“Hi, my name is Stephen. I’m writing this letter to testify to the effectiveness and trans-formative power of what I learned through working with the Michael Simonson Foundation, and to express my deepest gratitude for these selfless teachers. For me to say it’s just an education would be a major understatement. I can say this with utmost sincerity because without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Here’s a little story about how Michael’s work impacted me. When I was ten years old, my parents got divorced and even at that young age I knew it was probably for the best. I was no stranger to family dysfunction, with a mother too afraid to leave my brother and I for fear of coming home and finding out what nasty thing my father had said or done to us. To paint a better picture, my father wasn’t generally physically abusive, except on a few occasions with me, but instead he preferred to try his best to make us hurt emotionally, behaving more like a bully throwing around his weight or a king drunk on power than a teacher or a leader. In my earliest memories I can recall my brother and I becoming upset with my dad after one of his tantrums and my father saying things along the lines of “You would have no food if it wasn’t for me, then how would you survive” or “How would it make you feel if I died tomorrow.” When I was given a punishment and I asked why, the answer was always “Because I’m the boss” or “Because I’m in charge” followed by either a smug expression or one of passionate rage. There was no real structure in his discipline, being that some days were “anything goes” days and other days were “lesson” days on which anything I said or did might land me in the hot seat. I hated him for treating my mother, brother, and I so poorly, and he seemed to hate me for being the son who held him accountable for it. My little brother learned early that when we had a dispute, all he had to do was scream for my father, and he’d come running with a head full of steam for the guilty party and the guilty party was always me. He would even compliment my brother on his ability to tease or harass me without implicating himself, saying to me “You should learn from him because he can get away with things better than you.”
My father was my first experience of injustice. This relationship was likely the source of my jaded attitude toward authority from a young age. The chaos filled years during and after my parents’ separation made the predating ones look like The Brady Bunch. My mother and father battled for custody during which time my mother became pregnant with her new boyfriend’s child. My father did his best to inspire resentment toward our mother in us, and our mother did her best to win a long, drawn-out custody war on the advice of her lawyer who was notorious for churning his cases to milk clients for a hefty payday. My father wanted to settle out of court but my mother didn’t trust him to keep his word (since he liked to break his word). Both sides used my brother and I as pawns to win settlement money, assets, and custody of us. The manipulation was constant and very apparent to me, although not to my brother, who I watched go from being inseparable from my mother to becoming filled with hate for her, the new man in her life, and our new little brother. My father had always been good at manipulation tactics and was pleased when my brother began to “see things his way.”
When it was all said and done my mother’s long awaited settlement was a small fraction of what she was expecting and we spent years moving from house to house, and living with family friends for some time. One wonderful thing came during this period, however. My little brother Billy was born a diamond in the rough. Those years were my first experience of politics and subterfuge. In school I scored highly on tests, but my grades were low because I didn’t do homework. I’d learned well the world of manipulation and I would do ANYTHING to avoid bringing school home with me. This caused a major rift between my parents and I, and the more upset they got with me, the more upset I became with them, school, the “system” and this whole process of life as it was fed to me. I felt so alone, as though I had nobody. If I didn’t do well in school, nobody liked me and this made all the adults in my life seem two-faced and plastic to me, as though my worth as a person was measured by the grades I was getting. During this period I punched holes in many a wall in moments of anger when I was forced to stay home on weekends (my only days free from what I had deemed forced labor).
Anger became my best friend because it was the only emotion that justified my depression. Anger was a step up from depressed for me because it granted me the illusion of power. I felt defeated but I wasn’t going to take it lying down, meaning I would hold out if it meant never touching a sheet of school work again. After all, most everyone was crazy except me (and my close buddies)! This theme intensified as I progressed from middle school and on to high school. I felt like people were trying to break my spirit and I needed to be my own best friend, but that can be a scary mental place to occupy when you don’t understand the power of your thoughts, and the simple habit of watching and mastering them. In other words, if you don’t make your thoughts work for you, then it’s you who works for them, and you become a puppet to their every suggestion and impulse. This is one of the simple truths Michael taught me when I first met him. What my mother couldn’t do by enrolling me in therapy, and my father couldn’t do by squeezing me tight in a headlock, Michael Simonson did with simple truth, which makes up the foundation of everything he teaches; You create your reality with the thoughts that you empower.
Now I understand I can choose to create from a place of love or from a place of fear. I was astonished to learn that I had this power all along, and the entire time I thought my strength was in my anger, but that anger was only coming from a fear of being powerless. That fear became irrational once I understood the power I do have, and that I’ve always had. Rather than defining myself through the eyes of others, or trying to change everyone around me, I learned I can define myself through my very next thought, which will lead me to my next action, in turn creating my life’s experience the way I choose. When you learn about this innate power we all share, non judgement begins to make a lot more sense.
I can now look at others and understand that they’re either making choices based in love or in fear. When I was first able to see my parents and other authority figures in my life as people just like me, who are either choosing to be the master of their thoughts, or be a puppet to their fears, it transformed my reality. No longer was I a victim and no longer did I have anything to prove by sabotaging myself.
Some of the people closest to me noticed a major shift in me after I began to change my thinking. When they asked me about it, I explained some of the things Michael taught me and how I was choosing to own my life and live from a place of love rather than fear. I know that our conversations must have resonated with them on some level because, after a while, I noticed undeniable positive changes in them too. It’s now become obvious to me that ways of thinking are contagious. By choosing to be our best versions and thinking in new ways, we can spread positive ripples throughout our families, communities, and the entire planet. Michael and the Foundation reached me in this very way. They provided the light that guided me from a very dark place into a place where I now have a much clearer understanding of what real strength is, and it’s nothing to do with how you’re perceived but everything to do with how you perceive. Thank you for giving me the gift of wisdom and for saving my life.”