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ISBN: 9781935552017
Contest Winners #226
Have you kept difficult emotions to yourself and then opened up?
Writing Contest Winners

1st Prize
Revealing a Dark Secret

J.D., 16, NY

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I’m a 16-year-old African-American teenager and life has dealt me a lot of unfair hardships and pain. Although I am at peace with the events that transpired throughout my life, I was not always like this. It took years of therapy and continuous work that I still do to this day.

At the age of 12, I revealed to my mother that my stepfather had sexually abused me. In the weeks leading up to this my behavior was perceived as being rude and disrespectful. I talked back constantly to my mother and stepfather, and walked away when they were talking to me. I remember lashing out at my mother because I felt disgusted that she was married to this 40-something man that kissed and claimed to love her but did things to me that I innately knew were wrong.

I remember running into the bathroom one day, closing the door and crying because I felt guilty knowing that my mother might die one day without knowing what he did to me. I felt disgusting both on the outside and in knowing girls my age haven’t even dreamed of the stuff I had done with my stepfather. Knowing this hurt, because I didn’t want to be this little girl who could never tell anyone this dark secret. I just wanted to be normal.

I distinctly remember the adrenaline that pumped through my heart as I pulled my mother aside and told her that I needed to tell her something that she wouldn’t like. I remember how hard I cried as I pulled out the skeleton from my tiny closet. I brought it to the light and watched the mixture of betrayal and disgust wash over her face.

But then, my mother held me and told me that everything would be alright! She assured me that all was well. As I let her comfort me I felt this heavy pressure evaporate from my body. For the first time in a long time I was happy because my mother would not die without knowing what had happened, and she did not hate me.

I am almost 17 years old now. Although my mother divorced that man, and we have moved on, there was damage done that changed me. It led to things that may have never happened if not for the sexual abuse. I am now a statistic because of that man. I felt damaged for such a long time. But by telling my mother all that happened, all was forgiven. And we have an unbreakable bond.

I will not lie and say I am perfect. I still have issues. I am only 16. But I do not regret telling my mother the truth. I hope that by reading this, other girls and boys know that opening up to a friend, therapist, or family member makes a difference. It frees our mind, body, and soul and most importantly gives you room to start healing. I hope to one day be fully healed.

2nd Prize
Dealing With Anxiety

Moises Hernandez, 17
CSI High School for International Studies, Staten Island, NY

The words “social anxiety” bring back many memories of my childhood. In elementary school I was scared to be different. English was a new language for me, and I felt isolated from the people in school. For the first few months, I begged my parents to let me stay home. To attempt to leave the classroom, I would scream my lungs out and cry my eyes dry, and would only talk to a handful of people.

When graduation came I was more confident and able to socialize with peers. But all the confidence I built up shattered into little pieces when it was time to start middle school. The beginning was no different than elementary school. I cried and I begged to transfer schools. I was bullied, lacked confidence, and feared socializing.

My body reacted to my anxiety as well: I experienced sweaty palms, being bloated, and my heart raced. I felt all of these horrible emotions bottled up inside me.

Feeling anxiety every time I was in a new environment or even just around new people made me feel like there was something wrong with me. In the 7th grade I began to see a social worker at my middle school. At first it was difficult to trust her, but I later realized she was only trying to help.

Eventually I was able to open up my feelings to her, and having weekly meetings helped calm me down and release the negative thoughts in my mind. I found that instead of worrying every day about my problems in school, I was able to control it for the whole week and release it all on the day we met. I was able to better deal with my stress by not allowing it to take over my mind every day. After realizing I can’t control what other people think of me, but I can control what I think of myself, I am able to control my anxiety better.

3rd Prize
Realizing That I’m Loved

Anonymous, 19, NC

It was evening, sometime after 7:00. I’d finally plucked up the courage to tell my father something I had been meaning to tell him for months. It always seemed better to keep the news to myself, but some wise part of me whispered that I should tell. Maybe he could help. So I timidly set events in motion by asking to talk with him at 8:00.

He came to my room at the requested hour. “What did you want to tell me?”

I hesitated. This is a stupid idea. I shouldn’t have said anything. “Nothing.”

“Just tell me,” he said impatiently.

“I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been having thoughts of killing myself,” I said at last.

There was a long moment of silence. He sat back, closing his eyes. The seconds felt like years.
I had expected a lecture of some sort—how it was silly and I shouldn’t be feeling that way, that there were plenty of people who were far less fortunate. Instead, he said gently, “Do you have any idea how sad I would be if anything happened to you?”

He said that just seeing me in the morning some days helped him keep going. Then he asked the question I’d been dreading: “What makes you feel this way?”

There were several difficult events going on. My mother had left without warning a few months before. As if that wasn’t enough, she forced me to go to therapy sessions with her (mother-daughter counseling, or some rubbish like that). Next, I worried that I might be placed with a foster family if a social worker visited our house because it was so messy I worried they’d say it was not a suitable environment for a child. I also had to adjust from being homeschooled to taking classes at a community college. Finally, I faced the usual pressures of studying for the SATs and working on college applications when I didn’t have a clue how applications worked.

