Have you ever caught a passing reflection of a woman and thought, “Who is she?” Did your eyes recognize her? Was her image disfigured? How many moments and thoughts passed before you realized the woman returning your gaze was you?
When I realized I didn’t know my purpose
I married in 1989 at a young age. In fact, I was barely twenty years old, idealistic, and ready to devote myself to family life or so I thought. And, like many others, I eventually became disillusioned with what I once believed to be the right path for me. There were periods of time when I’d question the course of my life and even write about it. But, daily life soon encroached on those momentary glimpses of freedom-freedom to truly know myself. During several attempts to connect to life’s purpose, I exhausted myself in an effort to feel part of something greater than my corner of the world.
Twenty years passed. By 2009, I noticed my life had become unrecognizable. From my view, it appeared to have been designed by a stranger and the woman who was trying to live it was me. I felt estranged from myself, my values, and my very identity. Many of us experience similar moments and are left confronting a choice between staying comfortably hidden or walking the path toward self-improvement and authenticity. Although I wanted quick painless solutions, my journey required several more years of my life. Underneath my unhappiness were two questions, “Who am I? Whose life am I living?” Although the answers were unknown, discovering them had become urgent. In response, I committed to the work regardless of the distance I traveled or the destination I might reach. Today, there is little remaining of the woman who began this journey.
Taking the first step towards getting to know myself better
First, I made the decision to begin therapy, which initially required me to face personal misconceptions about who seeks counseling. This beginning step challenged my illusion that I was coping with life. I wasn’t. The truth was I had become emotionally bankrupt after a long history of singular devotion to others. In time, therapy uncovered the need to nurture myself, but this would not come easily after longstanding neglect.
I began writing daily to detail and understand the journey back to myself, which provided strength on the darkest days. I moved forward step by step and resisted the old voices beckoning my return. In therapy, I worked to deconstruct deeply held beliefs about myself, about life’s purpose, and about my role in the world. I became aware that little in my life could be healthy if I were unhealthy. So, I continued to take action toward becoming the healthiest possible version of myself.
The stress I was going through took its toll on my body
Unfortunately, I was not only emotionally bankrupt, I was physically depleted as well and began experiencing health issues. My emotional and physiological stress responses intensified and my body was unable to regulate itself. At the time, I was under the care of a holistic medical provider who introduced radical dietary changes to address the physical imbalances. I removed gluten, sugar, and dairy from my diet. I educated myself on healing nutrition, learned to source better quality foods, and prepared my own meals.
My doctor and I worked to create an internal environment in which my body could heal itself. When I changed my eating patterns, I lost weight effortlessly. Over the next couple of years, over one hundred pounds fell away. My body slowly, but consistently released the protective layer I had carried for much of my life. As I lost weight, my body image and perception obviously shifted and revealed more of my true identity. My physical and emotional health were so connected that a shift in either sparked and fueled a seemingly endless series of changes.
Getting closer to the real me by finishing what I started
In 2011, while supporting my emotional and physical healing, I returned to college to finish my degree in psychology and social work. After completing my bachelor’s program in 2013, I enrolled in an accelerated master’s program in clinical social work. School offered me a place to explore emerging beliefs, values, and a new self-perspective. In many ways, the time spent obtaining an education fostered and strengthened me to change the course of my life.
Small changes that led to massive change
As I made incremental changes, I felt overwhelmed and dismayed by their magnitude. In retrospect, every area of my life was touched by my efforts. Yet, there were surprises along the way. When I began therapy, I was asked to write my personal narrative. Initially, the exercise increased understanding of my life’s details, but eventually grew into much more. As writing became a form of healing, my creativity began to emerge. I wrote regularly, explored poetry, and attended weekend poetry readings. For me, poetry offered the comfort I needed when the journey became too long or desperate. It spoke to me in a language that invited me to understand more of myself and it did so without expectations.
These experiences have taught me to first know and trust myself in life. I made daily discoveries about my rightful identity, purpose, and voice. I embraced an entirely new life. Each of us has within us untapped potential awaiting the spark of growth. We all have the opportunity to become more authentic and live the life that truly reflects who we are.
I still have moments in which my own reflection is unfamiliar. At a glance, I wonder who she is: the woman in the mirror. And, then I remember she is exactly who she is intended to be.