Adapt Or Die

By Matthew Robert


Throughout my life I had to adapt constantly just to survive. The struggles were real and intense. They seemed like they would never end. Every day I woke up I was in survival mode and had to adapt or there was no coming back. Throughout various situations that I will explain in depth as you read on, I always had hope and developed adapting mechanisms. From doing 3D puzzles, video games, and developing interests in sports, I was able learn how to cope with tragic events in life.

When I was born, my arm was missing from the elbow down. So right from birth I was immediately thrust into a difficult situation. I never knew exactly why until recently but what I did know was that I was very different, which I thought was a bad thing. I tried desperately to be normal so society to accept me. As a result, I had severe self-esteem issues. I wore sweatshirts in the summer with my prosthetic just to try and hide the fact that I have one hand. It was an extremely difficult situation I had struggle handling right away. What made it worse was the fact I felt that I was alone, and no one understood what I was feeling.

Part of the reason I felt I had no one to go to or someone who could understand was the fact my parents divorced when I was 3. It was as brutal of a divorce as one can possible get. To give a brief example, my father made 4 order or protections against my mother saying that she locked my brother, sister, and myself in chains in the basement for 3 days without food or water. That was total nonsense but gives you perspective of the hate between my father and mother for the next 19 years. Yes, for 19 years I had to hear from each other what a horrible person the other was back and forth as they fought over child support, who was spending holidays with whom, and how much money each other had stolen from me. This was an issue that affected all others that came about through my life.

In school, my classmates circled a petition to get my prosthetic removed. I tried to stop it and punched the person who started that petition who was making fun of me. As a result, I was given suspension. He was just a victim according to the school. It really hurt that even kids my age would treat me in such a disrespectful way. I developed coping mechanisms to adapt from this like not talking and trying to be alone so I wasn’t constantly hurt.

Throughout junior high and high school, I was constantly bullied and getting into fights and would sometimes eat lunch alone. I was harshly bullied in particular by this girl who was three times my size for over a year when I was about 12. The school thought since I was a guy, I was immediately in the wrong and that she was a victim. I was not protected, and thus, it snowballed into a serious situation. She broke her arm one day and told school officials that I had pushed her off the railing outside the school building while leaving to go on the bus home. No one had my back; not even my English teacher whom I passed  to get on the bus, wanted to get involved. I thought my teacher would have my back but like everyone else, she chose herself over others. If someone broke their arm, usually they cry and seek help, especially children. The girl who bullied explained this by saying “I didn’t want to bother anyone, so I got up and went home on the bus” Now, easily the school officials could have questioned the bus driver or fellow students on her bus if they noticed a broken arm, but of course they didn’t follow through. I was then brought down to the police station, having to give my side and to make a sworn statement. It eventfully dissipated as it was completely untrue. The school responded by placing me, not her, under security escort to watch me the rest of the school year.    

From about ages 12 to 17 I was sexually and mentally abused by a close family friend’s son who went to my school and raped me multiple times. This is extremely hard to write about but I feel it is important. In the beginning when he was abusing me he told me to never say anything otherwise I would get in trouble and he would tell my mother. I listened. This man, no that isn’t the appropriate word, this animal controlled everything about me. My whole group of friends were his as well. Anytime we were all together or even alone, he would publicly humiliate and degrade me however it pleased him. I put up with everything he said because I so was scared of making him mad. When he raped me the first few times, I cried as he was having his way. He just laughed. I even threw up when one day he forced me on the floor and raped my mouth but even then, that pleased him. While at school and home I was so uncomfortable as to what’s happening that I threw up every time he called me or forced me to send him nude pictures of myself. The anxiety was taking over and I felt I had no way out. He controlled everything about my life. I lost weight and could barely get in enough calories to sustain a healthy weight. I was barely 100 pounds at about 5’11” by the time I was 17. However, there was a small voice in my head telling me to keep fighting and pressing on. It was hope. It was telling me that one day things will be better and just keep fighting to stay alive. I never reverted to alcohol or hard drugs because of hope. As much as I felt alone or upset about the constant abuse, I knew that things would be better after school was over and when I wouldn’t see him every day.

