In March of 2016, I was tasked with an exercise by my therapist to write a letter to the younger me. It didn't have to be age specific, just younger than I was in that moment. What a task!
Today, I found this letter on my computer. Something in me told me to look for it. I was curious to see what I'd written to myself two years ago (almost to the day!), when I was at what felt like rock bottom.
Reading it today through the lens of 2018 me, I feel sad knowing that that's where I was, but so proud knowing that where I am now could not have been possible without all of those years of pain.
I wanted to share the letter with you because I think it might be helpful if you're equally struggling. It's important to know that we are not alone and that I'm here to listen if you need a friend.
This letter also made me realize the value of being honest with yourself. There was no sugar coating my feelings here. When I read this, I see myself. I hope you see me too.
March 22nd, 2016
Seeing a therapist feels shameful at the beginning. You always think about what got you there and if you could have avoided it. It’s uncomfortable opening up to a stranger you’re paying to listen to your every thought. Then you’re expected to share the darkest parts of your life and complete exercises that you feel are silly and not essential to the healing process. One of the exercises she had me do was to write a letter to my younger self. What would I tell her? There were too many things. I wasn’t sure where I should start. I’d always loved writing, ever since I was a little girl. I felt like my voice was heard when my pen hit paper. There was no judgement, no ridicule or bullying. Just trust between this book and my mind. It was sturdy and trustworthy, but I only turned to writing when I felt no one was listening and that became dangerous. The pain that poured forth from the tender age of 8 is uncomfortable to reflect upon. I felt so strongly about so many things and I felt like when I spoke, my words fell on deaf ears. And so, I wrote everything down. I wrote down my secrets and experiences I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone. I felt proud of myself for ceasing complaints about what others believed to be trivial things. I felt as though I was finally gaining control of my life, honing my emotions through this creative outlet. It felt safer than painting at the time because my parents couldn’t see it. I wouldn’t let them see me for everything that stirred around inside my mind because I felt ashamed and scared. Scared they wouldn’t understand, scared they’d shut me down, scared they’d tell me I was wrong. I was a teenager and going through a “phase” so they didn’t seem to take notice of the deeper issues, and, how could they? I made damn sure they wouldn’t be able to, locking away everything in the pages of my notebooks. Sometimes I wish they would have disrespected my privacy a little, to really see what was going on. To see how terribly sad I was, how angry and alone I felt, and how badly I wanted them to be proud of me, for something other than athletics. I feel like so many things happened and nobody knew. My sister knew, but just barely. How was I so depressed, so anxious and stressed, from a young child to my mid-twenties, and no one did anything about it? So, I’m faced with this task of writing a letter as an adult and I don’t know if there is any one place to start, any event or age, I almost feel like it had to be vague because so much of it applies to most of my life, some even still applies today. How do you talk about bullying, insecurity, self-loathing, and self-harming? How do you talk about anorexia, mental abuse, overdoses and sexual assault? How can I put this in a letter that doesn’t sound pitiful, that doesn’t sound like I’m looking for sympathy? All I ever really seemed to want was an ear that would listen and a heart that would love, and yet I was stuck in this cycle of pain that I couldn’t escape from. How could I get out when I wasn’t even sure how I got in? Writing this now, I feel like my words seek attention but it’s the opposite of their intent. What do I want? I want to be free from my demons and I want to help others be free of theirs. I often wonder what I’d be like today if people had listened to me more deeply as a teenager and young adult, if my words weren’t shoved to the side so quickly. Would I have treated myself with greater respect? Would I have loved myself more and rely less on the approval of others? Would I have been strong enough to fight off unruly hands and unwarranted attention? Would I have consumed half a bottle of laxatives in one sitting? Would I have eaten more food so I wouldn’t collapse in class and get rolled out on a stretcher to the hospital? Would I have left the house more often to avoid being paralyzed by anxiety? Could I have avoided this personal embarrassment, this unnecessary attention of my withering self? I’m not sure. There is no way to really know.
Here it goes...
