Letter to my 16 year old Self

Hello sweetheart.

I haven’t thought about you this deeply in a very long time. There’s a few things I need to say to you.

Firstly, and most importantly, I forgive you.

I now know what happened that night. I know you think you was to blame for being so drunk, excited at copping off with the big man and completely out of your depth.

You were so naive, you poor girl.

You didn’t know evil like him was lurking. Rapists picked grown women, they were in newspapers and on tv news, they didn’t drink in the local did they? They jumped out of bushes and maimed women, by chance. Them horror stories belonged to other people, not us.

We only went for a few drinks after work, on a Sunday night. With people who called themselves friends. You believed they were, I know you struggled maintaining friendships. I know how awkward you felt. I know how you had no idea who or what you were yet. I know you were still figuring that stuff out. I know you didn’t feel good enough. Oh but honey, you were. You just needed better guidance.

I saw you recite Phoebe from friends endlessly, to make people laugh, so they would like you. How you used to watch them VHS tapes of Friends all night long so you could figure out how friendship worked.

I saw how mesmerised you were with Sex and the City. Samantha was your favourite. She was bold, powerful, assertive, effortlessly worked people and men to her advantage, flawlessly. She was an iconic woman in your eyes.

Miranda taught you to embrace your ginger ness, a trait that worried you greatly in case it would “put off men.” The years of hearing “red head” must have stuck, huh?

Carrie gave you your obsession with shoes. You loved your heels! And boy you could run in them with ease. Women wore heels, not little girls.

Real life wasn’t like that though, was it? It wasn’t like TV.

January 2002 was when them new crazy hormones must have surged. Bearing up for that “legal age of sex” that was fast approaching.

I know how you lied to friends about how much you had experienced sexually. The truth is the first time a male placed his fingers in you was aggressive and pushy and felt disgusting. It was worlds apart from how nice it felt when you found it yourself. He was vile. He didn’t treat you right, my lovely.

I remain impressed how you managed to play sexually for a while while never actually coming into contact with a penis. That always makes me smile. You thought you were being the “user” not the “used.” That and ewww willies.

Within a month or two after the big legal consent Birthday was behind us, you let the hairy manly man put his penis in your presence. That wasn’t like the TV either. It wasn’t really pleasurable, or enjoyable. You were braver than I thought. You were not much impressed after a few minutes and threw him off during the acts, exclaiming “Get off my song’s playing!” Before running back to the group of friends to “Dance with me all night.”

He made it clear it was over and you meant nothing within a short few hours, after a heated, drunken argument with your friends.

Gobshite.

That was behind you now. You’d had a great summer, with Mr SuperDream and this new, exciting world was at your feet.

A levels. Sixth form. New sexy, grown up school uniform. Not the child one for the lower school. You were a woman now, right?

Your grades for GCSE were great. You did good despite everything that went on with hairy man and piss head mother having her vodka sessions with her friends the night before one of your exams. I know honey, what was she thinking? However you did great. Well done.

Your real interests you has such desire to learn we’re here. Psychology. Sociology. Health and Social Care. We were going all in on people research. It was fantastic. You paid attention. You absorbed yourself. You became empowered by the studies you loved. They gave you ambition. They gave you hope. You could see a future there.

They gave you answers to why your mother disliked you. The monkeys who needed the cuddles from the artificial mothers. The hierarchy pyramid? It all became real. Psychology was guiding you to tell you it wasn’t your fault she treated you worse than your sister. The problem child. The difficult one.

Sociology brought you your first real taste of feminism. Taught by a lesbian, gender non-conforming, well spoken woman who you’d spent 2 years with previously, studying history. You loved that too. You had such a thirst for learning when you were interested in the subjects. This teacher brought it out in you brilliantly.

She was awesome. She taught you debate. Her class debates were empowering, and her “oower” when you’d be brave enough to get involved in class discussions. You must have spoke with passion when you contributed.

Sixth form was a breath of fresh air after the stress of exams. You felt so grown up. So in control. Enjoying this new chapter. This last transition to possibly getting to university. Making a difference in the world. You could imagine it. It was scary, but so exciting. It was a way out from mum. You were almost free!

