Only You Can Change You

Only You Can Change You

My life changed with a spade fork in my hand and the hard earth under my feet. I was a screwed up and angry fifteen year old, standing in my family’s backyard vegetable garden. Red eyed and brain fogged from heavy drinking and chain-smoking pot the night before, I was in a pretty ugly state. It was a Saturday morning in the spring, and my parents had gone away to the country for the weekend, leaving me home alone, much to my relief of not having to go with them.

My father left me with a project for the weekend. He asked me to dig up the family garden, which was hard and compacted after the long winter. Next to going away with mom and dad, digging up that garden was the last thing I wanted to do with my weekend.

My life at that time was an ongoing state of angry torment. I was in a hateful mood all the time. I got in fights at school during the week and went out with my friends on the weekends drinking, taking drugs, and committing acts of vandalism. At home I hated my family, and social life at school was a tortuous struggle. I dealt with all this pain by staying stoned whenever I could, which was pretty much all the time since I sold pot to support my habit.

So there I was standing on the hard earth in Dartmouth, in the month of May, the late Nova Scotia spring just about to burst forth. I knew fully well that I wasn’t going to dig up the garden, but I had to go through the motions anyway. I knew I would dig for maybe five minutes before throwing the spade fork down in a disgusted fit.

And so it went. I hated the garden, I hated my father, and I hated the spade fork. But most of all I hated myself, and spending three or four hours sweating away in the backyard would be spending way too much time with someone I hated so much. So I dug for two minutes and then I stopped. I stood there and thought for about five seconds, and that was it: “Fuck this, I’m not digging up this fucking garden!!” as I slammed the heavy oak handled fork to the hard, untilled ground.

I was so pissed off at life for exposing me to such bitter suffering. I was smothered in a cocoon of self-loathing, and the only thing I knew how to do was to keep spinning more webbed walls. This had been going on for years, and I just didn’t see another way to approach life.

But then something happened. I don’t remember what triggered it, but suddenly some kind of new awareness opened up inside of me. I was all of a sudden aware of my past and understood how I had arrived at this juncture of my life, and I saw my future unfolding before me with vivid clarity.

I could see my past and I could see the rest of my life, and what I saw was myself going down the slippery slope of failure, the same slope I had been sliding down since the beginning of teenagehood, and the hard surface of that untilled garden was the perfect frictionless pathway I needed to keep on sliding down and down and down.

I suddenly saw that untilled garden as yet another of the thousands of untilled gardens of my painfully hateful existence. The past and future came vividly together in that very instant. It was a moment where I stood back and viewed everything from above with complete awareness, and in that moment it was clear exactly where I had been and exactly where I was going, if I continued on that same hopeless path.

As that flash of realization illuminated my mind, I stopped in my tracks and did a 90º turn, directly onto a new path. In that moment I made the choice to get off the sliding slope to nowhere. What I saw in that moment was that life wasn’t going to ever change unless I changed.

Up until that point I had been living with the belief that I was a victim of some unknown hurt, that somebody somewhere had wronged me, and that one day it would be fixed. I had believed some external justice system would come to the rescue. I would be saved and would finally be happy. The big realization in that moment was that, that wasn’t ever going to happen. It was completely up to me.

So on this particular day, as my mind opened, I leaned over and picked up that spade fork. I picked it up with a joy and an enthusiasm like I had never known before, never in my wildest dreams could I have even imagined it. I picked up that spade fork, that tool of enlightenment, and I dug up that big old garden. I was so happy and so exhilarated that I don’t think I even stopped for a break. And on that particular day I found my footing in the good earth and began the journey forward.

Photo by vanessa_hutd

Craig Mollins

Craig Mollins writes about a mindful approach to anger management at Mindfulness Anger Management.

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22 Comments

  1. WOW! I feel that I came to this sort of realization last week. I can definately relate, and I’m proud of you for making that change! I never realized that the reason I hated to do anything and everything is because I loathed myself, like how you said “spending way too much time with someone I hated so much.” That was definately an eye opener. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment danceportal. I’m glad to hear you made the connection with your own experience. All the best with the journey forward!

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  2. This is such a powerful post, Craig. It is so genuine. The realness of the emotions, the pain, came flying off the screen and into my Soul. I think it is so wonderful that you took control of your life, making the decision to do something other than continue on the path of destruction. Very inspiring!

    Reply
    • Hi Nea, I appreciate your comment and support! It was a powerul moment in my life, still just a teenager so many years ago, but I never looked back after that. And of course the path continues every day…

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  3. Great story. You are an exceptional writer. Glad to hear you changed your life around. It is very hard to convince others to change their situation when they are caught up in drugs and have friends who do the same.

