Dear Cookie Monster (age ?),
Thank you for your letter yesterday, you created a lot of insights for me. When I started this project, I was only thinking of writing letters to myself at age eleven, which is when things started to go downhill for me. However, the person I was when I was eleven is not the person I was when I was fifteen or twenty or today (twenty-five). There are a lot of Cookie Monsters.
So how should I do this? Just list your age as well? I suppose sometimes I’ll speak only to myself at one age, whereas other times I’ll speak to all ages. Or sometimes, I won’t even know how old you are. Well, until I know, I’ve written a letter to each of you, although I know there are more in between.
Dear Cookie Monster from yesterday (age ?),
Thank you for all the concerns you raised. You’re right, I don’t really know what I’m doing and you don’t have any reason to trust me. I’ve tried to make things better so many times, but often those attempts are just that – attempts. They don’t get us anywhere or accomplish much of anything.
But yesterday, you didn’t act on your impulses.
I have no idea how that happened exactly. I guess you wrote that letter and I listened and maybe letting you write and me actually listening is what made you not need to act, at least for a little while.
Maybe that’s the difference between now and all the times before when I tried to change things for us.
Before, even if I told you that I wanted to meet your needs and that I needed you to tell me what they were, I would only listen if they were something other than a harmful behavior. If you said you needed to do XYZ, it scared me and I would stop listening. I would shut the door on any discussion and become once again a bossy person telling you that what you want is wrong and that you don’t know what you want because it’s not the thing you’re supposed to want. I wouldn’t trust you and yet I was asking you to trust me.
I think these are the key things that were missing: trust, giving you a chance to speak, and actually listening.
I’d asked all of these things of you and yet had not given you the same courtesy. Maybe that’s what’s different: I’m willing to try, even though it seems wrong and scary. If you want to tell me you want and need to do XYZ, I’ll actually listen and even be willing to do XYZ if that’s what you say you really need, even though I’ll also tell you that this might not actually be good for you, that it might hurt you, that it doesn’t really get you what you actually want (whatever that is – we haven’t really figured that bit out yet).
That’s what happened yesterday.
You wrote me that letter saying you wanted to do XYZ, and I said, “OK. I hear you. I really and truly hear you. Are you sure?”
And you waited a moment and said, “I’m sure. But I’m good for right now. I might want to in a few minutes, but for right now, I’m good. But this isn’t over. You didn’t win.”
And I said, “OK.”
And somehow, magically, you were “good for right now” for the rest of yesterday.
And you have been today, as well. I had to walk past a bunch of shops today where I could have bought everything you wanted. The bakery had even made something new that you hadn’t seen before and you would normally have loved to try: it was square and had cranberries from the looks of it. They had the bread with walnuts that you liked, as well as an unidentified crescent-shaped bread that you never really care what it actually is because the shape is so cool. And the convenience store had your favorite sandwich, the one with the triangle white bread and lettuce and egg salad and ham all-in-one. TWO of those stores had them even though sometimes none of them have it because they always run out.
But you said, “I’m good for right now. Maybe later.”
And I said, “OK.”
And that was actually that for a moment. And it’s been more than a moment, it’s been almost five hours since we’ve been home, but you’re still “good.” We could get up right now and go to the shop down the street, but for now you’re “good.” We’re “good.”
What the hell is happening? Crazy, right?
I am totally willing to go whenever you want, but for the moment I’m just marveling in what’s happening. I’m not praising you for being a good cooperative girl for once doing what you are supposed to do because doing XYZ is bad. I am actually totally willing to go buy stuff for XYZ if that’s what you want and not yell at you.
All I’m saying is that I’m here feeling OK and from what I tell you’re more-or-less OK and I (and you) have some actual brain space to go do stuff that we find interesting rather than just always having a back and forth:
“I want this.“
“No, that’s bad. Stop saying that.“
“Screw you, I do what I want.“
“Ugh, I feel sick.“
“Well, that’s what you get.“
“Leave me alone.“
“No, I need to tell you what a horrible thing you’ve done (are) so that this never happens again.“
I really don’t like those conversations.
And I don’t like telling you that you’re horrible (because you’re not) and I don’t like telling you all the reasons why what you’ve done are horrible (because we both already know them and it’s boring to listen to them all the time) and I don’t like telling you “no” in the first place because we could be having so much fun doing cool stuff if we were on the same trajectory rather than always wanting to split off and go our separate ways.
So, yes. This is awesome. I think that’s about all I have to say about that.
