Changes are brewing. Pimples are popping up. Emotions are rising and falling with the moon and the tides. My darling daughter turns 12 in a few months. She just entered Junior High and unbeknownst to her, she is standing on the precipice of the rest of her life. Her hormones, her likes, her loves all changing as often as her wildly patterned socks. It occurred to me that this is the age where everything is about to flip upside down. The age where all the damage done in early childhood takes a back seat to the twisted way we use those traumas and the survival skills we learned to do even more damage to ourselves.
Her brilliantly shiny life is a stark contrast to mine. By the time I was her age I had already started drinking, already started being far more than just interested in boys. I had already started lying to my teachers. I had already started skipping school, shop lifting, and hating myself. I was just starting to make plans for the first of many moves out of and then back in to the revolving doors of my parents house. I had started down the dark and twisted road that lead me to rock bottom. Not long after my twelfth birthday I learned how to drive, how to mix drinks, how to flirt, and how to manipulate my sexuality. I learned to fear men and distrust women. I discovered that there was no God and that no where was safe. Already ingrained in me was the knowledge that I was always and would forever be alone, even in a crowded room. As I look back on my own history and the mess that came of it, I wish that some of those lessons had waited, perhaps forever, and that I had learned a few other things sooner.
In honor of her upcoming 12th birthday, here are 12 things I wish I had learned sooner.
#1 The only way to have a FRIEND is to be one.
I never understood this saying as a kid. Everyone you knew was your friend and thus you were a friend, right? Growing up in a family of girls I always had friends. Growing up in a dysfunctional family of girls I never was taught how to be a friend. I was taught to watch your back and to trust no one. I was taught how to lie convincingly. I was shown how to pick up boys, how to use them and abuse them, much like we were used and abused. As I moved through my life I treated my friends the way I was treated by and the way I treated my sisters. I watched in confused and heart-broken horror as most of my friends disappeared. Friends don’t stick around when you abuse them, they aren’t forced to by blood or family residence.
Decades passed and people wandered in and then ran screaming out of my life. It wasn’t until my late twenty’s that I learned how to be a friend. Wanna guess how? In addition to countless tearful years of working on my self through meetings, therapy and soul-searching, an amazing and wonderful human being wandered into my cubicle and took the time to be my friend. He turned out to be a real, honest to goodness friend. He taught me selfless love and sacrifice. He made me want to be there for others the way he is there for every one in his life. Open, trustworthy, honest and real; he made me want to be a better person. To this day he holds me up when I need it and holds me accountable even when I don’t want to hear it. He has put me on a pedestal and knocked me right off when I got too big for my britches. I love him for this and so much more. As the theme song to the Golden Girls says “thank you for being a friend”. I owe him more than I can ever repay. Be that kind of pal, darling, and you will never be without friends.
#2 Boys ARE only after one thing, *mostly
Not knowing how to be a friend to girls lead to lots of boyfriends. The ability to lie, manipulate, coerce and control lead to lots of EX-boyfriends. I was damaged goods and damaged goods are quite attractive to boys. Crazy’s great in bars and beds but she rarely gets taken home to meet your parents. I was looking for love but more often found sex. I was hoping for connection but most often found short-lived lust. When I finally took the time to survey the wreckage of my past I was shocked to learn that the person I lied to, manipulated, coerced and controlled most was ME. The countless boys I thought I had used by being too smart to get attached to, too wild to care for, too much for them to handle had inflicted invisible scars across my whole life. When the hangovers subsided and the detox lifted my broken being out of despair I saw that I was the one I hurt the most.
Still, knowing those truths could never have prepared me for the truth about boys. The last two decades of raising one and the sometimes rocky roller coaster of a relationship with his dad have opened my eyes. Boys are wired from the primordial ooze to check us out. They look for sex EVERY WHERE. This is not a condemnation nor is it a fault. They are built this way. Their hormones tug and tear at them to check out every possible instance of V neck cleavage, smooth summer legs, and sandal clad feet. They learn to disguise it. They try to hide it. Some even convince themselves that they have risen above it. But if you crossed your legs the wrong way in front of the Pope and I bet he would still take a look and THEN say his prayers for forgiveness.
This is not to say they are evil, or unable to have meaningful, lasting, love filled relationships. This is merely a warning to my daughter that choosing boys over yourself, your friends, your talents, your aspirations and dreams is never going to bring you the kind of love you may be searching for. That can only be found within you, only found by you and will only be valued when you sees it through your own eyes and not through the eyes of some boy.
#3 SPEAK your mind
“Do as I say, not as I do”, “don’t talk back”, “children should be seen and not heard”, “this is NOT a democracy” – this is how I grew up. This is why I can’t shut up now. This is among the many reasons I tortured my self for many years. I remember feeling stupid because they wouldn’t voice the truth I instinctively knew. I remember feeling frustrated that I was silenced for nothing more than my age. I remember shaking in rage, my skin crawling and itching as if covered by biting fire ants over the impotence I felt. I vowed to remember all of this. I vowed to never do this to my children.
Unfortunately I can not claim that I have never done this to them. Conditioning dies hard. Yet, I have taught them to speak up. To stand up for what they think, to argue – even with me – if they disagree. I have taught my sweet girl, that being a girl doesn’t mean being flawed, being a girl doesn’t mean sit pretty, it doesn’t mean being less than or more than any one else. Sugar and spice and all that is nice, but being a girl who stands on her own is nothing short of awesome.
#4 TWEEZERS, friend and foe.
In all seriousness, Tweezers are your best frenemy. Along with razors, concealer, lipstick, lotions, compacts and bras. These are things you hate yet seemingly can’t live without. These are things you love but would also love to burn. These are societies notions of beauty and also some of the best times you’ll have in the bathroom. They make you more beautiful and yet some how also less. They highlight your best features and yet can never cover your flaws. I learned too late to love my face without makeup and too early how to hide behind it. I wore a mask that started in 6th grade and ended with dark kohl rimmed eyes drowning in tears because I couldn’t bear my own reflection. Love yourself without these things, my dear and you’ll be happier when you wear them.
#5 EVERYTHING will be ok.
There is a saying that goes: Everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok it’s not the end. Another one that says: There is no sweet without the sour. Yet another: This too shall pass. These are a few of my favorite words of wisdom. These are things I wish I had understood in my teens when depression first hit and kept me in bed for a month, kept me from Homecoming Court, kept me from graduating High school with my class. These are things I would only learn after my twenties when the darkness of my past manifested in my choices and took me down to the cold black water in the deep end of life.
Patience is like walking on Lego’s. If there’s a whole bunch of it you hardly seem to notice the pain, if it’s thin every step is a jagged pointed poke to the soft underside of your sole. Trust that whatever darkness you are facing is for your own better self. There are lessons in the dark times that sear their brand on to your heart. They will shape and mold you like a shell tossed around in the ocean, waves and sand tumultuously churning, nicks and cuts into your idea of who you are and when you finally land on the beach of acceptance deep inside is a beautiful pearl that could only have arisen from that chaos and pain. Be grateful for the things that shape you and know that they will not last.
#6 Be SELFISH, within reason.
I hereby give you permission to be selfish *within reason. Selfish in the ways that your co-dependent mother is not. Selfish in ways that my co-dependent mother was taught were wrong for a lady by her co-dependent mother. Selfish in ways that allow you to become all that you are meant to be without fear of what society thinks or what your husband wants. This is not to say that you can be a self-serving, unmannered jerk. (No body has that right, though some may act like they do.) This permission slip is for you to concentrate on YOU. For you to place yourself on the top of your list of who is important for your own emotional, mental and physical self.
Being a girl in this world is not an easy job. From birth we are bombarded with ideas of what is acceptable, what is expected, what we can achieve – in ways that boys are not. Boys in our society are given the right to be selfish and they never look back. They can concentrate on their dreams and never be called conceited. They can excel at work or school or sports and not be deemed pompous. They can choose not to get married or to forego having kids and not be faced with the label of egotistic. These are the permissions I am granting you today. The right to be and do and live as you like, make choices based on the deepest desires of your heart and never look back, never feel bad, never fear that you will be labeled as anything but the smart, funny, dedicated athlete and talented scholar that you are.
#7 You are NEVER alone.
I grew up in a house full of people. I was “popular” in school. I had people around me nearly all the time. However, in the deepest pit of my stomach, in my heart of hearts, I always felt alone. Always felt that I was an interloper and other than. I learned to fake my connections, learned to project vanity and confidence. I used cosmetics, clothes and contempt to hide my solitude from the world. It was a daily costume and I fooled everyone, including myself, for a while.
That soul shattering loneliness was my constant companion until I found an affinity for Divinity. Taking the steps to learn how to personally connect to the Universe and how the Universe was eternally and intrinsically connected to me changed me on a cellular level. The shift in my being, personality, relationships so profound I was nearly unrecognizable to myself. Then one day I was standing outside of a meeting. People all around me, smoking and talking, laughing and commiserating and I stood alone amidst them, just letting the music of their fellowship envelop me. Someone noticed me, he said, “Hey why are you all alone?” and the most astonishing words flew out of my mouth. I replied, “I am not alone. I’ll never be alone again.”
We are all connected, every being on this planet is made of the same stuff. Blood, bones and star dust. We are all magic and no one is ever truly alone. No matter what we tell our deepest darkest selves.
#8 LOVE your BODY
You are perfect. Your size and shape are perfect. Rejoice in that perfection. Honor that perfection. Love your SELF, not just the soul that resides inside but the vessel that carries it. Disregard magazines, television, YouTube, Instagram and any other voice that tells you that you are less than perfect. Especially and most vehemently if that voice comes from inside your own head.
Take time to show love to your body. Love your body through exercise, yoga, meditation. Love your body through bubble baths and long hot showers. Love your body through sports and softball. Love your body as it changes from its pudgy toddler days into its childhood stick straight frame into tiny budding bosoms and softly curving hips. Love it when it gets acne and first days of Aunt Flo. Love it when (and if!) you gain weight in your face, belly, thighs and hips from carrying a child into this world. Love it when first gray hairs pop up and soft lines appear. Love it by eating right, most of the time and by treating it to chocolate cake sometimes too.
Love your body because it is a gift. Whether perfectly healthy or marred by disease, it was crafted for you by the stars and all that is holy. It is perfect for you. It is the vehicle for your journey. Don’t let it break down under the weight of judgements or junk food. Love your body because your body loves you.
#9 QUESTION it all, RESEARCH and repeat.
We live in an age of infinite information. Google is at everyone’s finger tips. Research is only a few clicks away instead of archaic cards cataloged by Dewey decimals and quickly sliding microfiche. Use the tools of the internet for something other than pictures of cats and quick-witted memes. When something feels wrong, question it. When you hear something that goes against what you believe in your heart to be true, question it. Question me and your dad. Question your teachers. Question your friends. Question everyone you meet and see what their answers are and if they match up with yours. Then research on your own. Find the answers that make sense to you. Find the right fit for your heart and soul.
Search out your place in the jungles of time and space via questions and research. This is how you will find your SELF. This is how you will grow into the being you desire to be. Knowledge is power. It is the key to understanding. Find people who are other than you and learn from them. Visit cultures and lands unlike our own. Read about religions and races that don’t share our Anglo-American faces. Question it all and then do it again. As time passes and experience changes your views, as you relearn old lessons you thought you had mastered, question it all and research again and again.
#10 Trust your INSTINCTS.
There is a bell that lives in our hearts. It rings with TRUTH. It NEVER lies. Listen to it. Trust it. When that bell goes off believe it. That bell is the sound of Gods love. Follow that bell, it will lead to truth and love and light.
There is an alarm that lives in our gut. It pangs in DANGER. It NEVER lies. Listen to it. Trust it. When that alarm goes off believe it. That alarm is the sound of Gods warning. Disregard that alarm and it will lead to hard lessons, again and again until the lesson is learned and the right path is chosen.
Sometimes the messages are mixed. They may come from both places, a painful truth to be heard. Sometimes there is no way to avoid the danger you’ve been warned of, no way to avoid the pain. Sometimes the message is only a reassurance that there will be more messages to come. It is tempting to ignore the messages, many times they go against what we may desperately think we want. We argue against them, make justifications for their inability to correctly read a situation. We may pretend not to hear them. We may speak over them with our egos thoughts and desires. These are the lies we tell ourselves. We know they are lies when we tell them, but the lies we tell ourselves are most comforting.
God is a whisper, Ego is a scream. What I have learned through trial and error is that the more you listen to the whispers, the less you will scream. Trust your instincts and you will be rewarded with deeper insights. Know that you are being watched over by a thousand angels and they want to guide you towards supreme happiness. Trust your instincts they are sent from above.
#11 BEWARE of the deep end.
Emotions are like a swimming pool. Joy, happiness, peace these are the shallow end, where we can play and splash around carefree. Sorrow, grief, depression, these are the deep end, where we teach ourselves to dive deep, fully submerged from the world above. Emotions unto themselves are needed. Each serves a purpose in our lives. Sometimes life pushes us head first into the deep end, sputtering and swallowing, choking and gasping for air. These times are unavoidable; Everyone gets wet.
Beware of the deep end though. Beware of wallowing there. Beware of sinking into the depths below and the pressure that builds from being so far under water. Beware of the drain of melancholy pulling you down. Beware of the false comfort of lying in the deathly calm and quiet solitude at the bottom of the pool that is depression.
Swim for the shallow end as fast as you can. Call out to us, your parents, teachers and friends, we are your lifeguards if you feel yourself going under, feel too tired to swim any more. No one is in this pool alone; Everyone gets wet. When you get to the shallow end, when you feel safe and steady once more, look back and see if there is any one else treading water, bobbing around in the deep end, slipping under the surface. Reach out your hand and be a life guard for them. Everyone gets wet but there is safety in numbers.
#12 Anything GREAT takes great EFFORT.
Some people thrive on a challenge. Some people are naturally motivated go-getters that make plans and set goals and just seem to instinctively know how to achieve. My husband is one of them, I am not. I live for procrastination. I drag my feet. I put off for tomorrow what should have been done last week. I make excuses and justifications. I am fully aware of this flaw even if I hate to admit it. I hope that you take after your dad in this, but just in case your cut from my cloth I hope to warn you, anything great takes a great effort. Things that are easy and easily attained don’t keep their value as much as the ones we work our butts off for.
Do the work. Make a plan. Keep a list. Take the first step on that thousand step journey. Just do IT. It will be worth it, I promise. It was easy for me to throw my life away, to ignore my talents, to listen to the darkness of doubt. It was a slippery slope to Hell that thankfully only took a few years and not my entire lifetime. The idea of getting it back was daunting, the path to recovery seemed a million miles long. Rebuilding a life from the ashes of my past seemed impossible. Yet I took the first step. Then God stepped in. Those thousand angels came to my rescue the moment I was willing to work for it. I am not the exception, this is the rule.
I see you struggling right now. I see you frustrated that part of your dream isn’t easy or isn’t as easy as it was just a short while ago. I see you, clenching your fist in frustration, stubborn tears welling up in your eyes, wishing for a smooth path instead of the steep climb you are on. Yet, I also see you diligently working. I see you putting effort forth, gritting your teeth with determination to succeed. I see that as much as you are like me, emotional, procrastinating, and headstrong, you are also like your dad, determined, motivated, unwilling to fail.
Do the work. Make a plan. Keep a list. All of your dreams will come true. I promise.