It is a curious thing to recognize one is old enough to refer to experiences as being decades past, and to still have a vivid memory of those events. But memory can be a tricky and deceptive thing. Journal entries provide some semblance of truth, even if they are imperfect snapshots of personal history.
Ten years ago, I was fresh off a breakup with a girl I did not love. I thought I was “supposed” to be with her, a logic I now realize was absurd and misguided. My father was newly sober, his drinking an off-and-on presence throughout my childhood. He would go on to have one final relapse which landed him a DWI, thirty weekends in a San Antonio jail and a sizeable dose of humbling. He has now been sober since 2009. My grandmother, who smoked two packs a day of Marlboro Red 100’s, was still living.
It was June 2007, and I had decided not to return to community college after attending only three semesters, not because I was lazy or unmotivated, but because I felt I was wasting time and money on an arbitrary pursuit that would not lead me to where I wanted to go in life. Even so, I felt enormous shame for being viewed as a “dropout.” I still believed in the stigma that a college degree is a necessary ingredient to being considered a successful or responsible adult. I now realize this perspective was a load of claptrap that I had unfortunately absorbed from those around me and taken as truth.
I read the entries that I penned one decade ago and cringe at myself (not unkindly) for how much I was posturing as someone I was not, posturing even to my own thoughts and private self. I now see the young man I was trying so hard to display myself to be. I can feel the desperation and the searching for identity in those words, the longing for confidence, the grasping for meaning and arriving at conclusions which were ultimately not final. I can recall the influences in my life that I was trying to mimic in order to “fit in” or be considered at the same intelligence level as peers, authorities or role models. From this vantage point, I can see how I allowed myself to be shaped by the opinions, convictions, criticisms and actions of others, not yet having formulated the mental sensitivity or emotional maturity I needed to break the norm and become my own person.
I was desperately trying to present myself as unique, admirable and worthy of respect. I have come to learn since that I was actually quite full of pride and was seeking affirmation in places where it would not be found. I still wrestle with these tendencies, but my awareness of them has come a long way.
While the above may sound negative or as if I am in mourning over this period, quite the opposite is true. I’m grateful for it and for who I am now. I look forward to the man I will be ten years hence (for surely there is much more learning and growing yet to be done). I spent years trying on personality “costumes,” testing which would gain me approval and which were not received well by others. It was a painstaking and often frustrating process navigating my late teens and early twenties. But all the elder advice in the world couldn’t substitute walking through life on a trial-and-error basis, making some stupid mistakes and finding out that—what do you know?—those older folks knew what they were talking about after all.
Without the conflict, and without the mistakes, there never would have been any growth, maturing or progress. Through hardship comes beauty, and fuller life.
Josh Gaines is a writer and director living in Denver, Colorado with his wife and daughter.
Josh would encourage readers to look into and support The Kempe Foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit committed to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Please visit www.kempe.org.