Writing letters that won’t be read

“I wrote a letter to my Mom today” is a sentence I say to my therapist quite often. Debbie never applauds the work I put into the letters I’ve never sent, or even asks what the content is. She listens intently, nods her head over video chat, and asks “Why did you feel the need to write a letter?”. Honestly, sometimes I don’t even know. I’m going to blame my sensitive nature and nostalgic view of broken relationships. Instead of getting too trapped into “coulda, woulda, shoulda”‘s of the past, I write song lyrics, introspective observations and more often than not, take accountability for situations I feel as though I could’ve handled in a different way. Debbie will ask me, “Did it make you feel better?”, and I’ll answer with an unsure shrug and say “You know… I don’t know. But, it helped me clear my head a bit”.

The last time I told my therapist about a letter I wrote to my mom, I was taken aback by one of her responses. As I described the letter, and stressing my lack of understanding why I seem to cope in this way, she asked, “Well… you didn’t send it right?”. The tone of her voice cut in a similar way as a best friend would when interrogating you if you texted an ex-boyfriend during a drunken night out. I was almost embarrassed I shared my story to Debbie. After reflecting, I understand my therapist and I may not agree on everything. Debbie is an imperfect human too, and had she known her tone made me uncomfortable, she wouldn’t have asked me that question.

I am my own best friend who knows what makes me happy. I understand what helps me reflect and ponder. The letters I write to my Mom but never send make me feel something I want to understand deeper.

I decided to sit down and write five letters. A letter for a person in which I have words unsaid, and feelings to still process. These letters were written with shaky caffeine powered hands, in front of my laptop playing episodes of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix show goop lab and took about 3 hours to complete. Here are the letters, and what I learned.

Letter #1: To the gifted student who weaponized their friendship

I actually hadn’t thought about the subject of this letter in months, and hadn’t admitted holding animosity for them in years. His presence came to me in an vivid dream, after not seeing them in person since I was 21.

Being the first letter I wrote in this series, I expected myself to hold back on a lot of emotions. To my surprise, this letter ended at five pages. Once I started writing, I couldn’t get myself to stop.

Quotes from the letter:

You have an energy that is so magnetic – you can draw anyone in. I guess it always seemed like a double-edged sword though. From my experience, you seemed to give love and attention – but then take it away at a moment’s notice. The way you weaponized that superpower of yours made me feel so exiled at times.”

I believe in your heart you understand how important connection, love, and acceptance is. I think it’s hard when we’re young and battling an ego inside of us.

Something I still remember is talking in class about our first impressions of each other. You said to me, “when I first met you, I thought you were going to cry”. I remember someone laughing at that – and how at the time, it hurt my feelings. I was so embarrassed to be perceived so weak by someone I desperately wanted to impress. If I were you in school… I don’t think I would’ve really connected with that Julia either.”

What I learned:

I still admire the memories and impression this man made on my life. But, I finally realize how imperfect they were too. This talented student’s popularity and coveted friendship was so important to me years ago – but now, I wonder how he’s coping not being surrounded by the circle he created then. I understand I was a version of myself that wasn’t able to express vulnerable connection with very many people, and it wasn’t his responsibility to pursue that on his own terms.

Letter #2: To the competing peer I stayed angry with

Unlike the last subject, this person is still a presence in my life. In fact, she may be reading this blog post, as she’s continued to support me and my creative endeavors through the years. I think that’s why I felt like I needed to put my feelings to paper, as I don’t want to hold on to negative energy I haven’t admitted to yet. At four pages, this letter gave me a safe place to process.

Quotes from the letter:

“I kind of… hate myself for still being a little angry with you. That’s not your fault, it’s mine.”

“I think I made up a narrative in my head – one that consisted of you rooting against me. In every class. Every performance. Everything. I don’t know how true that narrative was – but I know I created that damaging perspective myself – and I think it’s been easy to just pin it on you.”

