I know that you like to hear people praise you by saying “You are so strong”. You think it’s admirable, and you accept that title with dignity. You think it’s a good thing to be and you enjoy that people see you as ‘strong’. But what you don’t realize is that in this sense being strong is not a good thing; it’s not something to be proud of. Trust me, you don’t want to be wrongly branded by this misunderstood strength, be incorrectly defined by this situation, and mistakenly judged by these choices. You don’t want people to remember you like this. Wouldn’t you rather have people tell you “You are so happy”, “You are so positive”, “You are so beautiful”? Wouldn’t you rather remembered by positive things? Honest things? Wouldn’t you rather have people notice how wonderful your life is, how wonderful you are?
You think that you are a compassionate person, and that you know all about love. You think your choices are rooted in these values. I know you think that by acting with these intentions, you’re doing something good. I know you’re acting the only way you think you know how, but those intentions are made in ignorance. You think you need to take other people’s problems and make them your own – you think that’s what being compassionate is. You think that by prioritizing another’s entire wellbeing over your own is an expression of compassion. You didn’t happen to notice that this wasn’t mutual, that you’re wellbeing wasn’t reciprocally considered, that you weren’t being properly cared for. You think that this is the love of your life, the only person whom you will be passionately in love with, the only person that will ever passionately love you. You are a naïve girl with a skewed perception of love, letting your compassion and ignorance get you in trouble. You are blinded by lies, by successful manipulation, and by a false sense of being taken care of. I know you think you’re doing what’s best, but this isn’t love. You aren’t loving. You aren’t loved. None of this is love. Maybe you know better, but misperception is a vail too thick to see through, knit together with lessons not yet learned.
If this hasn’t already happened, it will: You’ll show up to school so hungover that you’re actually still drunk. You will yell. You will steal. You’ll get so unbelievably drunk that you will cry and scream and sob. You’ll be threatened and talked down to. You will learn how to be angry. Really angry. You will break things. You’ll learn to hate. You’ll end up with no money. You’ll lie. You’ll get fired. You won’t be able to recognize yourself. You’ll be embarrassed. You’ll feel foolish. You’ll be homesick. You’ll be scared. You’ll lose faith. Faith in God. Faith in your family. Faith in yourself. You will feel alone – really alone. You’ll have chairs thrown at you. You’ll be cheated on. You’ll be made to feel so small, so worthless. You will be told that you are loved – but that will be a lie. You will be told a lot of lies. You’ll believe a lot of lies.
You are being manipulated. By him. By the circumstances. Unknowingly by yourself. You are being pushed and pulled in a thousand different ways. You are trying to stay afloat, you are trying to find land, you are trying to find your direction. You are trying to do this all while the waves keep crashing down on you, the current keeps pushing you away, the undertow keeps pulling you under. You are losing your sense of direction, you are losing what fills your lungs, you are losing the life-savers that are trying to help you stay afloat, trying to help you find home.
The words “you wouldn’t leave me, even if you wanted to” will be spat at you as you are sitting naked with your arms wrapped around your knees in a cold bathtub: a moment sodden with vulnerability. Wet, faded red hair will hang over your shoulders, the color bleeding into the water: the color that isn’t your own, the life that isn’t your own, the “love” that isn’t your own. This will be your turning point. This is the moment that you will acknowledge how scary the situation that you are in really is, the moment that you will make the decision to take control, to stand up for yourself. This is the moment that you will finally hear the cries from the people who truly love you begging you to get out of this situation. This will be the moment that you will gain an understanding of what strong actually is – the kind of strong to be proud of. Rather than allowing your vulnerability to welcome him further in, this moment will teach you how to embrace your vulnerability and turn it into your strongest weapon. You will let this moment empower you. This is the moment that you will prove him wrong, and you will leave.
It’s okay that you have been trapped. It’s okay that you recognize what’s going on, but you escape it because you don’t know how to break this cycle. That’s how those things work, that’s what these cycles do. But you’re about to figure it out, don’t worry.
You haven’t needed to rush – you will live on your own. You will be independent. You will be in charge of your life. You will be in control of what you do, who you are, who you love. You will trust again. You will stop hurting. You will learn how to live a life full of love, all kinds of love, the right kinds of love.
And after all of this, you will come out okay. You will have some scars, sure. And some of them will be pretty deep, but you will heal. You will stop hating. You’ll ask for forgiveness, even if some of it is whispered. And you will forgive, even though those apologies are expressed in silence. You are a good person, I promise. And you’ll become an even better person. Don’t worry, you haven’t let this experience define you. It isn’t a part of who you are anymore. Maybe it has helped you get to become the person you are now, but you’ve become so much better than you could imagine right now. You aren’t angry anymore. You’re not embarrassed anymore. You don’t remember much of the bad – you’ve blocked it out somehow. You also don’t remember much of the good, but maybe that’s because there wasn’t ever really any. Every once in a while you’ll smell something familiar, hear a song that brings up those memories, walk on sidewalks you did when you were that other person. But, you won’t let that nostalgia get the best of you; you’ll learn it’s not worth it.
You’ll get through this. You’ll become the person that you want to be. You’ll learn a lot from this experience, and you’ll use that knowledge to get you through the next few years. You’ll live the life of love that you desire, you will learn how to do it right. Yes, you’ve gotten a little bit lost, but you will find home again. You’ll stop being so stubborn, and you won’t have to always learn things the hard way. You’ll find a passion that is healthy, an obsession that is as big as the whole world; that is the whole world. You’ll fall passionately in love with yourself.
I’ll be proud of you for getting out, for finding your direction, for finding home. I will be proud of you for healing (although it will take some time). I will be proud of you for moving forward. For realizing that you are worth so much more. For proving to your family that you are you, that you are smart, that you are good. I will be proud of you for proving to him that he didn’t have the power he thought, and for learning to see him as the coward he is. For learning what it really means to be strong. I will be proud of you for never letting anyone treat you like that again, and for encouraging others to escape similar situations. I will be proud of you for being brave. I will be proud of you for letting this experience teach you more than words can express. And most importantly, I will be proud that you are able to forgive yourself.
You’re writing this letter five years later as you are sitting naked in a bathtub. Nothing is bleeding, nothing is fading, you are entirely your own. This, again, is a moment of great vulnerability. But now, your vulnerability doesn’t allow for the opportunity for you to feel little, to be put down, to feel trapped and worthless. It never will. This vulnerability of yours is beautiful. It doesn’t scare you, in fact it has become a place of safety. Your vulnerability, rooted in love and compassion, becomes definitive of who you are; something you love so dearly about yourself, something others love dearly about you’re your vulnerability empowers you. Your vulnerability becomes what allows you to love, to heal, to forgive.
Your vulnerability becomes your ability to write this letter.