What is to give light must endure burning.
-Viktor E. Frankl Man's Search for Meaning
Very recently, I was invited to share a story of my life in a public setting. When I solicited suggestions from my Facebook followers and friends, one person said this:
"You're just such a positive person. I admire that about you. Was there ever a time in which you struggled with loving and accepting yourself? I just feel like someone else who may be struggling with that would be inspired by you."
It's really beautiful and very important to me that people experience me as a positive person now, especially if it inspires them to transform their own perspective on life. But I realized there is an important story to tell about my path to positivity. My journey reminded me of a similar story, so I'll call this The Wizard of Pos(itivity).
When I was in college, I had the Midas touch. Do you know that story of King Midas? Everything he touched turned to gold. That's how I felt in college and into my early young adulthood. I'd say I wanted to have or do something and it would literally materialize before my eyes. On the first day of college, I squinted at the people moving us into our dorms and said, "that will be me, someday." Indeed, two years later, I became a hall/resident advisor. It was also that year that I was granted the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. I needed to raise a lot of money, but I applied myself that summer and raised $3500 to fly myself across the Atlantic and made my 10-year dream to go to South Africa come true.
Things like that kept happening for me well into and throughout my young adulthood.
And then, a few years ago, something happened. I fell into some kind of rut where things worked decently but not the way they had for many years. It got worse with each month and then things sort of bottomed out for me. It didn't look like that to a lot of people, but it FELT that way to me. My business was suffering and my mental and emotional health had plummeted. I grew increasingly discouraged and disheartened with each passing month until last year, I heard myself say, "I lost my Midas touch. I can't make things happen like I used to."
My light had almost gone completely out. I was growing increasingly negative and fearful. I had become spiteful and often complained and compared myself to other people and their perceived success. Despite achieving so much, other success or accomplishments seemed elusive. The infamous Gemini tendency toward duplicity sort of ran the joint on a daily basis.
I hardly recognized myself. Despite my awareness of my behavior, I felt unable to turn things around.
I was desperate to understand what was happening and what I could do to change it.
I started digging deep, really deep. I came to fully embrace that was raised in a family that tolerated my existence but rarely celebrated it. To overcome that neglect, as a child, teen and younger adult, I sought out a lot of loving and wonderful people once I realized what love could feel like. From the time I was young, I was always gregarious and loving so I always seemed to find these people, even if they were sometimes hidden among the weeds of a toxic or dysfunctional environment or community.
But the part of me that knew neglect, abandonment and the feeling of not being cherished or adored, still sought out people and places that would reinforce that experience for me. It was familiar, after all, if not all that comfortable.
Despite making some really great decisions to remove myself from situations or relationships like that during the past few years, I was still subconsciously doing it in other areas or with other people. Since I had made great progress and so much WAS working, I couldn't see these blind spots. But they were there, and eroding the confidence and strength I strived to build in other areas. They were counteracting the progress I'd make and set me back for days or weeks.
But I began to see it. Ever so slowly. I started experiencing the same patterns in every aspect of my life--a person here or there would be a clone of another. I heard these people complain about others, compare themselves or speak in ways that revealed a lack of self-awareness of their actions. They all seemed, in varying degrees, unwilling or unable to see or be responsible for the impact of their choices and behavior. They were resistant to the actual hard work of personal growth and appreciation of themselves and their own gifts, despite evidence to the contrary. From the outside, they presented the image of being "put-together" or "the pinnacle of positivity" but were actually very different if triggered or shaken or confronted in some way. These were very different relationships from my old friends, those people I had found earlier in my life, who had lit my path with the light of self-awareness and a passion for growth and healing. These people in my life now seemed to be showing me one face and the world another, and it confused me so much--particularly when I confronted them and suddenly became the focus or target of their projections. I went from trusted confidante to Enemy #1 sometimes overnight.
And then I realized why: I was acting as a mirror for them and vice versa. As I spent more and more time around people who were resisting their own vulnerability, authenticity and inner demons, I took on their secret negativity and insecurity. As I surrounded myself with people who focused their energy more on putting up appearances and avoiding the painful complexity of life than confronting it, I did too. I complained. I gossiped. I hid. In this environment, my gender transition, an already delicate and vulnerable process, became increasingly less of a celebration and more of a prison as I rejected and resented people more each day. I saw threats at every turn and doubted myself and my abilities. It wasn't who I had ever been, but I absorbed it and sent it back out into the world. And, just like these people, I managed to develop two versions of myself: the one I was "behind the curtain" and the one I showed the world.
I had become the Wizard of Positivity--pulling off the feat of impressing the world with my strength and courage but also feeling like a fraud as I feverishly manipulated controls and switches to keep up the illusion of happiness, confidence and inner peace.
The more I did this, the more I experienced rejection and reprisals. My own behavior was literally creating the alienation I experienced from people and opportunities. All the healthy food and personal development trainings in the world weren't filling the void of not feeling appreciated, valued or cherished for who I was. It felt like a sinkhole and the more I tried to grasp at a solution or a person, the more I felt them slip through my fingers. The way out was elusive and I knew a despair deeper and darker than any that Anne Shirley could ever imagine.
But I knew why I was experiencing all of it. It was my creation. I had allowed the parts of me that didn't believe I deserved love, recognition, support or success take over and I had put myself into environments or among people who weren't truly thriving themselves, despite their illusion to the contrary. I had fallen for those illusions, just as others were, and now had to reconcile with the truth. A lot of things look and feel a lot like love. But where there is a question, there is no love. And where there is real love, there is no question.
I had chosen to settle for less because it resonated with a part of me that felt it was all I deserved. And conflicts that came up were from a different part that knew I deserved better. Despite the pain and fear of changing, I knew I had to remove myself from anything or anyone that wasn't real love--in work, relationships and anything else.
And that's exactly what I did. Hand over hand, I climbed out and through and away from identities, behaviors, habits, situations and people that kept me from being fully expressed or fully seen and appreciated. The more I did, the better I felt and it gave me confidence to keep going.
The pain of whatever was lost wasn't stronger than my will to overcome that dark, negative place I had been in for so long. I began to see everything come into relief--everything made sense as my life improved over three months and then six and then nine. Positive and encouraging oppportunities seemed to serendipitously find me again, effortlessly. When I found myself chasing something or someone like I had before, I instantly saw the dead-end sign and would turn back.
And that's where I am now. I'm experiencing relationships and business/life opportunities like the ones I knew before and also the ones I dreamed about. I'm rather feeling like I've been raised from the dead. Things are happening in my life that make no logical sense and are mind-boggling for me, but they are the things I used to want so much---so I won't second-guess the Universe and look a gift-horse in the mouth. It seems I've definitely got my Midas touch back!!
The work keeps expanding in front of me, because the old habits are strong and deeply rooted in that part of me that needs to heal fully and completely. It couldn't heal in environments that reinforced it--it is healing in atmospheres of abundant love and reciprocity.
It would be great to say my transition made this all possible, that it inspired the change I needed to make. But the truth is, I've never felt more like the "old me" than I do right now. I just sound a little different and have bigger muscles.
Perhaps it was the courage to transition that allowed me to finally overcome whatever held the "old me" back. It was the genesis of finally exposing what hadn't ever really been given room to breathe.
And being alive feels great--especially since I've known what not living feels like. I've known all that fear, shame, rejection and neglect. I remember how it felt to be around it and who I became as a result and how hard I had to work to keep up the dual identities. I don't want to experience that again so all I can do now is be love and feel love and share it.
And the most important part of all is now when people call me positive, I can agree with them.