In eighth grade I wrote a letter to my older self as a class exercise. My English teacher collected the letters, sealing them and promising not to read them. Instead, she held onto them until we were seniors.
I loved the exercise and wrote about 50 pages to my future self, explaining everything in my life; almost like a journal. But I remember getting my letter back and being embarrassed by the silly and immature things I’d written about. And I wished I could go back and write something better.
So when I heard about Victoria Beckham’s letter to her 18-year-old self that ran in Vogue, I was immediately interested. What a great way to reflect on who you were and how much you’ve grown over the years, I thought to myself.
I started looking through old journals that I’d kept during my middle and high school years to remind myself of what I was going through then. But as I was looking through my journals I was embarrassed once again; there’s no way I was that immature!
I was also deeply saddened by many of the memories reading my journals brought back. I grew up in a terrible household with my father and stepmother, and the journals brought back painful memories of mental and emotional abuse, depression and eating disorders. My teenage self was someone I didn’t recognize any longer.
I understand this is a good thing, but my heart broke for the little 17-year-old girl who had $400 stolen from her by her father who was threatening to leave the family. I wanted to comfort the little 15-year-old girl who was starving herself day in and day out to make herself more perfect. I wanted to tell the 13-year-old girl who took a knife to her skin to punish herself for whatever she had done to make her father and stepmother angry that day that she would go on to do some really great things without them.
So I decided to in this post:
To my younger self,
I know that you are angry, confused and sad all the time. I know that some days getting out of bed alone is the most difficult thing for you to do. I know about the insults hurled at you by the guardians who are supposed to love and protect you the most.
I know you feel bad because sometimes they are nice. They go to your soccer games and you stay up watching fun movies with your stepmom after late-night runs to get the most chocolatey ice cream you can find. I know you cherish the car rides with your father when you play “who sings this song” to classic rock, ever expanding your music tastes.
But I also know about the time your stepmother gave you stitches, and that you lied to the hospital about it because you were the one who felt guilty for fighting in the first place. I know about the times they’ve called you demeaning names and told you that you would never amount to anything. I know about the drugs and the alcohol and the money that mysteriously goes missing from your new bank account with empty promises that it will be returned eventually.
Most importantly, though, I know that you get out. You will go to college and pay for it by yourself. Your relationship with your mother will strengthen and blossom into everything that you need. You will meet friends who will hold you up and a gentleman who doesn’t wish for you to change or take a back seat because the woman needs to obey the man.
You will get better, though you’ll never be cured. Your anxiety will come back and at times be worse than ever. You’ll go through traumatic things, but you’ve already been through traumatic things, so you will know that it will just make you stronger.
You will slowly learn to be proud of yourself, and this will be the most satisfying thing you learn. You will leave your abusive father and stepmother behind, though you will try to give them 17 second chances and they will let you down each time. You will learn that you are where you are today both because of them and their abuse making you stronger, as well as in spite of them.
You are strong now, but you will get stronger. You are smart now, but you will get smarter. You are open now, but you will get more closed off and wary of who you can trust. Eventually, though, you will survive the war that you are fighting. Then, you will thrive.