Dear Younger Self,

I wish I’d been around for you back then, back when you were a single mom, with an aggressively hostile ex-husband, two upset young children, a difficult job, a low salary, unprocessed memories of abuse and a profound sense of loneliness. I would love to have helped you back then.

In particular, I wish I had been there after the long night when Stephen abused you. I can see now how much you suffered at the time (and since then), and I’d love to give you compassion and support. I know it’s late now, and that you would like to have had this much earlier, but I wasn’t there then. I’m here now, though, and I want to tell you about the support I would have given you at the time, had I been able.

First and most importantly, I would have told you don’t need to blame yourself. You had no idea what was going to happen, how terrible he was going to be to you. You did not listen to your instincts and take action to keep yourself safe, that is true. But that’s not at all the same as “asking for it” or “wanting it.” 

And it’s not surprising that you weren’t good at protecting yourself. No one taught you that or showed you what it looked like. You spend years watching your mother cower and give in to your stepdad’s emotional abuse. Since you were little, you had experienced multiple sexual violations that had taught you that you were supposed to be easily available to men, regardless of what you wanted. You’d had great difficulty leaving your ex-husband, who often told you on a daily basis how you had no right to have opinions different from his; after all, he was logical and right, and you were emotional and irrational. How could you possibly experience all those things and yet have a good set of self-protective boundaries? It doesn’t work like that. You don’t need to punish yourself for not having skills you were not raised to have.

You’ve used memories from that night as a club to beat yourself. The biggest club of all, with big nails sticking out of it to wound you again and again, is the memory of having been aroused some of the time that night, even though you were also in pain. I know this memory makes you want to hide under the covers and never show your face in the world again. It’s the part of the story you most want to deny, to bury, to lie about. I don’t blame you.

You’ve told yourself that this means you are twisted and sick. But that’s just not true, and I wish I could have told you that right then, the next morning. I would have wanted you to know that you didn’t need to hurl recriminations at yourself for this. Your body is made to respond; it’s the most normal, natural thing in the world. It doesn’t necessarily distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate partners or situations. It doesn’t say “are my emotional needs being met right now?” before the blood starts to flow. That’s true for most people. Add on to that your sexual experiences where you were not in control, where the people involved were not interested in your well-being, where you’d had to disconnect your emotions to get through it. There was a way in which this terrible night felt familiar to you. Not because you were twisted and sick, but because you’d been abused before.

If I could have comforted you then, taken you away to rest and be cared for, I would have done that. You were a tired and overwhelmed single mom before any of this started–how you needed some gentle, loving comfort back then! Perhaps if you’d had it, you wouldn’t have carried the pain of that night as long as you have.

But I’m here now. I’ll listen to your story and concerns, again and again if you want. And I’ll remind you that you are not to blame, you are not disgusting, you are not twisted. You had a terrible experience that was possible because you’d had bad experiences before. That’s all. It’s no reflection on your value as a human being. You are not worth less because of this experience. You are not less deserving of love. I’ll keep telling you this as long as you need me to. I’ll keep telling you this until the memory of that night becomes just a memory of a very bad night but loses its power over you. I’ll celebrate with you when you are ready to to stop punishing yourself. 

With love to you from your older, wiser self,