Susan notes: This is a letter of gratitude from Alex, a remarkable 16-year-old girl, to her
angel Jackie, a young woman in her twenties who was a counselor at a camp in
Toronto, Ontario, Canada last summer. Alex wrote the letter to thank Jackie for being there to listen, support,
and provide strength. It’s an amazing testimonial to the difference we can all make in someone else’s life, if we take the time to listen and care.
Loretta Cella, who established the Passion Foundation in Vancouver, Canada, to help young women thrive, sent me the letter to post on AWR. Alex is one of the amazing young women in Loretta’s programme.
Cutting is a form of self-injury in which a person scratches or cuts themselves
with a sharp object, enough to break the skin and make it bleed.
On the last night of camp, which I remember perfectly, you never let me
finish saying thank you and how much you mean to me and what you’ve
done for me. This is reallllly long and I apologize; I just feel like I
can get everything out.
You told me your life story, which is something extremely personal so I’ll do a brief version of mine.
I have always been stubborn and wanting to go my own way. I was put in
private school to “learn discipline” in grade 6. There I met 2 girls
who would become my best friends and my life: Juli and Alice. In
December of grade 9, they ditched me suddenly.
I was left with no friends and because everything revolved around them,
I had nothing left for myself. I cut for the first time in the spring
of grade 9. I have cut a total of 11 times to this day and I’m sorry it
reached the double digits.
I started crying more and becoming more
angry and irritable and sad; but at the same time I started to change
myself for the better, I thought. I ended up gaining a lot more
friends; Alice and I are closer than ever. Juli and I have made up and
are OK now, but I still have yet to find my self worth.
Then I started smoking weed to impress my stepbrother’s friends. It started out as something fun that I did when I was in Toronto. Then it became an everyday thing. I’ve blacked out several times from high amounts. That’s when I started using it to avoid my depression and to keep me up. I started doing ecstasy; I started begging people for coke.
I’m sorry to say that I have found myself kneeling in front of a guy for money to buy a lot of drugs to do all at once to end my life. My grades fluctuated and I was getting worse and worse. I was once walking with a friend and she had to hold me back from traffic as I screamed, “HIT ME!” and clawed at my legs until I bled and bruised.
(Last summer, I returned to Camp Timberlane for my 7th year. One of the first night a woman in her twenties walks into our cabin and becomes known to me as Jackie, head of fitness and co-head of tennis. Little did I know that this woman whom I’d known for a total of 5 minutes would be the person to change my life and save me from myself!)
I’m not good with feelings but I’m good with words and I hope I can get my message across. My friends have messaged you and have told you of the change they’ve seen in me, but only I can tell you of the changes I’ve decided to make because of you; changes in myself and how I feel and look at things.
Somehow when you walked into our cabin, I knew that this summer would be different and that you weren’t like most of the people there. Somehow I was also able to look at myself and realize that I have a problem, and I decided to come to you about it.
I am not one to admit I have a problem, I am not one to trust people immediately and I certainly have never talked about cutting before. You had just walked out of my cabin after telling your story and I didn’t want to go down the same path so I decided to chase you out.
“ What about them?”
“Jackie I’ve done something horrible to myself.”
“I don’t get it…”
“My arms. I have scars on my arms.”
We sat on the dock that night and talked a while. At that point I hated that I had shared my secret but something told me that it was going to be okay. And for the first time, I believed it.
You fought with a camp director and the owner for me. I am actually speechless (and that’s saying a lot) at how far you went for me. You tried to take me into town to see the doctor and you took time out of your schedule to help me. You convinced me to talk to my mother to get help. One night where I was a complete wreck you opened your door for me and you allowed me to cry on your floor. After calling my mother, I broke down and you took me in and reassured me that everything was going to be okay.
Before I met you I was a frustrated, stubborn, and a sad girl with a “fuck you” attitude. When my friends begged me to stop drinking at school and getting high before and after school I’d get angry at them and tell them they didn’t know anything. When I got depressed and people told me things would be okay, I would have the same reaction; I never believed them.
Friends I’d known for a few years or more didn’t have nearly as much impact as you did; someone I’d known for less than 2 months. Somehow you immediately changed me and inspired me to try to drop all the shit I was doing/wanted to do/was going to do. I’m sorry to say I haven’t fully succeeded but I can tell you that I’m trying.
I no longer abuse my asthma inhaler, Advil, or Tylenol T3s. I have deleted all my sleazy contacts from my phone as well as my drug and alcohol contacts. I’ve thrown out lighters and haven’t smoked a cigarette in months. Having met you, I went and got help. I saw a counselor once a week, I’ve had 2 psychiatric analyses, and I’m a lot closer with my friends and not as disastrous.
However there are still nights where I find myself collapsed on the floor of my bedroom wishing for death. When I start to pick myself up and think of reasons why I shouldn’t kill myself, you’re the first reason. I think of how much you’ve done for me and what you’ve passed on to me and how I can pass that on to others. I think of all the time you put in over someone you just met.
If it weren’t for you, I have no doubt in my mind that I’d be 6 feet under or I’d have had a few hospital visits. For the first time in my life, I feel guilty about all that I’d done. For the first time in my life, I feel bad about getting high. For the first time in a while, I felt like I actually have a purpose, a meaning, that I was actually worth something. You reinstated faith in me and belief and that things will one day be okay. You make me realize that I AM someone and I DO have a right to be alive and that I am worth something.
I question “Why?” all the time. Why did you do so much? Why me? Why is it that you came back to camp at the time I was at my worst and you happened to be near our cabin and decently close with us? I personally believe in fate… and that’s what I think it is. Because of you I’m closer to finding my self worth. I don’t hate myself as much. Because of you, I look for things in myself that I love and that other people love. Because of you I look for the small things in life worth appreciating. Because of you I found the will to become a better person and carry on.
This is the longest message I’ve ever written and even then it still doesn’t get out everything I want to say. But at least maybe you’ll have an idea of how much you mean to me and how much you’ve done for me.
Forever in debt,