Your Best Life

Lower Manhattan NYC from Weehawken NJMore than a year ago, I had a thought. What if I took all of the things that are supposed to make life more fulfilling and healthy and positive and introduced them one by one into my life? All of them.

I had to try it.

The obvious start was to give up drinking. I quickly realized that alcohol subtracts everything from life and gives nothing meaningful in return. The impact was immediate and visible. Suddenly, I was spared the empty conversations, the dull listless mornings, and the appalling loss of time.

I went to the gym five times a week and started running. I kept a journal every day to describe my mood and to keep a record of my progress. I began meditating for twenty minutes every night before going to sleep for the recommended eight hours. In the morning, I listened to upbeat music and avoided the news.

As each negative thought came into my head, I stopped. I looked for its origin, its meaning. And I ended it. I stayed away from negative people. That was a big one. People love to complain but it serves no purpose. Listening to people complain is like planting negative seeds in your brain that will eventually grow into a vast forest of destructive thoughts.

I started to dream. I formed a dream of how good my life could be and I pictured it in every detail, regularly throughout the day.

I monitored my diet. Which foods made me feel awake and energized and which ones made me sleepy and down? I discovered that the effect of food on the mood is far more dramatic than I had imagined. Yes, I still ate chocolate and ice cream.

I spent more time with the people I love. I became far more interested in their lives and stopped taking them for granted. I found that true joy can come from a thousand daily interactions with the people you care about. I smiled a lot. People mostly smiled back at me. Happiness is infectious.

It is now more than a year since I began this experiment. Was it a success?

No. It was a spectacular, life-changing revelation. It has been the single best year of my life. I feel shockingly alive. I have achieved ten times my prior output professionally and personally. I wake up every morning knowing what it truly feels like to be alive and present in the world.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I feel this incredible sense of exhilaration that I have never experienced before. I could be standing on a subway platform or walking up Broadway. It doesn’t matter. The feeling is one of overwhelming joy and excitement at not only being alive but of the possibilities of this life. Here and now.

And then I think I could live forever.

Rejecting Paradise

200456192-001Sometimes we just want to feel alone, to feel sad, to feel failure. It’s not that we enjoy self-pity. It’s just that loneliness, sadness and failure are what we think we deserve.

Growing up with poverty and abuse creates a powerful sense of where you belong and what you are worth. In its most destructive form, it gives you an overwhelming belief in your own worthlessness.

As I distanced myself from poverty, I eventually realized that not once did I feel that I deserved what I had achieved. And as I formed loving and caring relationships, I looked for ways in which those relationships would be used to inflict emotional harm on me. The more my life became ideal, the more I seemed to want to reject it.

I was not worthy of love or success in any of its forms.

Sometimes it is a parent who infuses in you a belief that you must, “Never forget your roots,” or, “Don’t get ideas above your station.”

Other times, it is the bullying of a sibling who constantly tells you the world would be a better place if you had never been born.

And so, when life gives you good things, you work hard at pushing them away, at not being happy.

A friend of mine sold his company and overnight he became extremely wealthy. I asked him how it felt and he said, “I’m worried and I’m fearful. I’m afraid that I will lose it all.” As the conversation continued, it became apparent that he had grown up poor and didn’t think he deserved to ever have more than his parents had.

In the end, for me, it took one loving, beautiful person to come into my life and explain to me my destructive behaviors. To show me how powerfully I was rejecting paradise because of a deep-rooted belief that I was not worthy of it.

Some people may think this is utterly ridiculous. But to someone who has experienced the self-destructive behaviors that reject love, happiness and material rewards, it is all too real. For some, rejection is a way of life – so much so, that paradise is always just out of reach and therefore not even available to be rejected.

The Boy Who Lived With Ghosts

FrontCover 2Chapter 1

I live in a haunted family, in a haunted house, on a haunted street. One day I will live in a place where there are no ghosts but right now they’re everywhere. Some people don’t believe in ghosts but that’s alright. Those people have orange nightlights glowing in their bedrooms after dark, reflecting little moons and stars on the ceiling, and cups of hot chocolate to make them sleepy before their blankets are tucked in cozily around them by their mums. I don’t think my mum believes in ghosts. If she did, she would not turn out all the lights when she puts me to bed at night.

I am almost five years old and I was born in our front bedroom with my twin sister Emily. It was on the Twelfth Night. That’s the night when the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus with their gifts. It was also my sister Margueretta’s fourth birthday. So we are three gifts for the baby Jesus. If I am a gift, I would like to be a lamb. Animals don’t go to Heaven but I am sure there is a lamb up there. I think there is also a donkey.

