“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” ― Mitch Albom
Our lives are not all the same. When people ask me about my life they quickly recognize that it has been full of experiences. And I rarely share with them all the things i have experienced. Mostly because i don’t want to attract negative attention. I didn’t want pity. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. i wanted to be me and that’s that. Recently I have come to recognize that I have experienced one of the most amazing lives. And i am forever grateful for all of it. The good, the bad, the hard, and the impossible. The pain has molded into a person who wakes up each day and rejoices to be alive, and gives thanks as if TODAY is my last day. i live most of life with no regrets. I compiled this list of 10 things, 10 events that have largely shaped who I am for the good, the amazing, and allow to be grateful for life itself. May this list inspire you to be grateful and make a difference in the world. Each one of us is amazing. Each one of us is special and has been put here on this planet for a purpose. Embrace it.
1) My Father Fractured My Skull at 6 months old
When we come into this world we don’t get to pick our parents. As for me i came into this world with a set of parents that were greatly disadvantaged and unprepared to handle the responsibilities of parenthood.
My father was physically abusive, and verbally abusive. As was my mother at times verbally so. i obviously don’t remember this event. But when I was six months old my father in a fit of rage picked me up out of my crib and threw me head first into the crib fracturing my skull… This could have easily killed such a fragile child. it could have caused permanent brain damage. But there was a purpose for my life. And God had a bigger plan. instead He sent a legion of angels to protect me.
And I survived. But from this day forth the greater pain was that this set in motion my next set of trials.
2) My years in foster care
After my skull was fractured me and later my sister were in and out of foster care. As for me I spent 4 years off and on in foster care or under the state’s care before finally my mother was given a choice to give us up or face the real possibility of losing us. She realized that either way she would lose us and gave us up for adoption. My final foster home was an all black foster home where I was the only white child. Abuse was rampant and i spent most of those years sick, and malnourished. But the greatest thing was my personal self esteem was non-existent. I stuttered and would have anxiety attacks very frequently. The hardest part of foster care wasn’t the abuse. it was being without love. Just being another mouth to feed. A child without love I truly believe has very little hope for survival. These years without love have probably effected me more than any in my life. There are many days and nights I feel without love and alone. The most formative years of my childhood were some of my hardest and they haunt me even to this day. Yet somehow in spite of all of that I survived. Not without scars but with a deep desire to love others to the best of my ability.
3) Separated from my best friend & my only family
For awhile during my time in foster care I would see my sister. When my mother had visitation days. I always clung to the hope during these difficult times that we would be reunited and would be a family again. This hope literally kept me going sometimes. Knowing that I loved her and she loved me. She was my best friend and all I had. And then one day my adopted parents told me that my biological parents had died, and that my sister’s new family didn’t want us to see each other. Both of which i would later discover were lies. The two greatest lies I have ever experienced. She just disappeared from my life. up until then I survived on hope. She was my light. And then one day that light went out. And I had no one. The next 7 years of my life i fought hard to be acceptable to my new family. To be loved and desired. But I was never good enough.
4) Rejected by my family
I’m not sure given my past that i should have expected things to go smoothly. In hindsight I don’t blame them for all they tried. But attempting to lie to a child, and expect things to work out just seems like folly to me.
In the end i have no bitterness. I have only pain. It’s the only area of my life i truly have regret. Things just didn’t work out. They grew tired of our relationship and worried about how I might turn out. i think in the end they didn’t want that responsibility. They decided that I was a ‘bad investment’ and washed their hands of me. Just like my biological mother.
i’m not sure i have ever healed from the rejections of not one, but two families. Regretting choices you made in your childhood just isn’t fair. Looking back now it’s hard and i realize the greatest gift of my life is my education, and my resiliency. That resiliency has allowed me to handle many challenges that most adults couldn’t handle. What didn’t kill me only made me stronger.
After my parents decided to send me away to a boarding school they gave me two options. Either a military school, or a place called Pinehaven.
i chose Pinehaven.
5) I spent 5 years at Pinehaven, an abusive residential facility
From day one at Pinehaven i realized i made a bad decision. Everything about me was broken. i had nothing. I was no one. And no one loved me. My first few months at Pinehaven I was sick. i spent much of that time in bed. With the flu, and a broken heart. Not because I was at Pinehaven but because i wasn’t strong enough to be alive anymore. I’d like to tell you that I became a better person by going to Pinehaven. But honestly I became more broken than I could have ever imagined. Any sense of belonging in this world was shattered. All my connection with my past was severed. And at the age of 13 I wanted to die. I spent nearly 5 years of my life just asking God to take me from this world. That the pain of this world was too much. instead of God answering my prayer i spent five years being tortured, deprived of sleep, verbally, and physically abused.
Being worked from sunset to sundown, and then being punished at every opportunity. Watching my friends likewise being abused, pushed down stairs, choked, and being told we were worthless. Every night before I went to sleep I asked God to let me fall asleep and take me from this world. At one point one of the boys in my house ran away, and killed himself because i imagine he felt the same way I did. That all of this was too much for a child to handle. And he was right. Quite a few people in my house later would be taken from this earth because what we experienced was just too much.
At my graduation day only my adopted father showed up and he only showed up to pick me up. it seemed more out of obligation than anything. i was no longer family. I was merely obligation. After 5 long years of pain i still had nothing and i was no closer to having a family than the day i arrived at Pinehaven.
Pinehaven didn’t kill me. And it didn’t make me stronger. it made me more broken. There are parts of me that aren’t fixable. I’m ok with being broken. It’s who i am.
