In that moment, my life changed.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible that a life could change so completely in so short a time. But, in that moment, mine did.
In that moment, I was given a choice. It was like I had been plucked out of space and time by some supernal being, some objective but benevolent overseer, like a God, but more administrative in her duties, who pulled me up by the back of my shirt and stood me before a judging rail in some celestial place.
In that place, I saw clearly the choice before me: I could continue to be a selfish man-child. I could continue this process of punishing myself for things I had not done, for things that had been done to me. I could continue this process of denying responsibility for those things I had done, then punishing myself for that denial. I could continue to play the victim, to dive with eyes and ears tight shut into that fallacy, to pretend that the world was a harsh place, a place designed to bring me down, to humiliate me, that all other people were thrown against me by some unseen enemy for this purpose.
Or, I could heal the wounds of my past. I could see, in that ethereal space, that I was the architect of my own pain, the warden of my own prison. I could see the choice before me to re-enter that prison or to step away, to walk on the grass outside, to lunch in its shadow, to be free of it. I had been punishing myself in that space for so long, struggling with all of my might to be free of it, but struggling with my right hand and restraining myself with my left. I could see that now, and the choice was clear: return to this madness or be free of it forever.
You’d think, in that moment, that the choice would be a simple one. Who in their right mind would step into a prison, lock themselves inside, and throw away the key? Who in their right mind would choose a life of misery and suffering?
I did, for decades, meticulously maintaining that illusion, that prison, despite the high cost of doing so, a cost measured in lost friends and hurt feelings and damaged relationships, all the while blaming others when the pain came only from me.
And, in that moment, when all of this was so clear to me, still I hesitated. Still, I clung to my illusions like a child clings to a shopworn teddy bear. They were all I had known for so many years, to let them go was suicide. They kept me safe. Yes, they caused me suffering, but that suffering was nothing compared to the potential suffering that awaited me outside the confines of that prison. Out there was the unknown, the uncontrollable. In here was safety, control. Illusion, yes. Falsehood, yes. Suffering, yes. But, safety.
And familiarity. I had lived in this place for so long that I had become this space. To leave it now would be to remove an organ from my body, to amputate a limb. To die, a death of a notion of myself, one with which I had identified for so long it had become the only notion I could recognize. It had become myself. To leave it behind would be to leave myself behind. It would be to kill myself.
Do you feel that I’m overstating this? I assure you, I am not. I built and entered this prison when I was but a boy, and I did so for my own protection, protection against those who claimed to love me, but who were hurting me. What’s worse, I knew they did love me, but still they were hurting me, so it must have been me who was to blame. So, I built this prison, this brilliant solution, both to protect myself from being hurt and to punish myself for whatever I had done that deserved punishment. And I lived and grew within that space, that stunted safety. It became my home, my sanctuary.
But, in that moment, for the first time, I knew that I had to choose. For, in that moment, my choice was to remain in my sanctuary or to do what I knew was right. More, it was a choice between who I was and who I wanted to be. In that moment, fate stood beyond the bars, offering her hand. In seeing her face, the kindness, the understanding, the compassion, I wept. She knew my pain. She knew my fear. Her pity was not one of condescension, but one of hope. But, that hope stung me like a whip, so long had I denied it from entering. For hope carries with it the challenge of change, and change was not allowed in that sanctuary. Change was dangerous.
But, in that moment, change was upon me, and I saw then that change is all-powerful, that I could ignore it, but I could never deny it. No bars could shut it out, no walls protect me from it.
In that moment, this all became clear to me. The illusions lost their power, faded into diaphanous veils.
In that moment, I had to choose. To my credit, I admitted that I had a choice, I gave myself the opportunity to return to my cell or to step away from it. But, in truth, as soon as my eyes were opened, there was only one choice I could make. I could lie to myself no longer.
In that moment, trembling, I chose freedom.
In that moment, weeping, I chose truth.
In that moment, frightened, I chose risk, but I also chose joy.
In that moment, nervous, she said, “I’m late.”