A Letter to My Past Self

The past 40 years have taught me some hard-fought lessons

Dear Danni (my 20th-century self),

It’s been a wild ride so far, hasn’t it? It gets wilder, but don’t be daunted. Here’s what I want you to know. If you remember these things, life won’t be any easier, but maybe it won’t seem quite so difficult anymore.
 

You Are Worthy

'Your value doesn't decrease based on someone else's inability to see your worth.' --Anonymous Click To Tweet
You have never deserved the abuse you were born into, and you did nothing to perpetuate it. You deserve to be loved and treated with respect. It’s not your fault when people don’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. They control their behavior, and nothing you can do will change that. All you can do is control your own actions and reactions as much as possible. You cannot control another person’s behavior with your actions, and it’s not your responsibility.
 

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

You are literally doing the best you can with what you have, which has never been much. You’re not perfect because you’re an actual human person, made of flesh, blood, bone, strengths, and weaknesses. You are constantly learning and adapting, which will serve you well throughout your life. Give yourself a break every now and then. You deserve it.
 

Stop Making Excuses for People Who Hurt You

The only thing an excuse is good for is making yourself feel better for a short time, but if you keep making them, nothing ever changes. Don’t lie to yourself about why people hurt you. Those who hurt you, especially consistently, are not worthy of the time and energy you put into explaining away their inexcusable behavior. No one has the right to mistreat you, and I won’t say “for any reason” because there’s never a reason. People who are not toxic do not abuse others, no matter what kind of day, week, month, year, or life they might be having. Eliminate negative, toxic people from your life as soon as you’re aware of them, and seek out healthier alternatives.
 

You Are Not Who They Say You Are

I know it’s tempting to listen to other people’s opinions of you, especially when they’re your parents or other people you’ve been taught to look up to, but don’t believe what they say about you. They don’t understand you, and they never will. They feel threatened by you, and they want to control you, so they have to gaslight you into believing their lies. Never listen to anyone who claims to know you better than you know yourself, even if it’s your own parent or another authority figure. No one knows your own mind better than you do.
 

You Are Whomever You Decide to Become

You have control over whom you become. Where you came from and what you’ve experienced does not define you, but what you learn from it and how you use those lessons to evolve into the person you’ve always wanted to become does. You are a complex composition of everything that has ever happened to you — good and bad. You can be whomever you decide to be. And you decide every day with each individual choice you make, so try not to let yourself down.
 

You Are the Only One You Can Count On

Sadly, you are the only person you can rely on, but I think you’ve always known that deep down. No one else is looking out for you, so if you want what’s best for yourself, you’d better figure out what that is and make it happen. Don’t worry, though. Someday you’ll meet someone else who has only your best interests at heart, doesn’t want to hurt you, and actually, wants to help you lighten your load. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know one day it will.
 

Trust Yourself

I know it’s incredibly difficult to trust yourself when you’ve literally been brainwashed not to since you were born, but you’ll save yourself so much trouble if you just follow your instincts. Don’t believe that anyone else knows what’s best for you, and never take advice from someone who won’t be affected by the consequences of it.
 

Be Brave

You can’t go through life too afraid to live it. Nothing ever changes until you leave your comfort zone, so learn to embrace the discomfort. It’s terrifying to try to change your life, particularly when you’ve been told you can’t, but they were wrong. You are the only one who can, in fact. Never doubt that for a second. Use your fear as a tool of transformation.
 

Be Weird

Don’t conform to what others want you to be or think you should be. The world is full of people just “earthworm-ing” their ways through life, not paying attention to anything other than what’s right in front of them. Don’t be like them. Your unique perspective gives you an edge. Don’t be afraid of it. Learn to love it, cultivate it, sharpen it, and use it to cut off anyone who wants to dilute your spirit. Go find your tribe of fellow weirdos, and bless the world with your rare vision.
 

Be Present

This one is tough. As much as possible, try not to live in the past or for the future. The past is merely a place to visit and learn lessons from, but you can’t live there. And you can’t even visit the future. All you can do is try to prepare for it as much as possible, and plan for as many contingencies as you can think of. Learn from the past to improve the present and build a future you can be proud of. Live in the present with the people you love while you can because tomorrow is a luxury not everyone has.
 

Believe in Yourself

You don’t need anyone else to believe in you, which is good because there’s been a decided lack of that in your life so far, hasn’t there? It’s not because there’s anything wrong with you. There is something wrong with the people you’ve been surrounded by thus far. They are abusive, manipulative, and cruel. They don’t want to see anyone else succeed, so they try to sabotage others whenever possible. However, not everyone is like that. You’re not like that, and you’re not alone. If you’ll allow yourself to admit it, you know you have the ability to do pretty much whatever you put your mind to, but other people don’t want you to believe it, because they are jealous and spiteful. Don’t listen to them. Figure out what you want and go get it.
 

Love Yourself

This is another hard one, huh? It’s so difficult to love yourself when you’ve been told you’re unlovable by the people who are supposed to love you the most. You are just as worthy of love as anyone else is. You are working hard to become the person you want to be, and that is something to love. Your goals are noble. You are constantly looking for ways to help others, and that’s a pretty lovable trait. You deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and love, so be open to it, especially when it’s coming from yourself.
 

Stop Trying to Make Everyone Else Happy

You can’t please other people. At least not in the long run. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions and mistakes. When you only try to please others, you never get what you need, and that will straight-up ruin your life. It’s not your responsibility to make anyone else happy. That’s on them. It’s not selfish to build the life you want.
 

