Sincerely you

Four care leavers pen letters to their younger selves revealing dark days and renewed hopes and dreams

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Around 100 young people from Lancashire have captured their feelings about their earlier days in care in a series of letters that forms an exhibition about to tour around the county.

The exhibition, Sincerely, You, opened on 26 October at the Harris Museum in Preston as part of National Care Leavers’ Week.

The young people, who have all been looked after by Lancashire County Council, produced a series of moving and insightful letters addressed to their younger selves.

Although they address dark days of parental abuse, addiction and mental health problems, they also show how far many of the young people have come.

“The hopes and dreams you thought had faded and the purpose of life you believed to have lost – they’re all still there,” writes Davey, one of the four letter writers featured here.

Sincerely, You is at the Harris Centre, Preston, 26 Oct-3 Nov, Lancaster Library at various times between 7 Nov and 13 Nov, E Rooms, Skelmersdale, 15-26 Nov, The Whittaker, Rossendale, 27 Nov-4 Dec and Fleetwood Library, 5-12 Dec

Dear Monika,

Oh, look at you – so confused, trying to balance everything and make sense of the world around you. Stop for a minute. Switch off. Listen to your own voice.

And don’t be offended when I say you know so little. The key is to know how much you don’t know, trust me.

I’m not writing this letter to tell you your future. I want to give you tools which will get you through life without disappointments, because I know that you think that’s all life is. It doesn’t have to be if you don’t perceive it like this.

You’ve accepted the idea that not feeling safe is a natural occurrence and you stick to it, because that is all that you know. But what if I told you that everything will work out the way you want it to?

You can’t control the world around you. But you can control your actions, thoughts and decisions. Knowing this allows you to break away from “failure”. Problems are not problems, just lessons. Learn and appreciate.

Be yourself. Do the things you like – things that make you happy. Ask deep questions and tell wicked stories, stand for your beliefs, because your vibe attracts your tribe.

Your words have so much power. It would help if you spoke about yourself with respect. You are after all so great! Gone through so much in your life without a scratch (well, maybe a few) but the point is, you are still here fighting, even though you try to convince yourself that you have given up on everything and there is no point trying harder than someone makes you. You are inquisitive, intelligent, talented, aware, smart, funny and beautiful. Be nice to yourself, otherwise you have no right to be mad at anyone who isn’t.

Reach within. Question your beliefs and you will find that there is no right and wrong to life – it’s just how you perceive it and what you take from it. But it has to be your life you think about, and not everyone else’s, so spend time with yourself, isolated from fear-based social media, news and TV.

Last, but not least, your ego. Don’t roll your eyes. Ego stops you from learning and appreciating that everyone is unique. Take advice. Be humble. There are seven billion people out there – you will not beat everyone. And for the love of god, don’t do everything by yourself. Trust in others. It doesn’t matter who does it or how it’s done, as long as it’s done.

Write your own future, with these words in mind. It’s about time you make an effort to get to know the person closest to you. Yourself.

I love you always

Monika, aged 20

Dear David,

I know the future seems so fearsome and unbalanced, and your entire life seems to be crumbling and all you want to do is give up, I’ve been there too. Life as you knew it has gruesomely changed. The light you once saw has dimmed away, the sparkle in your eyes fails to sparkle, your family, friends, hopes and dreams have all faded and you feel all alone, bare in this confusing world.

“How did I get here?” you ask yourself, and you really don’t know. From the bright boy who excelled through high school to a lost young man who will find ways and means to escape reality any way possible, it seems almost a haunting nightmare and you just want to wake up and everything be back to normal, but can you define normality? We need to be in the reality. This isn’t a nightmare, David. You aren’t going to click your shoes and be back in Skelmersdale with your family. This will be a battle for life, one a boy of just 17 years old should never have to face, but you’re a fighter, a true warrior and you will overcome this. Life may seem so unstable and running away seems much more appealing but what would we conquer, what would we do?

Although the care system, rehabs and psychiatric hospitals seem like the stuff you watch on TV, this is the foundation the rest of your life will be built upon. So don’t let fear control you, don’t let other people’s thoughts control you. You are you, you are in control. Stand out, kiddo, be unique, be the boy that faced his problems and turned into the man he was made to be. Show others that change is possible and all the people that may have doubted you – prove them wrong.

