The two of us, side by side on a park bench, two pairs of sea glass eyes watching and waiting and wondering. Me, in my ratty jeans and obscure t-shirt; her, in her old fashioned red flannel nightgown, trimmed with white lace. Her hair is haphazard and carefree. She swings her legs, bare feet inches above the ground. I look over at her, bangs brushing her eyelashes as she stares, bright-eyed. “Who are you?” she asks–not scared, but curious. “I’m you,” I reply, smiling warmly — and I realize that I love her, this little girl, which means I love me — I must. She smiles, eyes almost closing, giggling at the prospect of us. She reaches her chubby fingers for me, and I pull her into my lap, wrapping her in my arms, wrapping myself in the love that I feel. My eyes turn wet and warm as I look at this little girl, not yet hurt and beaten by the world. I look at her and something so deep within me cracks, fractures, so loud I hear it, so forceful I hold tighter. She puts her small hand to my face, her smile brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. “Are we happy?” she asks, face full of hope and sunlight. I press my lips to her head, breathing her in, breathing me in, and nod. “Yes, baby girl. We’re happy.”
My dearest self of sixteen,
My intent here is not to warn you of what is to come or tell you the meaning of what has come to pass. I am not here to tell you that life gets better. I do not come bearing prophetic optimism or cautionary tales. I know how you loathe clichés and corniness, so I’ll do my best spare you. There are just a few key things I want you to understand, that you need to hear, because no one knew to tell you.
At the time that I am writing this, you are weeks away from twenty-four, and you’re better than you’ve ever been. You’re sitting in a room bedecked with art and books and trinkets of a life well lived and enjoyed. Your beloved kitty cat, Georgie, is in the window, and soon she’ll join you on the bed and curl up at your feet. You live with Katie, who has always brought out the real in you, and you’re happy. I won’t lie — the world is a raging dumpster fire at the moment — but you went to college and got involved in activism and you’re doing what you can with what you have.
You haven’t self-harmed in 3,097 days. It’s been 328 days since you rose from the ashes of your last eating disorder relapse. It has not been an easy eight years, I’ll tell you that. But the lack of ease is exactly what is going to hone you into the absolute powerhouse of a person that you are. Let me tell you why.
You’re sixteen, and 99 percent of the relationships you’ve forged to date have not been symbiotic and fulfilling. You’re wondering why you feel like shit most of the time when you’re with the people who are supposed to care about you, and you’re wondering if something is wrong with you because of it. There isn’t. You just haven’t met the right people yet. I promise you that you will. And they are going to change your life.
You’ll want to attribute your progress and healing to others, and it’s okay to do that to a degree. The unconditional love and authentic connection you’re soon to find will lead you away from what you believe is going to be your ultimate demise, and you’ll grow and learn, but bear in mind the kind of strength it takes to remove the stones from your pockets even though they’ve been your steadiest companions for years. Think of how miraculous it is for you to cast those stones away and choose to drift to the surface. Every little choice you make that brings you closer to the love and light that you deserve is yours and yours alone. The people who love you most have laid the path, but you are choosing to walk it.
I repeat: there is nothing wrong with you. What haunts you day and night is actually a symptom of a system designed to keep you small and subservient. You are the final link in a chain of pain spanning generations, and you’re going to break the cycle. You’re going to heal wounds that those before you could not, and then you are going to heal wounds that you endure, and you will learn that the power to be bigger than your demons was in you all along — you just had to allow it to rear its magnificent head and be absolutely unapologetic about it.
I know you feel faithless right now, but you wouldn’t have made it this far without having faith in something. So whatever that is, keep holding onto it. There will be a humid October night years from now when your faith will alight around you like a holy flare, and that magic will be woven into songs and moments and bonds with the most extraordinary of souls you could imagine. I know that right now you feel betrayed, like the world doesn’t want you in it, but I promise you: it does. You are meant to be here. You have purpose and worth beyond what you can fathom.
I say all this unironically, as the smart-ass that we are, knowing that despite my vow to circumvent clichés and corniness I’ve still managed to sound that way, but I wouldn’t give you these words if they were not true. I cherish and admire you deeply. I know we’ll make it.
Just remember: everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Keep going. I promise you that it will be worth it.
All my love,
You, eight years stronger