Recovery: Hope is the Spark

My personal interest in behavioral health started two decades ago, through the things I began to experience at the age of 14.  I’m sharing this because that teenage version of me would have benefited from someone else defying stigma and having the courage to speak up and be open and honest about their own struggles with mental health.  I’m here to remind you that you are not alone.

Throughout my teen years and early twenties I went through the mental health gauntlet that many others experience.  Suffering in silence, convinced I was alone in my struggle, imprisoned by shame, fear, guilt, and worst of all a loss of hope.  My experiences include ongoing suicidal thoughts, an abandoned attempt at suicide, voluntary admission into a hospital, years of therapy and countless medications, and an eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which is a mood disorder that generally involves alternating phases of major depression and mania.  I can’t say all of that is behind me and that everything is fantastic now because recovery is not a destination, it’s a life-long journey.

I have heard similar stories of struggle from many others over the years.  From teenagers to adults.  Each involving their own mental or emotional suffering, traumatic experiences, loneliness, obstacles and setbacks, and loss of hope.  Understanding and compassion, these two things make the world a little less dark, but if we want to practice these two things it takes a lot of courage to break the wall of silence that stigma builds. Even if we are able to break through the wall of silence, it takes at least a little bit of hope to begin the process of walking out of that darkness. And it takes support to rise above the pain caused by behavioral health conditions.

Sometimes our busy lives don’t allow us to see the suffering in others, or it doesn’t provide us with the opportunity to express our own suffering.  Just because someone appears to be on top of the world from the outside; highly successful, popular, attractive, all the things we attribute to “having it all,” doesn’t mean they’re not falling apart on the inside, or carrying a huge burden on their shoulders, or concealing a heart-wrenching emptiness within.

Not everyone shows their pain, some people hide it very well, and such people are often fearful or ashamed of how they feel due to stigma. Because of this shame they intentionally hide their suffering from others and it prevents them from seeking help.  The belief that emotional pain and mental suffering are signs of weakness is the very core of the stigma in behavioral health.  And it’s this stigma that kills.

Some people are so embarrassed and ashamed of how they feel that they’d rather end their own life than tell others how they feel.   Suicide does not discriminate.  Anyone can die by suicide.  No matter the gender, age, race, sexuality, financial status, employment status, perceived success, popularity, or happiness.  Suicide transcends all demographics.

By making the two core aspects of behavioral health (which are mental health conditions and substance use) a prominent subject in our conversations, we begin the process of reducing the stigma that leads many to suffer in silence.  It needs to be understood and accepted that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling depressed.  It’s okay to ask someone if they are considering self-harm, it’s okay to ask someone if they are thinking about or planning ways to complete suicide.  No one wants to die, people just don’t want to hurt anymore.  When they can’t see any other way out of that pain than through suicide, it’s typically because they see the pain and their life as one synonymous struggle.

When we experience mental health issues, we have to reach out and get help.  Is that easy to do?  It certainly doesn’t feel easy.  So what does it take?  Well, it takes self-awareness, it takes compassion, it takes education, it takes action, it takes time, it takes faith in something, and most of all it takes hope. Even the tiniest little bit can make a difference.  The hope that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different and possibly even better than today.  Sometimes that hope can be born from the truth that change is the only constant.  Hope is the spark that sets us forth on the path of recovery.

Every recovery begins with perception.  The perception of pain, the perception of self, and the perception of life beyond the obstacles and setbacks we face throughout our lives.  By having this self-awareness of our thoughts and behavior, by activating this shift in our self-perception, we are able to focus our attention on personal wellness, the well-being of others, and our future.

Awareness, both of ourselves and of others is a key factor in living life beyond the issues we face.  Awareness involves observing our own behavior and paying attention to our thoughts and our feelings.  Perhaps the most important key to recovery is expressing how we feel through whatever medium you feel comfortable with.

Recovery at its core is about learning the best practices for maintaining wellness in a world and in a life that will continuously bring obstacles, setbacks, and even heartache.  It’s about having the tools, support, and resources to take on those challenges one step at a time and triumph over them.  Our recovery centers on establishing goals that are attainable, believing that change is possible, and finding the courage and inspiration we need to move forward.

It means acknowledging our behavioral health conditions, understanding them and understanding that we and they are not one in the same – that we are more than our conditions.  It means that we recognize the signs and symptoms of episodes or relapses, or the risk of those states of mind, and we put into practice the tools we’ve learned to overcome them.

It means that we understand and practice the steps we need to take to rise above our conditions and live a life that not only benefits us, but those around us who depend upon us.  Finally, recovery also means we accept that it doesn’t equate perfection – that there will still be struggles, but with the tools we have learned to utilize we can and will live a better life experience than the one we’ve known for far too long.

Focusing more on the things we can control and focusing less on the things that we cannot control can really save us a lot of unnecessary suffering.  Knowing ourselves, our abilities or talents, strengths, accomplishments, builds us up when we’re facing adversity because it tells us that we’ve been through hard times and difficult experiences before and still came out on top.

Another key factor in recovering from mental turmoil is patience.  Patience can mean the difference between success and failure.  Finding solace, establishing a network of support, getting to a point of stability through medications or therapy, all of these things take time.  We all wish that we could wake up tomorrow and everything would be good or at least fine, but neither life nor mental health unfold like that.  It’s a process and that process takes time, energy, and commitment.

Mental health and physical health are inseparable parts of living well in recovery, as maintaining physical wellness helps to carry us through our struggle with a mental health condition.  When we become sick or experience a physical injury, we don’t think twice about going to a doctor to seek help, but when facing mental health issues we seem to hesitate or even outright avoid seeking help.  It’s stigma that causes this apprehension to seek help, but it doesn’t make any sense to allow ourselves to be controlled by it.

Aside from speaking to our doctor about our mental health, we should also seek support from those we would otherwise consider ourselves to be close to.  This does require a willingness to open up and spend time discussing things that feel immensely personal and this may create a sense of vulnerability, but what many see as an exposure of weakness is really just a statement of strength.  Exposing our pain to others gives them a path to emotional connection and if they too are suffering, then sharing our pain can literally be the threshold for initiating someone else’s healing process.

When 19-year-old me found out that other people were hurting too and that I wasn’t alone in how I felt, it changed everything for me.  Every person that I’ve ever met and communicated with, due to this process of sharing, provided opportunities for understanding and compassion.  These things make a world of difference.

Every small gesture and every endearing question can open that door of understanding and compassion.  These things make life after a mental health crisis or prolonged emotional suffering, a surmountable possibility.  Hope is born from acts of kindness and concern, and through hope we bear witness to a better life.

Ode to John Muir


The Scottish-born, American-raised, legendary John Muir. I’ve been reading some of his books since last summer and I feel a connection to this man’s perception of nature. If reading is not really your thing, watch the first two episodes of Ken Burns’s 2009 documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea to get an understanding of John’s thoughts.

