Monthly Archives: June 2014

One Year Later, Vol. 2

You don't have to be tall to stand tall.

You don’t have to be tall to stand tall.

I’m back in Illinois, where my father lives and where I typically visit twice a year to catch up with family and friends I rarely see since I live in Ohio.

One year ago, I brought my young son on this Fourth of July trip with me—the first time we made a father-son trip together after his mom and I stopped living together.

One year ago, I sat poolside, day drinking a little and reflecting on my life.

Terrified.

No sense of direction.

No idea what might happen next.

I only knew that my life had unexpectedly changed forever and I needed to deal with it. Getting away from my house and immersing myself in family had a profound impact on me.

This blog was less than a month old. My fingers were still learning this dance. My mind still trying to wrap its way around the words needing written and the life needing lived.

I had been so sad and so angry for the three months since she left.

Here I found peace. Not inner peace. But outer peace. In this place. Plush, green, open acreage.

A bunch of important things collided.

Love and support from family.

The realization that I had what it takes to care for my son alone.

A healthy change of scenery from the bleakness that was my now-empty home.

And the words were working their way out from me for the first time. What will come out next? From this place deep down inside. I was coaxing things out I didn’t know were in there.

I was mostly screaming with the keyboard. Crying and blaming and finger pointing.

I needed to do it. I needed to be mad and throw a tantrum. There’s still a child in here angry at the unfairness of his own parents’ split three decades earlier. My own divorce pulled all that anger and sadness to the surface.

From day one, writing here has felt like being on the proverbial couch. Divulging all that festers inside. Occasionally turning myself inside out and letting people see the ugly.

From where I sit now, I see the poolside table and chair where I sat a year ago and wrote An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

It’s not particularly well written. But people liked it. People like when others accept responsibility for their lot in life.

Up until that post, I hadn’t done any of that.

Up until that post, I had been a victim.

When you accept responsibility, you become empowered.

And that’s the day I became empowered as a writer. That’s the day I gave myself a real chance to contribute something positive. To turn a selfish exercise into an unselfish one.

Is There a Point to All This?

I hope so.

I hope there is a percentage of people out there who have gotten to know me throughout this process. Who have watched—for lack of a better term—a metamorphosis. From me spazzing and freaking out. To whatever this is now.

Maybe I’ve earned a smidge of credibility with some of you whose broken hearts are healing. From people who felt cheated. Or abandoned. Or broken. Because the person you loved and trusted most made choices that made you question everything you ever believed about them and yourself.

Fear and anxiety keep you from living when you lose yourself. When you don’t know where “you” went.

You remember being a certain way. And now you’re not that way.

You remember feeling good. And now you don’t feel good.

You remember having confidence as your life progressed in ways you expected and that made sense to you. And now you’re not confident. Now all your plans and dreams are derailed.

You’re in mental, spiritual and emotional limbo. And you’ll stay right there until you’re not anymore.

I Think I’m Back

I’ll never be like I used to be. I’m forever changed. Hopefully for the better.

But I’m me again.

I was in agony. I was terrified. I was crying.

And now I’m not.

I faked hopefulness.

And now I have it for real.

I felt broken and shitty. Every single second I was awake.

And now I feel stitched together and somewhat whole. I don’t feel shitty.

Everything is going to be okay.

One year later, I can measure progress.

One year later, I can see and feel change.

One year later, I know that no matter what happens next, I can handle it.

I’m going to spend the next couple days thinking about what I did and about the things I think helped me along the way in case you feel like you’re dying. Like you need something—anything—to hold onto. And maybe some of the things that worked for me can work for you.

Maybe the calendar can be a tool. Maybe time can be your friend. Maybe you don’t have to feel like you’re doing this alone.

I think maybe it’s okay to not know what’s going to happen today.

As long as you give it every chance to be better than yesterday.

Tagged , , , , , ,

One Year Later

It's remarkable how one year can seem so long and so fast all at the same time.

It’s remarkable how one year can seem so long and so fast all at the same time.

A year ago, I was crying at least once a week.

Drinking all the time, because distracted fun was the only way I knew how to not think about it.

Terrified, because I was online dating (even though I wasn’t ready) and no one was interested, confirming my worst fears of dying sad and alone.

Everything had been going according to plan for nearly 30 years.

Grade school.

High school.

College.

Gainful employment.

Engagement.

Marriage.

A child.

Then 30.

Then fuck you, Matt, now you’re going to see how good you really had it.

I lost a job.

We lost her father.

Our marriage fell apart.

We spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms.

She left.

And then everything inside me just broke.

