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5 Lessons I Hope My Daughter Learns From My Past

I had what some might call a messy childhood. It's nothing so drastically out of the norm as to earn me large sums of money for the movie rights to my life story, but enough messiness for me to have grown into a fairly damaged adult by the time I reached 18.

I made a lot of mistakes and treated myself really poorly for several years after that, punishing myself for things I had never had any control over to begin with. There is plenty from my past that I am not proud of. And I think most people who have met me in the last few years would be shocked by some of the stories from my late teens and early 20s.

But somewhere in there, I started to pull my life together—all on my own. I started to make changes and to recognize my mistakes as being just that: mistakes that I had the power to overcome. As a woman in my 30s now, I’m proud of the life I have built for myself. I’m strong and healthy. I have amazing friends, a job I love, and this little girl I am determined to give a better childhood than the one I had.

But I don’t ever want to forget that past, or the lessons I learned because of it. I’m even hopeful that in time, they will be lessons she will be able to learn from as well, without ever having to stumble in the same ways herself.

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1. It’s OK to love

People are fallible, but when you let the right ones in, it is so much better than being on an island off on your own.

Something happens when you grow up feeling as though the people who are supposed to love you the most, just don’t. It turned me into somebody determined to always take care of myself and to never rely on anyone, because I was forever sure that other people would let me down. That extended to my friendships and relationships. I pushed a lot of really good people away simply because I didn’t know how to let them love me. And I didn’t know how to love them back.

It has taken me many years to overcome this, and even still, I struggle with trust when it comes to new people in my life. But I’ve also learned that loving someone, and letting them love you, doesn’t mean you won’t ever hurt each other. And trust isn’t something you should always be testing. People are fallible, but when you let the right ones in, it is so much better than being on an island off on your own. Love isn’t perfect. But under the right circumstances, it is always worth the risk.

2. It’s also OK to walk away

Still, dear girl, I hope to teach you to find your people—the ones who are worth it—and to then cut out the rest of the noise. The gossipers, the liars, the backstabbers and the negative pulls? You will meet them, and you will even love a few with your whole heart. And it will hurt like hell when they let you down, but that doesn't ever mean you have to keep them.

I don’t care how someone is related to you, or how long they have been in your life. You should never, ever, feel obligated to keep people around who do nothing but bring you down. There is pride to be found in cutting the toxic out of your life and instead turning your focus toward the people who encourage you always to be the best version of yourself.

3. The people you surround yourself with matter

The people who lift you up and inspire you to do the same matter.

I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with the type of people you want to be. I have a small circle of friends who I hold extremely dear, and each and every one of them embodies traits that I am always trying to learn from. The people you spend your time with, those are the ones you start to emulate, whether you realize it or not. So pay attention to that. Be conscious of it. Your closest friends should be people you want to be more like, because that is exactly what will end up happening.

One of the things I am most proud of is knowing that you will grow up learning from me what great friendships are all about; we are pretty lucky girls to have the amazing influences in our lives that we do.

4. Nothing from your past defines you

No matter how low to the ground you hit, there is always a way to get back up.

We are never the best versions of ourselves that we can be. We are always growing and changing. Or at least, we should be. And while some people will forever remain stagnant, most of us have the capacity to become something better. Always.

My sweet girl, you will make mistakes. You will stumble. You will fall. But none of that defines you. And no matter how low to the ground you hit, there is always a way to get back up. Even if that getting back up involves reaching out for my hand and asking for help.

Because nothing you could ever do would make it so that I wouldn’t be right there, ready to help you find that next best version of yourself.

5. You don’t hurt anyone else by hurting yourself

I will never forget the first time I stuck my finger down my throat. I didn’t do it because I thought I was fat. I did it because I had it in my head that if someone caught me, they would realize I was hurting and needed to be rescued.

The problem was, I didn’t get caught until three years later. And by that point, this issue was now a crutch I wasn’t willing to let go of. So I lied about it, and I kept binging and purging every meal I ate.

By 18, now out on my own, bulimia escalated to cutting myself, somehow convinced that the visual scars would serve as proof of how badly the adults in my life had damaged me. That it would wake them up, convince them to change.

When that didn’t work, I shoved three bottles of various pills down my throat at 19 and penned a 7-page suicide letter—convinced that this would show them. That finally, they would have to acknowledge all the wrongs they had committed against me. And they would have to grieve the child they had broken.

The way you hurt the people who have hurt you is by proving them wrong.

It wasn’t until my early 20s that I realized I wasn’t hurting any of them, that my self-destructive behavior was only affecting me. I was an adult now, with the ability to control the direction my life took from there. This meant that every bad choice I was making was hurting me far more than any perceived infraction that had been committed against me as a child. The life I led was now my responsibility. No one else’s.

So, I changed. I worked hard. I went to therapy, I made better choices and I turned my life around. But it would have been so much easier to learn that lesson earlier on.

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I certainly wasn’t the first teenager to hurt herself in an attempt to hurt someone else. And I highly doubt I will be the last. But if I could save you from that fate, my sweet girl? If I could teach you that the way you hurt the people who have hurt you is by proving them wrong, by being stronger, smarter and more successful than they ever thought you were capable of being? Well, that might just be the most important lesson I could impart of all.

The best revenge is almost always a life well lived.

You are my life well lived, little girl. And I will do everything in my power to help you to always have the same.

Image via Leah Campbell

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