The day began with the knowledge that spring was in the air. The trees were bare as it was still winter but it was unseasonably warm for that time in New Jersey. I had prepared myself for the five-day training as much as I possibly could.
The idea of seeing my former boss in my previous work setting stirred up a myriad of uncomfortable memories, which left me feeling a bit incompetent as a therapist. I would be trained in a technique that could ultimately help my clients delve deeper into their past trauma with the hopes of reprocessing their memories and emotions in a healthy way.
Despite the awkwardness and unease I felt, I boasted a superficial confidence in order to deflect my true feelings. In part, I had looked forward to this day, even selfishly so, as I hoped that I would uncover some deep rooted secret about myself that had been sitting somewhere in my unconscious mind.
At this time in my life I was searching wildly for an answer to the meaning of my existence. Not yet a Catholic and very much so questioning the legitimacy of God, I still had a gnawing feeling in my gut that I could uncover the truth of who we all are and why we are here. As the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are” and I very much so hoped that through psychological studies, I would discover the reason behind the existence for humanity.
My career was everything to me and the fulfillment and attention I received for doing my job started to lead me down a path of seeking gratification solely through my achievements. My career took precedence so I ignored the idea of an omnibenevolent God. This day however, at the training, the discoveries I uncovered about myself were the catalyst in a radical shift towards beginning to know truth. This day was the start of fulfilling a deep longing that had been stirring within me for a relationship with the creator.
I took my seat next to a very kind woman who was around my age. She was gentle, a little serious and visibly anxious. We shared mutual fears and seemed to bond over our unhealthy desires to be perfect people. Naturally as we seemed to be kindred spirits, we determined it would be best that we pair up during our breakout practice session. If one of us slipped up or did something wrong, we would pacify the other with words like, “you are doing a great job!” and “oh its okay I would have messed up too”. The hard part was choosing a memory to reprocess. I sank down into the brown leather armchair with my pen in hand trying to come up with some difficult or unpleasant memory that would be worth delving into.
Knowing I only had ten minutes to work through the first part of the practice session, I settled on a memory of a close near-death experience I had as a child. I thought back and realized how many of my fears surrounded the idea of death and dying and so I decided this would be an interesting memory to process.
I settled reluctantly with a small throw pillow on my lap in hopes of creating some level of comfort in such a vulnerable space. I started with the memory that took place on a hot summer day. I was running through the front yard of my childhood home and made my way over to a pile of pinecones I found scattered between the pine tree and the edge of the woods. I looked over at my father who was in the process of mowing the lawn and found myself being swarmed by a grouping of yellow jackets. Complete panic took over as I ran as fast as I could taking one large lap around the house before ultimately giving up, thus succumbing to multiple bee stings.
The next few moments are hazy but I will never forget the sharp tightening in my throat as I struggled greatly to breathe. Waiting for the ambulance felt like hours, as it had to make its way up the long winding roads of the Sourland Mountains. The image was fresh in my mind as I sat in the brown chair recognizing that I had begun to clutch the pillow that was resting on my lap. I continued to process but I began to feel my throat tighten as if the memory was sneaking its way into reality. Throughout the reprocessing, I found myself connecting an ongoing slew of previous experiences to the concept of loss. “Why am I all of a sudden thinking about the death of my cat from fifteen years ago”? Also, “how strange it is that I’m remembering Hurricane Sandy and its complete devastation to the family beach house”.
Choking back tears while simultaneously laughing at myself for recalling these seemingly unrelated memories, I kept “going with the flow’ and chose to see where it would lead me. After contending with a number of bizarre flashbacks, the words “memento mori” popped into my mind as if it had been immediately dropped from great heights into my head. Memento mori… remember that you must die. I began to feel a sheet of warmth envelope my body. It felt as if I was sitting out in the sun on a cloudless day.
There was a sense of peace paired with the acknowledgement that I didn’t have to be afraid. I didn’t have to be afraid because the creator that I would ultimately come to know in the following years was the one true God. He, more than anyone understood suffering, loss, grief and death in a way that my fearful, anxiety-ridden self could not comprehend at the time. Have you ever experienced a moment where you just knew that everything would be okay? In so little words, that is what I came to realize. This day was the beginning stages of loosening the grip I had to the way I viewed the world–all about what I had, not about who I know. This day, I put myself aside in order to begin a relationship with the God I had been longing to know.
Tara is a Catholic convert living in New Jersey with her daughter, Lilly and husband Ben. During the day she lives out her dream of working as a therapist and clinical social worker. You can find her over on her blog at www.atvillagepark.com and Instagram page using the handle ‘atvillagepark’. She can also be found chatting away with her friend on the podcast ‘The Cravert Chronicles’.