were the books I immersed myself into or the laps I swam on the swim team day after day.
By the age of 16, I was tired of being me because I had been bullied so often and was relatively friendless. Spit balls hitting me were the norm. My books landing on the floor from a passing hand were common. Being called a nerd, a dork, a geek, or worse was an everyday occurrence. Most people didn’t even know my name. In my senior year, someone dared me to spike my ‘normally-parted-on-the-side’ hair for Halloween and go into school that way. I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose so I bought some Dippity-Do Gel and took a large gob of it, ran it through my hair and became an instant porcupine. That day changed my life. When I went into school that day, there was a lot more people noticing me and some even saying “Is that Andy, Andy Dawson?” To hear my name was like hearing the angels sing. Normally, what I heard most often was something more like “Get out of my way dork!” When I went home that day I wondered just how much more I could change about me to be recognized more often.
Over the course of the next few months, I used my job at the mall working at a place called Chess King to buy a new wardrobe. Toughskins and plaid shirts became italian rayon pants and shirts or trendy jeans and t-shirts. Kangaroo sneakers became Nike hot tops with big fat shoelaces or flashy shoes that you had to squint when you looked at them. My hair became permanently spiked. I quit the swim team which at the time was considered as uncool as the Chess Club. And suddenly I had a mass of people wanting to befriend me and be around me.
By the end of my senior year of high school, there was hardly any room in my yearbook for signatures as compared to the few pity ones I had in previous years. I was regularly making fun of the people that I once was associated with and could have then been deemed a bully. And I had picked up drinking, getting drunk, and passing out as my new pastime.
For the next two decades, I utilized what I refer to now today as the Chameleon Effect. I essentially became what I thought people around me wanted. From friends to partners, I lost sight of who I once was. In my active alcohol and drug addiction years, I dealt drugs, hung out in a small gang, got in trouble with the law, almost got kicked out of college, dropped my real name and went by “A.D.”, and shaped my image to one that eventually got me compared to Vanilla Ice. When I finally dropped the alcohol and drugs and went into the twelve years of white knuckling it, I allowed myself to become a battering ram in relationship after relationship. “I’m sorry” became my favorite words to use even though things generally weren’t my fault. Sex and money became a tool I used to keep friends or partners from leaving me. My career path was forged initially trying to impress my parents and then later a boyfriend when I sold everything to buy him a business that I never wanted to be a part of. Whatever someone said was cool I tried it, bought it, tasted it, sampled it, pursued it, and more. And then one day about two years ago, I woke up and couldn’t figure out who I was anymore. I had changed myself so much for so many different people that I didn’t even know how to live my life on my own, what I liked, or where I was heading. I had become so depressed and anxiety ridden that I landed myself in the mental hospital for five days where I was drugged up and shuffled around from staring at one wall or another.
Over the past two years since then, I have done everything I can to crawl out of those pits of despair. I have shed all those skins that I placed upon me for over twenty years just to be liked. I have dropped all those images that I thought I needed to be cool. I let go of all those friends that I had in my life who liked me solely for the sex I offered them, the money I gave them or the ones I acted just like so that they would accept me. Now I am in the process of healing and rediscovering me.
I take myself out on dates regularly. Sometimes I check out new restaurants. Sometimes I go to the movies. Sometimes I take a walk at the beach. Sometimes I just go to Starbucks and people watch while I sip a decaf coffee. What’s ironic is the realization that I’m becoming the person I ran away from all those years ago when I was that bullied kid. I’m back to reading books regularly. I like to lap swim in the local Y or when it gets warm, in the ocean. And I buy my clothes when I need them usually from online at a discount store and in no specific fashion trend.
I beat to my own drum today. Because of that, I like me a lot more now. I have learned to enjoy spending time alone more than anything. I especially like who I see in the mirror now. What’s funny is that who I see in the mirror today is the person I left behind at 16 years old except I’m now the age of 40 with a lot less pimples.
My license plate on my car says “BURSLF”. Be Yourself. I’m doing that today. I don’t want to change my colors anymore like a chameleon does just to fit in. Not too long ago, one could find me in a group of people considered “cool” by society’s standards and yet if they could have probed my brain, they would have seen I was still that same scared little boy just wanting to be accepted. Today my acceptance comes from God which in turn has led me to being able to accept me just as I am.
I wish everyone would just be themselves. Maybe then this world might be a little brighter than it currently is.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson