Dear Seventeen-Year-Old Me,
It’s the end of your junior year. It’s been a rough year.
Mom’s been telling you that everything is “going to get better.” That losing your friends, Greg breaking up with you, and all of this crying will mean something someday.
Right now, it doesn’t help. You’re angry, you’re upset, and you have just learned a few hard lessons in life all at once: sometimes, when people hurt you and do wrong to you, they will still think they are right. They will not apologize for the ugly things they have said or done. They will try to knock you down.
It’s shocking, right? That people can be that selfish, that hurtful, and be okay with what they’ve done to you, isn’t it? But it’s okay. I can see you right now trying to act like it’s okay, it doesn’t matter – you’re pushing all of this fucked-up-ness down. Don’t do this. Listen to me.
What I want to tell you is that Mom (you will realize this when you’re about twenty-one) is almost always right.
It’s going to be okay. It’s “going to get better.”
And I’m not writing this to talk about your asshole high school friends, or Greg. You won’t remember them until you see them again. No, really, I’m serious.
For example: one night in the August before your graduate from college, you’ll run into those assholes at the Landmark Pub in Livingston (yup, you’ll hang out there – you’ll appreciate the cheap drinks and the easy access to Nikki’s house if you’re too tipsy to drive). You will all smile politely at one another. You will then continue walking passed them towards your remarkable, supportive group of friends that you have acquired over the years. You will not even think about the interaction again. If anything, you’ll be laughing with your new friends about how time really flies.
It’s going to be okay.
I am writing to tell you that there’s a lesson in this pain you are currently experiencing: this heart-wrenching feeling is not the end of the world, but it is okay to be upset. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling and embrace it, and therefore grow stronger from it. Don’t be ashamed or hide from it. Stop holding it in. You have to (figuratively) bleed it out. IT’S OKAY.
We’ll experience more pain. We have to. We’re going to cry really hard once in awhile. We’re going to get angry and throw things. We’re going to push people away. We’re going to hate ourselves. The pain will come from other people, and from the inside too. We’ll screw up and cause our own pain. We’ll hurt others. It’s inevitable. We’ll also find good – of course. Good people, good opportunities, life changing moments, but that pain you’re feeling now will be felt again. And that’s okay.
At twenty-two, I’ve begun working on us. I’ve decided that we should allow ourselves to heal. Right now, you are not allowing yourself to heal. You are actually about to begin a self-destructive pattern, because you think that’s what healing is. It’s not. Partying and hanging out with “bad” boys is not healing. You’re charming when you are not drunk (prepare for us to embarrass ourselves a few times). You’re worthy of good men. These distractions merely numb the pain. They don’t let you embrace it and they don’t help you grow. I know you know this, because even at seventeen, we are smart enough to logically see this. We just don’t want to see it. We will eventually figure this out. Have faith. It’s going to be okay.
Pain is not a negative thing or a sign of weakness. For last five years, starting at the moment you are starting at now, I thought it was.
I was ashamed when I cried because the girls we used to be friends with stalked our locker to harass us, when they vandalized our car, when they spread nasty rumors. I was ashamed of crying when Dad told me fine, I’ll never talk to you again. I was ashamed that Andrew, who you will date next year, hit me and that I let it happen. I was ashamed when Oscar, who loved us so much, hit me years later. I was ashamed of being weak. I was ashamed of being broken. Bottling everything caused me to hate every fiber of my being, and I was ashamed of that pain too.
I subdued the pain. I put on a pretty, fake face, like you’re doing now, because I couldn’t handle facing my pain. I was scared of pain. But listen. Pain can be good. Pain means you are human, that you are growing. We hurt and we adapt. And it’s going to be okay.
There are phenomenal things coming too. Those shitty experiences that will happen to you? It’s cliché, but they are necessary lessons that we will be thankful for. We will learn how to embrace other people’s actions and realize it’s not a reflection of ourselves. We will learn how to respond thoughtfully, to care about other people’s emotions – because like I said, we will cause pain too.
It’s all a matter of growth. It’s all a matter of positive energy. How will you find a best friend like Nikki if you don’t get hurt by fake friends? How else will you learn what you want in a man if you don’t go through the bullshit? How will you stand up for yourself, threaten to quit your job, and have them ask you to stay and offer you a raise, if you don’t experience pain and learn self-respect?
Our pain is our strength because we grow. Learn to love yourself, because the next few years are rocky. We’ll make it. I’m already proud of you because of the person I am now. We have a good head on our shoulders.
Embrace the pain, feel it.
It’s okay to be human.