Category Archives: Letters

Letter to my 7 year old self

Hey Kiddo…

There are some things you need to know about the stuff you are going through right now.  Some of this won’t make sense for a long time.  And some of it will go against everything you know about yourself and the people around you.  But it needs to be said.

1)  It isn’t your fault.  No matter how many times or how many ways your mom will try to get you to believe this, it’s not your fault.  You are a CHILD.  You are SUPPOSED to make mistakes.  It’s not you.  It’s her.

2)  You don’t deserve these kinds of punishments:  Beatings (of any kind – with or without the belt), being dragged or thrown or shaken or shoved or smacked or grabbed so hard it leaves marks, silent treatments, withholding of food, force feeding of food, withholding of love, exclusion from the family, being told you will never amount to anything, name calling, public and private humiliation, threats of harm, and so many more tactics intended to intimidate you into doing her whim.

3)  Her rules are just that – whims.  They don’t make sense.  So don’t beat yourself up for failing to understand them or her.

4)  For all those nights in bed when you squeezed your back against the wall and faced the door so that you could react faster in case she was drunk and needed to hurt you: You’re going to learn how to deal with this.  One day the beatings will stop.  You will grow older and have defenses.  You’re going to do some things you will regret.  You will survive and eventually forgive yourself.  Hold on to hope.

5)  You are human.  Your goal of being perfect at prediction, performance and control will not make her stop.  You cannot control her pain.  You are not her parent.  You cannot save her.

6)  I know that you wish every day that you could just grow up… you don’t want to be a kid anymore.  You wonder why on earth *anyone* would want to be a kid or have a kid.  This will change.  Your own kids will show you why.

7)  Dad loves you even if he cannot help you.  He has his own pain that keeps him from protecting you and the other kids.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.  One day he will finally make her leave.  When he cries because of this, it isn’t your fault.

8)  When she curses you with the words “I hope you have kids JUST LIKE YOU”, know that her curse somehow changes into a blessing.  You will have children whose beauty and love will be such a source of pride, joy and healing for you.  Do not doubt your ability to be a loving parent or mate.  Your desire to heal and grow will make this possible.

9)  She lies.  And her lies hurt terribly.  She wants to wound you in ways her beatings cannot.  Don’t believe her.  She just wants to spread her pain.

10)  When she tells you she loves you and this scares you, know that what she does and says is not love.  You will know real love one day.  And those looks of hate she gives… try not to take it personally.  She hates herself more than she hates you.

11)  When your siblings side with her and join in on the verbal abuse and exclusion, know that they are kids – just like you – and they don’t know what they are doing.  You can forgive them.

12)  When she rejects you and pretends that you do not exist, hold on to this fact:  You MATTER… you are WORTHY of love… you DON’T deserve this… and you are not any less of a fighter when you give in and beg her to beat you instead of ignoring you.  You are wired for survival.  You have permission to do what you need to do to get through this.

13) The nightmares will eventually diminish.  And so will your anger at yourself.  I promise.

14)  Your needs are not being met.  So you are learning to bury them deeply.  One day you will have to dig down there and retrieve them.  It will be almost as scary as the process of burying them.  And then you will have to learn to accept them.  Its okay.  Everyone has them.

15)  There is a part of you that you will put away for a long time.  This is necessary for self preservation.  Just remember how to get back to recover that part of you.  When life is less painful, you will dare to make that journey.  I’ll come back to get you.  Just give me time.

That’s all I have for now.  I’ll see you in my memories and dreams.  And some day there won’t be this space between us.

Love,

Me

The shame you carry

Hey Kiddo,

You know how you carry a huge weight for the times you were cruel to others?  After a ton of therapy, you’ll start to realize that you were a product of your upbringing.  You were bullied by your mother… and by other kids at school and other places… and you wanted to spread the pain that was boiling your insides.  You wanted power because you were powerless.  You wanted to strike out because you were terrified of those who attacked you.  Your fear was unacceptable – because in your mind, fear is a sign of a victim.  In your mind, a victim would always suffer… so you would instead force that fear to become anger – because people were afraid of anger and angry people… and perhaps then they would leave you alone.

Alone.  It seemed that was all you ever wanted.  But deep inside, that wasn’t true.  You wanted someone – anyone – that you could count on.  A person who would stand by you and defend you.  Who would not withhold their love if you made a mistake.  Who could make you feel worthy.  Who would never abandon you.

Yes, you did terrible things.  But those things do not define you except for how they will teach you that the person who did these hurtful things is not the person you really are.  You have taken those bright, beautiful, fragile, soft, and powerfully empathic parts of yourself and you have buried them deeply behind miles of armored walls.  You did this because, where you are right now, it is how you are coping with your mother’s pain and fear and hate.  You are a child and she doesn’t understand what that means.

I have visited you so many times… perhaps daily since I found the path.  I talk to you and tell you that it’s okay… you are a child… you have made big mistakes… and that’s okay.  You don’t have to feel this way anymore.  Because you see, I still carry deep inside of me that angry and scared part of you.  The part who never had a chance to grow up because everything was so uncertain and you couldn’t rely on anyone.  You had to skip a big part of your childhood… and ended up being a child stuck in an adult’s body.  Because you never really learned how to trust… or that love could be something that wasn’t filled with so much pain.

So now I find those times when you come up in my memories… your actions which fill me with regret.  And I have a talk with you about how, despite your actions, you were (and are) worthy of love and acceptance.  I hold you inside of myself and show you the kindness and love that my own children have shown me.  I want you to understand that you are accepted.  You are loved.  You are beautiful.  Even with your mistakes.

I will keep saying these things to you… and I will keep holding you… until you finally believe it.  And then when those memories arrive, I will know the peace of acceptance and forgiveness.

Until then… we’ll keep talking.

