When I was 13-years-old, my teacher had the class write letters addressed to our 18-year-old selves. 

I just received mine yesterday. In the envelope, I was given a $20 bill, an old school ID, a collection of photos, and a long letter to my current self. The goods were sweet; it was nostalgic.

And then I read the letter. 

I dedicated an entire page to telling myself how I looked. An entire page. I mentioned how I was obsessed with my appearance. It didn't come out of a place of healthy self-love. It wasn't celebratory; it was sad. I hadn't written about what made me happy or what I loved doing or anything about my personality; I just wrote about how I loved my eyebrows and a part of my happiness was rooted in their presence. 

Reading a letter from this girl, a girl so passionate about how she looked, made me sad for her. I was sad for my former self. Then, I became grateful.

Ironically, 3.5 years after writing the letter, I started getting bald patches in them that still remain, but are not active. While seemingly petty, losing a feature I found pride in was difficult and forced me to redefine beauty, to look deeper. At the time of the letter, I also had Alopecia Areata (an autoimmune disease that causes bald spots). My 13-year-old self wrote me, wishing that it had gotten better for me by now. It hasn't. 

I'm glad I've had it. I don't care that I still have it. Simple as that. I now know that my worth does not come from hair or appearance and that self-love must be fluid. 

Since the letter, I feel like I've completely lost myself and found myself again. High school has been dark. Losing friends, losing love, losing yourself, losing your light is dark. But, finally, I see gratitude, I see real beauty, and I see endless joy. I wouldn't be capable of this without the darkness. 

I like who I am and I love who I am becoming. She wouldn't exist without the pain. I needed to lose myself, to hurt, to break old patterns. I've been broken down and molded anew.

For once in my life, I am grateful for pain.

Gabrielle de Coster