Design comes alive to me every day, all the time. There’s something about creating something, and seeing it come to life, that helps me connect to myself and the world around me. It reminds me of the value I have, and what I can bring to the world as my authentic self.
Authenticity, or being real, isn’t something I started out life knowing how to do. I didn’t know how to deal with feelings, or have meaningful relationships. And I didn’t know, or didn’t believe, that I could achieve my dreams and go after the things that I had a passion for. And it was only through the process of rediscovering myself through recovery that I found so much more in life.
Today, I’m a designer living in New York City, pursuing my passion for community and design. I have an amazing wife, Stephanie, who challenges me and encourages me and believes in me. But it wasn’t always like this.
I started drinking young. I was the youngest of three siblings, and the only boy, and I felt like a black sheep in school. Alcohol — getting drunk and high — became an acceptable part of life, something that helped me try to fit in. I thought that was the way to have fun, and to be cool. Drinking, drugs. It’s what everyone did. It helped me fit in. It also helped me not have to think about the future, to have to make decisions. So I drank a lot, and thought I had a lot of friends.
When emotions came up I didn’t know how to deal with them. Being numb felt better. Then I didn’t have to feel pain. But I also couldn’t experience true joy or excitement.
In that place, things suddenly things got real. The “friends” I thought I had weren’t there when I got a DUI and ended up in jail. It felt like starting over, having to do a court-mandated treatment program. In that process, there were several people who took interest in me, who saw the value in me, who told me the truth about where my life was going.
I started going to support groups for people in recovery, and found new community. People with whom I could be totally myself, and be accepted and loved. There were a couple key people that helped walk me through that process early in recovery. I had never had a community before where I felt like I could be truly myself, and let people into the aspects of my life that were imperfect and messy. I needed to be able to look someone in the eye when I was having a bad day and know that they cared about me. Having someone lift me up with encouragement in the good even when the bad was visible was life changing. It showed me that my value was not dependent on my perfection. It made all the difference for me when I’ve needed help getting through a hard day.
It was during this time I ran into a guy I knew who was going to school to be an architect. My dad had wanted to be one but was never able to finish school and I remembered playing with his tools when I was little. I’d always loved design but had been told by friends that it would be too hard to get a degree like that. But seeing this guy made me jealous. I began to wonder why. I think it was the first time I can remember really looking inward to examine my emotions. I’d been numb for so long. I started wondering, why not me? What do I really want and what’s stopping me from going for it? I made the decision then to move to Seattle from the smaller town in Washington where I lived to pursue architecture and design. Because I’d gotten such terrible grades in the past it took a few years of community college to even get into a university. It wasn’t easy, and it involved changing programs and schools to complete my degree. But I did it, mostly thanks to friends, and now I’m a designer for an amazing firm.
During that time, people who were there when things got rough helped me to see the value of what I was going for. People who were willing to put time into me, even when things were hard. And I found new forms of community — people who were pursuing things in life; what they were passionate about.
What I lacked when I was younger was a community in which I had real connection. Today, I feel connected in real, genuine ways. I’ve learned to build good friendships based on honesty, and how to take stock of my life on a daily basis. Through my relationship with my wife, and others, I’ve learned to share my heart. It’s important to me to let people know that I love them. It makes me feel alive to help others and to be a good listener, and with my wife I feel inspired about the future. To be there for her, and allow her to be there for me. I’ve learned to see people, not as objects, but as something worthy of love. And where before life seemed bleak and hopeless, I look at the future now as something I can shape. When I consider how much better life is now than before, it makes me realize it can be even better tomorrow and that gets me excited.
Design continues to be a passion I pursue that makes me happy in a really deep way. There’s something about design that resembles the process of life. Sometimes, you’ll have an idea, and you’ll put it on paper, and you’ll see it in a new way. Sometimes I’ll come back to it and appreciate it in a new way; sometimes I’ll see that it doesn’t work in the way you thought it would. It needs to be revised or reshaped. The constant shifting of perspectives and seeing things from others’ perspectives is part of the process. There’s a bit of magic in the growth. It’s about moving forward, and taking another step.