I never considered the things I wanted was asking too much It's not as though I wasn't willing to work very hard As children we're told that's enough that great enough efforts will inevitably succeed The more time passes the more aware I become of my error My trial was never taking on the hard work it was something worse My life is about learning to let go of what I want most all together To accept all that I've sacrificed has been worthless and wasted leading to the same result Which is utter surrender to a life that lacks everything I've yearned for since my youth Growing up has turned out to be a lesson in starving An appetite spoiled on fairytales is unable to stomach the bitter truth
There is a sense of safety in youth the assurance that we still have time a comforting concept that assuages all fear in the slow crawl forward As the years pile up, we watch that comfortable cushion evaporate and wonder if we've been wasteful with our share of great potential Our failures sting more sharply and stagnation stifles minds once lauded as brilliant and unique grasping backwards for lost luster The first half of life is spent in ascent I was not prepared for the plateau peering ahead with hesitant eyes anxious anticipation for the inevitable fall Without regular praise from superiors small stores of artificial self-esteem shrivel in the severity of the sun it's time to learn to water ourselves There is no time limit on success nothing is wasted in our thwarted attempts this season of life is not yet over seeds can still be sown
Someday not far off from now this body will truly fail me when that day finally comes I'll wish I had forgiven it for all these small imperfections I'll wish I had been kinder and offered compassion to the many parts of me that make me cringe just to acknowledge I'll think more gently about the things that now seem unacceptable about this ever fading physical form it's hard to face the fact that future changes will all be for the worse All the more reason to not waste this glorious season of youth spread before me now to not spend one more summer ashamed of my soft tummy I already look back and wish I had loved myself more freely and lament all the energy I've spent disowning and being disgusted by my own body When the winter of my life arrives how can I hope to embrace my decline and not crumble with every new crease I find when I've been unable to enjoy myself even when I was at my very best I want to be grateful for what I have now so I don't discover someday that the treasure I've lost slowly through the years was one I never knew the true value of until it was all gone
I wish someone had told me to hold onto all the people I once knew. I wish I had some way of knowing what I was throwing away, or at the very least letting fizzle out, watching with disinterest as my many fertile gardens of companionship withered in the hot sun of time. When you’re young, it’s hard to realize what you have. Everything just feels like it’s always been that way, that it will always be that way. Friends come and they go without much fear of social isolation. There will always be new peers, new classmates, new friends to take their place. Every school year is a new start, a new chance to build connections. After high school, there is always college to find your chosen family.
Six years after getting my Bachelors and only now am I beginning to realize the opportunities I squandered for all those years. I would always hear people saying that high school doesn’t matter. That you’ll leave those doors and all the people inside behind forever once you graduate. Not to worry about those relationships, because there will be plenty more that are more important in the future. Looking back, I wish instead they had said those years don’t have to matter. I realize now this was a message for people struggling in school, the social outcasts, the kids that felt like they’d never fit in or find friends. This message was a beacon of hope for them, a call to keep their courage as they moved out into new avenues of life. The point wasn’t that I shouldn’t invest effort in maintaining the relationships I did have. It wasn’t about devaluing the whole idea of childhood friends.
At the time, it seemed like a waste of energy, pathetic even, to try to cling to old friends that were no longer around you everyday. After all, there was a whole new pool of peers to meet and mingle with. Why reach out to people from the past? I never really gave much thought to the fact that the bonds I formed in college would one day become less convenient as well. What then? It was quite a shock when I started working full time to feel the difference between a classroom and a work place. Not only were there far less people to interact with in general, but those people were vary rarely of an age that I would consider my peers. We had very little in common. I already had trouble finding companions within my age group, let alone outside of it.
All these years later, I often find myself looking back on all the bridges I burned, wondering if there is any way I could salvage them, or if the other party has already forgotten me. I never understood how precious a childhood friendship truly is until it was too late. There is an empty space inside the new connections I make. There was something so special is the knowledge that the other person really knew you. They knew all of you. They had watched you grow up and you had known them just as intimately. That’s something you can never have with someone else, even if they tell you about who they used to be. You are still only seeing it through their eyes, only getting the bits they want to reveal. And something aches inside of me when I acknowledge that.