Margueretta hates me because I was born on her birthday and now she has to share it with me and Emily, so she locks me in the cellar in the dark. And there’s something scary down there in the corner that goes drip, drip, drip. If I die down there I will go to sit at God’s feet because Dad says God suffers all the little children to come unto him. And Jesus loves dead children the most because they will never grow up to become sinners.

God wears brown sandals and no socks but Jesus doesn’t wear anything on his feet and he washes God’s feet for him because there is a lot of sand in Heaven and it gets between God’s toes. Dad says Heaven is a warm place and you are never hungry in Heaven because you can have as much bread and jam as you want to eat. So you shouldn’t cry if a little boy dies, having been killed by his big sister who locks him in the cellar in the dark.

Nana says we will all go back to God one day so long as we are not sinners. Because if we are sinners, we will go to live with the Devil and we will scream and burn as we catch fire in a lake for all Eternity, which is a very long time. And Nana knows what a long time means because she is very old, which is also why she has hair that comes down to her knees. She ties it in braids on top of her head but I mustn’t see my Nana’s hair when it is down or that will mean I have been in her bedroom and a little boy should never go into his Nana’s bedroom or she will hit him on the back of his head with her hairbrush.

A True Story of Childhood Haunting – Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

I’m Living with a Fool

Droopy DogThere is a fool inside my head, but I have repeatedly denied knowing him. He knows everything about me—my hopes and dreams and my deepest fears and anxieties. But he never listens to me.

We grew up together, me and the fool inside my head. We were there in the blackness of the cellar, where my sister locked me as a small boy. We were both there when my dad said he was just going out for a drink and never came back. And we were together when we were cold and hungry in the dark of the night.

The fool inside my head judges people and holds onto regrets. He harbors thoughts of revenge and retribution. He lives in the past.

He is a fool and I’m not.

I am looking for the positive things I have learned from all the bad things that have happened to me. I am forgiving everyone and I’m moving on. I am building a terrific future that is based on what I have learned and how I can be a better person.

From abandonment, I found the loyalty of friends and the commitment to my family. From the hunger of poverty I found a burning ambition to succeed. From insanity, I found the comfort and joy of living in the perfect moment.

That’s why I deny knowing the fool inside my head.

Maybe there’s a fool inside your head, sapping your energy with negative thoughts, destroying your hopes and dreams with the belief that they will only end in failure.

There is no weakness in forgiving. There is no gain in retribution. There is no future when you live in the past.

Not all of the people from my past will be with me in the future. The one I am sure I am going to leave behind is the fool inside my head.

We may learn from the past but the greatest future is made in the positive beliefs of the present.

Who Stole My Life?

Movie TheatreOur ability to focus on what is truly important in life is sadly at its greatest when we are dying. For so much of our lives we worry about things that we cannot change or we bury ourselves in details, never seeing the bigger picture. Most of us have no idea how much time we have left, but still we find meaningless ways to “pass the time.”

Since I started telling people I was writing a book, the most common response has been, “There is a book inside me too.”

That’s true. There is a book inside every one of us. It is the book we write everyday. It has a beginning, a middle and it has an end. And you do not know the ending; you do not know what twists and turns the plot may take; you do not know what characters may enter or leave the storyline.

At first, I wrote my book to help me find dressings for the open wounds that were my “childhood.” I wanted people to feel sorry for the little boy who suffered all of that abuse and horror in the midst of addiction and insanity. I wanted people to be amazed at how I survived, how I made something of myself. I wanted people to laugh with me at the hilarious characters who were my relatives.

And as those words found their way onto the page, I realized something: every emotional detail of my childhood was still alive. The fears and abuse were still living inside my head. The ghosts of my childhood were still haunting me.

But I realized something even more profound: twenty years of my adult life were missing. I had been sleepwalking through my adult years by numbing myself from those childhood horrors. The story of my life had a beginning but it had no middle. I had surrendered my life to the banality of a meaningless job, the drudgery of monthly bills and the anesthetizing effect of the daily cocktail hour.

Someone had stolen my life. And I was the thief.

That’s when my life took on a new meaning. I could not waste another minute. For the first time, I wanted to do something that actually mattered, something I loved doing and something that made a positive difference to other people’s lives.

No one can give me back those missing years. But I am never going to waste another minute of my time. So now, I can’t sleep because I am too excited about being here in this life, doing something that I love and making a difference. And if you can’t sleep, you can’t sleepwalk through life.

There is a book inside every one of us. It is being written every day. Don’t leave any pages blank.

Make it memorable until the end.

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