In the Blog
Letters Loved: Letters to myself
Illustration by Erin McPhee
Hello dear Shameless readers!
I was so inspired by Letters Lived: Radical Reflections, Revolutionary Paths edited by our very own Shameless editor, Sheila Sampath, that I came back after taking a blogging break and wrote my own letter.
Letters Lived is an inspiring short read from writers and activists writing to their younger selves, as adults. Ever want to reassure, guide or share your 20/20 hindsight with yourself after the fact? Letters Lived offers that very promise. It was so awesome to see our older selves offer kindness and gentleness back to ourselves at a time when we needed it most. Thanks to the writers and activists who inspired me to write my own letter to my 17-year-old self.
And, since youth are so amazing and their voice so critical to truly affecting change, I thought it pertinent that my 17-year-old self be able to write or respond to my 38-year-old self. Little did I know that at the book launch of Letters Lived youth were invited to do exactly that: write a letter to their future selves!
So enjoy deb singh’s letters to her 17-year-old self and 38-year-old self as written by her 38-year-old self and 17-year-old self, inspired by the writers and activists of Letters Lived, Sheila Sampath and the youth at the book launch and everywhere else.
You stand at the doorway of your kitchen in your newly renovated Newmarket townhouse you, your mom and sister moved into but less than a year ago. It’s early morning and you just stand there like so many other mornings staring down toward the ground, again, staring at either an unconscious parent or something broken and destroyed that was not the day before. You are standing there, in resolve that once you’re gone, finally free to go to university - you will never come back. And, rest assured, you never do - you never put yourself in a situation where you are forced to come back here, to live with two (and then, one) alcoholic parents. I wish I could say that your shame and abuse ends here but it doesn’t; it goes on past your 37th birthday.
I am writing this letter to you/myself - that 17-year-old who walked into so many rooms after a disturbed sleep, where you woke to broken dishes never cleaned up or unconscious parents passed out. This morning you remember vividly, because (- you wondered why here too? Why wasn’t it different? It was a new city, new home and therefore, a new set of rules (or so you thought). You didn’t know at the time that ‘you can’t hide from yourself’. You didn’t know that you can’t run from the problems that are in you-) your mother was so drunk in front of a would-be crush (a woman who never judged but you still felt so embarrassed and fearful because it could go either way - happy drunk mom or mean drunk mom. And it usually went the latter).
But, you do get to escape, Andrea. Two years later you move out of that drunken, angry environment and you go to university and that changes your life forever. You get to be part of so many things: classes, cliques, and student groups. It is where you get taught feminism and insidiously, very creepily - it saves your life.
You are in shock and yet are unsurprised standing at the kitchen doorway staring down trying to decipher the broken shards of glass and crystal that remain embedded in the multiple rugs to ‘protect’ the floors (as only Caribbean parents protect their furniture and carpets with other cloths and carpets). You stand there and try to believe ‘not again’.
But it happens again. It happens so many times in your twenties and thirties that you are actually in disbelief that it could still be happening after all these years. And even though you don’t live in that house, you receive drunken, abusive phone calls and violent confrontations a good number more times in your adult life (even when you are a mother your mother persists in her alcohol fuelled bad behaviour).
But one thing that does change is that you begin to believe that you do not deserve to be treated this way. One realization hits you starkly: This behaviour is abuse. And she can control it. She doesn’t do this to everyone. She chooses to do this to you.
That realization begins your journey to ending this in your weekly, monthly life and you are able to know that this abuse is not ok, not excusable due to your mother’s trauma. You start to believe you deserve to be treated with respect and that you do not have to be sad, angry or demanding in order to be seen, paid attention to, to be loved.
Andrea, you become the person you were meant to be: a queer, revolutionary, anti-violence activist. And there are some key things that get you there. Spoiler alert: Good things happen for you!