Real reality

Hey Kiddo,

Let’s talk about reality for awhile.  It’s like this… there is what you think what’s happening, what’s really happening… and what She proclaims is actually happening.  The problem is that her reality is the trump card – and as you and I both know, it’s never pretty when she slams down that card.

Reality:  You are a kid.  You are going to make lots of mistakes.  This is your right.  You are trying to figure things out and you are not perfect.

Her Reality:  You are supposed to be perfect and know exactly what she expects of you.  If you fail to do what she wants, you are purposefully challenging her authority.  You are to do as you are told and God help you if you try to have a single independent thought or action.  Everything you do or say or think is a reflection of her and subject to her judgment.

Your Reality:  If you just keep trying, one day you may perfect the art of reading her mind.  You are trying like mad to figure out how you can walk that fine line where she will let you be your own person and not beat you or disavow your existence for your insolent desire to be independent.  You will learn to lie as a default because her reality is unbearable to you.  You will have to eventually make the hardest choice of your life:  Play her mind games and allow yourself to continuously be victimized by her emotional blackmail… or walk away and start to live your own life without her… setting an 0-2 record for mothers who don’t abandon you.

It sucks.  It sucks so fucking bad that you will feel like you are going insane sometimes.  You will grow up holding this massive anxiety around conflict with people.  The idea that people can disagree and still have a functional relationship will be lost to you for many decades.  Because the most important relationship in your young life failed to show you how it could be any other way.  You will struggle with this one and it will push people away who you care about.  You won’t understand why… you will think you are trying to just understand them… but in truth, you can’t handle an understanding that is left with an unresolved disagreement.  It feels like a knife in your gut… because as a child, this was a sure sign of a beating to come.  You’re all wound up inside… knots of fear that manifest as anger because your body is in defense mode and long ago you decided it was better to go down swinging than to be a passive victim.

Eventually, with the help of a very stubborn friend who refuses to be driven away by you and yet won’t submit to your relentless demand for agreement, you will start to figure it out.  You’ll work on repairing that relationship from the pain of frustration and exhaustion.  And, with a ton of work, you will allow this novel way of relating to people to spread to your other relationships.

This reality shit will make sense some day.  And then you can let go of another chain that her ghost has bound to your soul.

Less than

Hey Kid,

It’s a good thing this letter won’t get to you.  Because it’s pretty harsh.  You wouldn’t understand and would be terribly hurt by it.

There were times in my life that I hated you.  I know, that’s pretty fucked up.  Who hates themselves as a kid?  But I did.  I carried around all those times you were less than indomitably strong… less than impenetrable against the onslaught of her abuse… less than spot on with your predictions for when she was going to beat you… less than utterly perfect.  I hated you almost as much as I hated her.

I grew up with that constant internal voice she gave me – the one that would ritually berate myself on a daily basis for my mistakes.  I could speak such kindness to my kids and my friends… and then spill vile hate all over myself for the simple fact that I was human.  The irony was lost on me.  I thought it was okay to be hard on myself – because how else would I get better.

Better?  At what?  Positive growth comes from compassion and connection… not from fear of being insufficient or anger at feeling unworthy.   The only thing I was growing was a deeper sense of self hatred.  That was her legacy she left me before she decided I wasn’t worth her attention any longer.

Here’s the saddest part:  I was incapable of loving you kindly because I had never experienced kind love from her.  You won’t want to admit this right now.  You will keep coming up with excuses for her.  You will blame the alcohol… or her own abused childhood… or how you never seem to meet her expectations… or your inability to say or do the right thing.

You made yourself her best excuse.  But the truth is, YOU are the child and SHE is the adult.  You hate yourself because you fear you will never be enough for her.  But the truth is, you will never heal her pain.  The pain is HERS.  Only she can heal it.

It took me many years of deep effort to let go of that anger, disappointment, and hatred I directed at myself… all for the sin of being human.

You know how much you are just dying to grow up?   You believe that being an adult will solve your problems.  You close your eyes tight at night and make a wish in case wishes could come true:  Grow up.  Then I could get out.  Protect myself.  Trust no one.  And be left alone.

Here’s the thing, Kiddo… you can’t ever really grow up until you learn how to connect with people through compassion.  And you cannot know real compassion until you can actually feel it for yourself.  You will be a child caught in an adult’s body throwing tantrums whenever you feel in danger – which is often.  Because you never learned how to be otherwise.  And that desire to be left alone?  It’s a death sentence.  You’ll learn, painstakingly, that people can be trusted and that you don’t have to protect yourself all the time.

But first you’re going to have to learn how to let yourself be vulnerable.  Yeah, I can hear your guffaw from here.  All I can say is that you’ll figure this one out with time… and the help of some exceptional people.

I guess I’ll wrap this up for now.  I do need you to know that all that hatred I carried around wasn’t your fault.  I don’t blame you anymore.  In fact, I can honestly say that I love you. And some days, when I am feeling deeply connected, I don’t even blame her.  She was as lost as you are now and never found her way out.  She did terrible things… and she suffers terribly for them.  I wish I could change that, but I can’t.  That’s the pain inside me that I don’t know will ever go away.  Because you and I both know that buried under all that hate we have held for her was this piercing need to love her.

Perhaps someday I will be able to uncover that and let it go free.

Pushing through

5/5/13

Hey Kiddo,

These times you are living through are very tough, I know.  You crave freedom… anything to escape her.  She demands things from you that you cannot give… and rejects anything that she sees as a bad reflection upon herself.  She requires your love, admiration, and fear.  But cannot handle your anger, sadness, or your need for a separate identity.

She belittles your interests because they are not “mature enough” in nature.  She rejects your music because she doesn’t like it… she rejects your art because it’s not something she can be proud of… she has made your entire life about HER.

Unfortunately, this isn’t easy to escape.  Growing older and moving away isn’t enough.  She will disavow your existence for so long that she won’t even recognize you (literally) when she sees you decades later.  Despite this level of detachment from her, you will still carry so much of her influence… and so many powerful feelings from memories both vivid and vague… that you will continue to suffer deeply until you finally get help.

