A couple weeks ago, I had the honor of joining the TWLOHA team once again as they made their annual Vans Warped Tour stop in Ventura, CA. As a former intern, it is always good to know that, despite the time that has passed, TWLOHA still feels like family to me. My favorite part about working behind the scenes with TWLOHA is the conversations that happen and the stories people share with you. It is an honor to be able to listen.
One thing I have noticed is how easy it is for people to come up to us and openly talk about their struggles, yet admit to keeping them secret elsewhere. It’s not hard to realize why; we are an organization that understands. It is much easier to say, “Hey, those things your organization talks about, I know them, too” than it is to take a step outside of your comfort zone and walk into counseling. It is much easier to confide in a stranger who wears a TWLOHA shirt than to tell a friend who has never known depression, addiction, self-injury, or suicide firsthand.
Other times, people don’t say much, but we know there is a bigger story that connects us. We see young people come up to us with scars that tell stories of battles won and tattoos that serve as reminders of victories and hope during relapses. We hear people thank us for how TWLOHA’s message has helped them or a loved one, and we meet others who are still in pain because they lost a friend to suicide. We make new friends, and we see eyes water as people hear about TWLOHA for the first time.
There are moments when I feel helpless, because there is only so much I can do for the beautiful human being that is standing in front of me. There are times when my heart aches to the point that I wish I could personally drive this person to get help and be with them throughout the process. But sometimes, all we can do for a person with whom we have a brief interaction at Warped Tour is listen to their story and encourage them to get help.
“I’m scared,” one girl tells me. She has been struggling with addiction and self-harm for much of her life, and she has kept it silent. She’s scared of walking into counseling because she fears the judgment that will come from her peers and her family. She wears the mask of the happy-go-lucky girl, a safety mask that says “I’m fine” with a smile that fools the world.
Even though I stand on the other side of the booth, I’ve been that girl. I know how it feels to be trapped in the superficial happiness you’ve created for yourself, scared to tell others that deep down you’re hurting. I know how hard it is to open up—I still have trouble with that myself. But somebody has to know. We aren’t meant to go through so much pain alone. We need a friend, we need community, we need people who know our darkness and love us through it. We need to be reminded we are worthy and there is hope.
TWLOHA is here to tell you that you are not alone. The things you are struggling with—depression, loneliness, self-harm, eating disorders, hopelessness, addiction, despair—others know them, too. Most who support this organization have known similar battles. When you read through the Fears vs. Dreams submissions at every Warped Tour stop, you realize how much we can connect and relate to one another, even if, on the surface, that might be hard to believe.
If you are hurting, I encourage you to step out and seek help. The first step is terrifying, but as soon as you take it, you will begin to build a support network that will guide you along the way. When we get to the beginning of a dark tunnel, we often don’t even see the end, and we despair and wonder if there is any point in walking through it. But we just need to focus on the feet below us and the next step ahead of us. Little by little, focusing on the now, we will begin to see the light press through. Eventually, we will reach the end of that dark tunnel, and we will look back and wonder how we could have ever made it so far.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for being here. Thank you for believing there is hope for recovery—be it your own or somebody else’s. We are not meant to walk through darkness alone.