How do you balance your own dreams and ambitions with those of the collective good? The collective good being: your family, your people, and for those so inclined, society as a whole. How do you balance any dreams with the reality of a failed attempt? How do you move forward when life seems stalled or worse yet muted?
When I was a kid I thought anything was possible. I was living in low standards (in quality of life, expectations, and interaction) that I drew up my own world of existence. When I try to recall memories, many of them are of me just sitting, lying, standing – alone, lost in thought. A loud buzzing is in my ears as I lose track of time and wake from my fantasy to find that hours and sometimes only seconds have passed.
The hours spent dreaming were my escape from my life. My time spent reading and writing were a respite from admitting where/when I was living.
And in these dreams with limitless skies I saw myself as an attorney, as a businesswoman, as an inventor – with an empire that would spread its wings in Boyle Heights and provide a higher quality of life to its residents: to teenage moms, to boys on the cusp of being lost to drugs/gangs/apathy, to immigrant parents providing for a better life. I dreamt of a world where I wrote my way to the top, sharing my stories, and then my profits to this community. Buying a beautiful house for my parents and siblings; making enough money so my parents could stop their backbreaking work; financing the education of my siblings so they could escape the soul crunching cycle of poverty; realizing these goals would make me happy I thought.
Yet along the way my heart wasn’t strong enough, my mind became weaker, and I dreamt longer and longer. My escape became a necessity and I would lose track of time, lose track of my goals and ambitions, until I just lived. I breathed, I ate, I woke and I slept. I loved with an immature sense of what this meant or what it would bring.
And those goals became silly notions meant for another. My self-questioning became louder, a feverish pitch of self-doubt that drowned out any positive thoughts and immobilized my inner sense of worth.
A failed marriage, an unaccomplished degree, and single motherhood at 23.
It seemed the only dream I had “accomplished” which I couldn’t even take credit for was growing into an attractive woman. As a child, I had wished daily to be beautiful, graceful, to possess the ease of human interaction – the ability to connect and feel with others, but this desire was misguided as I did not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy connections in relationships.
I was in a downward spiral that was quickly finding its way to the bottom. I had no sense of where I could go from there, of what life meant anymore if not my definition of a perfect loveable family.
But with pain, failure, and darkness comes revelation. You cannot hide from yourself when all that is left is you.
So I took the shreds of my motivation and began a painstakingly slow mending process. I recognized my faults, which were many, and realized that no matter how sympathetic a past I had, it did not constitute an excuse for where I had landed.
And 5 years later you find me here, full of life.
I didn’t give up on life. I placed one foot in front of the other and though I had many missteps, I keep walking forward. And I feel a sense of pride in my life; I have two young daughters that grow lovelier every day, I have a career that I enjoy and brings me a sense of fulfillment, and I am ready to go back to my restarting those childhood dreams – even if that only means coloring the life of my loved ones with my happiness.
We can spend days philosophizing about what true happiness means and what we need to possess it. We can spend an equal amount of time debating whether the singular task of making ourselves happy contributes to the improved happiness of the collective; I believe that it does. By being a happy mother, daughter, sister, friend, and partner I am bringing that positivity into the lives of those connected to me. By sharing my stories, I hope you feel the hope that has carried me through daily and how this hope has changed as I have gotten older. I once thought happiness would come when I married and had children, a family to love me and receive my love.
But I learned that you can’t smother the darkness, you can’t swallow the bitter memories, you can’t hide from the gray that is nestled inside you and lures you into endless sleep; you have to face it in order to bring a sense of peace and happiness into your own being.
Imagine that you are in your dark hole, surrounded by darkness that eats at your perceived happiness away, that chips at your will to live, that hammers you down when you try to move forward, that suffocates you when you try to take a breath of hopeful air. You are left slumped on the ground choking on the hurt, the pain is so strong it keeps you pinned to the floor and no matter how hard you try to ignore it; the ringing in your ears makes it impossible for you to function at a higher level than mere existence. It becomes a sub existence and time passes by, passing you by.
But there is a ladder amongst this darkness. Barely visible at first but you feel it with your hands as you wander around unrelenting in your desire to escape. Each rung on that ladder brings you a different memory – a painful shameful moment in your life; and in order to move past a rung you have to come to terms with it and the implications it has caused in your life.
If you were abused, you need to know that you did nothing to invite this undeserved attack onto yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have something in you that can elicit this behavior in others toward you. You may have been repeatedly abused, by many, but you need to realize that it is not your fault. You were a victim but over time and with a lot of work you can heal and stop living like one.
Whatever hard reality was or is your life you have two choices, same as anyone else; climb the ladder or cower in the false safety of your known darkness. Don’t beat yourself up for decisions and choices you made, even if you ended up hurting others. You have to learn to forgive yourself and push forward. If you don’t, your “reality” (your self-inflicted continuation of that twisted world) will always remain your captor.
I’m not credentialed to tell you how to get better, I can only share what I have gone through and have done to get to a better place. One thing I can tell you, when you climb high enough up that ladder, you will savor the ease with which you keep climbing and you will begin to shed your old tattered self and embrace the new stronger, happier, and more productive self.
I am not at the top of the ladder; I don’t know what I will find when I get there. But I do know that I am relishing the journey upward and that I am improving this world a little with my own sunshine brightening this beautiful new day.