An open letter to my daughters:
For years I’ve gone back and forth about what pieces of me I want to share with you. I’ve started blogs and deleted them. I’ve backspaced more than I’ve typed. I even asked my therapist.. is the fact that I’ve seen a therapist something that I share? It should be, because she helped me. A lot. I highly recommend it.
Do I share things at all? None at all? Pieces? If I share only the happy, will that make you think I’m only ever happy? If I share my trauma, will that scar you to know about your own parent? If I share one trauma, do I have to share all of them?
Further, I sometimes ask myself.. How do I share these things with the world? How do I use my life to help people, without being fake, without being attention seeking, without being too harsh or not classy enough, without being judged?
But you know what? All of that is out of reach. Some people praise you for being gentle. Some people praise you for being hard. Sometimes people won’t praise you at all simply because it’s you (or them). So the real question, I finally realize, isn’t who I want people to see me as… not even how I want to be perceived as by you (although that matters)… it’s who am I, really? Who am I deep down as a person now? I get to share what I want to share, I get to hold tight to what I don’t, and that gives me a lot of power; a rarity; my own business.
Girls, where I’m going with this is… I have the answer for you. We spend our whole lives chasing true happiness, that ebb and flow of sunshine and warmth that fills our childhood if we’re lucky. As we grow and life starts happening bigger and bigger, it’s easy to lose the grasp of that feeling. God, thinking about you having to go through anything traumatic actually causes me physical pain. But you will. I did. We all do. Knowing that it won’t come from home helps. Knowing I’ll be there to hug you when you’re ready to share helps me, too. But what I’m talking about is beyond that. After traumas and heartbreaks, after growing and moving farther away from happiness, you have to know how to get back to it. I have the answer. It’s not some cliche sentence you’ll hear forever like “money can’t buy happiness” (although that’s true, too). It’s clean cut and easy to understand and dangit it’s hard to do, but it will get you back:
Do the dirty work.
This past year, I’ve done the dirty work. The hard stuff. The stuff you don’t want to say out loud. You’ve gotta dig your guts up, spread them out on the table, and sift through 27 years (give or take when you read this) of things you’ve done and things you are that you don’t like. But you wanna know the cool part? There are probably a lot of really great guts on that table, too, and you get to pick what you put back in.
I think that’s the hardest thing about being a human sometimes, is being willing to point the finger at yourself instead of someone else.
But those insides, the hurt parts that are rotten and poisonous, they’ve gotta come out or they’ll contaminate everything else.
I see quotes about it all the time: “Cut out toxic people, your life will be better because of it.”
There are narcissists, manipulators, poisonous people, of course they exist; and toxicity like that can contaminate you, too, so yes.. sometimes you have to cut that out (especially if that’s in your own household dynamic). How much of the time, though, is it actually us? How much toxicity are we bringing to the table before they push the chair in? Apparently I like table metaphors.
So if you haven’t done your dirty work yet, girls, this next bit will be hard to face. But I’m gonna ask it anyway because at the end, if you’re strong enough to see to the other side, the happiness is there, I promise.
Instead of picking through what other people do that we can’t stand, what if we ask what more WE could do to be better? Are those traits actually being mirrored but we aren’t willing to admit it?
If you constantly gossip, why? Are you extremely insecure? Does putting people down make you feel better? Do you also put yourself down? If you talk yourself up, can you genuinely do the same for others?
If you’re someone who constantly judges, why? Do you feel judged by others? Do you judge yourself? Does that come from a place of feeling unworthy, unwanted or unloved? Are you uncomfortable with who you truly are in fear of being judged, so you judge others for being brave enough to be who they truly are?
In your marriage, your friendships, do you constantly ask what they aren’t giving you? Have you ever tried instead.. what do they need more from me? What am I not giving THEM? Before Kurt and I got married, this was my Dad’s marriage advice and to this day, it’s the best I’ve gotten: “If you’re both constantly trying to figure out what more you can GIVE to each other rather than what you can get, not only will they be happier, but so will you.”
I’ll keep on, this isn’t easy.
Am I giving people a chance to win? Or will they lose in any situation I give them?
Are they really toxic, or do they bring out my toxic traits that I don’t want to see?
These questions are hard to ask ourselves. Or maybe not hard to ask, but hard to answer honestly.
The hardest ones don’t involve other people, though.
Why am I the way that I am?
Do I love myself enough to love other people?
Can I give empathy when I don’t want to?
Can I build others up without feeling jealous? Without later tearing them down?
What am I scared of? Why? How do I work through that?
And maybe even, can I put my pride aside long enough not to care what others think.. and ask for help?
