A Letter to My Younger Self
I want to start off by saying that you are beautifully made. You are God’s creation. I’m not talking about the God you currently know as fire and brimstone. I’m talking about the God that you will come to know as love. That God loves you, accepts you, and has a plan for you. Right now you are wide eyed, longing to grow up, and without a real care in the world. Please enjoy this sweet and innocent time. Enjoy being a kid while you can. Before you know it life will get messy and complicated, but I want you to remember when the going gets tough, you are exactly where you need to be.
There is no easy way to say this, growing up is rough. Between changing hormones and teenage angst, a flood gate of new emotions will soon be unleashed. You will experience all of these strange new feelings and won’t quite know what to make of them. It’s like you go to bed a little girl and wake up an almost woman. Unfortunately there is no manual on how to deal with all of these changes. You will also swear your parents are conspiring against you and living to ruin your life. These feelings are completely normal and a part of growing up. There will be days you are going to feel an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment. Other days you are going to feel completely out of place, just aching to fit in. As soon as you think you have it all together, you’ll quickly realize that you don’t. In fact, the idea of “having it all together” is a complete lie. You will learn that you can either spend your days reaching for unattainable perfection or you can spend your days being just who you are and happy. Puberty is brutal but hang in there, you are exactly where you need to be right now.
Now let’s talk high school. Think of high school as 4 years of self-exploration. You will spend these years preparing for college. This is when you will start taking classes that challenge you, work after school jobs, cultivate friendships that will last a lifetime, find clubs and activities that interest you, and perhaps most importantly, test the waters.
You will definitely go through a semi-rebellious teenage phase but don’t worry, it’s a normal part of coming of age. While you will look back at these youthful days with a smile, a part of you will also cringe. I believe that’s the case for most of us. It will take both time and experience to realize that your body is a temple; you don’t need to flaunt it or disrespect it in order to love it. Validation feels like everything right now. You will come to love yourself soon enough. Don’t get stuck on this too much though. Instead, roll those windows down in your silver PT Cruiser and blast your music as you drive around town attempting to find yourself. While the teenage angst and drama will at times feel too much to bare, try to enjoy this reckless yet simple time, it is building character. Remember, you are exactly where you need to be right now.
Right before you enter college you will meet the man you will marry. This man will be by your side through thick and thin, through sickness and in health. You guys will have an amazing time in college together. He will encourage you to join a sorority which will leave you with sisterly bonds that will last a lifetime.
During college you will meet incredible people who will teach you things you never knew you needed to know. These four years will be transformative and will prepare you for the the real world. And while there will be so much fun to be had, you will also experience a darkness that will forever change the course of your life. Up until now you have always been overly trusting. No one has really done you wrong but that will all change in the early spring of 2011. You will quickly learn that you cannot trust everyone. Always go with your gut. What will happen to you unfortunately happens to many young women. It happens to plenty of men too. You will be violated in the worst possible way by someone you know at BGSU. You will be stone cold sober during this and wish you were intoxicated but the truth is no amount of alcohol or drugs could numb this kind of pain. You will try to fight but ultimately surrender, closing your eyes and praying you will soon wake up from this awful nightmare. Unfortunately this is not a dream and the reality of this situation will change life as you know it. This may be hard to believe, but this isn’t rock bottom.
Just hang on tight, you are exactly where you need to be right now.
The next few years will be fuzzy. You will graduate college, get married, have two babies, get baptized into the Catholic Church, attempt to run a marathon, develop a binging disorder, join just about every organization and club you can find, and go to great lengths to hide your depression.
It’s all a coping mechanism, a distraction. During this period of your life you are going to make mistakes. You are going to do things out of character. You are going to hurt people and there will be plenty of people who will hurt you. No matter how hard you try to put the pieces of yourself back together from the college sexual assault, you just can’t. It doesn’t matter how many therapists you see, how many people question your odd behavior, how deep you sink into a hole of depression, or how many Sundays you visit church. You are as sick as your secrets.
But remember to be patient because this will all be put into perspective soon enough. While it is going to get worse before it gets better, I can promise you, I will fight for you. Not only will I fight for you but soon enough you will have a whole army fighting with and for you. Trust me, you are exactly where you need to be right now.
Did you know you will search endlessly for God and end up finding Him in the most unexpected place? It won’t be inside a church or inside of prayer. It will be at your weakest moment when all you can do is look up and surrender. When you finally slam into the rock at 100 mph and think the game is over, God and His grace will be there to lift you up.
Your husband will be there to lift you up. Your family and friends will be there to lift you up. Suddenly your whole perspective will begin to change. You will realize that worrying is a waste of time and doesn’t change anything. You will realize that suicide is selfish and the easy way out. You will learn that change takes grit. True change happens only when WE are ready and willing to put the work in, when we accept that while we cannot control everything that happens to us, we can control our reaction. Ultimately change is downright uncomfortable and you have to be willing to sit in the discomfort. Through countless therapy and psychiatric appointments, through hard work, through your support system, you will begin to change; this is when the real magic happens. You are exactly where you need to be right now.
Girl, you are going to learn so much on this journey.