You can also check out a short 5-min tribute video below from Michael Coleman.

Additionally, Lee Stetson may also interest you.  Born in 1940, he has spent the last few decades studying and portraying John Muir in pursuit of protecting that which John cared for.

To Mask or Not to Mask

I see/hear a lot of debate about wearing masks and whether or not they are worth wearing.

I see people sharing posts on social media from randomly named quacks they don’t know, or worse the poster is clearly a fake account but the sharer’s uncle Larry posted it so it must be real.  People are honestly sharing these types of posts because it mirrors their own opinions.

Sharing one’s own opinions through the words of others is still not intelligent conversation, it’s just creating a silo.

Some people are sharing links to websites that have no reputation.  Websites that were clearly found by Googling for information to support the beliefs he/she already convinced themselves were true.  I see/hear people making statements starting with “they say,” without explaining who these “they” people are that are being cited.

Politics has infected any attempt at intelligent discussion on this topic, or really any topic important enough to be discussed in our lives today.  People are being lied to and misled, and are lying and misleading others, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.

Liberals are yelling at us to wear masks, conservatives are yelling at us about violations of freedom, and somehow a conversation about wearing a mask has become a conversation about politics?

The problem with liberals and conservatives is that they are behaving in the same way, very different beliefs and opinions, but very much cut from the same cloth.  They are two sides of the same coin, each has an agenda and they seek out information that confirms the beliefs they already have.  This need for “confirmation bias” clouds their judgement.

Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes no matter how much you think you’re right, you might actually be wrong.  No matter how much your ego wants you to win this argument, the reality is that your ego is your biggest enemy.

I always look to science for answers to the things I don’t understand, but unfortunately scientists are people, and people are bias, egotistical, and sometimes have agendas and lie.  Which is why science must be scrutinized, studies must be repeated, findings questioned, to remove as much human error as possible.

Evidence doesn’t lie, people do.  Let go of your opinions, let go of your beliefs, let go of your assumptions, they cloud your judgment.

Below is a podcast I found about a year ago, I like their work and have developed respect for them because they actually provide references and cite their information via studies, they follow the evidence, even if the truth formed by the evidence isn’t what we’d like to hear.

The below episode is about whether or not wearing a mask makes any difference.


I found a video on the same topic, this time by the team at ASAP Science, another source I have learned to trust.  Hard to believe the results shown in this video after reading published studies that blatantly state wearing layered cloth masks are not useful in preventing viral transference compared to N95 respirators.  But it’s important to note however that the two experiments in the below video were to test for bacterial transference and not for viral, obviously a virus doesn’t consume organic matter and grow in a petri dish.

The point of these two experiments, one in the home and the other in a controlled lab environment, was to see how much of their spit got into the petri dish with and without a mask on, thus telling them the effectiveness of wearing one in public to reduce oral bodily fluid transference between them and something directly in front of them.

I’ve been on the fence about this whole mask debate, and while I agree they can be shown to reduce the risk of your oral bodily fluids spraying everyone in front of you, we all need to realize they are not 100% effective and do not guarantee safety and shouldn’t instill a false sense of protection.  When you sneeze, cough, or even breathe with a mask on, those fluid particles and the fungus, bacteria, and virus they contain still comes out around your mask because they are not air tight.  Those particles land on surfaces where the virus has been shown to survive for some 30 hours, or even a couple days based on some lab studies.  Those surfaces are touched by hands that are impossible to keep sterile.

I’ve not yet heard anyone mention this and I haven’t seen any studies about it, but I’d like to know about air particulate to eye transference.  Our eyes have tear ducts, how likely is it that the virus can infect you through your tear ducts?  These organisms have evolved to enter a host any way they can, it would seem any opening would be suffice.

Mask vs No Mask Lab Results – Do They Work?

Here are some additional links you may find helpful if this topic interests you…

A rapid systematic review of the efficacy of face masks and respirators:

5 Questions: Stanford scientists on COVID-19 mask guidelines:

A User’s Guide To Masks: What’s Best At Protecting Others (And Yourself):

Freckles: Chapter Nineteen

[PG-13:  Please be advised that this chapter contains an explicit description of a sexual encounter and is not suitable for readers under the age of thirteen]

I awoke later in the night, still laying up against Evan.  I could feel the dampness of sweat forming as I pulled away from him.  I didn’t want to lay outside the blanket, but at the same time it was too hot to stay under it and fully clothed at the same time.  In this midst of being half-asleep I caved to Evan’s dress-code and tossed the shirt and shorts he had given me, to the foot of the bed, further awkwardness be damned at this point.  He was in his underwear already anyway, it was too late to feel prudent.

I drifted in and out of sleep for what felt like hours until I awoke once more, but this time to the dawn light glaring through the bedroom window at the foot of the bed.  Its warmth flickering on my face and in my eyes as I tried to open them.  I felt engulfed in heat all around and it registered that not only was I under the warmth of a blanket, but also the warmth of Evan.

He had once again encapsulated me with his lanky body, throwing himself over me at some point during the night while I laid on my back.  From my chest to my ankles I could feel the heat of the body contact between us.  His forehead was pressed up against my jaw and his right arm reached over me to the other side of the bed.  I remembered the events of the night before and began looking for his left arm to see if the bandages had stayed in place.

As I tried to move my arms I realized that my right arm was pinned under his left side and that I wasn’t gonna be able to move it without waking him up.  Lifting the blanket with my left hand I looked for his left arm, it was laying behind him along the edge of the mattress, the bandage still secured and in place.  With his hand facing palm-up, I could see the stains of the blood that leached through during the night.

I let the blanket fall back down and the gust of air moved Evan’s hair.  I reached for my phone to see what time it was, it read Saturday 9:12 AM.  I still felt so exhausted, but not just from physical tiredness, but emotional and mental exhaustion too.  I felt like my whole life was flipped upside down, some things were happening at a viscous pace while other things were evolving at break-neck speeds.

Freckles was laying in a hospital bed where he’s been in a coma for the past month and here I lay in bed with his little brother who had revealed to me an immense amount of personal pain, anguish, and vulnerability, what a bizarre twist of fate this was.

Was it wrong?  Was this situation wrong?  Was I wrong for allowing myself into this situation?  As I contemplated this paradox, I became more self-aware of myself and this very physical situation I was in.  I found myself contemplating Evan and how in 12 hours or so we became incredibly close, connecting in a way few other human beings ever get the chance to.  And possibly in ways they’d rather not.

As my awareness shifted from my connection to Evan, I became fully aware that the emotional roller-coaster of night that I experienced, hadn’t kept me from waking up at full mast, or in other words from having morning wood.  In a slight panic I lifted the blanket again, but this time much higher to see where my body was in proportion to Evan’s and was horrified to see that my waistline disappeared beneath his own.  Essentially my morning wood was smashed up against him by his own body weight.

