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We Have the Power to Choose

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“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.” ~Wayne Dyer

When I was 12 years old I got back from a weekend at my aunt’s house with my mom. We came home to find my father dead in bed. I remember my mom’s screams causing many of our neighbors to come over to see what had happened.

The experience shut me down. I don’t know how else to put it. My father was young: 53 years old. It was a huge shock to everyone.

Apparently he was too proud to get a pacemaker. He died of a heart attack.

My oldest sister was on her honeymoon. She had just gotten married a week before. My other sister was away at college. When they came home they were hysterical, just like my mom and the rest of the family.

I felt like I had to be the strong one because I was the man of the house now. I was very quiet and reserved about the whole thing. This gave the impression that I was handling it well.

Things were not well, though. I never dealt with it in a proper way. I never received therapy or any other kind of help. I buried the experience deep down—so deep that I can barely remember him.

I rarely even spoke about it with anyone. I may have had only a handful of conversations about it by the age of 30.

I thought I was okay with it, but I was damaged.

I realized somewhere in my late 20s that it affected me. I felt an intense emptiness inside. I’d become sad at times for no reason. I’d feel like crying but couldn’t.

I tended to lean towards the negative. The future always seemed uncertain and scary. I have always thought I would die young. I couldn’t see myself living past the age of 40. It influenced relationships in ways I didn’t realize until recently.

It impacted my ability to express emotions because I’d decided that being strong meant holding them in. I wouldn’t have been able to write this a year ago.

I managed to make it to the age of 29 without having my heart broken; in fact, I was only 5 months away from 30 when it happened. It was a traumatic experience for me, probably because it was the first time.

The abandonment aspect was hardest part. I was depressed. I felt certain that something was wrong with me. I blamed myself. I hated myself. My confidence and trust were shaken. I felt abandoned. I thought I would never recover. I felt damaged yet again.

Some time later I reconnected with someone I dated briefly in college. I’d always considered her “the one that got away.” We began dating and things were great for a while. We were in love and best friends. But even though we were really enjoying each other, I was not okay.

I shared more of myself with her than anyone ever before, but I was never truly comfortable. I had confidence, insecurity, and abandonment issues. I was always worried that she would leave me.

I was so afraid that I constantly needed validation. The vulnerability was eating me up inside. I tried to hold on too tight to feel a sense of control. Eventually she felt suffocated and broke up with me.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy really—I lost her because I was afraid I would.

I don’t blame her, though. She is an amazing, beautiful, brilliant woman. It wasn’t a healthy relationship which made things hard on her–I get that. In a way I’m grateful for this. It was a wake-up call.

The break-up hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed better than I could have ever imagined. I made it a point to try to remain positive; to not let it consume me. I have chosen to view it as a learning experience.

I started writing in a journal every day to get through it and understand myself better. One night I was feeling down, but I wanted to steer my thoughts in a positive direction. I started making a list of things I would learn from the break-up.

They included things like not dwelling on the negative, loving myself, being confident, and being less critical of myself. In the middle of the list I wrote the words:

“I can choose what affects me.”

By the time I finished the list those words lingered. I repeated them over and over out loud. Every time I said them I felt more powerful. I felt more control over my life. I repeated different variations of the theme:

I can choose what affects me.

I can choose to not be damaged.

I can choose to not be afraid.

I can choose to not let this break-up depress me.

I can choose to look at mistakes as learning experiences.

I can choose to be confident.

I can choose to be happy.

I can choose to feel loved.

I can choose.

Every time I said a phrase I felt a chill in my body. Tears started flowing, but I wasn’t really crying. It felt like they were escaping; like I was letting go of this deep sadness I’ve carried for so long.

It was an awakening: a healing. It was one of the most significant and amazing experiences in my life.

I wrote the words “I can choose” on my hand as a reminder. They give me the power to take control of my life. Every morning I write them again. Eventually I won’t need a visual reminder.

Whenever I feel my thoughts become negative I look at my hand and remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to be slaves to our pasts. We don’t have to go through life with emotional scars.

We don’t have to let negative experiences define us.

We all have power over our lives. It may be difficult to see, but it’s always there. We always have a choice.

Photo by B Rosen

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  • Kim

    Lovely post. I felt tears in my eyes as I read it – I want to give you a big hug! One thing I have to comment on though, is maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and ‘cover up’ the hurt feelings you are feeling because of the breakup (as you did when your father passed away)…maybe it would be beneficial for you to ‘feel’ those feelings and know that it’s okay to feel that way and that eventually, those feelings will pass. I think if you try and decide to just ‘choose’ to not let it affect you, you may have the same problem of burying your real feelings and may be blocking love that is trying to reach you, it might affect the prospects of future relationships etc….

