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My Rock Bottom Moment
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Feb 24, 2015
I think I hit rock bottom several years ago when I returned to Canada after spending almost a decade studying and working as a chiropractor in the States. After leaving my position in the States and spending a few months in Korea improving my Korean language skills, I returned to Canada, ready to resume my professional career.
Though I enjoyed some aspects of being a chiropractor, I was more interested in helping people restore health through water fasting and dietary and lifestyle modification. But I didn't have the resources to start up a fasting clinic, and I felt that it made sense to first work as a chiropractor in Canada to get a feel for the Canadian health care system, to save up more funds, and then to begin a fasting clinic.
Because I had no intention of building a large chiropractic clinic, I began visiting existing clinics, hoping to rent space to build my outpatient practice. To my dismay, every clinic that I visited was involved with rehabilitation care for personal injury cases, mostly related to car accidents.
While I acknowledge that people who get into car accidents do tend to need and benefit from chiropractic care, I was wary of this type of practice, as my experience was that such clinics were involved with padding large medical bills so that the lawyers involved could sue for more-than-fair compensation for pain and suffering; the higher one's overall medical bill, the more pain and suffering could be claimed with hopes of a big pay day for the injured and their attorneys.
One time when I was practicing in the States and deemed a car accident patient to be fully recovered after a few hundred dollars worth of treatments, his lawyer gave me a call and patiently explained that the total medical bill needed to be in the thousands, so could I continue treatments for another few months?
I fully acknowledge and appreciate that sometimes, severe car accident-related injuries do require long term care. But my experience was that the vast majority of such practices continued care for longer than was clinically justified, and I think it's safe to say that it was about the money.
So after spending about three months visiting clinic after clinic and not finding the professional environment that I was looking for, I made the decision to never practice chiropractic again. There were other aspects of the profession that I was disenchanted with, and the bottom line was that I couldn't imagine being a part of it again.
After giving my future some thought, I decided that the best move - one that I felt was the most personally meaningful one - was to go to Korea, where I could teach English right away, and hopefully find a way to save enough to start a fasting clinic there. My backup plan if I couldn't start a fasting clinic was just to stay in Korea and offer my services as a chiropractor to an orphanage or hospice.
So I packed my bags and purchased a one-way ticket to Korea. My parents were living and working in upstate New York at the time (my father was the senior pastor of a Korean Presbyterian church). When I made the call to tell my folks what I had decided, they were devastated. But to my surprise, they seemed to understand my reasoning.
Though I told them that I was going to take a 30-minute cab ride to the airport in Toronto to head off to Korea, they insisted that they would drive back to Toronto and send me off. I strongly protested, and they told me to stop being ridiculous, that there was no way that they could let me just leave for Korea for who knew how long without seeing me off.
At that point in my life, while I had a deeper sense of appreciation for my parents than I did before I visited Korea a year earlier, living close to them wasn't a top priority. And I felt bad about having them make a long drive just to see their somewhat dispirited son leaving the country. But I knew that I couldn't stop them from coming.
So a short while after, my parents made the long drive to our condo where I was staying with my younger sister. We had dinner together, and then it was time to go to the airport. I hugged my sister good bye, and when I let go, though I felt a big lump in my chest, I was surprised to see her eyes glistening with tears. She and I had grown quite close during the months that I lived there, and to see that she was genuinely sorry to see me go startled and saddened me. But my parents were already at the elevator, so I had to turn and leave.
The ride to the airport was a silent one. After I checked in, my parents and I sat at a little coffee shop just outside the international gate where we sat quietly, waiting until the last possible moment before we had to say good bye. My future was so uncertain at that point, and we had no idea when I would be back.
I felt so sorry towards them for not becoming what they had hoped for, at least on a professional level. I also felt sorry that I was saying good bye to about a decade of education and work experience, all of which they and I made big sacrifices for.
When it was almost time to part and we bowed our heads and closed our eyes while my dad prayed for me, I was a complete wreck, crying silently and consumed by what a big disappointment I was.
