I was born in South Korea on a cold December morning in 1986. My newborn wails were heard from the streets. So loud that a police officer found me swaddled inside of a trash bin. Eighteen months later, I landed in the U.S. to meet my new adopted family. My adopted mother gave me the middle name “Hope” because she said I was the only hopefor her to have a child. But all hope for a happy and loving childhood was quickly extinguished.
My adopted parents were divorced by the time I was 4 years old. My adopted father went into a substance abuse program, and my adopted mother—consumed by pain and rage and saddled with my father’s mounting debt—became my living nightmare. Many years and countless therapy sessions later, I began to understand the psychology behind her actions. But as a young child subjected to daily physical and mental abuse by her hands, it shaped every part of my world. After being constantly berated and told I wasn’t good enough, I lacked all confidence in myself and hated my own existence. When I was 13-years old, I promised myself that I would not make it to 21.
My teenaged years were reckless and self-destructive. I looked for love in all the wrong places, and I turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. As I got older, I stopped trying to prove to my mother that I wasn’t the horrible person she said I was; instead, I leaned into it and became the worst version of myself. I allowed others to take advantage of me. I gravitated towards people who could perpetuate the same cycles of abuse. On my twenty-first birthday, I remember falling to the floor of my hotel “party” room and crying my eyes out, weeping for an unfulfilled promise to a traumatized 13-year-old.
I hadn’t planned to live this long. I wasn’t sure what to do or who to turn to. I hadn’t seen my father since he left when I was 16, and I abruptly left my mother’s house at age of 17. I was completely alone.
My twenties were still riddled with self-doubt and poor judgement, but I was determined to make something of myself, mostly out of spite. The perception of success I held back then was still based on my undying need for approval from my birth mother, my adopted parents, myself, and from a society that inevitably shunned me for being weird because I was broken. So, I drove myself into the ground working feverishly, day-and-night, collecting titles and raises and ruthlessly climbing the corporate ladder. But I still felt an unrelenting sadness and unhappiness settling in my soul. I prioritized work over loved ones and destroyed countless romantic relationships in the process. I substituted my job for drugs and alcohol, and I continued dispensing my own self-inflicted abuse.
In a life that felt damned, I somehow always had a guardian angel by my side. An angel who saved an abandoned soul 36 years ago. Through all the pain and shame, my angel never left me. Eventually, after tiring of the same repetitive pain cycles, I felt an inner calling to heal myself, and I began the torturous journey to seek my dharma, or soul’s purpose. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started to hold myself accountable. I started going to therapy more frequently to better understand myself and to untangle my deep-rooted pain. I also immersed myself in the vast worlds of Eckhart Tolle, Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, and other authors of their ilk. I even began a tradition of annually re-reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Depending on where I am mentally and spiritually each year, different parts of this beautiful parable resonate more deeply.
After 10+ years of soul searching and painful transformations, it finally dawned on me that the only person in charge of my happiness is me. I learned that I needed to do the work to understand what fulfilled me versus what drained me. And that meant facing the fact that the measurements I once used to define myself—seeking validation through my job, my title, my salary, my success—were actually the cause of my suffering. I felt suffocated, unheard, and unfulfilled. And as a result, I would lash out in anger. I was hurting myself and was I hurting others because I wasn’t living my most authentic life. As Brené Brown said, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
In 2020, I resigned from my job at a company where I worked for almost twenty years. The same company where my mom worked, and where I was determined to prove to her and myself that I was capable of succeeding against all odds. For better or worse, I accomplished that goal. Now, I am untethered and admittedly afraid of the great unknown, but I am finally free from my own constraints. I am not perfect and will forever be a work-in-progress, but I am grateful for my struggle. And my hope is that we can all learn to show compassion to ourselves and accept ourselves as we are.Leave a Comment