In just a couple days I’m leaving for Santa Fe to, among other things, graduate from a coaching program that I have spent the last 18+ months working toward. It was incredibly hard work and I am beyond proud to have done it. I’m excited to see old friends and new faces. But, if I’m being honest, I also can’t help but feel a little sad. Graduations are actually pretty hard for me.

My high school graduation was bittersweet. I’m not sure what I actually expected. I think I was so focused on getting through it to be somewhere else. Anywhere but there. “There” was where I grew up. Fall River, Massachusetts. Where I never felt like I fit in although I tried like hell to.

From high school I went to Bentley College in Waltham, MA. I only applied to one school. I applied early, got in, sent a deposit, and literally never sent another application out. I was ecstatic to go, study accounting, and live out this amazing life that I was sure awaited me. It was perfect. Living on campus, hanging out with friends, being independent, trips into Boston, late night take out, talking and laughing for hours… It was perfect. Until it wasn’t and I dropped out more than halfway through my Junior year.

The story I tell people is that I was young and stupid and followed a boy. It’s all true. The part I leave out… the part I ALWAYS have left out until now… is that I was trapped. In over my head. In a situation I didn’t think I could get out of. I didn’t know who to ask for help, how to help myself, or, most of the time, even that I needed help. I was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. To this day even typing that makes me roll my eyes and feel like it sounds so dramatic. I think it’s because I hate knowing it’s the truth. I was trapped for years and my life took whatever path this other person wanted.

Knowing I wouldn’t get anywhere in life without a college degree, I enrolled at Fitchburg State College. Not because Fitchburg was a dream of mine but because it was safe. By “safe” I mean approved by my captor. Close to my new home, commuting so I wouldn’t have time to make any friends, and on neutral territory where no one would know that there was an “old me” stuffed inside and suffocating. I went to classes, kept my head down, didn’t make small talk, and eventually graduated with a bachelors in Business Administration. I didn’t go to graduation. I didn’t frame my degree. Truth be told, I’m not even sure where it is. It’s been a dark cloud in my past since. A reminder that I wasn’t strong enough to fight for what I wanted.

Another story I tell people is that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do accounting so I transferred from Bentley to pursue another path. I thought maybe I wanted to go into Communications and work in Public Relations. Ultimately I decided business had indeed been the right track for me I went back to Bentley to get a Masters Degree in Accounting. Not because I wanted to be an accountant but because I had to fill in the dark hole in my past and thought that would patch things up. Right a wrong. But I wasn’t proud of that degree either. It was a lame attempt to prove something to myself.

The hole was never filled. I had already missed out on so much. I missed senior year at Bentley with my friends. I missed the senior trip. I missed graduating with them and celebrating with them. I missed it all. Going back made me feel like a stranger in a somewhat familiar land. I felt awkward and out of place. It wasn’t the Bentley I knew and loved. Or maybe I just wasn’t that girl anymore.

I’ve spent years trying to set that girl free. Years trying to dig her out from that dark hole and remind her of who she once was. I don’t think she’ll ever be that same girl though. She’s been through too much. She carries dark secrets and scars and PTSD and two college degrees that may as well have come from cereal boxes. She’s changed. The world has changed.

I may not be the girl I once was but I have made peace with the girl I am today. This coaching program has helped me to do that. It has been nothing short of grueling and nothing short of amazing. This time graduation is different This time I did this for ME. This time I wanted it. More than anything. This time matters more than anything. I worked hard for all of the right reasons. I’ve earned this and I plan to celebrate my ass off!

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