On August 8, 2013, I went out like any other twenty-one year-old. The girl in the photo above had two Coors Light beers (the ones with the mountains that turn blue when the can is cold) with girlfriends at a country bar. Unlike most twenty-one year-olds, I did not make it home that night. I ended up stranded on the side of a freeway after I lost control of my car because animal sedatives were put in my second beer. I was told by law enforcement that they weren’t sure how I was alive.
For a long time, I struggled to understand why I didn’t go out in a fiery blaze that night. For months, I vividly replayed watching my hands lose sensation and drop off the steering wheel as my car went 70 miles an hour. How I tried to call out for help, but no sound came out of my mouth. How moments before I lost consciousness, I felt this unshakeable, gut-wrenching wave of helplessness wash over my entire body. I’d make a joke about how it was a very “Jesus Take the Wheel” kind of experience, because in many ways it was; but in all seriousness, that night changed the trajectory of my life.
Instead of moving to London like I’d planned to do a few weeks later, I was piecing together the onset symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Instead of setting up my Waterloo apartment and exploring Piccadilly Circus and Knightsbridge, I was dealing with daily bouts of violent projectile vomit, acute sensitivity to smells and sounds, and heightened anxiety that very often snowballed into full-body panic attacks. The nightmares might’ve been the worst part; how they’d leave me waking up in freezing cold sweats with tears streaming down my face. How I’d cry out for help like I did that night as my mind replayed what felt like endless iterations of a personalized Final Destination movie.
Life felt so fragile and all at once, and for a good while, I desperately missed and viscerally grieved the confident, happy, and healthy person I was before that night.
It was in that complete and utter brokenness that I became curious about applying to law school. I went in with doe-eyed optimism that I could prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else; spoiler alert, it’s much easier said than done. The American legal system is a pernicious creature that’s capable of doing more harm than good, but that’s a story for another time. Even though it was a traumatic experience that led me to law school, I’ve found the practice of law to be tremendously healing. I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to work with so many different kinds of people over the years, and whenever I get asked why I wanted to be a lawyer, my answer of “I wanted to change the world” still applies, but not in the same way it did when I took the LSAT, when I graduated and studied for the bar exam, or even when I started practicing.
This is the first summer I feel like I have this unshakeable clarity and peace around what happened nine years ago. But for that former friend’s alleged practical joke that very easily could’ve turned fatal (but didn’t), I wouldn’t have signed up to take the LSAT on a whim a few weeks later.
But for shoving down the bulk of that trauma for a good year or so, I wouldn’t have gotten so sick I had to take medical leave from law school. During that year off, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go back, but that time forced me to slow down and to begin what’s been a years’ long journey of learning to practice patience and to trust the process.
But for taking that year out, I wouldn’t have met some incredible souls who’ve added so much light and love to my life. It was during that year off that I discovered this unwavering passion for alternative methods of conflict resolution, that to this day, is the backbone to everything I do, both personally and professionally.
I think the final puzzle pieces to this journey, thus far, have been romantic relationships that gave me opportunities to grow and to expand as a person . . . as well as to serve as mirrors for qualities I needed to spend more time working on within myself.
It wasn’t that long ago when I’d go to bed crying every single night, begging the universe to swallow me whole because I couldn’t fathom feeling any lonelier than I was as I went to sleep next to someone who took every opportunity to tell me how broken and hard to love I was.
But for that stormy season, I don’t think I would have taken the time to truly fall in love with myself. For the better part of a decade I put it off because it felt easier to love others than to sit with and get to know the person I’d become after that August night (for better and for worse). It wasn’t until a few years that I realized how much deeper and more fully you can love others when you love (all of) yourself (even the parts you might believe or have been told are hard to love).
When you can fully love yourself, you’ll stop seeking love and/or validation from all the wrong places. Once I started to do this, love started to echo so loudly in the world around me. Life got good, like really good . . . but it wasn’t overnight and it wasn’t all at once . . . and it’s still a practice I continue to spend time cultivating.
I’ve talked about it on here before, but I used to live my life, especially after that summer, with the belief everything happened to me. Like any good self-fulfilling prophecy, it sure did. But once I started to reframe life as happening for me, I was able to see (and move through) the world so differently. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that some of the goodness that’s trickled in over the last few years has come as the result of Irish goodbyes from friends and opportunities I didn’t expect. But instead of lingering on their unexpected absence, I’ve tried to reframe it as making room for new and different . . . and ten times out of ten, it’s been just that.
On my thirtieth birthday, I declared it was going to be a good year. Like any good self-fulfilling prophecy, this has hands down been the best year of my life, and I know it’s just the beginning of an incredible, new chapter.
Sure, life isn’t rainbows and butterflies all the time, but even when shit goes sideways, which it very often does, I’ve been able to see it with so much more love and grace. I’m so dang excited for the future, but more than that, I’m eternally grateful for a present that’s only become possible because of my past.
I feel like I’ve stepped into a space filled with so much clarity and purpose. I’m learning to let go of predicting how the story will be written and instead focusing on how I can stay open to life. To say yes to the spontaneous dips in the ocean with new friends. To go on road trips without a map or destination in mind. To book a plane ticket to swim in remote icy lakes. To dance like no one is watching. To take on challenging tasks at work, even when imposter syndrome rings loudly in my ears. To hold space for others, who have moved, or are currently moving through, similar but different journeys to my own. To tell those I care about how much they mean to me, genuinely and often. To make choices for how I want to live today, because tomorrow, truly, is not promised.
Life is so, so beautiful if you can just take the time to be. To be with others. To be with yourself.
I used to mourn the girl who, in many ways, died that August night. But, but for her abrupt departure, I probably would not have applied to law school. Heck, I don’t think I would have moved back to the United States. I probably would’ve done a lot of things differently, but, had I done anything different, I wouldn’t be here . . . and I’m so grateful to be here.
So cheers to this anniversary of sorts.
All my love,