Sometimes, I look through old pictures.

Whether it be scrolling through my camera roll on my iPhone, my various social media accounts or even the pictures people have tagged me in over the years. What I see, however, disturbs me. I look into the eyes of the girl who covers every inch of my accounts, the girl in almost every other picture on my camera roll.

I don't see me.

What I do see: a stranger. Happy, pure, stress-free. A girl whose smile stretches from ear to ear, whose eyes shine bright like little shooting stars. Nonchalant dimples. Slightly messy hair, a dirtier blonde. She's usually placed with friends who turned out to not actually be friends or the occasional guy that she thought was going to be the one. So optimistic.

Who is she, and where did she go?

Over time, she starts to look a little more stressed. Her eyes start to dull, and the smile lessens until it's barely there in photographs. Her hair does lighten over time, but soon she will realize that it will never be light enough for her liking. A secret perfectionist.

The stranger starts to look more and more like the girl I see in the mirror every morning, and this is when I finally have to come to terms with the fact that I once was that girl.

Was.

I'm not saying I'm not happy. I still smile, I still laugh. It's just that there are only so many events a person can go through before they really start to change. So here, at this point in time, is when I really have to sit down and think. Think about what lessened that smile. Think about what turned the sparkle in those eyes into tears. Think about everything that made me feel anything less than content.

It's not just things. It's people. Human beings. Terrible, horrible, human beings. They come into your life, and you want to believe that people are good and that they are just as caring as you are.

Wrong.

They will break you. Whether it be soft and slow, or quick like a knife finding it's home in the center of your heart. You will meet good people, yes, but you will also meet those with the cruelest of intentions. You'll never see it at first. Ever. You'll let them snake their way into your heart and mind, you will offer to give them the world and more. That's just who you are, or maybe, who you were.

So this is where I must ask this, and truly reflect on the events of my life: Who was the first and last person to add to the deterioration of the girl in the old photos? What was the first and last event to do so? Is there some chronological timeline somewhere that I'm missing out on, or is it really just one big blur of catastrophes?

It's hard to answer such questions. I can remember brief moments from my childhood that may have contributed. Small encounters with immature tween boys who were the first to make me feel anything less than beautiful. My fellow middle school peers who harassed me for being the quiet girl who liked to wear quirky outfits. The other girls in my class who didn't want to be around me, simply because I didn't grow up in the same area as them. Like I could help that. I had several things in common with them, but they will never know. Or maybe it was the high school administrators who laughed in my face at my goals and ambitions. Administrators.

I could go on and on about the people, places and things that have tried to knock me down a few pegs. The stepping stones who brought the smiling, happy figure to the reserved, hesitant girl and merged them. I must remember one thing: I am not the person who let that random boy call me a name. I am not the girl who let her "friend" violently yell at her and break her down in public. I am not the girl who let her "friend" make her feel bad for being there for her and expecting her to do the same. I am not the girl who let the wrong person in way more than once.

I am much stronger now. That's when I realized what actually happened. It wasn't a deterioration, it was a metamorphosis that occurred.

Yes, these events may have a negative connotation to them, but in all honesty, I don't regret a thing. Yes, the perfect stranger in the old photos may look like the more ideal option at times, but she isn't ready for the real world, at least she wasn't. She wasn't confident or mature, she was exactly what she looks like: a child. My experiences have shaped me and turned me into someone who is ready. Ready to take on whatever comes this way. Ready for reality.

I miss the girl that's further down my feed often. Sometimes, I daydream of the simpler times. Times where I could create beautiful life plans, times where I dreamt of this extravagant fantasy life, with some crazy-cool job and a husband I never fight with and a large home on a waterfront somewhere. This isn't true reality. Reality is a good friend of mine now. That's OK. We're starting to get along, finally. I understand it a lot better now.

Sometimes, I look through old pictures.