Have you encountered a person or an experience that you feel changed your outlook on life altogether, even years later?
I initially began this blog post focused on how certain events in our lives make or break us, how they can send us down one path or another. But after not really feeling right about the direction that the post was taking, I had an unexpected realization: A circumstance isn't what makes or breaks us; it's our response to it that does does.
I had freshly come out to a select few family members (three months earlier, to be exact), and my emotions were all over the place. Yet I was about to embark on a journey, opening myself up, mind and soul, to everything that had always seemed impossible.
A former colleague simply grinned and whispered, "Bonzai, baby," while I second-guessed my decision to connect with someone I'd known for six months -- 1,600 miles away. Now, I am not a huge risk taker by nature, but at the time, no decision had ever seemed more right.
I had become emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually attached to someone, which of course made his physical appearance all the more endearing. I am not writing this piece to express my desire for a change in past events, but merely to reflect on emotional strength and how this circumstance changed the direction of my emotional compass -- for a lifetime.
I'll admit that I knew deep down that it was not "in the cards," nor would anything really come to fruition, but I fell -- and I fell hard. On the return trip home, I wore my baseball cap low to hide my wrinkled and depressed expression, and a pair of sunglasses to conceal every tear that fell.
After coming out I could not, and would not, fathom speaking about my feelings. However, I found myself choking back tears during a late-night conversation with my mother. Of course, she did not know what to say or how to comfort me, bless her heart.
This experience hindered me and took the wind out of my emotional sails for the better part of two years. I wondered what I could have, should have, or needed to have done to make it work. Was it a reflection on my existence as a human being? Had I opened the box of my emotional deck of cards and shown my hand for nothing?
The truth is that the repercussions of that trip were horrible -- for a very long time. But in reflecting on what has come to pass, it was very well worth it. I realized that I had actually placed "blinders" on, to my own detriment, during a very healthy lesson that life was teaching me despite the emotional roller coaster that I had to ride. I learned that the more attached I became to what I thought I had, wanted to have, or wished I had, the more vulnerable I felt when I was faced with the reality of losing it all.
Since that time, I've dated, searched, and, yes, even managed to fall again -- although, for a significant period of time, I did not recognize that I was looking for that same person, that same circumstance, and that same emotional attachment in a world where that would never be possible.
Fear is one of the biggest obstacles that any of us will ever face, and boy, it has been an incredibly terrifying, grim, and, yes, beautiful test that started five years ago.
So I wanted to reflect on the events of the past five years of my life, which masked themselves as "distractions," and send a letter directly to what has kept me from succeeding all along: fear.
When you told me that I had no talent or voice, I began to speak and became the first in my family to educate minds.
When you laughed at my writing and suppressed my passion for the written word, I began journaling my memoir.
After shouting at me for years that the alcoholic, dishonest, and angry genes would follow me wherever my life may lead, your voice is slowly becoming hoarse.
None of your selectively placed doubts voiced by former colleagues will hinder my work. They will actually brew my motivation.
The supposed rejection, criticism, and binding standards that sewed my creativity shut have given way; the stitches have already been removed.
Since telling me that God would vacate the seat that He made in my heart if I simply explained my sexuality to those who represent His love for me here, your lie has instead created a much bigger chair for Him, and more love for me here on Earth.
After you told me that my love, love that I have always known, was wrong and that my feelings never would bring me joy, I allowed myself to fall, was broken, and have risen again.
You took from me someone I loved, and the hypothetical stability of something lifelong, but it won't close off my ability to love again anyway.
Shame put on me by others, and by me, won't focus my vision on faults: I now recognize your strategy and close my eyes to that shame.
As I browse pictures, old and new, hating myself and seeking out every flaw, mistake, subtle difference from a time before and beating myself down with my own criticism, I want to say that beating is ending, and I'm learning to love what I have been given.
As you yell about my influence and how it is quickly fading, I'm now silencing your attacks with everything I have.
Doubt you brewed within the closest of my friends started the construction of the highest walls, never built before, but they are cracking at the smallest inkling of the process of letting go and beginning to trust people again.
You once strangled away my emotional conscience, but that numbness is wearing off, and I am believing in myself again.
You see, my eating disorder taught me to be insecure in my own skin, hate who I saw in the mirror, and dread each day that I was not striving to make my body "perfect." Being gay meant that I wasn't worth the very breath that I took; it meant a lifetime of loneliness and desperation. But I will not accept the self-fulfilling prophecy. Sexuality issues combined with an unshakable faith made for an interesting concoction, and sadly, that combination is one that often leads to the unthinkable in many people's lives.
After learning how to deal with "normal" life again after intense therapy for my illness, and after accepting myself as a gay man, I wholeheartedly believe, as a person who wears his heart on his sleeve, that I am nothing but sincere in my feelings.
So instead of shadowboxing the fear(s) in my life, I want to send a strong message to fear, and to the future: You have made me better, and, I willwin.