Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thoughts on Shipwrecked in LA

For a while now, my Social Psych professor has been encouraging me to read Shipwrecked in LA by Christin Taylor, and after a few months of watching the book collect dust on my overcrowded bookshelves, I finally read it.

Taylor's book is centered mainly around her post-college life and her dreams of becoming a missionary within Hollywood's film industry. However, as is bound to happen, her plans for her future seem to come crashing down around her just a few months after moving to Hollywood. For the next few years, Taylor faces an overwhelming internal crisis as she attempts to discern her true purpose and self when everything had fallen apart. Taylor interlaces the novel with relevant and current research surrounding what is termed a shipwreck, which she summarized here:
Shipwreck is the metaphorical coming apart, the crash that rips through the very fabric of our identities. Everything we have thought about ourselves, our lives, our futures, even our faith, suddenly comes apart beneath us, and we are left scrambling, trying to put together any type of lifeboat to make it to shore. (p. 15)
Shipwrecked in LA your basic memoir, coming-of-age novel interspersed with some research about emerging adulthood.

The first few chapters took me some time to get into as her story seemed to be laced with the stereotypical trials of a PK (Preacher's Kid), or more accurately for Taylor, an MK (Missionary Kid): the entry into the "real world," no longer softened by the cocoon of the church. It was in those moments when I was tempted to give up reading the book altogether because I really didn't want to hear about how uncomfortable she was watching Hannibal with other film students or how she struggled to love on everyone in the irritated environment that is the world outside the church. My attitude is most likely a result of the fact these are some of the things that most irritate me about living in a Christian community. (Although to tell you the truth, I faced that same uncomfortableness with the drinking culture at college, although that was more to do with my being sheltered as a child and less to do with my faith.)

But I am glad I didn't put the book down after the first few chapters.

The research she cited in her book made continuing on worth it in itself, but her story became remarkably more similar to mine. Even though I was filled with envious frustration at Christin Taylor's ability to hold tightly onto her faith, I learned a great deal from her commentary on it. In chapter 13, she explained where faith comes from:
Faith is ultimately a response to a promise you consider trustworthy, to a sense of well being offered by an experience or person. We encounter something or someone, feel a sense of connection, wholeness, or relation, and faith is born to us and in that thing. (p. 83)
I found this description to be very powerful, especially since it gave me an operational way to define such an abstract contruct as faith. This definition fits, very easily, into what I feel I've been feeling I'm lacking when it comes to my faith.

Part 3 of Taylor's story is where I really started to relate to her. She talked about struggles she had with anxiety. She recounted a crying episode she had her freshman year of college saying, "I couldn't tell her what was wrong, because I didn't know. But I remember feeling frightened that I would 'burn her out'" (p. 108). She could have taken the words right out of my mouth in that sentence and how I feel about searching for recovery support. Another time she related envy over a longing to have a home, saying "I wanted to belong, fit in, be known, and not feel so outside the community, so wind-tossed by my emotions and fears" (p.114). Again, right out of my mouth--most days that's all I want.

Part 4 of Christin Taylor's story is entitled "Company for the Road," and it focused on the people who helped her rediscover herself, piece herself back together after her shipwreck. The research in this chapter and Taylor's story itself touched a raw spot in my heart, mainly because it is so difficult for me to allow others to share in my journey, but as research shows, it is so vital to not walk alone. In Part 5 of her book, Taylor illustrated how her shipwreck transformed her sense of self and allowed her to see the world in a new light.

In her epilogue, Taylor talked about the research of Sharon Daloz Parks:
Sharon Daloz Parks says that life does not end in the waters of a shipwreck. That seems to go without saying. Yet when we have encountered shipwreck, it is difficult to believe that there could be meaning, life, or faith beyond the wreckage. But as Parks says, "If we do survive shipwreck--if we wash up on a new shore, perceiving more adequately how life really is--there is, eventually, gladness." And this is where the beauty sets in.
We look up and discover a vital, more nuanced understanding of life. We are transformed. And though nothing can lessen the loss or pain of the shipwreck, somehow the existence of this pain within the new discovery revitalizes us and invades our beings with joy.
We do not want to go back to life before the shipwreck. We do not want to slip into that old way of looking at the world. As Parks says so eloquently, "We do not want to live in a less-adequate truth, a less viable sense of reality, an insufficient wisdom."
Parks says that the power of the experience of shipwreck in our lives lies precisely at the heart of our inability to imagine that we will ever come out of it. This makes sense. We have no idea what life will look like beyond our tragedies. As she puts it, "How could we know that even this might be survived?" Even if we are brave about our shipwrecks and meet the dissolution of our identities and faith with courage, we may still believe that nothing as good as what we have experienced waits for us on the other side. Life will just go on. We will survive. But then, when we discover that meaning and joy wait for us on the other side, we are amazed. 
In the end, our identities pull back together not only through suffering, but somehow, miraculously, through joy (p. 238 & 248).  
It was in those last 10 pages I found the most hope, in the idea that on the other side of the pain I am experiencing right now, there is joy and meaning and beauty. And in the idea that it is completely normal not to see life, meaning, or faith beyond the wreckage of my life right now.

As I'm writing this, I am able to notice the judgments that come through my head about Christin Taylor's story, judgments that want to minimize her pain and her shipwreck, as well as judgements about myself for not holding onto my faith as tightly as she had. I'm finding I need to remind myself that everyone fights hard battles and theirs are just as hard for them as mine are for me. But it also reveals another truth, that everyone has their stuff, everyone has their shipwrecks, everyone has imperfect lives. I am not alone in that.

As frustrating as her book was to read sometimes, I got hope out of it. In the ED world, especially among those who have recovered, people say that when you recover, you become so much stronger and life is better on the other side. I don't know if I've ever fully believed that. Taylor takes her story and her research and shows that in a completely different situation, life is, in fact, better on the other side of the pain and the struggle. Taylor's book ultimately made me feel less alone, to read her story and the research to see that even in different circumstances, others have felt the same as I do. It made me feel hopeful. It makes me willing to try to believe that one day, I will reach the other side of this.