It is the most beautiful day for a birthday and with that comes reflection. 5 years ago I had a birthday weekend with my wonderful, amazing, inspiring girlfriends from high school. Kim hosted it at her home and we weren’t close in high school but in the past 5 years she has become a beacon and touchstone alongside all the others. So grateful.

It was also a time period when I was suffering immensely from survivor’s guilt and actively putting myself in deadly situations because I didn’t really care to be alive and was playing Russian roulette. I paid for it dearly in shame, finances and freedom for 8 months afterwards. It was the most embarrassing, shameful mistake. Yet my family and a few close friends rallied around me and got me through it.

One friend from that time took on a huge responsibility to get me back and forth to work while keeping my secret so I would at least not lose my job and become part of the system many people cannot get out of once they are in. I sat in courtrooms with those people knowing just how not different I had become from people I had always thought far beneath me. I became a much more compassionate person then… realizing pain is a leveling feature when you all choose similar coping vices because your brains are similarly broken. The only difference was I had the means to remain on the periphery and start over.

It has been a hard road and not without facing demons… anxiety and depression. But the friendships I had only became stronger with the exception of one. She eventually did tell people at work because she was mad I had started sticking up for myself. She used my secret and her support as a price tag that bought her the ability to pick on me and gossip about me at will.. impacting my job. She could just as easily have made the same mistake as me. I just got caught and she didn’t. I have always felt guilty about standing my ground against her because of the sacrifices she made for me. But I was learning friendships didn’t come with conditions and had the tables been turned I would have done the same for her but without being nasty behind her back expecting a pass.

Part of coming back from my mistake and the feelings which caused it was learning I have value. That it’s ok to not only be Alive but to forgive myself. I didn’t deserve a lifetime of punishment and I didn’t deserve to surround myself with people who used it against me. I made a mistake. No one can punish me more than myself. And even then, I began to awaken to the fact I didn’t deserve the ridicule… that somewhere along the line all our sins add up and even out. Not only that, my mental demons caused that mistake and you don’t take advantage of the mentally ill or use their shame for sport. You feel sorry for it. You help it. You pray for it and you lay yourself bare in whatever tools you have to lift that person up wherever you can expecting nothing I return …except that maybe your contribution becomes a piece of what helps them stay alive.

So in the past 5 years you have witnessed all of it. The absolute darkness and edge of canyon moments. The little joys starting to accumulate and break through the clouds occasionally. You have watched me build self esteem and confidence from a pile of nothing. You have watched me find my reasons to live, to want to experience the world and all it’s people. You have watched a social conscience step out from the sidelines and become a voice for more than just myself. And inside all of that the deepest of empathy for others who don’t have my resources, my grit, the love and examples set by family and friends.

Out of shame and mistakes has come the need to reconstruct myself into a far better person than I was before sitting next to convicts in a courtroom who had done more than one night in jail.

So I don’t hide my age, my scars, my mistakes and discoveries along the wAy. And I allow myself to speak openly of the repeated disappointment of one friend because you are supposed to pick up the best from who you are around and better yourself because of it. She is an anomaly and someone who is missing out remarkably on who she could be but chooses not to try for.

I am grateful 5 years later. I have depressive episodes that can be scary but so far, I have all of my people and the pieces they drop in which help me reconnect myself to at least be able to float or tread water until I can embark on another joyful swim where I do spend the majority of my mental time.

I have lost 3 people in the past 4 years. In the past 5 years, I could so easily have been one of them. The gift of another birthday… another day on the beach complaining about tourists or that my parents want to be in a restaurant with me today before I even want to get off the beach is a gift. Know that beyond all my bitching and moaning and social activism is a very present person fully aware of all my blessings assuming you know that and don’t have to remind me.

It’s a beautiful day and I am here to enjoy it. I deserve to enjoy it. I am still a good person if I admit that I deserve good in life. We all do. I am no exception just because of my mistakes. It’s just a faulty brain I have, not a faulty heart, not a faulty soul.