I have kept a journal since I was a kid.
And for the past four-or-so years, I have made a point to go back into the pages I’ve written to reflect and analyze and grow from those pages of my past.
Last night, I read through 2011, 2012, and 2013. I was 25 years old, living in Iowa, and trying to figure a lot of things out by myself. The journal reflected that quite clearly.
I am surprised at how disappointed I was at 25-year-old Katie for thinking the way she did about her situation, about the people she interacted with, and the way she chose to respond to other people’s actions. Seriously, the things I wrote I am deeply ashamed of.
I was not a kind person in my writing to myself, or to others. I was self-absorbed, self-righteous, and selfish in the most unhealthy ways. I was mean. I was destructive. Toxicity was dripping off the pages.
In every sentence, I cast blame on others for my circumstances and lashed out at those closest to me for no apparent reason other than to control them like they were pawns in my life.
I admittedly acted like a spoiled kid and expected people to treat me as “an adult,” as though they owed me things just for being alive. I treated myself and others with blatant and absolute disrespect.
I was blown away by what 25-year-old Katie was writing, what she was feeling, and how she justified every single little problem to make herself be the victim in every circumstance. Some of those circumstances were well out of her control, but other situations had easy solutions that I can clearly see now, but 25-year-old Katie was absolutely blind to.
I had no problem focusing on the faults and toxic behaviors in other people, but I never once turned that critical eye on myself.
Here’s a harsh truth: sometimes, we are the problem. Sometimes, we are the toxic person. And recognizing that you are at fault, you are to blame, you are the reason for whatever is happening recognizing that you are a toxic person is a real gut punch.
It took me a long time to come to terms with this.
I made excuses for the way I acted because of the traumas I had endured. I had used personality typing and self-help lingo to defer my toxic traits and point fingers at everyone but myself.
But then one day in my journal, my writing stopped, and the next page was a full page of Lisa Frank stickers, positive quotes, all that fluffy girly stuff, and then a new page.
A new color of ink. A new month written at the top of the next journal entry.
I started going to therapy. I started asking the tough questions, I started being vulnerable with my feelings, I started calling myself out for the crappy things I was doing to myself. And then I worked really hard to change those things.
Real growth happened once I acknowledged my own toxic traits and I actually started applying the things I was learning about myself to grow as a person.
Healing and growing can be painful, heavy, and deeply difficult. With healing, I had to acknowledge that I was my problem all along.
And while I’m embarrassed to have found this journal, and completely saddened to read the horrible things I thought and felt then (which feels like a lifetime ago,) I am also deeply heartened and grateful to understand why I feel that way.
Because the work I’ve been doing every day since those days has changed me, for the better.
I still have a long, long way to go.
And I think I’m writing this column because I never realized how far I’ve come. We always say we have a long way to go, but how often do we truly stop to look and see how far we have come?
I’m oddly grateful for those really rough years, and I’m thankful I had enough fortitude to write down all of my true feelings no matter how ugly and embarrassing they were.
I’m thankful because there was a time when I wanted what I currently have.
It was a lesson in counting my blessings.
Growth flourishes by abandoning the idea that we need to look like we have it all together. And if these journals prove anything, it is proof that even when we think we have it all together, we don’t.
There is much more required of myself, now, to grow, to change, and heal.
True change demands action. It requires invested engagement, application of the things we’ve learned, and at times, total destruction of our former selves in order to see true self-growth and healing. And a lot of that healing comes from admitting how wrong we were. I know I sure was.
Growth is such a beautiful transformation whether it is watching the world go from winter to spring; a caterpillar to a butterfly; a child to a young adult; a storm to a rainbow.
It took the terrifying storm to appreciate the rainbow. It took the thankless rearing of the child to appreciate the young adult. It took the caterpillar turning into goo in a chrysalis to appreciate the butterfly, and it took a long, cold process of winter to appreciate the sounds and sights of spring.
Don’t forget you’ve only read part of your story (or journal) so far. You don’t know, yet, how it ends.
Keep reading, keep writing, keep going, friends.