Can I Avoid Disaster?
It is too easy to get caught up in the process, sometimes, of what we do. We forget why we started in the first place. This letter, from Sarah, arrived for us one day, and we all wondered what we might have to say to someone who was so earnestly seeking advice.
Quite a bit, it turns out. Today, we will hear from Michelle, who wrapped her arms around it in the way that only she can.
Thanks, Sarah. For reminding us.
I’m Sarah. I’m 23. And I was wondering if you could help me answer a few questions.
Some background: I’m working on recovering from the frighteningly non-unique mess that is childhood sexual abuse followed by self harm. And I want to be beautiful, and strong, and kind. But stereotypically, early to mid 20 something’s are kind of the opposite of all of those things. I don’t want to suck, but I also don’t know how not to suck. (my apologies if that didn’t make any sense.) I have no idea what I am, so I read blogs like yours to learn how beautiful women are doing truth and love and life. Except, I keep noticing that a solid portion of the beautiful women bloggers out there all write about their 20’s as being kind of a disaster.
So here are my questions: Do you have any words of wisdom to share with a 23 year old? Can I avoid disaster or is that just part of being 20 something? Is it possible that no matter what I do now, I will look back on it in 10 years as kind of a disaster? Should I stop reading things written by people with more wisdom than me and go back to being a kid – the typical “you’ll understand when you’re older”? If you have any wisdom to spare, I’d love to hear it. Thank you for all you do with the blog. It’s a beautiful place.
Hi Sarah, I’m Michelle.
First of all, I feel compelled to say that I am in no way a mental health professional. Very often, I find myself echoing the words of my mother and say “For fuck’s sake, don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Only my mom didn’t say the ‘for fuck’s sake’ part.
With that being said, I have so much I want to say to you.
First, I’m so sorry that you’ve suffered. I wish you peace and healing and hope very much that you have a strong support network. I would also encourage you to join a support group or find a good counselor if that is an option for you.
I am so much not a fan of the ‘You’ll understand when you’re older’ mentality. I didn’t like it when I was younger and I don’t like it now. While it is true that I have decades more experience than you, my experience in no way diminishes the value or the importance of your experience. It has always felt to me that when “you’ll understand when you’re older” is spoken, that it is either a cop out because it’s difficult to be honest about some of life’s experiences, or it’s a petty way to withhold information that might be very useful to a person who has yet to experience life beyond their twenties.
We all suck sometimes. It makes no difference if a person is in their twenties or in their fifties. We all suck at times. Give yourself a break. You will make mistakes. You will choose an unwise road or two.
I think a lot of us who are long past those years look back and see the havoc we wreaked or people we hurt, especially ourselves, and it’s easy to see disaster. Broken hearts were insurmountable and just trying to figure out how to make peace with not being a kid any more was fucking hard. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that a lot of learning took place during those years, even though the learning was often painful and brutal. The learning process does seem to get easier as we get older.
One thing I am certain of, and I am certain about very little, is that being a young adult isn’t a disaster.
It’s goddamn glorious.
You sound afraid and I get that. To say that there isn’t anything scary in life would be insulting. It’s a horror show sometimes. I read your words and I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
We can’t change that life is hard.
Since we can’t change it, then my best advice to you is to do something you love every day. Even if you have a shit job and difficult relationships to deal with, take at least a few minutes to do something you love, no matter what that is. Paint something badly. Read a book. Write a book. Masturbate. What you do is your business, but don’t deny yourself.Try to not wallow in pain as often as you can. The pain will always be there, that’s how life works. But pain doesn’t have to dictate everything. Do something you love and don’t apologize for it. Don’t feel bad if what you really want to do is make macaroni art like you did in Kindergarten. Spray paint that shit up and hang it on your fridge.
Don’t be afraid of taking your dreams further, either. Nobody, or at least very few people, achieve success at anything without falling down. Sometimes those falls are spectacular. Don’t be afraid to try even though you know you will fall. Until someone can definitively prove to me otherwise, then I have to believe that we have this one life. Finding joy and fulfillment should be a goal. The goal can even be figuring out what turns you on.
You are beautiful right now. I don’t care about your shape or your hair or your personal hygiene habits. Right this minute you are gorgeous. Appreciate your physical self and try to cast aside the bullshit that we get shoved down our throats about what is beautiful or what it means to be feminine. You are gorgeous. Find your own beauty and try to recognize the beauty in others. You are young and strong now, wave your arms around and dance and scream and twirl. In my experience, I grew stronger emotionally as I aged and I treasure my strength, I wish though, that I had appreciated more the physical strength of my youth.
Can you avoid disaster? Little sister, I have no idea. Probably not. If it’s any consolation, I don’t know many people who get through life without at least three disasters and one apocalypse.
But disasters don’t negate when life is good. Take the lessons you can from your mistakes. Revel in life when you feel good. Let go of pain and try to not dwell on the times that you fall. Be kind as much as you can. Especially to yourself. If you are kind to yourself, it’s much easier to be kind to others.
The fact that you are asking these questions and have the bravery to talk about your painful past speaks volumes and I’m pretty sure it means that you are not giving yourself enough credit for the wisdom you already have.
One last thought, some things you read by people who are older and who seem to be disparaging of youth? Please take those words with a whole salt shaker of salt. Too many people find themselves older and instead of embracing the awesomeness that is aging, they mourn their youth and lash out. I’m not saying all of them. But never forget, that being old doesn’t ensure being wise. Believe in your own voice.