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I think the one thing pretty much everyone shoots for in life is to find happiness. Doing that isn’t an easy task. But, when you’re a starry-eyed teenager with love in her eyes, finding it is all you think about. That is, of course, if you equate love to happiness. But I learned pretty quickly that happiness cannot only be found in love. And unless you do one thing, you’ll never be happy.

It was a super wet, cold and rainy summer night (this is how all love stories start, right?). I was in the back seat of this tiny little junker of a car that my best friend’s boyfriend was squealing us around in. We were driving around town trying to find an open gas station at midnight on a Thursday night. We stopped at the first gas station, that at first looked open. But upon pulling up to it, quickly noticed it was closed.

Find Happiness

There were three guys standing in front of the gas station, all shivering and a little muddy. I was intrigued and my curiosity was bursting at the seams to know why the super tall dark and handsome one had ended up in this disheveled state. Suggesting to Aaron, my friend’s boyfriend, I nobly say we should see if there’s anything we can do to help them. Aaron noted that he knew the shorter more stoutly boy, Jeremy, as they had several classes together in school. We pulled up to them and asked if they needed some help.

Mud Running – People actually do that!

The boys explained they were stuck there after the “tall ones” truck broke down after a night of mud running. “What in the world? People do that?” I thought, staring at the tall one much longer than I comfortably should have. They were waiting for a ride but had been there over 30 minutes and weren’t confident their ride was even going to show up.

“We can give you a ride!” I somewhat giddily blurted out. Aaron was a little dumbfounded since I was now offering to give these three, not very tiny, boys a ride in his clown car. “We can all squeeze in!” I exclaimed. Although I wasn’t really sure we could. I step out of the car to let these guys get in and after they are in, I realize, there’s no way we’re all going to fit. Then the tall one says I can sit on his lap. OMG!! My heart about flipped outta my chest and I jumped on that poor guy’s lap before he even had a thought to change his mind.

“Hi, I’m Kirsten”

“Hello, I’m Nathaniel, but people call me Nathan. Except for my mom.”

“Nice to meet you, Nathan. So, mud running, huh? You must have a big truck to be doing that sort of thing?”

“Yes, it’s pretty high up there.”

“Sounds interesting. I’d like to check it out sometime.”

“Well, I usually cruize on sixth on Saturday nights with it. If you come I can show you. I should be able to get it out of the mud and cleaned up by then.”

Summer Love

After that first night we met, Nathan and I were inseparable. When we weren’t together, we were on the phone. It was a straight month or so of driving, making out, talking until 4 am and listening to music. We fell in love, hard. This was my first real love relationship. I absolutely adored this boy and really looked up to him. By looked up to him, I mean that completely literally because he was seven feet two inches and I was five feet one. My nose came up to about his belly button. We were quite the odd looking couple, but we got along so well. We had so much in common, our personalities meshed and he even introduced me to his beloved mother.

One sweltering hot summer night we decided to go drive around in his big mud running truck before going to the movies. We picked up his best friend Jeremy who was willing to be the third wheel that night. As we were cruising around, with the top off his truck, we were running into almost everyone that Nathan knew. All his friends from school, some teachers, even his dentist. It was shaping up to be a pretty awesome night. At around sunset, Nathan came up with the idea that I should drive his truck. He said it would be a good experience for me since there was no other chance I would probably ever have to drive something like this. The truck looked very similar to the tuck pictured below. Ginormous wheels, front bucket seats, bench back seat, no top with a row bar. Except Nathan’s was red.

Monster Truck

I was pretty excited to try driving this thing, I must admit. Although, I really wasn’t into big propped up trucks like this. But I thought, what the heck, could be kind of fun. So we get to this dirt road and pull over. I immediately had a sinking feeling, this doesn’t feel right. A gravel road? I’ve only driven on gravel roads like twice at this point in my life and I never liked it. “I thought I was going to drive on a regular road?” I asked Nathan. “This will be better since no other cars are likely to drive on this road. We’ll have it all to ourselves”

Nathan gets out of the driver’s seat and waves me to get out too. He climbs back up into the truck and sits where I was sitting, on the middle console between the two front bucket seats. Jeremy is still in the passenger seat. Looking at him, I ask “are you sure? I really don’t think I should.” He reassures me it’ll be fine and pats the driver’s seat. I feel queasy. Something really doesn’t feel right about this. But, reluctantly, I get in the driver’s seat. I’m unable to adjust the seat far ahead enough for me to reach the pedals, so I have to sit on the edge of the seat just to be able to use them.

