What’s that baggage? 

This weekend I got to thinking about emotional and psychological baggage that we accumulate over the course of life and how it affects us and our relationships. We hear the term “baggage” all the time. 

“Don’t date her,  she has too much baggage.”

“He just went through a nasty divorce, and has excess baggage.”

Baggage is bad. Right?  Or is it? The term certainly has a negative connotation in our society. It’s something we are meant to avoid or, if we have a lot of it, it is something we need to shed. 

Really though, how can someone go through life without picking up certain items and throwing them into the metaphorical suitcase (or three) that we all carry. We can’t. Everything that we do and everything that happens to us molds and shapes the person we are. It’s not bad to have baggage; it means you’re living your life. What defines you and impacts your relationships is not the amount of souvenirs you’ve stuffed into that suitcase, but more how you’ve handle them. 

Looking at my own life, I can name some pretty heavy trinkets I’ve gathered during my 31 years on this planet. Let’s make a list: 

  1. Friend was killed in a fatal car accident where I was the driver. 
  2. From age 18 to age 24 I dealt with life’s problems by searching for answers in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. 
  3. I’ve destroyed friendships and loves due to excessive drinking and a fiery temper. 
  4. I got black out drunk, got in a fight,  and woke up on a D.C. sidewalk in handcuffs. 
  5. I married who I thought was the love of my life, learned she wasn’t for a variety of reasons, and subsequently got divorced.
  6. I have massive Student Loan debt. 
  7. I didn’t speak to my brother for two years. 
  8. I don’t always finish what I start. 
  9. I failed the Bar Exam three times (I’ve since passed).
  10. I lost my job and am now unemployed. 

I’m sure the list could go on,  but those are the SportsCenter Top 10. These things don’t define me, but they are a part of me and are necessarily baggage that I carry around. I can’t dump the baggage because I would be dumping a part of myself. I can, however, own my past and understand how it has shaped my present to be the person I want to be.  My best self. 

Through therapy I came to terms with the guilt of my friend’s death. Through self control and determination, I stopped turning to alcohol has a bandage.  There are relationships that I’ve broken beyond repair, but I’ve learned from my mistakes. I still talk to my ex-wife, even though it can cause headaches for other relationships (we have a child together so we will always have to be able to communicate).

Point is, that I’ve not let my baggage weigh me down. I’ve allowed it to shape me and I’ve learned from every experience and tried to grow as a person.  I can’t have regrets because without the past I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have my beautiful 6 year old daughter. I wouldn’t have moved to the state of Washington. I wouldn’t have my law degree. I also wouldn’t have found the true love of my life. 

Truth is, I’ve never been happier with life than I am right now. I am so thankful for how my past has shaped me for the better. I feel like I have found who my best self is and I strive for that every day. I often fall short, but I am grateful to God for all the good in my life. 

I’ll end this post for now. It is 11:30pm here on the West coast and I am typing this on my phone while I clear my head walking around in the brisk night air. Plus my fingers are cold so I’m sure there are plenty of typos. 

Don’t be afraid of baggage. It is what helps define us; just don’t let it weigh you down. Own the good and the bad and learn from everything. 

Rough Draft

I am the frame of the Mercury Sable folding in on itself.
I am the crippled steel and broken glass.
I am the tires; skin burned onto warm pavement.
I screech with pain as I am pushed across the road.
Everything goes black.
I become the lacerated liver that screams from the crushing pain of the seat belt.
I am the incoherent babble on the lips of the blonde haired driver.
I am also the smile that plays across my dying friend’s face.
I am the bright light reflecting off the white coats of the emergency room angels.
The twenty questions the doctors ask are me, too.
I transform into the warm, salty tears streaming down my mother’s cheek; perfect wet orbs
reflecting the pain in her heart.
I am that pain, the sharp dagger ripping out her soul when she gets the dreadful call.
I become the crumpled heap of sorrow and grief that is my mom.
I am the dry, tear less eyes when I am told my friend has died.
I knew.
I felt it, down in my deepest core.
I am the nightmare that will not end.
The eyes that will never open.
The tears that will forever flow.
I am the hate filled eyes of my friend’s father questioning me, asking,
“Why not you? Why not you?”
Why not me?
Because, I am an unfinished book; the pages of life still being written.
I am the smile that invades the mind when eyes close,
and I am the bright blue eyes that captured my heart.
The soft sweet whispers and tender kisses are me, too.
I am the words dancing across the page,
a rough draft yet to be completed.

