I have spent many years of my life feeling angry about the way that I was raised. My primitive years were wasted trying to adhere to the beliefs of a religion that I did not support. My youth was spent fighting for the right to make my own choices. Now that I am an adult and have made up my mind, I struggle to let go of the past, something that keeps me from achieving goals and moving on with my life. I am 29 going on ten.
I was recently given an assignment by my therapist. Something that would put words to the feelings I can’t let go of. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self – the me that existed before the mental breakdowns, the failed relationships, the poor decisions, the wild rebellions, or the awkward conformity – the me that existed way back when I was just an innocent child. He asked that I get into the head of that child and remember what was happening and how I was feeling. Then he asked that I think about what she needed to hear.
Writing this letter was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. It took me two weeks and three boxes of tissues to complete.
I know you very well. I know all of your dreams and fears and secrets. I know that you feel confused about who you are and what you are doing. You are scared that people will find out that you are always pretending. You worry because you are so different from everybody around you – things are much easier for them so there must be something wrong with you.
The things you see and hear scare and confuse you, but when you ask questions, it makes people angry. People are always angry with you. Some days there is fighting all around you – because of you. At night you imagine that you could be somebody else, somewhere else. It fills you with guilt to love a family that you do not belong in.
You want to be a good girl and make your parents happy. They tell you to pray, to have faith and to believe. So you pray. You pray so often and so hard that it makes you want to scream. But the answers never come. The God they love must not want you.
With desperation you express your unhappiness, but they speak to you only as Christians, not parents. Talking is useless; they aren’t listening. You feel completely alone.
Your fear and confusion will turn to anger. Where you once saw the need to please, you will see hopelessness, so you will rebel. You will want to hurt others, but punishing someone else will not make your pain go away. Be kind to people, your grief is not their fault.
You don’t have to feel guilty for being different, even if you don’t meet the expectations of others. You haven’t done anything wrong. You are not crazy and there is nothing wrong with you.
You have the right to decide what to believe. Never stop asking questions or expressing yourself. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. Whatever you are feeling, it is valid. Don’t go silent. Hiding from your feelings will only stifle you. Trust your instincts – they are good – and use them to discover who you are and what will make you happy.
You deserve to be happy.
Writing that letter left me feeling completely exposed. I was surprised how easily I returned to the mind of the child I once was. The pain still felt very real, but I’m glad that I wrote it. I needed to hear those things just as much now as I would have back then.
For the record, I love my parents and they are good people, despite how that letter may have painted them.
My therapist said something that really struck me. He said his goal is that one day I will understand how my entire family was victimized by the institution of religion, and that I may feel as badly for them as I do for myself. Just because they still believe, doesn’t mean they didn’t suffer struggles of their own. One day soon, I will be able to love them completely, without any pain holding me back.