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thunder & lightning: when x meets y

Friday, February 17th – Things are beginning to really pull together for me in my life. The idea of a full recovery that was long in doubt has now begun to take up residence in my mind. There truly is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not certain what efforts I might need to make to reach it, but I trust that if I continue to step forward with confidence, I will be welcomed by redemption soon. I’m finding opportunities everywhere to battle my fears, and instead of retreating back to comfort, I am now charging forward, determined and resilient. Nothing is going to get in the way of my happiness.

I embark on one of the most productive days that I’ve had in months. I get up early, make a run for coffee and breakfast and even pick up a few things at the store for dinner prior to beginning my work day. Then a busy morning in my office and lunch with Mom. We head off to a restaurant that I haven’t been to in months…a big deal for me; I’m learning to step outside of my box. On the way back to my place I drive her by a few houses in the area that are for sale. A home purchase is probably the last thing that I need to be thinking about, but I’m embracing the new found feelings of independence and freedom. In my mind, I’m creating a future beyond today, and that’s pretty special considering where I had been just months before.

As we stop by one last place, anxiety begins to form in my abdomen. My mind begins to tell me, “head back to comfort”, and so we do. Something isn’t quite right. This isn’t full-fledged panic, but it’s my disorder giving me a little nudge, making me aware that it hasn’t yet fled the scene. I can’t seem to comprehend where these feelings are coming from. All that I can remember is that I had been feeling a bit overwhelmed with negative energy during lunch. I could hear myself complaining about different things or placing blame for my circumstances, and that’s not who I am at all. I sensed at the time that it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t seem to take full control of it. Even if I attempted to silence my mouth, the thoughts still continued.

So, I head back to work, my mind beginning to lure in fear of what might be happening to me. I start to feel that I need to make a sincere effort to overcome this before something small spirals out of control. I finish up my afternoon and head off to the treadmill, determined to make my ruthless enemy surrender to my will. As I begin my run, the pace is feeling tremendously difficult on me. But I start winning the battle one quarter mile at a time until I reach my goal of three miles. And then I keep running. I have to push further, beyond comfort, beyond my mind’s preconceived limits. That’s how fear is conquered. On to three and a half…then four…all the way to five miles. Wow, that’s furthest and hardest I’ve run in a long time. I’m feeling refreshed, confident, and back on top of the world.

I run to the local Italian restaurant nearby to pick up a six pack of beer to share with my guest for dinner later that evening. When I return, I get a call from a west coast client and good friend of mine. We have a great talk, wish each other nice weekends, and I head off to grab a quick shower before my date arrives. The night goes well, but just before heading to bed, I notice that feeling in my stomach again…it’s back. And this time it’s a bit more intense than before. I tell myself to just put it out of my mind and let it go, forget about it. And so I do…momentarily, anyway. I take a look at the clock and when I realize what time it is, my anxiety returns. I’m now very fearful for what might take place the following day. I know that somehow a spark has been created, and that a night of limited sleep could be enough ignite a battle with full scale panic throughout the day that follows. Somehow, I nervously drift off to sleep.

With the arrival of the morning sun, my self-fulfilling prophecy starts off right on schedule. I head over to McDonald’s to grab coffee and some breakfast, and as I drive I’m made fully aware of the presence of my anxiety. I can handle this, but I do sense that I need to be careful. Otherwise, things could turn south for me quickly. The atmosphere around me doesn’t feel “right”; I’m sensing a threat nearby. Just over 24 hours earlier, my morning experience had been completely different – like night and day. I needed to take a step back and observe the situation. I needed to call on my faith to help me understand how I invited this threat back into my world. What was taking place inside of me?

The answer to that question was quite a tricky one to uncover. I spent the better part of this week doing a lot of soul searching, praying, and thinking. And I recognized a couple of things pretty quickly. I was off track with myself. Perhaps prosperity had arrived too soon? I sure thought that I had a better handle on myself than to allow a slip this early as a result of my own decision making. But maybe I was still weak? The late night, beer drinking, story-telling Matt was not a person that I could be proud of and I didn’t want him back. I was far better than that.

I focused much of my time on Saturday and Sunday talking to God. I asked for forgiveness for my weakness and I promised to do everything that I could to steer the ship back on its course. But I couldn’t stop beating myself up over my setback. I hadn’t made any truly horrible choices, but I was disgusted with the fact that I had lost track of my priorities, even if only for a few hours. I am a man of his word…I needed to stick by it. I began to feel extremely volatile emotional tension inside. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. It was truly as if there was a battle of conflicting desires taking place inside of me.

The two days that followed continued to be some of the most uncomfortable and emotionally torn days that I can ever remember having in my entire life. My mind was racing at light speed. I truly could not keep up with it. I was cycling between dreams and thoughts of lofty, noble pursuits, back to intense fears and horribly negative visualizations. No matter how hard I fought to hold onto the positive thoughts in my mind, I could not seem to overcome the demon inside of me that was waging war on all that had been keeping me afloat and, in recent days, lifting me to new heights. There was a dynamic clash taking place…I had never experienced anything like it. I just did my best to close my eyes and ask for God to still my mind and provide me with the wisdom to handle it in time.

By Wednesday morning, things were improving slightly, but I was still encountering quite a bit of conflict in my mind. As I headed to the shower I grabbed my iPad and something spoke to me, telling me to listen to an audiobook by positive thinking guru and self-help specialist, Bob Proctor. In the past I had reviewed his material on a regular basis, but it had now been in a couple of months since I last visited with it. Somehow, the voice reminded me that I needed a refresher. So I turned on a lecture from his Freedom Series called “The Big One”. And just minutes later, I began to understand exactly what had been happening inside of my mind.

Bob speaks about the process that takes place when an individual decides that they want to challenge their conditioned nature and seek out a new life and new opportunities. He says that there are four separate phases that an individual will experience during the transition. Phase 1: Bondage, 2: Reason, 3: The Terror Barrier, 4: Freedom. He explains all four phases in quite a bit of detail, concluding that virtually every person will go through the first three, but only a select few will ever truly achieve freedom. And why is that? Because the “terror barrier” presents a psychological wall so defiant that it can shake and destroy even the most seemingly confident individuals who attempt to pass beyond it, persuading them to eagerly retreat back to bondage. Back to comfort, back to safety.

