Dear Little Me,
I’m not sure what I could say to you to make you believe the world is kinder than you understand it to be, or which mirror I could hold in front of you that would make you see you are so beautiful, so loved, and so needed in this world, my beautiful, darling girl.
You will learn to think the world is gray and mean, but it won’t be that way for long, and it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Your life so far has been based on losing yourself to others, and I know you are functioning from the pain of inadequacy and the fear of not being enough, but I see you, little me, and you are enough. Do you hear me? You are, enough.
I hope that you learn to see this true beauty of yourself. If not, it will become easy for you to seek affirmation in the wrong places with the pain that you carry, and so I urge you to love yourself so much that you don’t need the love of another to make you feel worthy of being alive.
There will be men that cross your path who will treat you unkindly. They will lie, cheat, and steal, and you will listen to them when they tell you who you are. They will hurt you, and you will start to become a shadow of the girl you knew yourself to be. Please understand that you are not defined by how much another person wants you, and that deep down in the belly of your soul, color and brightness linger there.
You will travel and have great adventures, and while travelling you will meet a man who charms you and offers you a life of excitement. You start a relationship with him, and you will think this is love; you will come to believe you must sacrifice and be in pain for love. After the first month, he will begin to ask you questions about your whereabouts, your clothes, and your motives. You’re flattered at first, feeling protected, but the tables quickly turn. You won’t recognize what all this means immediately, and you must forgive yourself for that.
This man will be unfaithful to you after two months, and when he sits you down next to the other girl over breakfast, masterfully explaining his story, you will have a sudden, burning desire to run. So run. Run far and wide and towards the sun. Trust this desire to move, your intuition, because it is screaming the truth out to you.
If you don’t run, he will move in with you. You’ll soon discover he was unfaithful again, but you will forgive him, as you will do many more times. At first the nights are hardest. He will look at your outfits with disgust, calling you cheap. You love going out dancing, but he will tell you you’re a whore if you dance and so you begin to sit still. You love singing, after growing up in musical theater, but he will tell you you’re a bitch if you sing in public and so you learn to only listen. He’s convinced you’re cheating on him with your friends – men and women – and so you stop seeing them. They’ll be concerned, but they back away, listening to the excuses you give for him. You won’t be completely happy, but you see the brokenness in this man who cuts his arms with a kitchen knife in front of you, and you want to put him back together, to heal him. He’ll often pack a bag at 3am and threaten to leave until you’ve begged and sobbed all of your energy out of you. He stays, but only if you agree to be nice. Oh, my darling girl I am there holding your hand.
As the months go by, the days get harder too. He’ll spend your earnings on cigarettes and alcohol, and he’ll gamble rent money away and sell your jewelry. He drinks a lot, you notice, and he’ll be drunk the first time he attacks you one weekday afternoon, strategically punching your head so your hair hides the bruises and no one will see. He throws psychological and verbal abuse at you while he strangles you until you can barely breathe. It lasts for about an hour, like all of these episodes will. He tells you not to tell anyone because they won’t believe you, so you don’t. You think he only turns into this monster when he’s drunk and so, on a good day, he promises to stop drinking. He only stays clean for a few days and you start to realize this man is a functioning alcoholic. When he hurts you sober, the truth will set in like a cold darkness covering your bones.
As months pass, he will start to shout at you in the street, in the supermarket, at the restaurant. The first time he punches you in public, the police will arrest him but then send you home together. You lie silent in your bedroom while he sits outside the door with his best friend, laughing and joking about what happened. You quit your job the next day, ashamed and afraid of the bruise over your eye. When makeup will cover it, you venture out and a friend asks you to babysit for her. He doesn’t want you to, but you do – you’ve been living off leftovers he brings home and you need the money. He breaks his own arm while you’re out so you have to leave early and he’ll be angry that you weren’t there for him.
His mistrust will grow, stalking and threatening you at work and at the lucky times you’ve been let out to meet your friends. One night he’ll be so convinced you’ve cheated on him that he’ll drive you to the top of a mountain on his motorcycle – no, your motorcycle – and threaten to kill you. He’s so drunk that he swerves and crashes the bike, hurting your leg but saving your life.
