Dear 18 -Year-Old Lizzy,
It’s me, Liz. Liz who? It’s Liz-Your-Future-Self coming at you from the not-so-distant future of 2016. Yes, I officially go by Liz now, and most people are cool with that (except sometimes your family, as you’ll always be their Lizzy/Lizardbreath/Bohunkis-Face, sorry girl.)
Before we get started, let’s get a few things out of the way:
1. Yes, hoverboards are a thing (kind-of), but nobody uses them because they keep catching on fire.
2. Yes, cars are driving themselves (kind-of.)
3. No, you never grew any taller.
4. No, you’re not any skinnier.
I know, sounds kind of lame, right? But, some cool stuff has happened in the world, and some cool stuff has happened with you, too.
Don’t worry, I am not writing to lecture you or tell you you’re a dumbass for the things you have already done or the things you are going to do. I am not going to chastise you for your choice of recreational activities (because I had a lot of time spending hours listening to Ween, watching old cartoons and eating cereal straight from the box) I won’t tell you not to fall in love with Chris, because he has that shy-boy thing you can’t resist right now and he was admittedly, a total sweetheart. I won’t tell you to study harder or work harder.
I am not judging you, because I remember what it felt like to be you—to be eighteen and in your skin. I remember the heavy coat of guilt you will continue to wear for months, even years, after mom died. I remember the seething self-hate you held, blaming yourself for not being kinder, for not intervening when she got sicker, for not saying “I love you” that one last time. I remember the emotional outbursts as you swung between the poles of the emotional spectrum—from joy and love to complete emptiness and abandonment. I remember the turmoil of being thrust into adulthood by your life’s greatest tragedy. I remember the stress of renting a house, getting a job, and starting college all within weeks after losing the most important person in your life. I remember falling so hard in love with a man who you believed was your soulmate, clinging to him as if he was the only thing keeping you alive (and who knows, maybe he was.) I get it. I lived it, I breathed it, and I have spent seven years reflecting on it all. So I won’t judge you on what you choose, how you cope, and how you feel. And honestly, considering it all? You did alright, kiddo.
So, if I’m not here to judge you, to advise you on your life’s choices, then what am I doing? I am telling you the same things I wish I could hear back then, the same things I needed to hear just a year ago, the same things I need to hear sometimes now, and the same things I’ll probably want to hear in another seven years. What I am here to say is: DO IT ALL.
I’m telling you to do it all because I want you to do it all. I want you to do it because even I would do everything again, with the knowledge I have now. So, I say go ahead: make the mistakes. Choose the same things I did. Smoke all that weed. Marry the boy you think you’re going to love forever. Buy the cute dress you so tenderly put back on the hanger when your misplaced money-guilt kicked in. Cut your hair short and get the bangs. Sleep with the boys you don’t care about. Go on an expensive vacation or two. Go ahead, fuck up your marriage in a few short months. Isolate yourself from everyone you love while you’re in the depths of depression. Ignore the advice of others (well, except for this anti-advice from a future human. Always trust the future human, unless you suspect the future human is really a future robot.)
Why? Why the hell would I tell you to do all this? I know it all seems very contrary, but I have my reasons. You’ll miss the fun and giggly high once you’re a responsible professional so get the green while the getting’s good (but for the love of God please get a vaporizer, your lungs will thank you.) You may not be in love with Chris forever (or even a full decade) but he has what you need right now and will be what you want, until he isn’t anymore. Spend the damn money on the cute clothes because guess what? You’ll get your degree and have money to save later. Getting ill-advised haircuts develops your empathy stores and lets you know the unique hell that is waiting for hair to grow. Sex is fun and you’ll learn more about what you like and what you can’t stand so that future-sex is even more fun! Traveling will give you the best/worst stories to tell and retell in the future. Fuck up your marriage so you can learn more about love, marriage, relationships, and yourself in one year than you would in a decade. Cut yourself off from everyone so that you can finally hit bottom and get the help you so desperately need. Ignore the advice of others because you know what? I know you. You’re going to anyway, so maybe this is some reverse-psychology shit?
Why don’t I have more cautionary advice for you? Have I learned nothing? I have, and I haven’t. I’m also not giving you advice like “love yourself”, and all that trite crap because it would simply be hypocritical of me to do so (and if there’s anything past-Liz hates, it’s hypocrisy.) I have yet to master self-acceptance so I certainly can’t expect you to. I wish you would, so I wouldn’t have to work so hard on it now, but I don’t expect that.
The reason I am not giving you brilliant and insightful advice because that would be missing the whole fucking point—and I mean the whole fucking point of IT ALL, with capital letters. I don’t want you to sit idly by, carefully planning your life and its time table like you already so obsessively do. I know you have spent your formidable years silently watching your older siblings live their lives, watching your friends and even your parents make mistakes, considering all of their seemingly poor life choices and vowing to avoid the same pitfalls they fell into. But, the lessons you learn from their lives will be limited because they weren't yours to live or to learn. You have to choose the wrong thing, you have to love the wrong boy, you have to fuck up and fall down into a hole. If I were to tell you all the right moves to make, or give you all the reassurances so you avoid the sadness and fear and worry then I am doing you a disservice. If I tell you what I’ve learned and urge you to accept it as a fact, then you won’t learn a damned thing. You wouldn’t learn more about yourself, or about the people you love, or what it means to be human. You wouldn’t grow or learn to see the nuanced gray areas of life, or learn to withhold judgment or how to forgive more fully (and yes, that means forgetting.)
But look, if you chose anything differently, or if you avoided the pain and sorrow and joy and love you will experience in the next seven years, then I’d be a different person. Even if some days I struggle with loving myself, I do like who I have turned out to be. I don’t want you to change because I want to become this version of myself. That is, until I become a better, Liz-Future-Future-Self and presumably write another one of these things.