- You start learning from other people that are like you: queer, brown, survivors
- You work in a the same non-profit sector of gender-based violence for almost 20 years
- You fall in love with your first adult girlfriend; stay together for 10 years AND have a kid together
The last one is essential because it proves you know how to love: your Mom and Dad did not scar you to the point that you don’t know how to give love. Don’t get it twisted, you still have your work cut out for you: you repeat the cycle of drug addiction in your life, you become a survivor of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, and you have the capacity for violent behaviours.
But someone loves you and you love someone - not for how they make you feel but for who they are. And that means you get to test all the stages of love with open arms from your partner and community. You eventually get to be the person you always felt you were inside - a leader, who leads with humour, generosity and love.
And it doesn’t hurt like it does now.
I want to tell you that, while you feel alone, while you don’t know how to speak the things you were taught to never name, you end up thriving. You become empowered by the things that they tell you: that you are broken and you are not enough. You are a queer survivor who never really learns about her South Asian heritage, and yet you thrive.
At 38-years-old, you run things, you got credit and most of all there are like 17 people who got you, your partner’s and your son’s back.
For all the moments you thought you didn’t want to live anymore or that you were nothing - you survive, thrive and help people not in spite of this, but because of it. All that you survived by 17 helps you become an activist. You choose to turn it around because adults who are cool see something in you, something you resent your mother for never seeing.
Andrea: your parents give you a name you use for years that helps you divide the Andrea of 1998 B.C. and the Deborah of 1999 A.D. (when you start university).
You never let go of Andrea, you bring her along for each ride, sometimes in the front seat driving, sometimes a part of her just bouncing around in the trunk - but you never leave her behind entirely. Your grown up self is an awesome version of that 17-year-old girl, loved by many, safer by her own making, and fierce but remembering the self kindness that was harder to come by all those years before.
LETTERS LIVED, EDITED BY SHEILA SAMPATH
So you are 38 and I am 17. I have no idea what you are up to but there are a few things I’d like to remind you of, so you don’t completely lose that ever-youthful way about you.
At 17, I have a fearlessness that you just don’t have anymore. I spend a lot more time strategizing my survival but I am uncensored and unfiltered and at 38 you will still have a lot of that unfiltered-ness. I hope that you realize that is some of the best shit about you.
So I’m going to give my future self some advice from my 17-year-old self cause there is a shit ton I/you will forget in your old age.
- You are most scared of sex and intimacy. Reject this and see yourself as hot, desirable, and capable of being sexy and sexual.
- There were many adults who saw you: Uncle Bobby, Auntie Flo, Dr. Bennett, Connie Guberman. These adults help shape your future. Try not to be so jealous of other people’s ‘progressive’ parents.
- Remember how much journaling and poetry saved your life.
- Life is easier if you are skinny. But you won’t be happier.
- Don’t listen to guidance counsellors. They were racist fuckers who never believed in you anyways. Remember their words but don’t believe them.
- I/you always knew my capacity to lead. At 17, I am the leader of my friend group but even then/now, I know you will lead more and bigger things.
- I/You are smart enough to know what is our right path - at 17, I am just not empowered enough to get there. Trust yourself more. Listen to your gut.
- It’s ok to do things in your own time. I/You will constantly feel pressure to do things before we are ready. Again listen to your gut and trust in your process and readiness.
- It’s ok to listen to loud music. It won’t hurt you.
- Be proud of your femme strength to wear cheap heels for hours and hours.
- I’m scared I will turn out like my mom, un-partnered and a single mom. That fear is only one part of your story.
- It’s ok to lie when you need to.
- My friends are my family.
- Talking it out doesn’t change or solve the problem.
- Its ok to want to be a psychologist when you’re grown up!
- You are gay as fuck.
- If you survive this, remember to tell me how you did it.
The world around me seems small today and I can’t envision my dreams because all I can think of is getting out of here.
Remember these things when you no longer have to escape and you have found your place. I will thank you, Deb.