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Finding Peace With Yale

Dear friends,

The below, inspiring article was written by a personal friend of mine who graduated from Yale University. While many might think it a badge of pride to have attended this elite, Ivy league university, for my friend Suz it was the beginning of a long downward spiral. I invite you to read below the inspiring story of how Suz was able to finally find peace with the difficult memories of her challenging time in college. May this story encourage all of us to find peace with our past.

With best wishes,
Fred Burks for PEERS and
Former language interpreter for Presidents Bush and Clinton

Finding Peace After 25 Years
By Suz Strasburger

It's a lazy summer day in New Haven, hot and sticky. I'm both excited and scared at the possibility of starting college here at Yale in the fall. I sit on the warm grass, and my heart swells, hoping that I'm embarking on a wonderful new adventure.

Less than one year later, I'm walking past that same patch of grass, having just purchased three more packages of junk food from the vending machine. It's time to study, but I can't concentrate anymore without cigarettes and sugar. The binge eating has begun, and the weight gain and depression with it. This adventure has had its heavy burdens. I'm losing touch with the bright-eyed girl from the summer before, who had such high hopes.

The difficulties during those college years deepen with each passing year. Even in the many years afterward, my memory of Yale serves as a touchstone. When people ask where I went to college, I hunch my shoulders a bit, make myself just a little shorter and mumble, "Yale." And then there are the dreams – weekly sometimes – from which I awaken anxious and with shortened breaths. I am back at Yale, lost and disoriented, experiencing a strange combination of past and present events. I am there feeling the same confusion I am passing through in much of my life. I am without an anchor called myself.

I start to get spiritual and psychological help in my 30's. Yet even as freedom increases in my life, there is still this burden that I identify with my college years. The occasional "Yale dream" continues to hold those memories (and myself) hostage.

Then one day, my old college roommate calls me. She invites me to our 25th Yale reunion. I exclaim to her, "You've got to be kidding; I hated Yale, why would I want to go back?" She begs, offers financial assistance, says she won't go without me. I sleep on it, considering her generous offer. Could this possibly be an opportunity? After one more Yale dream, I decide to go. It will be a spiritual pilgrimage, I tell myself, to reclaim the lost part of me that seems left behind in those haunting courtyards of New Haven.

Once there, I make the commitment to be fully present to each experience, without pretense, as an antidote for the disavowing of myself those many years ago. To my pleasant surprise, on immersing myself in the reunion crowd, I find I am with people who are similarly unguarded, and the miracles begin to flow easily.

Sara, radiating sunshine and beauty, tells me: "Every five-year reunion I return and get back a little bit more of me each time." Those first years for women at Yale so intimidated many of us with larger than life expectations we felt we couldn't live up to. Yet now Sara is shining her radiance on me.

There is Alex, who took 20 years to be open about being gay. And Jim, dancing the night away with abandon, even as he grieves the imminent death of his mother, lying comatose in a hospital nearby. Each contact seems to open another little chamber of my heart, unleashing tears of both joy and sadness. During two full days of learning, laughing, dancing and singing together, I am able to reframe old memories, create new ones, and the unthinkable occurs: I am finding peace.

On the quiet flight home, I actually think about the positive gifts from my years at Yale, possibly for the first time ever. My love of learning was fostered there, along with writing, performing and many other skills I use often in my life. I had been carrying my college days around with me like Linus' blanket, dusty and dirty and filled with bad odors, masking the truth.

Now, Yale is simply back there in New Haven. Having faced it again with all the strength of mind and heart I could bring, I have put my once-disturbing memories back into the past where they belong. Now when I look at the original yearbook pictures of the Class of '75, I still see a lot of serious faces and sunken eyes. Yet remembering the radiance in my classmates' faces at the reunion, I realize that we've all done a lot of good living these past 25 years. We're resilient and strong. Our hearts have healed and expanded. We've "arrived" – not in terms of status or accomplishments, but in finding our way home to ourselves.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "We gain strength, courage and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face. ... We must do that which we think we cannot." I wake up from new dreams now and stand tall when I wear my souvenir Yale t-shirt. It is a badge of courage I can finally wear with pride.

Note: For inspiring ideas on how to make peace with your past through taking personal responsibility, click here.

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