Following is an experience that I wrote about but never published. As I was reading over it today, and crying, I knew it was time to send it out into the world. So here it is…Be gentle…
“A few weeks ago I was sitting, listening to Josie, the closing speaker of a wonderful conference I was attending. Josie talked about a meeting with her therapist where her therapist asked her to bring in a picture of herself as a child. Josie brought in a picture of little Josie and was then asked to describe what she saw. While listening I was trying to apply the thought to myself. The minute I pictured a snapshot of little me I was horrified. The snapshot that came to mind is one that is associated with a lot of pain. I am wearing a black and pink cotton dress. I had spent the night before sleeping on those absurd pink sponge curlers and my hair is out of control. I am smiling and my 1st grade teeth are poking out in all of their snaggle-tooth glory.
The picture is crisp and clear in my mind. Not because I remember it being taken, because I don’t, but because my brothers have teased me about the picture a lot. They would always tell me that in it I looked like the six-fingered-man from the princess bride, and by the tone of their voices I knew they did not mean to compliment me.
As I curled my feet further under my chair and hung my head, in the middle of the amazing closing remarks at the conference, shame poured over my body. My faced grew warm and my eyes filled with tears. In my mind I pictured that pathetic little girl, her ugly dress and unkempt hair. I was angry. What a coward she was. She never stood up for herself. She constantly made decisions out of fear. She peed her pants in kindergarten and first grade solely because asking permission to go to the bathroom seemed far too scary…what if the teacher was busy…interrupting certainly wasn’t an option.
The room around me seemed to fade as my thoughts turned more inward. All of the fear came flooding back and the little girl in the silly pink dress became the brunt of my pain. “You Coward”, I yelled in my mind. “Why didn’t you stand up for yourself? Why didn’t you have very many friends? Why did you always try so hard but have nothing to show for it? Why weren’t you nicer, why weren’t you more popular, why weren’t you more confident??”
As the meeting came to a close I discretely dried my eyes and pushed the awful feelings aside. It was time to spend time with my friends from the conference. In my heart I knew that something important had happened during those last few minutes of the conference. But I didn’t want to deal with it.
Last week I met with my therapist. Our meeting was going great until my feelings from the conference came spilling out. He then had me do an exercise that I will not soon forget. I pictured little me, sitting on a chair next to me. I described her…pink cotton dress, unruly curls, teeth too big for her mouth and too spaced apart. And then I described how she was feeling…afraid. Always afraid. Why had she been summoned to sit in a room with an adult? What had she done wrong? What had she been caught doing that she shouldn’t have been? How awful was this meeting going to be? Would she need to lie to stay safe? Would she get yelled at? Spanked? Shamed? Would she be blamed for something someone else did? Would she be asked a question that she wasn’t sure how to answer? Would she be allowed to cry? No, crying was not allowed unless there was a good reason, of which there were none. Best to sit and be quiet and say nothing. Best to protect the mind and heart by thinking about something else. But don’t forget to listen. Listen really well because at some point a response will be needed and it better be the right one. Don’t argue though. Think of what the adult wants to hear. That’s it. Do that.
As I sat there, looking at this scared little girl, I was at first, again…angry with her. JUST FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL LOVE YOU. Stand up for yourself, fix your stupid hair and for goodness sake burn that dumb dress. And then I stopped and looked at the little girl again. As a child. As one of my children. Then I just cried. And at the urging of my therapist I began to speak to her. Since then I have wanted to record those thoughts. Here is my letter to little me.
Dear Little Me,
First of all, don’t worry. You are not in trouble. You have done nothing wrong. I have asked you to come here just to talk to me. You aren’t going to be yelled at or spanked or asked any hard questions. You aren’t going to be pinched or poked. You aren’t going to be given any punishments. You can cry if you need to be but I hope the tears will only be happy ones, or vulnerable ones, or I-feel-loved ones, if there are any. If you want to talk you can, or you can just be quiet. Either is great.
I want you to know that I understand exactly how you feel.
I know how afraid you are.
I know that you are terrified by adults. I know how sad you get sometimes, when you feel like you’ve failed. I know also how hopeful you get when you decide once and for all that you are going to do everything just right. You aren’t ever going to do everything just right. But that is okay, you can still be hopeful. I understand your tears…the ones you cry when no one is looking. And the ones that you get yelled at for. Tears are good and healthy, don’t ever forget that. I understand how much you want people to like you and how much it hurts when they don’t. I understand exactly how it feels every time your brothers say something mean about you. It hurts. It hurts a lot.
Remember that one time your brother told you that you were just so cynical, that you never saw the good in anything? He was wrong. Remember all the times your brothers said you looked like the dog, called you the dog’s name? They were wrong. They were probably hurting too. Remember that one time your Dad asked if you’d taken the chocolate chips out of the pantry and even though you hadn’t you said yes? I’m sorry for how scary that was. I’ve felt that same fear. Remember all of those nights you laid awake while your legs ached but you were too afraid to ask mom or dad for help? You were far too scared to venture out of your bed into mom and dad’s room and wake them. I’ve felt that same physical pain and that same dark, middle of the night, fear.
You are not alone.
I too have worried about getting the perfect grades, being the perfect student, and always being right where I should, right when I should. I have worried what people thought about me and wondered why I don’t have more friends. I have wondered if God is listening. Who God is. I have cried and begged for answers and I have spent many hours by myself.
And because I am a little older than you I want you to understand a few things that I now understand.
You are not alone.
Your life is going to be hard. You are going to be a good student, an excellent student, who spends a lot of time outside of school wishing for trusted friends instead of good grades. You are going to struggle with depression. You will go weeks, sometimes months, without talking to anyone, hoping someone, anyone will notice. You will graduate high school and venture, unprepared, into a world that is going to take advantage of you. You will lose your voice. You will feel very lonely. You will try really hard to be someone you are not. You will make bad choices.
That’s ok. I give you permission to make mistakes. Your mistakes are a very important part of who you are. They will help you to become a very compassionate person. They will help you understand others.
You will be hurt. Emotionally and Physically. You will trust people who will abuse you verbally and sexually. You will marry a man who will treat you extremely poorly. He will belittle you. He will manipulate and control you. He will have an addiction. You will be told you aren’t a good mother, that you aren’t a good wife, that you aren’t a good friend or sister. You will struggle with an eating disorder. You will doubt your worth. Because of this doubt you will think about killing yourself. And because of your depression, suicide will not seem scary.
Don’t kill yourself. Don’t give up. Because I love you. And I need you.
Life is going to get better.
Eventually, you will find your voice again. You will start to realize that you are enough. You will learn how to stand up for yourself and how to help others without losing yourself. Because of this your husband will wake up. He will become a great man. You will be happy. Through all of this, you will be an amazing mother. You will not be a perfect mother, but you will be the mother your children need. You will start to understand how much God loves you, how much He has ALWAYS loved you.
Hold on little me. I’m here for you. I love you so much. I love your crooked teeth and your playful dress and your adorable curls. I love your smile and your laughter and tears. I love your mistakes and your anger and your compassion. I love your jokes and your enthusiasm. I love the way you look. I love how strong you are. I love that your body is healthy and can do amazing things. I love your resilience. I love everything about you.
I love you,