Karen’s journey took her, eventually, to a place where she honored herself. She completed another revolution on the ever-expanding spiral, to arrive at nearly the same point with fresh eyes. She had thought the pain and despair would kill her. Sometimes she had wished it would.
It reprogrammed her neurotransmitters. It strained her relationship, her friendships, and her jobs—but especially her relationship with herself.
She forgot her greatness. She hadn’t known her greatness before. It was humble, carefree laughter. It was giggling with life energy bursting through her until every pore stood on end. She had made decisions based on what would be most enjoyable. The next right thing was synonymous with the most fun thing.
Then, after seeing death and despair in the tsunami, she hated herself (and everyone else) for being happy when life was miserable for so many people. Apart from natural disasters, she realized that her American lifestyle negatively affected many people every day. I am the poison, she thought. Can I also be the remedy?
By the end of the first year, she just wanted to love everyone unconditionally--to enable them to trust themselves enough to make good decisions. Yet, these years later, she didn’t trust her own decisions. That had been Karen’s downfall--her glass ceiling in her work, her leadership, her kayaking. All of it. She went around chanting, “Trust the Process” when really she could have been chanting “Trust the Self.”
One day it just clicked. It wasn’t in the first year. That was all nightmares and tears from the fetal position. It wasn’t in the second year. Her friend described that as the transition from an open wound to a thin scab.
The third year she moved out of her car, the only constant while teaching outdoor education, and into a mediocre American life. She became fearful that she would lose her relationship if she stayed so angry. So she went to counseling and joined a writing group. But she was motivated by fear of loss, and anything based in fear cannot flourish.
In the fourth year, she demoted herself at work from a position of leadership to a position of fun. She invited herself on a mountaineering expedition in Argentina and started to pretend that she was worth something again.
Just when she thought she was better, plans changed. She didn’t get the job that she expected. Instead of seeing it as the opportunity that it was, she collapsed. She decided that she’d never gotten better after the tsunami. She would have to be very careful (and serious) about how she framed this for herself.
She broke up with her boyfriend of six years. He, too, needed space to accept all of these unexpected changes, and that space hurt her. Besides, she figured she might as well lose everything at once.
That’s when it snapped. She just got tired of hating herself. She had a dream that she was wearing a shirt labeled PAIN. She decided to take it off and love herself again. She would teach herself to have fun and laugh sincerely again. She had never stopped laughing, but it had become a default practice, which gave her only the crow’s feet, and none of the twinkle.
For five years, she had lived with the belief that everything needed to be processed. Therefore, it did. After so many years of process, she decided to just sidestep into a different reality. She was beginning to understand that there are no rules, only choices and consequences. And all of them are okay. You can’t fail.
She decided to get over it. So simple to say. So simple to do, really. So hard to prepare for—for her anyway. She felt like Rosa Parks. Many people think that Rosa Parks decided to just sit down on a bus one day. Her legs were tired and she refused to move. The truth is that she was well-trained as an activist before she sat down.
Karen trained to get better before she did it. She read books about post-traumatic stress disorder and perfectionism—none of which told the truth, that our imperfection is perfection. That we are all perfect just as we are.
A person can stay in process forever. At some point you just need to know. Stop wanting and reach inward and know. And Karen knew that she was better. Because when you can’t take it anymore, you are not at the end. You are at the beginning. They are the same place. And that place is now.
Do we need to wait until we bottom out? Many people do, but that’s a myth, an epic journey, a hero’s quest. We don’t have to wait for anything to start being whom we want to be, whom we already are.