I don't remember the day that I was told I had hearing loss, but I know it all started in preschool when my teachers told my parents I had trouble hearing. Shortly after, I got my first pair of hearing aids. The audiologists didn't know what caused my hearing loss. I was either born with it or it could have been from an allergic reaction I had to medication when I had the chicken pox. The appointments with the audiologists became a regular part of my life.
The small, quiet and seemingly desolate rooms where my hearing was tested became all too familiar. At every appointment I found myself consumed with anxiety and worry knowing that there was something wrong with me. I would look around as a kid in elementary school and realize that I was the only one with hearing aids. I felt different. Some of the kids made fun of me and I became convinced that people judged me and thought of me differently because I wore hearing aids. I felt alone and depressed. I would pray every night that God would give me normal hearing or trade it for bad eyesight because I thought having glasses was more normal. My prayers weren't answered. I thought, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" I just wanted to be like the other kids.
I continued to feel alienated and unaccepted until I started high school. I became more social and had a lot of friends and had my first girlfriend too. However, I was still uncomfortable with who I was. I quickly became weary of people asking me what was in my ears and it made me angry. I came up with a brilliant solution. I would stop wearing my hearing aids. I thought to myself, "I only have moderate hearing loss and I can get by without them." For the next two years in high school that is exactly what happened. I just got by. I couldn't hear the teachers well and almost never heard what the other students said when they asked a question. In group conversations with my friends, I rarely knew what they were talking about.
Life became too difficult without my hearing aids so in my senior year of high school my parents agreed to get me new hearing aids that were more comfortable and up to date. But again, I was uncomfortable with who I was. I became sick and tired of introducing myself to new people and seeing the look of confusion on their face as they stared at my ears before I could even say my name. I felt like I was always trying to explain myself. It made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I believed people thought I was weird because I wore hearing aids. I went to college and those negative emotions were a regular occurrence because there were so many new people in my life. However, I slowly became numb to that discomfort as I embarked on a descent into drug and alcohol addiction.
Nothing else mattered when I was loaded. I felt normal and everything about me was just fine. I nearly chased this sense of relief to death. Although it seemed like my life was full of successes and accomplishments through school and other areas, the life in my eyes had faded away. The complexion on my face was pale and grey. Any sense of self-worth I once had was burned to ashes. I was broken and completely alone.
The perpetual pain and suffering I endured on a daily basis became too much to bear. At twenty years old with almost two and a half years of college under my belt, I was given the opportunity to move into a recovery house to get sober. I desperately took it. Getting sober, I didn't have drugs and alcohol anymore to numb my insecurities. The fears and the discomfort associated with my hearing aids eventually resurfaced. But I was tired of hiding. I had to come to terms with who I was because there was nowhere to run anymore. Ultimately, I found that I had to live in acceptance. I can't change the fact that I have hearing loss and wear hearing aids.
All I can do is be grateful for the fact that I can hear at all because there are many who aren't as fortunate. Instead of dwelling on the awkwardness I felt when people asked me about my hearing aids, I made it a great way to start a conversation. I found that the problem wasn't my hearing loss; it was me and my perception on it. As I write this I have almost fourteen months sober and my life is rich and full. I can honestly say that I am comfortable about my hearing loss and wearing hearing aids.
Despite my hearing, I find success in school by sitting near the front of the class and being engaged in what is being taught. I ask questions if I still need some clarity. I am a waiter at a busy restaurant, which is a very loud environment and it can be very difficult to hear. But I've been able to persevere at work by being open about my disability and not being afraid to ask people to repeat what they said or speak louder. I am not ashamed anymore. It makes me grateful that there is an organization like the Hearing Health foundation that is devoted to research hearing loss and deafness. It excites me that they also focus on cultivating awareness about hearing loss and deafness.
I hope one day they will find a way to restore hearing. Reading Hearing Health Magazine, I feel connected and I find hope and inspiration through other people's experiences with hearing loss. I know I am not alone. A big part of my life today is helping others, and it is a privilege to be able to share my experience. I live in acceptance and I see my experience as a gift that I can use to share with others and hopefully help them.
Through adversity and struggle we learn a lot about ourselves, but it is through the journey towards triumph and perseverance we can help others.