I guess I have to say that I am very proud of the man I am today, but I haven’t always been this person. This story starts when I was very young, but the message I would like to impress upon you doesn’t begin to take shape until a much later, darker period of my life and still, doesn’t begin to fully materialize until I decided to take responsibility for myself. I never truly began to grow until I started to actively guide my life by the compass of the person I had the potential to become; the image of a man I respected and the life I truly sought. Only then did I start closing the enormous chasm, my “Rift,” the distance between who I was and who I most deeply aspired to be. Only then did I start to reach towards real happiness.
The specifics of the mistakes I am about to speak of are not important, we all have them. Mine are of the sort that will never leave this world. They will follow me for life, like wraiths in the almost forgotten shadows of my mind. Not all of us have mistakes on that level, but we all have choices that haunt us, if we let them.
You see, the power of our “wraiths,” or the skeletons in our closets is determined largely by our perspective. Many of these events are simply choices we have made that have drastically altered the course of our lives, like a lightning strike to our previously assumed future that shatters what could have been. As dramatic and traumatizing as the consequences to these questionable choices may be, they are not absolute. Yes, any choice with repercussions serious enough to be considered for this category are life altering, but not so much that your same goals and lifestyle are no longer possible. In other words, shit just gets harder and things change!
Realistically, some blunders, or questionable decisions may rule out specific professions or positions, but regardless, we always hold a winning hand in life. The question is whether we are willing to figure out how to play it and if we have the fortitude to follow through, once we do. I hesitate, though, to call them mistakes at all. When bad things happen, when terrible things happen; when we face adversity and are knocked to our knees, we have two choices.
The first, stay down. Allow the weight of the fallout to crush us. Let the guilt, shame, trauma and emotional lacerations pin you down and drain you of life, effectively becoming a shell of what you once were without the possibility of ever getting back to “ok.” If you choose this option, you will walk the rest of your life in the shadow cast by the clouds of that storm, never being able to reach the full warmth of the sunlight that baths the people around you. This, is letting your ghosts haunt you. And haunt you they will.
The second option; view the hardship as a trial, a test of your character and rise above it. Accept it, own it, learn from it, adapt to the change, mitigate it ever happening again, find the wisdom in your experience, grow in character as a person and then let it go so that you may step into the sunlight once again.
I know what you are saying.
“Sure, Zack, as if it were that simple.”
But it is that simple! I never said it was easy and the amount of time this process takes, no one can know. For some, maybe its days, but generally coming to terms with what has happened and how life will be different moving forward can take years. The actual healing, the recovery is often drawn out because we suppress the emotions. We find any way to distract ourselves, escape the pain, alter our reality so that maybe just for a moment, we don’t have to feel the crushing weight of remorse. Or maybe its the agony of a gaping cavity where our heart used to be? Or, how about just a minute of relief from over bearing shame that makes you feel like you don’t deserve to breath. As if somehow you don’t rate the same air as everyone else and they all know it; every room you walk into, every street you walk down, they all stop and look as if you are painted bright red and glowing.
These feelings, our emotions, they are not the lesson, but they help us see it. The only way to come up on the other side, whole again, is to face them! “Embrace the suck,” as we used to say in the military. We generally said it in relation to physical stimuli, but the pain was emotional. Simply changing your perspective could remove the torment. Your body still hurt, but it didn’t bother you anymore. Our emotions are only slightly different. Unfortunately, there is no relief from the pain, but there are ways to make it “suck less” while you endure the necessary hurt caused by whatever series of decisions you made that led you to that low point.
Knowing that you must face these emotions and experience the internal anguish is a start. We may rationally be able to tell ourselves that “the dye is cast” and there is nothing we can do about it, but that doesn’t mean the pain will go away, or even fade. This healing process takes time and sometimes it will feel like an eternity; as if there cannot possibly be a way out. Please hear me when I say that your pain is temporary. It is not the end. I know it feels like it is, but it is not. It is at this stage that some choose to end the pain in permanent ways. Not only is this terribly hurtful to others, but it is a final solution to a temporary problem.
If you ever feel like you would rather end things then try to fight your way out of the darkness, remember this. We experience life through FEELING. Think of all your most profound memories. What did they have in common? It wasn’t alcohol, or company; it was intense emotion. Maybe you were elated, joyous, excited, terrified, remorseful, or furious. If you have ever been in a fight, it may not have been a pleasant memory, but your adrenaline was surging and you can probably remember everything that happened, including how the sweat tasted and the air smelled. Do you remember how ALIVE you felt? In those moments, we are truly living. We hear everything, smell anything, absorb our surroundings and acknowledge that we are here. We actually live in that moment without feeling like tomorrow is promised.
Now, when was the last time you were afraid? Not spooked, or startled, but truly afraid? When was the last time you were actually excited for something more important than a movie release or a worthless piece of clothing? Please understand that there are people out there so desperate to feel something, anything, that they cut their own skin. Many of us won’t admit it, but we spend the week moving through life like zombies, looking forward to the space of time that we can let loose and have “fun.” Only, it isn’t real fun when it is pursued in this way. Yes, we feel happiness, but only because our brain releases endorphins and dopamine, not because we are actually fulfilled. Then we wake up feeling physically awful, mentally disappointed and emotionally depleted. Im not saying partying is bad, but when it is the whole paragraph, instead of just the punctuation, there is a problem much deeper than alcohol.
