Six years ago, my life was a wreck. There was little to look forward to, I had burned much of what was good in my life to the ground. It didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of too many years my world gradually spiraled out of control. I was at the end of the line, some things were going to happen… and then I had some decisions to make. Without really knowing it, I finally quit fighting. I had no other choice. I gave up my idea that I was some kind of exception; that I could live life on my own terms; that the universal rules that apply to everyone somehow did not apply to me. I could no longer allow my ego to keep my on a crash course that had already nearly killed me and now was making living more unbearable that death. If I had it in me, suicide would have been a viable option, but that took more courage than I had.
I don’t reveal much here regarding the specifics that led me to this defining moment in time, but it doesn’t take much to read between the lines. My story is not unique and those familiar with this particular form of desperation know exactly what it is like. Nothing was working out, if it wasn’t for bad luck, as the song goes, I would have had no luck at all. Failure time and time again was a living place for me – and I couldn’t understand why it was always happening to me. Of course, I placed the root cause of it all outside myself. I had to, if it was my own doing then I could only conclude that I was wrong – and I was never wrong.
But I was seriously deluded. It’s not that I was evil (though I had myself believing that sometimes) or that I ever intended any harm to others or myself, but my entire outlook was so self-centered that I was incapable of seeing outside the box I had created. It took being broken down – beaten by the same system that I spent so long fighting so hard against. I had to surrender – which is not the same as giving up or admitting defeat necessarily – it meant that I had to just stop. Stop fighting. The battle I was waging, as it turned out, was against myself and I could not win. Ever.
Although the turn-around started almost ten years ago after a near-fatal auto wreck, that was only the beginning of the end. The final round took place on August 6th, 2004. I didn’t think there was anything significant about that day – in fact, it was worse than normal and normal at the time was pretty bad. The next many days were not much better, but I was in a situation in which my physical needs were met and I had little to do but rest and reflect. It was not a pretty picture, but very slowly the days started to get a little better and over a period of about six months, my anger subsided significantly. And more importantly, my whole outlook on the world and my place in it gradually shifted – it was a huge shift in perspective, but at the time it happened so slowly I didn’t even notice.
I was not in every respect an irresponsible man, but in many I was. I was not responsible for my own feelings and in large part that dictated my actions, which, by extension, were also not my responsibility. As my attitude became more rational and my outlook changed, so did my fortune. But it is not nor was it an action/reaction, punishment/reward paradigm… I was looking for some peace between my ears and the only way to achieve it was to take a good hard long look at how I viewed things. As much as my lot in life has measurably improved, many things are no different now than they ever were. Where my reaction to those things was often met with defiance, anger and rage, it no longer is. Things that used to turn my world upside-down no longer faze me – I just watch them pass on by.
There are so many people who were and still are instrumental in this process. There are those such as my parents, my kids and other family members who were witness to the worst of times and never gave up on me, loving me unconditionally through it all. There were the nameless and faceless who, through the course of their lives intersected mine and systematically prodded me along the way. Then there is my current core group of friends, colleagues and professors (not exclusively - some fill all three roles) who believed in me even when I did not. I could not have done it alone, but no one could do it for me.
In the past six years my life has evolved from one that was barely tolerable to one in which I look forward to every new day. At almost 48 years old, I am more content, more serene and more valuable – both to others and myself - than I have ever been. I embrace every new challenge life brings and meet them head-on despite the presence of the same fears that used to paralyze me motionless in place, often for years at a time. Things that I would not attempt for fear of failure are no longer roadblocks in my life – and that does not mean I always succeed – but I never shy away from trying. I get the satisfaction of not only trying my best, but more often than not that satisfaction is sweetened by having succeeded.
At six years into this journey, I have only just begun. The tunnel’s end is too far away to have any idea what waits there, but the light shines brighter than it ever has before and it grows steadily brighter with each passing day. It took an unimaginable amount of personal (and self-inflicted) suffering to arrive at this point, but I wouldn’t trade any of it knowing what I know now. Regrets? Sure, I have many. I wish that I had not hurt the people who loved me most along the way, but I am graced with six years so far, and hopefully many more, to make it up to them. Some day I’ll recount the story in all it’s unedited detail, but for today the message is that no matter how dark it gets, there’s always a new day just around the corner. Seize it.