by Humble the Poet, author of Unlearn
“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.”
— Dorothy Allison
I loved him like a brother, and he treated me as such. He told me I was a genius and that the world needed to hear my music. He was a ball of passion, and when he spoke it always felt like a battle cry to fight for a better life. I was working as a teacher, spending my summers with struggling artists who gave me that energy and community I craved. When I met him in Toronto, I felt like I found new family in my own hometown.
His family wasn’t so abundant—his parents struggled with addiction and were trying to take the earnings he made producing music. It was killing his spirit, and I could sense it. So without consulting my parents, I invited him to live with me. He was the brother I never had.
We got matching tattoos and promised each other that there would always be two of everything. We hustled the music, threw shoes, networked, and talked about what we could do artistically and for the scene in the city. The summer had ended and now I was back to grinding the 8-5 shift. It was killing my soul to be working knowing there was so much to create. Then he came to me with an opportunity that changed my life forever.
It was a songwriting deal, worth $120,000, to write 10 songs for an unknown artist who apparently had major connections. We’d get paid to write the songs, and with that money we could be full-time artists. Without much thought, due diligence or reflection, I took a leave of absence from work, and we moved into a rental property that I purchased as a responsible adult. Then we got straight to creating.
They Never Did
He explained the money would come soon, but weeks went by with no word. Weeks turned to months, and with no income, I was quickly accumulating debt by swiping credit cards, and negotiating a bigger line of credit. I wasn’t worried, when the money came in, it would wipe the debt clean, and we’d have plenty to play with.
He told me about all the friends that owed him money, and how we could start collecting to cover the bills, but he wasn’t finding much luck. As the months went on, I began to ask him more questions, and he became more and more defensive. One day he went out of town to collect some money from a family member. A mutual friend disclosed to me that he had been asking people to lend him money, and that in fact, no one owed him anything. I called him to clarify this, and he immediately hung up, and I never heard from him again.
He literally left his belongings in the apartment and never came back for anything. Clothes, a computer, keepsakes, it was as if he fell off the face of the earth. I was confused, devastated, and heartbroken. I had never had my heart broken by a friend before; it was a foreign kind of betrayal I couldn’t wrap my head around. Beyond the betrayal was the slow sinking reality that I was in deep trouble with my finances. I had accumulated over $80,000 in debt and had no way to pay it off. It turns out the songwriting deal was never real—he had forged documents, changed names, and was planning on borrowing money from others to cover it. When that didn’t work, he ran out of options and ran away.
That was seven years ago. The years that followed were the hardest years of my life. I fell into deep despair and turned to NyQuil and muscle relaxers to numb the pain. I blamed the world and everyone around me for not warning me of his sleazy ways. I stayed in bed for weeks, and ate very little, hoping the cavalry would come to save the day.
They never did.
A Challenging Time
During the worst moments, I thought the worst thoughts about him. How dare he do this to me, after I let him in my home, and allowed him to live with me for a year rent-free. I was nothing but amazing to him! I treated him like a brother! And this is what I got in return?
But I learned to let it go, gradually.
Of course, I didn’t let it go because I thought what he did was OK. I let it go because I could not afford to carry such a heavy burden of resentment and regret with me. If I was ever going to get myself out of the mess I was in, I needed less baggage…
He wasn’t evil, he was scared. He bit off more than he could chew, and instead of facing the consequences of his actions, he ran away. All of that was out of my control. And for me to maintain my sanity I had to focus on what was in my control.
What was always in my control was my thinking and expectations. I expected him to be honest with me, because I was honest with him. But that’s not how things work. As I write this story, I am at a friend’s house in Austin, TX. I can hear the neighbour’s dog barking really loud. If I went over and stuck my hand through the fence, that dog would probably bite me. I can’t assume or expect him not to, just because I don’t plan to bite him. Dogs do what dogs do. Scared people do what scared people do.
So I forgave him, little by little, and began taking more responsibility for what happened. It was hard work. But doing so helped me let go of the resentment and regrets that were holding me back
Truth be told, it’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, and cast ourselves as the victims in life. And it’s not only easy, it’s quick and convenient too. It gives us an immediate opportunity to feel connected and significant. We connect with ourselves because we feel like no one else understands what we are going through (as if I was the first guy to ever be betrayed by a friend). It also gives us a subtle high of significance, because we start to convince ourselves that life is conspiring only against us, as we question what we did to deserve its wrath.
This quick fix doesn’t last though, and what accompanies it is a long and drawn out feeling of powerlessness. We have no power because we’ve blamed everyone and everything except ourselves. Thus, for me to find power in my situation, I had to take some of the responsibility, because only in those areas would I find the power to improve my circumstances.
Again, it took plenty of practice, but I gradually became more mindful of my expectations, and instead of kicking myself (with my 20/20 hindsight) for all the danger signs that were right in front of me, I decided to extract the wisdom from my past experience. I promised myself I would use that wisdom until I was glad I went through such a challenging time.
I Am Cavalry
Over time, my broken heart healed, I got stronger, I got back on my feet and spent the next four years getting myself out of the hole. Through selling my possessions, finding odd gigs here and there, touring, and writing my book Unlearn, I finally got to a $0 bank account—no debt.
And gradually, I began to feel sincere gratitude for the journey I was on, and what I went through to get to where I was.
Figuring out how to go from $80,000 in the hole to $0 also helped me grow from $0 to a bank account with decent savings. My struggling days taught me the value of minimalism. I became a dramatically better judge of character, and looking back I realized how resilient I really was.
I no longer hope for a cavalry, I am the cavalry. I am no longer afraid to lose because with loss comes learning. I don’t question whether I need to trust others, because I know I can trust myself. Challenges and resistance make us stronger, so either we make ourselves uncomfortable so we can grow, or life does it for us.
We Can Choose
Although I’ve now completely forgiven my old friend, and even thanked him for the lessons I’ve learned, it all happened internally. I never made any proclamation or tried to contact him. After the passing of a mutual friend, he tried to reach out, but I didn’t need that energy in my life. I had already let it go, and there was no need to re-introduce it back into my life.
We need to let things go and forgive others, not for their sake, but for ours. We need to rid ourselves of the weight we carry around holding grudges, regrets, and the other burdens that try to pile up. We also need to let go so we can create a space where self-love exists, because most likely we’ll need that space to forgive ourselves, too.
I have indeed forgiven. And I am truly grateful.
Had I not gone through such a heartbreaking experience, I would have never dug deep into myself to write Unlearn. I would have never crossed paths with the amazing Marc & Angel, or read their books. And, most importantly, I would not have grown into the person I am today.
We can’t see into the future, but we can choose how much of our past we deliberately carry with us into today.
We can choose to let go and move forward, one day at a time.
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
I would love to hear from YOU in the comments section.
What do you need to let go of (or forgive), to move forward with your life?
Anything else to share?
Please leave me a comment below.
Author Bio: Humble the Poet (Kanwer Mahl) is a Canadian-born rapper, spoken-word artist, poet, internationally bestselling author, and former elementary school teacher. He has more than 950,000 social-media followers, and his first book”Unlearn” is an international bestseller. He has performed at concerts and festivals including Lollapalooza and has been featured in major media including “BuzzFeed” and “Huffington Post”. (He even got a standing ovation at Marc & Angel’s Think Better, Live Better 2019 conference.) Visit him at: HumbleThePoet.com.