Dear Cookie Monster, age 11:
Hey. I know your house is really empty and this life now is pretty empty, but I promise I’m working on it. People (and going outside most of the time) kind of scare me a bit after everything that’s happened, but I know I need to start being around them again.
I know you’re tired of your house being empty.
You just want someone to play with, to talk to, to be around. I want to tell you that people are bad, mean, unkind. I want to tell you that they either never stick around or cling onto you and you can’t get rid of them unless you hide under a rock (sort of like what we’re doing now). I want to tell you that to most of them, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re there or not, that they just want a person around rather than you specifically, and if you leave, they won’t really notice or care after a while. I want to tell you that some people enjoy hurting others, that they target certain people, and that the world isn’t safe.
But you’re just eleven.
And I can’t bring myself to tell you these things when all you want is just a few friends to hang out with. There are some people like that and people in general do behave like that sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you should shut the door on all of them. Maybe we could work something out, like me opening the door to some people so you can not be so alone, but I’ll keep an eye out for you. I don’t know.
People really do suck sometimes, but you’re just eleven and maybe the things that happened to me won’t happen to you.
I mean, they did/do, but as eleven-year-old me, they haven’t happened to you yet and so you don’t know why I’m acting like this or “not” telling you these things. Maybe me acting like this to protect myself is causing more bad things to happen. If I give life a chance like I’m giving all of you Cookie Monsters a chance to speak, maybe you guys won’t have to go through the same things I did.
You as my eleven-year-old self don’t really know why I’m acting like this.
You just know that I’m keeping people away. And when you’re in an empty house, you end up doing XYZ because that’s just what you’ve always done. So, I’m letting you know that I’m trying. I know it doesn’t look like that and I admit I could be doing a lot more (or really, anything) on that front, so I’m asking you to be patient with me.
I’m older, but I’m not perfect.
I don’t know everything and I can’t do everything all at once. I am just sorry that you have to be in the same boat as me. I wish I could put you in a home full of people and happiness, but I can’t do that if I’m choosing to hide out on this crappy little boat far from everything that’s good in this world because I’m afraid of it.
Where I go, you go, and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
What I can change, is getting us off this boat and into that house. I don’t want to be there, but I want you to be there, and if that means I have to go there, then I will. Eventually. Please don’t be mad at me for going so slow. This is really scary for me.
It’s like after you watch a scary movie and are afraid to put your feet down near the edge of your bed.
You don’t want anything under it to grab you, so you have to jump really fast so they can’t catch you. If you had to put your feet down and maybe even crawl under the bed all by yourself while the lights were still off – wouldn’t that be scary? Wouldn’t you not want to do it at all, and doing it would only take a huge act of courage, and you would probably go one little bit at a time? Think of it like that.
This is my unknown darkness under the bed that can hold all the things your creativity dreams up.
I guess that’s a good comparison because all the things I’m dreaming up most likely are not real. Maybe they are – you never put your foot down, so maybe those monsters really did exist (they didn’t and don’t, please don’t be overly terrified) – but maybe they are not. Just because bad things happened in the past doesn’t mean they will in the future, not necessarily.
OK, I’m really tired and I’m sensing that you’re getting bored, so that’s the end of this letter. Please hang in there. You can talk to me as much as you want until I find other people to fill up this house.
Dear Cookie Monster, age 15:
I’m really tired so I’ll just say this: I know being at home right now and in that school is really hard and I’m sorry. I know you’re doing everything in your power to leave, and you will leave, but please don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s OK to push yourself to be good in school and to be good in lots of things, and you have accomplished so much already and everything is going to be OK in the end. Well, maybe it’s not OK as far as you would think if you saw how things turn out, but everything is a work in progress and it’s OK if things don’t go perfectly.
I can’t really think of anything to make you or your situation better.
That was hellish and horrible and caused you so much anguish, all of it. So I’ll just say that I see you and who you are and what you’ve done. I see that you eat so much when you go home and then don’t eat dinner with your family and barely anything at school the next day because you don’t want to gain weight. I see everyone getting mad at you for eating their food when you binge after school and you feeling ashamed. I see you hating your skin and your hair and your body and everything. I see you hiding in the closet away from everything hoping no one comes upstairs and makes you come out. I see you shrinking back into yourself, withdrawing from everything because you’ll be leaving soon and they never liked you anyway. I see you agonizing over your grades because those grades are the only way you’ll ever get to leave. I see you riding that exercise bike for hours just trying to get the number higher than the food that you ate and just wishing you were done already. I see you reading disordered blogs online full of pictures and numbers and rules that make you feel so in control until it all falls apart.