“I think I held so much anger towards you because I felt ashamed. Embarrassed. Unable to reach my full potential in art due to my own trauma getting in the way. Unable to personally connect with you out of fear.”

What I learned:

I, again, idolized a personal relationship with the woman I watched create magical art. Allowing a cycle of fear, shame and guilt (which I still deal with), I created a narrative that was much more toxic in my head than what was reality. But, I also reminisced on times that she asked me if I was okay – in times that I was not. The truth of the matter is that the only anger I still carry is not directed towards her or the way she treated me as a peer – it is with myself.

Letter #3: To my imperfect first love

What would a series of personal letters be without one to a first love? I’d never admitted this man was my first love until now. Years ago, I would’ve cringed at the mention of his name. As we’ve both grown away from the immature kids we once were, we’ve developed an authentic relationship of mutual respect at a distance. Only being two pages, I was surprised at how little I had to say.

Quotes from the letter:

“Our love may not have been great timing, compatible for who we were, or even healthy at times. But I still see and remember you as an amazing friend. A lover who held me when I hit rock bottom. Someone who made me feel comfortable enough to start acknowledging my unspoken hurt.”

“I hope you feel forgiven”

What I learned:

There isn’t too much unsaid to this ex-boyfriend. One thing that is important to me, is that they feel forgiven by me. I have an understand that my naive responses to heartbreak were embarrassing to say the least. However, I’ve always felt forgiven – and I hope he does too.

Letter #4: To the long relationship I ended

My longest relationship, and the one I romanticize the least. Sometimes I feel like this version of myself is from another dimension. Whether that’s from pushing certain memories away, or living in a certain state of denial; this letter made me realize a few new things after five pages of writing.

Quotes from the letter:

“I think I rushed into creating a life with you due to my own codependency. I don’t think that was fair to you. It wasn’t fair of me to fabricate my own level of commitment to you.”

“I’m proud of you for all of your accomplishments – but you unintentionally made me feel like I wasn’t as smart as you. I really didn’t like that.”

“Maybe you felt like a prisoner in some ways too. For that, I’m sorry. ”

What I learned:

As much as I like to pretend he wasn’t a huge part of my life – he was. As much as I’m angry with him, I think he has every right to still be angry with me. My secrets were deep, and couldn’t help but contribute to the self-undoing of our relationship. As Taylor Swift says, “I can’t make it go away by making you a villain”.

Letter #5: To the woman I wished was my mom

I felt scared to write this one. Although it was only two pages, it took me the longest to finish. Similar to other letters in this series, there was a common theme of a shame and guilty cycle. We haven’t spoken in years, but I still think of her a lot, and have mentioned the relationship briefly to my therapist.

Quotes from the letter:

“I feel like you forgot about me. Looking back now, I realize the responsibility wasn’t just on you. I should’ve made more of an effort. I guess I was scared.”

“I also mistakenly assigned you the role of my mom. You didn’t have to take any responsibility for me.”

What I learned:

I feel ready to start approaching this subject with the leadership from my therapist. The heartbreak of losing a relationship I assigned as a mother figure due to feeling as though I didn’t deserve that kind of love was damaging. She wasn’t my mom, and I wasn’t her daughter. But, she took over certain responsibilities that I can never repay her for. I can only assume the “door is still open” with her, but is it for me? I’m still figuring that out.

Final Thoughts:

I’m happy I did this, because I believe there is beauty in vulnerability, introspection and taking accountability for actions that contributed to the downfall of any kind of relationship. In every letter I wrote I felt comfortable enough to dismiss a certain amount of denial I allowed to live in the perception I held in each of these relationships.

When writing these letters, I imagined what the receiver would think when they read it for the first time. Would my unedited thoughts and messy handwriting come across as accusatory? Unwarranted? Appreciated?

Debbie’s suggestion to keep my letters unsent will keep them stored in my woven Goodwill basket – at least for the meantime. But, it doesn’t make them, the contents, or my feelings any less real.

2 Replies to “Writing letters that won’t be read”

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