Let me tell you about the process it’s going to take.  First, you will recognize where you need to be – at least you will think you do.  And you will work incessantly to fix your habits.  Some, you will succeed at, just by sheer force of willpower.  You were blessed with at least one powerful habit that will allow you some amount of success:  You develop an overwhelming need to confront your fear and your flaws, grab ahold of them, and wrestle them into submission.  This gets you some progress.  But not enough.

Eventually, you try therapy.  This helps a little bit… but you aren’t ready to go deep yet and the therapist, as good as she is, doesn’t quite know how to challenge you in a way that keeps you moving in that direction.  But it’s enough for a few years.

Time and life bring about situations where your issues cause you to question whether things could possibly be better.  You think that your failures are about a lack of discipline.  So you seek out a therapist again – this time to help you develop better control.  You luck out and find the right therapist at the right time and you start a journey that goes deep enough to terrify you.

It will take *years* of therapy.   But eventually, you will stop hating yourself for being less than perfect.  I know as I write this that you would deny you hate yourself.  You will say you just want to be better.  But that’s not true.  Because all those feelings that come up when you mess up… that self talk that is filled with anger… that anger, whether you admit it or not, is being directed at YOU.

It’s going to take a long time before that inner voice changes and you can accept yourself for who you are now – as a child – and who you are now – as an adult.  I have the wisdom of hindsight to know how you navigated this process… how absolutely terrifying it was… how painstaking it was to let go of that armor piece by piece.

As you read that last sentence, you will say to yourself “No way am I EVER giving up that armor – it’s what keeps me from getting my heart ripped out… it keeps me sane!”   All I can tell you is that when you are finally ready to take it off, you won’t need it anymore.  Yes, you will get hurt without it… but you will have the resiliency to handle the hurt.  And here’s the best part… that overwhelming feeling of love that you have for your own family won’t be poisoned anymore by an almost obsessive fear of losing them.  You will be able to handle the feeling of vulnerability that comes with being real… and with loving someone.

You have a helluva journey in front of you.  And as I write this, I know that I still have a long, long way to go.  But I’m not giving up.  No matter how many times I mess up, I know that I’m worth the love that others give me… not just the “me” that I want them to see… but the “me” that is real, flawed, and fragile.

Yeah, I said it… “Fragile”.  I can just imagine your hands curling into fists at that thought.  You’re going to think “What the fuck!  I’m going to become a WIMP!?”

No, you’re just going to become an authentic human being.  No matter how much you want to be a superhero.

It’s okay.  You’ll get it later on.  Your pig headed stubbornness and inner street fighter won’t let you give up.  You’ll get a taste for the growth and the peace it brings and you will push forward.  Just one word of advice:  When the shit gets so deep and so big that you think you’re going to drown and you tell your therapist you are done… listen to her.  She knows her shit.  She’ll get you through the ocean of terror one spoonful at a time.  And here’s the kicker:  The only way to really navigate that place is to let go of control… to stop pushing… and just let it happen.

Yeah, it sucks.  But it’s so fucking worth it.

Trust me.

Pain and peace

5/26/13

Hey Kiddo,

Got another tip for you.

Her tool bag with the side pocket of harsh insults… you know how much they hurt, right?  She is quite talented at finding that remark that hurts more than her beatings… because the bruises and broken skin eventually fade… but the insults dig into your soul and fester there until you finally figure out how to heal them.  And this process takes much longer than the contusions from getting smacked into the wall or the scabs in the perfect shape of her nails where she dug them into your skin until you bled.  Those will fade… the insults you will carry with you for a long time.

Here’s the thing.  You’re going to realize just how painful that tool is and you’re going to forge your own.  You’re going to use words to hurt and your excuse is that this is acceptable because you didn’t physically harm them.  You’ll tell yourself that you’re “just venting” when you use them against people you care about.  You will actually believe that an apology is enough of a salve to heal the soul-wound.

I’m asking you to let go of the insults.  Yeah, I know what that means.  Last entry I wrote to you about putting down the armor.  Now I’m asking you to put down a weapon.  You must think I’m insane.  I’m suggesting that it’s possible to be armorless and weaponless and still survive.  In fact, you will do more than survive… you will eventually find that the strength, resiliency, and connection you forge with others will allow you to do more than survive.  You will thrive.  And grow.  And know peace.

Here’s where you think of that old saying you made up:  “I’ll get enough peace when I’m dead.  Why pollute my life with it?”  Because peace doesn’t mean stagnation… and it doesn’t mean passiveness… and it doesn’t mean weakness… all those things you think it means are based on your terribly skewed upbringing.

Peace is more like stillness than stagnation.  Like the stillness of a deep ocean.  On the surface, it is as still as glass.  But deep underneath, the current moves strong and with purpose.  Peace is acceptance of where you are and who you are – but also an acknowledgement that you can be more… eventually.  Peace is accepting your limitations and the fact that you make mistakes… and that you will continue to do so for the rest of your life.  Big mistakes.  Because if you aren’t making big mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.

So let’s get back to those insults.  Here’s the thing… you’re going to use them to hurt others without grasping the degree of pain you will cause yourself.  One day you will start to dig into the shit you have lived through and you will “unpack” the feelings you crammed down into a tiny sealed grave and buried in a large abandoned lot filled with countless other caskets brimming with a history of hidden feelings.  You’re going to process them (a fucking long and painful chore that seems to never end) and you will start to forgive yourself and others.  But the insults and the physical pain you caused… those will hang tough for a long time.

Do you know why?  Because buried beneath those caskets of hidden feelings is the part of you that feels for people.  You are powerfully empathic.  I know, you think it’s a curse.  You hate crying.  Her best insults were pointed at your tears.  They made you an easy target.  You wrestle with them like they are your enemy.  And as far as I have come in my journey, they still bother me.  Not as much… but I would be lying if I said they didn’t matter.

