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Lessons to turning 33

Lessons to turning 33

I turned 33 in June, 2021. Here are the lessons I carry with me.


I was talking to a group of people recently telling them how incredibly alienating living a healthy life is in this constantly growing capitalist society. I remember a while back vibing women with whom we considered dating at some point, they asking why I don’t drink. And not in an “I’m curious” type of way but rather in a “What the hell” type of way. And they’d ask, “So what’s your poison?” I’d be like this whole world feels poisonous to me already, I don’t wanna be here. I wanna be with people who want a different life. Where we’re mindful of each other’s realities and emotions and offer space to each other without drugging ourselves to talk. Where people don’t step on others and feel nothing.

So for everyone who is onto something they are healing intentionally through, I see you. You are not celebrated for choosing differently. You won’t make it to the news, but my soul honors yours. Keep trusting yourself. You are not wrong for choosing to stop drinking. Not wrong for not beating your child like everybody else says you should. Not wrong for not wanting kids. Not wrong for wanting a healthy relationship where you feel nurtured and seen and people feel like you’re too much because you are asking for more out of a relation. Keep asking and keep going. Your desires are valid.


At a time like this in 2012, just about turning 24, I was celebrating a botched relationship between some girl and my cousin, labeling it a “blessing in disguise” because she and I started “getting closer”. A diary entry reads “we’re bonding and I’m liking it. We connect, and I’m humbled by the fact that she’s just herself.” Note that my cousin and I lived together at the time.

*Christine and I never got to date, but remained friends.

Relationship Addiction

I was once into relationship addiction. Found it hard to live without one. I used flirting and being with someone as a distraction from the chaos going on at home. And as a therapist once prompted me to think, trying to save my mother by dating girls who I felt needed saving. The fights at home were jarring.

My twenties were foggy, pulsating and wretched. I was coming to terms with the ghastly impacts of my childhood trauma; lost in the in-betweens of becoming my own man while carrying a wounded boy inside me. Man, it was such a mind fuck!

Sabotaging relationships

I sabotaged wonderful relationships. One like that was in 2014 with this Luhya damsel who really loved making me mandazi. Every time her cousin would travel and leave her his house she’d ask me to spend there with her. She was the first person I ever had anal sex with. One of the kindest people I’ve ever met. On my first visit to her home I wrote her mother a letter, telling her how her daughter hadd been amazing to me and how I hope to meet her someday.

Her mother loved my handwriting, and intent. And actually wrote me back. This girl felt like a dream. I got scared of her love. Scared she had gotten too close and I didn’t know what to do with a healthy love. There was no fire to extinguish. No crisis to solve. She was peaceful. And sometimes I regret having not been ready for all her light.

She is since happily married and I’m so happy for her. Once told me not to be too hard on myself.

Since beginning therapy and trauma healing so many things have changed. Réy (@blksoltheory) said, “When you heal trauma, you heal the nervous system. When you heal the nervous system, you heal the emotional body. When you heal the emotional body, you heal the psychic (empathic) body. When you heal the psychic body, you heal vibration. Once the vibration is healed, realities change.”

I couldn’t put it any better.

What I want now

Right now love has to be peaceful to me. With soulful reverberation. A clear conscience. A warm heart. I’m tired of the chaos. Tired of killing fires. Tired of screaming to be heard. No more sabotaging. I can only afford to accord intimate space with people who are willing to do the work with me. However the dynamic, the parties involved are putting in conscious effort. No more heavy lifting. No more saving. This is for my platonic, professional and romantic relationships.

Even though it is tasking to witness models of healthy relationships in our culture because of all the bedlam we are exposed to in our homes, media, schools and governments, I had to learn the skill of getting out of this world in order to live in it. Out there in space there is silence. You can think. We all possess that quiet space inside our heads, only that for most parts, we have to be more intentional getting in touch with it.


Romance is much more a grounding practice for me now. No longer a mere barren performative occupation it used to be. Now I want to meet my lover from her depths. The beginnings of her spirit. I want her to know me beyond the representation of my flesh and carnal mind. To really see me for me. I no longer accept struggle love.

Unresolved childhood traumas

I’ve learned that if you and your partner have unresolved childhood traumas it can be fatiguing to handle conflict coz you both will be listening to the other with the shells you erected to protect yourselves and not the clarity of your partner’s communication. Hence the need for intentional healing.

Intentional healing

Intentional healing looks like sitting with difficult emotions and talking through them. Reading, listening and watching material pertaining your points of wounding, and having conversations about them. Attempting to practice the new learnings. Otherwise if we are always waiting for crisis to pay attention to our pain we shall never be ready for the future we hope to have and it is a great disservice to the child within, who is abandoned twice. First by the care givers around her in their former childhood, and secondly, by the current adult carrying the wounded child within them.

Be intentional with your healing so that loving you won’t become someone’s battle. Make loving you be a thrilling experience. You can never do that without paying deep attention to yourself.


A time like this 10 years ago; I was homophobic, staunchly religious, a young scared angry boy, who didn’t know what the future looked like. Reading my diaries illuminates just how depressed I really was. Wanting to be seen but afraid of showing myself. Wanting to be heard but afraid of speaking. Wanting to be loved but afraid of loving.

I remember once at a church membership class this lady asked the pastor, “Why don’t we have female elders in our church?” Man of cloth was caught off-guard, issuing a vague answer to such a pertinent question. He knew he was jumping about without the courage to say the church is patriarchal and he couldn’t change that system on his own because perhaps he loved it that way. That was it for me.

My childhood curiosity

Since childhood I used to wonder how come we called the Priest a Father but at home it was my mother that taught me how to pray? According to me, she was my priest. I connected with her spiritually more than Father Joseph who I only saw once a week holding that big Catholic Bible preaching for less than an hour, and it was boring. To me spiritual connection was my mother teaching me how to tie shoe laces, waiting for me to finish food on a long dry hot afternoon coz I was a slow eater, bathing me, asking me how I felt when my body temperature shot up, packing me snacks on school days and waking me up in the morning. That other God they spoke about in church was foreign to me.

Concept of God

The fact that God was presented to me as a non-changing God. Yet everything around me was changing all the time. People were changing. I was changing. My environment changed. Relationships changed. But God who created all these didn’t. I struggled to understand that. Maybe it is how they communicated God. Maybe they meant to say the core of life doesn’t change. Heck, the composition of the universe — the elements that are the building blocks for matter — is ever-changing and evolving. But why was God a man? Men have been accused of being rigid and not changing too. Maybe the two are related.

What empathy is to me today

So today, empathy is my philosophy. I don’t care for doctrines humans manufactured and institutionalized. Any thought process that does not center the wellbeing of others, love and healthy freedom, I reject. Anything that alienates minority voices, I resist.

I was once an active crusader of abolition of abortion rights. Till I grew to understand the politics of reproductive health and how the patriarchy is happy to control women’s and queer bodies. We are not given education on anything in school. It’s just gibberish to keep our brains busy memorizing useless facts that dumb down our intelligence and creativity. The system was designed to zombify us, such that when we come across situations that demand thinking and feeling, we encounter them with vile because they threaten our comfort.

I can’t imagine it was written that since I’m a man I’m supposed to have control over women. Now I know it is so because men have no control over themselves. And that animal called patriarchy is hella greedy. It takes and takes and takes. It first kills its own children (men). It is the real living hell.


The end

I have a lot to say. Maybe I should pour it in a book. This far I’ve come I thank the forces and my ancestors. The communities and individuals that nursed me in my vulnerable times. I still know not what the future holds, but I got a lot of light in my heart right now.

Onyango Otieno

Onyango Otieno is a cultural designer ardent in maximizing the power of storytelling for healing and connection. Onyango believes in the potent spirit of humanity collectively creating safe spaces for interaction, development, business and movement, for a more cohesive world.

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