I wrote this poem in high school after I was involved in a fatal car accident that took the life of my good friend Phil. I was driving him home from lacrosse practice when we were t-boned by a truck at a blind intersection.  I vividly remember turning left and then I remember waking up in the hospital with my priest an my parents standing over me. The in between is a blur. I vaguely recall blurring figures in white shining lights in my eyes. There are voices, and questions, too but it is all a jumbled mess. Someone took my shoes. I think they had to cut my shirt off of me.

“They stole my shoes,” I said to my parents when I woke up.

“Who?” They asked.

“The doctors or someone,” I replied my eyes getting heavy. My dad laughed. In the midst of this tragedy his genuine laugh stands out in my mind. Funny how this was my first thought upon waking. I never did see those shoes again…

When my family and my priest finally told me that Phil was dead, I barely reacted. I already knew. I was having vivid dreams while drifting in and out of consciousness and I had seen it in a dream. My lack of reaction must have scared everyone, because they repeated that Phil was dead.

“I know,” was all I replied and I pretended to go to sleep. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to face Phil’s family, or my friends. I dreaded the hate that I knew was coming from my classmates. 

When I finally returned to school, I was bracing for anger, and hate, but all my classmates showed me was kindness, understanding, and love. I was racked with guilt. I blamed myself for Phil’s death. I was certain his parents blamed me too.  I was so sure that the whole world should blame me, that I couldn’t except everyone’s kindness.  I smiled and pretended that things would be okay, but inside I felt hollow. I wanted to die.

Eventually all the pretending to be happy started to morph into what felt like real happiness. Part of me still wanted to die, but I was determined to make the best of my life, because I owed it to Phil. I needed to live life not only for myself,  but for my friend whose time was cut so short. 

So, I set my sights on the University of Michigan and was determined to get in.  When I was accepted into UofM, it was one of the best days of my life.   I got to attend the school of my dreams, I got to play lacrosse there, and I made life long friends.  However, I still hadn’t dealt with my feelings over Phil’s death.

It took me many years and many bottles of whiskey to finally come to terms with the guilt that racked me since Phil died.  That  story, however, is best saved for another day. Just know this, I found happiness, and the guilt finally melted away. I didn’t do it alone. I had great friends, a loving family, and a kick ass dog who all helped me along the way.

Point is, there is always light, even when life feels so dark that you aren’t sure what way you are facing.  I know first hand how hard it is to see the positive amid the sea of negativity, but persevere you shall, because life is too damn good.

Also, I miss those shoes. 

 

Dear Diary, it’s me, Ryan…

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Dear Diary  Internet Stranger Reader,

Today I decided to start a blog and to be honest I don’t really know what the hell I am doing.  But someone famous, or wise, or drunk once said “Fake it ’till you make it,” so here it goes.

Writing has always been a huge part of my life. It is a way of coping with stress and dealing with the shit that life often dumps on you. When my friend was killed in a car accident in high school, in a car in which I was the driver, writing is what pulled me out of a deep depression.  When I moved across the country to take a position as a Staff Attorney with an Indian Tribe in Washington, while my marriage crumbled down around me, writing is what kept me from tumbling over the edge.  When I was wrongfully terminated when the head reservation attorney decided to clean house on my department, I again turned to writing.

Writing (and reading) can be powerful escapes, transporting us away from the stress in our own lives and placing us in new and exciting worlds. With this blog, I hope to share with you my journey through life using the written word. I will be uploading short stories, poems, and general writing ideas weekly to this blog. I will also be uploading blog posts on a daily basis chronicling my journey as I navigate finding a new job, living my life to the fullest, and working on exciting creative writing projects.

I have set up a patreon for anyone who feels inspired to financially support my website and my writing. Whether you contribute to my patreon or not, I do hope you will follow me here and share this website with your family and friends. I’ll have some short stories uploaded soon to the Short Stories section. So feel free to read through them and critique, comment, and share them.

Stephen King once said about writing that, “[t]he scariest moment is always just before you start.” Well, this blog is now started, so I suppose the scariest moment is now behind me.

Until next time, my friends.