You will learn your mother was right all along, neediness is not attractive. While you were born a people pleaser, you will learn that not everyone will like you and that’s okay; they are not your people. You will find your tribe one day. My best advice with people pleasing - don’t be afraid of losing people, especially toxic people. Be more afraid of losing yourself trying to please everyone around you because that is exactly what will happen, especially if you spend all of your time and energy trying to gain acceptance. The people who love and respect you won’t require you to be anyone other than yourself. You will learn that you are enough just the way you are.
You will learn that everyone who comes into your life will have a reason and purpose. Everyone is a teacher. Some people will teach you how to be a better and kinder person while others will teach you how not to treat others. And while some people will stay in your life for the long haul, others will come and go. One day you will lose a 25 year friendship that will shake you to your core and shred your heart into a million pieces. But rest assured; you fought hard for that relationship and gave it your all, but it was time to let go. Know that while you may never see or hear from this person again, you don’t have to burn their memories and live with resentment. Keep in mind we don’t always hear the full story or see the whole picture. You will learn that people do change, people do grow apart. Take notice of the special people who remain present in your life; you will notice their abundant love, kindness, and support. You will have an amazing village.
You will learn that’s it’s okay to be emotional. You will learn that paying attention to your feelings as well as the feelings of others doesn’t make you weak. In fact, empathy will be your superpower. But keep in mind that it can also be your kryptonite. You must create boundaries and be firm in those boundaries. You must remember that you cannot change everyone nor control the outcomes of others’ lives. Know what is yours to fix. People, even those you love dearly, will not change simply because you want them to. Don’t forget there was a time when your loved ones were begging you to seek help but it wasn’t until you were ready to change that growth happened. Be a friend, be a helper, but know when to take a step back. Not every battle belongs to you.
So you may be wondering by now what will you be like when you do grow up, what will you become? In many ways I’m still figuring this out but here is what I know for sure:
You will become good wife. You will have an imperfectly perfect marriage built on a rock solid foundation. Sure you don’t share the same interests and your personalities are polar opposites. Sure there will be rough patches and disagreements. But you share the same core values. You respect and trust each other. I can assure you there will never be a dull moment in your marriage. Your husband will become your very best friend and the love you two share will be unmeasurable! Sigh, even after years of marriage he will still give you the butterflies.
You will become a great stay-at-home mom. No, you won’t be one of those perfect Pinterest PTA moms (picture yourself more as an Amazon Prime mom), but none of that matters because you will have an amazing relationship with them nonetheless. They will teach you just as much as you teach them. They won’t always like you but I promise they will always love and respect you. The bond you three will share is unbreakable.
You will become a much better friend. You will come to realize it’s quality over quantity. For so long you were incapable of truly being a good friend because you were buried knee deep in depression. Sure you always meant well and tried but we all know how the saying goes, you can’t truly love another until you love yourself. Once you get into your 30s I want you to really look around at the amazing friendships that you have cultivated. They are real and raw. Be sure to thank the friends who have been there through it all, who never left your side or stopped believing in you. Those are YOUR people. Love them hard.
You will become a women’s mental health and wellness blogger. You will share your story and spread hope. You will also become a better listener through this blog. You will hear so many women’s stories and will create a community of healing.
Oddly enough you will also become a gymnastics instructor too. I know what you may be thinking but it’s true. Remember how I mentioned earlier that everyone who comes into your life will serve a purpose? You will meet an incredible mom friend right when you need her most. She will give you much needed confidence. And just like many of your good girlfriends, she will be crucial to your healing. She sees talents in you that you don’t necessarily see. While this new gig will be scary territory, it will be rewarding and fun. You will get to help instill confidence in little ones and connect with new moms as well. You will also learn at age 33 how to do a summersault.
You will become a strong and resilient woman. You will know exactly who you are and what you stand for. You will own your mental health, all of it: depression, anxiety, OCD. You will learn from your mistakes and will eventually love your scars because they tell an incredible story. You will learn to get up when you stumble. You will learn to actually dive into pain, not run away from it. You will learn to love your flaws and take your many imperfections in stride. You will become so many things. You will constantly be evolving and challenging yourself to try new things. When you are open-minded and really know yourself inside and out, you are capable of great things.
Please note how I say you will become. My reason for this is because I don’t think we are born knowing all the answers. You will learn how to be a wife, mom, and friend. You will learn how to be a strong and resilient woman. You will learn how to be a blogger and gymnastics instructor. As long as you are living you will be learning and growing.
I have often been told your 30s is when life gets good. You will find this to be true. Something magical happens during these years. Maybe it’s life experience, maybe it’s wisdom, or perhaps maybe it’s just getting to a place where you just don’t give a crap about what others think. At any rate, I have found that it’s much easier to give yourself permission to FULLY accept and love yourself. You stop looking for answers in all the wrong places. Instead you find yourself actually asking the hard questions and being okay with those answers.
Oh Caitlin, your life has really only just begun. I promise you that I will be there for you. I will not forsake you. You are going to be okay, more than okay. On this journey you will experience many emotions. You will laugh and you will cry. You will feel happiness, you will feel utter despair. You will be proud some days and other days feel the sting of disappointment and failure. You will find yourself at the peak of a mountain one day and at the very bottom of a canyon another day but remember, rock bottom will teach you lessons mountain tops never will. So be brave, be strong, and when life gets hard, please close your eyes and know, you are exactly where you need to be.