By Rachel Miller, See the Triumph Contributor
Dear Teenage Me,
Some of what I am about to say you aren’t going to want to hear, of this I am aware. I ask you to listen with an open heart anyway, because at your deepest core, you will know I speak the truth.
First, let me promise you, these are not the best years of your life, regardless of what people may say, but are rather a blip in your big picture. You have amazing adventures to take, sights to see and goals to accomplish. These will make up the best years of your life, not high school. That said, you do need to understand that some of the decisions you make now, and in the coming years, will determine much larger parts of your life and have impacts that reach further than you can imagine right now. This is especially true of decisions around your relationships and partners.
You are bright and wiser than your years, but there are things you don’t know. Not because you’re young or inexperienced or not smart, but because the people in your life who should teach you these things don’t know them either. While you instinctually understand you haven’t had the best of examples, what you don’t yet grasp is that different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Different can actually be worse, much worse. Red flags aren’t things you know to watch for, and how truly dangerous a relationship can be is no more than an abstract concept to your soft, romantic heart that just wants to be loved and cherished.
What you know of domestic violence is only what you see on the random billboard or PSA. You think it happens to “other people.” Domestic violence is so much more than you’ve been shown. Abuse is more than black eyes, bruises and broken bones. It does and is happening to people you know. It can happen to you. An abusive partner will destroy your self-worth, your ambition and your dreams turning you into someone you won’t recognize.
For your own safety and well-being, please understand that jealousy and possessiveness are not romantic. It does not mean he loves you. It means he views you as property. Understand that restricting where you go and who you spend time with are not his way of showing you that he can’t live without you. It’s his way of shutting others out of your life so you’re isolated and won’t reach out when his abuse escalates. His temper and rage will not mellow with age. His inability to support your dreams now will progress to the point where your successes will be used against you. You will begin to question whether or not you deserve them anyway. When a person reveals himself to be any of these, I urge you to believe him. Falling in love with who you think someone will become or the potential you believe you see is dangerous. Dangerous in ways I know you can’t truly comprehend right now. Please, hear me anyway. Keep the things I am saying in your back pocket for future use.
The partner you’re dreaming of, yes, I know the one, he exists, but he’s not the person you think. He isn’t someone who disrespects and hurts you. He’s not the man who wants to control and limit you. He’s not someone you walk on eggshells around because you’re afraid of the next time he’ll blow up. He is the man who celebrates who you are, encourages you to grow and wants to help make your dreams reality. He is the man who thinks you’re amazing, flaws and all. He is the man who doesn’t make you think you are hard to love.
Stand strong in the knowledge of who you are, my darling girl. Never settle for less than you deserve. And always know you deserve the very best. You are worthy. You are worth moving heaven and earth to be with. You are a gift. If someone doesn’t see that, they aren’t worth your time. It’s okay to walk away from anything and anyone who doesn’t want to help you be the best version of yourself or who makes you feel less than. Relationships will come and go. Learn from them rather than feel trapped in them because you’re scared to be alone or afraid to admit you were wrong about someone. It’s okay to make mistakes. Own them, learn the lesson and move forward. Believe that you can handle anything that comes your way, because you can, but know there are things you should never handle and let those go.
Love yourself enough to walk away from what hurts your soul. Love yourself to shine as brightly as you know you can.
All my love,
Dear 13-Year-Old Me,
A few months before you turn 14, you’ll be a raped by one of your closest friends. There will be scars on your right hand that will remind you of that day for the rest of your life. One day, you will see them as a sign of survival, but for a while you will see them as a homing device for abusive people. You will try to figure out for many years what you did to “ask for it,” so that “it” will never happen again. Nothing you do will work because no one asks to be raped by staying a little late at school after basketball practice or scoring higher than the boys on the math test or acting too much like a “dyke.”
You will not be the protagonist in your sexual and romantic life for a long time because of this. You will be ambivalent but neurotic and will sometimes want to disappear. You will not know what to do when you develop feelings for your classmate at your all girls’ Catholic high school. You will feel a twinge of fear every time you hear that word “dyke” again, even though you know it doesn’t really fit you.