The terror barrier is where I’ve found myself throughout this week, and I can assure you that it’s not a pleasant place for anyone to be. During the lecture by Bob Proctor, he describes the clash of forces taking place at the “terror barrier” as thunder and lightning. I’m not sure that there is any better way to illustrate the feelings of conflicting emotions than that. I thought I had reached this phase during the fall, but I’m certain now that I wasn’t nearly at this point. My reason had not yet graduated to a state where I was ready to challenge my existing conditioning with trust and confidence that a full breakthrough to freedom was possible.

But since the early part of December, I have been laying the groundwork to challenge its muscle. My actions have begun to follow my reason. I’ve begun to rattle the walls that have held me hostage. I’ve been forming new dreams that are on track with the man that I want to become, and I’ve been pursuing them. I’ve begun to look fear in the eye and have been seeking to make every effort to leave it in my rearview. I’ve truly become a threat to my very own deep-rooted conditioning.

And so last Friday as my progress began to reach new heights, my old self made its move, seeking to destroy all that I had worked so hard for and send me running back to comfort. What was all of this that I had been busy constructing anyway? Certainly these pursuits were not in harmony with the Matt of days past. Something had to be done to restore order. Lead with some negative thoughts, follow with some blame, send a little anxiety, top it all off with a night resembling the “good ol’ days” and BOOM you have a battle on your hands and an opportunity to seize back control. That’s exactly how it unfolded. My “x” wanted me back. But little did it know how strong my “Y” had become.

I was ready to fight, but I needed a bit of direction from my corner as to the nature of my opponent. Thank the Lord for speaking to me and guiding me back to the wisdom of that audiobook. I was growing exhausted in an effort to ward off the negativity that was forcing its way back into my mind. It’s truly a gut-wrenching, painful experience. Unless that is you are able to understand exactly what is taking place and you choose to embrace the enormous potential in this phase of your growth as an individual. Now that I have finally recognized what’s been going on within me, I have found tremendous comfort in reaching the terror barrier, because I know that I’m one step away from my breakthrough – FREEDOM. And with that knowledge, I’m more determined than ever to push beyond my conditioned limits and achieve the life that I desire.

Change isn’t easy…challenging who you are as a person takes tremendous courage. Our conditioning is very deeply rooted. Much of it is genetic and we build upon it through habitual thoughts and actions over the course of our lifetime. If you want to seek a new avenue for your life…if you want something more, you need to involve yourself with an intense desire strong enough to inspire you to challenge your “x” and move forward. Your desire will promote the “Y” thinking necessary to bury that old conditioning. For me, it was not until I reached my bottom that I found the fire within to create a new life for myself. But it doesn’t need to be that way. You can start anytime. Dig deep, get to know you, find your faith and allow it to reveal to you the passions of your soul – your purpose. And then, start building. Say goodbye to bondage, welcome reason, crash through the terror barrier, and enjoy freedom! It’s waiting for you, and I pray that God will give you the strength to go find it.

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a light came on

As I kneel down to say my evening prayers, a smile begins to form on my face. There is an excitement in my voice as I speak to God. I feel alive. I’ve won the battle of the day that has passed, and I am filled with gratitude for the progress that I’ve been able to make throughout. I thank the Lord for standing by me and carrying me through the adversity that I faced when I awoke earlier that morning. And I also thank Him for allowing me to create something positive out of the remainder of my day. Thanks to my faith, I have not quit. And judging by the way that I feel now, I recognize that there is a true purpose to this suffering that I’ve been asked to endure. I am meant to overcome all that holds me back. I am meant to grow stronger as time passes. Perhaps this is the moment when I will truly turn the corner? Tomorrow will be even better. I can feel it. No turning back now.

Shortly after I open my eyes the next morning, I head to the bathroom to brush my teeth and start my day. Wow, I really don’t feel well…where has this come from? I feel a heavy weight pressing against the top half of my chest and as I swallow, I’m made aware of that horrible, pestering lump in my throat. My analytical and anxious mind stands at attention and questions begin to ring out in my head. Why is this happening again? I was so much better last night…all I did was fall asleep…how am I finding myself in this position again? If I was turning the corner last night, I must have just decided to make a full circle back around the block. Deflated, I wonder if progress is perhaps just a dream. Every time that I begin to feel that I am on my way, I’m quickly reminded of the tremendous battle that lies ahead. God is trying to tell me something, but what?

It just seems unfair to me that I am still going through such relentless turmoil. I’m quickly approaching my one year anniversary with this setback, and I can’t seem to understand what it is that I am doing wrong? I remind myself that the Lord is never far, and that everything has a purpose, even pain. And I quickly conclude that there must still be work that needs to be done. There’s more that I need to understand about myself, there are things that I need to address within me before I can be made complete. I take a deep breath and work to regain my faith. Stop being a victim, Matt. Look inside and ask God for the wisdom to uncover what haunts you. Journey to the core of your being…there you will find the answers.

Blamelessly reflecting on the past, I begin to dive deep into the memories of the most troubled times of my life. I remember how I felt as things fell apart in each experience as it unfolded. I recall the mental anguish that I put myself through when I arrived in California during the summer 2001, hoping to chase down my dream of someday playing college football at an elite level. I remember how I had allowed my own self destructive mind drive me to complete frustration with myself, and how it ultimately encouraged me to walk away from the game that I loved. I recall nights alone when anxiety first presented itself in my life and, replaying the horrors that I suffered through, I discover what truly terrified me the most about my plight. Looking back on failed relationships, of which I had many, I uncover what motivated me to seek out such volatile companionship, and I begin to recognize why I ultimately was unable to hold onto love, and why, perhaps I drove those partners away. Within the dark memories of my addiction, I find the vulnerabilities of my mind and am able to see what it was inside that was driving me to make such destructive choices with my finances and my future. Things are beginning to make a whole lot of sense to me. Each moment of personal struggle appears to have embodied the same set of commonalities. There’s a pattern in place. I should not be surprised by where it has led me.

This is a hard thing for most people who face hardship to understand. No one wants to believe that they are fully responsible for the misery of their existence. I admit that it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s very easy to be motivated to seek answers outside of ourselves. Prescription drug ads remind us every day that we are ill and that there is no better label for us than “victim”. We are taught to feel helpless rather than empowered. And so we ask questions like “what did I do to deserve this?” Well, honestly most of us didn’t knowingly do anything. But as we become more self-aware we can understand that far beneath the surface of our skin, deep in the heart of our being and entrenched within our minds we embody the qualities which make us magnets for anxiety, depression, OCD, addiction, etc. Although it’s not our conscious choosing, we often invite those things in. And they work fast to team up with our most limiting, deep rooted fears, forming a partnership to slowly take over and destroy our lives.

