Dear 12-year-old looking in the mirror wondering how you went from being fairly decent looking to ugly overnight, you didn’t. You were just abused by someone you trusted, even though you haven’t quite grasped this yet. It’s not the reflection in the mirror that changed, it’s the eyes you see it with. This moment, this one right here, this is where it all begins.
Dear 16-year-old telling yourself that it’s just a science experiment, know that it’s not a science experiment if you haven’t even bothered setting the parameters. Put away that bottle of pills. Put away the blades. You may not see this yet, but what you think of as relief is just another form of pain.
Dear 24-year-old lying on the floor, feeling used and abused, be kind to yourself. You blame yourself now but soon you will discover that he was a psychopath. In time, you will meet his ex-fiancé, and in a few years, his ex-wife and they will both tell you their stories, give you his psychological evaluation, and prove to you that there is nothing you could have done differently that wouldn’t have left you shattered and broken on the floor. Many years later, you will provide testimony against him, play a tiny part in freeing a child from his clutches. The relief you feel then will make up for this pain that you feel now.
Dear 24-year-old staring with utter shock at the computer screen, yes, it is depression and not a personality flaw that you have suffered from all these years. It will get worse before it gets better, but it will get better. Knowledge is power. You now have power.
Dear 25-year-old standing at the edge of the mountain, don’t jump. Hang in there for just another week and you will make three friends, three white men who will take away the hatred you feel right now towards all of life. They will show you how to create art. How to unapologetically live your life on your own terms. How to have compassion for everyone, including yourself. You will briefly date one of them and he will restore your faith in love. Another will come to pick you up at the airport when you move to the US years later and sleep in his car as you get set up. He will restore your faith in friendship. The third will show you how to unapologetically say fuck you to the world, helping you restore your faith in yourself.
Dear 25-year-old, this year your worst nightmare will come true, not that you will admit this to yourself or anyone else. It will take you nine years before you’re able to write the word “rape” and a few additional months before you’re able to say it. But next year, some of your biggest dreams will come true, too. You will travel alone to Ghana for the first time. You will be published in TIME magazine. You will move to the US. You will meet your soulmate, the man you will marry, the man who will, nine years later, when you’re ready to start dealing with things, hold you by the shoulders and refuse to let you get sucked into the quicksand of despair. Don’t look too hard, but this year, with this man, you will start choosing life over death. You will have found a reason to live.
Dear 30-year-old lying on the stretcher in the hospital, terrified of dying from complications of childbirth, of dying when finally you want to live, you will live. Because now you have two reasons to choose life.
Dear 33-year-old, listen to him when he takes you in his arms and whispers into your ear, “Write it. Say whatever you need to say. Fuck what they think. Fuck them all. Tell it as it is. Let your writing be your recovery.”
Dear 34-year-old, press the Send button and show them that novel. Allow them to read it. You will never feel more vulnerable than when you are telling your story, never more judged.
Never more powerful either.