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June 13, 2022

An Open Letter to Anyone who’s ever been told that their Past is a Giant Red Flag.

 

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“Erin likes you.”

This notification was usually enough to change the key of my soundtrack in a matter of seconds. An argument with a boss, a near-death experience on the road, an unexpected bill—these things would set the tone of my day, like a minor chord ringing hollow in the background. But when “Erin likes you” would pop up on my push notifications, flutes and major seventh chords would flood over all of that and everything would be right once again.

I’d pull up to my next stop and write a little message to Erin. Minutes later, she’d write back.

“What is your book about?”

Yup. I would always mention in my profile that I had a book in the stores. That is, of course, until I began to realize a curious reality: being the author of a self-help recovery book was not the lady bait that I naively thought it was going to be. As a matter of fact, out of the dozens of women who mysteriously flaked after the first few conversations, a couple actually had the courage to explain to me why it kept happening.

My book made it clear that my history was fraught with danger. My past was a huge “red flag.”

Even when I got to the point where I kept my biggest achievement to myself for as long as I possibly could, eventually the truth of my passions would come to the surface. That simply prolonged the pain. In these situations, I would go on a date, things would seem happy and hopeful, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, the regrets and excuses would once again appear.

The sadness of this discovery didn’t stick around for too long. How could it? My weekends were colored with two young girls who still played with baby dolls, and live gigs where I’d be showered with praise and buckets of money. So perhaps the evenings would be spent in solitude, but all that seemed to do was grease the wheels of my creative machine and provide me with just enough angst to write well-received articles and some cool songs.

Besides, I came to accept the fact that my purpose on this planet was not to cohabitate with a woman and spend my weekends on a ladder cleaning gutters. I was here for an entirely different reason, and it is only a fool who refuses to embrace what is for the longing of what can never be. Also, as is usually the way with the universe, whenever I’d begin to question the meaning of life, I’d receive an Instagram message or an email from someone telling me that my book, Kickass Recovery, changed their whole trajectory. This was a blessing and I’d silently admonish myself for losing sight of that at times.

This weekend, however, I met someone whose story gave me the chills. I’d always had a vague and nebulous idea of what the word “self-actualization” meant until that moment we were speaking on the phone and I became flooded with emotions so foreign to me, I wasn’t sure how to even name them.

She explained that at the height of lockdown, she was a single mom in early recovery. If that wasn’t challenging enough, she was a single mom because she finally found the courage to leave an abusive partner. She was receiving assistance from a social program in her country and, like the rest of us, trying to make sense of a strange new world during the height of a mysterious pandemic.

She went to the recovery section of her local library, and the blaring red cover of my book caught her eye. Not really knowing what it was, she figured it couldn’t hurt to borrow it. She brought her child to the park because it had been a long day of running errands and he needed to get out the pent-up energy. As he ran around, she read the book. At some point, during the second or third chapter, she took what I was saying to heart in a big way. She realized that she could be asking so much more of herself than what she was currently accepting.

Now she is a budding entrepreneur empowering other women who faced the same hurdles as she did. She began a masterclass to help survivors become kickass thrivers. Listening to her speak, I welled up with emotion. It’s one thing for a person to decide to change their whole life, but it’s something else altogether when they decide to go about it by helping many others along the way. It is a love contagion.

As I hung up the phone, I sat back in the chair in my office and a tear rolled down my cheek. I spent that entire year thinking of nothing besides how to break through the impossible wall of traditional publishing. The months and months of practically pleading with various agents to represent me. The dozens of rejection letters that said nothing less than “You are wasting your time. Your idea is not sellable.” The time I even found a hypnotist to remove the accumulation of negative reinforcement I kept receiving. All of that pain and perseverance brought me right to that moment.

Maybe to a lot of women, my rocky history was simply a “red flag.” Perhaps I was someone to avoid because I did not graduate college, start at the ground floor of a nondescript company, and work my way up to a split-level ranch and a healthy 401(k).

Perhaps this is your story, too. Maybe you also have a history that causes people to keep you at a distance. Maybe you made mistakes that are still following you around and causing you to feel “less than” everyone else. Maybe you even suffered some psychological pratfalls that have branded you as “damaged goods” by society at large.

Do not ever let it dictate your potential.

Colors are strange entities. What we see with our eyes depends entirely upon how our brains process the wavelengths, the specific lighting that is involved, and even from what position we are taking it all in.

So, it is entirely possible that what looks like a red flag to some people might look like a black and white checkered flag to others. The flag of victory. The flag of hope.

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