Age and growth bring remarkable advantages, ones you could only dream of sharing with a former version of yourself.
It wasn’t until I became a mother a little over a year ago that I started to notice a deep sense of purpose within me unlike anything I had ever felt before. I realized that I had spent the better part of my life very much dissatisfied with who I was, what I looked like, and what I was doing or not doing.
Motherhood has blessed me with many gifts, but I think the most surprising of all was this incredible respect, appreciation, and love for myself. Motherhood has shown me what I am truly capable of — physically, emotionally, and mentally. The sheer strength that being a mom requires each day is nothing to shrug off, and the feeling of being capable enough to tackle each hurdle is unmatched. If I am completely honest, nothing has boosted my self-esteem more, in my whole life, than motherhood.
This letter to my younger self encompasses a time when I was immensely ashamed. Thinking of myself back then breaks my heart because I was a lost and lonely kid who did not know any better. With the heart and experience of a mother now, I look back at that young girl and I just want to give her a hug. I wish I could tell her how loved she was then, and that some day, she will feel love for herself and others in way she could never imagine.
Of course I wish I had done many things differently when I was 16, but that would have required knowing better. Now that I know better, I can do better as a mother, myself. And for that, I would not change a thing.
Here is what I would say to my teenage self as the mother I am now.
I know you’re not doing all that great.
I think you’re feeling very lost and alone. You’re 16, searching for answers in a world that you feel has all but abandoned you. You don’t get along with your parents, your mom moved to another country, and the only people who really get it, your siblings, now live thousands of miles away.
Last night you thought you might find some semblance of control and satisfaction in your reflection in a toilet bowl. I know you long to be thinner and to have white, straight teeth. I know you loathe the acne-riddled face staring back at you in the mirror. I know you try desperately every day to draw people’s attention to your adult-like breasts and hips instead.
Your idea of health is a days-long period of starvation followed by an hour of punishment on the treadmill. You’re hiding in your room with your cats and your Friends DVDs because it feels less lonely than sitting across from your parents at the dinner table.
You’re smart, you know that. You’re in honors classes, earn straight As, and annoy your teachers with challenging questions and whip-smart attitude. You’re also funny. In fact, people laugh with you more than they laugh at you. You have a knack for writing and for spontaneous debate. You’re caring. You wear your thoughts and emotions on your sleeve, and people seem to get a kick out of your lack of a filter.
You have a boyfriend. He’s handsome, smart, charismatic, and in general treats you well — except when he doesn’t, right? Your personal history has led him to believe he’d have no problems getting what he wants from you once he were his girlfriend. Now he’s convinced you that he loves you, and if you guys are in love and if you don’t give him what he wants, well, then you’re just friends.
Maialen, this is important: he’s lying.
That is not love. I’d tell you to walk away now, but I know you won’t. You think you’re in love and you picture a future with him, but this isn’t the kind of love that sustains a marriage. It will hurt when it ends, but don’t be afraid. You deserve better, and you will be okay.
You’re going to spend the next few years waging your body as currency, searching desperately for validation and love. I need to tell you something: you are loved. You are so incredibly loved exactly as you are, in this very moment. I love you. I’m over a decade away, but I’m right there with you. I have immense love for you and compassion for all of your fears and insecurities. I am proud of who you are and who I know you will become.
The wisdom I can offer you has come from many heartbreaking lows over the years. The you that you are right now will feel like a distant nightmare someday.
Someday, you will grow into your own and feel confident in your skin, clear or blemished. You will find and know love at its deepest and he will lift you up into the best possible version of yourself. And after that, you will also know an all-consuming love of which you couldn’t even possibly dream right now. He will call you “mama” and squeal with delight when you walk into a room.
You will feel pride when you look in the mirror because 14 years later, you feel stronger and healthier, and yes, even prettier. You will be educated, well-traveled, and by most people’s standards (and most importantly, your own,) successful. The sounds and smells of the home kitchen will once again thrill you as they did when you were a little girl. You will no longer cry yourself to sleep. You will feel joy and gratitude in the most profound sense.
So please, Maialen, turn off the treadmill, back away from the toilet, eat the pasta, put down those pills, walk away from that boyfriend, run towards your friends, write in your journal, be kind to yourself, and keep going.
I promise, you will get there, and I can’t wait to see you when you do.