“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it's always your choice.” ~Wayne Dyer
When I was twelve years old I returned from a weekend at my aunt’s house, with my mom, 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: fifty-three 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 thirty.
I thought I was okay with it, but I was damaged.
I realized somewhere in my late twenties 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 toward 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 forty. 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 twenty-nine without having my heart broken; in fact, I was only five months away from thirty 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'd 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 breakup 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 breakup.
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.