“This is not okay, this is not okay,” I faintly whispered to myself, equal parts mortified and oddly turned on by the predicament.  Do I move?  Do I push him off me?  Do I wake him up?  I decided to think about something that was gross, something that disgusted me, in the hopes it would eliminate my state of arousal.  So I thought about Damien’s ex-girlfriend, that bitch Megan.  “Ugh, I hate her so much, that cunt, I never met her but she hurt Damien, so by extension she also hurt me.”  I grumbled to myself softly.

My angry curses at her didn’t seem to be helping and I also must have been louder than I thought because Evan began to stir and move, and slowly he slid himself further on to me.  I froze in a panic as I felt something brush up against my body and I fell into further erotic peril with the knowledge that he also was greeting the morning at full mast.

I must have had a thousand voices in my head screaming at me, one bunch yelling at me to just push him off and get out of the bed, while the other half insisted that it was fine, I was fine, the whole situation was fine, completely innocent situation that would only be inappropriate if I woke him up and tried to seduce him while he was sad, lonely, and aroused.

As I lay there staring up at the ceiling contemplating the morality of my potential choices, Evan continued to stir from time to time, pressing and rubbing himself against me ever-so-lightly until I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Dude, you gotta wake up!”  I shouted, as though the house were on fire, half-startling myself.

“Hhhuuuuhhh?”  Evan answered in a slow groggy tone, refusing to open his eyes and barely awake enough to put together a word, let alone a sentence.

“I know it’s early, but for the sake of us both and for the love of all things sacred, you have got to wake up.”  I clarified.

“Why, what’s going on?”  He asked innocently, wiping his eyes and then looking up at me.

“Body-awareness, bro.”  I said in response.

He stared at me for a few moments as though I had just spoken another language.  So I shifted slightly underneath him, in the hopes he would feel it and get what I was too ashamed to say out-loud.

Evan’s eyes grew huge as he apparently realized what I was trying to tell him.  Using his arms he quickly raised up his upper body and looked down at our waists and then looked up at me.

“Bro, your clothes!  Our boners are touching!!”  He shouted in a mix of hysteria and laughter.

In confusion and shock, I had no response, completely unsure of what to say as he so blatantly pointed out the source of my embarrassment, as he still laid there on top of me in his pot leaf underwear, glaring in my eyes and giggling about our near nudity and clashed swords.

“Oh fuck this is so gay bro!”  He shouted with the same hysterical laughter as before.

“Yeah so maybe you should get off me now, cause it’s super awkward.”  I confessed.

“Is it?”  He questioned.

I looked up at his face trying to determine if he was being serious or if he was screwing around with me.  Was he testing me, was this some sort of trick?  He cannot be serious right now, how could this situation not be inappropriate to him, to anyone?

“Do you really want me to get off you?”  He posed with a devilish mischievousness.

Stunned at the proposition of that question my heart began to race.  I’m a man, I have needs, I can be seduced the same as any other, but this can’t be okay this can’t be reasonable to accept and allow.  I mean, sure, people who are emotional and mentally struggling can sometimes act in ways that are not typical for them, stress and anxiety can make a person do irrational things sometimes.  And perhaps the biggest questions of all, does he like this?  Does he actually want this, is he into this sort of thing?

“I don’t know what’s happening right now and I don’t know what to think or feel.”  I responded honestly.

“Maybe you shouldn’t try to think or feel anything and just let it happen.”  He said while laying back down on top of me and pressing himself against me harder.

“But wait I thought you were into girls?”  I frantically asked.

“I am.”  He quickly replied.

“But yet you want to mess around with another guy?”  I asked, feeling as though I was interrogating him.

Evan took a long deep breath and exhaled on the side of my neck.  He stopped moving and laid there on top of me for what felt like several minutes, just breathing slowly.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I can’t tell if you’ve been flirting with me or teasing me ever since last night, but it kind of feels that way and I’m just really confused and I don’t know what’s happening.”  I confessed.

Evan rolled off of me and sat up on the side of the bed.  “Wow, just kill the moment why don’t ya.”  He mumbled while putting his head in his hands.

“Truly I’m sorry, but I confessed my love to your brother right before he went into a coma, can you imagine his reaction if he knew about this unfolding situation, I mean I think he’d punch us both in the face.”  I said.

Evan didn’t respond and so I sat up in the bed and slid over to the side and sat next to him, hoping that he would say something in response.  He looked up over at me and looked into my eyes for a few seconds as if to judge the sincerity or honesty in my words.

“I’m not trying to date you bro.”  He said, turning his line of sight back to the floor.

“Then what are you doing?”  I asked, pressing him for more details.

“I don’t know, I’m just lonely I think, and when I feel lonely I get horny, hahaha!”  He answered with a laugh.

“But that doesn’t explain the gender situation, I’m a guy, not a girl.”  I stated as though it wasn’t obvious.

“Yeah man, I know, but sometimes desire or having wants and needs has nothing to do with gender.  Sometimes it’s just about human connection and you seemed like a really cool person and I saw how much love you had for Damien and how deep you are and kind, I just felt drawn to that.”  He confessed.

Evan continued, “I have absolutely no interest in dating another guy, I don’t want to kiss another dude, be romantic with one, I just don’t have those feelings for you or any other guy.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m somehow insecure or delusional about human contact.”

“Can you explain what you mean by human contact?”  I asked.

“Have you ever had dogs?  Like adopt two?  Even if they don’t come from the same litter, they will cuddle up and lay together, even if they’re the same gender.  You don’t see dogs call each other gay or people going around accusing two male dogs of being gay just cause they’re napping together.  That’s what I mean.”  Evan tried to explain.

“What if those two male dogs do the dirty?”  I asked half-jokingly.

Evan burst out laughing, “Damn dude, I don’t know maybe depends on what you mean by the dirty, if we’re talking full-on gay sex then maybe that makes them gay, or if we’re talking about licking each other here or there then maybe it just means they’re horny and can’t find no bitches!  Get it, bitches?”

“Yeah, you’re a real comedian.”  I playfully admitted.

“So, no I’m not gay and I’m not bisexual either, I’m just lonely.”  Evan declared, paraphrasing himself.

I sat there for a bit, absorbing what he had just told me, unsure if I should continue to ask questions or just let the subject be dropped.  I could fully understand his difficulty in explaining why he felt the way he did and why he probably felt like he shouldn’t have to explain himself or his feelings.

There were plenty of times in my own life when straight people just didn’t understand me, people who wanted me to fit perfectly in the box labeled “gay” that they had created in order to understand others like me, and then became upset when I didn’t fit neatly in their box or under the label they had created.  Not everyone can be pigeonholed and maybe Evan was one of those people, he just happened to have been coming at it from a very different direction than me.