The abuse will only get worse. Every time you say no or cry, he’ll threaten to kill you. He likes these words - he’ll also tell you to leave or he’ll kill you, then when you do he will cry and hold you in an embrace. It will mess with your judgment and you won’t know what’s right and what’s wrong anymore, like the time he uses your own hands to punch yourself, laughing and exclaiming that you’re the one doing this, not him. You will be walking on so many eggshells with so much fear instilled in you that you don’t leave the apartment – someone might see you outside and tell him. Unless he’s with you or you’re going to work, you spend days in the corner of a room, staring out of the window while he’s out. You’ll have a very dark day like this, but you will get through it. Does this even sound real? Oh, to tell you it all would be to write a novel. Only now I look back do I see the cycle and understand the relationship for what it was.
I am so incredibly proud of you, though. Do you want to know why? Because one day, while you’re tied to a chair in the middle of the room, him prowling in rage around you, something inside of you snaps and you think to yourself, I don’t deserve this, this is not what my life is supposed to be. I don’t know how and I don’t know why this thought comes to you, but you quietly begin to plan your escape. It will take you a while, hiding money bit by bit inside the sleeve of an unassuming book, and he wants you to move to his parent’s house so packing your small suitcase won’t look suspicious. You’ll reach an obstacle when he wants to spend your next paycheck on a car, which you stand up to, but eventually relent when he presses a knife into you. Only then do you reach out and tell someone. They will be there for you, I promise.
You leave this relationship at 3:00am on a Saturday morning in November. Don’t worry, he won’t be drunk or angry, he will be fast asleep in bed. You call a taxi, and when it arrives, you jump inside with your body singing hallelujahs at you. As it bumps along the gravel roads towards the airport, you won’t be able to stop smiling. He won’t find out you’re gone until the morning, but by then you’ll be through airport security. Not that this will matter - he won’t believe you’ve actually left him.
So for what seems like an eternity, you will cease to exist as the person you knew yourself to be, but this darkness passes and you will get through the pain. When that second comes that you suddenly set your eyes upon the expanse of your life that is waiting for you, do not fear the questions. Do not fear the unknown. Do not fear the art of losing. There is life, and light, and fullness ahead of you.
Whatever it takes for your heart and soul to heal – whatever you need to do to begin your healing journey – do it. It will be extremely hard, but keep going, you’ll get there. You have the power to do amazing and beautiful things. Work on your voice; write it, sing it, walk it out amongst the morning birdsong, then write and sing some more. Hold tight to your notebooks full of observations and pressed flowers because these are the memories of your soul and spirit that you must grow from.
And after you have healed the darkest places in you, a man will come into your life offering you a love and kindness that is patient, unconditional, and so beautiful you’ll be afraid to take it all in. See this man as he is – a good man, cut from a different, beautiful golden cloth than the men who came before him. Please, let yourself deserve his love. Let yourself deserve your own love - because this is what love is. Beautiful, safe, and giving. Love should feel like a thousand rosebuds exploding in your heart, and you deserve that - a life that blooms like blossoms in spring.
My darling, love yourself because I love you – I love you so much because you gave me me.
I will be here for you always and I am there for you now,
Jessica is passionate about sharing her story after realizing exploring the different ways she could share hers had been a healing and transformational practice. She recently completed her Master's degree and is a life coach for women who are ready to empower themselves to find their own voice.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
Dear Teenage Me:
I know you’re young, but you’ve already figured out an important life lesson: relationships are complicated. In many ways, you’ve seen how relationships--including romantic relationships, friendships, relationships with family members, and any other kinds of relationships--can be the source of a lot of happiness, but also a lot of pain. You’ve been blessed with a lot of good, loving people in your life, but, just like everyone else, you’ve also experienced relationship problems that hurt you and others around you.
You’re a trusting person who tends to look for the best in other people. But at some points in your life, you’ll be tempted to give up your trusting nature. Don’t do it! Being able to trust others is an important part of having good, healthy relationships. But, at the same time, you’ll see that trusting others does open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. It’s no fun getting hurt by others who you once trusted, but at the same time, you’ll learn that you’re strong enough to overcome it. Don’t give anyone the power to make you stop being trusting and open to the world around you.
