"You make all things new. You turn the bitter into sweet. You turn the winter into spring." - Amanda Cook
I am approaching the year mark since embarking on this journey, since starting this online anthology (yes, the fancy word for blog), since saying some very hard goodbyes to the life I'd created and the people I love most. I had expected that missing them would be the most challenging part of this process, and it truly has been a roller-coaster all on its own. However, I could not have expected that this Peace Corps life would require a complete re-envisioning, re-centering, and re-aligning of my authentic self.
To do this, I have spent the first four months of 2018 digging out decaying skeletons hidden in secret closets of my sub-conscious, dark memories and deep pain. This has been my undoing, to say the least. I had a serious panic attack that evolved into a month of vivid nightmares and uncontrollable tears that accompanied everything I did. I couldn't even walk to the kitchen without breaking out of nowhere in sobs. Eating became a chore of literally forcing myself to eat until I couldn't even force that anymore. I had to get help.
Why did God start this work in me as soon as I committed to helping others? This, among many other questions plagued my mind as I accepted that my volunteer work was suffering as a result of my personal breakdown (There is nothing that gets my recovering workaholic's attention quite like when my productivity suffers). But I now understand all of this came my way because I needed to learn that the best work comes from a reservoir of self-love. My reservoir was overflowing with self-blame, self-deprecation, misery, anxiety, depression. It was in a blackened pot simmering with anger and jealousy. It was bitter. I was bitter.
Bitterness has a way of consuming its host, and without realizing it, I was trapped in its vice grip. The tears I shed was perhaps my subconscious' way of trying to drain it out and start over. When I finally reached out for help, it was as if I opened the dam walls and let myself flow out until I was empty. And because of the catalytic situations I experienced in Ecuador, the decision was made to allow me to return to the United States for 6 weeks to recover from the washout.
I spent the first few weeks with my therapist emptying all of my bitterness and working on ways to manage the spiraling thoughts that once sent me into the dark hole from which I once thought I could never emerge. Then the challenge became to be present in the silence and solitude that surrounded me when my reservoir was empty. Lately, I have been finding ways to fill myself up again -- but this time with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. Yes, it's been a lot of trial-and-error, but I am grateful that I embraced the opportunity to walk through the fire. I am becoming gold.
Today, my levels are still low, but they are upward-bound. I hear my Dad singing/shouting "I'M ALL THE WAY UP!" (yes, DJ Khaled voice) and know that full restoration is not just possible but within my reach. I am trading in debilitating anxiety for emotional balance, emptiness and despair for fulness of joy, and self-hate for self-compassion. This is not an easy moment for me; it requires me giving up what I thought I should be, who I thought I should be, and instead embracing who I already am right now. It requires me saying goodbye to relationships that do not align with the person I've always been, and goodbye to the goals that were never meant to be mine to achieve. It involves a transition in my purpose -- shifting how I define success, and accepting that everyone cannot support the outcome. I embrace my destiny with hope as my constant companion once again. Besides, freedom looks good on me. Authenticity is dope.
My bitter is turning into sweet as I have watched Washington, DC turn from winter into spring.
With God's help I will be able to taste and see that life is as beautiful as it ever has been.
Ecuador, I'm coming home. ☼