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Learning to Love Myself
Happy Birthday to Me
Ok, let me make it clear from the beginning that it's not really my birthday today. I was going through some old pictures today and found this picture of me from my 24th birthday. It was my first year back in Tokyo and I had just celebrated my birthday with a few new friends of mine. Back at home in Hawaii, I had a well-paying job and my family was there but I somehow always felt like there was something missing in my life.
I couldn't really pinpoint the exact reason but I was lost. My destiny changed when a friend of mine gave me a book called "What Color is Your Parachute". Against my mother's wishes as well as friends thinking I had gone nuts to throw away such a good job, I decided to move away.
I had one friend I knew in Tokyo so I called him up to tell him I was coming to stay for a couple of months. Although I had no idea where my life was headed, I was excited and looking forward to my future.
Fast forward to today. I'm now at the ripe age of 48 and at an age where one goes through old pictures reminiscing the past. I don't normally dwell on my past much but going through some old pictures made me remember a lot of things and although I consider myself to be a happy person, it wasn't always so. It took me awhile to get to where I am today but I know I made the right decision when I decided to make that big jump.
*Photos belong to myself unless otherwise noted.
Finding My Path
This book is not only for those considering a career change, but it's also about finding about who you are and what you want out of life. If helped me understand why I was unhappy and gave me the courage to do what I needed to do.
In The Beginning...
I was born on January 27, 1966 in a small apartment somewhere in the suburbs of Tokyo. My mother had married my father, who was a notorious playboy and gambler. By the time I was 5 years old, my father had left my mother for another woman taking all her hard-earned money along with him, leaving her with two kids to care for all by herself.
Being literally too poor to continue living in Tokyo, one of my good uncles apparently gave my mother two plane tickets to go and stay with my grandmother who lived in Hawaii at the time. So my mother left my sister behind with my uncle taking only me with her to start a new life. When we got there we lived in a very small apartment in a not-so-good part of Honolulu and still have visions of my mother trying to kill one cockroach after another.
After about a year, my mother had enough money saved up to have my sister brought over. Shortly thereafter, we moved to a larger place and my mother was remarried to a local man. He was abusive to my mother and it used to terrify both my sister and I. My sister and I used to cry our lungs out and I remember hugging my sister to try and protect her.
But I felt helpless to do anything for my mother and all I could do was cry as loud as I could which usually made him stop hitting her. One day though, my new step-father grabbed me by the neck and hit my head a couple of times against the wall until I lost consciousness. I don't remember much pain but only a sense of satisfaction because at least that stopped him from torturing my mother.
Books have taught me things that people couldn't. When I didn't have the courage to reach out, there were books. She's Come Undone was a painfully entertaining book that made me realize that I wasn't the only one in pain and started me on the road to healing myself.
The Memory of Incense
My mother was obviously going through a difficult time and was struggling to get her life together. She was struggling to make ends meet while dealing with an abusive husband. She also had two kids to deal with and I really don't know how she did it. She was usually moody and angry most of the time and it was extremely rare to see her in a good mood.
Being a child that didn't know better, I would sometimes make a racket by singing along with my favorite record (remember records?). A hand would come from nowhere and the next thing I know, I felt a stinging to my face. She would slap me a lot during those years and it confused me sometimes. All I knew was that I did something wrong and I tried hard not to anger my mother as much as I could. Still there were many opportunities for me to slip up.
My mother usually slept until late because she had to get her sleep for the night shift at work. I was starving as I didn't have anything to eat and I didn't want to wake her so decided that I would try to cook a sausage for myself. I turned on the heat and proceeded to boil some water for my sausage.
As I was eating my sausage, my mother came out, glanced at me eating and realized that I had used the stove without her permission. I knew I wasn't supposed to but I was hungry. She then did something that I don't like to think about much. She grabbed my right hand tightly so I couldn't run away, lighted a stick of incense and proceeded to give me just the tiniest of burns on the back of my hand.
It was just a mere second but it was the most intense pain I ever felt back then. After that day, I tried harder not to ever displease her again.
