This essay originally appeared on The Good Men Project, 11/28/2014
“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
― Dave Pelzer, A Child Called “It”
It’s no secret that early life in our parents’ house was dark, dangerous and often deadly. Father was institutionalized when I was seven as paranoid/schizophrenic. After he got out, a robot had replaced the man we’d known – the angry, hurtful man who spoke loudest with his fists – because medications kept him numb, took his spirit from him. Eventually, he ceased to exist in our lives. Mother was worse, for she refused to allow anyone to look inside her head for fear of having to face herself. And so she was allowed to exact the most horrific abuses onto us; pain that sculpted our lives like powerful winds will warp the trunk of a tree as it grows.
The first thing I learned as a boy was that mother wanted me dead. I spent nearly thirty years trying to fulfill that wish. After my first drug overdose, subsequent death, and then revival, I realized that even though she had long passed from this world, I had allowed her to live on within me. I saw that I had taken ownership of her hate, saw how I had allowed her power to warp me in so many ways. And on that day – September 2, 1992 – I knew that I was meant to live. And I set about relearning how to be a kind, compassionate man. How to love myself. These are some of the lessons learned during that long, difficult journey back to self-love, redemption and hope.
1. I am not responsible for others’ mistakes, flaws, or lack of empathy or compassion.
2. No one can make me feel bad about myself. Only I can do that, and I choose not to.
3. It only takes one person to forgive.
4. The things other’s say reflects wholly on them, and not on me. (“I am a mirror; look at me and see yourself.”)
5. No one else gets to jeopardize my life or my well-being. Ever.
6. My adult relationships don’t have to echo those of my childhood.
7. I am capable of loving myself, even when I think no one else will.
8. External wounds fade and are forgotten; internal wounds rarely fade. Don’t cause internal wounds in others less strong than you.
9. Don’t perpetuate the pain you feel.
10. Educate yourself in the ways of life so as never to be taken advantage of or victimized.
11. People lie. That doesn’t make them bad people…it only makes them wounded. Give them room to heal or to figure out that lying hurts no one but themselves.
12. We are all survivors. We survive because we love ourselves and choose life over death.
13. Help where you can. Don’t force assistance or guidance on those still trapped in their pain.
14. Give yourself permission to love, to feel, and to acknowledge that you are not perfect, nor should you be.
15. Mistakes are not bad. They are lessons on how to do better next time.
16. It’s possible to surround yourself with authentic, loving, compassionate people. Don’t align yourself with those who cause you pain or heartbreak. They’re no longer worthy of you.
17. Don’t inflict the same pain on yourself as an adult. It’s okay to leave your childhood behind and grow.
18. To forgive is healthy. To forget disregards the lesson you learned when you forgave. Always heed the lesson.
19. There will always be those who aim to make victims of others, or exploit their pain. Learn to recognize those types so as not to give them power over you.
20. No one and no-thing has power over you. You are responsible for everything you do, say, and think. Always take responsibility for yourself.
21. It’s possible to trust others. It’s possible to trust yourself.
22. Emotions do not define you. Learn to understand that they are like weather gauges for how you feel, and know that there will always be sunny days, and stormy days. All emotions are useful in life.
23. Learn compassion.
24. Being of service to others goes a long way toward feeling better about yourself. Volunteer your time to help those who may not be able to help themselves.
25. You will always be your own worst judge. Go easy on yourself. Life is hard enough without making it harder because of perceived flaws, mistakes, or misjudgments.