There is a widely unnoticed, rarely discussed, unexpectedly popular condition fervently sweeping across a generation of women and girls who hail from all walks of life.
It has occurred since the beginning of time.
It's a fictional, self-diagnosed "social disease" I like to call Former Bad Girl Syndrome (FBGS).
FBGS is the emotional aftermath that affects all females who were deemed the "bad seeds" whilst in the bloom of their youth.
Now let's get something straight: No girls are really, truly bad. There is no genetic mutation that makes us this way; it's circumstantial and often due to things beyond the realm of our control.
For some of us, it's as simple as accidentally taking a wrong turn down a dark path on an otherwise innocent walk to school one morning.
Some of us unfairly garnered the bad girl rap just because we developed breasts at an age earlier than our peers.
Some girls just came out of the womb with a natural affinity toward black liquid eyeliner and an irrepressible tendency to cause disruption.
Others had "bad" older siblings and were born indoctrinated into the bad girls club before they ever even had a chance to participate in bad girl activities.
The reasons are as diverse and as varied as we are.
We come from all over the country and span across the entire spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds.
Some of us went to prestigious private schools. Others got sent to juvie. Regardless of where we are from or what we look like, we all share a pivotal trait in common:
We were the girls who were born with a wild curiosity. We were born with the desire to try things. Especially forbidden things.
Some kids have the impulse to steal the shiny pack of cigarettes out of their babysitter's purse just to know what all the fuss is about. Some don't.
We did. We sneakily snatched them out of her knock-off designer purse and smoked them with our best friend in the pouring rain, one late fall afternoon in the sixth or seventh grade.
After years of rebellion, at some point being a "bad girl" got the better of us.
We grew weary of always getting into trouble, of treating our bodies more like a playground rather than the holy temple it is. Bad girls are highly intelligent, emotional creatures not immune to the wear and tear of a toxic lifestyle.
Sometime, in her late teens up until her mid-20s, a former bad girl consciously decided it was time to take the heaps of bad-girl angst and channel it into something productive.
After all, it does take a creative brain to pull off being a bad girl. Attaining the ability to skip class and constantly get away with it takes an entrepreneurial skill set.
Whether someone recognized our potential and helped us get our heads screwed on straight or we figured it out with our own devices, somehow we got our shit together.
Now we exist as fully functioning adults roaming around the city street unrecognizable as Former Bad Girls.
We thrive in our impressive careers. We pay our bills on time. We have effervescent, colorful social lives with regular people (though we are still in touch with a smattering of the crazy characters from the past -- we are fiercely loyal).
As far as we've come in our lives, when we peel off our pretty, new, protective layers, our bad girl scars still remain largely unhealed.
Those of us afflicted with FBGS grapple with the following symptoms:
We still feel uncomfortable around "good girls."
We can smell a good girl who has never done anything wrong in her entire existence from miles and miles away.
Oh, you know the classic prototype: The girl who is her mid-to-late-20s and still asks "Daddy" permission before renting an apartment or booking a vacation. The girl who has never experienced the anxiety after a boozy blackout. The girl who has never slept with the wrong person for the wrong reasons.
We try our best not to bestow judgment onto these irritatingly innocent creatures. But the struggle is real.
We have a visceral reaction to these "perfect" girl entities. Even though they know nothing of our sordid history, their lack of emotional bruises and real life experience alienates us. It's triggering.
It reminds of us of the piercing sting after being rejected for one of the "good girls" by the person we fell in love with junior year. It catapults us back to being the girl slouching in the back of the classroom, enviously watching (while simultaneously hating) the "good girl" being fawned over by the teacher.
Now we often socialize with these girls -- hell, some of them might even be part of our current circle. But we will never really become close to them because we will never feel fully at ease around them.
We will always feel their pressing eyes judging us -- even if we're now their superiors.
We live in fear of the relapse.
All girls with FBGS know that no matter how rehabilitated we are, there is always going to be an untamable bad girl wildly thrashing around within us.
After all, you can take the girl out of the bad, but you can never really take the bad out of the girl.
We try to quiet her loud whiskey voice by channeling her insatiable energy into creative projects such as writing, or theater or music.
It's often harder to tame her when we feel vulnerable. When we're fresh out of a breakup, on an emotional downward spiral or amidst a career transition -- we know we aren't at our strongest. It becomes hard to wrestle that inner wild child when we feel weak.
That's when we fear the relapse.
We know that no matter how pulled-together we are, no matter how hard we've worked to have impeccable reputations and stable lives, it only takes that one extra shot of vodka, that one kiss with danger that lingers on a second too long or one impulse unmanaged, and BAM -- we would be back to our full-blown bad selves.
This usually puts us in hyper-protective mode in which we are far more controlled than the rest of our peers. We know how little it would take to experience that great fall of Rome.
We cannot be played for a fool.
Bad girls are wise mother f*ckers. We've seen things most people have only read about in books. Things we cannot un-see.
One of the most positive attributes of FBGS is you can't fool with or f*ck with a former bad girl.
We have a sixth sense for liars, manipulators, cheaters and attractive smooth talkers with ulterior motives. We know what you're up to, and we're not going to be a pawn in your game.
We are protective of the innocent.
We can always tell when someone is a faux bad girl, mainly for one reason: They have a cavalier, throw-away attitude about drugs and partying.
Anyone who was really a bad girl knows that "drugs" and "partying" are dark as f*ck and usually rooted in impossible pain and irrevocable disaster.
Once you've stuck your finger in the bad girl pond, the illusion of the "glamour" of that lifestyle is gone.
You see it for what it is: dark and sad. All you want to do is protect those younger than you from ever diving in.
We know our own kind.
One of our greatest gifts is we know our own kind and feel a special kindred connection to her.
She might be clad in a designer suit, running a Fortune 500 company with a mega-sized engagement ring sparkling on her little finger. She might push a stroller on the west side of Central Park on a civilized Sunday afternoon. It doesn't matter; we can see her because we are her.
See, a former bad girl has a quality about her that no amount of expensive, pressed clothes could ever stifle. No one wants to f*ck with her, no matter how sweet and lovely she is. There is a natural authority in her confident stride and a confidence that oozes from her pores.
All former bad girls are privy to a divine little secret best described by the author Josephine Hart:
“Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”