“I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”
― Carl Jung
I cannot recall my first memory. As I scan through my mind and search for memories I find something distinct from any concrete memory. I find a feeling instead; It is an overwhelming sense of fear. I have lived with this fear my entire life and for most of it, I have not known what to do with it. I have buried it deep within my soul, drowned it with drink, slept it away. Then it happened one day, as if perfectly choreographed, all of my solutions stopped working. I was left alone, shattered, and ready to collapse. Worst of it all was that I could no longer hide — death was the only hiding place left and even in my delusion I was too wary of death; I could not punish the world like that! My ego wouldn’t allow it.
As I child I would watch cartoons throughout the entire night; I secretly wished I could become one of the characters. I knew that these cartoon characters were not real. Therefore their feelings weren’t real, meaning they didn’t feel anything – I wanted the freedom these cartoon characters had. 5-year-old children generally want toys, games, and friends; I wanted to not feel anything. I always wanted to escape whatever situation I was in, but of course, you cannot escape yourself. I would run for years beyond my youth, but I never got away from the thing that haunted me; myself.
What was it about me that I wanted to escape so badly? There are not very many negative things one could say about me, at least not very damaging things. I absolutely have my fair share of character flaws, but I treated myself as if I were a monster, a villain that needed to be defeated or avoided. At times I believed myself to be downright unlovable and even let my thoughts drift so far as to think my childhood friends had been paid by my family to spend time with me! It’s hard to be yourself around others when you always question why they are there in your life.
I didn’t understand why anyone would choose to spend time with me, and over time I developed an exterior that told the world I was above it; I was better, smarter, and more talented than you and I lived in this world between self-idolizing and self-hatred. Living on these two spectrums makes it seemingly impossible to find a way to understand much in the world and even harder to behave accordingly to the ways of the world. I didn’t know who I was at any given moment, so I looked to others to tell me what to do, who to be, and whatever you thought of me is who I was and that was that! It was as if everything I pursued in life was guesswork on my part; Either work, a cause, a woman, a friend: I made my decisions based on what I thought others would see as agreeable. As long as I thought others would approve of my choices, it didn’t matter what I actually wanted, for I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, and even that I didn’t know until the end. I thought I was doing what I wanted and in a very real way I was: I found my value in the approval of others so I did what I thought you wanted so that I could receive the approval and value that I wanted. It was as insane as it sounds.
Over the course of 10 years, I had treatment for this fear of mine, and I found it in the bottle. I didn’t know it when I began, but I had found something that would finally allow me to escape myself; it was the magic I had looked for my entire life and at last, I found the cartoon life I had long wished for. I found a way to deal with my fear and insecurities by completely avoiding them, shutting that part of my mind down, and it worked for some time. It worked in a way that is not fulfilling, however; I was able to work, have relationships, have fun, etcetera.
But I was never relaxed, never present, and never actually happy. I was able to make myself look good enough to the world, but deep within me, I knew the truth. I knew that this unhappiness, this blatant avoidance of fear was slowly killing me. And in a way that is exactly what I needed; I had to kill that version of myself because it was made up of lies and confusion. There was nothing authentic about me and the life I was living was a complete waste of life, up until the point I decided to change. Once I made a decision to change my past experiences became invaluable to my recovery and to the recovery of others, so in this way, I am grateful for my cartoon life.
I chose to put down the bottle and the other “solutions” I thought I had found. It was in doing so that I had finally admitted the truth, that my life was not working and my way of solving my problems was terrible. That was part of the beginning for me: an admittance that I didn’t know anything about myself, my insecurities, my fear. My ego and false pride had to be acknowledged as well and then had to be torn down.
Everything my life was built upon and the ideas that had kept me afloat needed to be destroyed; not altered or tinkered with: they had to be completely removed from me, and it is painful. This is the part most people avoid because of the pain that comes along with growth. But without this pain and admittance, one cannot make progress; the options are always to avoid or to accept, and I chose to accept the challenge.
