Coming To Terms With My Past (And How Dawson’s Creek Factors In)

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

This post has been a long time in the making, a few months at least, if not most of my lifetime. It will describe part of the process that I went through in my depression. It may be long, for which I apologize in advance.

In the midst of my depression, when I was feeling particularly numb and with no idea of how to escape it, I stumbled upon the show Dawson’s Creek on Netflix. Now, to say I enjoyed the show as a teenager would be an understatement. I was so caught up in it I probably projected its stories more than once on my reality. I looked at boys as being a Dawson or a Pacey, and found girls to be the Jen to my Joey. I started watching it again out of youth sentiment, but it very quickly brought me back to myself as a teenager, letting me regress into a period that I felt still held some answers as to why my life is the way it is, and why I am the way I am.

One of the first things I noticed was the rather forward views on sex. Boys were portrayed as being obsessed with it and girls as either being casual and cool or stuck up about it. It also separated love and sex in many cases. Since I was very interested in sexuality as a teenager, I know I absorbed many of these thoughts and ideas.

Another thing I realized is that the dialogue in Dawson’s Creek is incredibly mature. As a child and as a teenager, I often thought about things that my classmates and friends didn’t seem to worry about so much. I was fascinated with world history, psychology, biology and endangered animals. I even created my own form of spirituality in which I thought of questions such as ‘is it at all ethical to bring children into the world at this stage? And: If there is no God, what could possibly be the purpose of this life if we don’t decide to give it purpose ourselves (this was long before I’d even heard of Nietsche). So when the characters started analyzing their every feeling, it was right up my alley, even if I didn’t fully comprehend that not all teenagers overanalyzed stuff the way I did. I think I believed everybody had this kind of inner dialogue.

What most caught me by surprise, though, was the memory of what it felt like to be 15 and watch the show. At that age, it seemed like everything and anything was still possible. I had dreams of moving to the States or England, of meeting the love of my life who would be rich or famous or really adventurous, of becoming a famous writer, or a famous actress (even though I hated performing in public). Looking back on it, I suddenly understood that it didn’t much matter what the dreams were, what mattered was that it was still all undecided. I had not yet taken the steps that would limit my path, and if it came down to it, I really didn’t want to either. I dreaded the idea that choosing one thing would mean losing out on everything else (major FOMO before it was a thing).

Somehow, at that age, I was fulfilled with the idea that something magical would happen: a special job opportunity, being discovered, a great romance,… something outside of myself that would make my life really take off. I waited for that one big sublime thing that would finally mean my life would take off. I held back from living life to the fullest, thinking I needed to save up the best part of myself for when that magical moment took place.

I soon saw how I held back from making important decisions, or how I built in back doors that would seemingly keep every option open. When I married my first husband at 21, we made it clear that we’d stay together for as long as the marriage worked, being only 20 and 21, and smart enough to realize that we were still going to change as people. Still, I remember feeling really anxious on the day. After I finished college, the thought of starting a job somewhere in Belgium and buying a house was unthinkable to me, so we took off and moved to China for a few year.

There are many of these decisions that helped me postpone life in one way or another, saving my energy and time and love for when life really started. Realizing that my life had been passing by anyway and that I had perhaps not been fully engaged with it at crucial moments, brought with it its own kind of grief. Grief over the time you never get back and that you wish you had enjoyed more when it was there. And grief for the choices I couldn’t make fully because I was afraid to commit to one thing and thus miss out on everything else.

Another painful realization was that through my eyes now, as an adult, I could see how some of the things I had done were damaging to myself, and to others. At the time, I was following what I thought others wanted of me. Through my beliefs on sexuality, I forgot to actually listen to myself and respect my own boundaries. And my convictions of how boys and men viewed sexuality may have pushed them into things they weren’t ready for either. I’m glad I learned these lessons, if only to better understand other’s and my own boundaries now and to help my children with this as they grow up, but they were painful lessons nonetheless.

I vowed to watch the show to the end, and dive deep into my 15-year-old self. I wanted to embrace her again, understand her and enjoy who she was, so I could let her be part of my past and let the adult version of me step in to take charge of life. I relished in the drama that so resembled my emotional state at that time, and I cherished the nuanced characters and psychological backgrounds. I even ate meat a few times again, had a flew glasses of wine and went back to my coffee habit (which I’m trying to break again now).

I felt again my childhood dreams rise up, and decided to look at what was left of them at this stage of my life. I’m still working on that.

Most of all, I took time to say goodbye to the feeling of ‘everything’s still possible’. Because the truth is: I have made decisions in my life that have narrowed my path. Most importantly was the decision to become a mother, and I did take that decision very deliberately. And yes, it has limited the possible courses my life can take from here on out, to say otherwise would be a lie, but it has also deepened and broadened the path I am on.

If you add up all decisions, small and big, I’ve made throughout, and all the times I’ve chosen not to choose (and thus lived the consequences of that choice), I’ve already lived a life I couldn’t have imagined for myself at 15. One more interesting, wondrous and challenging than any scenario I could have possibly written, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the cotton candy version I dreamt up as a teenager, even if I miss who she was from time to time, even if regret, the worst of all sadnesses, creeps up from time to time and I wish there was a way back to that time of endless possibility, and the girl that was able to hold all that possibility with nothing but wonder and courage.

The song ‘She Used to be Mine’ by Sara Bareilles was on repeat for a few times during this process. I want to share Alison Luff’s cover here because it is just so, so, so incredible!

P.S. Jordin Spark’s version is just as good!

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