Breaking my self-imposed silence to talk about something awful that is near and dear to my heart.
I remember it well from my own school days, both in high school and college. It seems, however, that this obsession we females have with our bodies, and the self-harm that sometimes comes along with it, starts earlier and earlier.
There were girls I knew who were hospitalized, for anorexia or bulimia or other less obvious mind-over-body issues. There were girls who were cutting themselves. There were girls who were sleeping around in an attempt to find self-worth in the eyes of others. So I know this is a problem with a long, long history, a trail of tears reaching back, no doubt, before our mothers' mothers were around to experience it.
Back in my day it wasn't everyone, mind you. Just a whisper of unhappiness swirling underneath the surface of the day-to-day studying and exams and parties and does-he-even-like-me? At the time, it seemed normal, to see that unhappiness suddenly bubble up to the surface of some girl who shared a classroom or a dorm room with me. Something to pity, perhaps, but not really something where I needed to intervene, usually, unless it involved a close friend.
I've been thinking about this ever since I discovered that there is a young girl outside my circle of acquaintances who is cutting herself. I don't know her. I don't know her parents. I'm not even 100% sure I know her name. But I know the fact of it: I know that she wears long sleeves to hide it, but has revealed it to enough people that it's clear she wants help.
And so I wonder: what is my role in this? Do I even have one? I remember back to my own days of self-doubt, and I'm grateful that I made it through those days relatively unscathed. I'm grateful to the people who supported me, who made sure I understood my worth, as I made my way through the minefield that is becoming-a-woman. Most of the now-women whom I knew back then made their way through, and most are in a good place now. The ones I still keep in touch with bear their scars from those days - literal, in some cases, figurative in others. All women bear the scars of their girlhood, after all, and we all carry secrets around of the things we did and thought and pretended to be.
I think it likely, given what I know and what I've seen, that this girl will find her circle and fight her way out whether or not I find a way to intervene. Likely. But by no means certain.
I don't know her. Not personally. But I know all about her, and I wish I could tell her it will all work out. She's perfect as she is, and she needs to laugh and love and not regret. She needs to skip across the quicksand, quick quick, to get to the other side as fast as she can. She needs to forgive herself for whatever is troubling her, for whatever is inside of her telling her she is not enough as she is.
Really, though, and this is selfish me talking, it scares me to know this about this girl because I know my own girls will be facing this struggle sooner than soon. They'll be facing the judgment of their peers, and the judgment of their mirrors, and they will come up wanting, every time, because this is what girls do, to ourselves and to each other. We find fault. We find gaps. We judge harshly. We find our own selves lacking in so many ways.
And then my boys: one in middle school, one not far behind. Do boys go through this too? I don't know; I suppose they must. I know that they will have girlfriends, and they will have friends who are girls, and they will not know what pain these girls carry in their hearts. I hope my boys will grow to be kind, so that they don't one day add to the burdens that their female friends and colleagues carry in secret. I hope they will grow to face trouble where it finds them, and to help the broken people they will encounter all around them if only they are looking.
How to raise your boys to respect the women around them - not to judge on the surface but on the heart and brain and soul? How to raise your girls to understand that there is nothing lacking in them? Especially after the awful events in Stuebenville, when all I can think is let my kids never think this is okay. Not what happened that night, not what happened afterwards. And certainly let me raise my babies so they know the press coverage of that particular tragedy is horribly wrong. I've seen that girl, sick and shirtless and alone in a scary place. It happens, all too often, even when it doesn't make the news. I pray I'm raising my kids - I pray I'm raising myself - to be the person who stops and extends a hand to help. Because it is all too easy to walk on by, unmoved and uninvolved. But sometimes, even when it is hard to do, you need to be the person who stands up and says this isn't right.
I've been fortunate to have angels in my life - family, friends and even complete strangers - who kept me where I needed to be. I remember a specific time, back in college, when I was in a very dark place for reasons that don't matter now. It was dark, and I was lonely. At least I felt very alone. And I remember - all these years later, I still remember - that a classmate of mine, a young man I barely knew, approached me after class one day and said the exact words that I needed to hear to get out of that hole I was trapped in. I'd barely spoken to him before that day. And I was too embarrassed to talk to him much after that day. But something about me must have drawn his attention, enough that he took the time to tell me that it was okay, and that I was okay. In that moment, I knew he was right, and so I pulled myself out of the quicksand and off I went. Thanks to a stranger who was paying attention. To this day, I don't know why he chose to talk to me. But I'm grateful that he did.
Can I be that angel to this girl I'm hearing about? Probably not - she's too far removed from me after all, and there is no way I can reach her. But maybe you can. Maybe you'll see her today, and maybe you'll tell her: Smile. Dance. Laugh. Know, in your most secret heart, that you are perfect just exactly as as you are.
You might never know if you've saved her. But you have to try.