It starts out slow however, as time passes, periods of extended hardship continue to set up residence and become more and more familiar to us, until each day begins to feel like a struggle to survive. But we have escaped and have rebounded before, why not now? Sure, it may have only lasted a couple years, or a few months…perhaps it only lasted a week…but it was something. At least we were able to embrace the opportunity to breathe again and temporarily regain a bit of normalcy in our lives, even if we’d lose it soon regardless. But what is happening now? This feels different. There might not be any coming back from this…

This is the place where I found myself repeatedly on mornings following a day of progress. Just eight hours earlier, I had drifted off to sleep feeling that perhaps I had turned a corner, only to face the harsh reality in the morning that I was right back where I had begun. It was an extremely humbling experience, but it developed tremendous perseverance. When you begin to understand that God has a purpose for everything taking place in your life, you are able to accept the fact that even extended periods of hardship have meaning. You learn to embrace those times as a gift, because to your life they are just a valuable as years of peace and tranquility…that is, if you choose to listen and accept them as such. But to find the meaning in suffering, it takes unwavering trust and more than anything, patience. And in times of desperation, those things can be hard to sustain.

Too often when we pray we expect God to present His answers to us immediately. We forget that He works in His time, not ours. Day after day, we continue to press on, struggling to get by and hoping that some night soon He will deliver to us the miracle that will set us free. And perhaps He will. But maybe God is asking us to play more of an active role in the creation of this miracle? Perhaps that is the purpose behind the extended period of suffering that we’ve been asked to endure. Did you ever think that maybe by not granting the quick fix, God is actually showing his faith in YOU? Perhaps He is attempting to reveal to you yourself, in an effort to help you uncover the strength within to allow you to overcome your present turmoil? After all, you are still here, and the Lord does not give us life to suffer, but rather to excel and live freely, glorifying his name…there is a purpose to your existence, and He wants to reveal it to you. There is still hope…He has not abandoned you, and He never will.

I quickly learned that God did not intend for me to find a quick fix solution to my problems…not this time. He wanted more for me than that. Remember the days when a Band-Aid and a kiss from Mom would fix everything? Not anymore. I’m no longer a child, and so I don’t heal as one. We are adults, and as we mature, so does our healing process. Our wounds cut deeper and take patience and care to repair. But with that patience and a committed relationship with God, we are able to uncover deep meaning in the pain that those wounds leave behind. Called to the stand, we are forced to look within ourselves for answers, and as we do we reveal countless opportunities for growth and change. Suddenly, the solution is crystal clear. The bottom is not the end…this won’t last forever. This is just our beginning.

By trusting in my faith and relying on the Lord to deliver me the answers in His time, I was able to reveal to myself the issues at the core of my being that have been responsible for leading me to further problems with anxiety, OCD, depression, and addiction. It was as if a light came on. There are three characteristics that I am able to now clearly identify: a lack of patience, a need for control, and an inability to trust in others and in myself. And now, understanding all that I do about myself, God’s plan for me makes perfect sense. Because this experience has been the ultimate test of patience and perseverance. And it’s invited me to place unwavering trust in a power that is greater than me and let go of my own need for control. I’ve even reclaimed trust in myself as I’ve taken the first steps forward in an effort to win back my life. I can honestly say that I would have never learned these things about myself without this incredible experience. And even if someone were to point them out to me as the underlying issues time and time again, I would have never understood what it took to overcome them. So I am forever thankful that He chose to intervene when He did. And now that I have identified the sparks that fuel the fire, I can effectively target and extinguish any adversity or complex mental health issues attempting to stand in my way. This journey has been a tremendous test, but it’s all been part of His plan to set me free, and I feel truly blessed to have been so fortunate to go through it.

Today as I began to jot down some notes for this blog, I found myself feeling a bit uncertain about how I would gather my thoughts and convey the message that I had envisioned to my readers. I wasn’t sure how I was going to present things, but something told me that I needed to find a way to put it all out there. It’s amazing, but lately I’ve just felt divinely inspired to bring certain things to light, and so when I’m hit with an idea for a topic I just listen to my gut and start typing, and within a couple of hours it presents itself as my latest blog. Writing is a very therapeutic experience for me, because as I do it I gain clarity and I continue to heal. With each new area that I address, I cleanse myself of the lingering troubles that remain in that area of my recovery. Today, the most challenging hurdle that exists is continued patience. So what better way to move forward than to write about it!

Write about what plagues you, Matt, and in doing so, you will continue to heal yourself and everything around you. Sounded fair enough to me. With that goal in mind, I finished a quick note in my journal and moved from the sofa towards the kitchen for some water…and as I passed the bedroom door, I noticed that a light had gone on inside! The touch lamp on my dresser next to the bed turned on, flickered, and has continued to stay on and shine bright since. This has occurred a couple of times before, but I had always thought that it was due to heat from the television, the vents, or from me…but today, that room was empty, the TV was off, and no heat was running in my place other than the gas fireplace in the living room.

Wow…I can’t help but think that someone upstairs was listening. God truly did turn on a light for me…he stood by me with patience and revealed me to myself, helping me to find the answers within through my relationship with Him. And today, He confirmed for me the purpose of my writing…this is indeed how I’m meant to heal. This is the purpose in the suffering. This is my new beginning.

if these walls could talk

Although it’s been nearly two and a half years since I moved out of my house and into my apartment, the walls of my latest residence continue to remain quite bare.  It’s almost as if I never truly found myself settled here.  And to a certain degree, I believe that to be very accurate.  This wasn’t meant to be a long term stay, but due to the unsettling nature of my life, it’s become more than just a stop along the way…it’s become my home.  Those bare walls may appear lifeless, but if they had a means to speak, wow, could they tell stories.  They’ve served witness to addiction, depression, anxiety, heartache, despair, torment, and regret.  Those walls have seen a man of nearly thirty years shatter before them, and they’ve witnessed the Lord’s helping hand ease him back to life.  They never ran nor turned their back on the story unfolding; they stood firm.  Ignored by the selfish act inhabiting them, they remained bare and neglected but all the while patient.  Stable and strong, they provided comfort to an otherwise frail and depleted existence.

