To Peter: Your life was denied you so that I could have mine. It has not been easy, and I have fallen down hard, and by grace, I have risen. For as long as my life goes on, I shall always strive to live a life you would have been proud to live.
I have lived a life in constant pursuit of approval from others. The term often thrown around in clinical circles is an external locus of identity, meaning that I identify myself based on external characteristics such as physical attributes, wealth, material possessions, and fame, to name a few. Nearly all of us either suffer or have suffered from an external locus of identity.
I was born with neurological abnormalities that impacted my ability to regulate emotion and manage behavior, which struck the ire of many well-meaning people in whose care I was placed. The result was a quiet but persistent humming of criticism for which I never fully developed appropriate mechanisms to process in a healthy manner. As a defense mechanism against criticism, I developed habitual self-denigration. ‘Beat them to it!’ became my way of fending off others’ criticism whenever I did anything wrong. While rarely cruel, the message from the world back to me was, “Just keep your head down, stay out of the way, and don’t expect too much of yourself, and you’ll do ok.” I still struggle with a damning self-image today.
When I failed at earning the approval of others, I began making life choices that landed me in situations where I was molested, expelled from high school without ever graduating, developed an addiction to methamphetamine fed intravenously, and spent a few months of homelessness. Through enormous grace, I physically survived it all, only to sit by helplessly and watch the first woman with whom I felt safe being vulnerable, who persistently encouraged me to not give up on myself, die a slow and, at times, painful death.
All of these emotionally traumatic events occurred in the ten years between my 13th and 23rd year. This is when we begin to exert our independence, and our sense of who we are in the world and our relationship with it takes shape. My trust in others, myself, and love itself were all nearly destroyed. Before I had time to even process, much less heal from any of it, I was given opportunity after opportunity to do better than just ‘ok’ – a lot better. But by whose standards?
I grew up in an environment that measured men by money, without which a man struggled to feel proud about himself vis-à-vis his peers. Success was a function of what we got from the world much more than what we gave to the world, and more importantly, showing off what we got earned more admiration than showing off what we gave. Whether it be big and/or shiny things or a big wad of cash in the pocket, a statement had to be made about how well one is making it. If I wanted to belong, I had to do things to belong. Getting (or perhaps more aptly, taking) from the world required drive and a fighting spirit to compete and engage in wars of wit, which sometimes were hostile. For those poorly adapted to criticism, this makes the entire world seem like a hostile place.
Rather than live life towards a desired future, I lived escaping a past that shrouded me in shame. Shame has been what has motivated me to soldier forward every day of my life. I was ashamed of being a social outsider; I was ashamed of being molested; I was ashamed of never graduating from high school; and I was ashamed of being a meth junkie. I was ashamed of giving up on myself, and I was ashamed of being ashamed.
My tribulations pale compared to the misfortunes that have befallen many others. (I am one of the luckiest people I know.) But life is relative, and I have only my orbit from which to compare and draw conclusions. That orbit grew in one direction, a direction which only magnified, rather than contextualized, the heinous choices I made, and I lived my life ashamed of myself, and since I am being honest, feeling sorry for myself.
By sheer luck of a birth and adoption lottery ticket, I was demographically and geographically privileged. Without knowing anything about me, the world at large made assumptions about me that were to my advantage. Indeed, I had to bust my ass and kiss a little ass along the way, but the asses were there for busting and kissing. I had a leg up before taking my first breath.
As I grew older, having given up on trusting my own gut for life choices, I concluded that mimicry, not genuineness, was the only way to survive in the world. I, a square peg, spent 30 years making every sacrifice necessary to fit into any round hole I confronted if, on the other side, I saw a crowd of round pegs. The choices I made in life from adolescence onward through the following three decades were based on the single criteria of fitting in. I eventually found my way to positive appraisal, but it was superficial and, at times, dishonest, but the world is not to blame. The blame falls on me. For the sake of belonging, I became superficial and, at times, dishonest. The reflections were fair and accurate.
I lost faith in my ability to decide what was right for me as a young adult, so I looked to others to advise me on how to live my life. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself on a conveyor belt hustling me through the rigor of higher education, despite never graduating from high school, to prepare me for acquiring all the spoils of a socio-economic class far above any that I grew up believing would ever be available to me. Soon, I was traveling the world for work and pleasure, providing me an abundance of opportunities to meet and work with people from all over the globe.
Once I began receiving the adulation I craved, I was hooked. I was sure I had found the formula for being relevant. I finally mattered. Cheers replaced jeers, and my life became, quite simply, charmed and perhaps even enviable. I faked the hell out of it for the sake of belonging, forfeiting authenticity and losing humility in the process. I traded in what used to fill my heart for what filled my pockets. I learned to covet and chase materiality, and, in the end, it cost me almost everything, including self-respect, peace, and my soul. I earned admiration from many but never from the man I saw in the mirror.
I am human, so feedback from others will always remain essential to my survival. But I can survive no longer with feedback based on a façade for which I tormented myself by propping up for decades. If I want an honest appraisal, I must be honest. If I want raw, I must be raw. If I want truth, I must be true – to others and myself. My emotional development was arrested by adolescent trauma, and One’s Origins is my attempt to get things back on track.
For all who have ever struggled with feeling worthy of love and belonging, One’s Origins is my compassionate embrace of you as much as it is, for the first time in a long time, a compassionate embrace of myself. I wish for us all that we learn to love and embrace ourselves with all the self-compassion we crave. We all deserve that much.
 If I had pleaded for mercy, I have no doubt I would have been welcomed back home if I had met reasonable conditions. But I was too obstinate at the time to do so.