Asking for a friend

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So I have this friend and we get into a conversation every so often but this time, it was more intense than ever before. He opened up completely because he said “I’ve come to a point where I need to go to a level I had never gone before and it requires me to own my story, accepting who I am and stepping into who I can become.” It made quite a tale and because I believe there are people who need to read this I’m sharing it with the world. For the flow of reading, let’s name him Steve. He looks like a Steve.

So Steve said he often hears comments that he’s this happy happy happy person like he takes some drugs each morning just to smile all day long, along with “easy for him to say, he has a happy life”. So here goes.

When Steve was young he was an athlete. He trained many sports, each for a few months before getting bored with it and moving on. Only one lasted a few years and that was Judo where he even got a bronze medal. What that means in truth is that there were only 3 people in his category. Two of them kicked his ass and Steve walked away with bronze. He was proud. He tried football, basketball and kickboxing but nothing felt right. He wanted to fence for as long as he can remember but when he had the chance, his dad said it was stupid so he abandoned it. Steve’s parents never really knew how to give him the emotional support and a quality connection and every time he brought it up he heard things like “You’re not hungry, you’re not walking around in torn clothes and you have a roof over your head! What are you complaining about?” Back then he thought them right, what is he complaining about? Today Steve understands that they were just saying that to compensate for their lack of ability to be better parents. Steve realises this might sound spoiled at this point because there was not that much domestic violence (I say “that much” because he grew up in a time when hitting your kids was a thing) but he knows they did the best that they could, can you blame them? For lack of knowing better Steve turned to computer games and food for comfort slipping slowly into the vicious circle of the Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, “I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat.” Of course he kept telling himself that he just liked food and even though that’s not a lie, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Because he got fat, Steve lost his self-confidence and was consequently unlucky in love. Yes, oh the drama in the love life of a booger eating, nail biting boy in the beginning of his teens. Tragic. He managed to find a healthy outlet for his emotional discomfort and that was poetry. Steve started writing poems that, he shamelessly admits, were good, especially for a boy that young. He wrote quite a few poems before coming to an age where poetry was “stupid”. Then Steve started venting in less healthy ways. He said he realised by now why bad stuff always happen to negative people and why good things always happen to positive people. Because of expectations. Positive people expect good things to happen to them so they do. Well, Steve wasn’t a positive person so good things did not happen to him. He expected bad things and the worse it got, the more he expected them. It was a downward spiral that he now knows was of his own choosing. He was mentally in a very bad place by the time he got to high school. Steve spent 8 years in primary school building a safe zone around him, and now he was about to be dragged out into an entirely new place with older people. Steve was scared shitless. Ironically, by that time Steve acquired a role of this funny guy and the majority of people bought the ruse. Honestly, Steve bought the ruse himself back then. He had a smile on his face and always a joke up his sleeve but he was not in a good place. He didn’t let go of food for comfort but now he was sometimes ridiculed for being chubby so he just kept adding more kindle to the fire. He turned to smoking weed and here we don’t wish to get into any technical discussion whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing but Steve was using it to block away his problems and escape and that was not a good use for it. Again, the vicious circle. There was also a time when Steve believed that physical pain was easier to cope with than mental pain so he had some darker outlets that he says he’s not proud of but they’re a part of him now. He said most managed to fade but he still showed me some scars that remained. It chills me to remember. High school was also the period when he started drinking. There was a venue in his home town that was relatively easy to get into afterhours so Steve and his friends got drunk every weekend without ever having to buy any booze. Did I mention Steve was smoking at the time? Of course he was. All of his friends were smoking and he wanted so badly to fit in, though he need not try that hard. All they ever took was alcohol and cigarettes until one particular incident. Steve and friends managed to get into a place that did not sell alcohol and relieved it of some of its inventory. “It was one of the stupidest things I ever did!” Steve comments and even though they never got caught, he gave away everything he took in a couple of weeks because his conscious kept gnawing at him.

Steve realised that to get the grades to finish school, he’ll have to give up smoking weed as it was having a major impact on his productivity. He never bought his own so there was always this one antisocial friend that was really hard to get to. He enjoyed the company and Steve enjoyed smoking for free. By that time they were smoking two a day each because their bodies built up some kind of a natural resistance. So he quit smoking green and a part of his life started falling into place. Steve quit weed for a few years then smoked it a couple times during his faculty years but he realised that recreationally, it never was his cup of tea. He kept the food and video games though. At that point Steve realised that he might have some interests that his friends didn’t share and that there was nothing wrong with indulging in them. So he took up playing guitar and the piano followed suit. Before leaving high school, Steve had his first serious girlfriend and managed to get laid. Yay for Steve.

