I wrote this letter to a few of my younger selves (there have been so many versions of me) and I cordially invite you to read over my shoulder. In return, I simply ask you to reflect back on who you have been at different points in your life. Maybe writing your own letter would feel good, maybe it wouldn’t, but I hope something in my experience resonates with something inside of yours. If you feel comfortable sharing it in the comments, I would love that, so that we can validate each other and build each other up.
To All the Selves I’ve been before,
I see you, the first born of four children. You had a natural maturity and tendency towards perfectionism, and thus you were given all sorts of extra responsibility by adults. Right away molding into roles too old for you. I remember the feeling of pride in approval, always the one to be put in charge. Yet it all happened too fast to experience a true childhood, you felt too “grown up” to be able to embrace the wonderful freedom that comes from just being a kid.
Except for that one afternoon, brazenly piloting a tricycle down a hill towards disaster. Completely out of character and resulting in a bad fall, a gashed knee and being taken to the ER for stitches. It felt like the end of the world. The trauma of the day still causes pain in the scar upwards of twenty years later.
That was the day you learned not to take risks. You became the careful one.
I see you, awkward adolescent. Not adult, not child. Trying to learn what it means to be a woman. Told “helper” “comfort giver” “caretaker.” Stay modest, quiet, and responsive but never initiate. Don’t call that boy who is your assigned project partner. Never say no to a boy who asks for a dance, you might hurt his feelings.
Don’t consult what you want for yourself; who you are matters only in relation to others. Now it is the clothes that are too old for you, persuaded to wear outfits a granny would choose. Prodded to cover up, well, everything. Pretend you don’t own cleavage,curves, or shoulders. Buy shirts 3 sizes too big, to be worn even over a 1 piece swimsuit. “Your body is not to be seen” “It’s too dangerous” – the not at all subtle messaging. Keeping men safe from our sinful temptations is our constant responsibility.
That was the day you learned it’s better to be invisible. You became the unseen one.
I see you, college student. Working full time and carrying a full college class load. Questioning the guidelines that, perhaps, your time would be better spent preparing to be a “helpmeet”. Home became unbearable. I see you, junior year, moving on campus (a mere thirty minutes from home) with no support, financial or emotional. Labeled “rebellious,” an abandoner, no longer protected by God for leaving before marriage turned you over to another man. Wondering every day, all day, “How could every single decision I make be so wrong? Why can’t I have things the way I dream? Why am I so alone.”
That was the day you decided someone was better than no one. You became the coveter of love.
I see you, married at 21 and a mother at 22, bound to the first man who so much as looked at you. His narcissism hid beneath the charm of his intent on making you his prey. Another decision made alone, family turning their backs once again, for reasons once again religious and unimportant to you. Your “friends” actually boycotted the blessed event. So when things went terribly wrong a few years in, who could you talk to? When the gaslighting set in, where could you go? When he threw you to the ground, who could you confide in? Even though things weren’t falling apart for the reasons they all predicted, it still just seemed shameful to have made a mistake. Pride and perfectionism sealed your lips and told you to deal with the results of your decision.
Life to that point repeatedly taught you that it’s better to avoid risks, it’s better to be invisible, and it’s better to be wanted by someone than no one.
And so for ten years you slowly rotted away inside, accepting the status quo, while smiling and parenting and Instagramming away like nothing was wrong. Until you wanted to be dead and sixty more years on the planet felt impossible to manage.
You are all me, and I see each one of you. You did the best you could with what you had to work with at the moment and I am forever grateful for that survival. I just want to go back and wrap my arms around you and tell you this isn’t for nothing. These experiences built me into the strong woman who would break free and live to create life on her own terms, the right way. The me who no longer seeks or cares for the approval of others.
I just want to tell you, younger me, that the next chapter of our story is so much happier and more fulfilling than you could even imagine. So hang in there. You’re strong and brave and you’ve got this!
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.