Boy Rescues Man

I recently confided with a friend about a few things weighing heavily on me about my life, and they shared an idea with me that reminded me of a photograph I had shared on social media a few years earlier. In that picture, I am holding and looking at a 4”x6” print of my kindergarten school picture.

This friend of mine suggested that the younger version of each of us is the person we need to live for. This made sense to me. When we are children, we dare to believe our dreams are verily worth all our attention and energy without fear of rejection from others. As we grow older, many of us, if not most, pivot the expectations we hold of ourselves for the sake of acceptance and approval. For many of us, this fear of not fitting in weighs heavily on the choices we make about our lives. Thinking back on this picture, I was motivated to engage in a brief exercise of looking back at my life at developmentally pivotal moments, and I invite others to give it a go if anyone has ever felt that their life choices, whatever they have been for whatever reason, has somehow disrupted the relationship we once held with our dreams.

I start at the top with my kindergarten picture. On my face, and especially in my eyes, I see a blend of wonder and sadness. I had dreams, but I also felt different based on feedback from the world in response to me simply being me, a behaviorally challenged child who was labeled and medicated. Over time, I would internalize this labeling, allowing it to form the blueprint of my own self-image.

Moving clockwise, I am in my early teens, within a year on either side of being molested by a stranger 100 miles north of home. I was beginning to feel the angst from a burgeoning self-dissatisfaction with how my relationship with the world around me was evolving. I felt like there was nowhere safe from criticism.

One photograph further clockwise is my high school senior year photograph, where angst is supplanted by growing anger. I tried to hide it, if only from myself, but I was beginning to resent how my way of being seemed so damn problematic for many around me, especially those closest to me. Less than three months later and three months before graduation, I was expelled, never to graduate.

Moving to the bottom, I am in my mid to late teens and undoubtedly stoned and speeding my ass off, looking like a skeleton tightly wrapped in a thin veil of skin. My nearsighted eyes are behind eyeglasses, tinted by request to block the deathly view of my eyes. (To my delight so far, I underwent laser corrective surgery fifteen years later.) The look on my face is saying to no one in particular, “Dude, I am so wasted.” I finally believed I was being accepted among my peers – even if only as an addict among addicts. This is what apathy for one’s own life looks like.

Continuing clockwise, and out of nowhere, I am graduating from a high-ranking U.S. university, and my face is saying. “There you go, fuckers; I did it your way.” I chased the popular rabbits of ever greater social significance playing the dream-killing game of Keep up with whoever. I might appear happy and proud, and I was indeed quite proud…of finally finding the keys to approval.

Moving further around, we have me in the present day. I can tell you what I am thinking. I am struggling to find peace in the realization that I have spent my entire adult life – more than thirty years – making nearly every choice with one deeply damned objective in mind, to impress as many people as possible to feel worthy of belonging … to feel worthy of living. My self-directed resentment for my earlier life choices, the shame I felt for the reasons I made them, and my frustration for allowing myself to spend a lifetime chasing success by how others define it, still cut deep to this day.

Unbeknownst to me was that I had overcome one addiction only to pick up another so that I could have a seat at the table of an economic class my family growing up could only dream of. The difference is that my first addiction reaped derision while the second was celebrated.

Long ago, I had so brutally forsaken my own dreams as a means of social survival, and I had almost forgotten what they were. However, there is a boy who clearly remembers what they are, but I rejected him for who he was because I believed the world was rejecting him for who he was. I accepted this rejection as justified and have lived in anguish ever since. I need to welcome this boy back into my life; he is the only one who can rescue me. Both of our lives depend on it.


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