Taking it slow.

I’m instructed to go ahead, take it slow, and move forward. We start moving. Things are going at a glacial pace and I’m feeling a little more comfortable now. Ok, ok, I think. This isn’t so bad. It drives kinda nice. Nathan tells me I can speed up a little, as I’m only going about 30 mph. So I speed up. I’m going down this road pretty smoothly and build up to about 45 mph now. I feel that’s as high as I’m comfortable with going. We’re cruising along and all the sudden feel this slight bump like we ran over a mound of dirt or something. The truck starts to fishtail. I immediately take my foot off the gas. I’m trying to correct to even out and get us to stop fishtailing and then Nathan leans over and grabs the wheel and cranks it back to the right. 

Key to happiness

Time Stood Still

The next few moments were like super slow motion. You know when you see a car crash in the movies and it’s in slow motion, that’s exactly what it felt like. Time stood still for a split second and I’m met with the harsh reality that we are now rolling. The whole truck rolled. In the middle of the dirt road, it rolled. It felt like it rolled 2-3 times and I coulda swore I felt the gravel hit my head and lost my hat somewhere in this. I was later told it only rolled over once.

Jeremy is shaken and asks if I’m ok. I come to and I’m in the back of the truck. “How did I get here?” I look up and I see Jeremy in the passenger seat, no one in the driver’s seat, I’m in the back, the bench seat is gone and Nathan is not there. “Where is Nathan?” I scream. Jeremy, still in shock is trying to perform the simple task of just unbuckling his seatbelt. I get up and clumsily climb out over the back. Feeling very fuzzy and light headed, I scream out “NATHAN!” Nothing. Just pure silence on this dusty dirt road.

Jeremy finally gets out of the car and starts running.

Several yards from the truck is the bench seat flipped upside down. Underneath it, Nathan. Jeremy runs up to the seat and kicks it off. Nathan is underneath. I come up to him, scared and knowing I shouldn’t touch him. He has his eyes open looking up and he looks at me. I tell him, I love you! I hope he heard me. Jeremy tells me to run to the next road to flag down a car to try to get help.

Two hours later while I lie on a stretcher with a neck brace in a crowded emergency room, I hear a scream and then “No!! NOT MY BABY!” I knew immediately it was Nathan’s mom and that Nathan had died. But I didn’t want to believe it. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be happening, I loved him. The doctor came in to check on me and asked me some questions. Apparently, I had a concussion. My response to him was “How is Nathan?” Even though I knew the answer, I needed professional confirmation. The doctor told me he didn’t make it. The rest of that night, hell the rest of the week was a blur.

Happiness? Pshh!

After the accident, I was told by police a few things that they believed were the cause of it. First, they thought by Nathan reaching over and pulling the wheel to try to correct the fishtail actually caused the truck to flip. Second, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt (neither was Nathan, obviously, but he always did). They also think that by Nathan reaching over me, that saved my life. They are unsure how I ended up in the back or how I survived and didn’t end up with more serious injuries. The very first shower I took after the accident I was washing gravel out of my hair. My head did hit something hard enough that I got a concussion.

I should have felt lucky to be alive. But I didn’t. I should’ve been thankful I wasn’t more seriously injured. I know my mom sure was. But I wasn’t. No matter what anyone told me. Even Nathan’s mom telling me she didn’t blame me for the accident and knew it wasn’t my fault. Several of Nathan’s friends told me that Nathan knew he was going to die young. That didn’t change the fact that I completely blamed myself for his death. How could I ever forgive myself for something like this?! I lost, what at the time, was the love of my life.

Time doesn’t teach you how to forgive.

They say time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t teach you how to forgive. I believe this could have been the wrinkle in time that caused my depression. I also think that this event got me into some of the worst life decisions I ever made. And the biggest reason I got into those life decisions was that I couldn’t forgive myself. After the accident, I was dangerously depressed plus, I was a teenager dealing with hormones. Bad combination! I ended up drinking a lot, started smoking cigarettes (because Nathan smoked and that was my connection with him) and even had several failed suicide attempts. This was also the time I met my abusive 1st husband.

Almost 20 years after the accident, I still hadn’t forgiven myself. But now I was in much worse shape. I was getting out of an abusive marriage and was diagnosed with PTSD due to the sexual assault by my ex. I don’t know exactly what tipped the scale for me, but I finally came to the epiphany that the one thing holding me back from happiness was ME. All because I couldn’t forgive myself.

