This is my story, my life, and my journey. My life is an open book, a book still in the process of being written. Every day I learn new tools with which to write this story. For the first time in my life, I can truthfully say I am looking forward to the next page more than I look back at the last. The greatest tool I have found is hearing, listening to, and learning from the stories of others, and would love to hear yours.
Born in 1988, shortly after my mother left my father, I spent my infancy with my mother and my three older sisters in a women’s shelter. This is an experience that, although I don’t personally remember, is part of my story which greatly shaped my outlook on life. After leaving that shelter, my mother was faced with the challenge of raising us by herself. Witnessing her strength, and resiliency throughout that challenge, taught my sisters and I an appreciation for life, and the importance of a strong work ethic. However, as amazing of a mother as she was, this left me without a male role model, a biracial male, in a majority white community, with a disconnect to half of my background, and lack of identification.
Once entering school I had a great passion for learning, advancing in various subjects at an early age. As I grew and progressed through life, I carried this passion with me, even as I struggled with forming my identity. This was not helped by the fact that I was the only minority throughout most of elementary school. The fact that I was verbally, emotionally, and at times physically abused by my sisters also contributed to this. Frustrated with my home life, as well as social life, and began acting out at home and school. I lost my focus in school, instead focusing on trying to find a social group in which I fit in, as opposed to forming my own identity. At one point in middle school I was the only student in both the program for troubled students, and the program for advanced students, an obvious conflict in both my priorities and interests. Around seventh or eight grade, I had my first drink, and began smoking marijuana regularly. This was a pattern I would follow throughout life.
By my sophomore year in high school my friends and I were spending more time smoking than working on school, and the majority of our weekends drinking and experimenting with other drugs, trying any substance we could get our hands on. As would be expected, this lead to a downward spiral for both myself, and many of my friends. I eventually wound up placed in a charter school for troubled students. Although much of staff was great, many of the students didn’t contribute to a positive or nurturing environment. At this point I dropped out, frustrated with my life as a whole. Though still making destructive decisions, I earned my GED and enlisted in the Army, seeking a career and a better place in life. I gave one hundred percent, but was unable to meet the requirements of a very physical position in the military, fulfilling only part of my enlistment. Receiving an Honorable Discharge, I went back home and immediately fell back into a self destructive lifestyle. Over three years without a moment of sobriety, I regularly saw friends addicted to heroin, dealing drugs, and landing in jail or prison. Unhappy with this cycle, I gave up on hard drugs, which involved cutting off many of the relationships and friendships I had built since middle school.
In 2010 I once again attempted to move forward, enrolling at UW-Oshkosh for business marketing, seeking a profitable career. That spring I was diagnosed with stress induced epilepsy and halfway through my first semester my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My health deteriorating, my mother battling cancer, and my family battle one another; I left school, unable to deal with the overwhelming pressure and stress. I then came out of the closet, telling my family and what close friends remained. I began using alcohol to cope with the depression that came along with the stress and anxiety. My mother passed away, and I continued taking one step back for every step forward. Working full time, I was nothing more than a functioning alcoholic, negatively impacting my medical health, and depression. This was followed by unhealthy relationships filled with alcohol, based on finding someone who accepted me, as opposed to finding a loving and supporting partnership. Ending one particularly destructive relationship, I reenrolled in school in the fall of 2013, this time for Journalism, something I had a passion and talent for. Though fully dedicated to this, cutting back greatly on both my drinking and smoking, the pressure of both working and attending school fulltime resulted in again ending my time at school. By late 2014 I was living alone, binge drinking, and spending all my other time lying in bed, with no interest in friends, family, or life as a whole. In early 2015, after losing four jobs in as many years, my epilepsy intensifying week by week, I had a severe breakdown, spending over two weeks in behavioral health intake for suicidal ideation. This resulted in me being unable to work even part time, living in a homeless shelter, with no social life, income, or support system.
After all of these challenges, and self destructive decisions, I finally realized I would never be happy or healthy looking for people to accept me, and that there is no “quick fix” for deep seated and long term depression, substance abuse, and behavioral health issues. At the darkest moment in my life I had a breakthrough. Seeing my point in life, and what I see as the point of humanity as a whole. Not to seek happiness through financial success and acceptance. Not to cope with challenges by ignoring them, or to cope with pain by numbing it. What I saw was myself, and my community, working to support each other as opposed to taking from each other, build one another up instead of tearing each other down, and leaving the world a better place than the one we entered as opposed to taking as much as we can before we go. Though I greatly believe in the power of education, and plan on going back to school once in the position to, I have learned more from my struggles than I have from any book or course in school.
Each life is an open book, and each individual is their own author, with different styles of writing, different handwriting, and a different shade of ink. Despite the challenges we may face, and though we will all struggle with writers block at various points in our lives, only we can choose to pick up the pen and write the next page. By learning the difference from looking back at the last page with regret, and learning from the previous chapter, we become stronger people. As we become stronger people, we become happier in life, gaining an appreciation for each day, each meal, and every person in our lives, ourselves included. Only we choose what the next chapter will contain, and only we can choose if our book is a love story, a comedy, an adventure, or a tragedy. In closing I ask, what will your book contain? Will you choose to pick up the pen, or will you close the book.