It only took me 28 years to stop making life all about me. It was a road plagued by various addictions at varying levels of intensity, lies, betrayal -- and, since I'm being honest, an unbelievable amount of fun. What I've realized is that experience is the pavement of our sidewalk to personal freedom.
Our personal costs often come at a price, but the cost of what we can achieve is priceless. I could not have gotten to a space of inner contentment without having had to suffer for every wrong, every lie, and every ounce of self-hate and judgment that ever lived within me. My conscience, which I masked underneath suffocating levels of shame, had to in the most literal sense, become conscious.
Growing up as a severely sensitive child, I was one of many of us who closes ourselves off over the years. My emotional empathy was so great that it frightened me. As I got older, I sought comfort in sex, drugs, alcohol, bullshit, vanity... should I continue or can I stop there? If it was self-destructive or off limits, I craved it. I want it now and I want it delivered! was my mantra. And I was ever-consuming with the disillusionment that I was living freely and was above it all.
But what happens when we're living in the clouds -- or "above it all" -- is that we fall. We not only fall -- rather, we come crashing down and wind up 5.5 feet under with a broken soul without anywhere to turn. At that moment, we think of ending it all -- at that moment, we must make a choice. And that choice is whether we live or die.
And I wanted to die. I did. It's as simple as that. But I never made a choice to die -- my spirit would never let me give up. And because of that, I was able to dig myself out from the seemingly bottomless pit of fear moment by moment even when most of me was living in, or hoping for, the past.
Because that's what happens when we have internal pain -- we live in the past, or the future. And both places are a living hell because we can't see or have any sense of reality.
"What you seek is seeking you." -- Rumi
As I began my search for reality, there wasn't a day when I wasn't confronted with my deepest demons on my road to redemption.
For years, I was plagued by ups and downs -- mainly downs followed by wondrous moments of tremendous insight -- and as time continued, my ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, my vision, came into view.
Once I climbed my way out, literally grasping for air at times due to sheer panic, I was hit by a sudden wave of knowledge -- that we are here for the benefit of others. Life is not about what the world has to offer us and how we are so alone, but rather it's about what we can give because we are all together.
I felt foolish to have gotten this far in my life having forgotten this simple universal truth that each of us is embedded with before we are born.
But with self-forgiveness comes deep appreciation for life, and I soon realized that when we open our minds to having a fresh perspective, the light that we are searching for comes streaming in.
For me, the light arrived in my creativity. Whether it was acting or writing, photography or deepening my meditation practice (which allowed more room for the creative juices to flow), I learned that right here is a pretty great place to be. When we open our eyes to this moment, we are shown a great view that we can see clearly for miles and miles.
So many of us are searching for external validation when everything that we need is within. We are like hidden treasure chests full of exotic gems waiting to be discovered and when we find the key to unlock this chest, we will be able to awaken to our deepest potential.
Because that is what we are all meant to do -- awaken to our deepest abilities and share our gifts, and our story -- with others.
The more people I meet, the more I am inspired to bridge the gap between our personal identifications because while we all have a unique story, we also all have a universal story which is beautifully binding.
And that universal story is called love and it takes shape when we can feel it within.
I've let this feeling of love take me over so that nothing can ever take me out again. And I've let the appreciation of this be a daily spark in my heart and remind me that the sum of all of my mistakes is strength.
Thank you for reading.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
All photography within the article taken and owned by Garrett Paknis.
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