When I was a child, I remember thinking that one day I would be out of the hell hole where I was raised and be able to exist in a place where I would get to freely choose what I could do and what could believe. No one would harm me anymore. I remember thinking that thought with ferver and strength.
I also remember studying every night and trying to be the best I could be, so that I would never have to work in the steel mill as my family did and those before me. In all of high school I only got one B in English as a Senior, because I was in the hospital and didn’t understand my assignment. All the rest were A’s. I was deliberate in my attempt to be independent. I knew that what I would need would be tools and brains to get out from under the regime of a hard hitting economy and a family tree of people who just never seemed to get anywhere but right where they were standing.
But when I left home, the ties and neuro pathways in my brain of home stayed with me. They kept me bound for a long time after I left. Though I was free to be who I wanted to be, I acted as if I were still under the regime of the drunken task master and the abandoned young child. I tried to break loose, but the chains of the past were much stronger than I knew.
It was only years later, when I was thirty, when I faced the past that I truly found true independence. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Leaving home without a dime, getting superb grades, eating Ramen noodles and 19 cent tuna fish for every meal for weeks on end, moving to NYC by myself was nothing compared to facing the demons in my past.
I remember the day of my first therapy session. I was the last person on my therapist’s roster. I must have been, because I spent 3 hours with him—2 of them were spent crying like a baby. I had no idea what was hidden inside. And even more so, I had no idea that what had happen to me as a child was not normal. I remember one thing very clearly, the therapist saying, “You were a strong boy, Bo. So strong to have endured all that. You should be proud of yourself.”
I couldn’t imagine being proud of myself. I didn’t know what that feeling was. No one had ever been proud of me. I had graduated 3rd in my class, gotten awards, scholarships, been casts in shows and musicals, and never felt what proud felt like.
I do remember my first time. My cousin had died in a motor cycle accident. I was asked to sing for the funeral. It was my dad’s favorite nephew. After the funeral, my dad hugged me and said, “I’ve never been prouder of you, son!”
Something inside moved… shaked… quivered. I didn’t think I needed my dad or anything he had to say or do. But there it was out in the open. And I was frozen. I had sung hundreds of times and gotten standing ovations, and nothing ever made me feel what that moment made me feel. Proud.
The truth is, true independence takes time and work. But it also takes a village. You can work your entire life in therapy only to find that what you really need is to cry on your own mother’s lap for 45 minutes and tell her you need her. (I’ve done that when I had a terrible break up.) I realized she was the person I was crying over, not the man who abandoned me. She was the first person who left me feeling abandoned when I was eight years old. I needed her to help me get through that heartache. Fortunately, for me, she was willing to participate in the healing of my deep wound.
For this country Independence it took many people with one vision to achieve. Independence for you may also take a village. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. If I can crawl out of that deep well of dispair, you can too. I’ll believe in you, if you can’t believe in yourself. That’s why we’re all here together. Because we need each other to walk proudly and stand up independently.
When the red, white and blue flag flew proudly over America, it wasn’t just one person who gained independence. It was many. And so it is with our own independence. Sometimes it just takes a more than just you. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help.