|Posted on October 20, 2011 at 9:05 AM|
Since 2007, October has been a somewhat difficult month for me. Four years ago this month, my stepfather Paul passed away suddenly and tragically.
When Paul was 22 years old, he was shot point blank in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun by his friend who was trying to kill him. He survived, but his injuries left him completely blind. After being shot, Paul got into AA and started to turn his life around. Over the next 25 years he sponsored many people who struggled with addiction, and he gave talks at local community centres and jails in an effort to help people improve their lives.
Later in his life, Paul started to suffer from chronic pain in his feet, due to nerve damage caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctor prescribed Oxycontin - a powerful and highly addictive painkiller. Paul quickly became addicted to the medication, and over the next two years he slowly wasted away before my eyes. He rarely got out of bed, seldom ate, and even stopped joining my family on Christmas morning.
Eventually my mom left him. She refused to enable his destructive and addictive behavior.
Two months later, on October 25th 2007, Paul let out his final breath. He died alone, on his bedroom floor. He was only 55 years old. And he was the only father I'd ever known.
This month, in honor of Paul's memory, I've decided to share 5 important lessons that he taught me about life. I work with these lessons every day, and I hope you will, too.
1. Be Grateful
Growing up with someone who couldn't see really helped me appreciate the things that we often take for granted, like our senses. Paul often had to ask me if his socks matched each other. He couldn't pull a can out of the cupboard and know what it was. He couldn't drive a car. He couldn't take in a sunset. He once brushed his teeth with A535 and ate a spooonful of dry catfood because he thought it was cereal (we laughed about this at the time, but I think I've made my point!).
He never knew what I looked like. Instead of seeing with his eyes, Paul saw with his heart.
Be thankful for your ability to see. Not everyone is so lucky.
2. Stay Strong
After being shot in the face and blinded, many people would give up. They would tune into a victim mentality, with "Why me" playing continually in their head. And while I'm sure that Paul experienced these thoughts at times, he really was a striking example of how the human spirit can rise up and triumph over adversity.
Instead of playing the victim, Paul took his experience as a sign that he needed to turn his life around. He got sober, and started inspiring others to do the same. He learned how to play the drums and joined aband. He got into weight lifting and worked out every day.
When tragedy strikes, pay attention to what the universe is trying to teach you.
3. The Power of Forgiveness
One of the main tenets of AA is forgiveness. This meant that Paul needed to forgive the man who shot him. How on earth could you forgive someone who blinded you for life? I'm not quite sure how, but Paul did it.
One day, Paul was at a gas station with a friend who told him that the man who had shot him was at one of the other pumps. Paul asked to be led over to the man. He then hugged him and told him that he forgave him forwhat he'd done.
Paul taught me that holding on to anger and resentment doesn't do anyone any good. These emotions eat you up inside and weigh on your shoulders. Forgiveness isn't about the other person - it's a gift that you give to yourself.
Who do you need to forgive?
4. Say What Needs to Be Said
Before Paul died, I had an opportunity to drop by his house to confront him about his addictive behavior. But I was scared. So I drove by and reassured myself that I would talk to him the next time I visited my hometown. Instead, I decided to write him a letter, tape myself reading it, and mail him the tape.
He died two weeks later.
My letter didn't arrive on time. I missed my chance.
From this experience I learned the importance of telling people what we need to tell them. Don't shy away from a confrontation because you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You never know when you might lose your opportunity.
5. No One's Perfect
Ultimately, Paul taught me that we all have our scars. We all carry around our own personal demons that we struggle with from time to time. And that's ok. We can't expect ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to be perfect.
Paul was a complex man. His heart was the same size as his temper - huge. He was rough, soft, kind, cruel, wise and naive all at the same time.
I have fond memories of his kind side. The times we went for walks together and skated on ponds. The times he made me soup when I was sick. I'll always remember how he loved to blare Bruce Springsteen and the tone in his voice when he would say to me, "You can do it grasshopper!"
Paul had his faults, and, like all of us, his faults were part of the package. His imperfections made him who he was. If he hadn't been through what he'd been through, he never would have been able to motivate others to change their lives.
Realize that you are perfect exactly as you are - even with your imperfections.
I hope that you take these 5 lessons and apply them to your life. That way, even though Paul isn't around anymore, he can continue to inspire others.
As Helen Keller so aptly put it:
"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart."
I'd like to leave you with a 2-minute YouTube video that I made in honor of Paul. Another remarkable thing that Paul did was create and maintain a garden, complete with beautiful ponds, in our backyard. I remember him pulling weeds at 11pm because for him, it didn't matter whether it was sunny or dark outside!
You'll see Paul's amazing garden in the video below: