Years have passed, but I will never forget the painful ostracism and loneliness that dogged me throughout my childhood. Because of my facial deformities, my ‘otherness’, and the accompanying stares, contempt, and even the horror I engendered, I understand first hand the challenges faced by those whom society deems unacceptably flawed. As my empathy grew, I found I wanted to ease the pain of others who yearned for acceptance. I volunteered, first with blind students I took on field-trips in my work with Lighthouse International in New York, and then at the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital, I read to children with brain injuries and cancer. For an immigrant family, who were like family to me, I provided a stable home because I could, and later, I spent time with injured veterans who struggled with a new reality. It was the least I could do to make someone’s life brighter, my attempt to pass on what others had done for me. In the process I discovered that helping others was the path to healing myself.

With the help of many hard-won lessons, I eventually made peace with my circumstances and was able to create a life that was not defined by my physical uniqueness. Partially because of my tenacious nature, but also because I’d had the good fortune to meet many who had risen above adversity, I knew I could find a way as well. The self-empowerment and the seed of hope that is germinated when one meets another like himself, especially someone who is proof that a full and rewarding life can be lived, is immense. When I stumbled on Lucy Greely’s Autobiography of a Face, I knew at last I had found someone who understood what I experienced. Unequivocally, I know how a life can change when one discovers they are not alone.

My coming to terms with my past and finding self-acceptance is something I know anyone can relate to. After all, triumphing over adversity and arriving at self-acceptance is what we all hope for.

Born in 1961 in Orange, New Jersey, Howard Shulman’s fateful beginnings would launch him on a lifelong quest to rise above the hand he was dealt. Recently married, he lives in San Diego with his wife and two stepdaughters.