Two weeks ago, Ryan and I moved back to NYC after living in Houston, Texas for the past year.
On one hand, New York is the same crazy city I met when I first moved here some 16 years ago. But in many ways this place is different. Not only have new neighborhoods, buildings and subway stops popped up but in many ways I’m different too.
When I first moved here I had just turned 24 years old. I was scared, broke, thought nothing of riding the subway by myself at 4am and I had zero support from my dysfunctional family. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about that younger version of myself and wondering what advice I would give her today that I didn’t have access to back then.
So in today’s post, I’ll be doing just that. I’ve come up with three bits of advice that I’d give to my younger self.
Believe it or not, while working on this post, I discovered that the advice and insights I needed back then are just as valuable and relevant today.
Once you’ve had a chance to read, I’d love to hear from you.
As an adult child of an alcoholic, family member of an addict or alcoholic, someone in recovery or as a survivor of abuse, what advice would you give to your younger self? If you could write your younger self a letter what would you share? What would you want you to know?
Share your thoughts and insights in the comment section.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
As always, thanks for sharing and reading!
Until next Tuesday,
#1 Get Angry
In my family, anger had two settings. You were either like my stepdad and you knocked the crap out of whoever angered you. Or you were like my dad and you expressed anger passively. Think the silent treatment and slamming any and every door you walked through which only became more intense after a few drinks.
Then there was my stepmom, who thought that anger expressed at all was just a bad idea.
When I was in my early twenties, I was angry. And in many ways being angry in a city like New York where on any given day you can run into a lot of angry people, was good for me. But back then, I had trouble expressing my anger. To be totally honest, I had difficulty with my emotional world in general but anger was definitely my weak spot.
Today, I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to be angry. That being angry doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you but that it means you’re human and you’re alive. And given the abusive background I had, my anger actually made a whole lot of sense.
I would tell my younger self that it’s also okay to get help to deal with and understand anger. To understand where it’s coming from, how it may be getting in your way and how it may or may not be hurting other areas of your life. Not because anger is bad but because it’s an emotional state that’s so powerful and unfortunately so incredibly misunderstood.
#2 Do Better
My mom got pregnant with my oldest brother when she was 16 and she never finished high school. In her twenties she turned to alcohol.
My dad married my mom when he was 18, graduated high school but never applied to college given that he had a family to care for. In his twenties he also turned to alcohol.
My oldest brother became addicted to drugs and alcohol early on, became a father at 14, dropped out of high school and spent a large chunk of his life in and out of jail.
My other brother, also older, followed in the same footsteps. Never graduated high school, fell heavily into drugs and alcohol and lived most of his life either homeless or in a jail cell.
I know now that my family’s choices have no impact on the choices that are available to me or what I choose to do with my life. And although I never got knocked up and I graduated from high school and college, in my twenties, I held back most of the time because I was afraid of doing better than my family.
I was afraid to be successful, afraid to be happy and afraid to go after what I really wanted. I believed that doing so would not only anger my family but it would also mean that there was less left over for them.
Today, I would tell my younger self to do better. I would tell her to go after every goal and dream and not to stop until she got what she wanted. I would tell her that her family and their past, along with their choices have nothing to do with her. She is not responsible for their choices and has nothing to feel guilty about.
Today, I know that I’ll never be miserable enough to make my family happy, clean, strait or sober but I wish someone would have told me that back then.
#3 Be You
Moving away from my family and settling in New York, in my early twenties, was liberating. And at the same time, I always felt like people knew the kind of family I came from.
Whenever I’d meet new people or whenever I’d go on a job interview, I always felt like people could tell I came from a dysfunctional family. And because of that I assumed that they wouldn’t like me, or I wouldn’t get the job or people would just think that I wasn’t capable. That I was damaged goods. I can remember being out with friends at a bar and feeling awkward with a drink in my hand because I didn’t want them to assume that I was an alcoholic, too.
Today, I would tell my younger self to just be herself. I would tell her that she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would tell her that she has nothing to hide. I would tell her that she isn’t doomed to repeat some family curse. I would tell her that everything that she feels makes her flawed and unloveable are precisely the things that make her unique. But more than any acceptance she’d get from other people, I’d make sure she knew how important it is to accept yourself first. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,
You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.
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