If there can be a great variance in gay or bisexual people, it would only stand to reason that there would also be a great variance in straight people, and the lines that separate us all are probably quite blurry.  Less about black and white distinction and more about a long scale of many shades of grey.

“Where do we go from here?”  I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know about you but I’m gonna need a little more sleep so I’m gonna lay down for like another hour.”  Evan answered.

He proceeded to crawl back to the middle of the bed and under the covers.  He laid there for a bit, facing the wall on the other side of the room and quietly asked, “Will you cuddle with me?”

I didn’t answer him right away, instead I sat there thinking about Freckles and I asked myself what he would do if he was in this situation.  What if I had been in a coma and one of my siblings invited him over to their house?  How would I feel if I could somehow find out that one of my siblings asked him to cuddle with them, knowing that the situation could turn sexual in some way or another?  Would I be angry, would I feel betrayed, would I be understanding as I lay there dead to the outside world?

I think my response might be dependent upon the possibility of my return to the world of the living or if I would forever stay in a comatose state.  If I had the chance of waking up and returning to the life I left behind, then I would be upset and feel betrayed, but if I never awoke I would want Damien to be with someone who saw him in the same wonderful light that I did, who perceived his value, I would want him to be with someone I knew and trusted and loved.  Is this how Damien would feel about Evan and I?

Is it possible to love someone deeply and yet also be willing or able to give some degree of love to another person, even if that love was more about compassion and less about passion?  Can you love someone passionately, while also loving someone else compassionately?  Is there a difference?  Is love even the right word here?  If Evan is to be believed, then this has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of love, but about solace, comfort, healing, support, and presence.

Is this what people who engage in polygamy experience or is that completely different than this?  Is this what it’s like to be in an open relationship?  I guess not, since Damien has no idea this is happening.  Should I tell him?  They say that people in a coma can sometimes hear what’s happening around them, would it break his heart?  Would he give up fighting and let go of life if he knew I had some weird platonic thing with his brother?

“Evan, are you home?!?!”  A woman’s voice shouted, breaking the silence.

“Whoa, is that your mom?”  I asked feeling startled.

“No, that’s my sister.”  Evan said, slowly sitting up in bed.

“We’re in here!”  He yelled back to her, sliding his bandaged arm under the covers.

I could hear her footsteps coming up the stairs as I quickly grabbed my shirt and shorts and slipped them on before kicking the gauze from last night’s medical situation under the bed.  I had never been around their sister outside of the hospital, she always seemed so controlled and disciplined, collected and confident.  She reached the door and my heartbeat hastened as the door knob turned and the door began to open.

“Who’s the ‘we’ you’re talking about?”  Claire asked as she opened up the door.

“Oh, Dominic, I didn’t know you were here.”  She said acting surprised.

Even though nothing had happened, I felt awkwardly guilty, as though me just being in Evan’s bedroom was somehow inappropriate and that I needed to apologize for it.  I hadn’t brushed my hair so I was certain that it was wild and messy, like after-sex kind of messy.

“When did you get here?”  She asked nonchalantly.

“Um…”  I began to mutter.

“He’s been here since last night.”  Evan quickly answered, making me blush for no legitimate reason.

“Oh, well okay.  You boys hungry?”  She asked with the concern of a true mother.

I smiled and nodded my head while Evan exclaimed that he was always hungry.

“I’ll head downstairs and see what mom has on hand, take your time getting up, I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”  Claire said as she gently closed the door behind her.

“Your sister seems nicer than your brother led me to believe.”  I advised Evan.

He laid back down in bed, “Don’t let her fool you, she can be a real hard-ass sometimes.”

I turned back and looked at him laying there facing the wall, still unsure with what to do.  He turned back around and looked up at me, as though he was awaiting my answer to his earlier question.  His dark brown eyes once again absorbing the sunlight as it was coming into his bedroom, flickering across his face.  Like two black-holes the light fell into them without escape.  Their depth and power so incredibly seductive and commanding, nothing that approached them closely enough could possibly resist.

I felt drawn in as well, trapped somewhere between my empathy for his loneliness and my own desire for physical human contact.  Sure I could visit Freckles and talk to him, but he never responded, never moved at all.  He was alive, but lifeless and as awful as it sounds, visiting Damien at the hospital was like visiting his corpse at the cemetery.  Evan on the other hand was everything that Damien couldn’t be right now.

Evan reached out and pulled me towards him and flipped me over to the other side of the bed.  He pulled the covers out from underneath me and flung them up over top of us both.  He pulled me in close to him until there was no open space between us, he threw his right arm around me and pressed himself against me from behind.

It didn’t take long for the heat in the bed to become near unbearable and I began to accumulate sweat.  He slid his hand up my arm and turned me over until I was laying on my back and then slid himself up on top of me, making sure to go slow so that I felt every bit of it.  He laid his head down next to mine, his chin resting on my right shoulder.  He brought his hands up next to my rib-cage on either side and slid them down to my waistline, my body trembling in response.

He held them there for a while and I could feel his finger tips toying with my waistbands, suddenly he grabbed at my shorts from both sides and began pulling them down.  I reached down and grabbed at his hands as if to stop him, but I put up no real resistance and he overpowered me, sliding them all the way down and off.  Coming back up he pulled at the bottom hem of my shirt, motioning to pull it up and off of me, which I allowed him to do.  He then laid back down completely on top of me, now only in our underwear our bodies were fully aligned.  Slowly he slid his whole body back and forth and up and down, rubbing and pressing himself up against me.  There was no hiding his arousal, nor mine.

Once more while laying on top of me he slid his hands down the sides of the bare skin of my rib-cage, our skin-to-skin touch feeling borderline electric.  This time he stopped at the waistband of the underwear he had borrowed me, pausing their momentarily to toy around with the fabric.  We did not make eye contact this entire time, as if to do so would somehow admonish us of the lack in morality of the behavior unfolding.  With his head still next to mine and his chin on my shoulder he lifted himself off me just slightly and began to slowly move his hands to the inside of my thighs.  My body trembled again and as he approached my cock, my body twitched as if in defiance of the presence of his hands.

Before I could do or say anything, his hands were there, on me, holding me, touching me, embracing me in an electrifying force exploding in my brain and what little resistance I had to his seduction was obliterated.  That primal part of my brain lit up like the Griswold house at Christmas.  I flipped him up and over in the bed and pounced on top of him like a jaguar, I pressed my head against his, forcing him to face the wall and I bit his ear, sliding my hand from his chest down to his waistline, he too began to tremble.  I slipped my fingers beneath the waistband of his pot leaf underwear and felt their dampness.  He released an audible exhale in anticipation and voiced a soft moan as my finger tips reached his wet cock.

“Boys!  Breakfast is ready!”  Claire yelled from the hallway.