We stood up and walked to the gate, and there, I put my bag down and gave my mom a big hug - nothing unusual there, as I had been hugging her for many years at that point.
When I let go of my mom, I knew that I wanted to hug my dad. It was a new feeling, as the Korean culture and my upbringing had conditioned me to do nothing more than to give my dad a solid handshake in such circumstances.
When I turned to him, I saw his hand come out for our customary handshake. I ignored his hand, crossed an invisible but almost tangible boundary, and forcefully embraced him. As I held him for a few seconds, I felt his entire body stiffen like a oak plank. And before I could say anything, he quickly turned his body and began walking away.
Though I couldn't see his face, I noticed my mom - she had let out a little gasp, and was covering her mouth with one hand, her eyes wet with tears. I knew from my mom's reaction that my dad must have cried when I hugged him. That was the first and only time I had ever known my father to cry.
There was nothing that I could do at that point but say good bye to my mom one more time and walk through the gate, put my bag on the conveyor belt, and look back through a glass wall at my parents walking away.
That was it - that point right there was my rock bottom. Any resentment that I still carried for any bad moments that occurred between me and my parents over decades became irrelevant right there, right in that moment.
I boarded my plane and flew to Korea. And from the moment that my parents disappeared from my view at the airport, for the next two days and nights, I couldn't stop feeling like I had made a big mistake in leaving my family. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to return right away and live close to my parents, sisters, grandmother, and aunt's family, regardless of what I chose to do to make a living. The kind of work that I did with my life became unimportant compared to the desire to live close to my family and to show them what they meant to me.
For most of my adult life before that point, I almost always felt that my parents' love for me was tied to my performance. I felt that unless I attended the best university, became a successful doctor, and projected the image of a dutiful Christian son, that they wouldn't love me as much, that I would be a disappointment to them. Though I knew that they loved and cared about me, I usually felt that their love was dependent on what I accomplished with my life.
Everything that happened with my parents sending me off at the airport - having them understand my disenchantment with my profession, having both of them cry to see me go - woke me up to the true nature of their love for me. At that moment, I was the opposite of what I had long felt they wanted me to be, and yet, no one in the world cared for me as much as they did. By most measures, my life was a mess, and they loved me anyway.
As I wrestled with these thoughts, I came to the understanding that while my parents hoped that my life would turn out a certain way, they would always love me like no one else could, regardless of what I did with my life.
In realizing this, I picked up my mostly unpacked bags and took the first available flight back to Canada. And I vowed to myself that I would do the best I could to make an honest living, any living, while being close to my family.
Returning home, I kind of felt like the prodigal son. My parents welcomed me with open arms, of course. And within a month, I found a small clinic in which I was able to establish the kind of outpatient practice that I believed in, providing chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, and encouraging my clients to experience their best health through their daily choices. I didn't make a whole lot of income, but I was happily grounded in the desire to just be near my family.
I eventually went on to start a fasting clinic, just as I had originally hoped to do, and through it all, my parents were there for me, providing constant support and encouragement.
Today, I'm happy to say that I'm closer than ever with my parents. We still differ in some of our core beliefs, but this doesn't matter so much to me. What matters is that they know that I know how they feel about me, and that they feel the love and appreciation that I have for them.
Now that my folks are semi-retired and back in Toronto, I have the joy of seeing them love and play with their grandchildren almost every weekend. I can't think of a circumstance that would ever cause me to live apart from them again. To be near them as they and I age is a top priority in my life, and I remain grateful for my rock bottom moment, as it allowed me to see and feel the true nature of their love for me.
I know that everyone is different, that all families are unique, and that living close to one's parents is not possible or ideal for everyone. But if there are others out there who feel as I once did - that their parents' love for them is conditional and perhaps lacking - if the reality is that their parents' love for them actually runs much deeper than they perceive due to various misunderstandings and tough experiences, I hope these people will soon have the opportunity to see the true nature of their parents' love for them.
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