“Dear Alcohol, Letting go of you is like letting go of a friend. But it is one friendship I must leave behind, because although you have been there for me, you have also played a part in my downfall. I was grateful you were there when I needed you, but now that I’m stronger, I no longer need you, and this letter is a way for me to terminate this unhealthy friendship….I am now moving on to better things and preparing to make the most of my life and honor this body I’ve been given to carry me through life. I don’t intend to waste it anymore…I have support by my side, and I am no longer too proud to accept any help I can get. I’ll take it all. I’m ready to move on and start fresh. I no longer require your services. I have all that I need now….”
This is a letter written by Jack, which appears in Juliet Madison’s powerful, practical, prompt-filled book The Secret Letters Project: A Journal for Reflection, Growth and Transformation through the Art of Letter Writing.
In a different chapter, Madison pens her own letter to a stranger:
“Dear Stranger, You might be wondering what this is all about. Why would someone leave an anonymous letter for someone else to find? The reason is simple. There is a lot of negativity in the world, but I am choosing to spread joy and kindness. I would like to wish you an amazing day, and I hope all your dreams come true. Always believe in yourself, never give up, and keep smiling.”
Writing a letter is one way we express our heart—whether we’re relinquishing a substance that narrowed our lives or supporting a stranger who might be struggling. Writing a letter is an opportunity to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. It is an opportunity to better understand ourselves and our intentions.
Writing a letter is an opportunity to encourage and empower ourselves or someone else. It is an opportunity to slow down during a time when days breeze by us, and we are shackled to numbers and lists. It is an opportunity to spill the secrets, regrets, insecurities that are swirling inside us. It is an opportunity to tend to ourselves.
In The Secret Letters Project, Madison suggests we also write to a loved one who’s passed away, to a book or author that changed our lives, to ourselves, in addition to other letters. Consider writing all these letters, or pick one that really resonates with you.
Maybe you don’t have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but you do have an unhealthy relationship with someone or something else. Your ex. Facebook. Exercise. Work. Write about it. Explore what positive changes you can make. Even the tiniest steps count.
Maybe one of your friends seems distant, seems like something is on her mind, instead of a text, send her a short note that says you’re here whenever she’s ready to talk.
Maybe you write a letter to yourself about appreciating your body and everything it’s done for you. Maybe you write a letter about all the lessons you’ve learned thus far. Maybe you write a letter, as Madison suggests, to your younger self. Maybe you write a letter about something really difficult—and then engage in a ritual where you accept what you’ve written (and yourself), say a prayer, and burn the letter.
Maybe you write a letter to your father about how you’ll be going through your day and suddenly the horror of him being gone hits you, slaps you in the face like a below-zero chill. It’s been 8 years, but the shock may be worse than it was years ago. As Mary-Louise Parker writes in a letter to her father, in her beautiful memoir Dear Mr. You, “We all miss you something fierce, those of us who wouldn’t exist had you not kept walking when an ordinary person would have fallen to his knees. To convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.”
Pause. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. You will know which letter to start with. Because it will be the one you need to write.