Despite my parents’ divorce at a young age and being 500 miles away from one or the other every waking moment, and despite never having any money, it turns out I lived a VERY charmed life for my first three decades.

I had never experienced misery. True misery. You hear about broken hearts in books and movies and in whiny Facebook posts, but you don’t really know what that means until your insides break.

It’s spiritual, almost. And it pierces the soul. And there’s no medicine for the unreachable wound. You just sit there and bleed without the benefit of a merciful death. You simply hurt until you don’t anymore.

Everything in life had been going according to plan. Everything had happened, for the most part, exactly as I had mentally prepared for. I never knew failure until the job loss. And that’s a pleasure cruise compared to what happens when the person you love and trust the most checks out and decides life with someone else, or alone (doesn’t matter, so long as it’s not with you!) looks better than what they have now.

Life becomes a book full of empty pages needing written but you’re all out of ink.

I am so afraid of all the things I don’t know or understand. I am so afraid of all the questions I don’t have answers for. I used to believe that everything would always be okay, because for most of my life, everything always ended up okay.

But then something didn’t. Something didn’t end up okay. The most-important thing.

And now I don’t know that everything is going to be okay anymore.

And sooner or later, I need to learn that THAT’s going to have to be okay. That NO ONE knows how things will turn out.

And then maybe I can start filling those blank pages again instead of just rummaging around for ink.

A Year of Blogging

So far, the best thing to come out of my failed marriage is this.

That won’t seem silly to all of you who are writers, but may seem so to everyone else. Writers need to write. But I was never interested in writing for the sake of writing. I always believed it was important to have something to say.

Must Be This Tall To Ride gave me a platform for writing about things that mattered to me. A place to divulge all that human-being stuff stirring around inside. Stuff that had to come out because it was killing me all bottled up.

When you start writing stories about real-life stuff, things start to happen. People get it.

Not everyone.

But enough.

And then they realize they’re not alone. And they say “Thank you.”

And then you realize you’re not alone. And you thank them.

Then people are grateful.

And people feel connected.

And so much good can come from those things that the process bears repeating over and over and over again.

On June 21, 2013, I was drinking vodka, or tequila, or beer, or all three, and hit publish on a weird, rambling post. It was a process (minus the drinking, for the most part!) that would, for many months, become an addiction.

Writing about the things I was thinking and feeling and experiencing became more than just important for me. It became therapy. And I needed every bit of it. I probably need more.

People feel like me.

We’re not alone.

There aren’t a lot of feelings more helpful during difficult moments than the realization that other people know and understand your particular brand of misery.

We’re now one year in, and despite hitting that blue Publish button more than 300 times, I’m not sure I’ve found a groove. I’m not sure I know who I am or even who I want to be as a writer.

I want to help, but people don’t want to be preached to.

I want to be funny, but I’m sort of sad and borderline-pathetic half the time, and afraid you won’t laugh the other.

I want to document the journey because I think it’s important for people going through similar life events to see what happens and doesn’t happen to me because sometimes that helps people in their own lives, and I’m pretty sure it helps me.

I want to organize my thoughts and feelings and experiences as I try to make sense of this unexpected life.

Everything was going along as it was supposed to.

Right up until it wasn’t anymore.

I suspect that’s how everyone’s life is, and you just don’t know it until life starts firing shots your way for the first time.

Run for your life.

One year later, I still hurt and I’m still sad. But not nearly as much.

One year later, I’m still hopeful and I still believe good things are coming for me. I just don’t know what that might look or feel like or how to get there.

One year later, I still love writing. And now I have a place for that to happen.

I’m 35 years old and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I’m divorced.

I’m a father to a six-year-old boy.

I’m afraid of all the uncertainty. I’m afraid because of money. I’m afraid because I don’t know what tomorrow looks like on every conceivable level.

But I’m a little bit strong, too.

Because I took the punch and got back up.

Because only shitty things seem to happen and I still have hope.

Because I look around and see a whole bunch of darkness.

And I intend to be a light.

Be one, too.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

A New Page on Shitty Husbands

For all I know, this poor guy isn't even married. *shrug* Oh well.

For all I know, this poor guy isn’t even married. *shrug* Oh well.

Because my An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands posts continue to be the most-popular things on this blog, I decided to give them their own page.

You can check out the new page by clicking the link in the upper navigation, or by clicking here.

Maybe you’re interested in those posts. Maybe you’re not. But there are a thousand new words on the page, and it was nice to just write something again.

Please have a look if you care. As always, I’ll more than understand if you don’t.

Tagged , , , , ,

I’m On Drugs

My brain is fried. Because, drugs.

My brain is fried. Because, drugs.