    What a motivation you must be to others like you.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the compliment Bryce. I”m glad I was able to share this story here. A lot of kids in my neighborhood were into drugs back then, around 1988. It sure was a huge relief to break free and start to steer my life into a positive steam.

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  4. Craig, WOW, what a powerful story. Thank you for sharing such an intimate start to your journey!

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    • Thanks Jaunita. It was a pleasure to share the story, and a joy to see it so well received :)

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  5. Outstanding story of turning and looking within and finding the neon sign that says, “Your life this way.” It’s a very inspiring reminder that life can turn on a dime when we shift our perception. Nothing around you changed. Just you! Thanks for sharing this “real” story of transformation!

    Reply
    • Hi Andre. That’s a great insight that it’s true that we can always change ‘on a dime’ with just a shift in perspective. Yeah that’s what happened to me, simply seeing that my old perspective and actions were leading to a future of more of the same, and I was somehow able to shift that perspective on the spot. I feel grateful to have made that shift, let me tell you!

      Thanks for your comment.

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  6. While it’s liberating to realize that my life is in my own hands and any changes I want are mine to make (and mine alone), it’s quite intimidating at the same time. It’s a decision that you have to make every day, that you’re going to continue to take responsibility for where you are and where you’re going. It can be tempting to just sit down and give up, lamenting the fact that you’ve tried so hard and things still aren’t perfect, or even noticeably better.

    I have to say, with my depression in full swing and trying to claw my way back out of the hole that really wasn’t of my own making, it can be hard to keep making that decision. Stories like this are definitely an inspiration to keep going. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience Pam, a courageous thing to do. I think when we are in the most pain and still able to make an effort, that is a sign of our strength and how far we have come. I’ve never suffered from depression – anxiety is my thing – but it sounds like you have done a lot of work with yourself in this regard. I’m glad my story gave you some inspiration, and I wish you great things in the future.

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  7. Incredibly insightful for a teenager to have this realization. you are fortunate to have made it at that early age. Many people go through there entire lives without ever realizing this.

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    • Hi Troy. Thanks for the compliment! I do indeed feel very fortunate to have made that discovery. And of course it is ongoing as the years go by. All the best.

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  8. That was a beautiful post. I have been struggling with my anger for years, and I could absolutely relate to this. Lately I’ve been realizing that it really is all up to us. It can be hard sometimes, but i believe in the future it will definitely be worth it.

    Reply
    • Hi Heather. Thanks for commenting on my story. I hope your struggles are easing. I still struggle too, but more and more I am finding that the most important thing in my life is to create my life the way I want it to be. One of my recent insights into the whole anger thing is that a great deal of anger comes from not knowing what we want, or knowing what we want but not going for it 200 percent. Anyway that’s my anger relief thought for the day. May you find peace in your heart.

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  9. Hey Craige you got that realization at the right time of your life otherwise it could have been late . I can somewhat relate to your post .You see I’ve always observed that when I try and change myself for instance like when I don’t fear anything and start gaining confidence in thnigs I say and do I succeed but that’s only for few days , it never becomes my habit .

    Reply
    • Hi Tania. Yeah I think I know what you mean about trying to change but it not sticking. A wonderful Buddhist teacher named Pema Chodron says something like that once you see your negative habits clearly, you have to do it about a billion more times before it finally dissolves. I love that; it is so realistic and humble. It does certainly seem to take a long long time.

      I don’t think it’s ever too late though. Every moment is a brand new opportunity to wake up and be the brilliantly sane person that your really are.

      All the very best for you.

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  10. I wish my husband could have this moment of enlightenment. Actually I should say soon to be ex as he has left again due to every reason you described in your blog. HIs anger has consumed him to the point that he can’t see past his own misery and the pain he causes others. Kudos to you for your awakening and the courage to tell your story.

    Take care.

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  11. I loved your story Craig & believed it true…although as a Christian I belive that change comes from a higher power when YOU are willing to accept the change, even if you are not aware of it!! Cheers

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  12. Same thing happened to me.I was ironing and crying my heart out.Suddenly a person looking like me came out and stood in front of me looking at me.She talked to me .She said that my life up till now ,proved that I wasn’t any better than her.So it was time for a big change.Changed my life completely.Surprised and astonished many.

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  13. something doesn’t need to be fixed if it doesn’t feel broken. its when the breaking happens that we feel the need to glue it back together :)

    Reply

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