Dear young Alexandra,
I don’t know exactly what age you are and I don’t think it matters because since I can remember you have felt inadequate to everyone around you, like you would never be able to amount to anything, like your thoughts and opinions were worth less than gum stuck underneath your desk. I wish you could see into the future and know that everything is temporary. That what’s on the inside outweighs the outside and that you’re going to grow into the beautiful woman you never thought you’d be. What you’re feeling right now will fade eventually. I know that sounds crazy because you’re so wrapped up in the present you can barely think past tomorrow, just know it’s true. I wish you would defend yourself better and not let the harsh words of others determine your self-worth. You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not worth loving, even though you don’t feel it now. I wish you loved your unruly hair, your braces, your rough skin, and your “fat” legs and developed female body. All of these things just make you, well, you. I wish you didn’t compare yourself to others. I wish you’d accept your unique qualities. I wish you could see yourself the way your loved ones did. I wish you didn’t see your reflection as repulsive and volatile. I wish you’d stick out the school day instead of disappearing and taking the easy way out. I wish you didn’t see failure as the end of the world. Know that failure is a stepping stone to learning. You will always be learning. I wish you knew how smart you were and that you’d spend more time worrying about school and less time worrying about some silly crush. I wish you knew how to express your feeling in a more productive way and didn’t just keep them to yourself because you were scared to be mean or hurt someone’s feelings. Honesty sucks sometimes but your lies will always catch up to you. I wish you didn’t let others actions dictate how you felt about yourself. Know that your parents are trying their best. You’re their first kid, the guinea pig. Take all of their criticisms less personally and you’ll be better off. They have your best interest at heart, they just struggle to show it sometimes. I wish that all of these harsh words and bullying wouldn’t weaken your character and the self-respect you carry with you. Please. Don’t seek unnecessary attention. You’re beautiful. Embrace that. I just wish you could be happier and know that people are proud of you even if they don’t say it. I know you till don’t feel worth being proud of or loved and that nothing good should come to you because for some twisted reason you think all of those good things belong to someone else. I just wish that you loved yourself the way you want your own daughter to love herself. You’re everything you never believed you were, you just couldn’t see it.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a quote that resonated deeply with me:
"Fear is to begin with the end in mind. There is no end."
There was more written after but I kind of liked the idea of stopping the thought here. I like the open-ended nature of it and how relatable this idea is. Fear holds us back to the point where we are too afraid to start. How is it possible to even fear what we don’t even know to be true? None of us are capable of seeing where these intricate roads take us, so why not approach our fears knowing this? There is no end! Stop worrying about what is ahead of you, rather focus on what is right in front of you. Centre your energy on the journey, not what will come once the adventure comes to a close.
I especially like this quote in relation to the process of creating art.
"Fear is to begin with the end in mind.” I always envision my end to be failure or unnecessary worry about what is next.
“There is no end." If I don’t think about failing or things beyond the present, then there is no reason not to start. There is no end, meaning, failure is not waiting for me.
Or, there is no end, art is a never-ending process that is impossible to complete.
A common question I get after “How long does it take you to finish a painting?” (no idea!) is “When do you know, or how do you know, when the painting is done?”
I usually respond in a trite manner: I just know.
But truthfully, I don’t really know. Can a painting ever really be done? Is there a true definitive end to the process of creating one singular piece? I’d like to think that when I’m done painting everything fades to black and the credits begin to roll signaling THE END, but unfortunately my life is not a movie, as much as it pains me to admit that!
If I approached my work with this fear that no one would like what I produced or no one would buy it so why bother starting, then I’ve already sabotaged myself. Fear once held me back. Fear of judgement, fear that I wasn’t good enough, fear that if I do paint something that people like, then what? Sometimes it is more than just a fear of starting, it is a fear of what happens when you start to prosper?
Can we give ourselves the permission we need to cast fear aside, move forward without thinking about failing, or worse, worrying about what to do if somehow you trick people into liking your product?
My hope is that for today I will not worry about tomorrow, or April 5th (first solo-exhibition show!) or where I’ll be teaching come September (English and Art teacher for hire!).
Today, I have no fear. There is no end, only the beginning.
To the incredible women in my life
I’m thankful for my great-grandmother, moving from Estonia to Canada with my grandpa in hopes of a better life. We are a product of that choice. Thank you.
I’m thankful for my Serbian grandmother, a woman I never got to meet, but a woman who raised my father in a home full endless of love, a home where he knew the power and influence of a formidable woman.
I’m thankful for my Finnish grandmother, who is herself through and through, a strong and passionate woman who pretends to be nothing else. She can do more push-ups than I can, and I'm not even mad about it.
I’m thankful for my mother who has shown me the power of art, patience, and compassion. Thanks for not smothering me with a pillow when I was an unruly teenager.
I’m thankful for my sister who has shown me the power of authenticity, honesty, and perseverance. You are everything.
I'm thankful for my aunts who exhibit a relentless work ethic and dedication to supporting and loving their family. Your kids are so lucky to have you. I'm lucky to have you.
I’m thankful for my girlfriends who have shown me the value unconditional support and are a source of constant inspiration. You inspire me every single day.
I’m thankful for all of the women out there who I don’t know personally who are making waves and being themselves without shame. You all make me so proud to be a woman.
Finally, a thank you the men who believe in equality. The men who support change. The men who are listening.