Letters to Past Selves (Part 1)

Teenage Rachel

Dear Rachel,

I know that life may seem like more trouble than it’s worth right now. But I promise you, in a few years you will be so glad that you stuck around to find out. You’ll probably roll your eyes at everything that I have to say, but I’m here to say it anyway. I know you worry a lot about the future. Primarily you worry about being alone. I know how many nights you cried yourself to sleep, imagining an elderly version of you wandering through a dark, empty house. I know the desperation you feel at times. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it will pass. You don’t have to be afraid. You may not believe it, but one day you won’t even care if you spend your life alone or not. Some days you’ll even wonder if maybe you’d prefer it that way.

I know you are experiencing a lot of confusion and strong emotions right now. I’m here to reassure you that that is normal. Unfortunately all of the annoying things the adults are always saying are actually true. “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “Teenagers.” I hope to not sound as patronizing. I know that only exacerbates your sense of isolation and being misunderstood. Please believe me. Even if no one else does, I understand you. And I hope that it can bring you some form of comfort to know that things won’t always feel so intense. I can’t promise you that life won’t always be as hard. Life is a cycle made up of many smaller cycles. You are going to find yourself suffering again and again. Life doesn’t get easier. You simply become stronger. And it is a beautiful process.

Remember all of the times that you cried and mentally went back to visit all of the other sad crying selves in the past? You held them in your arms and cried together. You thought that was an embarrassing form of self pity, but actually without realizing it you were developing your own lovely form of self-care. I am here to tell you that through all of this distance, through time and space, I am here to hold you now. It’s going to be okay.

Even though I can’t really be there to help, know that you already have all the support that you need. You have absolutely amazing friends. Be grateful for that. Cherish them, and try to hold on to them for as long as you can, especially Ally. She may get under your skin now, but she is the truest friend you’ve got. She’s your brother. Try to be nicer to her, even when you don’t understand her. I know you don’t want to hear it, but you should also be kinder to your family, particularly your mother. Right now it may seem like she’s to blame for all of the struggles you are facing, but I assure you, you’d be facing much more serious troubles were it not for her. She is an incredible woman. She has always been patient and kind to you. She certainly wasn’t perfect, but no one is. She does the best she can for you every day and that is what counts. She loves you. She loves you like no one else in the world will ever love you, unconditionally. So don’t close your heart to her just yet. Give it time and you will see.

I hope that at least some of these loving words of reassurance and advice will be able to reach you. I may not be able to take away your suffering, but know that someday you will even be grateful for these painful years. You will look back on them fondly, tenderly. You will learn so much in the years to come. You’ll even learn to love yourself more than you ever thought you could. You’ll learn how to be soft, but also strong. You’ll learn how to appreciate the little things so much that they become the big things. You’re going to be alright. You can do this. You already have.

Love,

Your Future Self

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Memories

Today I thought I’d give myself a little break from coming up with a topic to write about. Instead I’d like to write about a few memories that make me happy. I’m hoping that by doing this it will put me in a good mood and help me enjoy the rest of my nice, rainy day off. So here are five memories of mine that bring me joy.

One: The drunken sleep overs I used to have with my two best friends in high school.

Despite all of the problematic things I went through, high school was still one of the best times in my life. I was very lucky to have a very close knit group of wonderful people around me. It was especially nice to spend the night with my two best friends, let’s call them Bailey and Ally. Young and full of teenage angst, nothing was more gratifying than sneaking around after our parents went to sleep and getting into their liquor cabinets. Drinking was never more fun than when it was forbidden. I still remember one night in particular that Ally, Bailey, and I even snuck a couple boys into my house. We had so much fun and they brought us some weed to smoke too. I distinctly remember having my first cigarette that night. We were standing out in the warm night air, there was a hardly perceptible drizzle of rain coming down. In that moment with my best friends in the world, I felt completely and utterly content.

Two: Making forts at my mom’s office.

When I was a preteen, I used to spend a few days every week in summer at my mom’s office. She worked for a local college and they had a summer program for kids around my age so that employees and students didn’t have to pay someone to watch their kids after school let out for the year. Even though I was still a very awkward little weirdo, I managed to find myself a group of friends there. The other girls in my group were a few years older than me, but that made me feel cool to be included. One of our favorite things to do (especially if it was stormy out) was to move together a bunch of tables and cover them with blankets. Then we would go inside and hangout in our nice little fortress. I can still recall that feeling of togetherness and comfort that it always gave me. Although I don’t think about that place often, it still holds a lot of precious memories for me.

Three: Walking to the park in my hometown.

Many times throughout my childhood and adolescence I walked from my house to a little park in town. We lived on a back road on the outskirts of a small town, so it was quite a substantial walk there and back. I used to walk there with my sister and grandma. We’d often get some Reese’s pieces or a can of pop from the little corner store. As I got older I would walk there with my friends when they would come over. In middle school I would often walk there alone to meet a boy in town that I dated. I still remember getting butterflies when he would call me and ask if I wanted to go to the park. That’s even were I got my first kiss all those years ago. I honestly haven’t thought about that in years, but it brings me just as much joy as it did back then.