Being trusting of others doesn’t mean you just blindly trust others, though. You’ve got to stay smart about it. Choose carefully the kinds of people you allow into your life. One of the best pieces of advice you’ll ever hear about starting new relationships is to “take it slow.” And this is important advice, because taking your time to really get to know someone is important for making sure that they have the qualities needed to build a safe, healthy, fulfilling relationship. Unhealthy relationships often start out looking very similar to ultimately healthy relationships, with people putting their best foot forward and not necessarily revealing their true selves right away. So, it can take time to figure out who someone really is, especially if there are feelings of excitement about the relationship clouding your view.
While you’re choosing who to let into your life, above all else, choose kindness. Surround yourself with people who are kind at the core of who they are. It takes time to figure this out sometimes, but trust your gut. Your intuition is a powerful source of guidance when choosing what level to allow people into your life. Look at not only how people treat you, but also how they treat and talk about other people around them. If someone shows any signs that they’re not a fundamentally kind person, be cautious of them, and keep clear boundaries up. You don’t have to--and sometimes, you won’t be able to--completely keep unkind people out of your life, but you can protect yourself by keeping them at as much of a distance as you are able to create. On the other hand, when you find people who are kind, supportive, and really care about you and your wellbeing, keep those people close. They are a treasure and will be one of the biggest blessings you could ever imagine for your life.
Beyond seeking kindness in others, always choose kindness for yourself, too. You won’t be perfect at this--nobody is! Even still, try and commit to acting and speaking with kindness in all areas of your life. One day, you’ll hear a wise professor of yours tell you, “You never help someone by hurting them.” These will be great words to live by. When others fall short of kindness toward you, you can still choose the path of kindness. Even if you’re setting boundaries to limit how close you let others into your life, you still can bring a spirit of kindness to those boundaries. If you’re in a difficult situation, and you make the kind choice, I don’t think you’ll ever regret it!
There are so many things I wish I could go back in time to tell you! But since I can’t do that, I take peace in knowing that you’ll learn the lessons you need to learn as you go. If you stick with kindness as one of your guiding values in your life, you’ll grow old without many regrets and with a lot of great relationships in your life.
Sending love from across the years,
Dear Teenage Me,
It gets better…trust me! Life may seem intense and emotional and overwhelming, but it gets better.
By this point you have had to go through things that aren’t meant for anyone to go through, and yet you will survive. You will learn to let go of things that you cannot control, and you will realize that in order to really and fully be whole again, you must first learn to forgive not only the one person you thought was going to love you unconditionally and wholly, but also to forgive yourself. Through this, you will learn that forgiveness isn’t for the person that did you wrong, it is for you. And once you learn that, life will never be the same. You will go from an angry, sarcastic, and cynical teen to a happy, and still sarcastic, adult – but that’s okay, because that is what makes you you.
You will have many relationships, many of them will fail, and you will be told that something is wrong with you and that you are “damaged goods.” You will wonder if you deserved to be treated like you were treated. You will question yourself and wonder if you keep attracting partners who treat you poorly because of the fractured relationship that sent your whole teenage world spinning out of control in the first place and learn that it was never your fault. You were the victim, but now you are a survivor.
But you will learn to demand respect, honor, and integrity from a partner and, if that is not given to you, to be okay with being alone. For it is when you are alone you will learn that you are powerful, intelligent, and wise. You will understand that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” You will come in contact with partners who will shape the way you look at life. Most will be good, some you’d like to forget, and even after you have cried for them, listened to all your favorite Girl Power anthems, and watched your favorite rom-coms to get over your heartbreak, you will grow to appreciate all of the things they taught you whether it was a different genre of music, or teaching you how you should and should not be treated.
You will learn one of the greatest lessons that will continue to guide you through life. You will begin to understand that if you pour and pour and pour yourself into others, and never replenish, then there won’t be anything else left for yourself. This lesson will inform how you work, treat your friends and your future relationships. Of course you will still be the same girl who will stop her car to help a turtle cross the street, or make sure that her “human” friends have even when she doesn’t, but you will be guarded about who you share not only your life with, but your body with as well. You will think critically about who you open up to about your life. This will make you feel guarded – and some will even say jaded – but, for you, this is a survival technique and it will work for you.
