Dear 18-year-old Martina,
You would only vaguely recognize me, but you don’t know me yet. I’m you, at 40 (yes, we live at least this long). You, my beautiful girl, have been having a difficult run for about five years now.
I know you’re tired and you’ve been running a long time already. Your family is upset and frightened for you. Your feet hurt and your body and soul-scarred. You mean well but you seem to keep making messes. You’re carrying pain, guilt, and shame. You’re isolated from connection with others and seem to only reach out through a veil of craving, need, and emotions you can’t understand or name sometimes.
You are also strong and compassionate. And damn girl, you’re clever. I have a few ideas about why you can’t hold up your chin with those attractive traits, but that’s something you’re going to need to work out for yourself, in real time.
For a little bit, using drugs probably saved your life; protecting you from some unbearable truths and keeping you from hurting yourself in other ways. But it’s getting ugly. And now the drugs aren’t helping. You can’t get to the “right” kind of drunk anymore, and the chemicals you’re putting in your body are fighting with the beliefs already misfiring in your brain. The idea of living your life as you are, or living your life completely sober, are equally horrifying.
But here’s the thing, soon you won’t have to make yourself sick with chemicals anymore to feel “normal.” Here’s another thing, you don’t even have to try to BE normal. You just get to be Martina, safely, and with support.
You get to recover.
You get to recover that sense of awe and energy from another time. You get to recover the drive to have dreams for yourself. You get to recover the simple appreciation of a hug from your parents, the way new pencils smell, the beautiful slide of ocean air on your skin. You get to recover an inherent ability to appreciate connectivity with human beings and the desire to live a simple life of service and celebration and beautiful imperfection. You’re going to find out you love art and literature and music and travel – and your heart’s about to go on some adventures.
I can’t tell you exactly how you recover, or what will happen through the course of the next couple decades (or beyond) because that’s unfair. You have your journey to make, and it would be wrong of me to influence or otherwise alter that. EVERY person in recovery has his or her personal journey. You’re going to find a few other people, some who are also in recovery, who will be your mirrors. You’re going to find all kinds of mirrors in all sorts of individuals, and one day you’re going to realize you’re a person among people, capable of that strength, compassion, and cleverness I mentioned before. You’re going to connect with others through those traits, and you’ll learn what it means to wear the world as a loose garment. And DAMN girl, you’re going to get to laugh! So hard, and at just about anything.
Listen, though, little Martina, there are no closing credits. It’s not like we get a year, or seven or twelve or twenty years clean and “CUT! Scene’s over. That’s a wrap.” No. But, it turns out that you can be fiercely courageous. You’re about to find out that bravery is about action in the face of fear, not necessarily in its absence. You might need to go back to school more than once, and you might sometimes feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. You might have embarrassing moments or cranky, mean days – for which you will need to apologize and correct. You might need to see a psychiatrist, or retain a divorce lawyer, or go to grief counseling. ALL of that in recovery. Sometimes you might want to use again, or at least you might want to hide. What will nourish you is the balance, it will be a life-long learning experience.
So, 18-year-old Martina, while you don’t know me, I know you. I think about you often. I love you like crazy. The shaky steps you take this year into treatment are so brave. I’m writing to you from 22 years of day-at-a-time recovery, and while I don’t feel like a complete grown up yet, that’s perfectly okay. I enjoy life, and I try to show gratitude by serving others when I have something to give. I think we are doing all right for ourselves. At any rate, we get to be.
We get to recover.
With deep affection, gratitude, & hope for the future,