I’m not going to say that “it gets better.” You will be raped again in college. You will remain too long in relationships with folks who are, at best, incompatible or, at worst, abusive. You will be stalked. You will face sexism, homophobia and biphobia, street harassment, slut-shaming, and people who think they get to touch your body on the dancefloor or at the bar or in the office. There are people who will tell you to “be careful” when you go on road trips with your guy friend or travel for business alone or take a nap under a tree or wear yoga pants (yes, even to do yoga).
You will, however, be a more authentic and empowered version of yourself. You will stop searching for what you did to “ask for it.” While the world will change far too slowly for your liking, you will change. You will find trustworthy friends who will anchor you. You will come out as bisexual, which will help you cultivate a life that feels more honest and free. You will start caring a little less about what everyone thinks of you and start caring more about being the kind of person you want to be. While you know that giving people the power to love you gives them the power to hurt you, you will do it anyway. Vulnerability will always make you nervous, but life without it will feel scarier. You will have all kinds of intimacy and friendship and romance and adventure.
One of these adventures will involve a guy you meet for what you think will be a casual brunch date. You will fall deeply for his wit and kindness and strength. He will love all of you, even the pieces you’re still learning to love about yourself. One evening, you will make a promise to love him for the rest of your life, and you will mean it more than you’ve meant anything else. You will let him stare right into your eyes for a long time without turning away. As you begin contemplating having children with this guy, you will keep trying to make the world the kind of place you want for them. While you would hope that world would be one without violence or abuse, you will settle for a world in which no one ever has to feel they “asked for it.”
Cheers, kiddo. Take care of yourself.
LB Klein, MSW has dedicated her career to ending gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and advancing social justice. She is a researcher, educator, and consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as a lead trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center. She and her partner will be relocating to North Carolina this summer, where she will be pursuing her doctorate in social work at UNC-Chapel Hill. You can follow her on Twitter @LB_Klein.
Dear Teenage Me,
You’re going to get a lot of different messages about what a relationship should look like. These messages will come from many different places—from your friends, family, and from movies, television, and music videos. Please remember this: only you get to define what you want.
You’re also going to get a lot of different messages about how important it is to be in a relationship. And, at times, you will feel like there is something “wrong” with you because you are not in a relationship, especially when all of your friends are in one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Never feel like you need someone to complete you, or that you need someone to make you feel worthy and valuable. You don’t. You are complete and whole and perfect just the way you are. In fact, being single—or as I have come to think of it—being awesome—will end up being some of the best and most meaningful experiences of your life. Slow down and enjoy it. The next best thing is not necessarily right around the corner. Sometimes it’s the person looking back at you in the mirror.
That reminds me—try your best not to caught up in all the media scrutiny and fixation with women’s bodies and thinness. Thin does not equal healthy. Thin does not equal beautiful. You might not realize it now, but you’ll have much bigger and more meaningful things to do with your curious brain then distract it with that body-scrutiny garbage. Love your body—it has taken good care of you. Please take good care of it back.
One last thing: When the time comes to shed your skin and you say goodbye to your relationships, please be kind and gentle to the people you are letting go. They have loved you. That have trusted you. You have loved them. And, you have trusted them. You both deserve respectful goodbyes. They will hurt. You will hurt, too. But, you will know in your heart when it’s time to walk away. Doing the right thing can be scary, but it’s during the most difficult moments that we find our strength and our purpose.
You’ve got one amazing life to live kid. So, go live it with joy, curiosity, and an open heart.
Love, your 36 year old self.
Dear Teenage Me:
Sometimes, it’s hard for me to look back to my teenage years. Those were hard years. I know you struggle a lot to try and figure out who you are and what your place is in the world. You put on a strong front to the rest of the world--many would never even imagine your inner struggles, because you look to the outside world like you’ve got it all figured out.
But deep down, you’re scared. Your family is facing a lot of transition and changes, and it’s been turning your world upside down. You used to feel like the world was predictable and safe--but with recent changes in your family, the formerly steady ground has been shaken up--and you’ve been shaken to your core with it.