What I knew of myself was that I had this deep fear that led to thoughts of self-doubt and insecurity that led still further to grandiose thoughts and high levels of egotistical thinking and behavior. I may not be able to control my lineage but I can control my actions, and my action was to understand these character defects and work to rid myself of them by building strong character traits. This was a new type of pain and fear for me because I now had a plan. I did not fear the unknown, I feared to have to face my inner self and the demons within, and it is the only way to find peace.
By allowing myself to encounter my insecurities I was able to recognize how little self-confidence I had and I began working to understand why it was so low. I’m a talented, generous, decent looking guy; why should I be so down on myself? The simple fact is that I didn’t know who I was. I couldn’t see myself the way others did and in this confusion, I hated myself for lacking clarity.
The progress happens when one is finally able to admit that it has been themselves holding themselves back their entire life. The blame has to be removed from the people and from bloodlines, and responsibility has to ensue. This is the thing so many people fear: taking responsibility for their own actions and thoughts. This is the cause of so much unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. We do not dare say we are at fault and in the rare instance that we do it almost always comes with the inclusion of someone else’s fault. One may say they were being unreasonable in their actions but will generally follow with a reason for their actions caused by another person; “Yes I was wrong for slapping you in the face, but you kept egging me on, pushing my buttons!” There is no acceptance in this, it is shifting responsibility to another person and believing another has control over our actions so much so that we find ourselves rarely at fault because there is always someone who “made” us do it.
This is the truth I had to find: that I am in control of how I receive other people and I am not responsible for how other people feel about me. I spent much of my life claiming to live a certain way because others expected me to, but it simply was never true. Nobody ever told me to live a certain way, and that is actually not even the important part. Nobody has the control or power to make me live a certain way unless I allow them control over me, and whatever way you slice it the responsibility comes back to me. This was the beginning of my journey to finding a more authentic self.
I have finally realized that I have a choice in how I live my life and it does not need to be met with the approval of anyone. I have trust in my actions, emotions, and motives. I know that though I make some mistakes my aim is always on a positive target. The need for others to accept me begins to drift once I accept myself for who I am, and that meant learning who I actually am. This takes time, and it continues today. By facing my fear and going through it, I removed my insecurity, self-doubt, and ego. I found sincere compassion, a thoughtful mind, and a willing attitude to learn and accept.
I follow a path of humility, honesty, acceptance, and a release of control. The way others see me is none of my business, and that’s hard to accept at times, but I have no choice in the matter anyhow — I have no control over how you see me.
When we can accept responsibility for our behavior and leave the blame game to others, we find greater peace, simply because it is authentic. When I blame anyone for my behavior, I am refusing to take responsibility and am looking to avoid what ails me. We are of course not always 100% at fault, but this is not important; we are always 100% responsible for our own actions, and this is all that should concern us, for it is all we can control. I do not meddle in the lives of others because I care for them and respect them, not because I don’t have time for them. I do not try to force others to live how I believe they should because I do not know how others should live their lives; the use of force does not work when hoping to help another person improve.
Every day I see people behave in ways that I see as inappropriate, annoying, and unhealthy but I do not say a word about it. Others will not change until they are ready to look in the mirror and admit that they need to change. This is a moment of grace that few experience because few will accept their faults, it is too painful for them to do so. I am sure people will read this and think “I am glad he finally admitted he was wrong. He finally learned to take responsibility as the rest of us have long ago.” This is the sad truth and the damning reason for so much unhappiness: No matter how much I change, no matter how happy I am or how miserable I am, I cannot change you.
Knowing myself allows me to trust myself and frees me from feeling responsible for the highs and lows of other people’s lives. We take responsibility for our lives, face the challenges ahead of us, and admit our imperfections. A life of avoidance is an unexamined life, a cartoon life with no real feelings, beliefs, or happiness. There is only delusion and the lies we tell ourselves, but at some point, we begin to dig, and we see the truth. We feel the weight of our unhappiness and loss of identity. At this moment each of us has a choice to make, a decision that will decide our future, and it is simply to accept and rebuild or avoid and retreat.