Evan and I launched ourselves out of bed like two spooked cats.  I hurriedly pulled on my clothes and tucked myself up under my waistband as Evan scurried about his room looking for clothes to put on.

Claire knocked at the door, “Boys, you can eat now!”

“Thanks! We’ll be right down!”  Evan said, his voice cracking halfway through his response, in terror that his sister would just come walking in.

I could hear her step away from the door and return to the stairs that led down to the kitchen.  I looked over at Evan as he flailed about trying to get his clothes on that he had collected from somewhere in his room.  I didn’t know whether to laugh at us or feel guilty and ashamed, or perhaps both.  What had unfolded was clearly not okay and should not have happened, our fear of getting caught by his sister was proof enough of that.  Regardless, it had happened and there was no undoing it.  Our deep emotional connection created last night, culminated in this brief sexual encounter, but it cannot go any further.

“Dude,” Evan said looking up at me, “We can’t tell anyone about this.”

“Not even Damien?”  I asked sincerely.

“What?!?!  Fuck no, especially not Damien!”  Evan proclaimed.

“A long time ago I swore to myself that I would never take Damien for granted, that no matter what I would be honest with him, even when the truth hurt.  We made a mistake here and he deserves to know.”  I said with conviction.

“Tell him when he’s awake, but don’t you dare utter a word to him while he’s still in a coma.  I don’t know if he can hear us or not, but it would break his heart to hear that you fucked around with me.”  Evan made clear to me.

“Why’d you say it like that?  WE fucked around together, even though you started it.”  I assured him.

“You’re the gay one, you’re the reason this happened, if you’d been straight nothing would’ve happened.”  Evan said with a degree of frustration.

“Whoa, what the hell is that supposed to mean?  You seduced me, remember?”  I said with my voice raised.

With those words Evan swung at me and barely missed, he came at me again and I pushed him back, reminding him that his sister was downstairs waiting for us and that neither of us could walk down their with a bloody lip or black eye.  Shit was already weird enough.

“Please stop it bro, this is getting out of hand.”  I advised him, practically begging him to listen.

“Me?  You’re the one threatening to tell my family about my secrets!”  He shouted, nearly loud enough for his sister to hear.

“Your secrets?  I’m not trying to out you!”  I shouted back, nearly as loud.

“I’m not gay!”  Evan snapped at me, becoming red in the face.

“I didn’t say you were!”  I responded.

We both stepped back away from each other, things were getting way too heated.  I tried to choose my next words carefully.  Clearly, he felt threatened by me mentioning anything to Damien about our sexual encounter, it seems he was not ready for anyone to know that he wasn’t afraid to explore and experiment.  Even if it was just out of loneliness, as he stated.

“I won’t say anything to Damien or anyone else about what happened in here, is that what you want?”  I asked hesitantly.

“I don’t want anyone saying shit to my family about me without me being there.”  He answered.

“It’s not like I’m going to lie about anything, I was going to tell him exactly what happened.”  I tried to reassure him.

“No, that’s exactly the problem, you’re going to make me out to be some kind of fag.”  Evan said half-crying.

“Using that word was not cool bro.  For a guy who claims to be open-minded and believes in the hippie lifestyle, you’re really turning into a jackass right now.”  I pointed out.

Evan walked past me and into his bathroom, closing the door behind himself.  I wanted to scream, cry, and yell all at the same time, and honestly punch him in the face.  What a torrent of emotional hell this has been, what more could possibly go wrong?  I could hear Evan inside the bathroom sobbing uncontrollably.  I reached for the knob, but it wouldn’t budge, he had locked the door from the inside.  I returned to his bedside, sat down and waited for him to come back out.

Once again I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs, Claire was coming to see what was going on and why we still had not come down to eat.  I felt as though the situation was about to rise to another level of awkward as Evan was still audibly crying in the bathroom.

“Hey, what’s going on why are you guys still up here?”  Claire asked inquisitively.

“Um…”  I started out saying.

“Is that Evan in there, why is he crying?”  Claire asked with heightened concern.

She approached the door and knocked, “Evan, what’s going on, why are you crying?”

Evan didn’t answered, but could still be heard sobbing.  Claire looked back at me for answers.

“I don’t think it’s my place to tell you what exactly is going on here, Evan wouldn’t want me to say anything.”  I conceded.

“I don’t care what he would want, I don’t need to complete my PhD in psychology to know something is going on here.  I want answers.”  She demanded.

She continued knocking on the door, this time louder and more aggressively, yelling at Evan to open up.  My anxiety was so high at this point, I felt like just collapsing to the floor, utterly paralyzed by everything happening around me.  This was truly all my fault, Evan was right about it, if I had been straight, none of this would have ever happened.  A lot of things wouldn’t have happened if I had never got involved with anyone in this family.  It was my fault Freckles crashed, I distracted him, he was in that coma because of me, and now I’ve betrayed him and I’ve caused his brother to fall into a psychological breakdown.  I was a terrible human being.

The tears began welling in my own eyes and my knees gave way, I collapsed to the floor, crumbling from the guilt and shame that consumed me.  Claire stood there looking at me and listening to Evan sob in the bathroom, probably so perplexed by the unfolding scene before her that if she hadn’t been studying to be a mental health professional she might have thought us both possessed by demons.

“Whatever is happening here is not going to be resolved until we talk through it.  Evan, so help me god you better open this door or I’m gonna kick it in!”  She shouted, banging heavily on the bathroom door.

With a click from the release of the door’s locking mechanism, Evan emerged from the bathroom.  I got up from the bedroom floor and sat down on the bed, per the instructions of his sister.  She plopped Evan down next to me on the bed, and then she knelt down in front of us.

“Please, explain to me what is going on here.”  She demanded.

Evan spoke first through most of his sister’s inquiry, leaving out the erotic details of our encounter that would have done little but distract from the serious nature of his mental health status.  He explained to her why I was there, some of the events of the night before, he showed her his cuts and scars, expressed his feelings of abandonment, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness about Damien’s condition.  I did little more than validate his statements when she asked, but decided it best that I not speak more than necessary.

By the end of Claire’s intervention, the whole situation felt deflated, all the pressure had been released and we resigned ourselves to not dwelling on everything that had taken place.  Evan and I’s encounter and our short-lived skirmish were brushed aside as we made our way down to the kitchen.

Though we didn’t sit side-by-side like the night before, we did sit across from one another at the kitchen’s island as we ate breakfast.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t awkward, but I had hope that this awkwardness would fade in time and that Evan and I could get back on track to becoming close friends.  I really did appreciate and respect him as a person, he was different, but I firmly believed that being different is what makes a person interesting.  I had no idea how Damien would respond to what unfolded, but I never doubted for a second that he would want Evan and I to continue to be friends.

Click here to read more chapters from this novel.

