With permission, I have posted parts of this email from a reader.
This email, I believe, is the real gold of this post. And this girl is one hell of a writer.
That 25 things list that went viral? I just read it. Again. I’m pretty sure it’s the first post I read by you, and I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon it. But I did. And I did again, today. At the end you say to come find you, if I need a listener. So here I’ve come.
The thing is, I hate the way victim looks on me. That ratty, stained, torn sweatshirt, it washes me out. And these days, I find myself pulling it on, morning after morning. It’s ugly. But it’s comfortable, and I don’t quite know how to shake the habit of grabbing it off the heaping pile of dirty laundry and slipping in one arm after the other.
My life doesn’t suck. Really, my life doesn’t suck. But I zip up that nasty, dull, grey hoodie each morning like it does. I hate the unflattering cut of that sweatshirt, how it hides and distorts what’s underneath, but I choose to put it on, to let it tell the world what I think I’m worth. Day. After. Day. I know the things. I know. The having to choose. To finally part ways with the dang thing and throw it out because it doesn’t tell the world who I really am. Doesn’t tell me who I am. Sells me short. This I know. So, Hannah, so, listening ear, how do I find the want-to? How do I shirk the sweatshirt for good?
I.want.to.take.the.sweatshirt.off. I do. I just need the courage. I need to want it bad enough. Want it bad enough to stop doing the things that scream, “This is all I’m worth,” the things that make that tattered, sorry excuse of a garment hiss, “See? This is who you are. This is all you’ll ever be. You’ll never change, you’ll never change. You haven’t got it in you. You’ll always come back to this. This is home.” I need that courage.
I don’t expect you to tell me how to find the courage. I know it’s choice. I know I need to open my eyes to the beauty all around that makes the choice worth it. I know I need to unclench the fists and the teeth and open this soul to all that heals, even hurt.
I just needed to get it out, Hannah. So, if you get to read this and you have a sec, say a prayer? Shoot me an, “I’m in your corner”? That’s all. I want this, I do. It’s just hard to go it alone and sometimes it helps to have someone remind you that you can do it. That it’s worth it.
I want to tell you a secret. And it’s a secret I never told anyone up until yesterday over rib eye tacos and chopped plantains at a restaurant where the food arrives to the table in adorable, little bowls. I guess I don’t know what makes a secret no longer a secret. I want to say the limit is 5 people or something. So it looks like this won’t be a secret anymore after tonight.
I used to hate pants. I used to hate wearing pants for the past three years. No one really knows that. I had a few pairs of them. I’d wear them occasionally but I always opted for dresses and skirts and tights. If I did wear a pair of pants, they were always looser. Sort of baggy. It’s strange to admit that here, that I hated the tightness of jeans. I hated feeling a waistband against my skin. I hated sitting down in a chair and being able to sense that I might have love handles. It was the leftover side effects of a body disorder. Every waistband was a reminder to me that I needed to be shrinking, not growing.
It wasn’t until a month ago that I walked into the GAP on Lexington Avenue and saw a pair of bright-blue jeans that I loved. Even just on the hanger, we were having a love affair. I took them with me into the fitting room. I geared up for the equivalent of the Hunger Games in my mind– a competition between all the districts of small voices in my head that told me how small I should be. How very little space I should try to take up.
I put the pants on. Slowly. Hesitantly. And I stared at myself in the mirror for what felt like a long time. And I didn’t forge a peace pact with my body or anything but I realized I was okay with it. I was okay with it.
I walked out of the GAP that day with two pairs of jeans and a body. Yes, it turns out that I have a body. And I have curves. And I have a shape. And I have all these things I never really took the time to see before. I’d been too busy hiding from it.
And surprisingly, there’s nothing destructive about my body. And nothing crumbles when I zipper jeans and feel the waistband against my skin. And if I just decide for myself that I’ve had enough of that, I can put it behind me. I actually have the power to put it behind me. And it’s enough for me to know, or at least predict, that when I am 76, I will have wished I loved my body a little more and went for the fitted pants. That’s enough for me to put them on.
