Dear Teen Me,
Some really amazing, good things have been happening to us lately…
…and it’s been making our life hell.
Here’s the deal:
You’re used to really shitty stuff happening to you. After all, you’re currently living with a monster right now. In a few years you’re going to be thrown out of the house and all of your belongings will be set on fire in the backyard. You’ll spend a few months sleeping on friends’ floors and living out of your car, all the while working at a fast food restaurant at night and trying to finish your senior year.
And you know what? You’re going to handle all that drama like a BOSS. Not only do you graduate, but you’ll manage to work two jobs to make ends meet all the while taking classes at the community college. It won’t be easy, but in the end you’ll end up exactly where you want to be—married to a wonderful man, living in a beautiful home, mother of an amazing daughter ,as well as the author of five published books.
The journey won’t be an easy one, (but we know how to handle tough shit, right?) You’ll suffer through one horrible marriage, come close to bankruptcy (TWICE), lose your best friend (people won’t understand your pain because he was a dog, but he’ll be the other half of your heart and his loss will be earth shattering.) You’ll lose a business you put your heart and soul in, endure one dead-end job after another all the while receiving rejection after rejection for your writing. But you know what? In the end you’ll persevere because that’s what you do. You’re a fighter and a survivor. I know it’s a cliché, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going and that’s exactly what you’ll do.
You’re used to life being hard, you expect it, and you prepare for it. So imagine my surprise when all of these good things started happening to me recently—like when I sold six books all on proposal, all at once. Or that when I found out how much my editor loves my most recent book and how it’s getting a lot of attention from a lot of interesting people. And all of this is good—really, really good.
So what do I do?
I started having panic attacks. At first they were little flutters in my stomach, but they soon erupted into full blown chest pain, dizziness, heart exploding, sweat inducing, can’t breathe panic attacks. There were nights when I shot out of bed from a dead sleep, clutching my chest and trying to catch my breath while my pulse galloped off like a heard of wild mustangs. I started losing weight because I couldn’t stomach more than a couple protein bars a day. Food made me miserable. I stopped sleeping. I went to the ER. I saw doctor after doctor. They gave me medication, bottles and bottles of pills. Some helped, some makes things ten times worse. I had surgery but it didn’t help. Nothing helped. Everyone told me I’m too stressed. Well, yeah. But I’m always stressed. So why is this any different?
So I started seeing a therapist. Yes I know, therapy is something we’ve avoided most of our life because it’s only for crazy people, right? WRONG. Deciding to see a therapist is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. When I was on the verge of agoraphobia, the therapist made your life livable again—but that’s a story for another time.
So I went to the therapist and she asked me to describe my earliest award. I’ll think back and the first I can remember receiving was a soccer trophy. Nothing special about that, so the therapist asked about the next award I remembered receiving.
That’s when a memory will resurface, one I had forgotten about, so that when it filled my mind for the first time in nearly two decades, it was like a blast of ice water through your veins. The memory wasn’t completely clear—little snippets like a broken puzzle piece scattered on the floor. A horse show—your first horse show. You were twelve—or maybe thirteen? You were so nervous, God, you almost threw up. And then you rode into the ring in your brand new breeches and riding jacket. It must have been over a hundred degrees and sweat trickled in lines down your back.
There were so many other kids in the ring, their horses kicking up dust that coated your tongue and throat. You didn’t have your own horse so you were riding one of the barns many school horses—a black and white AQHA paint named Prom Night Paco. This wasn’t Paco’s first rodeo and he took your nerves in stride, listening to your clumsy commands and making you shine. When the judge asked the horses to line up in the middle of ring, your heart climbed up your throat. And when he called your number to receive the blue ribbon, he had to call it twice because you were sure you misheard.
You don’t remember riding out of the ring. With the blue ribbon clutched in your hand, it felt like you were flying…
But you quickly crashed back down to earth when you returned to the horse trailer and found your stepdad waiting for you with his signature frown etched on his face.
Your throat tightened to the point you couldn’t swallow. You knew something was wrong before he even opened his mouth.
And when he finally did, it wasn’t to congratulate you are tell you how well you’d ridden. Of course not. You’re living with the man, you know exactly the kind of person he is.
The first words out of his mouth were, “Give it back.”
Your fingers curl tighter around the ribbon. You don’t understand why he’s asking you to do this, but you also know there’s no point in fighting him. When you do you always lose. Still, you want to hold on for as long as possible, to stall so the ribbon can be yours for just a few moments longer. “Why?” you manage to ask.
His icy stare never wavers. “That’s not your horse. Therefore, you didn’t earn the ribbon. You don’t deserve it. So give it back now.”
Remember that moment, teen me? I honestly didn’t. Not until a couple of weeks ago when I relived the entire thing sitting in my therapist’s office. She told me that’s I’ve been having so much trouble dealing with success—that I’ve convinced myself I don’t deserve it and, even if I do, I’m subconsciously waiting for someone to take it away.
Whoa. Talk about mind f%$k .
She then made me pretend to go back to that moment, and this time tell her exactly what I wanted to tell my stepdad all those years ago but was too afraid to, and what I told her is what I’m going to tell you now.
You’re not giving that ribbon back. You earned it with you talent and hard work. If anybody tried to take away something you’ve earned, they’re in for a fight. You deserve every bit of goodness, happiness, and light that comes into your life. Your smart, hard-working, and talented, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground and should be removed from your life immediately.
You deserve to be happy, teen Cole. You deserve to reap the rewards of the life you worked so hard to create. I know you won’t always feel this way. You’ll have good days and you’ll have days where doubt trails behind you like a shadow. Sometimes it feels like the more you rise, the higher you get, the longer the shadows grow. And that may be true, but what’s also true is that climbing over obstacles will always elevate you, and the higher you get, the closer to the sun you’ll be.
Remember this, teen Cole, the closer you get to the light the less shadows there will be.
For darkness can’t survive in the sun.
I pledge to take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice
~ Cole Gibsen, author of The Social Media Experiment
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