The Sum of Our Givens


Artwork by Author

Histories, Herstories. Their-stories, Ze-stories.

We all have a past. Some have left them behind, others carry it around like a present concern. Other’s don’t even know it’s there dictating every inch of their action.

My history is one that makes my friends, on a bad day, whisper to themselves: Iphios has it worse. I have for the longest time been the bench mark for a difficult and miserable life. While this is not the time for details, let me paint a quick picture with a few words: Parents separation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, poverty, mental illness, hunger, transient, and suicide. There was enough drama for us siblings to sell our story for a day-time drama. It was that intense. By 5th grade, I tried to end it.

I didn’t choose the family I was part of. I was for the most part of my growing up years a victim of the circumstances. The tragedy that came with being born in my family were my givens. No matter how many times I try to erase my history—my givens, the person that I am now is the sum of those givens. This person writing this was abused, abandoned, and attempted suicide. It is easy to see these givens for what they are, bearers of misery promising a life trajectory of more misery.

For a great majority of my life, I believed this to be true of myself. Happiness was an elusive myth, almost as mythical as the Phoenix I had loved as a child. I interpreted any form of happiness as momentary and leading up to sorrow. There was no victory in my story. I believed that stories of triumph through bad givens where a miniscule percentage that would happen to someone else and not to me. And yet, year after year, I plodded through. I look back of them in sorrow and in joy. Then it dawned on me that I had looked at my givens as if they were the be all and end of all of one’s life, when in fact they were what they were…Givens. What I did with it determined the trajectory of my life.

The givens of my life filled me with wounds and scars. They are painful, ugly and even at times grotesque. But, I had to force myself to look at them. To stare at them not as problems or sources of misery, but as what they were My givens and in the process of doing so, I peered into the results of those givens.

As I braved the truth of my sob story, I found while there was misery, there was triumph. Growing up in neglect, I had to learn to stand on my own legs. I had to care for myself. At a young age, I was independent, empowered even by the thought that if no one else would do it, I need to do it. Necessity, they say, is the birth place of creativity. It was. I learned to not only care for my needs, but to stretch the little money I have, to get myself out of situations and to be resourceful. Surviving through it built in me character and strength that has been tested through the years. Surviving physical abuse, emotional abuse and even my own flirtation with death birthed in me a dog-like sense of being and living. It is here, that I find the heart of my work as a psychologist. My life steeped in the darkness allows me now to see the same wounds hidden beneath other people’s perfect facades. Inside the clinic walls, I whisper a thank you for my givens and for surviving each time I am able to grab another person’s despairing heart out of the darkness it’s been in. It is my own dark history that has pushed me towards expression whether through writing or visual art. In my own desperation to be able to voice the sadness, I found vehicle in the obtuse.

I am the sum of my givens, without my givens I would not be here. The wounds and their consequences seep into my present life. I still carry the residual effects. I am diagnosed with depression and at times I still shake in trauma. But I deal, because the sum of my givens isn’t just that. It is my ability to look at life worries with faith in my ability to survive them. It is my multiple skills of repairing a home for little to making magic in the kitchen. It is my art. It is my wisdom. It is my ability to listen, to see and to hold up a hand to those who rarely get that. It is what makes me able to live. As a wise woman once said to me: In the brokenness is strength.

Our givens are things that happened to us. We had no control over them. They are part of our history. The future comes with a past that has found strength in its brokenness. We only need to make it so.



  1. Iphios, this literally made my day. Thank you so much for your courage and for your authenticity and for your strength. I felt my heart swell up while reading this, while processing your eloquent and powerful words about doing our best with our givens. As someone who has also faced his own traumas, this post really just brought me so much light, and I hope it does for many others as well. Thank you again for setting a wonderful example of coping with pain in healthful ways and growing up to live a meaningful life, despite abuses of the past.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Hi Thomas,
      It’s been a while since I have opened my blog account. Been absent as life has sort of thrown me into all sorts of directions. I am glad this post made your day. Your comment has reassured me that my decision to talk about my life was right. Like you, I continue to learn about life, cope with the difficulty and trauma and believe in the possibility of life. cheers!



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