Having a job that totally drains you is a common thing, isn’t it? A place you dread going to every day, wistful of the days you didn’t have to clock in and deal with some bullshit-itude that you just don’t want to deal with anymore. That same notion that leaves you wishing you could just leave – no two week notice, nothing. Just a fresh start.
On the August 20, 2021 episode of All Elite Wrestling: Rampage, I saw a man enter the arena, ready to enter a new chapter in a story that had reflected mine. Following chants of “CM Punk” and the sound of static, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” poured out into United Center with the cheers damn near quaking the entire universe with the magnitude of energy Chicago emanated that night.
The emotions welled up within the man known as CM Punk, and he had to share it with his Chicago faithful, as he hugged them, high-fived them, and even jumped into the crowd as they swallowed him up and gently regurgitated him back out at the behest of a disgruntled security worker.
But that’s where my regaling of the night’s beautiful moment ends. There are, undoubtedly, droves of writings and videos of people detailing how huge a moment like this was, how historic it was to AEW, and to wrestling as a whole. Some have even been working away to tell his story – to tell how he connected with them.
This piece is the latter. This is how I connected with Punk, his pain and catharsis in his journey. This is a piece about getting out of that dark tunnel of mire and dreariness and getting to the other side, to a place of greatness and appreciation.
As we all know, Punk’s foray into the WWE was one wrought with sharp turns and frustrating decisions. No longer was he the cocky, spunky wrestler we saw debut on WWE’s ECW nor was he that same leader of the Straight Edge Society. Through pipebombs and show-stealing matches, Punk would become someone who would air his frustrations out.
That is why, come 2011, Punk had his own renaissance – a summer, if you will – where many lapsed fans came in droves to see someone who had everyone’s attention. With a seat on the mat in the middle of the ring, you were hooked on his every word. This is what makes him polarizing for many. Some embraced him being the voice of the voiceless, some hated that he drew the curtain to the world behind the titantron, and making others believe they are experts on the wrestling and sports entertainment businesses.
And yet, I didn’t watch him at this time. My ship sailed from wrestling in 2010. WWE didn’t capture me as well, and TNA/Impact weren’t WWE so by default, I disliked it because clearly I am a smart man.
When I came back to watching wrestling, I had a lot of catching up to do, and Punk was part of much of it, yet I still had catching up. I still have yet to watch most of his ROH matches and his post-2010 time.
I was simply at a time where it had to be my way or the highway. I had yet to experience so much as the tide licking the sand before flowing back into the depths of what was the real world.
In 2013, I started work at the local factory. Great money, ten hours. Sounds great, right? With that, I was able to take care of so much more than I thought I ever could. I got to do things and see things and experience things I never thought I would.
And yet, I was unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I wanted to do more in this job but was relegated to the same exact stuff every day – not because I was bad, but because I was producing numbers and results others weren’t reaching. All just to show I could do more, but never was allowed to.
The problem lied not with management; however, it was with coworkers at the same level as me. Coworkers I would be placed in charge of, who were staunch in their belief that they shouldn’t cooperate if there wasn’t anything in it for them. People that would complain about their stock in life yet wouldn’t do anything about it. And sadly, I was just like them. Bitter and stuck in a small town that I was tired of, a small town that brought very little good into my life.
Like Punk, I had to be woken up. That this wasn’t healthy. I was so depressed that I hit lows I’m thankful I haven’t hit again. Thanks to those around me who believed I deserved something bigger than a factory job and life in a small town – all of these conversations sounding like the plot to Good Will Hunting.
Because of this, school was now in session. I left that job for academic pursuits and haven’t looked back since. I was learning, I fell back into writing – a passion I thought I lost – and got into the best shape of my life. I was flourishing and in my lane. It’s been a rocky road since then, but the growth didn’t stop there, and it won’t stop there.
When I saw Punk drop down on his knees, I knew this was a version of Punk I connected with in ways different than before. This was a man who found he belonged to something beautiful and bigger than himself – and he knew what to do next: leave it better than he found it.
Punk and I were never going to get better in the places that made us sick in the first place. That’s the same for everyone too – this isn’t a rare thing, it’s a life thing. It’s something everyone deals with, and it’s stories like this that connects us.
So remember, though there you may not like where you are at currently, there is something that still flickers, still sparks within you. When you’re in a bleak and miserable place, you’ve got to fight, you’ve got to grapple your way out of it because inside of you there is that ember that’ll spread to a fire that can’t be extinguished.
And this fire burns.