And lastly, you won’t let your past define your future. You will take all that you have learned about love and life, you will go through life full steam ahead, and you will succeed. You will be okay with making mistakes because you know you will grow from them. You will come into your own and be proud of the woman you have become.
You are powerful, intelligent, and wise…and your Toni Braxton karaoke only improves with age.
Rachel Gibson is a Technology Safety Specialist at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. She has worked to end Violence Against Women for 4 years.
Dear Teenage Me,
Although at the moment this Georgia suburb town and all the people surrounding you make you feel excited for what else you are yet to experience, don’t be in such a hurry to move past it. Be mindful in that one day soon, your high school days will feel like a million distant memories, and you will yearn for that carefree, secure feeling back.
I am proud of you for making your teenage years the best ones yet by taking every opportunity for enjoyment and growth head on, while still staying true to yourself and knowing your limits. It’s so important to hold onto this mentality and truly enjoy this time period because one day, out of the blue, your way of thinking will be altered and anxiety will take over. I can’t explain why or how this will happen to you, but I can tell you that your high school years will be the time you look back on as the years of absolute freedom.
The feeling you have now of always knowing you have a handful of friends down the road and your family right at home to be with every day is something not to be taken for granted. You will soon move away and always desire for those close bonds and that security back in your life. But as you grow older, you will find your strength and although everything may feel vastly different than they do now, it will all turn out okay.
Looking back on you now, I am grateful for the way you chose to enjoy life and hold friendships so closely. I am grateful that you never fell off track or strayed from your ultimate goal of going to college and making something of yourself as some of the people around you did. I am grateful for the family you always had nearby because they will keep you grounded and remind you of where you came from so you never stop being true to yourself.
In all, life will get more difficult for you moving forward as anxiety will chose to plant itself in you, but just know that this will shape you into the person you are supposed to be. Always remember who you are, never take family or friendships for granted and know your limits during these carefree days and happiness will certainly ensue.
Kayla Rowe recently received a Bachelor’s degree in Communication with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. She is currently living in Greenville, North Carolina, and plans to attend graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in School Counseling with hopes to one day become a school guidance counselor for high school students.
Dear Teenage Me,
You’re growing up in South Carolina. And that means a lot of different things. A lot of things related to race, gender, and how backwards and difficult things still are here - especially for women and minorities. I want to tell you to be strong in your convictions and stand up for what you think is right.
Even if it feels like everyone else thinks something different, or even if you’re not sure what everyone else thinks. I want to tell you that travel, new experiences, and meeting people who are different from you are one of the best ways to grow, and learn, and stretch…and maybe even speak up when you see injustice or inequality.
I also want to tell you how proud I am that you decided to do these things – that you traveled to other parts of the U.S., met people who were different, and realized that the South was not the only way of life. That there are parts to hold onto and enjoy, but also parts to let go of and forget.
As a woman looking back on you as a teenager, I think I am mostly just thankful that you stayed safe. That you chose to surround yourself with friends who were fiercely loyal, that you knew the limits to fun, that you understood that you had to focus on school in order to get somewhere, that you found things to be passionate about, and that you respected your parents enough to listen to them.
Teenage me, I hope you live on in my daughter who has so many milestones before she has to think about life as a teenager. But when she gets there, I hope she will travel, seek new people and experiences, feel strong in her convictions, and most of all stay safe in a world that can be scary for teenage girls.
The video below was created for See the Triumph by Sedonia Scott for our Teen Dating Violence Month Series. Here's what Sedonia had to say about the video:
"My name is Sedonia Scott. I have recently graduated from East Carolina University (ECU) with a Bachelor’s of Science in University Studies with a Thematic Core in Digital Storytelling for Advocacy along with a Film Studies Minor. As I surveyed my passions, successes, and failures, I determined that I am most engaged when I create videos. I thoroughly enjoy documenting people and the environment that surrounds me. I love to capture the spirits, lives, challenges, and victories of populations through film and documentary. As a result, I chose to pursue this degree because I want to tell stories about lives as truthfully and effectively as possible. My passion for Domestic Violence advocacy arose when several of my close friends began to experience it in their relationships. As a result, I decided to use my talent and skills to support these friends in their struggles."