As I sit here today, with so many tragedies, so much life lost, so many days missed, so many experiences and regrets of how I have lived my life, I want to share some wisdom that I would live if I could go back.
I can’t, though. None of us can. But my hope in writing this letter to myself, and to you, the reader, is that we may find the hope and courage to live fully, to show up for life, to show up for each other, to show up and live.
I mean, isn’t that what life is about, really? Living. Somehow we’ve all gotten trapped in a nightmare, a nightmare that we’ll be happier when we have 6 pack abs, lash extensions, tummy tucks, boob jobs, bigger house, bigger car, bigger pay check.
And let me say that there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, achievement an growing and having things. But attaching happiness to those things, having happiness as an outcome of those things is dangerous because in a moment, it can all be gone.
And what are we left with? Us, ourselves, who we are, how well lived, how we showed up, what we believed…
Because as I sit here closer to 40 than 30, I’m profoundly realizing just how much of my life I’ve given up, traded, wasted, denied and I’m reflecting a little more on life so I can fully charge of my ship and point it in the direction in which I want life to go.
I wish I had known this, really known, listened to it when it was shared it with me instead of thinking those people are just wacked out and continuing on the path of self-destruction I seemed so intent on walking.
I don’t know why I hated myself so much, why I had this piece of deep self-loathing, why the never-ending story of not good enough, changing myself, calling myself names, starving myself, bingeing, purging, drinking, smoking and working myself into oblivion.
Oblivion I got, but it didn’t make anything better. It made everything worse. This nightmare we’re living as if it’s going to change the end, that we’ll be better somehow, not forgotten, not meaningless.
As I move forward, from the purge, the adjustment, the reclaiming that has been the last few years of my life, I realize I’m not really deciding to be someone different, I’m just deciding to be me. And so, as I embark on the next chapter, I hope my own words will ring true as I open my eyes each day to move forward with these lessons that I wished I had learned 20 years ago, but alas, perhaps that’s simply growing up, growing older and growing wiser… but if I could go back and give myself advice, it would be this…
Dear Younger Self,
Let down the walls that made you hard. Open the cage and let your heart lead. You will be judged anyway. So you might as well let yourself be soft, open, loving, caring and giving, the real you because they will judge you, they will hurt you, they will bring sticks to beat you, whether you’re soft or hard.
Let people in. Let people see you, get to know you. Don’t put cellophane between you and others. Don’t hold your heart back. For when it seems like it’s the way to protect yourself, it’s not. It’s the way to poison yourself.
Don’t buy into the nightmare. You can live your dreams and be happy. You can go after what you want. But don’t expect it to be easy. It won’t be. Your dreams will demand everything you’ve got in but you will be moving towards something you believe in. Walking away from you dreams will cost you far more than you can imagine. It will be hard either way. You might as well make it hard living authentically, living true, moving in the direction you want to be in.
Wear your scars with pride. For these are the things that could have killed you. In fact, they almost have many times. But they are your tiger strips, your battle scars. Proof of how strong and resilient you are. If someone looks at your scars and looks away, asking you to be ashamed, asking you to sit down, to be silent… stand taller, don’t dull your story, don’t water yourself down because someone can’t hand your hundred proof. Your story should cause people to wince, to want to look away. But in the face of suffering and pain, we should open, not close. We should come closer, not further away. We should learn, grow, heal and use it to create transformation in our world, not to shut it up and put it in a corner.
Sit in it. The feelings. They are the key to living fully, to becoming better, not bitter. They will pass. They always do. They grow, like the monster under the bed when we refuse to look at it, when they aren’t given air. Scream. Cry. Write. Purge. Let it pass through you. Unpack your experiences, your box, learn to feel so you can heal. Because on the other side of feelings is your power. Don’t stay there but go there. If not, it will turn toxic, creating stagnancy, exhaustion of the soul, low energy, illness, fatigue of the mind, body, toxicity, power loss, negativity, drama, trauma and it will make you bitter. So feel. They aren’t bad. You aren’t weak if you feel.
It wasn’t your fault. No, really. I know you KNOW that. But you don’t know it, you know? Not in your soul. You think you asked for it, you think you did something, you did you caused it, created it and that you’re bad, in the soul, in the heart. You think everything and everyone you touch turns bad. And you think everyone who loves you has something wrong with them. Because if they can love you when you can’t even stand the sight of yourself, what’s wrong with them? But it wasn’t. Your. Fault. Get that on an emotional, soulful level. Because your worth is in there. And without that you will spend too many days with people who don’t love you, too many hours with stories of doubt. And too many days not living the awesome life you have in front of you instead of reliving some version of a nasty past recreating over and over again. It’s not you. And no one can give that to you except to unpack it all, work through the emotions, walk through the dark to find your own sword. People can guide you. People can hold you. But it’s up to you if you pick up your sword by choosing to get help, by choosing to take the journey, by choosing to walk through the dark night of the soul to find the real you.