First half term was good. New boys who arrived were a fun addition after being in all girls classes for 5 years. They liked your provocative nature and dirty jokes. You was all very lib fem. “I drink lots! I talk about sex! I am a confident woman! Be my friend! Like me! Like me! Please?”

The girls were harder. However much you tried, you didn’t gel anymore with many. They included you in every social group, but not any were a true friend. Your best friend wasn’t at that school. She had set off on a different path. Your sister was there, she was shy but fitted in well within her own unique circle. She was finding herself in her own way. Doing her own thing.

One friend who was mostly kind, got you your first job. Her auntie was the boss and she’d worked there a little while. It was a great first job. Working at the football ground. It was chaos, but workable. It didn’t last long, 4-5 hours and home for £30. Fake tan money 🙄

Half term had passed, along with Hallowe’en and Bonfire night. Winter was closing in. There was a special holiday approaching, one our mother had spent a lot of money on. It was her favourite place and she was excited to take us there. Big plans in the big city. Home of Sex and the City. You was going to be there and buy fancy Carrie shoes and drink coffee and eat bagels. You were so excited, except that it was a week with mum. She would have to be nice on holiday, right?

The weekend before we fly, Saturday night had the piss up. Mum and her friends on the vodka. Teens upstairs drinking Lambrini with the clubland CDs blasting thinking we’re clubbing, at home.

Teens and women collided. All pissed and dancing together. No men, just party girls just up for a good night. We laughed and danced. The hangovers were brutal all round on Sunday. But it didn’t stop you from work. Off you trotted, on time, a little delicate, but it was only a few hours. What’s the harm?

Shift over. Friend asks shall we go to the pub for a few before we head home. Why not? Not a big deal. You wondered if you’d even get served in work clothes at 16?

Turns out, yes, no problems. Got served fine didn’t you? Even with ribbons in your hair.

Mother was hounding you to get home, school in the morning. But it wasn’t late. You’d worked after a hangover. You were flying high. You felt such the grown up. It wasn’t time yet.

When he took an interest in you, you were on cloud nine. You were alcohol-confident. Naive to the risks of being in a pub. You’d only ever been in with good friends, usually with their adult family members.

You were flying solo that night. You’re friends left. You wanted to stay. The nice man wanted to buy you drinks. He had a car and money. He seemed a catch! Funny, bit arrogant, cocky. Exciting.

You tried your best to impress him. You bragged to the barman how you’d “copped off” and had possibly quite an inappropriate conversation with him when being sent the bar with his money for more drinks. I remember his facial expression- shocked with an element of judgement. You never understood why did you? Lib Fem Samantha style sexuality isn’t as well received down the dingy local as it is in the sophisticated bars of New York. You must have sounded like an idiot to him.

There was an element to the conversation back at the table where it was “I bet you won’t come back to mine….. drink this”

I can’t be sure on the specifics, but it made them all laugh. You was cocky and brash in your replies and said something along the lines of “I’d go in the toilet right there!” In an ‘I’ll prove you wrong’ way.

I know in your mind you were performing woman. An empowered woman. Entering that toilet was to fornicate. Kissing. Rubbing. Touching. Warming up before CONSENTING to being taken home to carry out actual consented sex in a bedroom, on a bed. Yes, you probably would have. I don’t judge you for that either. You were exploring your sexuality. I understand. You didn’t see the risks that lied ahead of you.

However it came about in that toilet, I know you didn’t consent to anal. That was not something you were NOT interested in. It’s less than 6 months since you wasted your virginity on a gobshite. Anal was a bit of a leap you were in no hurry to try.

Especially with a stranger. It looked scary and painful in porn and the Sex and the City episode about it made you cringe.

That was not what you asked for. That was not part of the deal. I know that.

He did it anyway, once you were completely unconscious on the floor. Unable to protest. Unable to push him away. Unable to say NO!

You felt the pain when he penetrated you there. You said “oww.” That’s the only memory I hold of making any sound in that room.

How wasn’t it clear to him this was not right? This young girl is out of her mind drunk, on the floor of a disabled toilet, not interacting with the acts whatsoever. You couldn’t control your body. He had to physically raise your dead weight legs up himself to gain entry. Your pants were uncomfortably half way down the thighs, in a way that bound the legs together, tightly. If you couldn’t raise your own legs for penetration, how the fuck were you a participant in this interaction?