I don’t know if it’s my third straight week on antibiotics, the narcotic painkillers, or all of the things in my life I’m currently afraid of (there’s a big list), but my brain is not operating at full capacity.

I try to write.

I want to tell you what’s going on. I want to make you part of the conversation. I want other people going through divorce to see how poorly I’m dealing with the fallout many months later so they can make better choices.

But I just can’t. I, literally, can’t form the words.

I just tabled a post I’ve been working on for an hour because I can’t write. I don’t know how to finish it. Or transition to new thoughts. Or say anything relevant. Or write a sentence without 46 typos in it.

To craft readable material, there are parts of my brain I need to function which don’t appear to be functioning.

I’m sorry.

Hopefully I can scrape together the mental fortitude necessary to actually write soon.

I promise I’m trying.

Drugs do not make me a better writer.

Now I know.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Must Be This Healthy To Ride

I was only hospitalized for 24 hours. But I was sick much longer. I'm sorry for disappearing.

I was only hospitalized for 24 hours. But I was sick much longer. I’m sorry for disappearing.

Because I have a wicked imagination and scare easily, I thought I might be dying.

An infection in one of my tonsils was causing a type of pain I’d never felt before. Visions of Roger Ebert were flashing through my head for more than a week.

Maybe I have a tumor.

Maybe I have throat cancer.

Maybe I’m going to lose my ability to speak.

Maybe I’m going to die.

So, I’m a little dramatic. Sue me. It REALLY hurt.

I saw my third doctor in 10 days, and one quick look at my mouth and she admitted me directly to a local hospital Wednesday morning.

It was my son’s 6th birthday. I was devastated.

The tonsil infection required a very short, very minor, but extraordinarily painful surgery. I mouthed bad words at the surgeon and beamed I hate you messages to her through my tear-filled eyes.

But things got much better after that.

My fear of imminent death dissipated. Intense pressure which had built up in the back of my throat and mouth and jaw and ear, began to release.

I took Percocet for the first time. It’s lovely.

My mother was in town for my son’s birthday. She was an incredible help. My ex-wife graciously visited with my son so he could open presents from me in my hospital room.

The combination of spending that short time with him and seeing him smiling on his birthday, combined with healing and painkillers helped turn things around.

I’m sorry for disappearing.

Before I knew what was happening, I wrote an unpublished post earlier this week titled “If This Is My Last Post.” I wanted to write whatever I thought were appropriate last words in the off-chance I was dying. But there was so much sickness and discomfort, I could never get it ready for publication. Perhaps I’ll revisit it one day.

This is my 300th post.

I wanted to write something special to commemorate it but as the past two weeks—hell, the past 35 years—have taught me, life just happens.

So, I don’t have anything special for #300.

Just this note: I’m still alive.

Maybe it’s an opportunity to think about second chances and to think further about what it is I really want to accomplish in this life.

Maybe it’s an opportunity to zone out on painkillers and watch a bunch of Netflix.

I feel like big changes are coming in my life.

Changes that could be hard, but with lasting benefits—kind of like my hospital procedure.

Dynamics in personal relationships are changing.

My lifestyle may have to change.

My address may have to change.

The only constant in this life is change.

What choice do we have but to rise up and embrace what’s coming? Good or bad, don’t we want every moment to be the best it can possibly be?

I know I do.

I made the mistake of writing on more than one occasion that I “kind of wanted to die.” Just because it all hurt so bad when my family went away.

And I was wrong about that.

Because I was scared of death and more this past week. But not just yet. Breathe. In, then out. Still here.

And that’s a good thing.

As it breaks, the summer will wake

But the winter will wash what is left, of the taste

As it breaks, the summer will warm

But the winter will crave what has gone

Will crave what has all

Gone away

People change

But you know some people never do

You know—when people change

They gain a peace, but they lose one too.

– Future Islands, Seasons Change (Waiting on You)

Tagged , , , , ,

We Write the Stories

Don Draper (portrayed by actor Jon Hamm) from AMC's Mad Men.

Don Draper (portrayed by actor Jon Hamm) from AMC’s Mad Men.

“People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.” – Don Draper, Mad Men

I sabotaged the last serious relationship I had prior to dating my ex-wife because I didn’t think my girlfriend was good “wife material.”

We couldn’t make it because we were too philosophically different.

We couldn’t make it because we had different ideas about how to raise children.

We couldn’t make it because I was too scared of what my family would say.

In other words, I was a know-nothing asshole.

I was 20 and 21 years old and knew as much as my five-year-old son about taking responsibility for my choices and what it means to be an adult.