So try this if you are feeling brave:  Your tears are your body’s evidence that you are connected with your feelings.  Sometimes you can find words to put to those feelings and sharing those words with healthy, loving people can help you get through the feelings.  But sometimes you won’t have words… and the feeling is still there.  It’s okay to connect with it and let it run its course.

Crying in front of cruel people isn’t something I recommend.  It takes a profound inner strength to let their insults pass by you.  But you can seek out and find people who are not cruel… who will allow you to cry and sob and feel and not think less of you for it.  They will know that you are human.  And they will not fear that part of you because they accept their own humanness and understand that tears are necessary.

When you come up against a situation where you are reaching for those insults… allow yourself just one moment to pause. See if you can find the words to name what that person is doing without insult.  See if you can make the exchange real by putting powerful words to their actions.  Name it.  Don’t expect them to own it… but those words have the chance to cause change.  Insults do not.  Even if the person attacking you eventually steers clear only because the light of honest words is harsh to those who don’t want to look into their own darkness.

As for those innocent people who you cast your insults towards as a way of managing your overflowing pain… well, those will take the longest to accept.  Still working on it, in fact.

Being bullied, you felt helpless and the way you handled that was to lash out at other helpless people.  Your words and actions have left wounds and scars in them… and in yourself.  You have an easier time forgiving those who bullied you than yourself for bullying others.  Because some part of yourself believes you should have been better than that.  In truth, it’s not because you should have been better.  It’s because you were lying to yourself about who you really are.  You are not a person who gets satisfaction from hurting others.  You think you are because you don’t know any other way to deal with the pain other than to bestow it upon others.  You think it’s a sign of strength because you don’t dare show even the slightest vulnerability lest you get wounded again.  But it’s not strength.  It’s yet another wound you will carry… but this is a wound you bestow upon yourself.

Let go of this tool.  Better to clench your jaw and walk away if you cannot find words to name the pain.  Go find some place safe and let the tears flow.  This will heal so much faster than the weapons you throw at others… because those weapons wound both the target and the caster.

Lastly, remember that the process of letting go is exactly that – a process.  You will continue to make mistakes forever… just less frequently over the span of decades.  That’s okay.  Peace may be stillness… but it isn’t without room for ripples.

Surrender

6/3/13

Hey Kiddo,

I’ve been writing quite a few of these letters lately.  It’s where I’m at… things are a bit hectic as I work through my current life’s challenges and I find that it helps keep me grounded to dig into myself and process old wounds.  It’s not fun… but after the initial pain of rehashing, it gets easier.  And it tames the memories.  That’s the most important part.  Because old feelings left unprocessed will haunt relentlessly like a ghost left without justice.

So I dig up some of those memories that still hold pain or self berating (you’d be surprised at how many of these have accumulated over the decades) and I give myself space and time to lean into them.  It sucks.  Let me tell you that.  But you should know that I don’t blame you for not doing this.  You weren’t in a place that was safe to do so.  As you read this, you might think that you are brave enough to try anyway.  But your understanding of the term “brave” and my own understanding are very different now.

I used to think that being brave meant fighting back… or doing risky things… looking death in the face and standing my ground.  I always knew that a person needed to feel fear to be brave… you got that one early on.  But somehow for you, brave has always meant some act of defiance.  Am I right?  “Better to die fighting” is your motto.  Every inch of you is a scrapper.  I am proud of your tenacity and sheer willpower.  You grab life by the horns and wrestle it into submission.  It’s how you handle all that fear.  Which definitely makes you a type of brave – I’ll give you that.

There’s another kind of brave that I’ll call “Deep Courage”.  Deep courage is foreign to you and as you read this, it’s going to make you feel repulsed.  If you are paying attention, you may even notice your upper lip curling a little… perhaps your nostrils flaring.  You will feel betrayed.  That’s okay… forge on.

Here you go:  Being deeply courageous means sometimes surrendering.

Remember back in my letter about therapy?  How the only way to face that ocean of terror is to let go of control and let it happen?

Well, it’s more than that.  Letting a feeling happen will be a good step.  However, surrendering to the feeling will take you to a whole new place.  A place where the feeling doesn’t need action.  Where you feel no blame or judgment.  Anger is unclothed to reveal fear and sadness… and loss.  And eventually, at the heart of it, love.

Sounds like New Age bullshit, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I know.  But I’ve lived this.  It’s been a long journey with so many stumbles… with moments where I felt like I was fighting for my life.  And you know what?  I was.  Because what you are doing right now, Kid, is surviving.  You haven’t learned how to really live yet.  You haven’t had a chance to.  You’re too busy trying to protect yourself – with good fucking reason.

You don’t trust people yet.  You think you do.  But most of what you feed them is lies.  Because you are still scared of being betrayed.  And betrayal is worse than a knife wound.  Right now, the level of vulnerability that is required for deep courage is out of your reach.  And you know what?  Even today, I still struggle with this.  I’m no fucking Buddha.  It’s a daily effort and one I fail at more often than I succeed.  But that’s okay.  Because I know where it is and I know I can get there.  All I need is space and time… and trust.

That’s the path, Kiddo.  Buckle up that armor and get back out there.  You have a road to walk.

Instructions for a Bad Day

7/6/13

Hey Scrapper…

I saw this video called “Instructions for a Bad Day” from an amazing man named Shane Koyczan, who took his horror and made it into a gift.  I wish that you had read or heard something like this when you were going through your hell.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to get through the day.  So here I will record it in hopes that you will find it when you need it.

Instructions for a Bad Day by Shane Koyczan:

There will be bad days. Be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now. Let go. Be confident. Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended. Be gracious. Accept each extended hand offered to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape. Be diligent. Scrape the gray sky clean. Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is, whether we see them or not – the sun and moon are still there and always there is light.