Four: Talking with my friends on the phone and AIM for hours on end.

When I was a kid, talking to your friends was a much bigger deal than it seems to be now. We didn’t have phones glued to our hands to text people sporadically throughout the day. We set aside time specifically for talking either on our landline phones, or on Aol Instant Messenger (AIM). I actually still really miss AIM. It was better than texting because, for one, you could type on an actual keyboard so you could have more in depth conversations. You also knew that if someone was active on there that they wanted to talk to people. I hate the way texting doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end and you never know if someone is busy or just ignoring you. Even though the advances we’ve made in technology are supposed to bring us closer together, I felt much closer to my friends before smartphones existed. I used to call one or more of my friends on the phone every day. We would talk for hours about everything and nothing. A few times my friend Ally and I would even be on the line in complete silence, just watching a movie together on TV, then discussing it during the commercials. I long to go back to those simpler days.

Five: That Christmas in College were we all bought each other toys.

I used to have a really awesome group of friends that I hung out with my second or third year of college. Sadly since then we have all drifted apart. A lot of the memories from that time have been blurred or obliterated by copious amounts of alcohol. There is one that stands out in my mind though. One year for Christmas we decided to buy each other kid’s toys instead of normal gifts. We had all been missing our childhoods and thought it’d be fun to have a kid Christmas one last time. We all went to Ally’s parents house to spend the night. We drank a lot, opened our gifts, and played together with our new toys as if we were kids again. It was so silly and stupid and special. I am really grateful for that experience. It warms my heart.

So there you have it, five random memories from my life that make me smile. It definitely did feel good to write about all of those things. I have truly had a wonderful life. There are so many of these kinds of memories that we forget we have until we go searching for them. I’ll definitely make more posts of this type in the future to see what other gems I am able to unearth. What are some memories that make you happy?

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Sketchy Sexual Experiences

I was talking to my friend the other day on the phone. I wanted to know some of the less discussed details about the beginning of her relationship with her now husband. When did they first kiss, how long did they wait before having sex, etc. Even though I know that these things are highly personal milestones in any relationship, I felt like it would help me to have some idea of the timelines for other people. Discussing this with her was highly therapeutic for me. I realize that I don’t need anyone else to justify my decision on waiting to have sex. In the end it’s my decision and whenever I choose to have sex with a partner is valid. Yet it did help me feel more confident and reassured after hearing someone else’s perspective and experience.

Working at a child advocacy center for over a year now, I’ve learned a lot more about sex and consent than I expected. It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of some of these teen girls who we see here. Their stories all sound so similar. They tell us they didn’t want to scream or make a scene. They second guess and doubt their own intuition and perspective. They are ashamed. They blame themselves. They don’t know what to do. They feel bad for their abuser even, at times. After a while, something finally clicked inside of my head and I began to see my younger self in a lot of these girls. Some of the scenarios they describe sound so familiar.

When the Me Too Movement first started a few years ago, I felt somewhat conflicted. I saw everyone around me sharing stories of times they had been abused or disrespected by men. It seemed like all women had at least one story. Yet after searching my memories, I felt I didn’t have any of these types of experiences. I felt lucky, of course, grateful, but I also felt confused. Why didn’t I have any of these stories when so many other women did? I couldn’t find a satisfying answer. Of course my self-hating, low self-esteem mind told me that it must be because I’m not attractive enough to be assaulted. Which I know is offensive and ridiculous.

Since that time, I’ve thought about a lot to different sexual encounters I had growing up. It feels weird to say, but looking back, I feel like I was victimized at least twice without even realizing it or acknowledging it. How can that be possible? I’ve asked myself that question, and I still don’t know. Maybe the only separation is whether or not you feel like you’ve been traumatized. That doesn’t seem right to me either though. Just because a lot of the kids we see at our center are in love with their abuser or even enjoyed the sexual experiences they’ve had, doesn’t mean how things happened wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t mean these adult men haven’t broken the law and done egregious things. Does the fact that at the time I was complacent or believed I deserved what happened because of the situation I put myself in make what happened to me acceptable? I don’t think so.

It’s not as if I want to go after these boys from my past or have them prosecuted. Although I’ve come to accept I wasn’t to blame for what happened back then, I don’t necessarily put the blame on those boys either. I think what’s more important is to address the toxic, sex-phobic culture we were raised in. The culture that led me to believe being drunk and alone with boys meant it was my fault if I was then sexually assaulted. The culture that taught these boys what they did was normal, perfectly alright behavior. This is what I want to address. I don’t think the boys from my past had any intention to harm me or even disrespect me. They were just doing what young boys are expected to do. I doubt they viewed themselves as sexual predators, nor do I necessarily want them to. I just want us all to learn together how we can communicate better and respect one another so we can facilitate healthy sexual experiences, especially for teens and young adults.

