Update: “I think my professors fucked me up.”

I never want to pressure Letter Writers to send in updates, but it’s nice to receive them. In late 2022, the writer of #1358 sent in some great news and authorized me to post it here:

“I have wanted to write in with an update for a little while now, and now I can, because I finally got this news I was waiting for: Today I found out I passed my state’s bar exam!

My life has changed so much since I wrote in last fall. I graduated from law school. I took the bar exam. I moved back to my hometown, into my own apartment. I started my first job as a lawyer, as a professional instead of a student.

I found a therapist who taught me how to set reasonable boundaries and schedules, how to deal with the horrible feelings and memories I couldn’t make sense of. I got diagnosed with PTSD and OCD pretty quickly. I got therapy and meds that helped me feel more even-keeled. I am starting to learn how to stop hurting myself. I found some good doctors, and I got diagnosed with some other chronic physical illnesses that developed, apparently, as a result of truly harmful physical stress on my body for so long. They’re hard to deal with sometimes. But I deal with them. I take my meds, and I try to cook things that are good for me, and I go for long walks and I go to the gym, and I go to bed early, and when I panic I try to just wait it out, and mostly I feel safe.

I got an apartment that’s in my own space but near my parents. I go over to their house for dinner once a week or so. I call my mom to tell her how my days are. I help my dad with projects he’s working on. I listen to REM like he always did when I was a kid. I’m not totally sure about going back to church yet, but I can sit near my window and pray. I have a quiet, clean, perfect little space where I live with my dog. My bed is covered by a quilt my grandmother made me. My boyfriend comes over sometimes (my boyfriend!) and he is solid and steady and kind, and I think that maybe I can still love. Every day I wake up and take my dog outside and look at the river and feel the wind and listen to the geese, and I feel safe.

I got a job where I have my own little office, with a big window and a door that shuts if I need it to, and I get to do what I’ve been trained to do and what I’m really good at now. I work on a small team, and my coworkers are kind and smart and friendly. My boss sends me home if I stay even a few minutes past 5 p.m. He doesn’t call me at weird hours. He doesn’t mind if I have to leave for an appointment during the workday. He doesn’t corner me. He lets me work at my own pace, he lets me work how I like to work. Sometimes people at the office tell me I’ve done a good job on something. I’ve learned that I like to talk to the people I work with; I’ve learned that even when I’m feeling anxious, it’s okay to go to work and sit in my office and focus on breathing and maybe only do a little bit that day. Nobody seems to mind. My boss makes me laugh, I think because he’s trying to get me to chill out a little bit, and I feel safe. 

When I was a kid I begged my parents for horseback riding lessons, which were short-lived but the most free I’ve ever felt. I started riding again — I found a riding club and a family willing to lease me a horse on the weekends. I ride with them on Saturdays, and I bake cinnamon rolls to bring them as a thank you, and I talk to friends from all over, of all different ages and occupations, and I love them. I get to literally gallop across open fields, I get to let it take my breath away, and I feel safe.

Things are still hard. It’s hard to take care of myself sometimes. Some nights I wake up terrified, not breathing. Some days I still can’t call what my professors did “abuse”; some days I still can’t call what that other student did “rape.” Sometimes I’m so furious about what they did to me I think it’ll kill me. But for the most part, that fire in me doesn’t burn me to death. For the most part, it keeps me alive. My friend told me once that I can be like the burning bush: aflame but never consumed. There isn’t really an “old” me to go back to, a version of me from before all of this that I can access. But there is a version of me that gets to choose what she does, and she is choosing to connect with the things she always loved, and she feels safe.

I passed the bar exam, and I’m a lawyer now, and that means the escape plan I set in motion years ago without really knowing why I felt like I had to escape has finally, finally, finally come to pass. I did it. They can never blow my life up ever again. I know what they did to me. I didn’t have any power over it. That hurts. But I get to say what I was made for. I get to say what I do. I don’t know if I’m making all the right choices yet, but I’m the one making the choices. I’m going to bed tonight without something clawing at my chest. Thank you (and Amy) for giving me the words and the tools I needed to make that happen.”

Congratulations on passing the bar. Congratulations on saving your own life. Congratulations for building a life where there is fulfilling work and also dogs and horses and love and quilts and days of working on projects and listening to music with your dad. And thanks again to guest adviser and badass author Amy Gentry, who knows a little something about harnessing the fire inside. ❤