Dear You.

I can’t begin to know your kind of hurt, but I can tell you about mine. I can tell you about a bunch of boys who ripped me apart, limb from limb, ligament from ligament. I can give you all the details – “He was nice to me when I felt out of place, I was friends with his brother, I thought I loved him” – but I’d rather explain to you what happened after.

After the boy with the puppy dog sweatshirt, who played guitar and drank too much at the end of our work week. He felt like a friend, so I hugged him, partied with him, inhaled cigarettes with him while lounging on lawn chairs. I can’t separate the smoke and the laughter and the puppies from my later memories of him pushing me to the floor in a closet, pinning my arms down as I tried to sit up, my wasted mind thinking only, “I can’t do this, no.” Of me passing out on a couch, waking up to find him wrapped around me. Of sobbing in someone’s bedroom, in someone’s Orange County mansion. The damage he did made me doubt myself for so long.

After the boy in the bar with his brother, an old acquaintance. I tried to set him up with a good friend I’d dragged along in my wake – “I know he’s single, let’s go out.” After too much liquor, and cab rides, and dancing, I suddenly found him at home with me, my boon companion tucked in bed in her own apartment.

Ours was a relationship that started unexpectedly and never became what I thought it would be. I got used to reading his texts and feeling so angry. I’d throw my phone at the wall, waiting to hear the crash, screaming my frustration. I’d let him be mean and then let him come back. The last time I saw him, he got me so drunk I couldn’t stand, then pushed me out of his bed the next morning, telling me he had to mow the grass.

After the colleague who made me believe I could find a good guy. He got my sense of humor and made me laugh. He wanted to hear what I had to say. He made me feel safe and loved, and when we finally started dating only weeks before I was scheduled to move, I thought I was free – free of Sweatshirt Dude and Younger Brother, ready for a healthy relationship.

But when distance distorted our feelings and I was destroyed in a phone call, as he sat in his house a thousand miles away, I came to think of this relationship and his promises – “It’s okay to be scared, I won’t hurt you” – as the unhealthiest of all. There was no drunken abuse, no coercion, no force. Instead, his stab marks were invisible, so deep it took me many months to stitch myself back together.

You, I can’t make you learn from my mistakes. There were so many who said, “You deserve someone who will treat you well.” Friends who reminded me, “He’s not worth it.” Those who said, “It’s his loss.” I’d write down their words and re-read them, and feel nothing, only desperation and failure. Hadn’t I been the one who led him on? Wasn’t it me who set my expectations sky-high? Couldn’t I be the one to blame, for having too much hope?

No– I’m telling you, no. My one mistake? Not liking myself. Not realizing I was attractive. Not recognizing that I was special, and good, and interesting. Not demanding more. Not refusing to settle for less.

It took chronic disease to open my eyes, to teach me how to love my body and mind. I’d never wish the same on you, but I hope something as life-changing as that finds you right when you’re at your lowest point. When those well-meaning voices are trying to reassure, to soothe, to make you feel loved – I hope you are shaken up by something so big, you realize how precious your life is.

That’s Real Love. And I’m hoping that will lead you to someone who can begin to love you the way you’re discovering you love yourself.

Written and loved on by Kristin Drouin