You weren’t.

You consented to entering that toilet. You may have consented to the prospect of sex. You may have even somewhat encouraged it. I know that, I accept that.

What happened in there wasn’t the plan. You didn’t consent to disrespectful, unresponsive sex. You DEFINITELY didn’t consent to anal. Not a chance.

When he saw you were unresponsive, he should have got the bar staff. Told them she’s passed out in there, she’s far too drunk and need taking home. She needs help.

But no. He put his cock up your arsehole instead. He saw his opportunity. You were easy. He had the pub as witnesses who’d heard you excitedly bragging you’d copped off with him. He was the most opportunistic person who saw his chances stacked highly in his favour. He didn’t need the bushes.

“I can totally get away with this! She’ll never remember. She said she wanted me anyway so I’m going for it.”

He has daughters now. I bet if someone done what he did to us, to his girls, he’d kill them with his bare hands. I bet his missus was never told about you. About his arrest. About what kind of a man he was. Or was that who he truly was.

Did he give her regular unwelcome penetrations while she slept? Did he go on with his sexual entitlement and force himself into other women and girls? It wouldn’t surprise me if he did.

Back then he had a mother, possibly a sister. Someone female in his life who meant something to him. Was it not possible of him to think “if someone done what I’m doing to them, I’d be disgusted” or did he simply not care? Did he like it? Was that all part of the plan with the stronger drinks to the shit-faced, naive teen stray he’d reeled in on a hook.

The group of men he was with found it all very amusing. The sound of their laughter haunts me still. You couldn’t see it, they were mocking you the whole time. You were comedy gold to them, coming out with your lib fem, empowered bollocks.

We know what happened next. The mental breakdown. The realisation of abandonment. The fear and danger became aware to you. You froze. Begging for help in your mind. Screaming. Willing mum to come bouncing into the pub, furious that you’d switched of your phone, and drag you out and take you home.

You couldn’t run. You couldn’t think straight. You were consumed by fear. You felt trapped by your own limitations.

You poor girl. Rabid dogs wouldn’t have kept me out of that pub if I knew my daughter was in there, intoxicated, vulnerable. A novice in the pub etiquette. Naive to the dangers of being a young drunk woman in the world. I’d have walked through fire to just check on her through the window to just know she was safe.

I know how you feared abandonment. I know how you had recurring nightmares as a child of our family leaving and driving off and leaving you sobbing “come back! You’ve forgotten me!” I remember.

I know that helpless feeling hurt you. I know you blamed yourself for being so stupid to think you were safe and empowered by your choices. That man still shouldn’t have done what he did. He took it too far. All the signs to stop were there. He chose not to. When he seen the damage he’s done in your eyes, he hid you quickly.

It was so obvious. You wasn’t loud and brash any more. You were haunted.

He convinced you he was taking you home and bless you, you believed him. You ran to the door, desperate to leave this situation And he never. He carried on. His sexual gratification wasn’t complete, even after he saw you destroyed after you left that toilet.

That suggests to me he was more than an opportunist. He was cruel. He’d already committed the crime, but his victim was so easy and compliant he thought he’d carry on.

That cruelness, on top of the way you left that toilet a different person, was what sealed the damage. You eventually woke up to being penetrated. A penis unwelcome in your vagina. You clenched and recoiled.

Your senses came back. Reality hit like coming up out of water after almost drowning.

That’s when you became me. The damaged, fearful person. The product of all consuming pain.

From then on you weren’t you anymore. I was born. Autopilot. This survival brain kicked it to cushion your pain. I knew it was too much for you to handle. I blanked it out. I kept you safe, or I tried.

We know what happened next. We escaped. We ran. We were found. Police. Safe house. Swabs from a Male Asian doctor. Photographs of our injuries. Our mother there. Searing blame into us with her eyes.

I remember getting home that night and lying in our bed, wanting to peel my skin off to let the pain out. When reality swept over us we winced and braced ourselves. That pain I’ve carried for 16 years. It was too strong. You became a memory, instead of who I was.

I lost you. Your hopes. Your dreams. Your ambition. Your confidence. Your quick firing brain full of wonder. Gone. I couldn’t reach you. You were cowering, brutalised in the safe room in my mind.

