Monday, August 4, 2014

A Letter to My 18 Year Old Self

Dear Alex:

Pittsburgh. College.

One of the wildest, wonderful, most whimsical chapters of your life so far is about to begin. You've been waiting, wishing to get out of the bubble that is Stuart, Florida for the past four/five years you have been here….yet...for the first time since you've moved here, from Miami to Stuart, you get that feeling. That feeling that signifies that something is about to end, you don’t know what’s going to happen beyond the point where you close a door on a particular chapter of your life, and it’s freeing, but it’s also beyond terrifying. You will move past this feeling quickly as you drive away with Aunt Kathy, rental SUV all packed to the brim with your personal belonging and clothes that are left over from your days in Florida, finally headed up to Pittsburgh for college, after giving your mom your last hug at 6 am until Thanksgiving break, turning your back towards Florida for the first time in your life for longer than three weeks.

Let me just go ahead and say that like most things in life, college is not going to work out the way you expected it to or wanted it to. I’m sorry to have to say that. You are going to base some of the most amazing memories of your life here; you will discover yourself and find different corners of your mind that you never explored before. Yet, you are also going to let yourself down more times than you can imagine, you are going to fuck up a lot, and you are going to be the biggest disappointment to your friends, your family, your professors and advisors. You’re going to have a ton of friends freshman year, only to lose a lot of them. You will meet some really shitty people that are going to hurt you. Sometimes you are going to be that shitty person that hurts others. You are not going to meet the love of your life here, at least not right now. You are not going to succeed and get straight A’s your first year. You’re going to put a lot more into some relationships that end up not working out, and you’re going to feel completely destroyed from handing your heart out so freely.  You’re not all of a sudden going to turn from the spoiled, irresponsible child that you are into a full functioning, responsible, accountable adult. That takes time, something you need to remember. There will be heartbreak. There will be lots of tears. Unfortunately, part of discovering the unexplored corners of your mind means that you are going to discover some really dark matter that you never thought existed before in your head. These next three years in Pittsburgh are going to be the most trying times of your life, yet also somehow the most rewarding.

You will finally start to act like a fucking adult somewhat, which is long overdue. You no longer have mom around to do your laundry or remind you to schedule your doctors appointments or remind you to drop off this and that paperwork to this place, or pay your bills on time, or coddle you in general. You’re going to be late on paying your bills a few times, you’re going to piss off your roommates more than once because of your naturally selfish nature, you’re going to get too drunk some nights when you really need to be up at 8 am and not in shambles the next morning, but it’s okay, despite this at least you’re moving a few steps forward into becoming accountable for yourself and becoming a better person. That doesn't mean you’re not going to have those friendships and relationships and days in general when you’re not a complete asshole. Because you are going to. You’re not perfect. You’re not always going to be a nice person that makes the best decisions, you’re not going to respond to emails on time like you are supposed to, you’re not always going to own up to your mistakes, and you need to learn to forgive yourself for that. Definitely work on improving upon it, but also don’t hate yourself because you mess up. You’re going to feel frustrated that you are not as put together as some of the people around you. But keep in mind, they had to journey down a path to get to the point that they are at now. You just started your road a lot later than some other people did, and to this day you are still traveling down it. It’s never going to be a perfectly narrow path either without any curves or edges or road bumps. You will hit your hard times. You are in repair….your not fully together, but you are getting there. Be happy that you are moving forward and not backwards anymore.

You are going to realize sometime during the summer before your junior year just how reliant you are on the men in your life and how much you have depended on your relationships to define you. You will then realize that you don’t want a guy or his career to define you, you don’t want to be a paper doll that is looked at as a delicate play-thing that is not taken seriously anymore. You can’t dwell a home in another human being, or entrust your heart with them. They will always drop it. Always. You can’t wait to have kids and take care of a home someday, but you will want to be something more than a housewife whose excitement for the day caps at when her husband comes home (because honestly, especially after being a nanny for a family of three children under the age of 5 for over a year, you’re going to realize that if you’re just at home all day with three children you are going to go insane. Yep, you’re going to babysit three little rascals and it’s going to be crazy but so rewarding.) You want to define yourself.  You always dreamed of having a conventional “Once Upon a time….” story with a Prince Charming and a beautiful ball gown and a happily ever after. Yet, what about your life has ever been conventional? You are a calm sea and a hurricane all in one. A living contradiction at times.