I’ve always been a person who has searched for meaning in nearly everything.  So I wasn’t the type to run to Pier 1 or Target and buy a bunch of generic artwork for the sake of filling the space.  If I was going to surround myself with photographs or paintings, they would need to speak to me.  They’d need to move me, inspire me, make me think, make me feel…they’d need to connect with my innermost desires; with my soul.  And those bare walls appear today as being very symbolic to me.  While living in this apartment, I spent the majority of my two years feeling somewhat empty inside and disconnected from my true self.  The earthly desires of my own self destructive personality were not inspiring wall-worthy material.  I would have been embarrassed or ashamed to reveal what motivated me during those times, so I left the canvas blank.  There was however, a soul inside that was full of life and imagination…one that appreciated all of the simple beauties and blessings of life.  But I hadn’t yet truly connected with it.  I never really made the effort.  And therefore, I remained feeling very empty inside…lifeless, or so it appeared.

During this past fall, I began engaging in a lot of positive thinking exercises.  There was a lot of value in this, because several of the methods helped me to begin to retrain my mind.  I worked on ways to express gratitude for even the simplest things and that helped me to overcome the obsessive negativity that had been waging war on my psyche.  I also used a variety of techniques to encourage the formation and stability of my own personal goals within my mind.  From the movie The Secret, I discovered the concept of a vision board.  A vision board is a unique, self-developed visual representation of your desires, dreams, goals, etc.  Flipping through magazine after magazine, I spent several evenings cutting out photos and phrases, creating two of my very own boards.  For weeks I kept the boards with me in my office, and then one evening I decided that I wanted to be able to see them at the start and finish of my day, so I moved them to the bedroom.

I nailed the boards to the wall directly to the right of my bed, so that when I would wake in the morning or retire in the evening, they would be the first thing that I would see.  The images on those boards were meant to inspire.  I studied them until they became permanently etched into my mind.  I had created the boards at a time when even a walk to the mailbox often appeared nearly unbearable due to anxiety.  I was in desperate need of hope.  And they truly served as an escape for me…a reminder that someday I would indeed persevere and see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Someday the darkness would vanish, and those visions would become my reality.  In time, I would live my dreams.

But it was going to take something more than those boards to lead me to the attainment of all that I had envisioned.  I needed to continue to call on a higher power.  I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone.  I needed a miracle in order to find my direction, to heal, and to move forward.  And as I engaged in a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God, it’s amazing what was revealed to me.  I bought in wholeheartedly, and trusted that where there was faith and a will, there was a way.  Looking back on the experience now, I am left speechless by the memories of what took place in the following months…

As a result of this blog and the social network, a lot of people will share their own unique stories with me and often will ask what it takes to overcome similar battles of personal struggle and hardship.  This is always a difficult question for me to answer.  I’m certainly not qualified to be proposing a wholesale solution.  I understand that what works for me may not work for everyone, and so I only hope to share my story to provide comfort and perhaps inspire others to continue to fight and believe in their ability to stand tall in the face of adversity.  I’m always happy to listen, share some encouraging words and really just be an outlet and a friend.  And more than anything, I’m happy to share my prayers and faith with them, because there is NOTHING more powerful.  So while I may not have all the answers, one thing I do know is this…if you are going to get to the heart of your own personal crisis you’re going to need to begin by solidifying your faith.  That’s where it all starts.

As many of you already know, by the summer of 2011 my anxiety was truly beginning to destroy what remained of my well-being.  Although I had done a pretty good job over the years of accepting my disorder, I was still far too often painting myself as a victim.  It was easier to justify an advanced bout with anxiety by examining the contributing external factors and placing the blame elsewhere.  “I didn’t want to be this way…it was just job stress, a failed relationship, financial worries, etc.  Just imagine if those circumstances hadn’t developed…I’d be so much better off…right??”  Wrong.  Maybe momentarily, but not long term.  In order to heal beyond “today” you need to get the bottom of the issue that lies inside…not outside.  Because those outside factors, they are just a trigger that YOU choose to react to, and if you make one false step, you can ignite that existing fire almost instantaneously…unless, that is, you heal what’s within.

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll recall that I felt directly called to action by God to start the wheels of change in motion in my life (“the awakening, 8/15/11).  I knew that it was time for me to listen, and I was divinely inspired to take responsibility for my life and my own personal well-being.  I began to understand that my reality was a by-product of the decisions that I had made over the years.  I chose that bad relationship, I invited financial trouble with my addiction, I created the stress that I encountered in my job, I pushed people away…I was the one constant, everywhere, at any point of my life.  How can you deny what’s always there?  Clearly, I was the problem.  I became tremendously repentant.  But I felt great inside…it was like discovering the key to happiness.  I couldn’t wait to get moving.

And so the following day, I began writing this blog. And I did it with a clear purpose in mind by which the Lord had inspired me.  I decided on 100 percent honest disclosure.  That was just how it would have to be.  I felt that in order to heal and seek my own forgiveness, there was no other way…it was definitely a calling of sorts.  And while it wasn’t always easy, I believed wholeheartedly in that moment when God took hold of me and encouraged me to take action.  I trusted that if I did right by Him, everything else would fall into place in time.  The Lord would not punish honesty; he would find it to be a noble venture.  And I owed that to him.  So I tackled my past head on, taking responsibility for my part in broken relationships, in heartache, in despair, and in ups and downs all along the travels of the winding road of my life.  I opened up about an anxiety and panic disorder, OCD, depression, and a serious gambling addiction.  I made my writing public and encouraged others to share my story.  I wanted friends, family, and figures of my past to understand that I was sorry, and that while I had not yet been made perfect, I was working on it, every day.

As I continued to write, I found a lot of clarity in those past experiences.  I discovered my weaknesses and a growing list of items within that needed to be addressed.  And I got to work on them.  By cleaning my past, I was allowing my future to heal.  I was beginning to understand the type of person that I wanted to become.  I began seeking ways to be a more positive individual so that in turn I could draw better outcomes to my life.  I constructed vision boards.  I started to dream.  I made new friends…good friends…no, GREAT friends.  Kind-hearted and inspiring friends of old and new began to come into my life every day as a result of my blog.  And the acquaintances of my past that were not on track with my new found priorities, well, they faded away, and I was fine with that.  God was pulling weeds and planting healthy relationships in my life.  I trusted in His plan.

While exploring deep within my soul, my faith was absolutely critical to keeping me honest, and I turned back to my relationship with God time and time again for support.  If I began to place blame elsewhere or feel resentment for my past or even my existing circumstances, the Lord would set me back on track.  I utilized prayer repeatedly throughout the day, and when I spoke with God, I felt an obligation to be honest.  So doubts and questions about how to proceed began to disappear.  He taught me how to forgive even those who hurt me without good reason.  I just listened to Him and continued moving forward, keeping in mind all that I felt inside when we spoke alone.  I knew that nothing negative could come out of acting according to the desires of His plan for me.  And I kept doing my best to trudge ahead, praying that in time I’d find my answers through the experience.