Each and every day is a new day for a new experience. Don’t allow the chains of the past to stop you and don’t allow the fear of the future to scare you. We are only guaranteed one moment and that is the now.

Do all you need to, make what seemed impossible the possible and pave the way for others. The hopes and dreams you thought had faded and the purpose of life you believed to have lost – they’re all still there. Feel them and believe in them. Change is possible, life is possible – you’ve shown me that. Now go out there and make your mark on this beautiful world. You’ve earnt it.

Davey, aged 19, is studying counselling and psychotherapy at university

Letter to my 14-year-old self,

Life is going to be tough. All of your ideas and plans, they aren’t going to go to plan. It’ll be a while until everything works out but I promise it will. Life has been extremely difficult for you so far, and I wish I could say that it was the end of the difficult period, but it’s not.

Things will get crazy. You’re going to have to change your livelihood, you’ll have to change your name, you’ll even get to the point where you have no friends. At all. You’ll try to take your own life again, just like you did when you were eight. But I must stress, it won’t last forever. You’ll make new, better friends, you’re going to travel around the world. You’re going to spend three months in West Africa. Imagine that! I know you’re not going to believe me.

The girl you’re dating now, you think you can’t get better, but believe me you can. You’re going to start living your dreams but you do all this without her.

It’s going to be difficult and very stressful. It made it look like going into care was easy. I can actually tell you that by the time you’re 18, you’ll be married to the girl you’re dating now. But by the age of 21, you’ll be divorced. That’s when it’ll get super-difficult and the pain will last for a few years. It won’t end pretty. It’ll be a bomb site, it’ll be the biggest heartache you have ever known. But take it as a life lesson. You are smart. In fact at the age of 23 you’ll be in university, you’ll have travelled to New York, started your own charity and won several awards for your kindness and generosity. But most importantly, at the age of 23, you’ll be happy. You’ll know what you want from your life and you’ll know how to get it. Everything will make sense in the end. You’ll get through it. Just don’t give up because your life is going to get really hard but afterwards it will be so much better.

I’ll even let you into a secret – you have a long lost sister. You don’t need to do anything – she’ll find you just when you need her the most. She’s incredible! And what’s better? She’ll stick by you through it all. In the end, you’ll be happy and you’ll love yourself finally. There’s just a few difficult things that have to happen first.

Tristan, aged 23, is studying forensic psychology and criminology at university

Dear little girl,

We have known of each other for 18 years but we still don’t quite know each other, so the point of this is to explain a little bit more who I am.

I was in the first years of high school when the lies began. I would lie by saying “I’m OK” and “I fell over”. I lied for my father, not because I wanted to but because I loved him. I would let the memories of him taking me out on his bike and going fishing at 3am overrule the memories of his hand landing hard on my face and the pain I felt in heart and on my body. He was everything to me.

When I was 10, he met his wife – a nice woman to start with but nothing lasts forever and my selfishness will never forgive her for stealing my father’s attention. But one thing I will thank her for until the day I die is for bringing my so very beautiful sisters and so very intelligent brothers into this catastrophic world. For a while my siblings were my inspiration – the only people who I could talk to when I was upset or excited – so I’m sure you could imagine how heartbroken I was when I had to leave.

I turned 16 when I moved in with my nanna. She was the strongest person I knew. She helped me to walk, to talk and to laugh, but again nothing lasts forever. My personal confusion would overtake my thoughts every second of every day whilst I’d walk the streets after leaving another person I loved more than anything, thinking how did one wrong decision make such a big difference in my life?

Being gay was a part of my life that made sense but still didn’t feel quite right. It was something that helped me open the possibilities of different sexualities and experiences as I grew up living with different strangers in stranger places but still completely alone. Every night I would lay down and, until I fell asleep, pray for one thing I wanted more than anything: a boy, just one boy that could prove me wrong, one boy that could give me my family back.

A few months ago, my prayers were answered. They were not the answers I expected but they worked and I couldn’t be happier. The boy I prayed for was right there, the family I had dreamed of had been given to me. The life I lived had been worth it for now I am a man, a college student, I am a boyfriend, a best friend, a son and brother.

It gets better, I promise.

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