An Open Letter to My Younger Self: I Forgive You.

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Dear Young Me,

I know right now you are probably pushing down tears, rage, fear or all of the above. I know this because this was your norm from such a young age that you won’t even recognize that this is abnormal until you are in your late 20s. It will take a long time for you to realize that you are not at fault, so it will be even longer until you know you need to be forgiving yourself. You are anything but a cliché or trite in nature so I won’t insult you with a garden variety message from the future that “life gets better”. Instead I am here to say that though it’s been ages since we’ve heard from each other – and that’s by my own design to banish you from my current life- I am reaching out to say that I forgive you.

Forgiveness to you must seem both expected and foreign. On one hand, of course you need to be forgiven because- despite most people thinking you are a model honor student- you are constantly told you are doing something wrong. On the other, forgiveness is not something you’ve ever seen before in your home life. In the chaotic world ruled by fear, hatred, jealousy, manipulation and narcissism to which you were born, forgiveness is a worthless currency. In fact, why would you be so weak as to show someone compassion when you can use any transgressions or weaknesses against them later?

When you grow up, there will be two popular shows called Game of Thrones and House of Cards. The way you have been trained to see the world and think of interpersonal relationships is much like these shows. That is not good.

That is also not your fault. You don’t know this yet, but you are being raised by a woman with lot of mental illness for which she will never be cured. She is not someone to whom you can apply logic or reality to. You are savvy beyond your years, ready to debate like a world class defense attorney just for the right to be a normal person, but this will never work on her because she can’t see truth or see you as a separate person with needs. I know you suspect this but you keep trying to win anyway. You feel guilty for learning to live a double life riddled with lies: trying desperately to appear OK to the world and still living within the boundaries set for you to avoid retribution.  I forgive you for that too. You aren’t a bad person and you have only lied out of survival. One day you will tell your secret and though people react in disbelief, they do believe you. You will be diagnosed with PTSD but that is nothing to be ashamed of these days, but rather heralded for the strength and wit to come out alive from what you now think is perfectly normal and unavoidable. Many highly trained doctors and most of the medical community will one day determine that your norm was child abuse and your pain was arthritis and post-traumatic fibromyalgia. Yes, I know that your family and even doctors have told you that the constant severe pain your body is in isn’t real, but it is. It is very real, you are NOT crazy and you will get treatment.

I mostly forgive you for the mistakes you made when you were a 12-year-old thrust into high school and trying to assimilate with other students for the first time in your home-schooled life. You are 135 lbs and 5 ft. You are currently getting hot flashes of fear as you read that number because you are supposed to be 100. You feel inadequate and ashamed because you have spent all of your time cramming to be #1 and crash dieting to be a size 0, and everyone around you is thin and dating.

I forgive you for wasting so many years hating yourself, because you don’t know better and no one has ever given you an ounce of validation. I forgive you for wanting so badly just to cut your fat rolls off with a knife, because you were told to do so repeatedly. I forgive you for scrambling to make up middle school hookup stories, because you were ashamed that you were the only girl in your class without one and you assumed you were too fat to ever be seen as anything but a punch line or a punching bag. You know you shouldn’t have been so childish, but you didn’t have much of a choice.

You know you don’t need to feel bad and you should be strong enough to stand up and embrace yourself as-is, but right now you are at sea without map or moral compass.

I blamed you for “not handling all this drama better” and was disgusted by your shows of “weakness” or naivety that will be soon hidden behind your steel wall of cynicism when you hit 16. But even college badass you, isn’t a tale of innocence lost. It’s a tale of innocence never-had, and a coming of age of what will be the strong self-reliant, hyper-capable woman you become. From age 6, you have been treated as an adult who must face the abuse, control, tragedies, scandals, rawness and that deafening silence before the storm – for yourself and everyone around you who is falling apart as we speak. You take that storm head on and come out a better person for it. You should be proud. I know you feel that failure is not an option so you take everything for granted and rarely feel pride, but seriously, not everyone would have weathered the first few decades as well as you will.

No one raised you. No one told you that childhood and emotions a part of life and not a burden to the those around you who just need you to perform at will.  No one prepared you for anything, aside from assuming all people have malicious intent and that you must fight for perfection to be granted basic respect.

Though, you will begin to give yourself some basic respect and learn to love your body even when it continues to grow after you ditch the diet pills she wasn’t supposed to give you at your age. You will shed the toxic brainwashing of a life you once knew. You will move on.

You will soon end the war within and turn your guns on those truly to blame. You will find them pitiful and sad, instead of feeling anger or fear. You will rise up and stand your ground. You will take major risks, but you will feel better and be whole.

You will be healed.

You will be happy.

You will be you.

You will be forgiven.

You will be free.

Sincerely yours, 

30-Something You 

PS: You don’t end up marrying a success or a rockstar. You will become both.

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Renee Cafaro

Renee Cafaro is the US Editor of plus size fashion magazine, SLiNK and lives in New York City. She started her luxury plus size style blog, Foxy Roxy, in 2010 and has been published in Yahoo! Travel, NY Post, and several other online outlets. Prior to her recent writing career, Ms. Cafaro had a 13-year career in City & State politics, including becoming the youngest member of senior staff for then-Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.  She then moved on to join New York Governor David Paterson's administration in 2008, the same year NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases diagnosed her with Seronegative Arthritis. This was an additional diagnosis that she wasn't expecting when she went in search of treatment for the Fibromyalgia pain she has dealt with since around age 11. She has worked very hard to find success in her life and career in spite of her chronic pain disorders and a lifetime of bullying, but it hasn't always been easy.

At 17, she was starting her junior year at Stanford University and struggled with misdiagnoses and dismissal about her condition from the administration, which ultimately led her to leave before graduation. Despite this set back, physical hardships and a general lack of support, she has found success and happiness in her life now that she can share her story to help those with similar paths. She toured the US as the Arthritis Foundation’s National Honoree raising awareness for invisible diseases, has lent her voice to countless causes on Capitol Hill, and now spends her career helping others find their beauty and confidence, while combatting the effects of cyber bullying, misogyny and size prejudice. She also uses her voice as a singer in a hard rock cover band to give her much-needed balance and another form of self-expression. Cafaro will always be passionate about speaking out in hopes that other women will never have to feel alone or helpless.

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