21 December 2008

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

More snow, more sleet, more freezing rain. And all that stuff is going to freeze over tonight.

All right, it is officially the first day of winter. But does it have to begin with slush?

And Mom told me it was 70 degrees when I talked to her this morning. She was sitting on her patio, watching birds. I just hope the roads are clear when I go to the airport on Wednesday.

If any young people are reading this, take note: You actually start to look forward to spending time with family members! If someone had told me that when I was your age, I would have asked whether he or she was smoking.

Lately, it's become fashionable to ask people, particularly women, what they would say to their younger selves. When I first started living full-time as Justine, five years ago, I thought a lot about that question, though no one had posed it to me.

At first, I fell into the "coulda-woulda-shoulda" trap. I shouldnta walked out on that therapist who, in my fourth session with her, said that I needed to "work on" my drinking and drug use and suggested that after that, I should see a gender specialist. Before that, I didn't know that there were such people as gender specialists; at that moment, I hated her for letting me know. And in my mind, I sneered at her the way I did to anyone else who expressed concern over my drinking and drug abuse, or suggested that there were other issues I wasn't addressing.

For years, I told myself that the real reason I didn't continue with that therapist was that I couldn't afford it. However, she worked on a sliding scale, and I was paying much less than most of her patients. And, knowing her, she might've lowered the rate even more, or given me more time to pay, if I'd asked.

If I'd continued, I woulda begun to deal with my issues. And I probably wouldnta been in a marriage that neither I nor my ex should have been in. And I woulda...oh, the list goes on. But the bottom line is that I coulda begun to live as Justine much earlier than I did. But then again, I know that my experience of living female would have been very different from what I've experienced during these past five years.

OK, so no woulda-coulda-shoulda. My best answer to "What would you tell your younger self?" came to me when I was bike riding one crisp, breezy fall afternoon: "I am always here for you. I will never leave you, any more than you can leave me. Don't be afraid of me; I'm at your side and by your side. And I love you."

That was the first time that, in any way, shape or form, I expressed any sort of love for myself, much less for the teenaged boy that I was, and who is as much a part of me as anyone else I've ever been. And I realized how grateful I had to be to him: After all, he endured a lot (nearly all of it emotional and spiritual) to survive long enough to become me. Sometimes it made me sad and angry: He suffered, but I was the one reaping the benefits. Not that I haven't suffered as Justine; now I have more inner resources for dealing with it.

The truth is, that teenaged boy and I have always needed each other. And now I am learning that my younger self is as much a resource for me now as the woman I am now might've been to him had I acknowledged that I am, and have always been, her.

But what teenager listens to a middle-aged woman (or man), especially one who is of his or her own blood, and spirit? I couldn't have. Maybe that's how it is for other teenagers, too.

At least there is the future. The slush won't always be here. But I'll always have it, for whatever purposes. When I grow up, I'll be thankful.