And that’s pretty much exactly what soon took place.  At the end of November, I was tested tremendously.  I hit a bottom, and it was more devastating than anything I could have ever dreamed of experiencing.  But this pain had a purpose.  God was providing me with a sincere opportunity… He was begging me to persevere and use nothing more than my faith and trust in Him to overcome the most tragic experience of my life.  If I was able to handle this, imagine the tremendous strength that I would embody forever as a result?  I’d know that no matter where I was in my life, that I could call on a relationship that would never turn its back on me to carry me through my darkest moments.  He knew how far I had come, even if I wasn’t able to recognize it in that moment.  It was time to prove the strength of faith.

So I let go.  I gave up control altogether.  I worked my way completely off of my natural anxiety supplements.  I turned to prayer when I felt panic knocking at the door.  I put it all in His hands and prayed for the best.  And I’m pleased to say that it’s working.  Every day I am gaining strength.  And I trust that it’s only a matter of time now until I shine.  Because a weak moment can no longer drown me…I’ve got a life-jacket that will never allow me back under, and I carry it with me all the time.

My experiences along this journey to self-discovery have been nothing short of amazing.  In addition to the clarity, forgiveness, and blessings that I’ve received as a result of my new found relationship with God, I’ve also been granted a purpose, and my life has new meaning.  I never had much of an idea about what I wanted to do with my life, and now as a result of all that’s taken place, it’s become crystal clear to me.  I’ve discovered a passion for writing which I hope to someday develop into a career, and I want to continue to help people and encourage them to overcome their own setbacks in life.  I want to return the favor…I want to pay it forward.  Those things are what drive me and make me truly happy.

Tonight as I head to bed, I’ll glance to my right and take note of the various images and phrases on my vision boards.  And I’ll smile, recognizing that I’ve already begun to achieve several of the goals which seemed like far-fetched pursuits only months ago.  And then, I’ll look to my left at a new addition to another previously bare wall…a portrait of Jesus receiving comfort from one of God’s angels in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I’ll say thank you.  Because I remember the emptiness that I felt inside during those nights on my knees in the darkness of this very same room.  This was the starting point.  It was in this room that I sought God’s wisdom and strength…to take responsibility, to be honest, to act on His inspiration, to forgive, to let go, and to move forward with trust and confidence in His plan.  So it’s fitting to me that these walls are no longer empty – this is where I found my meaning, my purpose, and my will to change.  This is where I found my soul.  Wow, if only these walls could speak…what a beautiful story they would tell today.

public places and open spaces

I switched on the light and headed into the bedroom. As I prepared to say my prayers, I noticed that something felt very different in this moment. The walls that surrounded me in this previously confining space…on this night, they felt to me as though they didn’t even exist. I was reminded of the touch of the cool evening air during the early part of the summer. I could almost sense the welcoming chill surrounding me. I moved towards the window and gazed outside. I truly had to remind myself that it was the early part of February. Taking a deep breath, I made another scan my surroundings. This wasn’t the same place. I knelt down and paused, and as I did so, a smile began to grace my face. Wanting to make certain that I understood what was happening, I took it all in. The black cloud that had been following me relentlessly was now beginning to fade. The weight that had burdened my chest for the past year was diminishing. I could breathe. The walls were vanishing, and I was being invited back out into the world. In an instant, I began to feel alive again. Things were finally falling into place. I became completely overwhelmed with gratitude.

I thanked the Lord repeatedly for my experiences that night. I kept shaking my head in amazement. The hardships that I had endured throughout past year had been completely worthwhile…there was nothing more powerful than this moment of peace. Even if I found it to be short lived…even if in the morning everything was different, it wouldn’t matter. This was brilliance. This was divine. And something assured me that this was only a taste of what would follow if I continued to believe in the process and trust in God’s plan for me. I recognized that I would need to take some steps on my own; in fact, I felt that I was being called to do so. Earlier that day I had completed my first run on the treadmill in nearly three months. I faced my fears, trusted my faith, and I was then rewarded for it. This was my invitation to take the opportunity to start living again. I couldn’t pass it up. I was ready, and it was time.

This opportunity was a long time in the making. I lived for months on end feeling so completely restricted by fear that I could not foresee any way out of the confining solitude surrounding me. I just continued to work on finding myself and developing my faith, and I prayed for the best. I kept reminding myself that things would come together in His time, not mine. I knew that if there wasn’t an opportunity presenting itself, then there was probably still more work that needed to be done. So I turned my focus inside. And I kept searching for answers, refining myself and my priorities in life.

I’m not here to tell you that this period of my life was by any means pleasant or enjoyable. During this time, I found my bottom. And the walls began to close in on me, quickly. My anxiety had worn me down to the point that I could barely function physically. I truly struggled to exist at times and my mind deteriorated quickly as a result. I lost confidence in myself, and that was devastating. I was tormented by negative thoughts telling me that I was dreadfully ill. I pictured myself leaving on a gurney, and I carried a phone with me everywhere in anticipation of the moment I would need to make that call. Thankfully, I believed in God’s ability to grant miracles, and so that’s what I prayed for most nights. That’s what kept me going, and it was exactly what I was going to need. Nothing else was going to save me. I was being taught the true meaning of patience and perseverance.

In the darkest moments of this battle, I began to struggle tremendously with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is defined as “an abnormal and persistent fear of public places or open areas, especially those from which escape could be difficult or help not immediately accessible.” This is truly the most difficult and personally devastating form that my disorder has ever taken. Agoraphobia was not completely unfamiliar to me. There were moments in California during my first bout with anxiety when I felt its effects in a pretty dramatic way. But the things that I encountered this fall went well beyond those experiences. I was dealing with something pretty extreme in nature.

Agoraphobia doesn’t happen overnight. Let me give you a bit of an idea as to how some of this unfolds. For me, it becomes an issue following a long, chronic period of intense anxiety. When your nerves are under such tremendous stress, it takes very little to startle them and throw your body into a full blown panic. It could be as simple as a car pulling out in front of you, a line at the grocery store, or a dramatic reaction from someone around you that heightens your own emotions. Imagine a guitar string pulled nice and tight…the slightest pluck of that string can produce a sound that lights up a room. That’s how it is for someone with chronic anxiety whose nerves have been sensitized.

