The Hard & Brave & Best Thing. / by Sarah Schwartz

{I started back at counseling this week. And as I sat down to write about that process, what came out was a letter to my 14 year old self, the year I first asked for help.}

Dear Sarah,

I really wish this letter could find it’s way into your barely teenage hands, but at the same time, maybe I don’t. Maybe you need to learn these things the way that most people learn things of importance, through trial and error, around the dinner tables of people you trust, and with time. Regardless, let me just start with assuring you of one thing; you are going to be ok.

I know it’s been a rough summer. In years to come, once you’ve healed from these past few months, you’ll refer to it as The Crazy Summer, and you’ll laugh. Yes, you’re going to start laughing again. That doesn’t mean you forget the pain or that it didn’t matter, just that you’ve come out on the other side, and you derive some kind of weird joy from naming the seasons of your life. (Among others will be The Great Sadness, The Bald Peak Incident of 2008, and The Palm Desert Experiment). I won’t spoil it, but you’ll come to see how this summer changed everything, and in some strange, mysterious way, you’ll be grateful for it.

And I don’t mean that in a stupid, “silver lining” way, because even though “silver linings” may exist, they don’t minimize or erase the terrible things we sometimes go through. But when you look back, the reasons behind this season will make some sort of weird sense. There will be plenty of things in your life that never makes sense, but this is one of those rare things that eventually will.

So yeah, you’re a mess, and about to try counseling for the first time. You haven’t the slightest clue what that means, but that’s ok. Spoiler alert: you’re going to go in to your first appointment and and be all, “Nothing but the facts, ma’am,”  but after about two and half minutes you’ll be crying so hard you can't breathe all over the couch of the nice woman you've just met, and that's exactly how it should be. You feel so very weak right now, I know, I remember, but this choice you’ve made, to engage in the hard work of sorting through your own darkness? It is the brave choice. It would be easier to run, to let it win, to let it have you, but that’s not the path you’ve chosen. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that this isn’t the hard and brave and best thing, because it is.

It's going to be weird at first. You’re not going to know what to say, and there’s going to be some silence you don’t know what to do with. And for a while you’re not going to want to go back, because it will stir things in you you’ve buried and would rather not feel. Keep going anyway. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but it will get better. One day, many years after your first appointment, you'll come across a line in a book that puts it perfectly:

"Blessedness is a feast that can be savored only by those who have first tasted their own blood."

If there was another way, I’d tell you, but it won't be long before you figure out that the only path to healing is straight through the thick forest of what hurts and haunts you the most. It will be a fight, but thankfully you've always had more fight rumbling around in your chest than you've known what to do with. You find it easy to fight for the people you love and the things you believe in, but it’ll take you a little more time to realize that it’s not just ok, but absolutely essential that you fight for yourself, for your heart and your story. 

In a few years, in a season of your life when you’re not in counseling but have the sneaking suspicion that you should be, you’ll be tempted to think, well, I've been worse, I don’t really need to go back, I'm ok with existing, rather than really truly living. And you’ll go along with that for a while, but then one night you’ll lay awake recalling all the times you’ve given speeches to your friends about how their lives and hearts matter, how they owe it to themselves to get help, how it doesn’t make them weak, it actually means they’re strong, etc., and you’ll feel like the world's biggest hypocrite, so the next morning you’ll make an appointment. (There will actually be a time in college where you’re driving three different people to counseling on a weekly basis because you’re the one who convinced them to go, so yeah, you’re kind of obnoxious, but you probably saw that one coming, and it ultimately comes from a place of wanting the people you love to be free and whole and well.)

So I guess I'm writing you because it's been one of those seasons where the easy thing would be to let the darkness have me. It would be easier to just go through the motions of work and school, dishes, bills, and smiling on cue, but then I think of you, and that day you locked yourself in the laundry room with the cordless phone and whispered to someone on the other end that you needed help. I think of all the good things that have come from that one terrified moment of knowing you couldn't keep going it alone, and having the courage to do something about it. I think of you and I don't want to let you down.

Of course there are other, very important pieces that are necessary to your attempt to live as a whole person, and most of those have to do with having good, honest, love-drenched people in your life. Counseling is only one piece of this journey, but it's the one you fight the hardest, the one that unfortunately comes with a stigma that is the product of small minds. Don't let their raised eyebrows keep you from participating fully in this resurrection narrative we all find ourselves characters in.

So I guess this letter is less about relaying wisdom than reminding myself of some things I've forgotten over the last (can you believe it?) almost eight years. There's no way for you to know it now, but your choices as a frightened high school freshman are helping this graduate student remember how to fight the good fight. Thanks for that.

P.S. Even though I'm writing you from a difficult season, you should also know that your life this far is really, really good. There is much to be hopeful for.