It's Not Easy Being Young
As I grew up I learned not to bother my mother with too many questions-she was simply too busy and so I tried to cooperate and help make things easier for her. I tried my best to get good grades and I continued to until around the age of 13. I then entered the rebellious phase. This was also the time when I realized that I started to like some of the guys in my class. However I knew that these feelings were wrong because it was obvious in school.
There were a few effeminate guys in my school and I remember seeing them getting teased or bullied a lot. I also talked about my feelings to a friend who then told me I would go to hell. From that day forward I tried hard to "fix" my "illness" and made myself believe that it was a phase.
I thought that if I dated a girl, I would snap out of this nonsense so I found a girlfriend. Because she was one of the cooler girls in school, I started to hang out with the cool group. I was never more miserable in my life.
Back at home, my mother was the same and my sister was getting into her own set of problems. Things started to get from bad to worse and as I knew how stressed my mother was, I decided to make a Thanksgiving dinner for my family.
We never did celebrate holidays much mostly due to my mother being too busy so it couldn't be helpedI had saved enough money from my newspaper route and used it to buy some ready made food. Sure the turkey was the sliced up kind in an aluminum foil contaiter and my mashed potatoes were the instant kind. But it was the first real meal I had made and I was beyond proud of myself. I just knew my mother would be ecstatic. Being that it was Thanksgiving, I invited a couple of my neighbors over to eat some food before my mother woke up.
This was definitely not a good idea. All the talking woke my mother up from her beauty sleep. She stormed out of her room and proceeded to yell at my friends to leave. After my friends left, she took one glance at the table full of food and asked me what the hell I was thinking. After that, the only thing I remember was that she started making a mockery out of me in front of my sister and told me how stupid I was.
She actually started to laugh at my effort and that's when I lost it. I threw the bowl of mashed potatoes right in her face. With the potatoes in her face, she laughed even harder and told me that I was worth absolutely nothing. I immediately stormed out of the house with tears in my eyes.
A Sense of Belonging
Have you ever felt like you didn't belong?
After walking around for an hour or so, I walked up to the top floor of the apartment building behind ours. I thought about school, my mother, and my unnatural feelings toward men. I was miserable and felt that there was no way to fix it. I felt like I didn't belong in the world and wondered why I was even alive. If I tried hard at home, it made things worse. People liked me at school for who I wasn't.
As my eyes filled with tears looking down from above, I only felt sorrow and grief. I really couldn't think of a single reason for living. It was then that I realized how easy it would be if my life ended right then and there. I didn't want to go on living. Without thinking, I started to climb over the rails to jump. At that moment I realized what I was going to do and my crying stopped. It was the first time in a long time that I felt peace and I no longer felt sad.
Right when I was about to let go of the railings, my mother's voice snapped me back into reality. She was calling out my name looking for me and I completely forgot to jump. She had somehow saved my life.
There were a couple more attempts at suicide but there was always something that stopped me or got in the way of success. I started to turn to food for comfort and my weight had ballooned to 250 pounds. I felt like a zombie walking through life with no sense of purpose or a future. I accepted it and life went on.
Why Am I Here Anyway?
I started looking for purpose in my life and that's when I turned to religion. I went hopping from one church to another trying to find one that fit me. In the process I would sometimes offend the priest because I would sometimes try and challenge them with weird questions. I eventually found temporary comfort in God and the bible so I absorbed myself into studying and worshiping God which temporarily took my attention away from myself.
However during my studies of the Bible, I realized there was one big problem and that was the fact that my attraction to men had not disappeared. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't seem to get rid of these feelings that were supposed to be unnatural. I started to wonder why it had to be so hard because these feelings were as natural as the sun rising every morning. I swear I prayed every night to help me be normal like everyone else.
One night as I was praying, I suddenly felt an incredible warmth enveloping me a feeling that I can only call love. It was something that I had never experienced before and it hit me like a truck. I started to cry as I was filled with an incredible feeling of joy and happiness. At that moment I felt as though I had finally found the answer to all my suffering.
