Of all things to believe in life, there has to be at least a semblance of hope. There has to be at minimum, at least a trace of light because otherwise, what else is there except for the dimness and the shadows of doubt?
Of all things to believe in, no matter how bad things may seem or how badly one might want to jump from their own skin; no matter how dark it gets or stormy or bumpy the road may seem, there has to be at least a minimum sense of drive.
There has to be something left in the gas tank because no matter what, life goes on. Even when the tank is empty and all that’s left are the fumes and when it seems like there’s so much farther to go, remember something: The fact that you feel or think and the fact that you want or you ache or wish you had more or could be more, although troublesome, this is the light within you. The fact that you notice something is wrong or the fact that you notice your pain or recognize the you have the desire to improve or be better is not a curse whatsoever.
There are times when people look in the mirror and become overly critical of themselves. There are times when people do not recognize their own beauty or see their value. There are times when people wish they had more because the contrast of their lives in comparison to others is the shadow which overcomes their view. Life is hard this way. You wonder about your purpose or if this is it. Maybe this is your purpose. Maybe this is where you are supposed to be, —to be down here in the underbelly of what people call the cycle of life. Maybe you believe this is you however, and respectfully, I disagree.
In the face of my fears and my wrongs and while paying the consequences as a result of my actions (and reactions), I found myself in a place where I wished I never was. There were times when I committed terrible acts and times when I did or said things because put simply, I was not my best possible self. I’ve had this happen to me, historically, throughout my life. Then again, I think most people have aspects of their past they wish they could change.
There were times when I put myself in the fire. I was always the toughest on me. I was brutal sometimes. In fact, I punished myself more than others. I held my pain like it was a torch to guide my way and I used my rage like a fuel source. The acts I chose, which imprisoned me or ostracized me were all a response to an internal dilemma. This was me reacting to something I could never voice or understand.
I believed this was me. I thought “This is just how I am.”
This is me. These are my faults. These are my sins. These are the reasons why I hurt and consequently, these are the reasons I hurt others because this is how I had to survive. More accurately, these are the tools I used to dig myself into a hole, which I never dared to believe I had the ability to climb out of.
How could someone like me ever be better?
This is who I am, right?
The kindest words anyone ever told me was at one of my worst times in life. I was younger then. I was angry as ever and just as hateful. I was driving around with a .357 beneath my seat. I was recently arrested for assault II, which is assault in the second degree, which is to (a) intentionally or knowingly cause serious physical injury to another and (b) intentionally or knowingly cause physical injury to another by means of a deadly or dangerous weapon or (c) recklessly cause serious physical injury to another by means of a deadly or dangerous weapon under the circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
In the case of the people against me, I was guilty of all the above. I thought this was me. I saw myself as this hateful brutal person, incapable of redemption, and unable to find this thing called happiness. I truly believed in the hate from my heart. I believed in my rage. I believed in my shame and regret and saw no prospect or possibility of ever reforming myself.
As I saw it, I might make it for a little while. But then again, I always made it for a little while until something happens and then I went back to more of the same. And then I would say something like, “I told you this is just me. Weren’t you listening?”
I thought at best, I would be better off in “The life” until that life took me away. At least here, I would understand the rules of engagement. At least I would understand the interaction and why bad things happened or why I felt the way I did.
What’s the difference, right? This is me, right? This is all I’ll ever be.
A bum. A crook.
Or, more accurately, a scared little kid that never had the chance to learn how to build or create or know what it means to experience the joy of something wholesome. Why bother with something like this, right?
People like me don’t get things like that, right?
The kindest words I ever heard were told to me by a man that walked the line. He was a counselor in a treatment facility. He told me there was nothing wrong with me. He said, “The only problem is you don’t know who you are.” He said that the problem is I never learned to differentiate the thoughts in my head. And this is more than just right or wrong. This is more than being good or bad.
“You don’t know who you are,” he told me.
“Because if you really didn’t care and if you really didn’t feel any which way about this stuff then we wouldn’t be having this conversation and you wouldn’t have any tears in your eyes.”
He was right about this.
He told me, “The problem is when you have these thoughts, you just think this is YOU. But this is not you. This is not you at all.”
He said, “I know you for a while now. I’ve seen you around and we’ve talked. Nothing about that life is YOU. None of that matches who you are but you think it does.”
Then he told me, “Look here, if you were really a bad person, none of this would even be a thought. You wouldn’t even think about this because you wouldn’t even care. And the problem is, you think this is who you are.”
“But that’s not true,” he said.
“I know you!”
I tried to defy him. I tried to show him that he was wrong and I sneered him off with the common, typical response of, “Oh yeah? What do you know about me?”
“I know you’ve been trying to kill yourself for longer than you’ve been trying to live.”
“I know you’ve been living with these ideas in your head that trick you to believe this is you”
“I know you never got out of high school. I know you compare yourself all the time and I know you never try when you think you can’t compete. And you always give up on yourself.”
Then he said, “And I know that all of this shit bothers you.”
He told me, “You have this all pent up inside and when you’re not careful, this just blows up in your face, and then you go back to more of the same things and then you tell people ‘This is just my life when its really not.”
I fought him on every word however, even now, which is almost 30 years later, —I remember the conversation. I remember the room we were in. I remember the position he was sitting in and I remember the look on his face.
“You have a choice,” he said. “You can either stay the way you are and believe the way you believe. Or, you can learn to differentiate the thoughts you have and begin to understand which thoughts are you and which ones are not.”
He asked me if I understood the meaning of the word “Institutionalized.”
I told him, “This means living in an institution.”
He said, “No, this means you cannot live a successful life outside of an institution. And that’s what you’re heading towards unless you choose something different.”
So, this is for you, kid.
I know this doesn’t seem like much. I know that the idea of life in any other way is not something that makes sense because to you, this is your life. This is just who you are. But that’s not true. I know you. I’ve seen you smile. I’ve seen you laugh. I’ve watched you have fun and be a powerful part of conversations. I’ve seen you do kind things and I know that there is love in your heart.
This is why I say you have the ability to change.
This is why I say you have the ability to do great things.
I admit it though. This is not easy.
The contrast between us and purity can be painful and almost poisonous sometimes. The contrast between the life we want and the life we see is troublesome, in which case, we never believe in ourselves. We never believe that “This could be us.”
There is something painful when sitting in a group of people that do great things and live good lives. Yet meanwhile; we have this darkness lurking around inside, which foils the ideas and defies the goodness we have inside us with poisoned thoughts that tell us, “That will never be you!”
And look, I’d love to lie and tell you this is easy. I’d love to sit with you and say that I have great news. I can tell you things do and will get better. I can say that you never have to make these mistakes again. But you and I know both know that neither of us would believe it — at least, not entirely.
Deep down, I know there is light in you. Deep down, I know there is hope. And deep down, I know there is something inside of you that just wishes to come out. But this is the scary thing when we don’t know how to deal with the new rules of engagement.
And by the way, if I was wrong, then none of this would even matter. You wouldn’t even care. There would be no mental dilemma or unresolved tension because if you really didn’t care then you would be fine with your life. But the fact remains that you are not fine, which means that deep down, you know you can do better. And confidentiality, so do I.
The trick here is to stop disappointing yourself.
For whatever this is worth, ya had me at “Hello” kid.