Identity theft is a very real and prevalent problem in the wired, high tech society that we live in today. With the invention of the credit card, computer, internet and sites such as twitter, Instagram, Facebook and amazon, if we want to be part of this modern world, much of who we are is on display for the world to see and easily within the grasp of those few who find pleasure in taking control of the lives of others simply because they have too much time on their hands and because they possess the knowledge and technology. Entire companies have been created with the sole purpose of protecting people from harm from scumbags such as these using the very same tools and technology to protect people that the crooks use to attack. Those on both sides of this war go to great lengths to gain the upper hand. Why? Because whether we acknowledge it or not, identity is something that is important to us as humans, it is a vital part of who we are as individuals. Our identity is those details that both unite us and also what sets us apart from everybody else. It is shaped by our personal beliefs, our value systems, our personalities, our thoughts and opinions and the pleasures and pains of life experiences that we undergo and a very big part of what makes us human. Among the seven billion people living on this planet, no one identity is the same as another and each individual has his or her own sense of what his or her own identity consists of and looks like whether they are aware of it or not. For me personally, because of the severity of my physical limitations due to my disability and the lack of control of so many details about my situation, I have always found my identity as a person – and unbeknownst to me, my value and my humanity as a result - in my mental and emotional abilities and my power to control them. I am different in every other detail from everyone else on the planet but these abilities are what connect me to the rest of the human race and what makes me feel “normal” whole. Not having control of over half of my physical body, I am forced to rely on my thoughts and feelings in order to navigate and find my way through this crazy, mixed up world in which we find ourselves living in and it wasn’t until about a year ago when for the first time in my life, these abilities were taken from me and toyed with that I found out the hard way how incredibly critical to my existence and self-worth these abilities are to me and having them ripped away sent me reeling very near to destruction. While this experience might be trivial for other people and I was not hurt physically, it was easily the most terrifying, humiliating and painful experience I have ever had the displeasure of going through and an incredibly deep betrayal. It has drastically changed me as a person and my perspective on other people and the world as a whole. I knew hours later when I realized what had happened that I would never be the same and that something deep inside of me had been taken and I’d probably never get it back. It hurt so much that it drove me deep into the vast darkness of a bottomless depression and to the brink of seriously jumping into the arms of eternity on several occasions. Even today fourteen months or so later, there’s still a hollow dead space inside of me where something sweet and pure once resided. Those that know me best saw the drastic change in me almost instantly. I became a monster overnight but I refused to open up for a multitude of reasons, among those being embarrassed and ashamed for letting something so seemingly trivial completely rock my world to the very core. I felt like nobody could possibly understand my perspective or what I felt because deep inside, I didn’t truly understand why it bothered me so much either.
While not a day goes by that I am not reminded of what was taken from me or the immense amount of intense psychological and emotional pain it has caused me (many a night has been spent reliving the trauma through very real, very violent nightmares and hours of insomnia, it is often the last thought of the night and the first of the day to run through my mind), it has forced me to take a very close and intimate look at myself and I have grown to better understand myself on a much deeper level and what really what makes me tick because of it and while I question why I was forced to endure it and the intentions of those who put me through it almost daily, I am thankful in a way that it happened because it showed me that I was in an unhealthy place with people that though they may truly have loved me and I loved them, were toxic to my wellbeing and to the calling that God has set before me. I am a man and like many men, I can be stubborn and hardheaded and I don’t always respond to gentle nudges when a change needs to be made, sometimes it takes being hit in the head by a two by four for me to see that I need to do something different & this particular experience was the hardest hitting two by four I’ve ever had the displeasure of being smacked with, the thought of it alone is still enough to bring a splitting headache. Like the whale that swallowed Jonah when he was headed in the wrong direction, I am just now coming to believe and understand that God probably allowed me to undergo this horrible experience because He knew this place and these people were not healthy for me which absolutely breaks my heart because even though part of me has been very bitter, angry and full of malice towards these individuals because of what they did to me, the majority of my heart still has a deep affection for them which needless to say creates an incredible amount of internal turmoil that I hope one day will finally be let to rest for good, my soul is utterly exhausted from wrestling with it and am now beginning to learn to forgive and hopefully let go of the pain, both of which have been a lot harder for me to do that I ever imagined they would or should be for me.
Still, I am thankful in a way that this experience was allowed to happen because of how it has given me the chance to examine myself, as I stated earlier and that has been a tremendous blessing in disguise as I understand how I think and feel on a level that I don’t think I would’ve ever achieved had I not been forced to go through this. My situation has given me a unique perspective, a perspective that I alone possess which is both a blessing and a curse. This is frustrating in a way because it is incredibly difficult for others to understand what I am going through. I have been labeled overly sensitive and critical by more people than I care to count and being the people pleasing, acceptance seeking person that I am, that drives me absolutely crazy. I feel everything – and I mean EVERYTHING on an incredibly deep, deep level which makes me a very intense person that very few understand or can tolerate but this also makes me a very genuine person with a horrific poker face, an incredibly big heart and a very hard working mind that over thinks and analyzes every single little detail of every single situation to death. Having to give up so much control over practically everything about my life makes me the biggest control freak on the block who is willing to fight to the death over the littlest, silliest detail and also an incredibly critical perfectionist with a very loud inner critic, a stoic personality that is absolutely terrified of letting loose and showing emotion and being silly is a virtual impossibility as acting in such a manner is incredibly foolish, undignified and less than perfect in my own eyes. I am only now beginning to understand that showing emotion is not only healthy but a vital part of being human and I have paid myself an incredible disservice for living my life in such a rigid – not to mention unrealistic - manor. The life changing experience of which I spoke of before robbed me of this control and I was forced me to act in a way that was/is unacceptable in my own eyes, for the first time in my life, the only things that I have always had complete control over were ripped away from me without my consent and taken advantage of and I was forced into failing to live up to my own ridiculous ideals. The experience itself only lasted about five minutes from what little I can remember of it but the results were absolutely catastrophic and have been incredibly long lasting. Talking about what happened to anyone let alone trying to talk about what I went through with those who were misguided in what they felt was harmless fun by putting me through it was virtually impossible, even though to their credit, I was approached several times and given chances to clear the air. Unfortunately, I experienced flashbacks, incredible headaches and nausea and completely bobbled every attempt that was made. Not knowing what to say or worse saying the wrong thing out of my fear and anger and hurting them and denying myself the much needed opportunity of allowing myself to truly and fully experiencing my pain, to my shame I remained silent and the needed healing words were left unsaid. I was so afraid that by ripping the band aid off of the incredibly deep wound that I felt that I was so unfairly given, the anger would get the best of me and I would say or do something absolutely terrible. Ironically, by keeping the band aid on, the wound grew, festered and turned cancerous to the point that I had to cut it off entirely to save my sanity and heart – what was left of it.
This experience taught me more lessons about the world, other people and most importantly myself than any other solitary experience I’ve ever been through and for those lessons I am grateful for it, even though I have been deeply scarred by having to go through it. While I still feel what they did to me was wrong, it also has showed me that I have been living wrong all my life and I am grateful for the opportunity to be shown my mistakes and be given the chance to make the necessary changes. One of the biggest lessons that I have learned is the importance of forgiveness. Up until this experience, I had always been under the false impression that forgiveness is given for the benefit of the offender but by hanging on to the anger and resentment that I did toward those who did this to me and making myself literally physically, psychologically and emotionally sick with it, I did myself far more long lasting and deeper damage than those who wounded me initially. I am absolutely astounded, astonished and ashamed at the lengths I was willing to go and almost went in order to punish the offenders for what they did to me. What they did only lasted a few minutes but I almost did in vengeance very nearly destroyed several lives and ironically, I am just now beginning to understand that not a single thing I did or came close to doing would ever have the power to erase the original sin from happening in the first place. I felt justified by spewing venom, and that by doing so I could poison them but in the end, it was me that was made sick and was dying slowly inside. I have always thought of myself as a very easy going, forgiving person but this experience really opened up my eyes to the ugly, evil, violent monster I am truly capable of becoming and I do not like what I see at all. The power of pain and the potential for evil that I possess is truly terrifying.
