Heather writes to a time before she began to grapple with her childhood trauma, laying out a path to facing it.
Welcome back to Letters to Yesterday, a podcast of messages to the past. Here we read letters to our past selves, and give ourselves advice that someone else might need today. Today’s episode comes with some pretty serious content warnings for childhood trauma and assault. I’d like to thank Heather, our writer, for her honesty and bravery in sharing her story. It can’t have been easy and I feel very honored to read it.
Heather is a Mental Health Therapist who works with children in foster care. She lives in Florida, with her Fiancé and their fur children, while maintaining a long distance relationship with her lady-love.
You’re probably laying on the bed, in the room, your boyfriend said you could call yours. The room next to his kids’ room and across the hall from where he and his wife sleep. What even is your life? Don’t worry, nothing gets boring, we still ask that of ourselves today. Speaking of, today is just less than 2 years in, what you would consider, the future. I am writing you this letter as a warning, for a lack of a better word. In the coming weeks you are going to have frequent panic attacks…which of course, you will play off as nothing because, as you will learn in therapy, you believe mental illness is real and valid for everyone except yourself. When you hear your boyfriend’s kids’ screams of joy, their gut-wrenching sobs, and even when they’re quiet, alone in a room with their own father… all of these things send you into a deep, painful, spiraling panic, and you won’t yet know why. Don’t worry, your boyfriend isn’t the monster, but you will start having nightmares about someone who is. Nightmares, you’ve always had, but will start to mean so much more.
I know that you’ve wondered, what the fuck is wrong with you…I believe at this point you’ve even thought, nothing that terrible has ever even happened to you, so stop being so scared. I am so sorry, Heather. This just isn’t the truth. In about a month’s time, you are going to remember… things. Not precise minute by minute memories, but flashes. Flashes of things so terrible they literally make you vomit. These flashes will make you scream and sometimes you even catch yourself holding your fists closed so tightly, that your anxiety bitten fingernails are drawing blood in the palms of your hands. You are going to feel, completely, out of control. You are going to tell yourself you are making it up. You are going to look at yourself in disgust as you wonder why your brain would even put these images together. You are going to call your sisters. They are going to confirm everything. Which isn’t better. In fact it makes you hate yourself, for being unable to protect them. Try to remain calm when one of your baby sisters gets angry with you for not having to remember this thing for the last 25, or so, years. Keep your boundaries but be supportive when both of your sisters insist that “he’s changed.” And try, I mean really try, your hardest to control your rage when you realize they have had this knowledge all along, yet still allowed your nieces to be in his presence, alone. Remember to have empathy, they have felt broken and alone, for much, longer than you, which, when you realize that will make so much sense.
The more pieces of this puzzle come together, the more broken you will feel…to a point. Eventually your brokenness will merely be an ingredient in the potion, your brewing, called strength. That power, known as resilience, that you have always been able to tap into will make itself known, again. You will get through this. You will thrive. But before you do, there are a few tips that I would like to relay. 1) Be vulnerable. I know, I know, we ab-so-lutely fucking hate this. But, please believe me, you will learn that being vulnerable is true strength, and not the weakness you have convinced yourself it is. The quicker you embrace the ability to be vulnerable, the quicker you will start to heal. Hiding all of this inside your head helps no one and dramatically hurts you. 2) Build your support system. I know this sucks too. You’re a strong independent woman who doesn’t need anyone. As much as this hurts to hear, you will learn that this is not true. You are strong and you are independent but these are not necessarily the be all end all to your magic. Set boundaries. There is, believe it or not, a middle ground between the militant independence you practice now and the paralyzing pit of codependence you’ve fallen into, in your past. 3) Trust your damn self. This one is hard. Your whole life has consisted of abuse and people showing you, that you have no value. People making decisions for you or making you second guess yourself. People teaching you that muting yourself is safer than speaking out loud. You’ve always wanted to take responsibility for yourself and this is the time. You are no longer being abused. Do not let the people that you have worked so hard to remove from your life continue to have such a hold on you. Your life is yours, babe. Sometimes it just helps to hear that.
I imagine that you are reading this, becoming more and more pissed at me for not just coming out and saying the thing. This terrible thing that you will remember so very soon. We always yell at the people in movies who do this; communicate from the future and leave out, what seems to be, the most important part. I am hoping, that this letter conveys the message, that the overhanging cloud, the thing you will remember, is actually not the most important thing. I’m hoping you will use this letter to figure out what is the most important thing, and move along from there.
The last bit of wisdom that I’ll leave to you is that healing from trauma is a whole damn process for a reason. You are healing your mind, your soul, your neural pathways. This is A LOT. Take it in small steps and on bad days make those steps even smaller, and on worse days just promise me you’ll be kind to yourself. These things that you will learn, over the next 2 years, will be life altering. Every bit of you will be smashed to the ground in a million pieces, but those three things; being vulnerable, having support, and trusting your damn self, will help you conjure yourself into me. As much as I love you, I love me more and I’m really rooting for you, because one day you’ll be me…and man, you’ll just get it.
Catch you on the flip side.
Thank you to Les Hayden for the use of their song Ophelia. Thank you to everyone who has submitted letters. I’ve been incredibly touched by what you’ve shared with me. You’re all awesome. Thank you also to everyone who has shared our podcast and left us reviews! I really appreciate it.
If you’d like to write a letter, we’d love to read it. You can submit letters to Letters To Yes, that’s Y E S at gmail. The letter should be between 1000 and 2000 words and can be on any topic. What did you need to hear a year ago? Ten years ago? You can also join on us facebook and twitter at letterstoyes. Letters to Yesterday is Produced by Leslie J. Anderson. Stay safe out there.