It was 2 AM when I got off the phone with a friend. I had called him, distraught and hurting and needing someone to listen. I don’t know why I had said yes to his suggestion. But the moment I did, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. I knew in my heart that I was making the right decision. It was an act of subtle desperation. And I knew that if something didn’t change I would give up on everything.
I had been fighting the same battles over and over again, and I didn’t know why. I only knew that they were cumbersome battles that I didn’t want to go through anymore. I was left completely and utterly exhausted - emotionally, mentally and physically. The more I fought against it, the more I became distanced from who I am. The inner strength I had once valued seemed like an illusion. The inner voice that had guided and protected me through the worst of times seemed to have forsaken me.
Although I tried to put on a mask of normalcy for appearance sake, I felt myself becoming more reserved. My ability to listen had disintegrated and I could no longer authentically connect with people – most of all with myself. I stopped caring, detaching myself from even my closest friends and family. I felt myself becoming pretentious, something I thought I would never be. Words which once came so easily to me were now lodged in my throat. I felt myself choking within the chaos of my own self-destruction. I was like a soda bottle that had been shaken up so much that at any moment the cap would pop and all my accumulated emotions would come bursting out with devastating consequences.
I’d had enough.
The next day I applied for my Indian visa. I booked my ticket and a week later I was on a plane to India. I had the heartfelt blessings of my overjoyed parents, my family and even my baffled friends. I didn’t know what to expect. But this impetuous decision was my last hope to regain what I had lost: my self-worth. I sensed an inner excitement and for the first time in a long time, pure joy bubbled within my soul. I felt like Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and I looked forward to what was to come.
As my feet stepped out of Bangalore airport, I took in the crisp morning air. I felt it amalgamate with a stillness in my spirit. It was as if a flame of hope had lit itself within the core of my being. I wasn’t even phased by the prospect of crossing paths with fist-sized vermin in my month-long stay. All I hoped for was a clean bathroom and solitude. The rest I could manage.
The ashram was more than I could ever hope for. It was acres of land merged with the simplicity of sannyasi life. I sensed myself being enveloped with the feeling of being protected and watched over like an unborn baby in her mother’s womb, secure in the knowledge that I would be taken care of.
The experience was nothing like I imagined.
As the days passed, I opened myself to the teachings of the guru. As I committed myself to the various meditation practices, I was brought into awareness of myself, my thoughts and the patterns of my life. Memories and traumas that were once repressed came flooding into my consciousness and I was thrown off by just how deeply broken I was.
All of the ugly truths of my life were laid out in front of me. I had no choice but to face the experience and be complete. I had to acknowledge my demons and embark on the grievous task of communicating with the very people who had planted those negative seeds in me, and ultimately gain closure. I remember one conversation where I started hyperventilating out of sheer panic and fear. But at the end I felt as if a huge weight – a burden I had been carrying for years to protect the ones I loved – had been lifted from my shoulders.
It was agonizing, painful and uncomfortable. There were times when I almost wanted to leave because what I had to face was so intense that I didn’t think I had the strength within me. I was so broken and filled with so much self-hatred that I struggled to look at myself in the mirror. Sometimes, the emotional reactions were so brutal that my body would react and be physically ill. I remember one meditation experience where I relived the death and funeral of my brother. I vomited for the rest of the day. It wasn’t pleasant.
What kept me from leaving was the energy I was surrounded by. There was so much love, joy and bliss and I knew that this was something I had to go through in order to be renewed. Silence, which once seemed like my worst enemy, has become my best friend. It is within that blanket of silence you realize there is so much more to who you are. The ashram was my solace to allow myself to finally be vulnerable. I was allowed to be weak. And in my weakness I found strength again.
The ghosts of my past no longer haunted me. I was being purged from the very memories that had held me back. I was liberated from my self-hatred, my anxieties, my worries and my fears. I finally learned what it meant to be kind and love myself. I could look at myself in the mirror and acknowledge the beauty that was within me.
It was a cleansing in its truest form, and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be blessed with this opportunity to fix the shattered pieces of myself. From powerlessness, I became powerful and I regained my ability to listen and genuinely connect with others.
To pack up and leave with such short notice wasn’t an easy decision to make. But it was something I had to do. The determination to put myself first brought forth the greatest sense of freedom in my life. And for that I don’t regret making the sacrifices I made nor the people I may have disappointed.
One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I acquired is that you have to show integrity to yourself. When you can honor yourself with your own words, then no one can fail you. And when you continue to be within that space of integrity, it is easy to show integrity to others.
In other words, what I got back was my life.