During that phone call with my friend, we talked a lot about my sexual promiscuity when we were in college. Her impression was that I just had a high sex drive, that I was being care-free and having fun. She seemed surprised and somewhat saddened when I told her that actually wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know myself well enough, didn’t understand relationships enough, to make the right decisions. Given that my first sexual partner was someone that I was dating and who I was deeply in love with, I didn’t really grasp the correlation between love and sex. Desperate to feel that same emotional intimacy, that spiritual closeness, I found myself confusing it and conflating it with physical intimacy. I really didn’t have desire for the actual act of sex with most of the men I’ve been with. What I desired and hoped to obtain from sex was actually love and tenderness. As you might imagine, it took me a long time to understand and process the pain of never finding it.

This is one of the many reasons why we need to teach our children how to have these important conversations surrounding sex. The more prepared we make them, the easier it will be to talk about with their partner when the times comes. I wish I had been wise enough, brave enough, to ask more questions of my partners before having sex with them. Questions like: what does sex mean to you? where do you see our relationship going, if anywhere? do you have romantic feelings for me or are you only interested in a physical relationship? I always made the mistake of just assuming we were on the same page. Then I felt heartbroken and wronged upon discovering that wasn’t the case.

In addition, we need to emphasize that while no means no, only an enthusiastic, informed yes is true consent. Pressuring someone until they eventually give in is not consent. An obviously reluctant partner that hasn’t verbally said no is not consent. It is so important that we all work to improve society when it comes to its ideas and understanding of the complex issues surrounding sex. I only wish I could go back in time and share this new, deeper understanding with the young girl I once was. Instead I will try to help other young girls avoid my same mistakes.

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On Using Drugs

Recently I met yet another person who told me they have never drank alcohol or tried any drugs. It is always so fascinating to me when I am reminded that these people exist. There is just some part of me that cannot understand them. I simply can’t imagine how someone can go their entire life without even trying any of these mind-altering substances. Especially the legal ones. I, myself, can think of at least two very compelling reasons to do so.

The first reason that always comes to mind is plain curiosity. I don’t know how anyone could be told that there was a drink or a plant or a powder that can make you think and feel totally different and not be intrigued. I have always considered myself a very curious person and look for that same curious nature in others. I am especially curious when it comes to the mind. Anything that can completely alter the mind is just too interesting to avoid. I’ve tried basically every drug besides heroin, cocaine, crack, and meth. I’d probably be willing to try cocaine, I’ve just never had the opportunity. Besides from what I’ve heard, it’s not that great anyway. The only reason I wouldn’t try meth, crack, or heroin is because I’d be too afraid to become addicted. On my deathbed, I may give them a go just to see what it’s like. At that point, why not?

Knowing that many of these substances are illegal could be an understandable deterrent for some people. But alcohol, and even marijuana in some places, are legal. How could you not be curious enough to try them at least once? They are obviously very popular habits for a lot of people. Wouldn’t you want to know why that is? There are few experiences in life that are so distinct and unique. How could you not want to know what other states your mind is capable of experiencing?

If sheer curiosity isn’t enough to get you interested, I can think of another reason: suffering. I always knew I would try drugs even when I was fairly young, just so I could know what they were like. However, I didn’t actually venture down that road until I was in high school. A time rife with turmoil, when emotions are running high, high school seems to be the time when a lot of people begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. While for the most part, drugs have been a fun, social experience, there have been times when I’ve used them as a crutch.

I’d imagine there are times in everyone’s life when they feel so terribly that they would do anything to feel better, or even to feel nothing at all. If I hadn’t already tried drugs at these points in my life, I certainly would have then. When someone tells me that they have never even had a drink, it makes me question if they have ever truly suffered. Maybe this is an awful thing to say, but it’s what I wonder about. There are certainly people I’ve met in my life that seem to have somehow escaped any encounters with that deep sadness that so many of us know well. Nothing seems to touch them. They have never been broken. In some ways I envy these people. Yet, in other ways, I almost pity them. Although it’s been painful to feel things as deeply as I have in the past, to suffer within the prison of my own mind, it has made me a fuller person. It has given me a bitter-sweet depth to life that I would not have found otherwise.

So I may be a jerk, totally misjudging people and creating false perceptions, but these are the things I can’t help but ponder when I meet someone who has managed to stay inside the bubble of sobriety all of their life. Naturally it makes me reflect on the reasons that hasn’t been the case for me. I am too curious. I have also at times been too desperate to try to relieve my suffering at any cost. Therefore, I end up questioning if these other people somehow lack those qualities/experiences. Or perhaps I am just lacking something. Maybe they simply have a stronger will, better coping mechanisms, a strong social supports. I’ll probably never know. Regardless of the reasons behind it, I do know that I will never be able to feel fully understood by these types of people. Whatever it may be, we have a fundamental difference that divides our worlds.

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