Another and much bigger, more important lesson that I learned is that I have been living an identity crisis all of my life without even knowing it. As I stated in my opening paragraphs, I am discovering that my identity has been founded solely in my ability to think and feel. Education has always been incredibly important to me and I have said multiple times that I could easily see myself spending the rest of my life going to school, my three degrees serve as evidence to this fact I think. I thought I knew and understood this but it wasn’t until these abilities were taken away and control over them was taken captive and I was left completely vulnerable and naked, psychologically and emotionally raped by people I loved deeply and trusted wholeheartedly did I really begin to understand just how important these things are to me. All my life, my identity, my self-worth, my humanity has been based solely on my ability to think and feel and though I had never consciously thought about it, my deepest, darkest fear was and always has been losing control over these things and having them used against me. In one small event, all of these things came together and my mind literally exploded. I will never forget the incredible emptiness I felt that night when I woke up in the darkness of my apartment in nothing but my underwear with no recollection of going home or taking my clothes off or the absolute terror I felt as I realized someone had robbed me of my memory or the ability to defend my thoughts and emotions. To this day, I can still hear my inhumane sobs and screams echoing off the tiles in the pitch blackness, I can still feel the hot tears pouring down my cheeks and the bitter harsh cold of the hard and unforgiving porcelain sink. I still remember the brilliant flash of light and the searing pain I felt inside my brain as something felt like it tore away, withered and died somewhere deep inside me and the incredible void that piece left that still remains to this day. My heart races, my head pounds, my palms sweat and my stomach knots typing about it even now. I have been so incredibly naïve and innocent and absolutely wrong in believing wholeheartedly that my worth is contained solely on my ability to think and to feel or that these things can’t ever be taken away from me or that there are people in this world who would be foolish or mischievous enough in this world to take that away from me. Control is truly an illusion and I have been so very wrong to try to protect it at all costs, doing so only damages myself. My identity, my value is not based upon my ability to reason or to feel though it is true that these things are among the very few characteristics I feel that I share with the rest of the human race. My physical limitations have such a profound effect upon my life and subconsciously I think I feel that a large part of my individuality is dictated to me through my disability and the special circumstances that come with it. I want so desperately to be normal and fit in and not be seen and judged by my wheelchair which is so incredibly present and easily seen that I just want to fade into the background and blend in unseen and unnoticed. I crave to be loved, approved of and accepted just like everybody else and I am learning that this incredible desire is so strong that I will look for these things in almost any place I can find them and will go to incredibly great lengths to achieve them, even though deep down I think I feel like I don’t deserve them and am unworthy because of my disability and the limitations it creates. I think this, in addition to my incredible hunger for absolute control of my thoughts and emotions is the basis for my lack in self-confidence, my subdued and introverted personality, my perfectionism and my phobia for being the center of attention. All of this, I would not have ever truly analyzed had I not been forced to undergo this incident.
I am currently reading a book that an incredible blessing of a friend recommended to me by a pastor from North Carolina named Steven Furtick and even though I have only begun to peruse the pages, I am already reaping incredible benefits from this pastor and beginning to learn how to tackle these identity issues I have been facing all my life without my knowledge. The book is called Smash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others and in it, Pastor Furtick takes on the lie of identity and perfectionism and basically states that we essentially live our entire lives trying to live up to the expectations of others and ourselves and that the inner critic inside all of us can easily run us into the ground with criticism as we waste our time trying to make live up to unachievable expectations but the only one whose opinion really holds any weight is that of God’s and He extends His love and His approval despite of our countless mistakes and shortcomings and it is these things that we should be seeking and not the love and approval of others and that because God loves and approves of me, I should love and approve of myself too. I have lived my entire life with the idea that my identity stems from my own abilities and from being loved and accepted by others. I am human and therefore I am frail, I have limits and I make mistakes no matter how hard I try to deny or fight it, these are simple facts of my nature and there’s nothing I can do to change them. Other people are also human and frail, they have limits and they make mistakes, no matter how hard I try to deny or fight that, these are simple facts of their nature and there’s nothing I can do to change them either. It is unfair of me to expect perfection from myself just as much as it is unfair for me to expect perfection from others, too. I need to learn to forgive myself for making mistakes just as much as I need to learn to forgive others who make mistakes against me. I am not perfect and no matter how hard I try, I never will be and I can’t expect myself to be perfect. It is unfair to base my self-worth, my identity on my abilities because they are frail and limited as well. I need to learn to find my identity through the One who is perfect, the One who is limitless and I need to learn to see myself through His eyes and learn to trust Him and rely on His power more and my own less because I will fail myself. Every. Single. Time. I need to trust and remember that He has made me this way for a reason and no matter what happens to me, my identity remains intact even though it feels like pieces deep inside of me have broken off, shriveled up and passed away. My pain has a purpose and even through my limited vision and understanding and despite my brokenness, His plan will be revealed and His will fulfilled and it will be more incredible than anything I could ever dream of doing on my own. Breathe. Breathe, trust. Let go and let God.