Dear Teen Me,
I know you have no safe place—not at home being abused, and not at school being bullied. You are an easy target: shy, scared, jumping at touch, not looking people in the eyes—the marks of someone who’s been hurt. You’re afraid all the time. You hate yourself instead of your abusers and tormentors. You cut to cope. You think about killing yourself. But you keep hanging in there. You’re stronger than you know.
I know you think you’re weak. All the terrible things that happen to you at home. The way you struggle to stand up to your own bullies. But do you remember that Spring day on the way home from school when those boys were running after a girl with coke-bottle glasses and ill-fitting clothes, hooting and hollering at her, calling her names, throwing things? Do you remember how you ran after them, shouting at them to leave her alone? How angry and protective you felt? And how when the boys turned and saw you they ran away?
Do you remember the look in the girl’s eyes—the surprise and the relief that someone cared enough to stand up for her? Or how you walked her home even though it was out of your way just so she’d stay safe? And how you listened to all the horrible things she’d been through and told her she didn’t deserve any of it? That wasn’t weakness, Cheryl. That was strength. I am so very proud of you for standing up to those boys. For helping that girl find a small pocket of safety.
So what if you couldn’t do that for yourself yet? You were still being abused at home. You had victim tortured into you. But still you stood up for others. And you did it over and over again—with that same girl on other walks home, with a girl being harassed by a drank man on the streetcar, with another girl being sexually harassed, with children being hit by their parents. You tried to protect other kids and teens the way you needed to have someone protect you. You were brave, even though you didn’t feel like you were.
I know you still feel ashamed for some of the bullying you endured, for the way you couldn’t protect yourself. Like the time you were wearily leaning against your girlfriend’s shoulder on the bus and the driver stopped the bus and told you to separate or you’d have to get off. You argued with him, but he was enraged and in authority, and you were too tired and scared so you pulled away from your girlfriend and sat there, feeling humiliated and ashamed and later angry at yourself, wishing you’d written down his number and reported him. Or like the boys in school who would poke you and then hoot and laugh when you jumped—over and over again. You were so angry and ashamed because you couldn’t stop yourself from jumping, couldn’t fight back. Or like the time that man said that he should have sex with you so you wouldn’t be queer—suggesting rape would “fix” you. You froze when he and the other men laughed, fear gripping you, and it took you long moments to tell them that that wasn’t okay. You still feel ashamed that you didn’t stand up to them more strongly. To all your bullies. But you don’t deserve that shame or the anger you turn on yourself. It belongs to the people who hurt you.
And you know what? You often did stand up for yourself, even though it felt like they won. Sometimes it’s okay to not challenge too hard for your own safety. And the other times? Come on, you were a traumatized, bullied kid. Have more compassion for yourself. Yes, you wish you’d done more. Or that someone else had stood up for you. But it’s time to let that go, and to recognize your own strength.
I know you’re hurting—so badly that you don’t want to be here. That every day feels like another day you can’t endure. But I’m glad you’re here. You have a place in this world. Never forget that. And there are good people, even if you haven’t met many of them yet. Just keep hanging on. You will find more and more people with love in their hearts instead of hate.
I want you to be proud of who you are. You’re a survivor, a strong, gentle soul who doesn’t hurt others even though most others hurt you. You have compassion and kindness for others even though you don’t experience that yourself. And you will put even more goodness into the world with your writing. Yes, you will publish books! So be gentle with yourself. Let yourself love yourself, just a little. Let go of the hate and shame that aren’t yours. And know that things will get better. You will find true friends, kindness, love. You will find hope. And one day you will be glad that you are here, making a difference in the world.
I pledge to speak out against bullying when I see it & try to make a positive difference in this world, always. #OneVoice
~Cheryl Rainfield, author of Stained
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