A Letter to My 22 Year Old Self.

Via Erica Leibrandt
on Sep 23, 2013
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Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

Dear Me,

You just woke up with a cockroach sitting on your face.

You are living in an apartment that is a former tenement house and was probably in better condition when it was inhabited by poverty stricken immigrants. Your roommate is some random dude you met through a friend of a friend who either disappears for days at a time or falls asleep for days at a time. You don’t know this, but he is struggling with heroin addiction.

(You also don’t know this, but he’ll beat this addiction and go on to have a job and a family he loves.)

It’s the East Village, New York, 1992. You moved here because you want to be a writer, but you’re discovering that just surviving in this city is a full-time job.

You are a waitress serving big steaks to men with big corporate accounts, and though you work with a lot of nice people, you are lonely. You are afraid you’ll be a waitress for the rest of your life because your B.A. didn’t really train you to do anything else.

You can write a good term paper, but that’s about it.

You spend your free time at the $2 movie theatre, at the diner reading The Village Voice and rollerblading the city streets from end to end.

You’re just putting one foot in front of the other, with no idea where you are going.

By the time you’re 25, three years after you moved to New York, you’ve begun to feel a little bit better about things. Through a series of minor miracles, you’ve managed to find an apartment you love and though you are still working at the same restaurant, you now find time to write every day. Your writing is going nowhere, and you don’t know how to change that, but at least you are doing it and that’s good.

You’ve also been able to make enough money to travel around Italy and Germany, a fact you are proud of. Though you’ll admit you’re still basically spinning your wheels, at least you’re doing it with a bit more style these days.

Right around this time you meet a guy. I want to warn you: he is not a good guy.

He’ll tell you he loves you—he is lying.

He’ll tell you you need to change and you will change. You’ll change from a naive, sort-of-happy young woman into someone you can’t recognize.

He will show you how to do your first line of coke. He’ll say that it’s only dangerous the first time, because you might die from a heart attack, but that after that, it’s perfectly safe. This “innocuous” drug will be the driving force behind many shameful decisions.

In order to do it, you will lie to your friends and family, lose your job, lose your apartment and live on the streets; specifically the rooftops of apartment buildings you used to call home (and so still have the key to the front door), the dock by the Intrepid down on the Hudson River, your drug dealer’s place and Penn Station.

You will burn so many bridges that you end up running away to Chicago. You won’t be smart enough to go alone.

You’ll let the guy come with you.

Panicked by the idea of being homeless again, and unwilling to give up the drugs or the guy, you will become a dancer. It’s an unimaginable move for a girl like you; let’s face it, you’re kind of a prude. But you will buy an outfit to audition in at a store in Boyz Town, where the cashier is in drag, you will take two trains to the nearest strip club and you will force yourself not to vomit from fear as you walk onto stage to take off your clothes for money.

You will dance for two years. You get good at it. You make more money just sitting and talking to guys than taking off your top. You realize the other dancers are good girls. They try not to say anything about how bad you look when you come in to work after a bender. They are polite when your guy comes to the club, takes the money you’ve made so far and then spends it on other dancers.

You don’t know that this is where the seeds of positive change will finally take root.

When you meet a new guy, who tells you he loves you, it is in the club. You don’t take him seriously because all the guys there tell you they love you. You don’t understand that he means it. When you find out he is divorced with full custody of five kids, you will try to cross him off your list. You’ve already had enough problems—but you can’t ignore your feelings.

You love him, too.

You don’t know this guy will help you. He will buttress your messed up credit by co-signing a lease so you can get away from the other guy. He will lend you a couch and buy you paper towels and plastic forks to get you started in your new place. He will worry that this apartment is under the El tracks and that it’s too loud and you won’t get any sleep.

He will support your decision to quit dancing—he will tell you to quit doing drugs too, and you do, because you know he’ll leave you if you don’t.

He will ask you to marry him and you will say yes.

You will move in with him and his rambunctious children, taking on the most difficult task you’ve ever known–helping to care for them. But life is good. You are safe. You learn to cook. You start writing again. You write down all the bad things that happened to you.

You think everything will always be okay now.

Then your stepson takes his life; he hangs himself in the basement in the middle of the day. The family crumbles. We fight to hang onto each other. Somehow, we do.

You will never wake up with a cockroach on your face again. You will never live in New York, or be a dancer, or be naive, or be famous, or snort coke in a public phone booth or see your step son again.

You will also never see your ex-boyfriend again, because he dies from an overdose of the drug he always said was harmless.

But you will be a mother, you will be a writer and you will be loved.

You will heal, you will break, and you will heal again. You will live a good life and you will be strong and honorable.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I believe in you.

With love,







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Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr. And visit her website.


37 Responses to “A Letter to My 22 Year Old Self.”

  1. Christina says:

    i love this

  2. Wow, you have definitely been through some tough times. To be able to come through all of that a better person says a lot, stay strong!

