DEAR CAROLYN: I'm in my late 20s, and lucky to have a great career and people I'm on friendly terms with — some to be friends in the future, hopefully. But every now and then I find myself craving some external validation for how far I've gone. I was living out of my car at one point and am now gainfully employed in the career of my choice and pretty well-adjusted (I think!). I take pride in those accomplishments, but I also find myself wishing from time to time that someone else could say, "I see where you've been and how far you've come, and I just want to let you know I'm proud." I don't have any family and things were a bit chaotic for me growing up, so I don't have people I'm close to from my past. What can I do in those moments when I find myself longing for a sort of phantom witness to my life, a ghost cheerleader who doesn't exist?
Filling in the Blanks
FILLING IN THE BLANKS: Please, allow me: It is impressive how far you've come, and you've earned every pat on the back you can get.
I'm sorry you don't have a circle of knew-you-when intimates who can share your pride with you. That's a lonely feeling.
I wonder, though, if the sheer badassery of your arc can actually be your solution instead of the problem.
Have you considered turning your journey into art of some kind? Storytelling comes to mind, a la "The Moth" (themoth.org), because I have zero doubt that your experiences could fuel several trips to the stage. But there are so many options: essays, fiction, autobiography (hello, "Educated"? (tarawestover.com)), poetry, a novel in verse, graphic novel with a collaborator if needed, poetry, stand-up comedy, song lyrics. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, and in the expression alone I think you'll feel validated and seen.
Probably not the kind of witness you were thinking of, but "ghost cheerleader" tells me maybe I'm on to something?
TO: BLANKS: I suggest Anne Lamott's advice about life and growth: "It's an inside game." Which means we have to be our own cheerleaders, the authors of our own story in the face of loneliness, and we have to re-parent ourselves for all we never got. Looking to others serves just as an understandable, but ultimately pointless, struggle for meaning when it's really an "inside game."
BEEN THERE: Love this, thanks.
RE: GHOST CHEERLEADERS: Sharing your story may actually be part of your continuing recovery from trauma, and learning to trust other people even as you've learned to trust yourself. I'd structure the storytelling as an opportunity to share stories with others, yours and theirs, and to learn how to be there to cheer each other on.
SHARING: Thanks — helping others is a way to feel connected that we (mostly) control.
RE: GHOST CHEERLEADERS: You may want to reach out to the professionals who worked with you as a kid. Your social worker, counselor, teacher, etc. I was a guardian ad litem for children for many years. Trust me, I remember you, I remember what your childhood entailed, and I would love to give you a "Way to go!"
REMEMBERING: This is such a great idea, thanks.