When Life Hurts the Most

When Life Hurts the Most

We are all broken, none of us are lucky enough to get through life unscathed. What sets some apart from the rest is that they learn and grow and become stronger in the broken places.

Who are you? Who do you want to be? Are you willing to face yourself in order to be free?

The only way to win in life is to do better, become better than the person you were yesterday. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, everyone would be successful.

Finding yourself is hard, but healing and building yourself up from the brokenness that you find within yourself is harder. It takes a lot, we must step outside our comfort zones, be willing to see other perspectives, be willing to question what we believe to be true about us and about the way things are.

The emptiness we feel can only ever be filled by finding, keeping and nurturing three things in life: (1) physical and mental health, (2) emotional connections to others, and (3) what we believe in.

Kyle Eschenroeder once wrote that there are 7 things that can destroy us: (1) ingratitude, (2) envy, (3) impatience, (4) feeling overwhelmed, (5) inaction, (6) loss of meaning in life, (7) an unwillingness to take risks.

Psychologist Martin Seligman established the belief that we can only flourish and live well if we can meet all of the criteria laid out in what Martin called the PERMA model:

P) Positivity: practice positive emotions, forgive your own past, be grateful for what you have, and choose to be hopeful for the future.

E) Engagement: find something to do either as a hobby or as a career that you find so enjoyable that it makes you become so captured and satisfied that you lose track of time when you’re doing it.

R) Relationships: establish strong bonds with other people, know and understand who is there to support you when facing life’s challenges.

M) Meaning: determine what gives you a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life and pursue it, it will provide you with the most rewarding experiences in life.

A) Accomplishment: when you achieve victory or success, celebrate those wins and invite those you have a close friendship or relationship with to join you in the celebration.

One of the greatest American presidents we’ve ever had was Abraham Lincoln. He faced many obstacles, setbacks, failures, and even tragedies throughout his whole life. Before he ever became the 16th president, he told a close friend that he was considering taking his own life, but the only reason he didn’t was because he felt as though he had not yet done something with his life that made his existence matter.

He wanted to do something with his life that made a difference, that meant something, that was worth being remembered for. He didn’t want this for himself or even his family, he wanted it for the nation, for the people, to make the lives of those who also felt his struggle and his suffering to be changed into something better, something hopeful, something beautiful.

Start a Conversation that Matters

Start a Conversation that Matters

I can’t begin to tell you how much it astounds me when I ask someone to talk to me about how they feel, to share with me the pain they are afraid of that they harbor within, and their response to me is that no one has ever noticed or given them that chance before.

They tell me that no one ever seemed to care, people who have known them all their lives, people they call family and friends. Time and time again, I hear them say that they don’t matter, that how they feel doesn’t matter. They convince themselves that this is true.

Each of them has found a way to cover up those feelings, whether we’re talking about compartmentalizing and separating themselves from that pain, or taking things into themselves that bury, drown, or “sound” out the pain. Most of the time these methods are self-destructive and only temporary.

Why do the people closest to those who suffer, seem to be the ones most unaware, or unconcerned, or unwilling to reach out to help?

Perhaps it’s the same reason that some are unwilling to tell those they are closest to, just how much they hurt.

To ask is to know and share in the pain, to tell is to inform and share the pain. These are two sides of the same coin.

The Tragedy of Travis Maldonado

I have a few things I want to say about the Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, so if you haven’t watched it you should stop reading beyond this paragraph if you want to experience it firsthand, but a word of caution, if you are emotionally or mentally triggered by someone dying (out of view of the camera), you need to reconsider watching it or at least perhaps tread lightly with someone there to support you.

***Spoiler Alert***

I do hate to use the word “spoiler” in this situation because it feels disgusting, disingenuous, disconnected from what I’m actually going to talk about. It feeds the media spectacle and further removes us from the dark reality that unfolded, ultimately blurring our ability to discern the tragedy and trauma.  I’m not so much interested in the show itself, more so a victim of circumstance in it.

This post is going to be about Travis Maldonado.  A disclaimer first and foremost, I did not know him, I have no information to present other than what has been publicly put forth by his mom Cheryl, his sisters Ashley and Danielle, and the documentary itself.  There is a lot of wild shit to talk about regarding the show, but when Travis died, that became the most impactful event and tragedy this documentary could possibly put forth outside of the animal abuse.  In fact, the documentary should have been about Travis, not Joe.

Travis is most certainly important to his family and friends who grieved his loss in 2017, but Travis is also important because he represents a group of young men that are rarely ever discussed or depicted through a widespread televised medium.  Caleb Diehl is another good example of what I’m about to discuss, so afterwards go Google Caleb’s story and mysterious disappearance if you are not familiar with it.

Over the last decade of being involved in behavioral health, and of course from my own personal experiences with a mental health condition, I can attest to the fact that sometimes people suffering from or struggling with behavioral health issues, whether we are talking about a mental health condition or a substance use disorder, become victims not just of the things they are struggling with, but also of other people who take advantage of them in their vulnerable state.

From the documentary and from the things I’ve seen publicly stated by Travis’s family, I believe this to be the other tragedy of his story, second to the fact that he died in a terrible accident, viewable on the documentary itself –  making it all the more traumatic for everyone who witnesses it.  Remember his family watched the show, relived his death, and some of Travis’s family had never before seen the security camera footage of his death.

Sometimes individuals with a mental health condition or a substance use disorder (formerly known as addiction), find themselves in very difficult situations where they become extremely vulnerable to outside influence, persuasion, manipulation, coercion, psychological or physical abuse, among other things.  This is compounded when they are also desperate for something they want or need, particularly when that thing is an illicit substance that they have become dependent upon.

If you’ve seen the documentary, you know that Travis was identified as having a meth “addiction” and used marijuana heavily.  According to his older sister in a Facebook post, Travis was portrayed fairly accurately in the documentary, so I can only ascertain that he did truly struggle with substance use.

It’s a private matter and I honestly don’t believe it’s really all that important for reasons I’ll state in a bit, but Travis’s sexual orientation remains uncertain and people continue to publicly discuss it.  He proclaimed to be straight and this was supported by coworkers who stated he frequently slept with women who worked at the zoo.  He was, however as we all know, in a relationship and marriage with another man, Joe Exotic.

Again, this detail is not important in my opinion, but due to the fact that people have discussed it a lot and have inquired as to why the term “bisexual” was never brought up in the documentary, I will say it’s certainly possible he was bisexual, the vast majority of people within the LGBTQ, are actually some variant of bisexual.  They make up a significant portion of that population.

In a 2011 American study by Gary Gates and the Williams Institute, some 8-10 million Americans identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. An additional 25 million Americans stated they had engaged in same-sex experiences, 76% of those people identified themselves as straight.  While the majority of lesbian women and gay men eventually come out publicly or to their friends and family, when it comes to self-identified bisexual Americans, the study showed that only 28% of them ever “come out” publicly.

