- I left my parent’s house when I was 16 years old.
- I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self that I can’t run away from problems.
- I’m now a mom and want to make sure my children don’t go through what I did.
I left my parent’s home when I was 16 — my son’s age now. I felt I had no other choice; I’d grown up with rigid religious rules enforced by mentally unstable, emotionally neglectful parents. Constant friction between me and my mom often escalated from verbal to physical altercations. I also struggled with abandonment issues fueled by my mostly absent alcoholic dad.
The day I decided to leave, I was terrified. A few friends’ and acquaintances’ parents allowed me short overnight stays. I bounced around like this for weeks. It was chaotic, but I managed to continue going to school.
My dysfunctional home life drove me away, but I had no idea that the anxiety and depression it caused wouldn’t end when I left. I abused alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs as the only ways I could think of to cope. Looking back, I can see I was using these to numb myself and avoid a tornado of emotions.
I was kicked out of school for smoking
When a teacher caught me smoking in the bathroom at school, she marched me into the principal’s office. I’ll never forget the way he stared me dead in the eyes and said, “There is no way you will ever graduate high school.” He drafted my suspension slip and ordered me off campus. I ended up failing all my classes that semester and was a year behind in credits at the end of what would have been my junior year.
That was a rock-bottom moment. I believed his assertion: I was doomed to be a failure forever. I felt hopeless and alone.
Then one day, I felt an irrefutable anger rise up in me. I decided I would not allow that principal’s cold words dictate my fate. My contrary nature kicked in and worked in my favor for once, and I harnessed it with the goal of proving him wrong. I returned to school, and not only graduated but also made up all my missed credits in time to walk in the graduation ceremony with my class.
Despite that success, I carried the baggage of shame, guilt, and dejection for three decades. It took me that long to comprehend what a huge challenge I had overcome. Along the way, I also became a mother who hopes to help my children avoid similar pitfalls.
This is what I would tell myself if I could go back in time
If I could go back, I’d tell my teen self she’s never alone — even when everyone else has abandoned her, she always has herself. I would teach her that self-nurturing is the most powerful skill she can learn. Part of this involves learning how to stick with ourselves even when it’s uncomfortable. We must resist the urge to hide from our emotions through avoidance and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
I’d teach her that running away from problems might remove their physical presence but can never erase their mental and emotional effects. Those stay with us no matter how fast or far we run. Sometimes it’s necessary to escape a negative environment, but that’s not the whole solution. We must also shift our inner landscape, attending to our whole selves — body, mind, and emotions.
I never received this guidance as a teen; I ended up learning the hard way. Now, I embrace my journey. Ending my habit of running away from problems and myself means I’ve changed my life, and my kids’ future, for the better.
I’m grateful for that experience. It’s given me tools for teaching my kids an important lesson my 16-year-old self unwittingly taught me: Even when life feels hopeless or miserable, you have the power to change it.