Even though it seems like a stretch and like no one believes in you, you’re going to finally decide that you are going to pursue your lifelong dream of attending law school. You will get incredulous looks and people saying behind your turned away shoulder that you are not smart enough, don’t have what it takes to be a lawyer, don’t have the right personality for it. Don’t solely pursue it to prove them wrong, do it because its what you want for yourself and you want to prove to yourself that you can reach your highest potential. Their eventual words of encouragement will come once they see progress, see that you believe in yourself. That might take a while. It will not be easy. Keep going though, because you know in your heart that it’s destined to happen. You will have people that do believe in you from the start though, and don’t forget to let them know how much you love them and appreciate their encouragement. God gave you life for a reason. He instilled you on this planet to complete a small portion of the work he wants done before he calls you back to His kingdom. There is a girl being sold into sex trafficking somewhere in the world, sitting, wanting an end to her misery and torture.Think of all those children that are put through so many atrocities not just worldwide, but also domestically when pushing through your schoolwork, thinking that it won’t all add up someday. You want to help them. That girl in that brothel, or that boy that is being raped every night by his father, or that girl that, like you, was sexually assaulted and drugged at a party is waiting for you to finish your degree, pass your bar exam, join the workforce and help save them so they can eventually save themselves. Sometimes people need a guiding force to save them that is a little bit more physical and concrete than faith and God’s presence. Give those justice that can’t quite pursue it themselves. The harder you work, the more you can make it happen.

That’s another thing we need to talk about. At the beginning of your sophomore year, you are going to be drugged at a party. A boy is going to force himself on you, rip your clothes off, hurt you, touch you when you are trying to scream the word, “No,” yet the drugs won’t let you. For a long time afterwards, you will feel violated, broken, destroyed, everything you never wanted to feel. What is left of your innocence has been compromised and there’s nothing you can do about that last part of it that you were trying to hold onto and protect for so long, that ultimately was ripped away. You are going to mentally write lists of things you did wrong, things you could have done to protect yourself more against the shadow of evil that was cast upon you that night. You will hate yourself for months afterwards, drinking too often and too excessively, lashing out at your ex-boyfriend, your roommates, your friends. Remember that none of it was your fault (the fights afterwards were, and honestly, you were acting like a freaking crazy moron because you refused to talk about and acknowledge what happened to you. Apologize.) You were intoxicated against your own will that night. Regardless, that did not give him the right to touch you. Girls do need to learn how to protect themselves, but some boys also need to learn how to stop raping and violating other human beings.

You know what though? I’m proud of you. You moved past it. You will come close to letting it consume you and swallow you whole, the guilt and frustration and anger you feel. Yet, you will come to a day where you forgive yourself. You’re going to feel free from the crutches you latched yourself on to. You are going to realize that one person’s act of violence does not define who you are as it never should.

Perhaps the most important thing that is going to happen to you over these next three years is that you are going to start calling yourself a Christian again. Yeah, I know. You spent a good deal of high school saying you believed in God, sort of, but didn’t really want to do anything about it because you were lazy and discouraged. You’re going to be confused by it a lot of times too, because you drink, you say “fuck” way too often, and you have definitely more than once shown up to church in the clothes you went out in the night before (seriously, be thankful that God hasn’t struck down a lightning bolt on us for being so awful sometimes.) Your faith is going to be the light that guides you through your dark times up here. That being said, your faith itself will never be easy. You’re going to find yourself questioning things a lot, slipping back into old habits that consumed your life before you let Christ back in it, and some days you’re going to feel like you’re taking ten steps backwards instead of ten steps forward. Your trip to Guatemala sophomore year (yes, you’re going to go to Guatemala and it’s going to be a life changing experience) will help you define where you want to go. You’re currently on a lot of roads. Your career road, your personal development road, your faith road. Katherine is going to be a huge guiding point of your faith road. Thumim will be a huge part of your personal development road. Listen to them. On all of your pathways though, most importantly, listen for God’s voice. He won’t abandon you, He’ll always listen to you, and He’ll always be here to guide you. Don’t abandon God despite circumstance and what may come up in the future, because, I repeat: He will never abandon you.