I tried to make you better. I thought true love might fix you. Alcohol might connect with you. Cocaine might numb the pain enough to bring you out. Of course none of this worked. In fact it more often than not made you harder to reach.

I didn’t do a good job of living after that. I tried. But I couldn’t. I had no support.

I was taught to pretend everything was fine. I was taught by mother not to let it define me. I was back in school by coercion and force within weeks. It didn’t help.

Normality resumed for everyone around me and I couldn’t do it. I faked it for years.

I put myself in further dangerous, promiscuous situations after the domestic violence episodes of our first love. More ways in which our body was brutalised. More pain to deal with. More healing to do.

A pregnancy and abortion to top it off.

I was screwing up bad. And back living with mother. In the bed where the pain swept over us. The night we disconnected.

The promiscuous behaviour. The affirmation of each one “this one didn’t rape me, I chose this one. This one was consent! I can do it! I am capable of this without harm!”

Except there was harm. It was disassociation at its finest. I never enjoyed it. Never felt liberated or empowered. I felt empty. Cocaine and alcohol helped. But led me to worse and worse situations.

Wrong man after wrong man, they fell like dominos. Each as worthless and meaningless as the last. A few pleasant men amongst them who did show they cared, but by that point I hated myself. I couldn’t see what they wanted to love in me. They must be lying or confused.

The climax of all this pain and self destructive behaviour changed on one magical day. The day you gained your own little man. Your son.

He saved us. He came and gave us a reason to live again. It was for him now. He needed a mother and I was ready, willing and not as much able but bloody determined. It’s the first time in years I felt your presence within me again.

He made us appreciate our broken body more than anyone. He grew in there. Our milk gave him life. I reconciled with my body when he was born. It became a place of magic and wonder again. It became beautiful and so powerful, even with all its flaws.

I struggled at first. I was a complete novice to baby care except for the little covered in health and social care. But I figured it out alone. No help. He thrived. He is amazing.

Chaotic life continued outside of our baby bubble for a year. We fled the second domestic violence relationship, sons father, to a women’s refuge and we began to heal for the first time in years. I had support there. Real support. They helped us. They made us feel worthy of help.

We found a new house in a new place and rebuilt life, with a ton of emotional baggage to boot.

Our son grew happily and life was content for a while. Very few men. Very little promiscuous behaviour. Counselling happened for a while but you and your story remained deeply hidden. Mother was my gripe.

The memory blank spots of that horrendous night remained blank for almost 16 years.

Until Nan died. My favourite adult left the earth. I was consumed by pain again. Her last words to me were “you’re going to be ok when I’m gone” and she was right.

The raw pain touched all my buried pain and it mixed together. Like swirls of paint added together in a bucket. It became intertwined. It opened the box. Your story came out. Your truth became my truth.

Everything made sense. When the pain subsided from accepting the truth of the memory of that night. I found you in there, stronger than ever before.

I remember your hopes and dreams. I remember the person you were underneath the lib fem bravado. Under the fake tan. Under the desire for love and acceptance. You were still in there. I could reach you. Now I see you, I feel I’ve let you down.

Will you forgive me for the million ways I got it wrong? All the other pains that I picked up trying to fake “fine.” I’m so sorry I allowed our body to be devalued again. Over and over. That was a ridiculous idea.

The most positive thing I have achieved is our wonderful children. A daughter joined us not long ago. A girl who is wonderful, feisty, funny, loving, beautiful inside and out. I need your help now. We need to unite. These two amazing people that came from this body we possess. Our body nourished them both, is their safe space. They value it so much, I value it more because of the way they view it.

Lets work together to raise these fabulous children and heal ourselves together, as one. I owe it to you to be the good you once were.

I will work to heal us. I will find time to nurture us, we can do this.

I would like to achieve our goals we once had. Education was your dream. Not mine. I feel that we can do it together now. I really want to do it for you. Give you that achievement that was stolen from us.

We can do this.

Let’s try in solidarity.

Our wounds can heal properly now.

Welcome home, dear girl.

Come and be a real woman with me now. I can Mother you too and I can guide you. You’re job is to remind me how to have the hope and dreams for ourself. You need to kick me into line when I get distracted.

I’ve missed you terribly. I’m glad you survived.

Now, let’s live as one.

SettleMental 💜💚