When I started college, things were getting a little better. I was doing well in school and my parents finally stopped hating on each other so much. My sexual problems, however, were just beginning. I haven’t engaged in anyone in a sexual matter other than my abuser. I was having a sexual identity crisis. I had no idea if I liked men or women. Even thinking about sex gave me severe anxiety. I started dating a really nice girl, but it felt wrong. I wanted so desperately to like and enjoy being with another but anytime we were close I couldn’t handle it and I pushed her away and out of my life. My sexual identity was so confusing I didn’t know how to handle the situation.

Over that winter, I was about 21. I had my wisdom teeth removed and they gave me oxycodone for the pain. I only ended up using a few pills for the pain. A couple of weeks later something came over me and I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I wanted out. I swallowed a few, felt nothing. I said “fuck it” and swallowed the rest of the bottle. After my friend who found me brought me home, I ended up throwing up. My mind was ready to let go but my body wanted to keep on fighting. This was my rock bottom moment.

Over the course of the next few years I somehow finished college and was working full time in retail. I made some amazing friends, but I still wasn’t on the path that I wanted to be. About 4 years ago I was 115 pounds and  thus extremely thin. I was very self-conscious about my weight and how I looked. I really have no idea why, but I woke up and threw my prosthetic in my closet and told myself, “I am who I am.” If anyone has a problem then that’s their problem, not mine. I went to work and realized that most people don’t care. I woke up the next morning in severe pain because I am so thin. I decided to make a change. I started working out with a trainer who’s now my best friend and developed attachments to working out and performing the same exercises as anyone else.

I always had hope. It’s odd, there was no one I felt that cared or that could comprehend what I was going through and that I was alone, but I had hope. You see, hope in a better future is what can save someone. It saved me. I am here writing to you all because of hope. I believed if I can make it through all this shit then I can get through anything.

I tend to always look into the positive side no matter what happens. Here I am today, as a pure example that anything is possible. I am finishing up a master’s program, have close loyal friends, and happiest I’ve ever been. I have gained 40 pounds in 3 years and I now sit at about 155 pounds. Fitness has saved my life. I would spend hours in gym for “therapy”. I now train for competitive rock climbing and powerlifting.

Instagram has opened up a whole new world to me in showing other amputees and how they never let things get in their way. I’ve helped dozens of amputees workout and discover fitness. This is when I started to realize that in fact I am not alone. There are others like me.

I’m about to graduate with my MPA (Master of Public Administration) in inspection and oversight/policy analysis and hope to one day work at the United Nations, NGOs, nonprofits, or other various government entities. My life experiences have shown me how important it is to help one another. I hope to change as many lives for the better as I can.

I do motivational speaking at schools throughout Long Island and NYC with other individuals in our own organization that we founded. We share our stories and help speak positivity and that anything is possible. I never thought that my experiences can in fact help others. At my first day speaking last year, a 12-year-old girl spoke up and started crying over how much we touched her and shared her story of her beautiful twin sister that has bacterial meningitis. She said that hearing our stories gave her hope for her sister and to know there are others that have struggled as well. Everyone is fighting a battle you do not realize. I had always put up a front that I was happy, but inside, I was dying. Always be kind and help others around you without wanting anything in return. A simple smile or kind gesture can in fact, save a life.

One of my favorite quotes was from Wentworth Miller’s speech at the Human Rights Campaign. He said: “Let me be for someone else like no one was to me.” That’s exactly what I am doing now. This is how I turned my negative experiences into positives.

If just one person reads this, then I have already succeeded. The point of this post was to show that even when dealt a bad hand in life, we turn that into a positive. I’m an example of never giving up and always having hope. You are not alone. It’s crazy what life has in store for us, so let’s try and make the best of the short time we have.

Believe. Strength. Hope. Never give up.