Be forthright. Despite your instinct to say, “it’s alright, I’m okay” – be honest. Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose. If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone – that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion.

We hungry underdogs, we risers with dawn, we dismissers of odds, we blessers of on – we will station ourselves to the calm. We will hold ourselves to the steady, be ready, player one. Life is going to come at you armed with hard times and tough choices, your voice is your weapon, your thoughts ammunition – there are no free extra men, be aware that as the instant now passes, it exists now as then. So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and that you’d never make it through.

Remember the times you could have pressed quit – but you hit continue. Be forgiving. Living with the burden of anger, is not living. Giving your focus to wrath will leave your entire self absent of what you need. Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed. Be persistent. Be the weed growing through the cracks in the cement, beautiful – because it doesn’t know it’s not supposed to grow there. Be resolute. Declare what you accept as true in a way that envisions the resolve with which you accept it.

If you are having a good day, be considerate. A simple smile could be the first-aid kit that someone has been looking for. If you believe with absolute honesty that you are doing everything you can – do more.

There will be bad days, times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out. There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is all right when it clearly is not, check your blind spot. See that love is still there, be patient. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Ignore what others have called you. I am calling you friend. Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices, breed’s silence.

So speak and be heard. One word after the next, express yourself and put your life into context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on. In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again. Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen. The deaf will hear you with their eyes. The blind will see you with their hands. Let your heart fill their newsstands, Let them read all about it. Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights. Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but have come back. They’ll tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack disappear you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.

Everyone knows pain. We are not meant to carry it forever. We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then. That when someone asks you how was your day, realize that for some of us – it’s the only way we know how to say, “be calm. Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.”

Faith and Control

Hey Kiddo,

Let’s talk about faith.  You’re going to struggle with this one… because you find trust a difficult act.  It comes from being lied to over and over again by someone who you should have been able to trust.  You have a tough time believing things you can’t measure or see with your own eyes or touch.  You want clear answers.  Fantasy is fine for entertainment… but when it comes down to making real decisions, you want the facts.  Because the facts allow you to make better decisions… and more accurately predict outcomes.  Prediction is important because then you can be prepared… and protect yourself.  In the end, it’s all about control.  You need it.  It’s your sanity.

Flash forward a few decades and from all of my experience and accumulated wisdom, I can tell you this:  Control is an illusion.  The irony is that you are going to have to open your grip on this one in order to handle what life throws at you.  If you keep clutching at it, you will only lose the sanity you hope to protect.

You cannot control other people.  You can influence them for good or bad… you can harm them or help them… but in the end, you cannot change them.  That’s up to them.

You cannot control what life gives you.  You can prepare yourself for situations and you can increase or decrease your chances of good or bad occurrences based on your choices and actions… but when these things actually happen, you will find your actual role was limited.

What you can control is how you react to people and situations.  You can control what you choose to focus on.  You can decide how to interpret what, at first glance, appears to be an intentional slight… or bad luck.  You can make the choice on whether the person standing before you is an annoying person… or a person who is struggling with their own issues and trying like hell to cope.  The way they accomplish this may not be your way… but the root cause of their actions and opinions may actually be closely aligned to the root cause of your own problems.

The need for control will haunt you for a long time.  It will keep you from being able to say “I have done enough” and will be the dark whisper in your soul that says “I am never enough”.

Eventually you will see this poison for what it is.  But seeing is only the first step.  Then you must believe it.  Embrace it.  And in doing so, you will begin to know faith.

Know this, however… faith is never without doubt.  Doubt, in fact, is the forge of faith.  Without it, you would become fanatical and you will cease to question your certainty… you will believe yourself to know “The Truth”… and condemn those who do not.  This is spiritual stagnation and the suicide of growth.

Hold on to your doubt.  It will keep you human.  It will guide you when the path seems too sterile.  It will allow the green growth of possibilities and creativity.  It will be your ally.

The Demon’s Climb

Hey Kiddo,

I won’t lie… You’ve got some tough times in front of you.  But you will succeed in pushing through.  One day you will weave a story about being a demon who is fighting like mad to climb out of hell.  But all the other demons are pulling me back down.  They tear and rip at me because I am trying to be other than who I am.  I am trying to climb that molten cliff to the very top… where the silver light glints against the clouds… where the glowing angels reside.  I want nothing more than to be one of their number.  So I fight and I climb.

But even when I manage to claw my way far enough above where the other demons cannot reach me, I find my wounds too deep… and my strength to weak… my very nature fights me.  Even if I were to reach the top… the angels would never accept me.  I am a spawn of darkness and they are children of light.  They will sense my fear, pain, and hatred and cast me off the edge to plummet back into the black pit.

I know this.

And yet I still climb.

It is as much my nature to defy my destiny as it is to acknowledge it.  I will climb until I die.  This is my story.

But the story isn’t done.

Here’s the thing, my young friend:  Those angels are not on the cliff above you.  They are that spark of defiance within you.

Remember the time you tried to slit your wrist?  Just as the blade touched your skin, you were overcome by nausea… your hand wouldn’t move… the droplets of blood burned as they welled up but you couldn’t draw the blade any further.  Your body revolted and you threw the knife across your bedroom.  You were enraged at yourself.  You failed.  You were weak.   You couldn’t even do this ONE THING.  You despised yourself.

You were also very wrong.

That weakness you felt was actually strength.  It was the deeply buried seed of defiance that rose up and seized your hand.  It would not allow defeat at the hands of death… even if those hands were your own.

This seed is something that you tap into on occasion… when you are alone and your mind starts threading stories together.  It’s the heart of your imagination.  Buried under all of that hate and rage lies a source of such powerful creativity that it will do anything to keep existing… to keep reaching out… to keep creating.  Death would halt this process.  And so it must defy your command.