Sisters, I See You
I see myself in these young girls passing by with downcast eyes half-heartedly hiding superficial scars lost inside churning, troubled minds I understand is what I want to say, but hesitate I feel the venom behind my own voice hissing hatred at those who once presumed to know me you can't build a bridge to an identity centered on being misunderstood any attempt is an insult, an assault to a fragile, fearful ego all seeds sown of love remain inert and soon sour in dry, distrustful soil no external light can reach us in those dark inner places so what planted the seed that has since blossomed in my own heart? was there something that snuck through? or was it there all along? what brought me to the river and laid my soul bare to the blinding light? what lured me from the thick forest of my addictive inner agony? was time really all it took? despite my desperate longing to pluck my sisters from their suffering I surrender to that unknown force that found me from within so long ago I trust that they are strong enough to navigate their own private pain and uncover their own stillness that peaceful place inside us all some burdens we must bear alone because they make us who we are shouldering that impossible weight is what gives us the strength to transcend it someday
Today marks the 28th year of my being on this planet. It’s an incredible thing to think about. For me personally, birthdays bring up a lot of mixed emotions. The day we were born is supposed to be a reason to celebrate each year, but I haven’t felt much like it’s anything to celebrate since I turned 18. As a kid, birthdays are exciting. You get a whole day filled with attention and presents, then as a teenager you even gain more independence and rights as a human being. At 15 you get a permit, at 16 a driver’s license, at 18 you get to vote and (when I was 18) smoke cigarettes, and I suppose at 21 you are allowed to drink. However, I had already been drinking for so many years before that, it didn’t really matter. If anything it just took some of the fun out of it.
Yet even as a child, I was never one to wish I was “grown up.” I always knew that childhood was something magical and precious, something to cherish. I never wanted to grow up. After gaining my independence at 18, I honestly wished that I could prevent time from moving any further forward. I had no concept of what the future would look like for me, and that hasn’t changed with all the years that have passed since then. It still feels surreal that I’ve made it this far. As a severely depressed teenager, you don’t really spend a lot of time imagining a future for yourself. I definitely never even considered a life for myself after 21.
While I am incredibly grateful that I’ve been given such an amazing life thus far, birthdays always remind me that my time here is limited. On my birthday, when I look in the mirror all I see is a youth that is slowly waning and that will soon be gone all together. Not only does it remind me of the physical deterioration and death we all have to face one day, but it also makes me feel like I have lost that much more value as a woman. My boyfriend said last night he comforts himself about aging by imagining himself one more year wiser. That may be well and good for him, but a woman’s wisdom holds much less significance than her youth and beauty unfortunately. Obviously, I’m not saying that this is right or that I agree with these statements and value judgements. Still, I do believe that this is the harsh reality that women face in our society.
Despite believing I am an incredible human being who is smart and funny and unique, I don’t delude myself into thinking I’ve gotten this far in life on those qualities alone. I fully believe I wouldn’t have been selected for my current job had I not made such a good impression at an earlier date while interviewing for a different position with my organization. My boss may not even be consciously aware of it himself, but I guarantee my appearance had a lot to do with him reaching out to me when a new job opened up.
Maiden, mother, and crone. These are the three stages of a woman’s life, at least in the eyes of the male dominated world. And I don’t really know where I fit in that cycle anymore. All but the maiden sound abhorrent to me. Although I’m pretty sure I’m getting a bit old to consider myself a maiden, I will never be a mother (nor would I want to be), and I sure as hell am not looking forward to being considered an old crone. As I drift farther and farther away from the freshness of youth, I can’t help but wonder fearfully when the world will begin to look at me and treat me differently. How many years do I have left before I am pushed to the side, discarded, and forgotten? It’s a sobering thought that prevents me from really feeling much like celebrating on my birthday.