In my heart of hearts I knew that it was ok to have these feelings. I felt something telling me that I didn't have to change because I was just find the way I am. I didn't have to ask to be forgiveness because there was nothing to forgive.
I dismissed myself from the church after telling them about my sexual preference. They understood and wished me the best of luck. As I walked home that day, I looked at my reflection in the glass window of a store and saw a fat 18-year-old looking back at me. I finally decided it was time to take control of my own life.
Finding Strength Within
It's amazing how strong the spirit can be. Things happened quickly after that. After accepting the fact that I was gay and I had nothing to be ashamed of, I no longer felt like an outcast. I started to exercise for the first time in my life and I started to be more conscious of what I ate. The pounds started to melt away and my energy level soared. Once I reached my goal weight of 160 pounds, I felt like there was nothing I couldn't do.
My relationship with my mother was non-existent for the first two years after I came out to her. Miraculously my mother reached out to me after that and it started the road in healing our relationship. I also went to visit my father in Japan to see if I could get to know him better but I had to come to terms with the fact that we have no history and we would never truly have a son and father relationship.
For the longest time I couldn't forgive him for the misery he caused my mother and blamed him for everything bad that had happened in our lives. I've learned to accept him for who he is and I forgave him for not being the perfect father. Besides he's just human.
My relationships with men weren't all that great but looking at it from a positive point of view, each one had taught me something about myself. Without those destructive relationships, I probably wouldn't have grown to be who I am today. I realized that I was relying too much on the love of others and let's be honest, I never learned how to love myself. I always needed the approval of others and realized how needy I was as an adult.
Sometime around the age of 35, I forced myself to work on the most important relationship which was with myself and tried to stay away from getting romantically involved for a minimum of one year. I spent a lot of time reading books, meditating and taking long walks. A year had passed and I was sitting on the floor in a full lotus position ( yes I was doing yoga now) when I felt a familiar warmth that I hadn't felt in years.
It was the same feeling of love and warmth that had wrapped itself around me when I was younger. I wanted that feeling to stay longer this time so I just enjoyed its warmth and love. I gave thanks for my life and realized that perhaps for the first time in my life, I was truly happy.
Reading this book has taught me about how a simple thing as making a gratitude list every morning makes all the difference. The book promises that your life will change after 40 days. For me, I could see changed happen after the first week.
Love Conquers Fear
Fast forward to today- I am 47 years old. Fear has always played a big role in my life. I feel like my life had been a long journey with many obstacles that had to be faced in order to learn valuable lessons. In the spring of 2005, I had my first panic attack. Although I still have them now and then, I've learned to manage it a bit better and I am optimistic that one day I will overcome this as well. And if not, so be it.
I remember reading somewhere that there are only two sides to everything, fear and love. You can choose one or the other and it makes all the difference. Not only does this thinking work for controlling my panic attacks but it also helps me with every aspect of my life.
Life is never perfect and maybe it shouldn't be because sometimes hardships teach us the most important things in life. And sometimes experiencing pain and hardships only make the good times better. It makes us appreciate the happy times, the good in people and the beauty in the world that much more. I could never forget my past but I don't think I want to because that's also a part of what makes me ME.
I now have a great and very close relationship with my caring mother and beautiful sister. It's amazing how far we've come as a family and how we somehow survived all those years of pain and confusion. We are all human and we all try our best in our given circumstances even though they may not always be the right thing.
I guess we are all constantly learning. I've even forgiven the ex-boyfriend who withdrew all my money while I was in hospital and then ran way. I'm not just saying that-I mean it. I have no anger left in me and although I can't explain it, I only have love for everyone I have known because of the fact that they once played a part in my life at one point or another.
I know my journey is far from over and even more challenges that await. However I'm not so scared anymore because I know they are only opportunities in disguise-a chance to grow and become a better person. I look forward to each day and whatever life throws my way. Come what may because I will always choose love over fear. I choose love!