Tell People How You Feel About Them

When you care about people, tell them. I know this sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Life is short. At the end of it, you’re not going to regret saying how you felt. In fact, you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do and the people you lost because you couldn’t make time for them or simply express how much they meant to you. If you actually lose someone you care about because you express that to them, is it really a loss after all? You won’t have to force, beg, or trick the right people into loving you or being there for you. They will want to be part of your life because you are worthy and they are the right people.
 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

If you want something, go after it. If you feel something, say it. If you love someone, tell them. If you don’t love someone, tell them. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s. You don’t know how much of it you’ll have to spend with the people who matter, so don’t give it away too freely because, as it turns out, there is never enough it. Achieve as many of your goals as you possibly can because no matter how much you do or how long you live, you’ll still never accomplish everything you want to in the end.
 

Everything is Temporary

Everything you are feeling and will feel is temporary. I know sometimes it’s unimaginably painful, but I promise it won’t last forever, so hold on tight. I’ll always be here to help you get through it. Similarly, the good things are temporary too. But, don’t be saddened by that. Instead, know it and take the time to enjoy the positive. You deserve to celebrate all of your successes, and you are certainly allowed to be happy.
 

Finally…

All that has happened, and will happen, to you will continue to shape who you are for the rest of your life. Without each of these experiences, you would not be you. They were and are necessary for you to learn and grow. They have taught you more than anyone can possibly imagine. You have learned to be stronger than you ever thought possible, stronger than you even know right now, and to take nothing for granted. Remember, I love you and I believe in you. It may not always seem like it, but it’s true. I will never give up on you. That’s how we’ve made it this far, and it’s how we’ll get where we have always wanted to go.
 
All my love,
Elle (your 21st-century self)
 

Is it weird that I still want to wish him a happy anniversary?

Today is a weird day. It’s my 22nd wedding anniversary, the first one since our separation almost a year ago (in eight days to be precise), and I don’t exactly know how to feel about it. I woke up still wanting to wish him a happy anniversary this morning. Is that weird? Is it odd that I’ve spent the entire day missing him? Okay, so it’s not exactly him that I miss. It’s the promise of what was “supposed” to be. What’s funny about that is I thought I’d mourned and come to terms with it already. I guess I still haven’t completely let go of the illusion, though.

It’s been quite a while since I posted in my story, so I figured this would be a good day to give a little update. So here goes… My ex and I have finally been officially living apart for about the last three months. Although things have still been incredibly stressful in our personal lives, our relationship has improved quite a bit, especially in the last month or so. Come to think of it, that’s probably part of what’s making today more difficult. We are starting to feel a lot more like friends, and he’s basically been the only “friend” I’ve had regular contact with my entire adult life. Yeah, let that sink in.

I was just barely 18 years old when we got married, and he was not quite 20 yet, so right there the odds were not in our favor. That combined with our mutual need to escape our similarly toxic, abusive families, and our lack of understanding about the effects our childhoods had on us, made for a tumultuous life together as we desperately searched for what was missing from our lives in each other without first understanding what was “missing” in ourselves. And because neither of us had any examples of a healthy relationship to draw from, we were sort of doomed to relive what we knew, which was extremely dysfunctional and unhealthy to say the least.

About 15 or 16 years into our marriage, I started to open my eyes and really see what was going on. He wanted to stay asleep, though, and he really resented me for waking up. Furthermore, he was angry with me for trying to wake him up too. He just wasn’t ready yet, but I wasn’t ready to give up on him either, so I spent the next few years trying to drag him kicking and screaming down the “road to recovery” with me. It took me that long to realize that what he had been doing to me our whole marriage was abusive because it didn’t look exactly like my dad’s abuse did. The other difference is that my ex can admit his behavior is sometimes abusive. Not in the moment, of course. In the moment, I’m just a pain in the ass who deserves what I get for fucking with him…but that’s not what this is about. This is about us both eventually realizing we have serious problems that need major work before involving another person in our lives. This is about us finding our way to friendship with one another.

The truth is, I don’t know if he’s really changing anything or not because we don’t live together anymore, and it’s a lot easier to hide things from me now, but I’ve never really believed he has NPD. He did, however, grow up in a narcissistic family dynamic, like I did, and we both learned some severely unhealthy behaviors as a result. I believe he is exceptionally hurt, out of touch with his emotions, and unsure of how to process them at this point, but I know he wants to be happy. He just doesn’t know how to go about it yet. And there’s no denying he loves our children and wants what’s best for them. That’s not something a narcissistic parent feels for their kids. I genuinely believe he wants to get better. We both cut off contact with our toxic, abusive family members a long time ago, and we’re in counseling individually now, so my hope for “our” future is that our friendship keeps growing stronger, and our kids continue getting to have birthdays and holidays with both their parents for as long as they want them.

Now that I find myself at the end of this, I think I actually do know how I feel. I have mixed emotions. Twenty-two years ago today, I thought I married my best friend, and I really thought it was forever. I think it’s completely reasonable for me to feel sad and disappointed that I didn’t get to have the “happily ever after” I had planned. But then again, who really does? We all make plans that don’t come together for one reason or another, and that’s okay. That’s life. It’s also okay to mourn that loss. I feel excited for my future in a way that I’ve never experienced before, as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing where my life goes now that I understand that I’m the only one putting limits on myself. I’ve made it my mission to get the hell out of my own way. After all, I am my only real obstacle as it turns out.

Today I woke up on my 22nd wedding anniversary and realized I still love the man I’m divorcing, and that’s perfectly acceptable. He will always be my first love, and he will always be the father of my three amazing children. I will be eternally grateful to him for everything we’ve gone through together, because all of those experiences and lessons have made me who I am, and they’ve given me the strength to continue becoming myself.