The Phoenix Within: A Journey of Survival And Self-Discovery

King of the Underdogs can have a certain ring to it until you realize what all you had to survive. I was never a fighter, not that I wouldn’t, but because I could not. Although parasitic in nature, bullies counter their vulnerability in numbers. They travel in packs to ensure their survival. Their thirst for superiority is a learned behavior and their violence is a way to claim territory, power, and popularity. Territories shifting to a new aggressor like the boundaries of countries throughout history; power is overthrown to a new tyrant, and popularity fluxes between trends. I learned at a very young age that I was different and that in order to survive I would need courage, adaptability, and influence.

Bullies are absorbed too much into their primal self-preservation that they do not realize, eventually, like in the natural world, the host will pick the tick off, get a vaccination, or die. They do not have the ability to live synergistically; yet they would find unique ways to teach me their lessons. Once puberty hit and when I finally found some connection into the gay world, I was taken advantage of.

Then, you didn’t talk about being gay so I suppressed my pain and would carry these unresolved traumas into my young adult life. These traumas and nightmares would lead me into an addiction to meth and a diagnosis of HIV.

Being a swimmer and water polo player, underwater breathing exercises helped my body train for different competitions. One exercise required me to hold my breath for two lengths of the pool while being completely submerged. My lungs, ready to explode, screamed with agony, begging me to break the surface for air. As I finished the second lap, I hit the wall. My body shot out of the water for that longing breath. The fire that was scorching in my chest was quickly exhausted as the fresh cool air filled every alveoli of my lungs. The rush of oxygen caused me to feel light headed and euphoric, as stars twinkled in my peripheral vision. And as much as I hated these breathing exercises, I would choose them over the day I lost my breath.

I vividly remember my first breath I took after I heard, “You’re positive.” It felt empty and as cold as the swimming pool where I did so many laps. I was confused because there was no fire in my lungs as I thought there would be, no euphoria to escape to, and no twinkling stars to distract me. My chest was going to implode on itself as the floor seemed to fall under me. And as that first cold breath filled my lungs, shame, anger, and hatred began to ignite in my mind. I wanted so desperately to feel the fire again.

Ten years later, people ask how I did it. First, I am still working on it! The trick is to self-reflect and ask yourself what you can do better each day. Each day, I defined my purpose and passion. Sometimes your world will get shaken up so vigorously that it may feel that the world is against you. In these times of chaos, start creating obtainable “wins.” In time, the “wins” will get progressively bigger. The phoenix was a significant symbol for me when I was getting my life back on track. I wanted so desperately to be unfurled; but I had to remember that if I wanted to be the phoenix, I had to learn to love the fire. Once I learned to give heart to those in my darkest times, I found myself healing and rising from the ashes. I am becoming the person I needed as a kid.

Please follow my journey on Instagram or TikTok (@freakbetweenthesheets). I have created a platform that breaks down stigma around sexual health and substance use.