Through my teens and twenties, I existed in a gray-skied mental landscape that repeatedly recounted the stories I believed about myself.
No one wanted me. I would never be good enough. I could never be happy.
Even though I lived inside those stories, it was my fear of failure and, even more so, my fear of becoming my parents, that propelled me into a seemingly successful life. Knowing education was my ticket out of poverty, I put myself through law school, graduating when I was twenty-four. Shortly before graduation, my mother died, leaving me to adopt my nine-year-old brother. I defended murderers and millionaires, all while trying to parent my brother, doubting my own self-worth, and suffering from anxiety. To the outside world, I was the picture of well-adjusted success, but my overwhelming shame made me feel anything but. Nothing in my life felt on course or meaningful because my life choices were filtered through my story of unworthiness, sorrow, and abandonment.
As a result, I routinely settled for less. I made choices based on fear and what others would think of me. I married a man even though our relationship lacked passion and deep love. I suffered through bouts of reeling panic, which offered the occasional terrifying jolt to my otherwise numbed-out existence. I slept with other men just to feel something, anything other than the dull, gnawing pain of my seemingly hollow life.
But no matter who I married, kissed, or slept with, my story of abandonment kept me chained to a loveless existence. I didn’t know how to love anyone, let alone myself. And without that innate love, my story of worthlessness bound me up so tightly I didn’t know the real me. I only knew the scared, shameful, little me—the twelve-year-old girl who was left in the dust. The one who constantly craved validation and acceptance. The one who was never enough.
There were moments throughout my adult life when I believed that professional success would redeem me. That passing two state bar exams, representing death row inmates, and defending big corporate executives would finally give me the sense of worth and belonging I so desperately craved. But there wasn’t enough external validation in the world to heal my deepest, oldest wounds. And as my false story of shame and abandonment grew larger, my life grew smaller.
There had been moments over the years when I dabbled with the idea of healing—I bought a few books, did energy work, and saw a therapist. Then, I’d convince myself that I was fine and didn’t need help. But after a devastating breakup in my mid-thirties (which you’ll hear all about later), I admitted I wasn’t fine. That was when I first acknowledged my story. I admitted that it was keeping me from joy and real love. I vacillated there, in the space between acknowledging and healing, for a few more years until my beloved dog Finn died.
For years, I’d shamefully hid all my dark memories and stuffed every corresponding emotion. I’d refused to grieve my childhood trauma because part of me, that maven hellbent on survival, insisted on perfectionism, pushing, and excelling. But when Finn—who loved every imperfect piece of me—died, I couldn’t contain the tsunami of grief. My abject sorrow for Finn opened the floodgates, and swells of unresolved emotions rolled through me relentlessly.
Consciously experiencing them for the first time, I wept uncontrollably. There was grief for my lost childhood. Rage and resentment for my mother. Disappointment and sadness for my father. A deep longing for true happiness. And then, there was my desperate desire to finally belong, not only to this world but to something meaningful and extraordinary, perhaps something Divine.
As the waves of my old, trapped emotions dissipated, I tasted the sweet, airy lightness of emotional freedom. I glimpsed what my life could be without fear and shame. Joy was within reach, but I had work to do. There was so much more of my past that needed to be uncovered, processed, and resolved. My life had been defined by stories of shame, but I wondered—who could I be without those stories? Who would I be without my past defining my present?
I was finally ready to rise above my story.
Who could you be if you rose above your story? Perhaps someone who’s filled with unfettered joy? Someone who laughs and plays with abandon? A mindful, aware being who embraces all of who they are with unconditional love? A fearless foot soldier of humanity who has the wisdom and grace to create a bespoke life of abundance? Sounds pretty amazing, right? It absolutely is.
I have no doubt that the unconditional love we have for ourselves can change the world. By casting away our limiting stories and embracing the rich vibrance of our authentic self, we can radiate loving energy into the world. Can you imagine a world where we all feel liberated despite our race, gender, sexual identity, or social or political circumstance?
That’s exactly what will happen when we all rise above the story.
About Rise Above the Story
What do we do when the pain of the past is too much to bear? When trauma and shame overwhelm us? When we feel empty and worthless despite our success and daily triumphs?
We rise above our story.
In her new book, Rise Above the Story, former lawyer and trauma survivor Karena Kilcoyne shares with raw vulnerability how she rose above her stories of abandonment, worthlessness, and shame. She’ll help you let go of your own past by embracing every beautiful, imperfect piece of yourself—no matter what your story looks like. She’ll teach you how to:
Acknowledge your story. Identify the story that’s limiting your life.
Release your story. Discover how your story took over your life by unearthing your repressed fear and shame.
Rise above your story. Explore how your hardships can serve you and learn how to finally love yourself unconditionally.
Rising above your story will empower you to live the life of your dreams. Karena’s beautifully simple, yet powerful, formula offers emotional freedom and unfettered joy when you’re ready to embrace the vibrant, worthy, and lovable person you truly are.