When you finally step away from the judgment of others, and allow yourself tap into that place unhindered by self hate… by stepping through the doorway of vulnerability… you will find a source of such passion and energy combined with (interestingly enough) peace and acceptance.  You will reach into this source and become one with it.  You will reach outside of yourself and share it… teaching others how to find this inside themselves.

This is what stopped you from ending your life… this creativity and defiance.  It is who you are.  One day you will realize that you won’t have to fight and climb that cliff anymore.  And the question is not whether the angels will accept you… but whether you can accept the angel already inside of you.

Your Peace Is Waiting

10/5/13

Hey Kiddo,

I’ve been distracted by work lately and haven’t had a chance to write to you.  But I still think of you often.

Today I watched the autumn leaves fall from the trees like colorful paper butterflies in a dancing descent.   I love this time of year.  The smells are rich and the colors vivid.  Where spring breathes life into everything and makes my heart beat faster with anticipation, autumn calms me and is a season of reflection.

Your moments of reflection are different than mine are now.  So much of your inner thoughts and feelings are dark and harsh.  You strive to make up for this with unvoiced fantasies where you play the hero and are untouched by the poisonous people and emotions surrounding you.  Always, your stories are tales of strength, valor, sacrifice, and survival.  You hold on to these stories because you want to believe that you are capable of this level of perfection.

Eventually, you will forgive yourself for being human.  And then you will embrace your humanness and see it as something beautiful… flawed… and resilient.

When this happens, how you talk to yourself will change.  Right now, your fantasies are heroic… but your inner voice is merciless.  You replay your mistakes over and over again.  You try to rewrite the outcome and vow to not make the same error ever again.  And as much as you will deny it, you are equally merciless with the people around you.  You just do a better job of hiding it.  Or you tell yourself that it’s okay for them to mess up… but you hold yourself to a higher standard.  What you don’t realize is that the standard you expect is inhumane.

Your anger is a daily emotion that lies buried beneath even the most exceptional days.  It seeps into your dreams and warps them into nightmares of pulse pounding anxiety, haunted abandonment, harrowing battles, and wrenching betrayal.   This happens so frequently that you sadly believe it’s just a fact of life.  It isn’t.

Your life will change.  Not all at once.  It will take years and years of deep engagement with yourself along with the help of a talented therapist and a profoundly supportive and forgiving mate, children, and a few close friends.

Your words to yourself will be kind and accepting.  Your compassion will ease the harsh feelings that try to rise up when you make a mistake.  You will forgive yourself for your limitations and yet still strive to better yourself.  This last part is important… because you confuse anger at lack of perfection with trying to be better.  But it actually holds you back from real improvement.

Please understand that these words I share with you are not judgment on your character.  You are in the midst, or coming out of, terrible circumstances that require you to protect yourself.  You are doing the best that you can possibly do to survive.  It will be a long time until you feel safe enough to challenge your habits and see that they are no longer necessary.  But this won’t happen until you are actually safe.  Use this as your gauge.  When you take stock of your life and you honestly believe that the people around you cannot hurt you more than you allow them to, then you have enough power to grow.

Until then, you must do what it takes to survive.  Bottle up those fragile parts and protect them until you can find someone to trust.  Then uncork and gently explore them.  But give yourself time and space to do so slowly… with care.  Your desire to dive in and wrestle the memories that haunt you can create an ocean of pain.  Tread lightly and you will instead find yourself navigating a gentle rain… that sometimes becomes a downpour… but not enough to drown you.

As you read these words, know that I admire you.  I am proud of your passion and your tenacity.  I feel for your struggle to hold back the tears.  I am saddened by the pain you carry but also inspired by your strength.

Most of all, you need to know that you succeeded.  You found the courage to reach out and ask for help.  You learned to trust.  Your nightmares diminish and are filled with dreams of wonder and colorful creativity.  And those scars inside fade into memories that hold compassion instead of regret and derision.  You won’t forget.  You simply won’t suffer.

Hold on, young warrior.  Your peace is waiting for you.

Love and Respect,

Me

The Battle Inside Your Skull

I’ve been writing all these letters to myself and I can’t help but wonder about the other misfits out there.  I know you are there. I have met some of you.  Others I see when I walk down the city street.  You are standing off to the side, leaning against a wall, staring out into nothing… a warrior who fights a non-stop battle on the inside of your skull.  The pain leaves wounds that others can’t see and so they think you have an “attitude problem”.  You struggle between giving up and letting the river of pain-killers wash you away into an ocean of numbness… and lashing out at everyone and everything around you that had a hand in building this pit of hatred that poisons you.

I remember when I held my anger and hate up as a righteous banner.  It drove me forward instead of succumbing to the escape of unfeeling.  I used it so often that I began to see it as a powerful tool and the thought of giving it up was absurd.  Why would I give up the power that keeps me alive?

Then I came to realize that I was alive… but I wasn’t living.

The comprehension of that sentence didn’t really sink in until I had kids.  I saw what I missed out on… that untainted innocence where life seems full of exciting possibilities and the safety of being loved no matter what encourages growth and allows for mistakes.

I know for a fact that I have messed up as a parent… what parent hasn’t?  But I worked (and continue to work) almost obsessively to overcome my own childhood while raising my kids.  Ideally, I would have done most of that work before having kids.  But it was my children who showed me what was possible and it was my love for them that pushed me to get help.

If only I could have taken what I saw in them and show this to my younger self in such a way that my younger self could actually see and understand it… and not push it away as an impossible objective.  Impossible because I wasn’t ready to give up the power of my hatred and anger.

I don’t expect that these words will matter much to those who are where I was at that time.  But perhaps there are some of you who have stepped down the path towards your potential and are more open to this concept than I was then:  Your hatred and anger are NOTHING compared to the power you will hold when you know and give love and compassion.