On the other hand, I am proud of the life I’ve led up to this point. I am humbled and grateful for the unbelievable good fortune I have been blessed with for so many years. I am also endlessly baffled by the concept of time. I look back at my high school memories with fascination, unable to believe they are already ten years behind me. Yet at the same time, moments that once seemed so sharp and crucial in my memory have now begun to blur and fade together into a vague feeling, as if those things never really happened to me, but someone else instead. I feel even more removed from my childhood memories, as if they are just some stories I read a long time ago. It’s strange to think that some day even my current life will feel like something peculiar and foreign.
I suppose my birthday is just another opportunity for me to practice being grateful for what I have without becoming overly concerned with the fact that I will surely not have it forever. To a certain extend, that’s what gratitude is all about. There wouldn’t be much cause to feel grateful for something that was guaranteed and never changing. The transient nature of life is what makes it so precious. No matter what the future may hold for me, I have already been given more than I could have ever asked for, and that’s what is most important. That will be my heart’s mantra today as it continues to beat for me without rest even into it’s 28th year of faithful service. That miracle alone is something to be grateful for.
Late 20’s/early 30’s is a strange stage of life to be in. You no longer fit in with the “young” people which you still have the tendency to consider yourself a part of. You still feel young, but I remember thinking 30 year olds were super old most of my life. You also aren’t embraced by the older generations who tend to view you as an immature child and make light of your concerns about being older. I’m so used to eye rolls and scoffs from boomers if I dare to mention feeling old. It’s an awkward middle ground between youth and middle age. It feels like no one quite understands you. At times it feels like you don’t even understand yourself.
I know I should focus on being grateful that I even made it this far. I’ve had an extremely easy, wonderful life for nearly 28 years now. I’ve never had a serious illness, surgery, or even a broken bone! Throughout most of human history, it would have been a miracle that I even made it this far. Rather than feeling like a blessing, aging has just started to feel surreal to me. I’m sure as children, we all imagined growing up and living independent, adult lives one day. However, when you’re 10, “adult” means 18-20. That’s all the further out I really pictured. It was hard to even conceptualize being older than that. It started to get weirder each consecutive year after my 21st birthday.
You find yourself waiting and waiting. Wondering when you’ll finally start to feel like a real adult. It used to seem inevitable that one day you would wake up and just get it. You’d understand what you’re supposed to do, who you are, where you’re going in life. After a while, that expectation changes to questioning if you’ll ever actually experience that confidence and self mastery you had always anticipated. At a certain point you start to ask yourself where you ever got that impression of adulthood in the first place.
It’s also strange to consider if this is a natural part of getting older, or if this experience is unique to your generation. After all, things have changed quite a lot since my parents were 30. The baby boomers were all having children and buying houses around this age. Whereas my generation isn’t exactly able to enjoy the same privileges. Instead, we are burdened by crippling debt, useless degrees, being stuck living with our parents, unable to shed those aspects of our childhood that are still so prevalent in our lives. I’ve been playing Pokémon every evening for months now. I doubt I’ll ever outgrow that particular interest.
Apart from all the psychological aspects of aging, it’s also quite scary to realize that my body is getting older too. As a woman that is particularly frightening. Despite knowing that my worth is not tied to my age or my appearance, I am aware that society does not reflect that fact. Is my life going to become more difficult once I’m no longer a young, attractive woman? I’ve already got a few wrinkles between my eyebrows and a handful of grey hairs. Will I still think I’m pretty ten years from now? Will I still be able to do impressive yoga poses or intense cardio workouts? When will I begin to notice aches and pains that never quite go away? How much longer will this strong, healthy body last?
The concept of aging is certainly a bizarre one no matter how you want to look at it. I only hope that as time continues to pass that I will grow older with dignity and grace, with gratitude in my heart. Even though it’s scary, I am still hopeful. I am curious to find out what the rest of this miraculous life has in store for me.
Letters to Past Selves (Part 1)
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.
Your Future Self
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.
