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I remember I thought I had it all. I married the girl of my dreams. We had three wonderful kids, a nice house and good jobs. We both worked hard.

Accomplishing these goals made me very proud. I was a nice guy, who was confident, trustworthy and full of life. Or so I thought. Then, as our life grew, I gradually began to fall. I am not exactly sure when it started. That strength soon became cockiness. My confidence morphed into overconfidence. I was trustworthy only when I wanted to be. The person that friends described as full of life soon took most aspects of life for granted.

It felt like I was sleepwalking. Suddenly I opened my eyes, and things were different. This was hard to imagine and it was much easier for me to accuse others of causing this change. Acting infallible had allowed me to avoid reality.

My wife and I went to counseling, and decided to separate. After that, I drank a lot more, took more risks. I got into legal trouble. I nearly lost everything. Those friends that stayed close to me were understandably concerned. It was easy to tell people that I was just going through tough times. But something wasn’t right. A part of me was missing. I was selfish, alone, nearly broken.

I decided to get up. I chose to embrace the long, arduous process of fixing the mess that I had created. How else would my children ever resolve their own feelings? The thoughts they had in their precious hearts about their family, their future, their dad and the things he was doing. All a parent could want is for their children to feel safe and loved. How could I ensure this? Being self-absorbed was no longer an option. I had to admit I was wrong, get help, overcome my mistakes and get better. Get up … if not for myself, for them. I did.

It’s hard to imagine much good coming out of self-destructive behavior. But it has, many times over. I have been involved in group and individual counseling, and have had the opportunity to meet many fascinating people. Good people, who have made mistakes and yet speak with unparalleled honesty and sincerity. These folks, who appear lost and insignificant to most, have helped me find some of my own missing pieces.

Through a chance encounter and a desire to have my community service obligation be impactful, I began volunteering at Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding Center in Newfane. Equi-Star provides safe and structured horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities. The workers, students and horses at Equi-Star are truly exceptional. It is an atmosphere built on hope, encouragement and trust. To be able to help the riders interact with such strong, beautiful and intelligent animals is simply amazing.

On a recent day at Equi-Star, it finally hit me. As I walked out of the horse barn smelly, dirty and tired, I could feel a slight breeze beckoning the summer days ahead. I realized then that the ghosts of the past were no more. That giving back and helping others was a transformational part of making me whole again. There I stood … happy, just being me.

I looked around and took a deep breath. Smiling, I whispered “Thank You.”

As the wind carried my words for all to hear, I was humbled knowing that my actions would do the talking from now on.