A Soldier Gives Herself Permission to Be Human

by Audra Jamai White

I spent three years on active duty with the US Army, including one year in Iraq, and now I’m  in the Massachusetts National Guard. I’ve always strived to be a “super soldier”—perfectionism and being in control were what fueled me. Towards the end of my deployment, I started experiencing depression and anxiety. I’d spend 12 hours on duty and then I’d spend 12 hours in my room, crying. When I went to see the medics for a sports injury they reached out to me and helped, through providing medication and therapy.

One of my career goals has always been to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS). When I joined the Mass National Guard, I was accepted into the program. OCS is 20-hour days, four hours of sleep, no days off—for eight weeks straight. Leading up to it, I trained at that level for two days each month. I loved the training but I felt like it was reinforcing all the negative habits I developed in the army. But I kept telling myself, I’m going to do it, I know I can do it, so many people are rooting for me and I  don't want to disappoint them.

About two months before I came to Kripalu, I decided not to go to OCS. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I was choosing between getting healthy and advancing my military career. Stepping into that uncertainty was scarier than getting my deployment orders, scarier than getting off the plane in Iraq, scarier than getting mortared.

I was looking through my mother-in-law’s Kripalu catalog and saw Coby Kozlowski’s program, Quarter-Life Calling: Creating an Extraordinary Life in Your 20s, and I thought, Yes, that’s what I need! I applied for and received a scholarship to attend the program. I came to Kripalu the same week I was supposed to start OCS. On the second day, I decided to let go of striving for perfection, and gave myself permission to be human and to make mistakes.

Time moves differently at Kripalu. The moments are more full. I experienced a deep bonding and connection with the other  people in the program, and I remembered how important it is to have a community—what Coby calls a kula.

My last day at Kripalu my kula gave me an amazing gift. That whole week I had been struggling with trying to remember who I wanted to be before I fixated on being a “super soldier.” My kula showed me that when I relax and sit with life instead of trying to control it, my best qualities shine through, and I am the person I've always imagined I could be.

I’m ready to go forward with life. That’s part of being an adult: not relying on a structure that’s already in place, like the army, and instead building what I need for myself.