This kind of power isn’t the kind you use to manipulate people.  And it doesn’t protect you from being hurt.

What it does is create a deep core of certainty within yourself that you are bigger and stronger than anything that can hurt you.  Not that it won’t hurt you… only that it won’t stop you.  It won’t destroy you.  And this knowledge isn’t a dark pit that swallows joy because it doesn’t trust the impermanency of positive feelings.  It’s a deep well of still water that holds on to every beautiful moment and quenches your pain when you are hurt.  It shares and receives love through the act of compassion and connection.  It allows room for feeling sadness, anger, and fear.  But it tempers these feelings with the knowledge that these feelings are temporary as well.  Beauty and love are still possible.

However, here’s the catch to all of this:  You have to trust yourself to be able to handle the full range of feelings… and survive the pain that seems unbearable… the pains of abandonment, broken trust, guilt, a sense of worthlessness, and more.  You have to be able to dig into these feelings and face them.  But you don’t have to do it alone.  I know you think you do.  Being alone protects you from betrayal.  And yet being alone also keeps you from connecting with others and growing the love that can replace your hate.

If you are in school, there are counselors available.  Depending on the size of the school, there may be more than one to choose from.  If you are afraid of talking to someone who might report to your parent(s), then talk to your doctor or pediatrician.  They are required to keep what you say private.

If you are an adult, there are many professionals in the field of therapy for you to consider.

I’m not going to tell you that all therapists are alike.  They certainly are not.  I feel utterly fortunate that I found one who knew how to work with me.  But until you push yourself to try and meet a few and see if there is one you can start the (very) long trek with, your fear of betrayal will keep you from throwing light into that dark pit and facing whatever comes out.

If anything I have described here touches a chord in you and you want to take the first, hardest step of the journey, here is a database of Therapists that can get you started.  Look through and find a few that are local and send them an email.  Many of them either accept insurance or have sliding fee scales if you are on limited income and almost all offer a free initial consultation so you can see if there is a fit.

Don’t get caught up in the details.  Your brain will only use that as a reason to delay your act of reaching out.  Just click on the Email button and send out a line or two.

Here’s a start for you:  Hi, {name of Therapist}.  I found your contact information online.  Are you accepting new clients?  If so, do you offer a complimentary initial visit so that I can see if we can work together?  Thank you, {your name}

It’s literally as easy as that.  Then, when they email back, they might ask to talk to you on the phone.  It’s okay.  They want to be sure that they feel qualified to help you.  And at the first visit, feel free to ask tons of questions.  Although if you ask a probing question about their personal life, they may explain to you that it’s best to focus on you.  This is not just normal, it’s an important part of the process.  They are not there for a friendship.  They are there to be your mirror… your consultant… and your champion.  They don’t want you to focus on them.  They want 100% of the focus to be on you and your journey.

So give it a go and put your hiking boots on.  Put down the banner of hate and anger.  And start your journey away from the battle that doesn’t belong to you.

This sucks.

Hey Kiddo,

I’m going through a time right now that’s rather painful.  Not all the time… but at least daily I struggle with the deep sadness from a recent change in a close relationship.

There are times when it’s so powerful, I have to stop for a moment and just let it wash over me.  I have to let it be and experience it or it will transfer into my old standby emotions of anger and regret.  These are the feelings that take over when I leave pain and sadness unprocessed.  It took me a long time to recognize this… but now I am aware and can take measures to redirect my focus back to the original source of the feeling.

I don’t like it.  In fact, it sucks.  But it’s beyond my control and I have to let this take its course.  I just wish it didn’t hurt (aka “suck”) so much.  Letting pain do its thing and “sitting with it” takes a ton of faith that eventually, the pain will ease.  Some days are worse than others and it can make anyone wonder when the hell it will ever end.  Or at least suck less.

So this is me dealing with this.  Tossing and turning at night as my brain subconsciously tries to find a way to not have to deal with this (aka “fix it”).  Handling inopportune occasions when the feeling is so strong I can’t speak and tears threaten to fall.  Experiencing moments of respite where beauty rises into my vision… only to have it diminish into the grey of sadness.  Trying really hard not to get annoyed with how long this will take to process (aka “haunt me”).

Yeah, this sucks.

But the alternative is worse.  The other branch of the road well travelled in my history was to deny the pain.  Convert it into anger and blame.  And if that wears off, then shame and regret can take over and leave their taint on how I see myself.

You see, with time, pain that is given attention and space to exist will diminish (although it may not seem like that at the time).  However, with time, unprocessed pain can pile up… distort your perspective of things that seem unrelated… overflow into uncontrolled outbursts (aka “temper tantrum”)… and, if left unaddressed long enough, separate from the memory of the experience which inspired the pain and leave an orphan feeling that still resides but is so much harder to deal with because it lacks context.

I am so done with that.

So here I am.  Hurting.  Crying.  Dealing.  Living through this.  And eventually, healing from it.

If I can tell you it’s worth it from this place I’m in right now, then you should believe it.  Because it is.

And it also sucks.

Safe & Sound

12/14/13

Hey Kiddo,

As you know, I’m not a particular fan of modern pop music. So when my kids suggested I take a moment and watch a video with Taylor Swift (who isn’t of particular interest to anyone in our household) sing a song she co-wrote with the Civil Wars for The Hunger Games movie called “Safe & Sound”, I was immediately impressed by the simplicity and haunting nature of the song. In fact, I was grateful for the introduction to the Civil Wars who are now one of my favorite folk duos.

Anyway, the song was something of an earworm and I found myself humming it over and over again. It took awhile for me to actually pay close attention to the lyrics… and then it seemed to burrow into my heart.