    I wish you all the happiness in the world :-)

  • http://www.theartofaudacity.com Lachlan Cotter

    Hi James. I related to a lot of what you wrote here. As it happens, my father died at 53 as well. Cancer. That stuff is never easy to deal with when you’re in the midst of it. No you don’t have to let the negative experiences define you. In fact—there are no negative experiences. Negativity is a quality of our focus or our interpretation of things; no the things themselves. Even things that seem to be terribly unfortunate often hold tremendous gifts when we learn to see them. If nothing else, the expanded awareness and consciousness we attain from having overcome the pain.

  • http://realsimplepeople.com/ John Sherry

    James an honest story with a strong meaning – the choice is always ours. It strikes me today how many people blame anyone else from Governments to banks for their own actions and choices and the consequences that follow. Taking responsibility for your own life is choice #1 . Do that and the rest begins to flow and grow.

  • http://www.tamarachetcuti.wordpress.com Tamara Chetcuti

    Oh James, your story made me shed a tear. Not because it makes me sad but because it makes me happy to see someone take control of his destiny after so many years of struggle. You are beautiful. You are inspiring. Good luck on your journey of self-discovery.

  • Belmax De Jesus

    Loved it…I’ve felt exactly the same way and reading this has been inspiring.

  • Rebecca

    Very inspiring post. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your hope. Yes, I too remind myself often that I have been blessed with a free will. Such freedom with such responsibility. My life will be what I make it, despite occasional accidents and unanticipated happenings. Let’s make it happen. :D

  • mystic

    James, the way you have magic word “I can choose ” … my philosophy is “you do not have to feel victim of anything… you have power to choose “..If we blame circumstances and think ourselves as victim of something then we get into self denial mode and do more harm than good to ourselves.. I think the moment of awareness which am i thinking/believing I am victim quickly helps me pull of self sympathy..

  • Jennifer

    I can really relate to what you’re saying, James, because for the longest time I thought I was coping with situations in my life really well – I was proud and kind of arrogant, actually. But really, all I was doing was burying down all the emotions I felt and denying they were there at all. For me, I spent years with an abusive father and later went on to marry an abusive man. After I left both those situations, I was a complete wreck. I know that doesn’t compare with losing a loved one, but for me it was very hard to overcome.

    I commend your strength in writing this and your courage and honesty.

  • James

    Hi Kim. Thank you for your comment. I didn’t mean to give the impression that I was denying any feelings. I’ve definitely been sad. At times I have been a little hard on myself for feeling that, but I just try to breathe and realize it’s okay to feel that. The larger concern is how you let that feeling affect your life. Sadness can escalate to depression and/or destructive behavior.

  • Mmcgrath17

    I like your post, James. I realized something similar at some point, and at this time, it’s become a natural progression through my life events for me to decide how to feel. Doesn’t mean I am never sad, or confused, or angry et al – only that I usually don’t get blown off course because of intense emotions. They are now more like the wind flowing through me, and I then I go ahead and choose to feel good, and go on. Peace

  • Cata

    I also shed a tear while reading this story as I am facing a difficult time in my life and it made me realize that yes we can choose how we feel. This week I was diagnosed with my 3rd benign tumor (I had two previous ones 15 years ago) and I am trying to focus on my meditation, yoga and holistic lifestyle choices to help me become stronger both physically and mentally. Reading your words was so inspiring and I would like to thank you. “I can choose” are very powerful words and words that can help us in the most difficult moments.Your story will continue to inspire me and I have already written these words on a paper so I am reminding myself that I too can choose. I also believe very strongly in what Lachlan commented below , “Even things that seem to be terribly unfortunate often hold tremendous gifts when we learn to see them. If nothing else, the expanded awareness and consciousness we attain from having overcome the pain.” I wish you the best on your journey and am grateful to have come across your beautifully written story.

  • Metcalfe Ilona

    although it may seem that it took so long to get to this pont, there are no mistakes. You are exactly where you need to be. I always say, paint the picture of how you want your life to me. That first stroke is the hardestest. If it doesn’t work. Try and again. YOu are willing and open and that is the key. Best of luck.

  • http://twitter.com/AlexRapadaPhoto Alex Rapada

    The power of choice is an amazing tool. It has helped me get through my toughest times through my fathers death and a divorce. I can feel that i related to your story and having that emptiness inside that has held you back with lack of confindince all these years until i realized that i ultimately it was my choice to feel the way i was feeling. Once I felt in control my life turnaround for the good and life has been amazing ever since. Thank you for sharing and this will definitely be passed on.

  • http://twitter.com/_LiveInspired_ Alison Miller

    Thank-you. Thank-you. My heart wept reading the opening of your article. Years ago I befriended the local morgue pathologist who then allowed me to learn about the human body through his work and autopsies. The feeling of being faced with mortality is one of the most profound teachers, I think, of the preciousness of life itself. Your journey is inspiring and compelling. Your article made my day.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose AlannahRose

    Hello James, and thanks for this post. I will admit I teared up while reading it and I appreciate your openness and honesty. It’s quite impressive that you’ve gone from being someone who couldn’t talk about how you felt to writing a piece for a public website and telling your very personal story. I have a lot of admiration for you!