I see you.
I feel like there’s nothing I could possibly do to make you feel better or change things because that seriously was the hardest thing ever, so I’ll just sit here with you, in this closet, or by your computer, or at your desk, or on the bus, or in your classroom, or in the cafeteria. I’ll just sit here until forever.
I’m not going anywhere.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to just sit here and not try to fix everything.
Dear Cookie Monster (age 20),
Hi. I don’t know what to say to you because I will admit, I look back on that time and feel so much sadness and anger.
I know it isn’t productive, but I’m angry with you. I want to shake you and tell you how fortunate you are to be at that school, that you need to stop throwing it away by hurting yourself and losing yourself in your obsessions. I want to tell you things wouldn’t be how they are today if you had just been better, done better. I am so incredibly angry, I either don’t want to talk to you at all or I want to scream at you until my voice goes hoarse.
But that isn’t really fair, is it?
What am I doing now that’s so different? I’m telling you to realize how fortunate you are, to stop throwing your life away, but what am I doing? I am, on most days, feeling sorry for myself, hating where I am, not going out into the world and enjoying how incredible it and life is. In a lot of ways (a ton of ways), I am just like you.
If I was there right now, today, would I do anything different?
I’m thinking about going back to school next year, but will things really be different? I don’t purge anymore, and that is what caused the majority of my problems, but what if I eat so much that I can’t go outside because I either can’t physically move or because I don’t want people to see me? If I eat a lot, the result has a lot of similarities to when I purge: I feel tired, I can’t really think straight, I can’t concentrate, I’m preoccupied with hating myself, etc. I tell myself that there are a ton of differences, that I was able to be an excellent student while I was bingeing but had to leave school three times on a medical absence while I was purging. If I’m just bingeing, the only difference is that I weigh more most of the time, right? Right?
From what I can tell right now, no, not really.
There are a lot of other things going on in my life that are making it hard to get out of bed and function on most days, but bingeing definitely exacerbates them. If my clothes don’t fit or I feel like I look “fat” (whatever that means depends on the day), it’s really hard to go outside. If I feel groggy and like my bones are made of lead and I have a headache, it’s hard to get out of bed. My thoughts are constantly preoccupied with food. How is that really different from before?
I can’t pin everything on you and blame you for how things are today.
Hind sight is 20/20. I know now what would have worked then (maybe), but in the moment, I/we didn’t. And even though there were things you did that you knew were unhelpful and you had the power to change and didn’t do it, well, that’s over and done with. Getting mad at you isn’t going to change any of that. The only thing getting mad is going to do is make you upset, hurt, and unwilling to have anything to do with me. Maybe even fight back and get mad at me in return.
I know my future self when I’m thirty will probably look back and have a ton of things to say to me at age twenty-five, but I don’t know what most of that is.
Maybe I know some things and, like you, I’m not acting on them. Not maybe, I know I know some things. I know that I need to go outside. I know I need to be around people. I know I need to stop hiding from people and get back in touch. I know I need to set some boundaries and say goodbye to people that are having a negative impact on my life. I know I need to maybe buy clothes that fit even though I say it’s a waste of money because I shouldn’t be this big and if I would just stop doing XYZ then my current clothes would fit.
These are a few simple things that could change everything.
Simple, maybe not easy, but still, simple. And maybe they are not as difficult as I believe. Actually, I know they’re not. They’re just scary. And like the girl who didn’t want to put her foot down near the edge of her bed, I most certainly don’t want to throw myself back into the craziness that is having people in your life. Because people are unpredictable and I don’t like that.
Anyway. I’m sorry that I’m always mad at you.
That I’m still mad at you. That you’re mad at me for being such a hypocrite. I would be mad, too. So, truce? There was that big sibling program at your school where they assigned you to an upperclassman. Would you like to be my little? I might not be able to give you top-secret info on how to survive in college and life or introduce you to all the cool kids, but I can just be there for you. We can hangout whenever, wherever. When you’re eating, studying, walking to the store to get food, hiding in your room, throwing yourself out into the occasional awkward cringe-worthy social environment. I can, if you’ll have me.
Great. Want to have lunch sometime and catch up?
I mean that as an actual invitation and not just something people say but don’t mean when they bump into each other on campus.
How have you changed over the years?