The judge looked over the paperwork and then at me. He took off his glasses, smiled, and said, “Miss Nagel, I’m curious. What compels a woman at the age of forty-seven to change her given, birth name?”

Becoming Kate is the story of a heart. My heart. The first thing you should know about me is that I find hearts everywhere – in the sky, on the beach, as I hike a trail, or run along a city street. I started finding hearts in all of these places when I began the search for mine nearly seven years ago. I found the heart pictured above on the day I made a significant, life-altering choice. A small voice from somewhere within asked me to move to the last place I ever expected, my childhood home. Cleveland. I had escaped twenty years earlier and swore I would never return. However, life seemed to be leading me right back to the place where it all began.

I found the heart pictured here on my favorite beach in my hometown. It makes me think of my heart as a little girl - delicate and fragile, yet open and curious about everything in life, and full of love.

Shells commonly symbolize home as well as love and because they emerge from the water, represent emotion and movement. Shells also exemplify transformation as they weather sometimes uncertain and stormy conditions and find their way to shore altered somehow from the experience.

At the age of seven, my heart was cast into a dark stormy sea, and became caught in the midst of a hurricane that would last for nearly four decades. My heart sought retreat from the darkness, pain, chaos, and fear that seeped in as a result of the trauma and abuse I experienced in the years following the unexpected death of my father. My ego stepped up and agreed to do whatever necessary to protect that tender heart and to battle the storm that became my life. I created a series of survival mechanisms and manifested all of those into destructive, addictive behaviors as an adult. My addiction? Work. I used work as a barrier to protect myself from a life I was simply too afraid to live. I found safety and fulfillment in work and became relentless in my pursuit for achievement and perfection. I was guarded in relationships and used judgments as a way to distance myself from the potential that someone or something could hurt me.

Becoming Kate is a story about reconciliation. In 2009, I hit rock bottom for the second time and found myself seeking permanent escape. I was drowning in pain and begging the stormy currents to pull me under. I am not sure if it was fate or faith that intervened, but I didn’t succumb; and instead, made another significant choice. I embarked upon a journey to discover the root causes of every protective shield and barrier I had created. I wondered if it was possible to re-direct my insatiable need for work into a passionate, purpose-driven life based on my ideals and intentions. My healing journey wasn’t about restoring friendly relations with others; rather, it was about striking an amicable treaty between the two adversaries that lived within me –my ego that wanted to protect and withhold from a guarded stance of fear, and my heart that longed to live, unburdened from a space of possibility, passion, and purpose.

As I began to wage a slow, deliberate battle between these two opposing forces, I started journaling my experiences. In writing, I discovered a powerful medium to safely explore the conflict and the entirety of my emotions. I wrote essays about love, forgiveness, grief, anger, resolve, betrayal, trust, honor, courage, risk, intention, and many, many more. In 2014, I published a memoir, Untethered, that told the story of how I let go of everything I thought I needed to survive.

Becoming Kate is the story of what I needed to learn so that I could have the life I wanted to live. This story spans three years of my life when I experienced the most significant transformative change – beginning in early 2013 up until just a few moments before I submitted this manuscript for publication in December 2015. There were moments of great pain, sadness, and frustration as I challenged myself to light the darkest corners of my soul. In time, I experienced powerful healing and gradually felt a sense of peace I had never known. It was as if I was a completely new person – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Each chapter of this story represents one step of that journey and the opportunity for me to come to terms with all that lives within me – good, bad, and indifferent. Each chapter also includes a picture of a heart that I found along the way. These hearts are only a few of several hundred that I have found over the course of my travels. Each one serves as a reminder that love is all around and healing is an attainable goal, always within reach.

Becoming Kate is the story of how I resolved the battles within, journeyed toward reconciliation, and found the amicable balance between my ego and my heart. How that tiny fragile heart survived and emerged from the storm - albeit in an altered state for all I had endured and survived – and found a peace I had never known as I became whole and complete…. as I became Kate. 

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