    I went through a horrible break-up last year and I went through every emotion in the process. I also read a lot, looking for support and inspiration, and one book that really helped was Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns. Reading that made me realize that, like you said, I have the choice to react or not react, to make something negative or positive (because inherently things are neither “good” or “bad”) and to be sad or not to be sad. That’s a pretty revolutionary realization, and it changed my life as well.

    I think what you’ve written here is very powerful and you should be proud of the work you’ve done on yourself. I wish you all the best on your journey. Thank you for sharing this piece!

  • http://www.twitter.com/amoryann Amory Ann

    Amen to that.

  • Doggirlseattle

    Yes, yes yes! Thank you for this James, and for sharing your life, and yourself, with all of us out there in the interwebs. This concept has been permeating my life so much recently, and I keep thinking, every single day, that life “is a series of choices we make”. This concept is so powerful and so exciting because I think that to fully live like this is incredibly empowering. We get to choose what affects us, what destroys us, what brings us joy, what we need, how we communicate, what choices we make, what behavior we exhibit. We choose all of that. And even given the fact that there is so much out of our control (tragic deaths of loved ones, loss of jobs and homes and spouses, etc), we choose how we manage those experiences, and what we learn from each of them.

    I remember a couple of weeks ago I was really broken over my mom’s recent suicide, and just fell apart completely. Even felt like I might be going insane. And I cried, and cried, and cried, like never before. To the point where I could cry no more, and I knew it had ceased being cleansing and became unhealthy, and I said to myself before I went to bed: “I choose for tomorrow to be a good day. I choose to be optimistic, and happy, and take care of myself”. Not just because it was what I needed, but because it’s what my mom would have truly wanted as well. And you know what? That day was great! Not because of anything that happened, but merely because I chose to shift my attitude. It’s so hard for most of us to do, but I hope that your post really helps people get closer to living with the “I choose” philosophy. Thanks again! :-)

  • Anita Ealey

    thank you for sharing your emotions. I too felt compelled to be the strong one when my dad passed….took me a long time to realize that I too can choose……=) xoxo

  • Yadietorres

    thank you so much for sharing this. I was 18 when I discovered my father dead. My brother and I were home and never noticed to check on him. thinking he was sleeping because he worked at night. He died of suffocation, due to an epileptic seizure. I never dealt with his death either and held all the grief inside. it took me a lonnnngg time to understand what had happen, and the ability to love again. now that i am 27, i found someone that knows how i feel and comprehends that what i had experienced was horrible.

  • Tichy

    I think that this will be my status for a few days … I can choose…
    Very powerfully written – thanks for sharing this.

  • James

    Thanks for the comment and thank you for sharing your experience. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

  • James

    Hi Cata. I’m sorry to hear that, but it sounds like you have a great mindset. Thank you for sharing with us and I’m really happy this was helpful to you. Good luck with everything!

  • http://tomsuniversity.com Tom Huntington

    Go James! Thank you for sharing your story and your awesome learning! I’m convinced that one of the foundational aspects/characteristics/skills of a healthy brain, a healthy mind, a healthy psyche, is “to be at choice” with your attention and your action every moment. Keep building your skill at “being at choice” and I know your story will inspire other people to make the effort to build their “choice skills”.

    Tom Huntington

  • http://twitter.com/Myth_Girl Nikki Faith

    Thank you for opening to all of us, James. This is a beautiful piece of writing, so heart felt. I was very moved. Namaste.

  • Perminov Ekaterina

    This was so beautiful and touching to read. Thank you!!! There was so much you said that I connected with. Your words of “I can chose” is so simple but so strong and inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    It was great to hear your story. I’m sorry for your loss. Suicide is really difficult. I can’t imagine dealing with that. I know it’s hard. Your attitude is great.

    Thanks for sharing and thank you for the kind words.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. There’s a huge problem with responsibility in society today. People suing McDonald’s for being fat, parents shifting blame, banks, people living beyond their means, etc

  • http://inspiredtype.wordpress.com Sue Alexander

    Thank you for your inspiring words “I can choose”. I just love that. I just lost my dad last October, and it was so hard.

    When I find myself stuck in old patterns I try to focus on a positive direction forward and “Do one thing different”. Sometimes just taking that one step, taking action, is what helps me the most.