Memory has always been something that fascinates me, like dreams. Another mysterious inner activity of the mind that we struggle to fully understand. Both my memory and my dreams are private worlds that only I may enter. It’s an interesting thought. Reality can be confirmed by those around us experiencing the same things. How are we to know if our solitary memories and dreams are “real?” Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. They are real to us. Therefore they influence the way we see and interact with the world.
Lately I’ve been asking people about their earliest memories. I’ve done this a few times in the past as well. Even though I always seem to get similar responses, I never cease to be shocked and frustrated. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever asked has told me about a memory from before they were in school. Even kindergarten memories seem to be rare for people. This is just so hard for me to believe. Do most people really not have any memories from early childhood, before school? Before 5 years of age? That just can’t be true. I can’t imagine going through life like that.
The excuse is usually, “Well, I have a really poor memory.” But so do I! My friends will tell me stories from our adventures together in college and I’ll have only the foggiest recollection of the whole scenario. There are handfuls of people I’ve met and even slept with that I don’t remember at all. Sometimes it feels like my memory is a jar of sand with a crack near the top. All of my early memories seem to be safe at the bottom of that jar, but memories from recent years slip through the crack and are lost forever. I used to have a nearly photographic memory. However years of drug and alcohol use have all but destroyed it. But I just thought a deteriorating memory would encompass every memory, not just more recent ones. Perhaps my brain is able to hold onto the memories it keeps, but is just hit or miss when it comes to forming new memories.
Either way, the fact remains that even will this poor memory of mine, I am able to remember countless things from a very young age. I have tons of memories from before I went to school. I have memories of my grandmother watching my sister and I and the fun we would all have together while my mother was at work. I can remember going to preschool when I was 3 and 4. I remember the friends I made. Even snippets of conversations, the toys we would play with, the ones we weren’t allowed to and how frustrated I was by that. (There were finger paints and giant blocks that we were forbidden from using to my confusion and dismay.) I can remember a lot about kindergarten too, not just one or two memories.
It is honestly scary to me that no one else has these kinds of memories. It makes me afraid that I will someday lose them. It makes me want to start writing it all down for myself. It also makes me doubt myself. Do I remember these things? Maybe these are false memories. Maybe none of those things really happened or happened differently than I remember. Maybe I am just remembering the times throughout my life when I have recounted these memories to others.
What I used to consider my earliest memory is now suspect. I was only 1 or 2 years old. I was in my crib, throwing a tantrum, throwing binkies out onto the floor. I wanted my original binkie. Like the first one I ever had, if that gives you an idea of just HOW young I was. But it had gotten old and used up so my mother threw it away. (This I only discovered from telling this memory to my mom when I was younger.) Even at the time she was shocked I could remember that. And at the time I truly did. But now it feels more like I am remembering the story, not the actual experience. There are some of my very very early memories that feel this way now, but with others there is still that feeling of being transported back in time in my own head, that bodily sensation of being there again.
Part of me doesn’t fully believe people when they tell me their first memory is from when they were 9 years old or something. It just seems absurd to me. I question if it’s just that they don’t want to tell me their earliest memories. Perhaps that’s too personal for me to be asking. Or maybe they could think of earlier ones if they really concentrated and put more effort into it. I just cannot accept that I am rare in remembering things from when I was 3 or 4. Or that I could possibly be mistaken in thinking I can. That’s what actually unnerves me the most. Because those memories mean a lot to me.
I want to hold onto as many memories as I can from those early years. Those years of simple bliss, of being so lovingly cared for, marveling at the whole world, learning, exploring, loving everyone and everything with the innocence of a child. Maybe I will write as much as I can remember down and see if I can at least confirm it with my mom, grandma, or sister. That might give me some peace of mind on the matter. For now, I am going to keep asking people in the hopes that I can find more people that share these memories of early life. Please help me out by leaving a comment letting me know when your earliest memory is from. And if you’re comfortable doing so, let me know what the memory is about as well. I would love to hear from more people.