Violent valor is not the definition of masculinity or strength. When I was in the hospital fighting cancer, people declared me their ‘hero.’ I wasn’t unaware of my fear. I wasn’t fearless. I was afraid of the process of dying and I was not afraid of death.

Frankly, because I was afraid to live, I didn’t consider myself a hero. I believed myself to be too afraid to live because living was too hard and I would finally be done with this life that I did not ask for and I was unwanted.

What was the point of being forced to live a life as an unwanted child of a father that made it clear I was unworthy of his love and affection? Cancer was my way out. That wasn’t bravery. I knew that.

I’m not a hero. At the same time, I’ve learned how to live life and I’ve learned that I survived some traumatic experiences that mental health professionals consider me resilient.

In early childhood, violence and aggression are used to express emotions and distress. Over time, aggression in males shifts to asserting power over another, particularly when masculinity is threatened (Pellegrini & Bartini, 2001). Masculine ideals, such as the restriction of emotional expression and the pressure to conform to expectations of dominance and aggression, may heighten the potential for boys to engage in general acts of violence including, but not limited to, bullying, assault, and/or physical and verbal aggression (Feder, Levant, & Dean, 2010).

Yes, that would be a good word. Resilient. I can accept that now and I can accept that it took a lot of digging into the closet to clear several skeletons out.

I learned that I can love and disconnect from toxic situations and push through resentment and contempt. Yes, I felt resentment and contempt because of the manipulation, coercion, and abuse that has become painfully clear.

I learned how to spot emotional blackmail, gaslighting, and microaggressions and I learned that I can rise above that and keep moving forward.

I learned that regret is powerful and courage cannot exist without vulnerability. Vulnerability sucks and it’s easy to armor up. Armoring up is how we end up disconnected from people.

I learned that empathy without boundaries is self-destruction. Boy, was that a tough lesson.

I’ve learned to let people own what they need to own while I recognize what I need to own and it isn’t easy work to draw that line in the sand.

I’ve learned that my experiences have given me unique insight that can be difficult for several others to understand and that is okay. That’s their journey to discover the lessons I’ve learned and it is not my job to exhaust myself with trying to explain why I view things the way I do.

It’s easy for us to react toward humanitarian issues with othering and implicit bias when issues do not impact us and we can get angry when people refuse to align with our sentiments.

I’ve learned that I do not have to justify my perspectives that have been gleaned from my experiences despite the demand that several enjoy assuming I’m not using my intelligence for discernment.

I’ve learned that we’re quick to assume that others do not know without questions for clarity because we’ve had very few examples of mindful communication to build connections.

I’ve also learned that it’s easier to shun people as a part of our armoring up process while blaming other parties for their refusal to bend to our belief system while we refuse to move from our protective bubbles to have crucial conversations without accusations and assumptions of other people’s ignorance.

Mama never promised me a rose garden and she never promised me that life would be easy. She did her best to prepare me for a life of struggle, strife, and grief in a society that would demand that I fight and continue to fight for my rights and the rights of others.

As mid-month approaches, I feel grateful for the lessons Mother tried to teach me. I’m grateful for her tough love. She wasn’t perfect at it and she didn’t have the psychosocial support she needed to gain clarity and understanding.

She did teach me to ask questions. In reflection, she also gave me an example of listening. So did my grandfather. I just lost that along the way in a society that would rather hear themselves speak.

In finding my voice, a manager shared that I’m going to make mistakes as I continue to discover how to use my voice in a mindful manner. It’s not easy with current events. We’re leaving a mess for youth.

We were not careful with what we borrowed from our children and it’s getting more difficult to pay for what we borrowed. I was complicit in that and I wish I would have known then what I know now.

That’s my regret and I can move forward with that regret and work on finding the power within that regret. This will not be easy and nothing in life worth having ever came easy.