  • Svetok-majorova

    my condolences to you. I think you are very strong person and I wish you never give up and ALWAYS be in this way you began! always be positive!Thanks

  • rochelle l lilly

    You are absolutely correct. You are what you think about all day long. I thank you for sharing your experience with us, because we all get side tracked sometimes and then allow the negative to over power us. We need people like u to come to remind us that we can remove the negative thinking from our vocabulary and focus on the positive. Positive in, Positive out. We get out of life what we ask for because whatever the mind can conceive, it can achieve. Thanks Again for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

  • Carina Rose

    James,
    There was so much in your story that I related to. My father died of a heart attack when I was twelve too. So much of what you described sounds so familiar– shutting down emotionally because the grief was unbearable and there was no place to release it; the feelings of abandonment; the feeling that the world was not a safe place.
    It took a long time but when I came out the other side I found there were great gifts waiting to be discovered, and one of the greatest was learning that I had a choice to say ‘yes’ to living life fully, and choosing to live from a place of love even if that meant risking being hurt. It is a lesson learned from a difficult situation but one that I’ve gratefully embraced.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the nice comments everyone. I was a little nervous about sharing this, but I’m really glad I did.

  • http://www.theartofaudacity.com Lachlan Cotter

    Thank you, Rochelle!

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  • http://sanzplans.com Sanzplans

    Thank you for sharing this painful story, and how you have been able to transform your pain into insight and a reminder that you have survived something from the past, and that this is now…you have found a bit of silver lining in a huge thundercloud!

  • Mila

    I could not stop my tears as i read the the post. It reminded me of the emptyness, rejection and pain that i felt when the person who has been my best friend for several years and someone whom i love told me “you deserve to be defriended”!! I cried for days, weeks and months and wishing that i die so that the pain could go. Luckily a day came into my life when i realised that i had the choice to pray that my friend is happy and safe whereever he is while at the same loving myself more and making the choice to smile and to befriend strangers. I choose to forgive, let go and live my life.

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  • Joe

    James, I tremendously relate to some of the exact feelings you described after my recent breakup. I had very similar circumstances in my relationship in terms of needing validation and such, and it being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just wanted to say thanks for the reinforcement of the power of our choice (it’s something I also learned but often forget), and for the reminder that we’re not so alone in this human experience.

  • Guest

    Thank you for sharing I also had a similar situation….and I m 32 now.

  • Layjay

    Hi,
    I totally relate to this article. My father died when I was a little girl and from that moment on I had to become a brave little girl as I didn’t want to cause more upset for my mother. Therefore I held all my negative emotions inside. When I am in a relationship now I still feel it is my role to make others ok and therefore I hide my true emotions.
    I am so scared of abandonment. My boyfriend finished with me last week and I too am writing a journal which is really useful. I understand now that the relationship was right to end because it was quite unhealthy. But I am scared of feeling sad. I am actually petrified of feeling sad. And I have such a big fear of letting go because I am scared of endings.
    It all makes sense because it was such a sad time when my dad died and unfortunately I didn’t grieve at that time. Maybe there has never been an ending to his loss? I don’t know..
    So now I have to be kind to myself and learn to nurture myself and to accept that feeling sad is ok.
    I also imagine myself on a boat, going gently down a river. As I go down the river I pass many obstacles but I won’t turn round and try and cling on to those. Instead I shall enjoy my peaceful journey and have faith that my future is happy. I will let go of the obstacles.
    I have learnt so much from my boyfriend finishing with me!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment. I love the boat analogy!

  • Rkhamharn

    Thank you, it’s exactly what I needed to hear right now, this moment, today.

  • Samantha

    James,
    Your story was inspiring and touching. I too lost my father to a heart attack when I was 16. I found him in his chair, already gone. These things happen in out lives, but you are wonderful for sharing :)

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  • http://twitter.com/sriniovasan srinivasan sankar

    Thanks a lot for posting James!

    Tinybuddha is one of the best things that has happened to me! seeing all these posts never fail to give me the much needed support! 

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  • Lkjc

    I  understand what you mean.  My father left when I was two and I have carried this all through my life I am now 40.  I am now learning to accept this but it has left an empty hole.

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  • Labad

    amazing :)

  • Martin Renaud

    Hi James,

    Your story really touched me. I too lost my father when he was at the young age of 54 and I never looked into healing the wounds until the age of 30, after I too lost a relationship. The emptiness and pain inside took over me because I chose to let it win. I was unhappy for so many years and I’ve been cruel to other people. I was emotionally unavailable. I met a wonderful woman who helped me deal with the pain and we are in therapy together. I am currently in the healing stage at the age of 31 and I can relate to everything you said in your blog. It takes a large amount of energy to live your life by remembering the power of choice and taking the hard route. There is no spiritual growth without the suffering – we need to feel because we are human. I used to think suffering was a bad thing but it is in fact the opposite; it is good and it allows us to understand and process our feelings so that we can learn and grow from it. I wish you the best in life and I hope you find peace and happiness.

    Best regards,
    Martin

  • Jon

    Thanks, I really needed to read this today.