Once he finished high school he went into the capital to study because it was “normal” and since he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life he went to study something that came easy to him and all of his family was doing it. He never saw himself actually working in that profession but, as you might have guessed by now, Steve wasn’t a guy who would think things through at that point in his life. He moved in with some friends and life went on. Luckily for him, Steve’s roommates played computer games even more than he was. Keyboards were smashed and co-players were screamed at. Why Luckily? Because Steve saw how bad that could get and started focusing more on his social life. The relationship he was in lasted for almost three years but Steve believes it would have lasted a lot less had either of them the balls to end it sooner. By this time, Steve was a developing adult. Sure, he was chubby but he made up for it with charm. He was a pleasant person and people enjoyed his company. The main reason for this is because Steve was something he jokingly calls “a social chameleon”. Back then he thought it was a good skill but it was just a distorted deformation of his insecurity and lack of self-love that craved to be loved and accepted. It’s also the reason he had a problem saying no to things. In a few years a group of friends formed that had a surprisingly good effect on Steve. Unlike any group of friends he ever had, this was a group of friends that were very different from each other, which gave Steve the chance to accept that he might be an unique individual (just like everybody else) and he started discovering himself more than ever before. In that moment in his life, Steve didn’t have any problems with women. He had fun, and he had fun often. Steve never was the kind of person who would feel that was something to brag about, he sometimes even felt bad because there had been that many. At first he didn’t know why he felt bad about it but he said he now understands he was using women to feel validation of his worth because if they liked him, it was easier to believe that maybe he wasn’t all that bad. We agreed that he was searching through other people to find something he should look for in himself. Nevertheless, he said it was a period he enjoyed and learned a lot from. There’s some things that he now finds silly is that he felt really embarrassed about then like when he wasn’t able to perform due to either alcohol or just because of being so turned on that he finished almost as soon as it started. Steve and I agreed to give you the details but he did blush a little when talking about it. It was during that time that Steve met a woman who opened a new world to him. The relationship lasted only a few months but it was the most quality relationship thus far. They both learned a lot from each other. She was older and ambitious and that sparked a fire in him. For the first time Steve started thinking that there might be more to life than he was led to believe. After the relationship she got into a controversial situation and moved abroad. Steve has seen her only 3 times since and he says he has nothing but fond memories of her. He remembers sitting on his bed with his eyes closed, imagining her room just to go through her bookshelf to find good books to learn more about, well, everything. He got half-way through “The Life and Death of Democracy” when he realised he was being pulled into a different direction. The hunger for knowledge and ambition stayed and these are the two things for which he will forever be grateful to her. “Oh, I just remembered why that relationship ended!” Steve said, again blushing. He was very mature for his age, but not that mature apparently. He said he convinced himself that he was in love with one of his closest friends so he ended the relationship. How did the break up go? Amazingly well. They sat down for coffee, discussed everything in 15 minutes and then continued to talk and laugh for over 4 hours. It was beautiful yet heart-breaking. What happened with the friend? She started dating another friend and Steve moved on. They’re still together and happier than she and Steve would ever have been. He wonders if he ever did love her or was she just an excuse to get out of what seemed to be a commitment for life. He says he’s only 101% sure it was the latter. Oh well, that’s life.

Steve mentioned that he fell in and out of love relatively fast, because when a woman was attracted to him, he was immediately attracted to her. “Some crappy defence mechanism to keep me from ending up alone.” Steve joked. After that relationship he started focusing a little more on why people do what we do and why we think the way we think. He didn’t do much in that direction but he was open for new and different things. More relationships came and went. Some more serious, some less but with everyone Steve was smarter and he was learning a lot about himself. With each relationship he thought more about what he wanted, what he didn’t want and he raised his standards. He started doing some philanthropic work abroad and at home because, initially, he thought it’d look great on a CV, but soon fell in love with giving and doing good. Yes, he thought a lot about whether he likes doing it for the sake of doing good or because it makes him feel good about himself but later decided that as long as it was making the world a better place, it didn’t matter. It was all fine and well and he liked the path where he was on until a critical point in his life. A few years later he met a man and a woman that changed his world forever. As the saying goes “when the student is ready, the master will appear” and it was only days after Steve quit smoking, a habit that shadowed him for the past 8 years. These two people destroyed the world as he knew it. Not in a bad way, they merely opened up Steve’s eyes to what was in fact possible and, surprisingly to him, absolutely achievable, even for a nail biting man in his early twenties. He said that he still finds it hard to believe that he has grown more in the past year than he has in all the 24 years leading up to that encounter. One of the most important things, he says, that he has learned is that people often keep running away from who they are as he had been doing for years. But only once we confront and let go of what we are and were, can we become what we might be.

He says that he realises that his story is not a really sad and traumatic tale and that there are people whose lives have been incomparably worse but yet those same people found a light in that darkness. On the other hand, there are many people with only a small shade of Steve’s darkness, who don’t believe a light exists. He put it bluntly but I like it “If you have a hammer, stop pretending you have a screwdriver and start looking for nails, not screws. Look at what tools are at your disposal and make the best of what you can with them or get better tools but stop pretending you have what you don’t. It’s madness.”

Steve believes that this is absolutely crucial for ourselves to own our story. If we keep running away from it, it will chase after us so what we need to do is confront our past, accept it and let it go. Are there things in my past I’m not proud of? Of course! But they’re not going anywhere, are they? So toughen up and shake the burden off your chest (yes, shake it off) and breathe with the entirety of your lungs. By taking responsibility for something, you also take the power to change it.

Steve said as we were finishing up “There are many things in my past I am not proud of, some of them in the paragraphs above, but I do not regret any of them because every single thing that I did has led me to where I am now and to be the person I am now. I’m far from perfect but I’m proud of the path I am on. I am so blessed that by the end of 2019 there will be a classroom in a school in a third world country dedicated to me and in the next 3 years, there’ll be a school bearing my name because I decided to take the path I am walking on now. And when I mention something like this to a friend or a neighbour, he thinks I’m nuts and gives me the condescending smile or an eye-roll. After all, who the hell am I to have such things coming my way? Well, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Steve said with a grin.

With (self)love,
Steve

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