I want to write to you today, as the steady stream of college graduations that you are not a part of is passing you by this month. I know that you feel like you are a failure because you are not among those numbers. I know that already you recognize that college isn’t the only way to succeed, and I know that you already recognize that not completing college certainly doesn’t mean you are stupid. But I also know that you can’t make yourself believe that yet; you can’t internalize those words, breathe them in until they flow through you as naturally as your life force. But here is something you don’t yet know: you will graduate college. In fact, you will graduate Magna Cum Laude. I am so, so proud of us.
I want to tell you that you are more precious than you know. In fact, you are a lot of things that you haven’t discovered yet: smart, capable, reliable, passionate and compassionate, artistic, wise. Don’t worry, you’ll discover these things as you begin to finally peel back the layers of emotional callus that you don’t yet even realize you’ve built up.
I know you are in a dark place right now. You don’t fully realize it yet, although you do currently recognize that you identify too closely with “Adam’s Song.” You are not actively suicidal right now (and you won’t be for at least the next 19 years), but this is the closest you get: sometimes you threaten it in overly emotional moments. I know how you feel ashamed and embarrassed when you lose control, crying, yelling, falling apart. But what you are really saying is “help me, I hurt so so badly.”
Here is a thing you don’t know yet: you have been abused. For all those times your mother threw the word around at you, it was projection and deflection. She was a master of both. I know right now you feel rage at her. I know right now you feel like you have to forgive her, that forgiveness on your part makes you a better person. I know that you believe that to be Christlike, you must simply “let go” of anger. And I know that you have no idea how to do that.
Here is another thing you don’t know yet: All of that forgiveness shit is a big, societal lie. The truth that you will learn over the next two decades is that forgiveness is actually a collaborative act between the person who has done wrong and the person who has been hurt. It is actually not possible to “just forgive” or to simply “let go” of anger and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, or the Dalai Lama.
You will spend years beating yourself up for not being better. You will believe your mother’s lies about how you are an angry person. You will hear her say the words “I know I failed you” and even “I’m sorry” and since you have been taught to believe that a transgression ends with “I’m sorry” you will fault yourself for not being okay. It is not your fault. A true apology may begin with the words “I’m sorry,” but it must also include a true understanding of the gravity of the sin, and it must include efforts at change. Your mother never truly met either of these markers.
It is the abuse that has clouded your vision and thinking. It is the abuse that allowed you to do poorly in high school, that allowed you to drop out of college. Think about it: when did you begin struggling with school? The same year your mother fell apart. Even if you could concentrate on homework, or think clearly to learn, where would you have been able to study? On the piles of trash?
You may not have discovered this word yet, but your mother is a hoarder. You will find this word, and you will find your community. But even before that, you will, somehow, speak up. Not for a couple of years yet. You are already living on your own, but you will have a child soon, a wild pink daughter, and everything will change. Somehow, you will be driven to speak, the words bursting forth because something inside of you knows how desperately you need to get the poison out. Secrets make people sick, and you have been holding your mother’s secrets for far too long already. So you write. You will have a safe space online: a locked diary that only your trusted people can access. And you write. Everything. It’s terrifying for you, but you can hardly pay attention; you are driven by something internal, some strong, primal urge to get well. Anyway, your trusted people are good people and they lift you up and in that moment you feel the first sensations of healing. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, the psyche stitching itself back together. You sense that this is only the beginning and you want to rush forward, but you couldn’t if you tried. That is not how healing the heart works.
Over the years (you will also have a sweet, sensitive little boy) you continue to grow, continue to heal. You begin to untangle the vision you hold of yourself from the one you hold of your mother; you find that she has buried your true self in a mess of her own toxicities. Some of those have stained you: you will always struggle with depression and anxiety; you have PTSD. These are the scars that abuses leave upon the psyche. But what you will learn about scars (and, oh, you will devote your life to learning to love scars, and to teaching others to love scars) is that they never go away, but they are tougher than the skin surrounding them. You are tough.
And so, one day when your kids are older, when you have figured out that the spouse you chose when you were 20 years old and broken might not have been the best life partner for you, you will find yourself a proud single mother, dragging her children onto campus so you can register for college again. You don’t really know what you are doing here. You don’t yet fully believe in yourself and a degree seems so foreign that you barely even look ahead towards it. But the A’s will begin rolling in and you will marvel at them. The more of them you get under your belt, the more you begin to believe in yourself. Those old calluses begin to fade away, the self doubt no longer rubbing at them.
And then you get accepted to a university, and you earn an associate’s degree (for transfer) and you are so unbelievably proud that your eyes leak any time you think of your degree. Two and a half years after that and you will hold your bachelor’s degree in your hands. Your dad and stepmom will come out to attend your graduation – your children will attend, too, and this is a gift to them as much as to yourself – and you will walk across that stage and shake the hand of a professor as you accept your diploma.
You are so precious right now. I can see through all of what you believe is so ugly and worthless. I can see through to the core of you and your soul shines golden. Life is still a struggle, and it probably always will be, but you will rise to meet challenges again and again. You are a hero and a goddess (oh, also, you are now Pagan, but don’t worry, you also don’t believe in Hell) and you are stronger and smarter than you believe, but it’s there. I promise you.
You don’t need to believe in yourself yet, because I believe in you.