Don’t force things. Let it go. Don’t waste your life forcing people to love you and to stay. Don’t force yourself to love things and stay in places you don’t belong with people you don’t fit with. Walk alone. Crawl if you have to until you learn to fly. Forcing things only make your scars look deeper, redder, nastier. The right people will be salve to your scars, to your weary soul and you won’t have to force it. It will be like the place of home you always envisioned things would be if you changed yourself enough to fit, but it’s not the truth. When you stop fitting, stop changing, that’s when you find it.
Open. Open. Open. With each thing that breaks you. Feel your knees hit the floor. Let your kneecaps crash to the floor, splitting your heart and your soul open. Let yourself open when you want to close, let yourself feel when you want to shut down, let yourself let go when you want to hold on, let yourself hold on when you want to let go. Just open. And open. And open. Until there is nothing left to you but a heart and a soul that can feel this earth and the beautiful and heartbreaking experience that life is. You think it will break you but it will only break you open to the full experience of life.
Be kind. God, even when they don’t deserve it. Especially when they don’t deserve it. Detach from what they say, what they believe. It’s not about you. It never was. And kindness, with boundaries, can change someone’s day, maybe even their life when you realize they’re just coping, sometimes ugly and unhealthy, but still coping. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle of which you know nothing about, just like they have no idea what you’re fighting.
Set boundaries. Like hard core boundaries. Learn what boundaries are and enforce them. And listen to Jeanette. You’re too nice in places and to people that you shouldn’t be. You can’t see what it looks like because of your trauma but you can learn. And people like her can teach you. Don’t make her wrong. Don’t make her be polite. She knows. Listen, pay attention to people who know, learn, ask questions. But set boundaries. That’s the key to not being walked on, taken advantage of and eventually leaving you bitter, not better.
Learn to speak in a way that you’re heard. It’s not all your way, you’re not the only who knows or has good ideas. Don’t be so judgmental and harsh to others. Don’t use your words to hurt and cut and slice people. Disdain and righteousness shows and it will lead to everywhere painful. Use your voice to ask for what you want and need. Use your voice to ask forgiveness, to apologize. Use your voice to ask, learn, grow. Use your voice for inspiration, goodness, love and joy. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes, but speak it in a way that’s respectful, powerful, knowing and brave. Use your voice with courage. There is a way to speak the truth respectfully.
Let it go. Like, let it the fuck go. Stop giving people, stories, beliefs, limits your precious life. You don’t have to find something wrong with someone to walk away and let them go. They’re not for you. Don’t hold on. Don’t tell the story a million times. Don’t relive it. Don’t give it your bandwidth, your budget, your life. It’s all too precious to give up to stories that don’t matter to people who don’t get you. Walk. And let it go. Cut the cords. Release the story. Marry the truth. Let them be where they are. And you be where you are.
Don’t give up on people so easily. When you heal your trauma and triggers you’ll realize they’re operating from theirs. You will want to run. You will want to hide, to hurt them back. Don’t. Instead lean in, to their pain, to their suffering and ask to help, sit with it, up close, it’s not about you. Never underestimate the power of a seed, a kind word. Giving of yourself is different than giving UP yourself. Don’t do that. Be with people, where they are, but know the difference with those you need walk away from and those you need to sit longer with. Abuse is different than just people hurting. Know the difference.
Know your limits and your scope. If you get in the water with someone drowning they will drown you too. Send help. Throw out the liferafts. Sit on the shore and talk to them. But it’s not your job or responsibility to get in the water with them. You can guide and lead but you cannot make people do the work. Don’t force it on them and realize they are responsible for their journey as you are for yours.
There is so much more I could say, so many tidbits I could share from a life not well lived that turns and is still turning into, a life well lived. I wasted time. I held onto things. I built walls instead of bridges.
But those days are over.
Maybe I’ll keep writing these tidbits, younger self, not for you as much as for me, for reminders, to live fully, to take these lessons into each day and live them fully with love in the heart, wildness in the soul, and compassion and empathy and giving as the basis for a well lived and success life, not the things we amass or the bank account we build, but the people we hold, influence and impact in a world that is selling us the wrong dream, be someone who helps people get back to living, authentically, openly with love and joy.
One more thing, younger self, celebrate. All the time. Every day is a gift denied many. Celebrate health. Celebrate animals. Celebrate love and joy and resilency. Celebrate overcoming the pain. Celebrate each other. Celebrate accomplishments and acheivements and enjoy life, all it has to offer but don’t let it down you.
And lastly, play more. Have fun. In the end, that will determine how well we lived, is if we had fun while pushing the boulder up the hill, while running from it when it rolls back down, during the failures and the hardships… can we find some joy in just knowing we’re sharing this journey of life with 6 billion other people and all we’re doing is walking home. Sprinkle fun where you can.
The older you.