The body’s reaction becomes so intensified, that for even people like me who have a familiarity with panic, each occurrence feels more devastating than ever before. Each time that you encounter it, you feel wholeheartedly that “this could be it.” You picture yourself on the way to the hospital. You think that perhaps you are losing your mind and you fear that you’ll need to be institutionalized. And then, you do what your body implores…you run. You flee the situation and, shaking with panic, you head back to your comfort zone where you can survive the attack. And then, your subconscious begins to decide for you that it might be best for you to never leave again…

And so this is how it starts. Have a bad experience at the grocery store once, and each time you decide that you need to visit there in the future, your mind recalls that memory and says “no, no, you stay put, you know exactly what could happen there.” Trips to even similar places quickly fall victim to those memories as well. You begin to think “what if what happened to me at the grocery store happens to me here?” And so the list continues to grow. Confined spaces are truly a problem. Take for instance the car or an airplane. Neither is easily escaped when panic ensues. So you begin to avoid travel. One by one, you blacklist everything that had previously been a part of your daily life, until you are left with only the walls that surround you – the comfort zone. And in time, even those walls close in on you. And you’re left in a very sad and lonely place. You begin to forfeit your life altogether and fear that you’ll never rebound from this experience.

These choices to avoid interaction with the outside world are devastating to your psyche. But when fully in the grips of agoraphobia, you don’t feel that you even have a say in the matter. The mental blocks become so deeply entrenched that you can’t seem to find a way around them. And so often it’s easiest just to give in and play along. It’s like being in a completely abusive relationship. You forfeit your ability to think on your own and you surrender to the evil desires of the fear which is determined to keep you handcuffed forever. Because it becomes the only way you know how to survive. And “real” life becomes very unfamiliar. All of your time is spent in isolation in one so called “comfortable” place. So when confronted with ordinary things, you become terrified. You used to love to go to lunch at that restaurant, but now the mere thought of visiting there scares you to death. Crackers become a more appetizing lunch than a good meal, because you have a pantry full of them… “see, there’s no need to leave.”

I’ve experienced the worst of this, and while it’s very humbling and revealing to speak about these experiences, I do so to provide comfort to others who feel like they are alone in this battle. I’ve stood in lines at places like WalMart with a handful of things and have quickly run to put them back and dart out of the store. I’ve avoided every place imaginable. I’ve been afraid to get in my car and drive to an ATM a couple blocks away. Last year I drove roughly 25,000 miles…this year, barely 3,000. I’ve abandoned lunch with my own mother mid-meal, multiple times, out of fear. I missed a great childhood friend’s wedding. I’ve avoided air travel and even the pew of my own church on Christmas Eve. I’ve spent Thanksgiving alone. I began shopping at Rite Aid to avoid the grocery store. I feared driving to the other side of town due to the extra time it would take for me to get back home, and started doing everything within a stone’s throw of my apartment. And my fears became so overwhelming that even the idea of doing something outside of my environment would make me physically ill.

Even my own place would soon fall victim to the fear. I began to feel panicked when I’d need to walk to the mailbox, and so for several days, I would avoid it. I’d need to speak to myself constantly to accomplish simple chores like taking the trashing down the hall or dropping the recycling in the garage. I became very fearful of the shower, because it was a very confining place for me, and I had many bad experiences there with panic. I didn’t stop bathing, but I would rush in and out, and would keep the phone on the edge of the tub, just in case my anxiety became too much for me to bear. As you all know, sleep often was an issue as well. And at my lowest, and this is disturbing for me to say, I became fearful of even walking. I was experiencing an array of devastating things physically, and so I had myself convinced that I was suffering from a debilitating and life altering disease. When I’d walk, I’d feel shaky, off-balance, and often times, in pain. So I began avoiding it due to the fear of what I might feel. I spent most of my time at my desk, on the couch, or in bed.

Now, some of you might be thinking, this guy needs some serious help. And a couple months ago you probably would have been right. Thankfully, I received that help. God is helping through this. Things are beginning to change, miraculously. But it’s taken patience, and more than anything else, trust. I’m not here to say that medication or supplements are wrong; we are all unique and have different needs. But I’ve never been medicated, and I quit all natural supplementation on January 1st, deciding to trust wholeheartedly in my faith to heal me, and since then, I’ve been doing better than ever. So I encourage you, no matter what your healing regimen, to always keep your faith as a part of the process. It’s worked wonders for me…not overnight, but in time, when I was fully prepared to accept and embrace my transformation.

I share with you my story to give you hope. To say that “I’ve been there. I can understand…I can relate.” And I hope that you can recognize that I haven’t quit. I’ve persevered. And I will get healthy. I will be stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually than I’ve ever been. That is the gift that I’m being given. For that, I would do this all over again, in a heartbeat. Embrace the times when you are tested. It will all be worth it in the end. You will find yourself…you will find your strength and your faith…and in your weakest moment, you will paint your own Picasso, and that will become your life moving forward. Remember, the BOTTOM is just the BEGINNING. May God bless.

“living” hell: a look inside the anxious mind

No matter how fast I would run, I could not seem to find refuge from the demons that were chasing me.  With every step forward that I took, I sensed an evil presence lurking closely behind, summoning me to the darkness.  It was gaining ground on me, and it wouldn’t be long until its relentless pursuit became too much for me to bear.  My life was about to change dramatically in ways that I couldn’t even begin to understand.  I was about to begin my descent into my own personal “living” hell.

On an airplane returning from Los Angeles during the middle of May in 2011, I could sense that my running was done.  As we made our descent into Philadelphia, I peered out the window to my left and felt my stomach sink as I witnessed the dark abyss awaiting my return.  Something wasn’t right.  I felt ill.  My mind was vulnerable…negative thoughts came racing in.  And then everything began to slowly fall apart.  A long wait at baggage claim.  A shuttle that took almost another hour to arrive.  A rain that began as a drizzle and turned into a torrential downpour as I headed up the turnpike.  It was the worst weather that I can ever remember driving in…it almost shook my car off the road.  And when I did finally arrive home, I walked in the door and felt like a foreigner in my own apartment.  I was frightened…the surroundings felt eerily unfamiliar…the walls were closing in.

That night was the beginning of my collapse.  A vicious panic attack greeted me in my sleep, and I became too terrified to close my eyes again.  I stayed awake until 6:30 AM.  The next night, 5:30 AM.  Things were getting ugly.  But this was just the beginning.

About a week and half after my return from California, I suffered through another tremendously difficult night.  That evening, I took a shower and as I stood at the mirror shaving my anxiety became so intense that I couldn’t even finish.  Minutes later, I felt as though I was going to collapse.  This had to be what a nervous breakdown felt like…I grabbed the phone and called my father and explained to him what I was feeling.  I asked him to stop by my place.  I didn’t want to be alone because I sensed that something terrible was about to happen, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to help myself in the event that it did.

When he arrived, I was completely exhausted.  My mind and my body were completed depleted.  I was scared to death, and although I was brimming with adrenaline, I could barely keep my eyes open.  I remember that I was sitting on the couch with my father across from me on the chair by the window.  As we sat and talked with one another, two to three times I found myself so fatigued that I dozed off, only to awake each time five to ten minutes later with severe panic.  It was a terrifying experience, and I know it pained my father to see me that way.

Eventually, I retired to bed.  My father offered to stay and sleep in the living room.  Unfortunately, I found no more comfort in my own bed than I had on the couch earlier that evening.  So I read the Bible and prayed…asking the Lord for wisdom, for strength, and for hope.  And then, I pulled out my iPad and typed up the journal entry below…

This is a look inside of my mind that night.  For months, I’ve been hesitant to share this, but I think that it might be able to provide some comfort to those of you who are struggling with your own set of demons in your life.  This was not the bottom for me…in fact it took about another six months for me to find that place.  But I survived it, and I’m a better man for it today.  You CAN overcome – I promise.  Just maintain your faith and never give up, and the Lord will help you weather the storm.  May God bless.

5/25/11 3:13 AM

So I decided tonight that maybe I’d start keeping a journal.  I’m hoping that writing will allow me to clear my head so that I can fall asleep. Being awake this late at night on a regular basis is killing me. I can feel myself deteriorating from the stress and anxiety. Tonight I was very afraid that I might be looking into the eyes of a nervous breakdown and perhaps I still am. After a very stressful day at work, I felt myself barely clinging to the edge of sanity this evening. It was as if I had drained all of my body’s resources. I hardly had the strength to move. I thought I might collapse. So I called my dad and asked if he could come spend some time with me…I was scared to be alone if it really did happen, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it to a phone if it did. I was hoping earlier that perhaps I was just dehydrated or maybe I needed something to eat, but after addressing both those things I still feel unstable. My body feels like it’s trembling inside and I feel lost and confused. Even with my dad on the couch in the next room I cannot get any sleep, I’m too afraid to relax and close my eyes. My life has truly become a sad existence. I’m so tired of fighting this battle.  And it feels like my body has decided that it feels the same. So what do I do? Two weeks ago I was in California, thousands of miles from my safe zone battling my demons, and I was winning.  I actually felt as though I was living life…even if only momentarily. It sure felt good. By the end of the trip I was sleeping great at night and wishing that I could stay. But the minute I got off the plane in Philly everything changed…and it’s truly been downhill since. It’s almost as if today I’ve already forgotten who that strong, independent person was in California. I could not be weaker in this moment. How did I lose myself so quickly again? And why does it have to be so hard for me to try and hold onto an ounce of peace…why is happiness so fleeting? I don’t know how to get myself back. I’m getting too frail to fight. Everything just works in a vicious cycle. It’s out of control and I can’t stop it. I’m fearful for my physical health and my sanity. Thank the Lord for the comfort He provides. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what to do. I’m just so thankful to be promised salvation. In God’s time I will find my peace. It may not be on this green earth but someday I’ll find it. That promise is what keeps me going. My eyes are getting heavy, maybe this is working. Going to try again to get some rest. Can’t do many more days on this little sleep at work…gnite

full steam ahead

As the morning sun peaks around the blinds in my bedroom, I lift my head and thank God for another restful night’s sleep and for a new day ahead. This moment is very important to me. I try to ensure that I never take it for granted. I have vivid memories of nights when sleep was a tremendously terrifying experience. I can recall countless mornings when I awoke with bloodshot eyes and my body trembling, feeling as though I hadn’t found any peace in the night at all. Today, things are much better. Not because I am no longer susceptible to those restless nights, but because I trust wholeheartedly in God’s ability to carry me through them if they should choose to reemerge unexpectedly. My faith gives me peace. It helps me to understand that I am not alone, and that He will never abandon me. As I progress and heal from these experiences, I’m able to recall those nights when things seemed as though they couldn’t possibly get any worse, and I find strength in those memories. I survived the worst, and I’m still here to tell this story, and for that I am forever thankful.

After I say my prayer at the edge of my bed, I head over to the French doors in the bedroom and draw the blinds. The sun finds a break in the clouds and reaches out to me…beautiful. Another day…lucky to be alive. I hear a rumble in the distance and as I gaze out across the backside of the complex where I live I notice that a train is approaching. I wonder where its final destination lies? One thing is for sure, it’s not going to be here for long. Maybe a quick stop to unload some cargo and then off again? No, that can’t be it. The momentum generated by its powerful engine is telling me that this train has bigger plans for how it will utilize the tracks that lie ahead. Today it is just passing through. It’s pressing forward with purpose, leaving me and my wandering gaze in its rear-view.

As the engine roars out of sight, my eyes remain fixed on the tracks that it has left behind. I feel deflated inside. I had woken with a spring in my step and gratitude in my heart. But now, in almost an instant, I’m left feeling very uneasy. What’s just happened? How was that passing train able to engage me and in a matter of minutes spark such conflicting emotion inside of me?

I head out of the bedroom and make my way into the kitchen where I grab some breakfast. My mind begins to digest my recent mood transition as I sit down at the dining room table and peer once again out of the windows surrounding me. And then it all hits me. I slowly unveil the symbolism of that train, and I’m able to piece together what is causing me the pain inside. I recall the prayer that I said at the edge of my bed. I remember asking God to help me make the most of the new day…to seek opportunity in what lies ahead and to find the strength keep moving forward. Moving forward. That train was the ultimate symbol of this…embodying relentless pursuit of its final destination. And while it moved dynamically beyond my sight, I was left viewing what it had left behind.

I was left with the past…those tracks that had become all too familiar to me. I had run them a million times, and they had only led me back to that same lonely bedroom window time after time, leaving me longing for something greater. But fear was defeating my desire to run out ahead with a plan and a purpose. My dreams were being forfeited for familiarity. Because sometimes it’s easier to be comfortable and miserable than it is to take a risk and achieve true happiness. I had survived that way for years. But now, having rekindled my dreams through my faith, I was beginning to feel this tremendous conflict inside. I was asking God for the opportunity to move forward, and he was providing it to me…every day. I was being reminded of this each morning as I saw that powerful locomotive speed by my window. But to this day I’ve been too intimidated to look further down the tracks and explore what lies ahead, and that leaves me at a conflict with my purpose. I can only dream from this window. There is very little left for me to accomplish on the all too visible and treacherous tracks of my past. It’s about time to paint with a broader brush. Surviving is not living. God intended more for us in this life.

Over the course of the past ten years, I haven’t truly done a lot of “living”. But thankfully, I am able to remember what it felt like during the times when I did. When I was 18 and moved to southern California…those were some of the absolute best times of my life. Of course I was young and I was making mistakes, but I was free. I was independent, strong, and proud of my experiences. I took a chance and I embraced it, but during that time fear was not such an active part of my life. When anxiety and panic came knocking at the door, I began to resent my surroundings, and eventually I boarded that train headed full speed ahead back to the familiar tracks of home. At home I was comfortable. Not happy, not free, but comfortable. Surviving.

In the years that followed, my life continued to follow this pattern. I’d gain strength, feel inspired, hitch a ride on the next train heading out of town and start “living” again. After my return home in January of 2003, I ventured back out the following summer to complete my degree at the University of North Carolina. I was successful there, and while there were ups and downs, I was definitely playing an active role in my life again. I was embracing independence. I found the girl I thought to be my soul mate and fell deeply in love, and when I graduated in May of 2005, my future had never seemed more promising. And then, the slow retreat began…

After graduation, I wanted to live and work in a city in the northeast and my partner was open to suggestions. I chose Philadelphia over New York, Boston, Baltimore, you name it…truly because it was “familiar” and “comfortable”. After all, I grew up just a little over an hour outside of the city. Although I would have never been willing to admit this at the time, I chose it because it was less risky. If things imploded, I could run home. And after spending a year there, when the busy streets and job stresses began taking their tolls on us as a couple, I did what felt best…I grabbed my fiancé and boarded the next train home. We established new jobs, bought a house and settled down just five minutes from where I grew up. Comfortable and seemingly happy for the time. But back to the familiar tracks that ultimately led nowhere but down.

My fiancé left me in a calculated and tactless way during the summer of 2007. A couple of months prior to her departure, she mentioned to me one morning that she “didn’t know if she wanted to get married, own a house, or live in Pennsylvania anymore.” I was devastated. She continued by saying that she “missed Florida, the beach” and really everything that was not characteristic of our current surroundings. It was coming down to me making a move nearer to her home to save the relationship. She knew I wouldn’t go, and I did too. I had been adamant about it. I couldn’t leave my comfort zone, so I described to her all of the reasons why hers was wrong. I made no effort to compromise. And she did what she had to do. I can’t blame her for that…I only wish that she would have been more honest and handled it with a bit more class, because it broke my heart.

I found myself alone and distressed, but comfortable…still surviving. Having digested the heartache for a couple of months, I soon began living again. I met a girl on a weekend visit to Chapel Hill, and we began dating and ventured off on a long distance relationship for the six months that followed. But a compromise and a move was going to be necessary soon. Not me. No, I couldn’t leave the familiar tracks. Plus I owned a house, so I had established roots…that would be my excuse. So my girlfriend moved north. We ignored all of our relationship issues which had become extremely apparent since we had begun living together, and in time, we got engaged. A couple of months after, she too was on her way out and heading back to Florida. I was left with the pieces. It hurt, but I could survive here. I at least knew that.

In the months that followed, I found some strength in my friends and I began to feel a bit more inspired again. I needed to get out of my house and hop on that next train. It was time that I started living and began taking some risks. I was in my mid 20’s and life was beginning to pass me by. I started contemplating a move to the DC area, but quickly my search narrowed back to Philly…and ultimately, I settled 20 minutes down the road in Wyomissing. I justified my extended stay in Berks County by examining the costs of living and by asserting that it just made more sense financially. The truth is that I was scared. Fear won the battle, again. And this was familiar territory. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I watched yet another relationship crumbling before my eyes on Valentine’s Day of 2011. I shouldn’t have been shocked to see my best friend abandon our relationship of more than 15 years for the comfort of the abuses he sought on those familiar tracks. I should have expected a trusted acquaintance to forfeit the maturity he had developed during his time away and turn his back on me when he once again became comfortable at home. These tracks, they lead nowhere.

Because this place…it’s the “home” of heartache and broken dreams for me. I’m not placing any blame, and I certainly don’t see myself as a victim of circumstance. I chose those relationships; I sought them out. And I made the decision to live here, and come back, time and time again. Why? Why am I so attached to this place? I think it’s because it’s small town. Nothing really changes. For the most part, the people, they stay the same. I could find many of them at the same place this Friday night as they would have been when I left them for California at 18. They’ve aged a bit, but for the most part they look the same, speak the same, and embody the same old habits. The town never really evolves. Sure, we’ve added a few new restaurants and shops, but there is very little movement or initiative for change. Comfort and familiarity win the battle here. Day after day, and year after year. And that’s exactly why I returned time after time. Because up until just recently, I feared change as much as nearly everyone else in this sleepy community. I hid in the comforts of my surroundings, and found excuses not to deal with myself.

But then faith became a part of my life. And God revealed to me when I was most vulnerable the person that I am inside and the person who I wish to become. He gave me the strength to wipe the slate clean, address my weaknesses, and change for the better. He showed me a purpose that corresponded with my beliefs and the passions that resided deep inside my heart, beneath all of the fear that had been holding me hostage for years. He showed me that there was a whole lot more to life than those same old tracks in plain view just outside of my bedroom window.

It’s amazing, but the faith that I found in my darkest moments…it has given me the opportunity to dream again and to want more from life. To seek deeper meaning and fulfill a purpose on course with the priorities that I’ve found for today and for my future. My faith has allowed me to gaze out of that window with a desire to hop on board that train with a new destination in mind…one that corresponds with ME, and with living, not with fear and mere survival.

So tomorrow, as I watch that engine roll on by, I’ll know why I’m left feeling conflicted as it disappears from my sight. I’ll understand that comfortable is a dead end road, and I’ll be reminded of my purpose and my vision for a brighter future. And I will get to work on fulfilling it. Because I finally am able to trust that I am on the right track…full steam ahead.