Dear Julie at 22,
I look at your sweet face, and wish I could have mothered you better then. I know I did my best, but young one, I've learned so much in the past twenty years. I know there is pain behind your smile—a mess of stuff you don't even understand yet. I remember your senior year of college. There was good stuff going on, but there was also so much confusion and fear. It paralyzed you. The world was wide open, but you couldn't see it for the depression and anxiety made more acute by the weight of the opinions and expectations of others.
|Dressed for Homecoming Court - 1996|
I shake my head at the depth of your suffering, especially knowing how it would plunge you even further in the decade to come. That's why I'm writing you now. I'm writing as an act of mothering us both. I am telling you now what I wish you could have known then. I am sending a lifeline to my younger self. It's a marker of how far we've come, precious.
I want you to know that that elusive love you were always on the search for from so many places—remember that? Well you found it, darling. Not in the people or places you wanted or expected, but, oh my goodness, you found it in abundance.
First, your heart broke. And not once, but over and over again. It had to. It was in those cracks and crevices that the joy and light seeped in. Your breaks made you fierce. You didn't shy away. You kept loving and hurting, growing and loving some more. In the process, you collected a series of mentors who showed you the ropes of a better way. They gave you words and tools and courage. These mentors formed the foundation of your tribe. Then a select few of your peers grew with you. They loved you even when you were a mess. And they kept loving you. Your tribe grew and so did you.
After a lot of years of contemplation and even more years of unproductive stewing, you hit your “enough is enough” point. You finally got tired of your story, so as you were famous for saying, you “girded up your loins” and got busy changing and improving your life. It was the hardest thing you'd ever done, but in the process, you figured out that the fearful stories you conjured in your mind were scarier than reality.
The damage had been done though. You were one parched plant. Your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth were wilted. In the process of transplanting your life in a bigger pot with fresh, more fertile soil, you received unexpected showers in the form of kind words and affection from friends from your past. It took awhile for you to believe these men's versions of the woman they saw when they remembered you. It took courage for you to believe that good, kind, smart, funny, beautiful men could be attracted to you. They helped you grow into this new vision and version of yourself.
These friends helped you see how a different story about you could point you in a different direction as you rebuilt your life. They told you they were proud of you, believed in you, and held your proverbial hand until you were ready to let go. You were afraid to do it, but you'd done far scarier things before, so you stared down the fear of solitude and not knowing what came next. You beat out the fear.
And then with all this new-found energy and verve, you found comfort in your own skin. You owned your skinny body. You treasured all it had done to nurture and support and nourish your baby. You moved in new ways and watched your body transform into a strong, lean vessel able to carry you through life, unburdened and free. You felt something new. It was a sexiness that you knew had nothing to do with how you looked or who was looking at you. It was all about attitude, belief, vision, and loving life. You came to love yourself in ways you never had before. You trusted yourself. You became your best friend. You loved your daughter and your tribe with a ferocity you didn't recognize, but that you quickly adjusted to. You built boundaries to protect that beautiful, broken, mending heart of yours. SEXY.
You figured out the qualities you'd like to find in a man, and then you set aside the list, and got busy living. You don't worry about the details or logistics. You know if he comes your way it will be wonderful, and if he doesn't, life will still be glorious.
You have no idea what the future will bring, and for the very first time in your life, you are enthralled. You know that you have what you need to weather whatever storms, sunshine, and wind blows your way. You call yourself a writer and a mother—your two most important labels. You want to teach yoga, to use it as a tool to help other people heal. You dream of the trips you will take. Beyond those plans, you are staying open. To trust that you can handle whatever comes your way. You know you can handle it. You know that worry is pointless, and that living in the present is the best way to spend your days.
This, dear heart, is a true story.
I know you can't believe it yet. You are listening to Mariah Carey's Christmas album on repeat months before the holiday. It's the only thing that comforts you these days. It's okay. Keep listening. Hang on, and believe me when I tell you it gets better. So, so much better. The pain and effort is worth it. Every single tear, hurt, misunderstanding, and doubt. It is all worth it.
Julie at 42
|Spring Break - Washington State - 1997|