Letter to a 20 year old

Today was pretty stressful, and I turned for solace, as I often do, to Christian radio. Not the hell-fire and brimstone, uber-conservative stations, but the ones who play positive, encouraging and often convicting contemporary music.

Today, the radio announcer was talking about an exercise for us adults who have some life experience under our belts. It was a challenge to write a letter to ourselves at age 20 and advise our younger selves based on what we have learned.

This really lit a fire in my imagination. 20 was not an easy year for me. I was a victim of assault that year. I spent a lot of time living in a nightmare after that.

Because of family dysfunction, I couldn’t talk about what happened to me without either being misunderstood or being scolded to ‘get over it.’ I nearly flunked out of college. But I learned a lot of things….I really did.

I think of that girl now. Young, healthy, prettier than I thought I was. Not skinny–a perfect dress size seven–but definitely not as obese as I thought I was. And definitely not ugly. Assault makes you feel ugly. Somehow responsible. Dirtied.

After the bruises and other wounds healed, the emotional wounds lingered. It would take years to feel comfortable in a man’s arms again. Years past that to really trust anyone, and even then, I tended to trust the wrong kind of men and reject the ones who would have been safe choices.

What might I say to her, that battered girl living in a nightmare she didn’t deserve? And beyond just that, what would I say about the other parts of her life? Here are my thoughts:

1. You were not to blame for what happened to you. Repeat after me (until you believe it). You. Were. Not. To. Blame.
2. Even if you had five eyes and your nose was planted in the middle of your forehead, you are beautiful, because God loves you–and thinks you are. And His/Her opinion is ENOUGH.
3. Men who see you as ‘damaged goods’ because of this experience are worthless. Walk away from them and don’t look back. Walk away with your head up high.
4. Don’t think that crawling into a bottle will make the pain go away. Waking up with a few hangovers, and no friends around after the drinks are gone–that will teach you a few big lessons about true friendship.
5. Eating too much may feel comforting, but that won’t help either.
6. Those credit cards you just got in the mail. Cut them in half. Wait til you understand that all that fun comes due in a statement at the end of the month.
7. Your car won’t like you if you don’t check and change the oil often.
8. Lack of practical adult skills can be overcome. You seek knowledge as each new thing comes up, and add it to your inventory. Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are hopeless because you weren’t taught the adult life skills they were taught by parents/others and take for granted.
9. It is okay that you didn’t know how to turn on a vacuum cleaner at age 20. It is not okay that you laughed it off when others treated like you were an idiot because you didn’t know. What that taught you was to laugh when others took hurtful pot-shots at you, and not to let them know this was inappropriate and not acceptable.
10. It is not okay for your boyfriend to cheat on you, insult, humiliate, or intimidate you.
11. It is not okay for your boyfriend to cheat on you, insult, humiliate, or intimidate you.
12. It just isn’t.
13. There is nothing noble about putting up with 10 or 11.
14. No matter how good it looked, it probably wasn’t a good fashion choice to make a mini-dress out of a man’s size 18 Oxford shirt and wear it while shopping in the former home of the Confederacy. Even with a cool belt at the waist. Just a bit too edgy for 1984…and maybe…even for 2014.
15. Your dogs love you. They love running with you. And your coach was correct. You really do run like a thoroughbred. In days to come you won’t be able to do that as readily or as well, or even want to. Enjoy the rush and the youth and strength that makes you run stadium steps for fun.
16. When the guy who needed “time to think” over the summer comes back (and he will) maybe you should give him another chance. Being cruel is not excusable. Being unsure and needing time—sometimes is.
17. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Better days are coming, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and find some medication to make it better.
18. Don’t let anyone tell you that your nearly completed novel is ‘weird stuff.’ Especially when such comments come from an envious person who can’t do it themselves or who wants to break your spirit. Believe in yourself! How many 20 year olds have nearly completed a manuscript?
19. Believe your grandfather. You’re beautiful, and you really are his ‘little mint julep.’ That was his way of saying he loved you. Those hazel eyes that you got from him are going to melt a few hearts in the years to come.
20 God loves you. When you felt him say “I am with you” through His Holy Spirit–He wasn’t kidding. You will know that many times in years to come. Believe it NOW and have HOPE.


Laura Kathryn at 48