Well I can't tell you where I'm going, I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin' till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit
Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on
— Dolly Parton, Travelin’ Thru (from the movie Transamerica)
Seven months… that’s how long I’ve been in Korea now. I honestly can’t believe it. Calling it a whirlwind would be an understatement. Last month, I got to go on two big field trips with my students (three if you count the impromptu trip to watch Avengers: Endgame with a few of my elementary school boys — trust me, that one counts based on the sheer level of exhaustion I felt afterwards). Spending time with my students in a setting outside the school was both exciting and exhausting. I got a taste for what I can only imagine parenting full-time feels like, and my appreciation for friends who have kids increased dramatically. Still, despite the exhaustion (physical and emotional), I honestly wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I just got back Monday from a weekend getaway to Seoul during which I got to see an old seminary friend while also making some new ones (both Korean and foreign). Good food, craft beers, amazing conversations (in both Korean and English), and letting myself get lost in a city that’s becoming more familiar with each subsequent visit. After a month of significant emotional processing and “spoon” recovery, the time away was vital to reclaiming my sanity. While I’ve really only taken time to travel to Seoul since I arrived, it’s a large enough city with enough diversity of people and of experiences that each time still feels new. Eventually I’ll make it to other cities in the country (and other countries as well). For now, there’s another kind of traveling I’ve been focusing on: traveling thru my own story.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light — Brené Brown
A little over a month ago, my spiritual director told me she believed I have some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder, in part from childhood experiences of being shamed for my sexuality (repeatedly) and in part from having experienced sexual assault on more than one occasion. Despite my initial desire to write more frequently while I’m here in South Korea, this “diagnosis” sent me into a bit of a reclusive spell. So If you’re reading this, thanks for coming back. And thanks for being patient with me.
While I was in CPE (chaplain residency for those who are new to my “meanderings”), my supervisors, fellow residents and I talked about corrective emotional experiences. In times of trauma and crisis, we develop learned responses and reactions to events. Getting angry because we heard a neutral statement as an insult. Reacting to “ghosting” with feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. Taking things too personally. Feeling like certain emotions are off-limits and should be halted before expressed. As adults, we relive and re-act these responses, often to our detriment. But we don’t have to keep playing the same script over and over. We can go back into our stories and learn new, healthier ways of responding and reacting.
My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present ― Steve Goodier
My story is filled with the common theme and thread of reacting with fear and with anxiety. I’m hyper-vigilant when I’m around kids. I’m consistently worried about getting in trouble even when I know I’ve done nothing wrong. I am so nervous about making mistakes that I’d rather play it safe and make myself small. And when I do make mistakes, you can bet your ass I’ll beat myself up for it until I’m blue in the face. But this last month, after finally hearing someone give me a clue to my fear and my anxiety, to my reactions and my hypervigilance, I noticed a change slowly starting to happen.
When anxiety surfaced, when fear showed up, it didn’t last as long (in most cases). I’d notice it faster, remind myself where it was coming from, and remind myself that the present situation or circumstance was not the equivalent to events in the past. My present was not going to cause me the same harm that my past had caused. In instances where the fear was too much to simply rationalize or deep-breath away, I’d reach out for concrete and objective feedback from peers or close friends.
I have a long way to go before I’m able to unpack all my anxiety and fear, but I feel like being here in another country on the other side of the world, I’m able to examine and reflect on my story in a way that living in the US didn’t afford me. The solitude of language and cultural barriers has forcing me to go back and unweave those parts of my story that need to be made new and mended. And I get to “travel thru” with some amazing new friends. I’d call that a win-win.
photo credit: Bradley Huchteman (via Flickr)