Whether or not Travis was “happy” in his relationship with Joe is uncertain, all I have to go on is the documentary footage and his family’s public statements following the airing of the show.  Some people say he was, others say he wasn’t.  It’s this “relationship” that I want to discuss next.

This is merely my opinion, but I believe the free-spirited and sometimes wreckless Travis has become the most prominent example of a victim of a process known as “grooming.”

Grooming is a process by which a person says and does things to attract another person to them, which heavily revolves around building trust, favor, and gratitude, but eventually leads to manipulation, coercion, and even threats and blackmail if the victim attempts to separate themselves from the “groomer.”

Part of this grooming process often includes money, gifts, favors, and other methods of flattery.  Not everyone who finds themselves on the receiving end of this grooming process is oblivious to what is taking place.  Some have even purposefully put themselves into the situation because they like the attention.  Some are even using the groomer and tricking them, enacting a strange game of cat and mouse, where both become victims of each other.

However, the majority of people who find themselves being groomed are often unaware, especially in the beginning.  Typically they are like Travis, looking for belonging, direction, support, attention, connection, a change or a new start.

Victims of grooming are often young males, likely due to the fact they are less guarded, less cautious, and less likely to perceive themselves as potential victims.  They are usually under the age of 21 and unfortunately can even be very young children in cases of pedophilia.

Those who are groomers are almost always older than the victim, most of the time drastically older, which they use to their advantage.  They are typically financially better off than the victim, can provide a financially stable support system, give them shelter, guidance, employment, food, expensive gifts, the list goes on and on.

Due to the fact that grooming victims are young and often troubled or struggling with their mental and emotional states, they can be easily manipulated, especially if the manipulative behavior includes money, objects, or substances the victim wants or believes he needs.  The more the victim wants or believes he needs what the groomer is offering him, the more easily and deeply manipulated he will become.

Groomers almost always target individuals they are sexually attracted to, but the victims sexuality is less important as the groomer gets what they want through the control of manipulation, coercion, and above all else making the victim feel as though they are indebted to the groomer.

Aside from physical attraction or substance use, they may also look for young men who appear to be poor, less educated, rebellious, wreckless, socially rejected, troubled and struggling, abandoned, lonely, without purpose or direction in life, or homeless.

This grooming process almost always culminates in requests for sexual favors.  If this is the fate that befell Travis, I must say it is the first time I have ever seen the grooming process culminate in marriage to the groomer, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

I genuinely hope that I am wrong about the predicament that Travis was in, I sincerely hope that he actually wanted to be in a relationship with Joe and that he was actually happy and content with where he was and what he had.  But honestly, my knowledge of this type of behavior and my experiences in dealing with manipulative groomers, my observations of Travis’s behavior in the documentary and the public statements from his family, make me believe otherwise.

The premature ending of Travis’s life is the real tragedy of The Tiger King, the real injustice in all the chaos that unfolded.  I’m not intending to lay blame on anyone involved with the zoo, but his death never should have happened.

Additonal Links of Interest

Travis’s Wedding

Travis Talking About His Favorite Animal at the Zoo (skip ahead to the 3:12 mark)

Travis Maldonado Footage from JoeExoticTV Part One

Travis Maldonado Footage from JoeExoticTV Part Two

Ashley’s Memorial Video for Her Brother Travis

JoeExoticTV’s Memorial Services for Travis Maldonado

40-Second Travis YouTube Memorial Video

4:30 Travis YouTube Memorial Video

JoeExoticTv Memorial Video to Travis

Travis Shooting Stuff

The Power and Truth of Self-Awareness

The Power and Truth of Self-Awareness

The reality is life is hard and sometimes even painful, but so is the truth.  We shouldn’t cover up the truth and we shouldn’t hide from life out of fear of or submission to hardship and pain.

Many of us have things in our lives that we’d like to change, in the hopes that it would make our lives better.  Maybe it’s our past, maybe it’s something we’re struggling with right now, or maybe it’s something we fear happening in the future.

The last great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, wrote in his journal Meditations, that nothing is ever as difficult as what we make it out to be.  We allow our troubles to be troubles.  We allow our thoughts and our worries to trouble us.

Psychologist Julian Rotter pointed out that when we focus our thoughts outward onto external things beyond our control, we cause ourselves to suffer due to that lack of control and the never subsiding worry.

There really is something to an awareness of focus.  Awareness of our attention and energy.  It’s called self-awareness and we need it in order to ever begin the journey of wellbeing.

Understanding that we have the power to control, influence, or not control, makes this hard life a little more manageable.  The rest is all attitude.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the last of human freedoms is the attitude we choose to have in any given situation.  It’s the one thing that cannot be taken from us.

With self-awareness we can begin to observe our own attitudes, behaviors, and choices.  These things we have the power to control or at the very least influence.  Autonomy and self-efficacy lay out the path before us.  A path leading away from the past, a path that guides us through the present, and a path that promises a different future.  All we have to do is choose to walk it.

All of those external things: other people’s attitudes, behaviors, choices, their opinions of us, they are all out of our control, and therefore, we should not waste our time, energy, or focus on them.

When someone says something to us in anger, they offer us that anger.  We can either take them and allow their words to make us angry and spiteful, or we can choose to brush those words off of us. By not allowing the words of others to influence our emotions,  we take away their power over us.  We get to choose how we feel and we get to choose how we act on those feelings.

A Journey Called Hope

Pulled from the archives,
originally written in 2012,
updated and expanded.

Please be advised this entry discusses difficult emotions and suicide, it may not be appropriate for those easily disturbed or triggered by such topics.

A Journey Called Hope

When you’re just a kid and adults, both those that are strangers and those with authority that are trusted like teachers and priests, unknowingly covince you with their misguided words that the thoughts you secretly have are sinful, that it’s against the teachings of your God and your religion, it causes you to become shaken. You are confused and afraid. You feel wrong, you feel sick, you feel guilty as though you’ve done something wrong and yet you’ve done nothing at all, but be yourself.

You try to hide it, that part of you that’s an important piece of who you are. You push it down deep and try to keep it secret so that no one sees it. You learn how to fake things, to do things that prevent others from knowing the truth. You lie and you pretend, just so that no one will hate you, laugh at you or make you feel bad about yourself.

You struggle every day to keep a part of you caged up. Scared to death that someone might figure it out. Scared to death that you won’t be accepted, that no one will ever love you. Trusted adults tell you that religion dictates certain people to be bad, and these unfortunate and damned souls just so happen to remind you of you.

You become convinced they must be right because you don’t know any better. You look in the mirror and you think that you are bad. Even though you never made the choice, you are forced to live with the consequences of other people’s ignorance.

