When my therapist asked me last week to write a letter to my younger self, you would have thought she had just asked me to write a dissertation on behavioral neuroscience. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Actually, at that moment, I probably would have rather written that dissertation. Or stuck my head down the toilet. Or both. I didn’t want to write about feelings. I didn’t want to acknowledge any reasons for having any feelings. Blah.
But I knew I couldn’t get away with not writing it. My therapist and I have worked out an agreement so I could stay out of the hospital, and it requires that I participate fully in therapy. I waited until the night before our next session to write it, not expecting that it would turn into the letter that it did.
While I was writing it, I did get emotional. But it was a different kind of emotional. I felt genuine empathy for the child who experienced this pain. I felt the anger she felt. I felt sad for her. But there was a huge disconnect between me and this child. In my brain, we were two different people. I wasn’t yet connecting that we were one in the same.
My therapist asked if I would be comfortable sharing the letter with her in our session on Monday. At first, I was afraid. I didn’t think I did it right. I asked her if she was going to be mad if it was wrong. She explained that there wasn’t really a wrong way to do it, so I said it was okay. She asked if there was anything I needed first. Needs. What are those? For the first time, I did ask for something. I asked if she could sit next to me instead of across from me in her usual spot. It would make me feel less alone. And she obliged.
I started to read the letter. It had been the first time I read it all at once, and the first time I spoke it out loud. As I was reading it, I started to realize that this wasn’t another person. The words on this paper, these words I wrote to this little girl, those words were written for me.
I was the confused little girl who didn’t understand why mommy and daddy kept hurting her.
I was the little girl afraid of her own parents, with nowhere to hide because mommy blocked all the closets and underneath the beds.
I was the scared girl who thought everyone was just meant to hurt her.
I was the empty little girl who believed the only thing inside of her was evil.
I was the little girl who felt so alone, even when she was surrounded by people.
I was the little girl who felt invisible, who tried so desperately to get someone to help her, but no one listened, no one cared.
I was the little girl who tried to kill herself at six years old because she had lost any sense of hope of a life without pain.
I started to read the paragraph about feeling hurt. I felt the heaviness in my heart. As I read the words “I wish there was a Band-aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away”, I broke down entirely. It was like I found out someone I loved just died. I cried so hard I was blinded by my own tears. I needed comfort. I reached out to my therapist and she allowed me to hug her. She held me as I cried (and covered her in tears, drool and nasal discharge), until I calmed down enough that I could see again.
I took a few more minutes fighting through tears, trying to catch my breath so I could finish the letter. After a few failed attempts, I picked up where I left off, and finished reading. I even managed to laugh at the part where I wrote that “something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo.” Something was surely wrong with them to say the least, but I know that they shouldn’t need a memo to remind them that they were supposed to love their children.
My therapist encouraged me to keep reading the letter. She said that younger part of me needs to hear all of those things, and that I need to hear it as well.
And as I kept reading the letter, the more I realize that everything she went through was real. The more I realize that everything that happened wasn’t fair. The more I realize that something could have been done to stop the damage.
The more I read, the more I realize I am that little girl, and that little girl is me.
I’ve been such an emotional mess these past few days because of this. I saw it as a bad thing, but my therapist did not. For the first time, I am letting myself feel. After a year in therapy, I am finally feeling sad about my abuse. Apparently, that’s progress.