How I made peace with my past to win in the present.

by Oscar Gomez
HUNTINGTON, N.Y.

I was born into a wonderful family that loved and cared for me very much. However, they couldn’t always protect me from the rest of the world.

As a child, I experienced a series of traumatic events that continued to haunt me. I couldn’t find a healthy way to cope with the fear and anxiety I developed in the process, and by the time I was a teenager, I would disappear for days at a time to do drugs and drink alone. I even tried to take my own life more than once.

I alienated and disappointed my family and any good friends I had, and began hanging out with people who would enable my destructive lifestyle.

My wake-up call came in the form of a near-death incident involving gangs, guns and drugs. In 2010, I tried to change my life by joining the U.S. Marine Corps. Basic training had been one of the best experiences of my life. My depression subsided, but my alcoholism did not; in fact, it was amplified. Soon I began rejecting my new brothers, and falling into old toxic behaviors.

In 2013, I was arrested for driving while intoxicated and sent to a psychiatric ward, where I was finally treated medically for clinical depression and anxiety. But I was still haunted by my past, and found myself turning back to my self-destructive patterns.

By New Year’s Eve of 2014, I was drunk, isolated, off my medication and suicidal again.

The following afternoon, my best friend burst into the house and was so relieved to see me alive that he broke down in tears. I had apparently confessed my suicide attempts to him in a drunken stupor the night before. From then on, he came every day to talk to me, and to see how I was feeling and doing. And he began slowly introducing me to the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism.

This practice has shown me that people can’t pull themselves out of hell alone. Everyone needs help and support from friends in faith.

At first, I thought the whole process of chanting was nonsense, but still, I tried it for my friend. I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at first only three times, then 3 minutes, then 15 minutes to a half hour every morning before work. My friend took me to my first young men’s meeting at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center, and I instantly fell in love with the practice. There was a sense of unity and pride that I hadn’t felt in many years. I proudly received the Gohonzon on Feb. 11, 2015.

My newfound practice enabled me to finally make peace with my past, and I no longer let it mentally cripple me. I gained a new perspective on life that I was able to carry over into my military work. I made the most of the time I had left with the Corps, leaving my unit with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and various other training awards. I also transformed my relationships with my brothers in the Corps, brothers whom I no longer reject and love very much.

I’ve also had the benefit of helping three people receive the Gohonzon. Introducing others to this Buddhism allows me to help someone else while giving back to the practice. Getting involved in Soka Group, a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group, provided me with the personal growth I needed to move on to the next phase of my life—going back to school. Despite many obstacles during the transition process from the military to college, I achieved my goal with consistent prayer, doing SGI activities and accepting support from others.

When I returned to school, I wasn’t sure what I truly wanted to do with my life. But as I gained confidence from my involvement in SGI activities, I thought back to what had made me happy when I was younger. And it was music. I just finished my first semester at Nassau Community College, where I am pursuing a degree in business management. I want to open up my own music venue here on Long Island and give back to the music community that was a haven for me when I was growing up. The tension in my family, cultivated by years of my self-destructive behavior, has been replaced with a more harmonious atmosphere. Relationships with close friends have never been stronger. And most important, I found, through my practice and faith in the Gohonzon, a way to deal with obstacles that get in the way of my happiness.

As SGI President Ikeda states in his great poem “To My Beloved Young American Friends: Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth,” written right here on Long Island: “Faith is— / to fear nothing / to stand unswayed / the power to surmount any obstacle. / Faith is the source from which / all solutions flow. / Faith is the engine that propels us / in the thrilling voyage of life, / a life victorious and transcendent.”

I am eagerly looking forward to being part of the 50,000 youth gathering in 2018 to stand with Sensei for the sake of a better, more peaceful world. This is a very important goal to me, because this practice has shown me that people can’t pull themselves out of hell alone. Everyone needs help and support from friends in faith.

I hope each of us can reach out to even one struggling friend and ask them to join our movement toward 2018, because I have no doubt that 50,000 strong-willed youth can change the world, starting with me.