Over the past 65 years, I have experienced many forms or types of Freedom. I have experienced the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom from bondage and slavery, and so many more. But, those freedoms are not what I am referring to here. Though what I want to reveal here is influenced by the laws of the land, it is a bit deeper, aimed more at how it’s felt in the heart than thought of in the brain. I wish to focus on what I will term “personal freedoms,” those liberties which are born out of the remnants of my conditioning as well as the result of my choices and decisions since beginning my journey here on this planet.
There’s another step I want to take before I proceed. I want to state that the emotional place where I am in writing this is one of gratitude for every person, event and circumstance with which I have been blessed. Each of these has been a teacher, a guide to my current internal environment of peace and joy.
I am happy to take 100% responsibility for where I am in my life and what has contributed to my arrival. My journey isn’t over yet. In fact, in many ways, it has just begun!
So, for each reader who blesses me with their time…Thank You because you inspire me!
I would have to say that it would have been really swell if someone, anyone, would have taken me by the hand and guided me during some of my decision-making escapades, especially during my teen years. I remember how it felt sitting in front of my then girl friend’s parents exposing her pregnancy. I felt guilt, shame, scared and oh, so alone. I was able to own my part because even at 18 I thought I was in love and in a weird way I was looking forward to being a father.
Facing them was tough, but even tougher to stomach was her parents' decision to abort the baby even though at the time, a selfish, misogynistic part of me thought hey, great, now I can go to college and play football as planned. I never thought about how she felt or discussed it with anyone else to help me realize the emotional impact on either of us. I agreed before I considered the consequences. Little did I know the impact of that decision on her — or me. I needed the wisdom of a trusted, independent source for guidance well before the pregnancy. Would I have listened? I’m not sure. No one could have known I would never be able to have another child. No one could have known if a little guidance would have prevented a lifetime of regret and internalized toxic shame. It was one of the hardest lessons of my life, but it did help me.
For the longest period of time, that was my excuse, (I wasn’t important enough for someone to care for me) for feeling like my reality wasn’t in my control and certainly not my fault for the outcomes. That was a long time ago.
I can attest to being naive about the impact of my actions as a young boy and as a young man. I always believed I knew more than I actually did — like thinking that college was a bummer and I could go back anytime. I could take a year or two off and go back later when I knew what I wanted to do. Later never came! In spite of my regrets and in the absence of any “do-overs” in life, I choose to see the past as a necessary element to my growth as a man and as a human being.
As I view a younger version of myself I also wonder about all of the other kids and the environments in which they were conditioned. It makes me wonder what decisions they made; what freedoms they did or did not experience and how a kid in the early 1960s (when this photo was taken) that wasn’t white, middle or upper class, grew into the adults they are today?
True, Some didn’t make it. I have 41 of my classmates from my 1970 High School Graduating class that have preceded me in death thus far. Though I wasn’t part of the middle class, I have now recognized I was privileged in so many other ways. I would never be shamed because of the color of my skin. I would never be thought of as inferior in a job interview because I was male. I would never be ostracized by a church because of my gender. My decision maker was being shaped back then and oh boy, did he have a long way to go!
This is a brief story of one who did make it this far and why. Just like the intersecting one-way signs in the photo below, the internal freedoms that come as a result of growing up came from different directions and lead me to different destinations. Crazily and gratefully, they led me here.
I was an emotional wreck as a teenager for the above-mentioned reasons and because of an unguided ego, the street signs were more confusing for me each year. Yes, trying to fit in and knowing who I was were street signs heading in opposite directions. The more I tried to be something I wasn’t the more difficult life got and the consequences must be dealt with, even many years later,
The patriarchal society back then was opposed to many things a young man like me wanted to do to fit in. We weren’t supposed to cry when we were hurt physically, mentally or emotionally, yet I can remember many times holding back the tears because I didn’t want that side of me to appear as a weakness. I can remember being harassed because I had my ear pierced…in 1970 for goodness sake. A jock with a pierced ear may be nothing today, but I took some serious heat back then. I felt embarrassed instead of feeling connected.
Being sensitive, a trait I rather enjoy, was taboo, too. Fighting was something you had to do no matter what. It was proof of one's courage. That wasn’t my style and not fighting made me appear and, at times, act, cowardly. Yet every one of these items helped shape my decision maker, what I will refer to as my Freedom Enhancer, and hardly ever in a positive, productive way.
For the longest time these values, the functional and the dysfunctional, provided the lens through which I saw my world and more importantly, myself. It is the latter that had the greatest impact on my life because it clouded my internal and external view of me and what I thought I was worth. I had negative chatter in my head (you know, “shit, can’t you do anything right?”) In order to avoid the pain of self-criticism, I created a false safety net. I would be “out there” trying to prove to everyone I was something I was not.
The freedom to act out what I thought I “should” be was an internal prison. It was much later, sometime in my late 50’s or early 60’s I created this quote, (silently speaking to my inner self) “When you are imprisoned by fear, there is only one means of escape…the truth.”
That search for my truth has led me on an expedition, an exploration of my beliefs, values, and self. What I had been chasing all of my life has been inside me all of the time. Because of the work, the self-examination and brutally honest self-reflection, I now possess within me a road map to a place I can call home. The freedom I seek now is within me. Am I there yet? No, and never totally will be because in this world there will always be a challenge AND there will always be free will.
The freedom I seek puts me in the cross-hairs of growth and change. It challenges me to know my authentic self and to feel, speak and act with warrior-like precision. Not the old warrior, who had to bully, brutalize and conquer to be seen and to get what he wanted, but the new one. The new warrior inside of me who helps me respond to my challenges courageously in appropriate ways, that brings with it actions leading to peace and freedom within me. I’m no angel, but I am learning.
I adopted the quote by Brene Brown above as an anthem for my choice to live this life of self-examination and honest assessment of who I am. I always cared what others thought of me. I still do, but now I am coming to know who and what I am. That is more important to me because I now have the courage and the personal freedom to let my true self be seen, no matter what others think. The impact of my early choices led me down some pretty dark roads AND they are also the reason for my awakening to the impact of my recent choices. I am grateful for all of them!
I have had the luxury of good health most of my life for which I did very little. That good health and gratitude for it purchased freedom for me to withstand the demolition of the false foundations built by my conditioning and naivete. From that point forward, albeit late in life, I have successfully begun to rebuild the life I want to live. I savor the personal freedoms I enjoy today and advocate an open mind and heart as a pathway to those same freedoms for you.