Whose approval do I care to have?
Do I take energy or give it? Advice my sweet Mom has given that always keeps me grounded.
Have I helped others heal from my own damage?
Am I practicing what I’m preaching? Or better yet, practicing more and preaching less?
A big one that I still struggle with.. Can I love the pieces of my past self that didn’t know these things, that I don’t feel deserves my love?
You may get all your guts out and realize it’s way too dang much to put back in by yourself; you have so many people in your life with their sleeves rolled up ready to help, sew you back up, and hug you after. Your Daddy and I tie in a race to be first in line for that.
Stay grounded in love, warmth, light, in faith. Take pride in being a gentle person, but stand up for yourself when you need. Take pride in telling that other girl she’s beautiful without it making you feel insecure about how you look. Be genuinely kind because it’s rare. Don’t gossip because it’s common. It also makes you a less trustworthy and reliable source. Be proud when you can walk away from people gossiping about you, because that’s hard. Pull out your empathy when it’s hard. Understand that other people’s words don’t determine your character, your actions do.
If all of this seems foreign or brand new, give yourself patience and grace to work on it little by little, but how beautiful is it that you can change for the better any time you choose to?
Other people’s hurtful behavior has very little to do with us. And my past self who has hurt others had very little to do with them. I take pride in being able to see that now.
So now you’re probably waiting on some magical formula to throw on top of that, the part where the happiness comes in.
But that’s it.
You know that page in “Oh The Places You’ll Go” where it’s talking about how everyone is just waiting? It’s true. We sit around and wait for a magical life and random replenishment of childhood happiness, we wait for more while we’re not doing anything. More money, more time, a bigger house, a better car, OHMYGOSH I could slap myself because I did that, too. Sometimes I still do. “No! That’s not for you!” Dr. Seuss was a smart dude.
It’s not in the more and it’s not in the waiting.
It’s in YOUR dirty work.
I think everyone helps people differently. For me, I’ve decided that isn’t by sharing my traumas with strangers. I’m sure I’ll share pieces with you one day, but not here. Not now. We ALL have trauma of some kind. Honestly I kind of wish I had the guts to now because every time someone else does, I want to hug them. That takes extreme bravery; so much raw emotion is just out in the world and you never know what people will do with it.
My way of helping others, I think, is by being a gentle person. A gentle Mom. Gentle wife. Gentle friend. Choosing to surround myself with people who build me up for my kindness rather than applaud bitterness or hate. Being a person who builds others up and does the same. That’s who I want to be for the world and who I hope to teach you to be, too.
I’m sure you’ll have memories of me on my messy days. The ones where I was waiting and waiting and avoiding all that I’d buried. The ones where I had a hard time helping you with your feelings because I couldn’t face my own. I’m so sorry for those. I’m so sorry for the days I’ll lose my perspective and do that again. But I hope you have more after I discovered that happiness again.
I would give my own happiness a million times over for you to never lose yours. You came to me as pure sunshine and for as long as I can, I’ll shield away the shadows. I can’t forever.
Something that has surprised me over time is how much grace others have given me. Even before I could give it to myself. And I’m guessing in order to do that, those people had done the dirty work, too.
It’s more simple to go on as we are and keep our habits. Easy. But at the end of the day you sit with you, and one day you may not like your company.
It’s worth it to release what you’re burying, to move toward the right things, to be kind and gentle and loving in a world where that isn’t what’s usual nor what’s praised or talked about. Where you may even be left out because of it. It’s so, so worth the inner peace.
So yeah, toxicity needs to be burnt out of our lives. But if we don’t start with our own, a lot more people are going to be disguised as toxic than those who actually are. Will pointing out their flaws make us more peaceful? Or can we solve it by going inward?
Turning inward will be healing. I know you don’t want to start, I know it’s freaking painful and it’s heavy and it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But once you finally allow things to come out, you’ll be surprised by how easily you can let them go.
Even better? Marry someone who you love with your whole self, who even loves your dirty smelly stuff that’s buried way down. Love them for theirs. Be kind to each other as you work. Cheer for them HARD when you see them doing their dirty work, too. (Go hug your Dad hard when you read this, just ‘cause he’s the best!)
“We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” -Hemingway
How much light will you let in?
More importantly, how much light will you share?
MOST importantly, do your hardest work. The work you’re here to do. Everything you’re wanting to feel, looking for, craving; that’s where it is. Then you have a rare superpower in this world… you can do both at the same time.
Most people spend their entire lives doing two things: avoiding themselves and searching for happiness. What a shame that they don’t know they already have the secret.