She was brilliant. Thoughtful. Liked (maybe even loved) and respected me. We never ran out of things to discuss. We were both passionate about writing. She used to credit me for teaching her how to write news stories even though she’s always been more talented, and to prove it she’s been writing for one of the five largest U.S. daily newspapers for nearly a decade.

Most importantly, she was cool under fire. During challenging times (me being a dick), she was always kind.

If good communication is the key to making a relationship work, she gave me every opportunity.

Despite being nearly three years younger than me, she was almost always more adult.

Because I was scared of my family rejecting us for being together; and because I was “right” and she was “wrong” about certain things, and thus, could never be the mother of my children (I believed), I used a summer apart during college to break up with her like a coward.

Two months later, I entered a relationship with the girl of my dreams.

The perfect partner.

Three years later, we were married.

How’d that work out for everybody?

People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.

We believe the stories we’re told (or that we tell ourselves) because we want to believe them.

We don’t believe the stories that make us uncomfortable because they don’t align with our deeply held cultural beliefs.

It’s why some people believe in God and others do not.

It’s why supporters of President Obama believe he’s a messiah while his detractors call him a terrorist.

It’s why same-sex marriage is both loved and hated.

It’s why one mother’s beloved unborn child can be considered an inconvenient parasitic fetus by another.

Otherwise sane and reasonable people can lose both sanity and reason debating these things—both sides equally convinced they’re correct.

Opposing viewpoints sometimes make us uncomfortable. They challenge our deeply held beliefs. Frighten us.

So we believe what we want to believe. To feel less scared. To feel more safe.

No matter what the truth is.

The Storytellers

I have a bad case of strep throat. This is my third day on antibiotics which is the only reason I’m among the living.

I think I may have written this same thing in January when I had a much milder case of strep, but it bears repeating: you never feel quite as alone as you do when you’re sick in a house by yourself.

It forces you to think and think and think and think, and if you don’t want to think—you watch television because your brain doesn’t work well enough to read.

So, I binged on Mad Men on Netflix for two straight days—consuming more television than I ever have in a two-day window. It was simultaneously awesome and pathetic.

Only Tony Soprano and Walter White (Breaking Bad) are more interesting characters than Don Draper, and Draper pulls it off without being part of organized crime. Amazing show, particularly for those (like me) who work in marketing and advertising.

Aspects of Draper’s personal life are applicable to mine, especially in the middle of the show’s story arc where I am now.

To deal with what’s going on his life (in 1965-ish) Draper has begun keeping a journal with pen and paper. He was reflecting on all of the messiness and complications in our lives when he wrote: “People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”

It felt important.

And I believe it’s true.

We choose where to eat, shop, party and worship.

We choose what to drive, wear, do and believe.

We choose who to listen to, spend time with, kiss and love.

We choose all of these things based on the stories we believe about the life we perceive happening around us.

The same life that looks and feels different to each one of us.

And I wonder about the stories people believe about me.

My family.

My friends.

My son.

My ex-wife.

My co-workers.

In the end, everyone believes what they want to believe.

Maybe being more mindful can protect our hearts from those who want to hurt us because they want and need to believe the stories they tell themselves.

Maybe being more mindful can keep us from hurting or alienating others who aren’t who we believe they are.

Maybe we grow with each mistake.

And maybe with enough growth we start telling authentic new stories.

The truth and a bit of kindness is an effective form of persuasion.

When we’re alone with our reflection, our eyes tell us who we are.

But we ignore it because we want the person in the mirror to be whoever we want them to be. Who we need them to be.

And that’s good news.

Because that’s the one story we get to write.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Seaworthy Vessel

ship-moon-sea-night-calm-3d-1600x2560

Uh-oh.

I could feel it rising in my chest. It makes your heart pound a little harder. It reminds you you’re alive, but also how fragile it all is.

Not now.

I was in my regular Monday morning meeting surrounded by bosses and colleagues at the conference table.

Just breathe. In. Then out. Maybe they won’t notice.

It’s the feeling I’d never experienced prior to turning 30 before losing my job with a wife and baby at home. It’s the feeling I’d only ever heard about for 30 years and sort of rolled my eyes when I heard it mentioned.

Fear.

I’ve never drank enough or smoked enough (and that’s saying something) to feel less in control than I do when this monster rears its head.

Just breathe. In. Then out.

People were telling jokes. I was supposed to be laughing. But nothing felt funny.

I wanted to leave.

Don’t lose it. Just breathe.

We’re Afraid Because We’re Weak

I’ve never been alone.

