A little over a year and a half ago, I bravely posted a “then and now” pair of photos to my professional Facebook page. One is an image of me at my Bar Mitzvah party in 1982. The other is an image as you currently would encounter me. I also wrote some words about how my journey of healing continues.
You really need to see this post to appreciate how my journey of healing continues.
It has been nearly four decades since life in the bucolic Chicago suburbs turned into my private hell. A female babysitter repeatedly sexually abused me in the home in which I grew up. Many times, I was kicked out of my own house in nothing more than my underwear. Neighborhood kids saw me at my most vulnerable. I had been attacked, harmed, and was damaged from what happened inside my home. To then be exposed to my peers, plummeted me into a decade of darkness.
I know what it feels like when people hate you for no reason. You never forget the pain that comes when your peers shame you multiple times a day for being “ugly.” There is no way I could ever forget what it feels like to be bullied every single day. I know what it feels like to hate being in the house where abuse occurred. And, I know what it feels like to be afraid to leave that house of hell because it could be even worse if it meant coming into contact with those who would inflict more pain. I know what it feels like to lack a voice to speak up, and what it feels like to be physically, emotionally and spiritually defeated.
Gosh. This is so hard to write. It’s so hard to share. And yet, sharing this ultimate turnaround is part of how my journey of healing continues.
And, it gets so much better.
What happened to me could have turned me into a monster. I could have killed myself, become a rapist, a bully, a substance abuser, a man who would do the world harm. But, I wanted to be a force for good. This is exactly why I do what I do today. I have transformed many times over. Now, this work of transformation is my highest calling. I am grateful and humbled to stand in the service of others who don’t necessarily even realize how they are due for transformation.
So, back to this fateful Facebook post, and how my journey of healing continues. When I first posted this to my page, I hadn’t considered how much vulnerability I risked. At the time, I had no idea that a small number of childhood peers were following my professional page. This post went up; this small group took note of it. One by one, people started liking the post. People made public comments on the post, and others wrote private notes. Basically, this post had a viral effect, being seen by many high school peers.
The public comments, and the private notes were so unbelievably supportive. Each note made me cry. A community came together to help me heal, more than I ever thought possible.
Since then, many of my old childhood neighbors and classmates have continued to reach out. I have reached out to them. Online friendships have developed. Decades of distance, and years of yearning for connection seamlessly dissipated into a new era of acceptance and inclusiveness.
The first in-person reconnection happened even before creating that post. My friend Toni came to California with her husband and son to attend a wedding on the Monterey Peninsula nearly three years ago. They flew in and out of San Jose, and set aside special time to enjoy a long lunch together. My memory of this is bittersweet, in that Toni’s husband succumbed to a big battle with cancer within a couple of years of this in-person reconnection. Toni is a fitness coach, runs marathons, has the brightest smile, is deeply faithful, and now she is my friend.
I now follow online the lives of many friends from my youth. They avidly follow the ebb and flow of my life, travels, musings, and “foodporn.”
One of the guys to particularly reach out to me is Dave. He has shared with me how horrible he has felt about the way that I was treated and demeaned. None of the kids I went to school with were armed with the knowledge that only comes with maturity and experience. He used this opportunity to demonstrate to his two girls the importance of, and the value in, reaching out to any schoolmates who are being bullied.
Really, I cannot tell you how special Dave is. He has followed my travels, and knows how much I enjoy visiting Aspen, Colorado as a place of personal refuge. Several weeks ago, Dave wrote me a Facebook note telling me that he booked a trip to Aspen with his two daughters and his lovely girlfriend, Tracy. He asked if I’d like to meet them there.
Well, I just ended a fantastic three-day reunion with my friend Dave, who lived down the street and around the corner while growing up. Even before knowing that I could make this trip, Dave’s invitation provided me with a kind of healing that I could never have expected.
Acceptance. Connecting offline. Creating new experiences. Being friends. Liking one another and caring about each other. Certainly, this turned into one of life’s most wonderful and welcome surprises.
Plus, I got the bonus of meeting Dave’s half-sister, Angie. We hit it off like we had known each other forever. All of us got along so easily. Dave and his family made me feel like family. The feeling still blows me away.
As my journey of healing continues, I stand on the shoulders of friends like Toni and Dave. For the first time in many years, I feel a bit homesick, and look forward to connecting with family and friends when I return to Chicago for the first time in more than eight years this spring. I’ve turned away from protecting myself from risking others hurting me to feeling fearless and totally open to anything good happening. What a freeing feeling. Toni and Dave gave me an incredible gift. And, I also gave myself a gift by trusting their friendships as genuine.
Life for me has been in significant transition over the past many months. I have continued to strive to do my very best work and to intensify my goal of being a force for good in the world. I think this is the ultimate way in which my journey of healing continues. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of it.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps successful Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs and executives discover their personal brands and design their personal styles. Get Joseph’s free report that helps you know “6 Secrets to Success in Silicon Valley.” Get details about Joseph’s proven program that transforms your life through personal brand and style development.