6) At 19 I lived under a bridge and nearly froze to death
After Pinehaven i made a number of wrong turns in life. And my adopted family continued their pattern of rejection. Right after my 19th birthday I was homeless. And spent a number of months homeless.Sometimes i crashed at friends houses. Other nights i had no where to go. Some of the winter i slept in a sleeping bag under an overpass bridge in Denver. After all i had experienced in life i knew that this could have been it. it dropped to about 10 degrees and i was so cold that I was afraid to fall asleep. But then i did. i woke up and couldn’t move my legs and my feet were blue. i’m pretty certain i nearly froze to death. Somehow I managed to survive and I picked myself up and made a better life for myself. I had my ups and downs but in the end I had survived…
7) I decided to talk about the abuse at Pinehaven
A number of years past. Life wasn’t bad, but I was merely surviving. I seeingly had started to overcome on the surface but underneath I was still very broken. Every day my past haunted me.
I started talking about my past. Telling others who had been at Pinehaven that it was ok to talk about what they had experienced. That it wasn’t right. So many of us thought that somehow Pinehaven was right and we were wrong. That somehow we deserved what we got. Many of us just tried to forget what happened and move on. For me I knew there was too much brokeness. I’d literally seen over a hundred of God’s most amazing gifts treated like they were nothing. Like somehow we were the greatest evil on the planet. When in reality we were God’s greatest gift to the world. We are the future, the present, and no matter what our pasts looked like we didn’t deserve what we went through.
But telling our story was harder than I expected. Many didn’t believe us. Many didn’t care. And many more just wanted our story to disappear. Those who wanted our story to go away made it personal against me. It was never about me. But my heart broke nearly daily at times feeling all alone in taking on not only Pinehaven, but the world. Not knowing what success looked liked i felt like a failure. This nearly broke my heart. And at times my will to continue this part of my journey. In the end though I truly learned how to love others. I gave of my time, my heart, and my soul to do something amazing for others. To this day I’ve been given access to politicians, leaders in the global community, and survivors and my opinion is valued in bringing about change. Quite possibly the greatest thing I could ever do with my life is just telling my story. It transformed my life, my heart, and my entire being.
What I learned was that PAIN is one of the greatest motivators. It can drive you, push you, and lead you to success in more ways than even you can imagine when you set out on a journey.
8) My appendix burst nearly killing me
In late 2008 my appendix burst literally destroying my world. i lost everything because I had no fail safe. No one to help me, to help take care of me. The reality of not having family became a nightmare. I had two surgeries and most of the days in the hospitals I wasn’t sure I’d pull through. I spent much of those first few days wondering if this was how I’d die. I thought it was fitting that I’d be alone. I wondered who if anyone would come for my body. I wondered if I’d have a potters grave.
I managed to physically survive. But those 10 days nearly destroyed me. Both physically and emotionally. I walked out of the hospital weighing about 125 pounds and no energy, or life to look forward to. All of this eventually led to me being homeless for a year in San Diego. One thing I learned is that if you think life can’t get worse it generally can get a lot worse.
9) I spent a year living on the streets of San Diego
I had no where to lay my head. Literally. A few years earlier I was basking in success. But the tides of success had turned. Finally when the great recession hit I lost everything. And like many others I had no family to fall back on. And there were only so many friends whose couches I could crash on. I had no savings to fall back on. I literally had no one to depend on. Luckily I had my health, and a desire to get out of homelessness. I had experienced a bout of homelessness in my teens so I knew I could overcome this.
But then my health took a turn for a worse. I was suddenly struck with appendicitis my first week living on the streets of San Diego. Life just seemingly dished me up one health disaster after another until I had no life left in me. After my emergency surgery I spent a week in the hospital in San Diego before finding myself in a group home paid for by Catholic Charities, and MediCal. For a time I wasn’t sure I’d actually recover. But after a few months I did. During my time in the group home I went out in search for a job. But I found the job climate absolutely nearly impossible. After spending much of the last 9 years doing computer consulting work, and being an entrepreneur I was in a difficult place…
I survived with a greater appreacion for angels, simplicity, and Eckhart Tolle.
10) I was diagnosed with skin cancer
Life only gives you what you can handle. But a year of homelessness led to something I never imagined.
When I was 21 I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus and have suffered numerous eye problems over the years. And that pain is great. But developing skin cancer was hard because i faced a grave reality that my time was up. I faced a hard road and couldn’t afford the treatment I needed. if it wasn’t for a generous organization I would have never received the surgery I needed.
For me the hardest part about skin cancer was fighting it alone, and realizing that at one point I nearly gave up.
It pains me to admit that eventually I picked myself up and fought with my entire heart, soul, mind, and being to overcome it. And i truly think that this made all the difference in the world.
A few years later and I have a clean bill of health, minus some persistent eye problems in an eye that has plagued me since birth.
Pain and hardships suck. But if you don’t allow them to defeat you they can become some of the greatest motivators on this planet.
Everyday I wake up with this drive now that amazes even me. A drive that is greater than I have ever had. Even in my early 20′s. I’m not the man I want to become, nor have I achieved all that i want to achieve in this life yet. But my past, my pain, and my scars motivate me every day to continue striving to make my dreams, and aspirations come true.
P.S. I might note that my biological mother was alive and i found her. And then I found my biological sister. While i never spoke to my mother my sister is in my life and I love her very much. Our lives are very different but I am grateful that we have each other. Along the way I have met so many amazing people who have encouraged me and helped make me become who I am today. I beat Cancer. I nearly personally decimated Pinehaven through exposure and online outreach and am fighting for more legislation to bring about true justice. I live life on my terms, and seek to love my friends with the love that i was never given.