My story begins in a very small town, in rural South Eastern Kentucky. From an early age, it was obvious that I was different. At times, that difference made my life unbearable. Growing up is not easy for anyone. Growing up gay in a city with a population of less than 3,000 complicated every aspect of my life. Because of which, I remained in the closet for most of my youth.
At the age of eight, my parents divorced. Strangely, this was a welcomed decision. My biological father was verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive to us all. Every Sunday he would force me to a Southern Baptist Church, where I was told I was an abomination and would burn forever in Hell. He was a negative and dangerous man, he still is.
After the divorce, he refused to work to support his children. Because of this, my mother, my siblings, and I cleaned houses and offices for strangers. This provided us enough money to afford the essentials of everyday life. To say the least, we had it tough.
Throughout my time in school, I was bullied, teased, and regularly threatened. After school, I would walk to a nearby retirement home to volunteer. I would read to some patients, and socialize with others. As I would walk from the school to the retirement home, people would throw things, spit at me, and shout horrible slurs. For that reason, I spent my youth with my head hanging low and contemplated suicide often.
At the age of sixteen, I came out to my parents and family. Needless to say, this did not go over well. My mother kicked me out to my biological father, who disowned me. He said, “I hope how soon you die because you are an embarrassment to me and my family name.” This meant that at sixteen, I was on my own. I went to school, worked a full time job, and made something that resembled a home from a one bedroom apartment.
Times were hard. I recall days when I would bus tables and eat food that strangers left on their plates. Without these scraps, there would have been days that I would not have been able to eat. At that point, all I had was me and a feeling that I would one day overcome those obstacles.
For the first time in my life, I began thinking for myself. I began seeking for something more to believe in, spiritual peace, happiness, and hope. One day, while watching a biographical film about Tina Turner, I heard the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Chanting seemed strange and difficult for me to understand. As I could not afford the internet and our local library had limited materials, I could not pursue the Nichiren Buddhist faith. Still, however abstract, the concept of Daimoku stayed in the back of my mind.
After graduating High School, with high educational honors, I moved to a larger city. This meant that I could leave my pain in the past; which was very liberating. The larger city provided me with a great number of opportunities. I traveled all over the world, shopped in all of the greatest boutiques, and began a ten year, non-stop party.
The party lifestyle eventually took its toll. I found myself in jail for driving while intoxicated and a major cocaine addiction. My ability to balance these addictions in everyday life allowed me to live this way in secret. No one, other than a close few, knew that I was doing massive quantities of cocaine and drinking myself into deep financial hardships.
Eventually, I was forced to get my life on the proverbial track. So, I focused on work to keep myself busy. In actuality, I traded a cocaine and alcohol addiction for a work addiction. Occupational success became all that I lived for. Doing so meant that I burned many bridges and behaved carelessly with others.
Then one day, my life as I knew it ended. While working extremely hard, I injured my spine. The injury sat up Spinal Stenosis. Spinal Stenosis is a degenerative spinal disease that is not seen until you have reached 50-60 years of age, if at all. As one of my three doctors put it, “Spinal Stenosis is like rust on a boat. You will never be rid of it.”
After several spinal surgeries to correct the injury, I believed my life would once again resemble what it had in the past. I was wrong. After one surgery, I developed a Spinal Fluid Leak. The leak left me unable to walk for a long period of time. Eventually, I was admitted into a hospital critical care unit and underwent a collagen procedure to patch the leak.
There I was, 28 years old and truly alone, aside from my partner. I was lonely, financially, and physically ruined. This was the darkest hour of my entire life. As time progressed, suicide seemed to be the only answer. I often fantasized about how I would end my life. Only in hindsight do I see how disturbing these thoughts were. Nevertheless, at the time, they seemed to be the only resolve.
Then one day, out of nowhere, I saw something that changed my life. It was from a Youtube video from a user named, RobbieBobbyBoy. His videos were a something like a journal of his journey into Nichiren Buddhism. As I watched, the memory of hearing Daimoku, in the Tina Turner movie, came back to me. Obviously, it was meant that I should come to understand the Mystic Law and the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
I put aside all of my fears, and doubts and dove into the SGI. I began chanting Daimoku in front of an altar that I made of cardboard boxes and a clean bed sheet. I chanted and chanted to find a way to bring the Mystic Law into my life. Within months, I somehow managed to purchase a Butsudan, candles, and all of the accessories that I needed. Shortly after, the Gohonzon was bestowed upon me by my local chapter of the SGI-USA.
Within one year of receiving the Gohonzon, my life began to change. For the first time in years, there was no alcohol, no cocaine, and no longer looking for ways to end my life. I began to see the value of my life and the life of others around me. Every moment became a moment to positively change my life. Words will never be able to express the release I felt. Words will never be able to express my gratitude for those that brought me to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.
Yes, I still face my daily life in constant pain. However, I now view my pain as an opportunity to turn poison into medicine. I have an active and positive relationship with my mom, Step-father, and siblings. I am able to share the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism with them and positively affect their lives.
After seeing the changes in my life, my partner began chanting. Our shared, daily devotion helped us build the first loving, devoted, and supportive relationships of our lives. We started looking for ways to create value in each other’s lives, as well as in our community. My partner began succeeding in his career. For the first time in his life, he is driving a reliable vehicle, being promoted, and regularly receiving bonuses.
My life began to make sense again, as well. Secretly, I have held onto a dream of being a successful radio personality. Through daily faith, practice, study, and taking concrete action, that dream is coming true. I now have a weekly, two hour, internet radio talk show. Within one month, my show has reached over 2,000 listeners and growing. My partner produces the program and provides some of the financial backing that I need to get started. It is hard for me to believe! Had you told me ten years ago that I would be happy, sober, and doing what I have always dreamed of, I would have laughed and secretly suffered great doubt.
With no reservation, I can say that I would not be here had I not been introduced to the Mystic Law. Without faith, practice, and study, I would not be able to daily fight the constant pain. Every day, when facing the Gohonzon, I realize the worth and potential beauty in every moment in life. Believe me, through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and taking positive - concrete action, YOU can do and change anything.
Like President Ikeda says, we are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth, “born into this world with great missions and lives full of potential. Believe in yourselves and make your way in your lives with confidence! The key to victory is striving with absolute tenacity to weather and win through each day of struggle and hardship!” Living Buddhism, April 2013. Daily I pray to repay my debt of gratitude to President Ikeda, the members of my local SGI, RobbieBobbyBoy, and Tina Turner. For without these great Bodhisattvas of the Earth, I am not quite sure if I would be alive today.