[clickToTweet tweet=”I finally came to the epiphany that the one thing holding me back from happiness was ME. All because I couldn’t forgive myself. #happiness #forgiveness #selflove” quote=”I finally came to the epiphany that the one thing holding me back from happiness was ME. All because I couldn’t forgive myself. #happiness #forgiveness #selflove” theme=”style4″]

Learning to Forgive Yourself

In my pursuit of bliss, I had to figure out how to truly forgive myself. I read, took personal development courses, went to therapy and took medication. But the real breakthrough I had in forgiving myself was by asking myself the following questions.

Is it really my fault?

Think about what you need to forgive yourself for. Is it really your fault? Was it something you had control over? Either way, if it is or isn’t it’s good to acknowledge your accountability. Don’t make excuses either way. If it is your fault, don’t rationalize your behavior or blame others. Look inside yourself to understand the root of your behavior.

In the case of the accident, I realized that I was to blame for the accident. I was driving and I didn’t listen to my instincts that were screaming at me not to drive. But I was NOT to blame for Nathan’s death. I took responsibility for my part of the accident and I didn’t blame anyone else. I looked deep inside and realized that I need to learn to trust my gut when it’s warning me.

Once you accept responsibility, you can make amends and prevent yourself from repeating the same offenses or mistakes.

Am I thinking of myself more than those I have wronged?

Are you being selfish or way too hard on yourself? Do you punish yourself because you don’t think you deserve something? Work through your feelings of shame and guilt with a goal to shift more towards empathy rather than criticism.

How can I right this wrong?

This may be really hard. Now that you understand and have taken accountability and have considered the feelings of those you have wronged, you need to do what you can to repair the damage. Apologize without excuses (if this is truly your fault). Commit to doing better. Now I realize that most of the time in needing to forgive yourself, that sometimes we blame ourselves for things that are truly not our fault. That is something you need to figure out and realize in the first question.

For example in my situation with my abuser, I blamed myself for everything. The biggest reason why I did that was because of the mental and psychological abuse I went through. I was conditioned to blame myself for everything that went wrong and to feel guilty. This was conditioning. In a situation like this, there is no wrong to right. The biggest piece for you, if you are in this kind of situation is to acknowledge what it really is. Once you’ve done that you can move on in the process of forgiving yourself.

Am I punishing myself for this?

More often than not you are probably punishing yourself for whatever it is you can’t forgive yourself for. This needs to stop immediately because it can be so damaging. Approach yourself with compassion, acceptance, respect, and kindness. Something that is truly therapeutic that you need to try is writing yourself a letter of forgiveness. Include the lessons you learned from the experience and the positive changes you’ve made as a result.

You need to stop ruminating in this situation. Rumination involves not just noticing the negative, but continuously experiencing the pain. Whether you get stuck on the big stuff (a divorce) or the small (eating one too many cupcakes), dwelling ensures that you live in those real or perceived moments of weakness and/or pain indefinitely. Dwelling is also strongly associated with binge-eating, drinking, and self-harm.

Finding happiness

Moving past the pain and on to forgiveness.

Repetitive and consistent work is what helps you move past this and forgive yourself. Whenever you have a negative thought in this regard, write it down. When you blame yourself, write it down. Write down the exact thoughts you have during this process. All the negative thoughts, get them out either on paper or typed in a document. Now, strike through that negative thought and replace it with a new, positive thought. Change “how could I have stayed with a man that long and not get out of that situation? So dumb!” and replace it with “I was trying to love the unlovable. How he treated me was NOT my fault. What can I learn from this? I am strong and resilient.”

Catching yourself when you are having negative thoughts and replacing them with empathetic thoughts towards yourself will make the biggest impact. You will soon find that you are able to forgive yourself and maybe even others by using this technique. Trust the process and most importantly trust in yourself. By choosing to be happy and making a conscious effort towards it you no doubt will find your bliss. You deserve to be happy!

Trust me, if I can forgive myself, you can forgive yourself too. And if you need more help doing that, let me know.

What do you need to forgive yourself for?

Happiness seems to be everyone's goal. You can go through life trying to be happy. But you'll never be happy unless you do this. #happy #happiness #selfcare #personalgrowth #personaldevelopment #mentalhealth #depression #selfgrowth #selfdevelopment #inspiration #motivation
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