Of course, eloquence was not one of my strong suits. I said, “It’s just... everything that’s been going on with mom and school and these stupid sessions. It’s a lot.”

He told stories from when I was little, stories that reminded me that my family loved me. There was one day when we were helping my sister move into a college dorm, and I was left in the lobby while everyone else went upstairs. My oldest sister ran down three flights of stairs to find me because “the elevator was too slow.”

I thought back to another day during an icy winter. We were walking to a neighbor’s house, and I slipped on the ice and fell backwards. My middle sister caught me straightaway, no doubt preventing a nasty bump on my head.

Throughout the conversation, Dad told me several times that he and my sisters loved me, and I finally began to believe it. “The next time you’re not feeling good about yourself,” he said, “just ask me to tell you another story from when you were little, and I’ll tell you how great you are.”

I wish I could say that all my negative feelings went away after that. But that’s not how life works. Real life isn’t like the movies, where a few kind words solve a person’s problems instantaneously. I didn’t magically feel better, and I didn’t stop having thoughts of taking my own life.

But whenever I felt tired of struggling against heaps of obstacles, and whenever I began to wonder if anyone would care if I was gone, I knew that the answer was yes. My dad loved me. My sisters loved me. And that gave me just enough hope to push on for another day.

Runner Up
Crash Course in Opening Up

Helen Liu, 17
Amity Regional High School, Orange, CT

Sometimes people try to conquer their emotions by themselves, to tirelessly keep up a “perfect” exterior. We hide our darker parts, but that is all part of human nature.

I’ve always wanted to be the perfect daughter: responsible, hard-working, someone without any problems. I felt so much stress to get good grades, to try to excel in everything I did. But being human, I wasn’t perfect, and I found I didn’t excel at everything, or even most things.

Most people know me as an extrovert, but I felt more like an introvert, only wanting to bury myself in my room alone. But as much as I wanted to stay rooted in my room, I felt a greater desire to flee.

Last year, I got my driver’s license as soon as I could, getting my permit the day after my birthday, and my actual license only four months later. I desperately wanted freedom and so I rushed the process. My driving—reckless, speeding, careless—was the opposite of my personality—meek, obedient, and cautious. In a way, my driving reflected who I was as well. I was someone, who despite the seemingly peaceful exterior, was also hasty, rash, and a bomb waiting to go off.

That bomb did explode. I got into two accidents. I had not worried too much about the first one, because the other driver crashed into my car. My parents, who only cared for my safety, were not too upset. I was pleased that I didn’t ruin my dutiful daughter image.

My second accident occurred as I was driving to school. This time, I was the instigator. It made me realize someone could have been seriously hurt because of my irresponsible actions.

I remember I could not stop crying that day. I had been taught never to show tears because they never solved anything, and it only made my father more frustrated. I faced all of my problems alone, without showing how I really felt. I thought I was protecting myself by only showing the positive part of myself so there would be no reason for others to hate me or ridicule me. Therefore, I never gave myself to others openly, and was very lonely. Acquaintances with all, friends with none.

I couldn’t even talk to anyone about the accident, I thought. I was alone.

The associate principal came to pick me up. I was so thankful that he consoled me, especially when I felt so empty. Then he let me stay with my guidance counselor. All of a sudden, I poured out everything. My childhood, my pressures, my feelings, my story. I was a sobbing mess. But it felt like a physical weight was lifted off my shoulders. “Ah, so this must be the famous catharsis,” I thought. “This is true freedom.”

That day, people I never knew told me to be strong. My acquaintances turned out to be true friends. I can’t remember the number of hugs and sweet messages I received. I was blessed, and I was not alone.

Afterwards, I realized how fortunate my life is. I have people to talk to, people to lean on. I do not need to hold in every negative emotion. My guidance counselor made me realize I have someone to talk to, no matter that he is an adult. Now I smile a lot more, and they are genuine smiles.

I learned by opening up that humans are social creatures for a reason. The moment you choose to open up is the moment you choose to be happy. That acceptance I worked so hard to achieve wasn’t something I had to struggle to obtain. I just had to be willing to share.

Contest #226 - Honorable Mentions
Amaireni Adames, Kristin Ader, Mark Arita, Sandra Asamoah, Naima Bartholomew, John Paul Diaz, Tonisha Hanson, Nyasia Harper, Alexander Herrera, Amissa Irizarry, Lynnai James, Priscilla Kotey, Helen Liu, Kaitlyn McClung, John Morales, Kanupriya Negi, Mackenzie Onions, Edgar Ortega, Chinasa Okezie, Nathalie Paz-Paniagua, Tenice Ragin, Maritza Cristina Linares Reid, Kira Robinson, Victory Rose, NiaSimone Smith, Jacob Thornburg, Brittney Wright, Alice Zheng.

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