Last night, I asked readers on my Facebook page to write their younger selves letters as part of a self-compassion exercise for Valentine’s Day; you may want to do this too, using cool recall. I’m writing my fifteen-year-old self; it is 1964, just months after President Kennedy was assassinated. I have suffered enormous losses myself; both my father and grandfather, the two people who I knew loved me, died in the first six months of the year. Even worse, I was left with only one parent—a mother who not only didn’t love me but was jealous and wary of me. That younger self knew all of that but was in active denial.
I just wanted to tell you that you’re right—your life is pretty terrible right now. Everyone is treating you as if you’re an adult because you look and speak like one but the truth is that you’re a kid and a frightened and lonely one at that. I want you to know that you will never again be as scared as you are right now; this is one thing I know for sure.
What I wish you knew, and you don’t, is that you have pretty much everything you’ll need to be happy and thrive in life but you just don’t see it. You are still looking for someone else to tell you that you are lovable and desirable without seeing that loving yourself comes first. You’re about fifteen years away from truly beginning to understand that and I wish there were a way for me to put my arms around you and help you get there sooner. But that, alas, isn’t how life works.
And you are right about your mother too. I know how desperately you want this to be different, especially now that she is all that you have, but you’re not going to be able to change things. I wish I could make you understand that her not loving you is about her and not about you but that’s a discovery you will have to make on your own. I wish I could show you that the anger you’re feeling at the hand you’ve been dealt—the losses and the sense of not belonging anywhere—will stand in your way as you move forward into adulthood. It’s armor you don’t need but you won’t see that for a long time. And your love of words, books, and learning which she constantly derides will be a constant companion for you throughout your life. She’s wrong about that too.
Finally, I wish I could plop you in front of a mirror and make you see that the things that are different about you are precisely those that mark your gifts and individual spirit. You were always worthy of love, my dear.
Your much older self
Photograph by Amy Smamblen. Copyright free. Unsplash.com