When I was 8 years old, I was sent to a mental institution for 3 years for a crime I didn’t commit. Although that experience was harrowing, and lonely, and took me to some dark places, it became the source of my greatest strength. The experience still teaches me some of life’s greatest lessons.
Never Give Up: How I Found Strength In My Darkest Moments
Then: Alone in the Dark
I come from a big family. I’m one of 7 kids, all boys and one girl. And though I remember plenty of good times growing up, there were some times that were not so good. One of those not-so-good times involved an instant where something happened that changed the course of my life forever.
There was a house fire. I didn’t set it, but for reasons too long to explain right now, I received the blame. The more I protested my innocence, the more my parents, the police, and then the doctors didn’t believe me. The result: I was sent to a mental institution.
The first night I spent alone in the padded cell was pure mental and emotional torture. The room was covered from floor to ceiling with rug that was dirt brown in color, with the smell of mold permeating throughout. There was one small wire mesh window on the door where the occasional face or two would look in at me like a lab rat.
An old, worn out punching bag lay on the ground for those denizens that had pent up rage. Well, I had plenty to rage about. I punched, and beat, and kicked that bag… The following is an excerpt from the memoir Fight Through the Dark:
Spit flies from my mouth, snot forms at my nose, and tears fall from my eyes as I punch and punch and punch, angry at God for doing this to me. Blind, white-hot rage.
I punch until the skin on my knuckles grows red and bloody. I punch until . . . until I am too exhausted to punch anymore.
I collapse on top of that punching bag, and my eyes go to the wire mesh window on the door where I see a nurse with a clipboard looking in at me, checking off something on her form. I look at her with pure hatred that comes from a deep, dark place in me—a place so deep and foreign and unknown that I didn’t even know it was there. From that place of darkness come the thoughts that I say aloud.
“God,” I say, “if you don’t get me out of here, if you don’t make all of this go away, I won’t believe in you. I will know that I am all alone.”
With that, I close my eyes, lay my head down on the punching bag, and drift off to a deep sleep born of depletion and exhaustion.
I awoke the next day, and I was still there. I had the realization that this was going to be very, very long and difficult. And then something hardened in me. I became resolved and determined. Realizing that I was on my own gave me strength. It said no one is coming to save me. It is up to me to figure this out.
At first I banged on the doors and shouted over and over that it wasn’t me. I quickly realized this just made me look crazy… So I tried a different tact. I found that if I pretended that I actually set the fire, then the doctors believed that I was getting better, and after 11 months I gained my freedom. But, a month later, my brother set fire to the house again and I was sent back to the mental institution. After my initial devastation, I decided that I wasn’t going to give up. Once again it was up to me to figure this out.
I’m 36 years old now. I gained my freedom, and proved my innocence. Even after that, I went through some tough times emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Whenever things got really bad, I remembered my younger self saying “I’ll figure this out.” That was enough to get me through. Overall, I am happy and grateful to say that our family has come together to heal (though it’s an ongoing process).
Now: Never Give Up
There were many truths that acted as lifelines along the way, and serve as lessons now. One of the most powerful lessons is the simplest: Never Give Up.
Never give up. This is critical for anything you really want to achieve in life. Never give up on yourself. If you’re a parent, never give up on your child. Every situation is different and every choice we make is personal, and sometimes the choices are painful, but never lose faith that a better day is possible. Never lose hope that things will get better.
It’s true, not all things we hope for come to pass, but we have a greater chance of experiencing better days if our minds are open to the possibility of them. We have an even better chance to get to those better days if we expect and know in our hearts that we will get there.
This mindset works whether we are facing challenges and obstacles in life, or we are going after goals that no one else thinks we can achieve. It’s not what others think that matters— It’s what we believe. And I believe in the power of never giving up.