  3. kristi1521 says:

    I love your story. I am just starting to find my hope, and your story gives me strength. Thank you.

  4. Erica says:

    Thank you. Sending many blessings and light your way.

  5. Anni says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Your letter made me cry but it filled my heart with hope at the same time….

  6. Eduardo says:

    I loved this, the truth and sense of peace after overcoming these moments are evident. Thank you for your honest, thank you for your story, thank you for you.

  7. Kristychan88 says:

    Erica, your writing and your life brings tears to my eyes. I love them both in all their pain and joy. Thank you for being so brave and raw and open.

  8. Kathi says:

    My sincere admiration and love to you! This was extremely touching and so real.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    You are strong:) This made me well up.

  10. Whitney says:

    Me too!

  11. Kate says:

    Thank you. That was so beautiful. I wish the future 39 year-old me could write a letter that the 29 year-old me could read right now because with the peace that hindsight brings, stuff is so much less scary.

  12. Anne says:

    Well I am in awe at your story but almost even more so by your writing. Awesome stuff! Your man and kids are lucky to have you.

  13. Awesome. So naked, so raw, so true. I gasped out loud when I got to the part about your stepson. I could feel your devastation. Thank you for sharing your story.

  14. Richard Jablinski says:

    Wow. Wow. Sounds like an abbreviated movie script to me. Just saying. 🙂

  15. Erica says:

    Yeah, Richard..it's too true for the movies. No one would believe it. Anthea..you are the only one who commented on my stepson. Thank you for that. I realized I shortened the piece about his death because that was the most painful. I will be writing about that soon.

  16. namaste says:

    I will be writing my own personalized version of this article later. I enjoyed it. I have appeared as several different characters in this story, throughout my life. I have been your roommate, I have been the first ex boyfriend, and I'd liken myself to your husband now. I always relate to the broken, the redemption, the loss. I always imagine that there is some girl out there or maybe 3 or 4 that are writing this story about me, but then I realize that I'm just self centered and I'm not that important to them anymore and they aren't victims and never were and I'm not relevant and if they are still holding onto that then they need to let it go.

  17. Julie says:

    I like this. Maybe I'll write a letter to my 22 year old self! x

  18. Yen says:

    I loved it!!!!!!

  19. Laura says:

    Nice way to tell your story.

  20. Erica says:

    I have an editor, with whom I'll take this up STAT. As you can see, you yourself can report mis-spellings and typos simply by clicking on the link after the article. Thanks for the heads up, that is a really dumb mistake!

  21. elephantjournal says:

    Updated! Thanks, all!

  22. The Diner of Cville... says:

    Hooray!!! Again gorgeous piece. Sorry I didn't notice that nifty little typo feature. I need this for my own blog. Badly. LOL

  23. yogabeast says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss of your stepson. Words can't express it. Thank you for being so courageous to write these touching and perfectly human words.

  24. ohmmmm says:


  25. Katie says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  26. Tonantzin says:

    This is really powerful stuff, I have a strong feeling of empathy for you. Thank you so much for sharing this. thank you so much for hanging in there.

  27. Larissa says:

    Wow….. I love you. You brought tears to my eyes. I can relate somewhat to this, you are really inspirational. I hope to be as successful as you someday. Thank you for sharing

  28. Leonie Orton says:

    Holy shhhh… What a full on life, and then your stepson. I can't imagine…. And all those years writing was the backdrop, you feeling all the things that most of us writers feel…we're not good enough, our writing's going nowhere… And now here you are loved, loving and able to write something so touching as this.

  29. Nancy says:

    i hope i never write a letter to my 25 year-old self about how i needed a man to give me direction. this is just glorifying your dependence on the dude who "saved" you. would have been much more inspiring if you dug yourself out of your own hole. guess i better start looking really hard for a boyfriend who can validate my life with a diamond ring then??

  30. TLA says:

    What a sad thing to say. Every person's path works differently, so if a knight in shining armor came to her aid, who are you to judge? We all have helpers along the way who help light our path to success–I hope you find some too.

  31. Laura says:

    This just happens to be what dug her out of her hole. I have met many people, platonic and romantic, who helped me get out of my rut. Why be so nasty about it? This is her life, it isn't something she can rewrite because you believe it isn't inspiring enough for the modern independent woman.

  32. m88 says:

    Hi there! This article could not be written aany better!

    Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this post to him.

    Pretty sure he’s going to have a great read. Thanks for sharing!

  33. m88 says:

    Hi there! This article couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this

    post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about

    this. I most certainly will forward this post to him.

    Fairly certain he’ll hae a good read. Many thanks forr sharing!

  34. raineyva says:

    Just amazing,

  35. Taylor Bland says:

    This is so powerful and inspiring! I love the idea of writing to your past self, as well; very therapeutic. Thank you for sharing<3

  36. Devon says:

    This is the best writing I have seen here in a long time.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  37. Christina says:

    Wow!! Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story touched my heart.