The truth is, you’re terrified of relationships right now. You haven’t really seen many models of good, healthy relationships up close, and so you’re not even sure if you know the difference between what a healthy and unhealthy relationship would look like. You know that you want to figure out all the “secrets” to great relationships that other people seem to know--but deep down, you know that you haven’t got a clue where to start to find the answers.
What I’ve learned since I was your age is that nobody really has any special secrets to great relationships. The average person--and especially the average teenager--is just as clueless about relationships as you are. But, as a teenager, you and others face a tremendous amount of pressure to look like you’ve got it all figured out. It’s hard to admit you don’t have all the answers when there’s so much pressure to live a seemingly “perfect” life.
I want you to know that a good, healthy relationship is out there for you. Oh sure, you’ll face some heartbreaks and unhealthy relationships--I wish I could somehow help you to avoid the one that was even abusive. But, what I’ve realized along the way is that there are some lessons you just have to learn in life, and perhaps that relationship will become one of the greatest lessons of your life.
If I could go back in time and teach you one thing I’ve learned since my teen years, it would be that life is a great adventure. Don’t let fears hold you back--trust the process of life. Even your hardest life experiences will help to shape you into a strong, empowered woman. Stop comparing yourself to other people and being fooled into thinking they have it more figured out than you do--just stay true to yourself and keep your focus on the life that YOU are meant to live. At times, it won’t be easy, but you can keep hope alive at all times by knowing that your past, present, and future experiences will make you into the person you’re meant to be.
We recently launched our See the Triumph International Ambassadors program, and we received a great report from our Ambassadors in Cameroon, Mothers of Hope Cameroon, about a recent event they held to launch their work there. Here’s what we heard from Adah Mbah, Executive Director of MOHCAM:
“The campaign kicked off with seventeen women leaders from different groups in Bamenda. This trainer-of-trainers workshop was organized on the 12th of February 2016 at the head office of MOHCAM in Savannah Street-Bamenda.
The See the Triumph campaign aims to end the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence and to provide supportive resources for survivors. Share empowering messages that people can overcome their abuse and create positive, nonviolent lives, describing strategies that have worked for other survivors to help them overcome their abuse and the stigma related to it; and to promote a new view of battering survivors that shows them as triumphant, courageous, and resourceful. This will empower the participants to fight against poverty and the marginalization of women and girls in leadership and unemployment. The campaign started at 1:30pm with the reading of the agenda and its adoption. The opening prayer was offered by Ngwenwie Pauline, a counselor and the representative of Bamenda III council. Next was an introductive session of the MOHCAM team by Adah Mbah the Executive Director of MOHCAM, and this was closely followed by the introduction of the participants and their groups.
The Executive Director of MOHCAM welcomed participants and briefly explained the importance of the campaign. The program directors of MOHCAM, Muma Loveline and Butla Joyceline, elaborated on the aims and objectives of MOHCAM and See the Triumph. This was closely followed by launching of the campaign on ending the stigma around intimate partner violence and survivors. Adah Mbah emphasized its importance and why the participants had to educate their members to fight against the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence and survivors in communities.
The co-founders of See the Triumph, Christine Murray and Allison Crowe, in collaboration had sent a letter to the participants welcoming them to the campaign. This letter was printed and distributed to all participants, who promised to share the message with their members. The participants further had the opportunity for an online Skype chat to talk directly to Christine Murray, one of the co-founders of See the Triumph. Ahndinwo Adeline, the leader of Determine Ladies, appreciated See the Triumph for partnering with MOHCAM to help women victims and survivors, participants, and their groups. She wished that the program will serve as a forum for women to fight against violence.
After the Skype chat, the participants had a working session with the MOHCAM team, where they were asked to write down some of the difficulties they encounter as leaders and the needs of their members in terms of resources to fight against violence, poverty, and unemployment. All their fears and questions were answered, and the participants were asked to choose dates on the calendar when they wanted the MOHCAM team to visit their various groups. This task was done, and the participants were encouraged to share the knowledge with members.”
See below for some great pictures from this event!