Since you haven’t heard the song yet, here are the main lyrics of Safe & Sound:

I remember tears streaming down your face
When I said, “I’ll never let you go”
When all those shadows almost killed your light
I remember you said, “Don’t leave me here alone”
But all that’s dead and gone and passed tonight

Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You’ll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I’ll be safe and sound

Don’t you dare look out your window, darling,
Everything’s on fire
The war outside our door keeps raging on
Hold on to this lullaby
Even when music’s gone
Gone

Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You’ll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I’ll be safe and sound

Like I said… haunting.

This is one of those songs that will sneak into my ‘shuffle all’ playlist and, on occasion, catch me in a vulnerable moment. When this happens, it inevitably drags up some dark memories with some equally dark feelings trailing behind them.

Memories of experiences you, my younger self, are still living through. Like the nights when you hide in your room, tears streaming down your face, trying to drown out the sound of her yelling at Dad or one of the other kids. Being woken up in the middle of the night to her drunken screaming. Pushing your back against the wall in bed… staring through the dark at the line of light under the door… waiting for the shadow of her feet to pass by… praying she doesn’t burst into the room with that look of maniacal rage and an uncontrollable need to hurt someone. Because you have nowhere to hide. And the belt she uses can reach across the bed no matter how fast you scramble.

To you as a child, this is the war outside your window. Only closing your eyes won’t make it go away. And the light of the morning didn’t mean you were safe.

Her shadow almost killed your light. Until you learned how to lock it away and fight like a beast to protect yourself… hurting others with abandon because you couldn’t afford to feel anything lest she find that hole in your armor and once again, you would have nowhere to hide.

Today, I look back on this and feel such pain for what you went through… and for the people you hurt. Some of them were innocent bystanders who were your target because you needed to feel some kind (any kind) of power. Later, it was the other wounded people who you hurt… other bullies who you bullied because it seemed like justice to you… failing to realize that they were suffering just as much as you.

I ask myself what I could possibly say to you to make you change your ways back then. Honestly, I don’t know. No one could have convinced me that taking off the armor of unfeeling and putting down the weapons of anger, hate, and vengeance could possibly make me stronger. It simply didn’t fit my definition of strength.

Don’t mistake my words, Scrapper… letting go of these defenses won’t make you invulnerable to hurt. But allowing yourself to feel and to connect with others in a way far beyond simple loyalty (as deep as it may be) means one day you will have allies who won’t shy away from your scars.

This process will bring healing… even as painful as the journey will be to return to this place you live in and finally, truly, endure the feelings you are burying beneath your armor. But I will come back for you. And I will never leave you there, alone, again.

This is what will make the light you carry inside safe and sound. Finally.

 

It’s About You

2/2/14

Hey Kiddo,

They say you can’t truly appreciate what your parents went through until you, yourself, are a parent. I think I have to agree. I think it takes being a parent and wrestling with all of your unresolved demons while trying so very hard to not pollute your own kids with the hell you experienced for you to get a better understanding of what your own parents tried to accomplish. Connecting with your parents’ and their struggles can help you better grasp why they did what they did. It can help you forgive and let go. Which is not about letting THEM have peace… but about letting YOU have peace.

What I’m going to write here is NOT an excuse for her actions. You are still a kid and you are not expected to understand this (in fact, that’s one of her biggest mistakes which sparks her anger). All I’m going to do is throw this stuff out there and hope some of it sticks for later on… and helps you to make sense of all this bullshit.

1) She lived through her own child hell. Her parents were just as physically and emotionally abusive as she is. They were her mentors. They taught her to be just like her.

2) Her pain isn’t about you. It’s about her. Which is unfortunate. Because the majority of being a parent should be about the kid and THEIR needs.

3) Unlike you, she didn’t have either the ability or the opportunity to separate and find a sense of just how sick her upbringing was. She may have had moments of insight where she realized that this wasn’t right… but she didn’t have the support to keep walking toward that concept… or the courage to step away from the sickness which was the only form of “love” she could grasp.

4) She didn’t have a safe childhood either… so she didn’t know how to give you one.

5) If she accepts that you are just a child and couldn’t possibly know any better, she would have to accept that SHE had been just a child and that her parents were the source of her pain and terror… and that would mean being angry and even hating them for awhile. It can be easier to hate your parents as a kid that it is as an adult. Especially if your parents are dead and you have no reconciliation possible.

6) Just as Dad doesn’t have the ability to protect you and the other kids from her because of his own issues – at least until he finally told her to leave, Mom doesn’t have the ability to protect you and the others from her own pain and fear.

7) So much of what she does to you is because deep down inside, she is terrified that she isn’t worthy of love. She is afraid that she is expendable and doesn’t matter. Because this is what her parents reinforced every time they refused to acknowledge her existence due to some error on her part. Love, in her world, is absolutely conditional.

8) When she drinks, it’s to numb this immensely deep pain inside of her… so she can get a moment of relief. Except that when she is angry and drunk, the only way to handle that pain is to externalize it… to convince herself that everyone and everything around her is responsible for her pain… and that it’s okay to lash out against it. She thinks it’s you… but it’s her own issues that cause this. She blames you for making her angry… which is like a powder keg going to a bonfire and blaming the sparks for its explosion.

You’ve got to know that these reasons do NOT lessen the evil she has done. And that’s what it is: Evil. To take your pain out on innocent children is evil. There are few things more evil, in my opinion. Just try to keep in mind that evil isn’t born. It’s not a person. It’s a forged way of seeing things and then acting on that vision. It’s hammer is the pain you experience and it’s anvil is the pain you don’t process.

She has faced moments too numerous to count where she had a choice. Her choice was to hold on to her pain instead of getting help to deal with it. Because the journey into the pain was simply too much for her. So she is controlled by it and throws it at the people around her whenever she feels like she might get hurt again. Which is often.

I hope this helps, Kiddo. At this point in my life, I feel like I can start slowly connecting with her pain so I can forgive her with more than just words. She won’t ever know this because all these decades later, she still won’t speak to me. But even now, this isn’t about her. It never was.

Love,

Me