When you go home after school you withdraw inside yourself. You have so many thoughts that you try to fight. You tell your thoughts to go away, you fight against them. You tell yourself that the thoughts are bad and wrong, that you are bad and wrong.

At eleven years old you find a place to hide and cry, you cry out of anger, out of shame, you cry out and ask God why you are cursed, you cry because you don’t want to be afraid anymore, you cry because you don’t want people to hate you for having feelings you can’t stop. You cry because you don’t know what else to do.

You wipe away your tears and you carry on. You smile and you laugh because you don’t want anyone to know something is wrong with you. You try to hide the fact that you are different the best that a kid can.

By the time you are sixteen you have become someone that isn’t you. You don’t even know who you are. You are so messed up from pretending to be someone else. You are emotional, you’re angry, you’re lost, you’re withdrawn and quiet, you’re still afraid and still in hiding.

You don’t even want to talk to people in fear they may discover your truth. You don’t try to make friends because it’s too risky. You still cry when no one is around and you try to be by yourself as often as you can. You learn to write because words set you free, your bleeding heart fills up pages with sadness, self-hatred, loneliness, a blinding and painful misery you never deserved. A choice you never made.

You hear people still saying bad things about other people like you, use it as a slur to make fun of people. Sometimes you even join in just so no one notices you are one of them. In time, you start to blame those undeserving victims for your suffering. You blame them because they are open, you blame them because they are happy, you hate them for it.

Eventually, you fall to pieces and you hate yourself more than anyone else. You hate being alive. You hate that your heart flutters. You hate yourself for wanting to be loved. To just be noticed.

You begin to hate human contact. You don’t want people to touch you, to hug you. You don’t want to talk to anyone. Deep down, you want all of it, but you won’t allow yourself to have any of it. You don’t deserve it. You are filth, you are dirty, sinful, an abomination, you are depraved.

The pain consumes you. The sun stops shining, darkness embraces you. Your heart is dying and human contact evades you. You are falling down into a hole where no one can help you. Not that you expect anyone to want to.

You start physically hurting yourself to see if you can still feel anything other than emotional pain. You cut yourself in the hopes that the pain will bleed out too. You think about dying because you don’t want to hurt anymore. You can’t stand to look at yourself anymore. You keep hiding from everyone, but you don’t think you can hang on anymore.

Eventually you make the choice to kill yourself. You write a letter of apology to your parents and lay it on their bed. You walk outside your home for what you believe to be the last time.

For the first time in what feels like forever, you feel oddly free. Like a burden has been lifted off your shoulders, the choice to die feels like a relief, a refuge from your suffering. That the end of you is the end of it. The colors of the trees and the grass seem more vibrant, the smells more intense than what you’ve experienced for so long. In a strange twist of fate, now that you’re going to die, you feel more alive than you did before.

You walk until you find what you believe to be the place to end your life. You wish it didn’t have to be this way, that death wasn’t your only salvation. You wish that someone could love you for who you are. You wish that you could love.

In the seconds before your plan is completed and you do something that cannot be undone, you stop yourself as the faces of your little nieces and nephews flash into your head, along with the memories you had just made with them in Colorado. You try to convince yourself that they will be better off without you as a burdensome worry. You’re no good to anyone.

You turn and look around you, as if others are there, watching you, waiting to see what you will do. Surrounded by woods on every side except behind you, you know that no one else is really there, no one human anyway, just the trees and the animals, the only things that still understand you.

Like a tiny distant whisper, a voice seperate from the others in your head, reaches out from nowhere and offers you two words, “What if?” Your head races with thoughts of what if life could be different, what if you could feel differently, what if you could be loved, what if you could love, what if there is hope?

Your hand opens and your instrument of death falls away from you in slow motion, you watch it fall to the ground until it makes contact with the yellow grass. Everything else blurs, everything else goes silent, your legs give way and you collapse to the ground on your knees.

You don’t kill yourself. Instead you become angry at yourself because you believe you are still too afraid to die, that a part of you wants a reason to live, so you fight on desperately wishing someone would notice how broken you are, that someone would just reach out and ask you if you are hurting so that you could finally tell someone. But you remain alone and scared. You are only sixteen years old.

A little over two years later you find yourself at the end again. Unwilling to accept yourself because you think no one else will, you realize that death will come easier this time. You have no more hope. No one even seems to notice you, and if they do they have chosen to say nothing. You’re convinced you don’t matter, that no one cares.

You’re tired of everything. Tired of the pain, tired of the lies, tired of pretending, tired of hating yourself. Tired of wanting to drive your truck off the road every morning on your way to work, tired of thinking of other ways to kill yourself. You decide that shooting yourself is the only way this will end.

On the morning of what you think will be the last time you’ll ever see the sunrise again, you’re angry that still no one seems to notice how much you’re hurting, that no one will miss you, that no one cares about you at all, that you don’t matter, your life doesn’t matter.

Strangely enough your anger is your saving grace. Your plans are interrupted when people intervene after an emotional outburst. Your life is about to be forced to change, and though blissfully unaware, they have helped you save yourself from things they do not yet understand. The lock on the door that for so damn long has held you imprisoned within has been broken off the door. You are nineteen years old.

Three more years of emotional ups and downs, of meds and therapy, have come and gone and at the age of 22 you decide that you have nothing more to lose. You decide that you’ve wasted enough of your life and you finally open the door that’s been sealed shut since you were thirteen years old.

You choose to accept yourself. You realize that living as you is worth more than dying as someone you were never supposed to be.

The Scars of Loss

The Scars of Loss

We never forget the people we have lost. Sometimes our losses are so close to our heart that we lose a part of ourselves with the passing of our loved one. The pain from this kind of loss is initially so severe that it feels as though everything meaningful is gone and the value of our own life is lost with the loved one, the vessel of our very soul made empty.

The pain of losing someone that we once let into our heart isn’t about moving on, but about finding ways to hold on.  Loss is a cut, and when it happens it goes deep and feels as if we won’t survive the devastation. Even though time and love will make the pain hurt less, the scar left behind from that loved one’s absence will never fade away and we never fully “heal” or get over it. Like any other scar we always see it, always know it is there. We feel it from time to time because there are moments when it will ache, as if to remind us that we have lost a part of us that we will never get back.

There are moments when we feel as though we lost them yesterday, no matter how many years have passed. We find ourselves thinking of things we wish we would have told them, worry ourselves with the thought that they never knew how much we cared. We wonder if there was something we could have done, some way in which we could have prevented their passing. We have and will continue to ponder a thousand why’s and what if’s.

Sometimes we don’t realize in life how much people mean to us until we lose them. Not because we didn’t love them or appreciate them before, but because we took their presence for granted. The rapid passing of time fooled us into believing they would somehow be here with us forever. I think that’s just part of being human. The only thing we have left to do is to honor the people we have lost by remembering them and by living our lives the way they would have wanted us to.