Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguezk
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I want a fresh start after being a toxic person with a toxic past.
I am a 23-year-old woman who is kind-hearted, sweet, and loving. However, I have had a rough past—from being a rebellious teen to lying profusely to exaggerating relationships to help me fit in/for attention.
I am aware that I have made great changes. I’ve gone to therapy, admitted my wrongs, and have started some medication to help me with my depression and anxiety.
It’s hard because even though I have accepted my flaws from the past, I'm fearful that I won't get respect from others. I also fear people will only think of me as a liar when I'm not—anymore, at least.
How do I stand firm in knowing that I have made mistakes and want to grow from those mistakes?
How do I not care what anyone thinks of me deciding to change my life for the better? How do I not allow the world — that is imperfect itself — to come into my world and tear me down?
How do I walk firmly and confidently in my own shoes without fearing what people are going to think of me, based on my past?
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You have come to the right place.
I have made ALL the mistakes. I was also toxic. I lied about drugs and cheating and my feelings. I gaslit my friends and family and boyfriends. These are not things I am proud of, and I used to carry so much shame about my past. But I don’t anymore, and you don’t have to either.
Here’s the thing about mistakes — EVERYONE makes them.
Do some of us make big mistakes? Yes. What’s wonderful about being human is that we have the ability to learn from our mistakes and change behaviors, which is exactly what it sounds like you are doing. And you are still so young!
As you may already know from reading my column, I struggled with heroin addiction until I was 28 years old. I became a mom, and I had no idea how to be a functioning adult, let alone a mother or a healthy partner. So, even off of drugs, I continued to make a lot of mistakes, I continued to learn how to shed my old toxic behaviors. What I’m saying is that it took me a LONG time.
I used to feel like my past was something to hide, but as I began opening up about my past, I realized that living in the truth, even when it feels scary, brings freedom. As I began to accept myself, I realized how the mistakes of my past shaped who I am today. It takes bravery and character to own our missteps, even when they were enormous, and learn and change and grow.
You are the kind-hearted, sweet, and loving young woman you are today, the one you are still becoming, because of those mistakes and what you’ve learned from them, not in spite of them.
Also, I want to tell you how proud I am of you. You are taking actions to make your mental health a priority. At 23, you are tackling adult responsibilities better than most.
It does not surprise me that depression and anxiety are at the root of your toxic behaviors. I relate all too well, and taking care of your mental health now with therapy and medication is a big deal and no small feat. Many of us run from doing that for years.
In addition to continuing the work, I want you to show yourself some compassion.
I hated myself for so many years, and my actions confirmed the distorted belief system I had about myself. Now, when I look back, I have compassion for the girl I was, the young woman I was. You deserve compassion, too.
Now, I understand the fear of judgment from others. We have no control over what others think of us. The truth is some people might judge you for the person you used to be. Those people are not your people.
If someone is going to look down on you or make you small because of your past, it says far more about their character than it does about yours.
You are on the right path. Don’t be afraid to show people the person you are today, how far you’ve come. With time, you will feel strength standing in the truth of who you are.
It’s a lie for any of us to say we don’t care what anyone thinks of us. BUT, there will come a day when you feel secure in setting boundaries with people who want to tear you down. You will learn to surround yourself with people who see you, who love you, who accept you. You’re doing so well. Keep growing and evolving and moving forward. I believe you will.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Hiddenite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo