May 30, 2012

A Love Letter to my Child Self.

Photo: Steven Snodgrass

I began therapy for the same commonplace reason why so many people are in therapy: I’m looking for the unconditional love that was withheld in childhood.

I live with a neediness, a longing that was never fully satisfied; I seek fulfillment in unequal, unbalanced relationships. When I feel loved by a partner, my need is assuaged temporarily.

When the relationship ends and the love is withdrawn, I feel empty again, and lonelier than ever.

My therapist suggested it’s time to take responsibility, look inward, and find my own way rather than continuing down this unproductive path, casting myself as the victim, blaming others, and getting caught up in the ensuing spinning.

She recommended an exercise to start the healing process: I, as my adult self, should write a letter to my child self as though love had surrounded me all of my life. It was, perhaps, the most perplexing and difficult piece I’ve written in a very long time. While I don’t think I captured the correct tone and pitch, this is what spilled out of me:

Dear Beloved Child,

You were conceived in love and born in love. The arms that first held you, mother arms, never wanted to let you go. You snuggled in tight against that warm, welcoming skin and sensed deep into your bones, wordlessly and profoundly, that you would never be truly alone, that you shared an unshakable bond, a connection, an abiding love with another human being.

You are loved for the uniqueness that is you. If there is one gift I could give to you, it would be the sure knowledge that you are perfect just as you are, with your endless capacity to grow, to learn, to love and trust wholeheartedly. If I could have one wish for you, it would be that you hold tight to this seed of perfection, nurturing it tenderly into the bud of burgeoning adolescence, then into the full bloom of your magnificent adulthood, never letting others’ judgments and perceptions dampen your glorious unfolding.

Being perfect doesn’t mean you will never make a misstep. Of course you will; your perfect imperfection is what makes you human.

Perfection is not about what you do; it’s about who you are—you, at your core, where your innermost light shines. As long as you remain mindful and true to your inner self, your heart and your instincts will guide you surely and steadily.

The mistakes you make along the way will simply become lessons to be learned, devoid of blame or self-judgment. Instead of looking back with regret, you will look ahead with optimism. And because you understand and accept who you are, your love and empathy will expand outwardly and grow exponentially. You will evolve into a beautiful person who is kind and compassionate, both to herself and to others. 

The seed I plant today is one of pure love: the love of a mother and the love of a child, blended together so harmoniously that they intertwine as one, united and stronger than any negative influences. As that seed grows strong and true, tended always with great care and affection, it will send out shoots and branches that surround you with the love and community that is your birthright.

And you will be happy. And you will live in love, from the inside out and the outside in.

May your life always be filled with light and love.

I love you with all my heart,

Your adult self

After I typed the last few lines, I leaned back in my chair to re-read my letter. I’ll admit it: self-pity crept in, just a bit. This learning to love myself is hard, I thought, feeling both annoyed over my pity party and blue about what I had just written.

My 14-year old daughter had logged onto her computer alongside me. We’ve been at a crossroads lately, she and I, struggling mightily through her challenging teenage years, warring over everything from school to boys to short shorts. She’s everything I’m not: exceptionally strong-willed to the point of defiance, spunky and sassy, focused on appearance over academics. We don’t understand each other, so when I’m not tearing my hair out or losing sleep over her antics, I often cry in frustration, not knowing how to reach her.

As I perused my lines again, making a few editorial corrections, I suddenly realized that everything I had written is exactly what I wish for the girl sitting beside me. Despite being at loggerheads. Especially because we’re at loggerheads.

I read the letter aloud to her, feeling surprisingly shy and sheepish, not daring to look up until I was finished. When I finally raised my eyes to meet hers, she was crying.

“I love you, you know,” I said.

“I know,” she replied, wiping her eyes. Then, out of the blue, my beautiful impulsive girl jumped up: “Let’s dance.”

We cranked up the music. She bowed. I curtsied. Arms about each others’ waists, at first we simply swayed self-consciously to the opening strains of Dolly Parton’s Save the Last Dance for Me. But as the music kicked into high gear, so did we, spinning, swirling, jumping, chest bumping, shoulder shimmying, high stepping, laughing so hard we could barely catch our breath.

As the music ended, we fell into each others’ arms, breathless and giggling, hugging close.

Despite our differences, for one night, for one song the love of a mother and the love of a child blended together so harmoniously that they intertwined as one, united and stronger than any negative influences.

Love increasing exponentially.

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Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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