Hey, dear readers, welcome to a brand-new weekly feature of this blog, hastily entitled "Help A Sister Out." In this fabulous new column, I will post problems that people e-mail me with, or leave in the comments, and I'll post the response I sent them in reply. You, too, are welcome to leave your (empathetic, helpful, productive) advice in the comments, or to submit a question, anonymously or by name.
This week's question comes from M., who writes:
I have a question, how do us teenage girls who are attempting to understand life, escape from it all safely? My dad and mom both drink, and my stepmom takes it out on my siblings, but what am I supposed to do? I don't want to drink or do drugs or run away, but what do I do? How do we go about this?
My initial, hasty reply:
The answer is to talk to a teacher or guidance counselor at school, or some other adult you trust in a position of authority, and ask them to help you leave home safely and legally. I'm glad you don't want to do drugs, drink, or run away. I hope so much that things will get better for you.
But now that I consider the question again, I don't think that M. is asking for advice about how to leave home. She's asking for advice on how to stay at home, and not go crazy. She recognizes that she is dependent on her parents for the next few years, and that her other options are limited, so how does she make the best of it in the meantime?
She used the word escape, which can be a really good and hopeful word, one that sometimes gets a bad rap. As M. probably knows, reading provides an amazing escape from your immediate circumstances in the very short-term. Writing, too, can provide a great escape, as well as a necessary catharsis. Talking about your problems with the person you trust most -- yourself, to yourself in your journal -- is a great way to gain new insight every day. And talking to people you trust, whether you talk about your specific circumstances, or you just talk about life in general, is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.
Because there is escapism, which feels bad, because it involves escaping from things you need to feel good in order to feed an addiction. And then there is true escape, a breakthrough, when you actually find a way to break free of a situation that hurts you. Escaping into your passions, your imagination, your curiosity, nature, exercise, play, art, the love and friendship of your family of choice -- these escapes feel good. They make you happier, and stronger, and more prepared to face the unpredictable and often unwanted events of our lives. You escape by training for the life you want to have, by keeping your eyes on the prize, and telling yourself, "Things are going to get better." Which they will. The older you get, the more control you have over your life, and let me tell you -- it's pretty fucking awesome to be an adult. Not gloating, just promising.
So that's my new advice to M. What's yours?