After three years here, you’re going to realize that the way you are trying to approach pursuing your career and the rest of your goals in life is simply not working right now. For the first time in your life, you actually feel homesick. You still love Pittsburgh and feel like you have some special connection to the city that will never go away, but you hate being so far away from your family. Dad and Karin will get divorced in the beginning of your third year of college, leaving you with no real family members in Pennsylvania. You’re going to get really lonely. You’ll hate that John Patrick is growing up seemingly so quickly before your eyes, and you are missing out on so much of his childhood. It’s okay to feel this way, and it’s okay to make the decision to move back home. Don’t think of it as starting over, because starting over sometimes means forgetting what happened before your new beginning. Forgetting a place like Pittsburgh? Impossible. Darling, you will find yourself here. I don’t know where she was hiding; maybe it was somewhere near the pool table in Belvedere’s or in the upper tier of PNC Park during a baseball game, or in the pews of Shadyside Presbyterian or one of the nationality rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, or amongst the law tomes in Pitt’s law library, or in 419 Atwood’s basement dancing. The important thing is that you found her, and now you can make sure you grow. Just think of this all as moving forward. This isn’t taking a step back, it’s simply just taking a step in a different direction than you had originally thought. Hey, think about it this way. Right now, you think you’re going to go to college, will meet your future husband some point after your first year, go into fashion public relations and writing, and then move to New York City and become a huge PR magnate taking the fashion world by storm, because someone told you you weren’t smart enough to become a lawyer, that you had a writer’s soul and liked clothes so you should do something with that. Two years ago, statements like these would have paralyzed me, as I’m sure you are feeling now. However, now, as you will learn to do eventually, I scoff at statements like that. You and you alone are the author of your story, the life you pursue, the story you come to share with others. What do you want your story to be? You are going to swap out all your fashion magazine prints on your freshman dorm room walls for a Bible verse chalked onto your brick back wall. You will trade your fashion statement coffee mug for one that lists landmark Supreme Court cases. And you know what, that makes me happy, because that means you have taken the steps necessary to define yourself, what you want for your life. For once, you’re calling the shots somewhat and it feels good to do things for yourself. You’re going to finally learn how to become financially independent from your family, your savings, and it’s going to be a really satisfying feeling when you do. You’re going to hold a few jobs, and it’s going to be really difficult but you’re also going to feel so happy that you can trust yourself to do the grunt work, to labor through arduous tasks that seem unimportant but add up to a bigger picture. Consistency and hard work are key, my dear, and you will learn that here better than anywhere else, in a city itself that has risen and fallen so many times and has had to pick up its broken pieces to reconstruct and succeed eventually.

By the time you are getting ready to leave here, you’re going to look at a lot of the same places you used to go to a lot freshman year, or even sophomore year, and you’re going to look at these places in the present and sadly, in a way, think to yourself, “Wow. What a different person I am now than when I was first in this place. Different mind. Different thoughts. I am a different person now.” There is a bit of melancholy attached to these thoughts, but try to move past that and think of how far you've come, how much you will grow up in these three years. You’ve certainly grown more than you did in high school, that’s for sure. The skyline of this city will always be your first love, yet, every time you come back to this place and look at the magnanimous buildings that light up downtown once more, you are going to be a different person, occupied by different thoughts and feelings. This is good because it means you are evolving into the person you need to be to complete the things you were meant to do with your precious time here. In high school and during my freshman year of college, I used to look at myself as meek, somewhat quiet, awkward, weird, friendly, not hard working, lazy, messy, afraid to stand up for myself. Now though? I look at myself and I see a girl who has gained a few curves and edges alongside herself while here. I look into a face of not beauty or innocence, but hard work and experience, two great teachers. A girl that is not afraid to argue back when her dignity is compromised or at risk anymore. A girl who is stronger than she had ever thought capable before. I’m still quite messy sometimes, but this summer I have become really happy that I don’t sleep in past 8 am anymore most days (exceptions of course are handed out for those nights I'm at work until 2 am), because nowadays  I would rather wake up and chase my dreams than merely live them out in my head. I think I've become a pretty hard worker, even though there’s always room for improvement. I’m still awkward and weird, but who said those always had to be bad things? I am nowadays much more concerned with having a personality rather than being a pretty face (God forbid I continue to be a basic white girl ever. Lord help me.) A lot of people would probably disagree with the way I look at myself and describe myself now, and I can’t blame them. They are probably among the people I have let down countless times or at one point or another. I look forward to showing them my continuous growth so that they can believe in me again in their own time, as you should too. Your journey won’t be easy, but it hopefully is going to be worth it.

Last but not least, I need you to ask yourself these things every day from now on.

1) Are you taking care of yourself?
2) Seriously.
3) Did you pray today?
4) What did you learn today?
5) Did you make another person smile?
7) Did you help or hurt someone?
and most importantly,
8) Does it make you happy?

You are going to slip under the wagon sometimes and you have a long road ahead of you. Just keep faith in the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you’re going to reach it sooner rather than later. Most people have a prayer of contentment, something they always ask for and wish upon. Yours will always be a line taken from your favorite artist, John Mayer:  “Just keep me where the light is.” You’ll be asking God that a lot these next few years, but also remember that you’re going to learn, and always will learn, how to search for that light in the darkness and to hold onto it on your own too.

Whatever dark corners you encounter, know that you and your faith are strong enough to pull yourself out of them.

21 year old Alex

P.S.: I am proud to say you will get over your stupid flavored vodka phase and move onto liking whiskey/scotch, like a real woman should. Good job.

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