Looking back over my years of blogging I’m aware that I’ve complained often about various obstacles I’ve had to face. I’ve advertised this blog as my uncensored place to vent so I feel no need to make any excuses, but I do want to clarify an important point. I don’t have a woe is me attitude. Not in the slightest. On the contrary, I despise pity. Being beaten by my father, bullied in grade school, abandoned by family, facing substance abuse, coping with the suicide of a close friend, living as a fugitive, suffering in a prison, being robbed and used as a scapegoat by my own family, living out of a car, attempting suicide… these are not life experiences that I look back on with regret.
These are the ones I most-deeply treasure.
See, my “complaining” hasn’t actually been complaining. At least, not in hindsight. If anything, it’s been boasting. While this may just be something I tell myself as a method of coping, I truly believe that I’m incredibly lucky to have had such a train of pain over the course of many years. The old adage of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger isn’t cliche nor hyperbolic. It’s truth.
Being beaten, bullied, and ridiculed taught me how to take any kind of punch and bounce back. It strengthened my confidence because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have been able to rise above it. It led me to taking martial arts and earning a black belt. It taught me to be alert, how to recognize the signs of an impending attack. As such it’s incredibly difficult to catch me off guard or to offend me. The punches I took never made me feel weaker or broken. It was empowering. Because they seemed weaker with every blow. Is there anything more primitive and ineffective for achieving an objective than striking another human being? There are far more adequate methods of communicating ideas. So no, I didn’t feel sorry for myself. Only pity for my attackers. It acted as validation that I was a stronger person.
Severed relationships with family taught me that meaningful shared connections have nothing to do with sharing blood, rendering me free of many traditionally-obligated ties. A wealthy Uncle of mine once said to me that he didn’t want health care reform to pass because he didn’t want “another penny” of his taxes going to help the poor “like you and your family”. Do you think I still speak to this man? Of course not. But that’s not an easy thing to do for most people. Many feel an obligation to family regardless of their behavior, especially immediate family. Since mine abused me physically, verbally, robbed me, and tried to have me falsely committed, it’s made it easier to step back. I’m fortunate enough to recognize that while blood might be thicker than water, it only applies on a chemical level. The ability to walk away, even from one’s own parents, is empowering.
My friend/cousin’s suicide further drew a line in the sand when it came to family. The bigotry he faced for being homosexual while he was alive and seeing those positions stubbornly continue even after his death really helped me to recognize how tragically destructive, intentional or not, some people can be. It inspired me to become more outspoken about equal rights and to recognize the fragility of human life. So the outcome of that tragedy was… a stronger sense of empathy and a more fervent interest in social justice? I can think of worse things. As much as I miss my dear cousin, his absence has made me a better person.
Being a fugitive wasn’t nearly as traumatic as actually being in prison, which was likely the biggest game-changer of my life. A little under a year trapped in one abusive facility or another revealed to me just how fucked our justice system truly is. I met some of the kindest, most genuine people in my life while I was incarcerated, many of whom wound up in a cage simply for having a mental illness, becoming desperate in tough times, or from lacking adequate education. I was amazed to discover that most inmates were merely paying the price for our larger societal failings. If our supposedly Christian-nation actually demonstrated the purported values of Christ, I suspect our prison population would be near non-existent. Prisons are a direct result of widespread apathy. I’d already had an interest in reforming our injustice system, but actually experiencing life within those concrete walls and witnessing the gross-misconduct of the officers in charge solidified my understanding. Again I experienced an expansion of empathy and a deepened passion for change. Being homeless also had this effect.
Stumbling across the unexpected sensation of being in love widened my emotional spectrum in 2014, but was followed by an outrageously vindictive (and unrelated) attack by my family. Experiencing a higher high had the unexpected but understandable side effect of rendering me vulnerable to lower lows. The unfortunate timing of two opposite extremes proved too overwhelming and I finally caved after years of (more or less) holding things together. I’d previously attempted minor measures of self-harm, but I’d call what followed as my first (and only) serious effort to take my own life. I just couldn’t process the betrayal of my family and felt contaminated just from sharing their blood within my veins. I had such love in my heart and such hate pouring down… the contrast threw me off balance. But looking into the void from that building ledge, unable to even envision a future, was the springboard I needed. Staring down the barrel and seeing the culmination of life’s traumas facing back gave me two options. Pull the trigger or turn the page. In the end, albeit barely, I made the correct decision. And while the fallout unfortunately pushed away the one I loved in the process, it was still a positive experience. Maybe someday she’ll see that this episode actually made me more stable than most and ergo more reliable than most. The experience was a sign of strength, not weakness. Going to the abyss and coming back wasn’t an easy task, but once completed affirmed it could be replicated. It assured me that I would never be able to take my own life.
These are only the broad strokes of what I’ve faced (you can read much more in my upcoming novel, Stamps and Cigarettes). I felt inspired this morning to clarify that I do not view any of these as burdensome experiences, but rather as assets toward a richer, more-fulfilling life. It is only by pushing ourselves to the brink and experiencing extremes that we come to discover who we are when push comes to shove and I’m proud of what the results have yielded. This is why I don’t feel burdened or cursed, stressed or shamed, saddened or defeated.
I feel grateful. Because I’m actually the luckiest sonofabitch I know.