Over the past few days I’ve been writing the biographical part of what will become my manifesto. It’s a useful exercise in that it achieves two goals. It shows you where you’ve been and it shows you what matters most.
What matters most defines your core values. Your core values are the compass by which you navigate life. Being clear about those values is helpful, especially when wading through the murky and unclear waters that often comprise our lives “right now.” Hindsight is good but only after the fact and in the midst of a struggle a sense of bearing can be invaluable.
Unexpectedly, this task has proven a tad difficult. I can’t decide whether it’s too detailed or not detailed enough. I’ve spent enough time in therapy to see the value in my experiences and understand how they’ve come together to shape the man I am.
I also know somewhere out there is somebody who needs to hear my story. I know how helpful it can be to know, “I’m not the only one.” Especially since I grew up most of my life thinking I was the only one.
Growing up in the South in the 1980s my story is somewhat unique. But then again, maybe not. Maybe not so much unique as just isolated.
In late 1982, my mom left my dad for another woman.
Today, the response to this is really quite casual. “Yeah, so?” With gay being cool and shows like the L-word finding prime time status, a gay mom rarely raises an eyebrow these days.
In 1982 it was so earth shattering we couldn’t even talk about it. Becky, my mom’s girlfriend, was introduced as her “roommate” and, for some insane reason, people accepted this.
While I accept full responsibility for my future actions it is also clear that these and other early experiences eventually contributed to why I chose to hide from life in drugs. Drawing the map that connects all the dots will be helpful, not only for myself, but anyone in similar straits.
But damn, it’s a downer. So far I’m up to age 12 and the high point of my life was the neighbor girl who molested me in fourth grade. I’m sure there were happier moments but the truth is the low points were so low they over shadow everything else.
And then an epiphany, sort of snuck up on me. Epiphanies are not supposed to sneak. They’re supposed to blast you like a bolt out of the blue, but this one refused to follow script and just materialized out of the fog, so quietly that it seemed like it had been there all along. Which, now that I think on it, it had.
You are not your history.
You are not the things that happened to you.
The manner in which your past affects you is the manner in which you CHOOSE to let it affect you.
I know this is a lot. I know some of you reading this, especially those who may have experienced horrors far more foul than anything I’ve ever seen, will be offended and even hurt by what I say, but that does not make it any less true.
Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist of Jewish decent. During World War II he suffered some of the worst injustices mankind has known as a prisoner of the Nazis. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau, two of the most notorious camps.
Under these conditions Frankl discovered and refined his understanding of the human condition and the crucial component that determines a happy life from an unhappy one. Frankl discovered that in between stimulus and response, between the things that happen to you and what you think or feel or do about them, is a choice.
As humans we get to decide what we do with the lot we’ve been handed and we get to decide how we will let it affect us.
Admittedly, the harsher the lot, the harder this may be to do. Frankl, himself, exhibited a capacity I sincerely hope none of us has the chance to emulate, but the principles of his discovery remain and their truth, whether we’re ready to accept them or not, is sound.
It has taken me nearly forty years to realize I did not have to own the messages of my youth, that other peoples’ dysfunction was not a reflection of my own and that I was free to shape my own life. If it’s true for me, it’s also true for you.
It’s scary at first. We are often quite attached to these self definitions. We’ve come to see ourselves as the result of what happened before and these definitions give us security. That security comes at a price and we lock ourselves into a box in order to achieve it.
True freedom can be frightening. We can easily become afraid of losing ourselves.
We can also, finally, find ourselves. Like Frankl discovered, the choice is ours.
To your perfect imperfection,
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