Because I was an only child, I’ve developed unique skills. I can hop an airplane to a strange city to attend events with no familiar faces and get along just fine. I can dine alone, sleep alone and figure out how to get where I need to be.

I’m good at meeting people, making friends and having a good time.

That’s the small stuff. I’m good at small stuff.

Despite being an only child, I always had a safety net. Until I was 18, I lived with my parents. Throughout college, I lived with my college roommate who is one of my childhood best friends. After that, I had my girlfriend who became my fiancée who became my wife.

We got a house. We got cars. We got a kid.

And then seemingly overnight: Poof. Gone.

The first thing I noticed was the silence. A lively home turned silent and cold. So I began to fear silence.

The second thing I noticed was how your insides get poisoned when the person you trust the most rejects you. If SHE won’t have me, who will? If I can’t keep the mother of my son, how will I find someone to want this dumpee with a kid? So I began to fear rejection.

The third thing I noticed was the loss of security.

There are four pillars of humanity. Mental. Physical. Spiritual. Emotional. And you need to keep all four balanced like legs on a table, otherwise you start to wobble.

You lose balance.

Because I read and write and think more than I ever have, my mind is sharper than it has ever been. I’ve always been good at honing in on one thing and excelling at it.

But I’ve taken hits elsewhere.

My motivation for physical health lied in wanting my wife to want me. Oops.

My motivation for spiritual health was rooted in my desire to be a positive influence on her and my son.

My emotional health was predominantly okay so long as the people I loved were okay. Emotional health seems to be a byproduct of getting the other three pillars balanced.

I’ve always had a net to catch me when I fell, allowing me to live courageously. To face challenges bravely.

And now the net is gone.

And now I’m afraid.

So I’ve begun to fear the fear as well.

We’re Ashamed Because We’re Afraid

Women tend to be afraid of abandonment because of how their hearts work.

Men tend to be afraid of abandonment because of how our minds work.

I am afraid.

And I am ashamed because of my failings AND because I’m afraid.

I’m not sure there are two emotions more caustic to humanity than fear and shame.

I’m afraid of failing my son.

I’m afraid of failing my parents.

I’m afraid of failing my friends.

I’m afraid of failing my co-workers.

I’m afraid of failing my God.

I’m afraid of failing myself.

In one way or another, I am failing all.

And I am ashamed.

I feel ill-equipped to keep my life afloat as it is currently structured.

Frozen in place on the tightrope, out of balance and terrified of the impact should I fall.

It’s all so fragile, this life.

Just breathe.

I looked around the conference room table.

At the other end of the table was a co-worker whose marriage will legally end tomorrow.

Next to her, a guy who has been struck by lightning.

Then a guy with a second baby due in the next few weeks.

Then next to him, a guy who is going through something so horrific that I wouldn’t dream of trading my problems for his.

Perspective.

My heart rate steadied.

Remember to breathe.

My smile—weak, perhaps—returned.

One way or another, my ailments are unlikely to matter five years from now. And if they won’t matter then, they shouldn’t matter now.

Everything’s going to be okay.

The lady getting divorced tomorrow wheeled her office chair over to my desk, forcing me to minimize this post you’re reading.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m kind of having a day.”

“I can tell. It’s okay. I am too.”

“When does it go away? The anger?”

She was looking for answers I don’t have. A tangible timeline. Something to look forward to.

I looked at my desk calendar.

“It’s been 14 months and I’m not there yet.”

Other people are afraid, too. I’m not the only one. She wants my help.

And then you get a little stronger because it’s easier to be strong for others.

She doesn’t know yet that there’s no way to know where she’s going.

That the rough waters are vast and difficult to navigate for all of us sailing alone. That getting to calm waters and getting our bearings is the next step. That there’s nothing to do except keep sailing toward whatever destination will one day appear on the horizon.

Your only job is to stay alive.

Memorize the night sky so even if you don’t know where you are, you always know which direction you’re going.

And then when the storms find you, and the waves pick up, and you’re afraid you’re going to die, you can look at the sky, make a wish and just hold on.

Keep breathing.

This trusty ship has carried us this far. A seaworthy vessel. Tough enough for the voyage even when we’re thrashing about.

Overcoming fear is one of life’s most-gratifying feelings. You’d think that would make it easier to embrace the scary moments. It doesn’t.

When do we stop being angry?

When do we stop being afraid?

Maybe never.

But probably someday.

Maybe we’ll find a shoreline tomorrow. Maybe we won’t.

But the waters will calm soon enough.

The stars will reemerge.

And we’ll be back on course for an uncharted destination promising adventure and endless possibility.

Today’s only mission: Stay alive.

Just breathe. In. Then out.

Mission accomplished.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: