This I Believe

Leonard - Madison, Alabama
Entered on December 1, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: gratitude

I believe in the power of gratitude. No matter what your past or present circumstance, gratitude creates beauty, momentum, and mindful presence every moment of your life.

I learned the power of gratitude in my 20’s. After a childhood filled with horrific, almost-life-ending abuse of me and my siblings, I spent my teenage years in smothering anger, self-pity, self-loathing, and hopelessness. I trusted no one and shunned all affection. The person I loved most hurt me most, and I didn’t want to risk pain from anyone else. I was miserable, distraught, and deeply depressed. Then I joined the Army at 20 years old and became a Behavioral Science Specialist (a mental health counselor).

It has never been in my nature to ask someone to do something I was unwilling to do. As a counselor, I asked people to examine their pain, their inner monologue; therefore, I had to do it. It was more painful to be true to myself than going through the abuse of my childhood. Everything in me looked for a way out; however, I refused them all. I faced the pain of self-exploration, not knowing how it would end, or even if it would end. After years of self-examination, I was absolutely amazed. It occurred to me that I learned to take responsibility for my pain; that empowered me to take responsibility for my happiness. I realized that I couldn’t assign one to someone else and the other to me.

The other thing I realized was the good results of my past. I didn’t want to admit to these, or even see them, for a very long time, but I came to understand my eager empathy for others was born out of my pain. I came to see the truth of Lao-Tzu’s statement: “Treat everyone as if they were wounded.” That included my father, stepmother, me, and others. I found out that my hatred of others was simply a caricature of my fear of others. I understood that the very thing I feared was the thing I longed for—love. As I reached out to love others, love engulfed me from all directions, and overwhelmed me. I stopped asking life why I was treated the way I was, and started asking life what my purpose was. That’s when I realized how beautiful life was.

I realized my purpose wasn’t to be the doormat of others’ pain; instead, I have helped literally thousands of others overcome their emotional pain. I found I was allowed in emotional places others weren’t. People would look at my smiling demeanor and say, “What can you tell me about emotional pain? What have you ever been through?” I would tell them, and they would let me into their hearts, their most precious possession.

I realized my childhood belonged to my parents, but today belongs to me. To cross the valley of the shadow of death and lie down in green pastures and still waters, for this I am grateful. This I believe.