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Destroying letters worth considering

Dear Abby: A few days ago, I received a large white envelope from a friend I had been close to in high school. "Jen" returned every letter, card and note I had written to her throughout our four years of school. She thanked me for being a good friend and thought I might like to have them.

I can't tell you how upsetting it was to read how awful I was as a teenager. I was promiscuous, used foul language and made references to experimenting with drugs. It brought back so many terrible memories that I had blocked.

I have been married for 23 years and have three children who would be crushed if they discovered my past. I don't know what to do. The letters are full of history and my innermost feelings. Some passages are humorous and the thoughts of a silly teenager talking to a dear friend. I can't bring myself to throw them away and have hidden them in my hope chest. What should I do with them?

-- Secrets of the Past

Dear Secrets: The problem with the written word is that it often outlives the writer. If you don't want your children or grandchildren to remember you through your true confessions, censor them now. Unless you're "hoping" your family will discover the letters after you're gone, you should destroy them. However, if they contain memories you would like to keep, copy the passages down and place those in your hope chest.

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Help for social phobia

Dear Abby: I am very fair-skinned and turn red easily, especially when I'm nervous or embarrassed. It has made me afraid to speak in public or to go to large events where there may be a lot of people. Do you have any advice on how I can get over this?

-- Blushing Even Now in Phoenix

Dear Blushing: What you have described may be a symptom of social phobia, the most common form of an anxiety disorder. There are effective treatments for it, and you can find out more about them by discussing your problem with your physician and/or a psychologist. You could also get help from a phobia support group.