We use these escapes to give our life excitement so that we can pretend to feel something, so that we can be alive! My point is, you have an awareness that much of the population craves and pays handsomely for! You may be in pain, but take solace in the fact that you are alive and you don’t have to take a shot, or a needle to feel it.
The light at the end of the tunnel is found through reflection initiated by the intense pain that will undoubtedly focus your mind on the circumstances, or events. This focus and the merciless replays in our mind eventually allow us to see the wisdom to be found and possibly the silver linings of the whole thing. With enough understanding this will eventually bring closure, but only if you have truly learned and grew, adopting this new wisdom into yourself. Only then will you be able to accept what has happened, forgive yourself and acknowledge that the person you once were is not the same person you are today. Then you can move forward, back into the sunlight.
Im getting off track, but it is interesting that this resilience is something that gets stronger as we practice. Eventually, you may recognize that making this change actually happens in a moment. After rationally deciding how to handle the problem, if there is anything one can do at all, the solution is a choice that we make in an instant. What takes a long time is our reconciliation with the choice. Even if we know how to move forward, we often don’t allow ourselves. This is what I mean when I say that we have to carry the pain only as long as we decide. We punish ourselves because we don’t feel worthy.
Not that it’s something to brag about, but I’ve messed up enough times to know that this pageantry is a bunch of bullshit. We do it because we think we have to, because maybe others won’t think we are actually sorry. Well, we don’t have to prove anything to others. It is ourselves we must convince. Behave with a new found compass of integrity, or morality (whatever applies to your situation) and eventually your peers will see that your new self is genuine, regardless of how quickly you figured out your flaws.
Anyways, these situations we face in life can either be mistakes, or they can be teachers. We can allow them to become wraiths that haunt us, or they can be the stones upon which we sharpen ourselves, fortifying our hearts and arming our minds so that we may overcome any future obstacles. In my short life, I have faced more of these moments than most do in their entirety. I am neither proud, nor ashamed of this. When I was younger, I let many of them haunt me, until I finally changed my attitude and took responsibility. I don’t say this to boast, at all, but rather to say that I have earned the man I have become through choices born of stubborn behavior, hubris and naivety. There is a saying that I identify with that says, “If you are going to be dumb, you have to be tough.” I am proud of the man I have become, but like I said earlier, I haven’t always been this person.
Lately, my career has been gaining momentum and I recently dove into other disciplines. Without getting too specific, I’ve had some amazing opportunities where I had the chance to showcase who I am and what I can do. I did very well and my life has the possibility of changing drastically in a short amount of time. You might think this is what gives me the feeling of being Cinderella. In a small way, it does. I won’t lie, I’m getting very excited by the possibilities. Id imagine it was how she felt getting all dressed up for the first time and riding towards the party in that fancy carriage.
But no, I feel like Cinderella because of a later part in the story. Because in the entertainment industry, the keys to an amazing future are held by people and perceptions, companies and reputations. I’d like to think that if Cindy just ran up to the prince and told him who she really was, that he would not care, but even in the fairytale he probably wouldn’t give her enough time near him to get to know her as the woman he would come to cherish.
And so it is for me, that I sit here in a metaphorical “fancy carriage” on my way to the ball having no idea when the clock will strike midnight. We can be as amazing as we allow ourselves to be. I don’t need anyone’s approval to get to where I want to go in life, but this would be a rather fun detour on the way, so I’ll take this road as long as I can. I only hope that when my carriage turns into a pumpkin and I’m left standing at the ball in my tattered clothes, that the people in attendance will still see the man I have become, not the boy I used to be.
As much as that would be a wonderful place to end things, I didn’t start writing this for lil’ ole’ me. I want anyone that may be reading this to understand what I have just laid out. We all make mistakes, some more than others, but not all of us decide to rise above them. My heart goes out to those that stay down, because they need a hand to reach for in order to get up and it isn’t always there.
For those that do decide to stand up though, regardless of help, they face constant pressure to give up. They face negativity, doubt and hate from themselves and from most of the people around them. As a society, we love to point and laugh at our degenerates. We act like we don’t, but when the opportunity comes, we circle up and knock people back down because it makes us feel like we aren’t as flawed. Well, we all have flaws and we all make blunders. That is part of the human condition. If you don’t have any mistakes, or flaws, you are either lying, or you are so cautious that you have never lived and therefore, never grown.
We shun misfits. For example, we have a penal system full of people that aren’t all bad. Many of them long for a chance to be a normal, good person, but when they do come back to society, the only people that will welcome them to the world are the same types that helped them get locked up in the first place. This is an extreme example, but the message still applies. It takes great courage and humility to face your mistakes and recognize them as your own. It takes wisdom, resilience and persistence to choose to become a better person and then follow through. It’s flat out difficult!
Not everyone who says they want to change are genuine and not everyone that genuinely wants to change will actually succeed. When there is positivity and support, their chances are much higher; when there is a real chance at being welcomed back to the community. The least we can do as a community is recognize the struggle and allow them to show us that they can be more. Allow them to show us that they deserve a second chance. And finally, see them as the person they become, instead of only focusing on who they once were. In a way, we get to decide what type of Cinderella fairytale they get. So, I’ll end this with a question. Is social status and monetary success that which separates a noble from a peasant, or is it quality of character; who they are inside, that really matters?