“The more I stray the less I fear, and the more I reach the more I fade away. The darkness right in front of me…oh it’s calling out and I won’t walk away” -Rise Up by Imagine Dragons
The universe whispers soft nudges when we least expect it and in the most unconventional ways. Trying to decipher the message of what this experience is trying to teach us is often one of the most powerful learning moments. I live for these moments because I learned the courage to sit with the uncomfortable often leads to some of the most profound revelations about myself and the direction of my life.
Everyone experiences moments where something happens and it stops you dead in your tracks. We see something on our way to work that triggers a memory or feeling. We read something that sends chills down your spine or hears a song that resonates deeply into your soul. I heard a song yesterday and it resonated so deeply with my spirit, it sent waves of emotions throughout my body. I was brought to tears by the level of healing and growth I experienced over the years in the way I responded to the lyrics.
I firmly believe every human being will experience some form of darkness or trauma, they will have to grapple with or forever be caught in the grip of its devastation. The more research I read on understanding and overcoming the many types of trauma, the more I question the notion of rejecting darkness by focusing only on the light…or ignore the bad and focus on the positive to put it in more accessible frameworks.
The Light of the Darkness
Using my life experiences as anecdotal evidence…it seemed the more I tried to ignore the dark, traumatic aspects of my upbringing, the more I seemed to suffer from it. I wanted more than anything to not feel the emotions I felt growing up or accept the reality of my circumstances. I did everything I could to focus on the light…not realizing the blinding, one-sided, tunnel-vision focus on the light only fed the darkness in the end.
My biggest critique of the “self-help” book industry and some aspects of the field of positive psychology is the blatant disregard of the underlying trauma or darkness that causes human suffering. Focusing only on the positive does not allow individuals to get to the root of why we suffer and by consequence feeds our trauma under the guise of positive thinking. We can’t tell someone who is chronically depressed to “only focus on the good aspects” or “quit being so sad all the time” or even “take this pill 3x a day and feel happy”. We wouldn’t tell someone who suffers from an addiction to “lay down the bottle” or “crush that glass pipe and get over it”. For addicts, those are the props they use to bury their trauma because they don’t know how to handle their own darkness.
I love my parents deeply and they are the most loving, kind, generous, and smart individuals I know. They laid a solid foundation for my brother, sister, and I during the most formative first 10 years of a child’s life. I had to consciously choose to see my parents in this way rather than viewing them through a singular lens: addicts; they are so much more than that. My parents are human and possess the same level of light and darkness as anybody else…they just have a hard time shifting through the trauma, which is where their depth and power resides.
My life was chalked full of various flavors of trauma you can expect growing up in an addictive household. My parents experienced trauma in their upbringing that carried over into their adult life. This “positive thinking” approach didn’t work for them…so they chose drugs as a way to cope with their darkness. It took years for me to separate the person (my parents) from the addiction, but it took several more years and endless counseling sessions to separate my parent’s trauma from that of my own.
It was devastatingly painful to see my parents struggle in the way they did. I was in denial about their lifestyle choice and avoided dealing with the emotional trauma like it was the plague. The addiction only allowed for my parents’ darkness to grow stronger and darker. It is human nature to absorb the emotions of those around us like a sponge absorbs water (counter-transference is the clinical counseling term). My parents “shared” this trauma with my siblings and I which created even more trauma in how each of us responded with their trauma.
By the time middle school and high school came around…I carried the weight of trauma on my shoulders and my mental health suffered greatly. When I went to college that trauma followed me even though I tried to convince myself “I was ok” and “I only need to distract myself with positive things” or any other flavor of that damned “positive thinking” we hear thrown around as the magic cure to overcoming trauma. College in my undergraduate years was a scary and unfamiliar place as a low-income, first-generation college student. I tried to push all the trauma to the back of the mind to focus on what was in front me: going to class, writing papers, group projects, reading for class, taking exams, etc.
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” -Albus Dumbledore
I believed focusing on all these “positive things” would be the cure for addressing my darkness. But my trauma intensified as I became impatient and frustrated with my emotions and how I felt. Nevertheless, I persisted and within four years I graduated from the University of Oklahoma. It would not have been possible without the support of faculty and staff who mentored and encouraged me to reach higher and dig deeper to find my purpose in life. Here, the universe was presenting immense amounts of light and beauty in ways I never experienced before. The universe was holding a mirror reflection of my life and where my attention was needed.
I chased the light of success from individuals in my subconscious efforts to avoid dealing with the rage of my own darkness that was right in front of me. I moved to Southern California in August 2012 to start graduate school at USC and this was when everything changed in my life. This is where my great transformation started and continues today. I am writing a memoir that explains this tremendous growth period of my life and will share in that format.
But what I will share briefly here is this: “the more I strayed the less I feared and the more I reached the more I faded away. The darkness right in front of me oh it’s calling out and I (finally) didn’t walk away”. I knew in my heart and soul it was time to quit running from my darkness and address it head-on. It was the distance from Oklahoma that ushered in the courage, strength, and space to finally address this darkness of mine. Thankfully, I stepped into another support system of faculty and staff built into my graduate student experience at USC…but it was time to do the hard work and I had nowhere to hide.
I talk more about this in my book, but graduate school was a tremendous area of growth for me personally and professionally. I ushered in the darkness and allowed it to consume me…and break me it did! This was when I began to sit with my demons and make friends with them. The core of my trauma was the emotional abandonment and neglect which led to low self-esteem. I did not know how to love myself and craved the validation and acceptance my parents were unable to give to me. I was scared of my darkness and felt like I was never good enough…for anything or anyone.
The Light of Tomorrow
During graduate school and the years leading up to now I, Bradley, have been the only person getting in my way of achieving my dreams. I talk extensively about how I transformed the darkness of my trauma into healing in my memoir. This is an ongoing healing process that will be my goal of a lifetime. I have moments of doubt where my mind plays tricks on me. I have to get out of my head to allow myself to use the darkness right in front of me and allow it steer me in the direction of achieving my wildest dreams.
Where I, the artist, gets to decide what picture I paint and the meaning behind it. I wish to create spaces for healing and unequivocal love for individuals who are ready to transform their biggest insecurity into their greatest strength. I now realize the source of my biggest insecurity is also my greatest strength: knowing how to navigate my own trauma to create brave spaces for individuals who are ready to transcend their own darkness.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage” Maya Angelou
I’m scared of my potential and strength far more than I am of my insecurities. Listening to those lyrics by Imagine Dragons gave me a full circle realization that I am ready! I am ready to deeply commit to the service of others and providing tools to help individuals work through their darkness within the field of education. I am ready because nothing or no one can scare me more than that of my own darkness. I wear it as a sheet of armor not to do anyone harm…but to stay conscious and brave so I may help others build their emotional armor and resilience to life.
2017 was a year of insecurities, self-deprecation, and doubt but I am thankful for it because it taught me lessons about how to advocate for myself, stay committed to my dreams and aspirations, and never let anyone convince me that my dream isn’t realistic. 2016 was the year of the caterpillar, 2017 was the year of the cocoon, and 2018 will be the year of the butterfly because:
“The darkness right in front of me, oh it’s calling out and I won’t walk away”
Have you experienced similar situations and would like to share your story, wisdom, and insight? Comment below and let’s start a meaningful conversation!
If you want to listen to this beautiful song, follow this link:Rise Up by Imagine Dragons