This I Believe

Johnna - Palmyra, Virginia
Entered on November 2, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

At age 16, I stood over my father’s lifeless body, and I had no idea what to believe. Where was the vibrant and affectionate man I knew to be my father? My parents had been in the middle of getting a divorce precipitated by my father’s extramarital affair, and now he was dead. I felt like I fell into the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland, where up is down and down is up. I didn’t know how I got there and didn’t have a clue how to get out.

In the decade to follow, this is what I believed: life was best lived according to a syllabus, with the most important barometers of my self-worth being my grades and the number on a bathroom scale. I believed that I could find security and certainty in academic success, pursuing a medical degree, and by convincing myself that the only person I could truly rely on in the world was me. Running from myself and others, I was unable to love, and unable to allow myself to be loved. I was stuck on a rat wheel that I created, and like sand falling through my fingers, the more I tightened my grip to make sense of such an incomprehensible reality, the more disconnected I became with understanding how to cultivate my soul.

It is only in retrospect that I realize how hollow my existence had become, and the energy it took to be a human doing in order to avoid the risk of becoming a human being. At the time, I felt impenetrable, and proudly displayed my badge of grief as I drifted through a life I chose to characterize with self-imposed victimization and suffering.

Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that there is strength in surrender. Allowing myself to fully experience the layers of repressed grief is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I was back in the rabbit hole, not wanting to let go of my illusion of security, yet unable to rely on my distorted circus mirror to define a life and reality I now understood to lack meaning.

I believe that learning to live with the knowledge that there are no guarantees in life, and that past suffering does not somehow inoculate me from further pain, is when I began to be a human being and live in the moment. Ten years from now, I may look back on this essay and realize that I didn’t know nearly as much as I think I do now. I believe that making room for such ambiguity in my heart has given me confidence to live with more authenticity and patience, and to embrace love and family as the foundation of my life. By letting go, allowing uncertainty, and choosing love and connection I have found meaning in my life. And, after 6 years of graduate education in psychology, I believe that a Sunday afternoon of football and two puppies licking my face is a more effective antidote to depression than Prozac combined with therapy.