Writing a letter to the person who saved your life

Note: This is the letter I sent to the therapist that treated me in 2001. I had not contacted her in 12 years. How do you find words to thank a person for saving your life?

Dawn,

I hope that this email finds you.  I sent you a linkedin request with as much of a note as the site allows.  I’m sure that what I said wouldn’t have been enough to jar your memory – and the photo of me doesn’t really look like me.  Even if the photo did look like me, I realize that you have touched so many lives that it is probably hard to remember them all!

I came to the treatment center in 2001.  I was abusing prescription pain medications during a long illness.  I had a shunt placed in my head to relieve the pressure on my brain.  I had been sick for about 18 months, and had basically lost the will to live.  I didn’t know how to find myself, or define myself outside of my illness.  You taught me how to think of myself as a well person again.

I was very co-dependant with my Mother, who also abused prescription pain medicine.  I grew up in a really dysfunctional household, where I was the caretaker for the adults and my little brother.  You showed me that this wasn’t normal and that it would be ok if I got angry about the childhood I had lost and the abuse I endured.  So, with you, I got angry for the first time in my life.  It was overwhelming and I was scared that I couldn’t contain all of my anger and misery if I acknowledged it.  You proved to me that I could.

At the age of 25, while at the facility, I felt empathy for the first time in my life.  This sounds dramatic, but with everything I had going on at home growing up I never really learned how to care about other people – only the people I had to take care of.  I’m not sure how this happened exactly, but I found myself crying for someone else’s pain at an AA meeting.  This liberated my soul in ways I didn’t even comprehend at the time.

You were the first person in my life that believed in me SO much that you made me think that all of these things were possible.  I am certain that without the help I got under your care I wouldn’t be here today.  That’s not hard for me to be sure about either, because my Mom did finally die of an overdose four years after I left treatment. I did everything I could to help my Mother, but the only thing I could do in the end was to let her feel the pain she was creating.  It didn’t work, but thanks to you I know I was doing the right thing and I don’t suffer guilt about trying to save her life even though I wasn’t successful.

You also wanted me to go to OA meetings, and I’ll admit that I was pretty angry about that at the time.  I weighed probably 250 lbs or so when I was an inpatient there, but I couldn’t accept that food could be a drug or an addiction.  I weigh 120 lbs now, and I do finally understand the point you were trying to get across to me back then.  It took a while, but I finally got it!

This email is to make me feel better if I’m honest.  You have given me more than anyone in my life (except my husband who has now been with me for 10 years).  YOU are a big part of the reason I was able to find a wonderful man to love me.  I was taught at RI, healthy people don’t fall in love with sick people. Thank you for making me healthy enough to find a person who loves me exactly as I am.

I want you to know that despite continuing medical issues, I am very happy with my life.  I was recently diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (a genetic disorder from birth, which was what was wrong with me all along medically).  I am still coming to terms with finding out that I have had this genetic disorder for my entire life, but I’m confident that with what I learned from you I won’t be consumed by it.

I attached a photo of me with my Mother, Grandmother and Husband.  That photo was taken the last time I saw my Mom coherent enough to have a conversation, and still alive.  You may actually recognize me in this older picture.  I’m proud of what my life has become, and I am happy to be a normal weight person.  I hope you are proud of me too!

The Last Supper

I feel like a complete person, finally, and I am learning to love myself more every day.  I owe a debt I can’t repay to you, but I’m doing my best to pay it forward in all the ways that I can.

Thank you for saving my life.  Even though I forgot your last name, you never left my heart.  My grandmother almost died this past weekend, and I was getting things out of her attic.  I found all the letters I wrote my Mom while in treatment, and the materials that you sent her.  I was finally able to find you!
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