T, I don’t want to be the person who lugs regrets like carry-on luggage into older age. I don’t want to have to say, looking back, that I was very fluent with breaking my own heart when it came to self-worth.
When I read your email– the beauty of all your syllables– I thought about those pants.
I thought about one of my girlfriend’s demanding I walk around to her side of the table in the middle of a lunch date and do a spin, right after I bought them.
“You have a body,” she said. “I didn’t even see it before. I didn’t know you had a shape.”
She didn’t know it because I covered it up. And I chose oversized layers. And I spent a long time wearing things that didn’t really fit me or flatter me simply because I wanted to be smaller than what I really was.
And I wonder if it might be the same for you and that word of yours– victim. I wonder what it would be like if you just decided today that you were done with that word. Done with that name. If it was being discontinued. Retired. Thrown away. I wonder if maybe all of us are a single internal shopping trip away from picking out better names to go by from the inventory of ourselves.
I wonder if you sat down for five minutes and you envisioned someone giving you the permission to cut that word out of every single dictionary and burn all the little shreds of paper that read the word “victim” on them, what that might feel like. I wonder if you would realize you’re okay without the word. You’re not destructive. You’re not a wrecking ball. You’re not someone who needs the word “victim” to keep her muzzled, and safe, and tame. You’re okay. You might even be better than okay.
I wonder if you will find that you have a contagious laugh. That you like mornings instead of nights. That you like your coffee black when you have the courage to try sipping it without spoonfuls of sugar mixed in. I wonder if you will see a lot more of this lifetime– all the curves of it– when you stop using a word that so quickly dismembers you and belittles you and tries to make you smaller than you really are. When you stop using the word “victim” as a comfort zone and you just learn the truth about comfort zones: comfort zones are a myth. They’re like reindeer with red lightbulbs attached to their noises to the people who live braves lives.
I wonder if you’ll wake up wide-eyed tomorrow and see the truth: we’re all looking for names and hurdles and things to be chains that keep us from fully living. We’re drawn to poems and stories where the limitations are lifted. And yet, some of us never move. We blast songs about learning to let it go. And yet, some of us will never stop holding onto the chains. It’s like we’re all just a single step away from realizing that the chains might be real but they’re paper. We could break them. We could really break them if we wanted to.
It’s like you’re ready but you have just one more step in front of you. That’s all I really hear in your letter, T. I hear the voice that is sitting in between every line, saying, “I’m not this small. I’m just afraid of bigness. I am afraid that small is comfortable and small is safe and small is where I belong.”
Darling, small isn’t real. If your mind is already tumbling wildly over bigness than thinking you’ll be just fine playing a small life is a heartbreaking myth, as well. You’re denying yourself of the goodness you want. You’re mixing lemonade, pouring the sugar in, adding the ice and then saying to that heart of yours, “No, no, watch it from the counter but don’t you sip. That lemonade is for other people. Not you. Not you.”
T, you made the lemonade. You made it. And you have one more step. So say it with me, “And now, I’ll take a sip.”
I have a digital assistant.
Her name is Bethany. She is a bit of a powerhouse and I love her more fiercely than I get to tell her sometimes. She’s sort of like glue to the parts of me that don’t know how to keep an inbox organized. She wrote this article recently. And she wrote this one line. If I believed in face tattoos, this would probably be the line I choose to get needled across my nose and freckled cheeks:
“–what I’ve learned is that removing a label doesn’t change you—it frees you.”
That’s what will happen when you dismember that word “victim.” When you throw it away. You’ll be the same, sweet person. You’ll have the same heart. You’ll just be free. Imagine that. You’ll be free.
Don’t be afraid of being free. Don’t be afraid of the slow, long sips of sweet elixirs this life is going to give you on the day you choose big over small. Don’t be afraid of the fitted pants.
It starts by putting on the pants, one leg at a time. It starts with one slow slip.
tying you closer than most,
As always with these sort of things, post a note in the comments below for T. She’ll be reading.