Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What Happened When I Read My Own Book

In eighteen days, we're going to Cambodia.

I'm excited.
And nervous.
And apprehensive.
But we're going and I think it's a good thing.

As usual, I have more questions than answers, but I'm learning to feel safe in this space, as if, "Yeah, this uncomfortable feeling? This probably means I am precisely where I need to be." 

I've been to Cambodia before.
Back in 2007, when I was nineteen, I moved there for a year to volunteer as an English teacher.

boarding a flight for Angkor Wat
(I look like a baby?!)

some of my students

And that year changed me.
So much so that I wrote a book about it.

And it was in planning for this trip that I reached for that book--my very own story--and read it cover to cover. Revisiting that year while sitting in another English classroom in another part of Asia was beyond surreal. And reading my own book has sparked some really unexpected reactions in me.
Things I haven't thought about in awhile.
Things I've quite purposefully avoided.
And I'm seeing that experience with new eyes.

Since writing the book and moving farther away from my time in Cambodia (nearly six years!), I've developed an obvious distaste for the girl in that story. A tolerance. An oh-my-word-I-can't-believe-you-did/felt/said-that. A shame. And shame is an ugly thing. It keeps you locked in it's grip repeating in your ear, "Look at all these short-comings. You are bad. You are wrong. You are worthless."

For the last few years, I would hesitate to tell people about the book. And when someone mentioned they were reading it, I'd usually say:
"Remember, I was nineteen. I've grown up. I promise."

As if I needed a disclaimer. As if their judgment would be the same as mine.

So because I knew that reading my book may unleash a shame storm, I purposefully decided to give myself grace. Even when it was hard. Even when I didn't want to.

sitting at the Mekong river

When I read her words and listened to her story, I was tempted to say, "Really? Was it that bad? Weren't we being a little dramatic there?" 

But instead, I said, "What you felt was real. And I won't let anyone tell you that what you felt was wrong. I'm on your side."

And knowing you have someone on your side makes all the difference.
Especially, when that someone is YOU.

one of the only memorable moments of calm I remember from that year

So, here are some judgment-free observations I jotted down after reading 
my own story 5 years later:
-I very quickly knew that Cambodia was going to break me.
-It didn't take long before I was scared and lonely.
-I had a lot of judgment toward the new culture I was experiencing.
-I made a lot of unfair (and probably racist) generalizations.
-I felt guilty about much of what I was feeling.
-I prayed and begged for things that I have been blessed with now.
-That sexual assault left a lasting scar in me.
-It is incredible how many people loved me even at my very worst.

Mostly, I read that story and thought, Geez, child. I am so proud of you. And I think I needed to hear that from my judgmental self. I needed to remind myself that that was hard and real. That at nineteen years old I just didn't have the tools to navigate that experience any more gracefully than I did.

The same is true for our upcoming trip. Maybe everything will be fine and I'll be full of self-acceptance and grace. Or maybe I'll break down and cry. Maybe I'll feel resentment. But if I've learned anything in the last six years it is this: Hating yourself in an effort to create change does not create change. Grace does.

And so I'm taking all the grace I can muster and moving Onward.


KendraKay at said...

I'm so happy for you. This is a HUGE step in loving yourself. Not just the new, improved self, but all your selves from all your times. So brave of you to go back! Really important work and I'll be praying while you literally go back.

Brenda Corbett said...

I so appreciate your sincerity and honesty, Heather. It's calming. And inspiring. Thank you!

Jazmine said...

Heather, believe me when I say I understand. It is amazing to me, also, that after nearly six years, my experience overseas still affects me. I find myself now reaching out to the me that existed during and after Albania, acknowledging the pain and shame I felt for not doing what I thought was enough. We are ever our worst critics. Thanks for being open. Thanks for being honest.