Monthly Archives: September 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It must have been hard. Raising me.

You were so young. Just 21, right? Just a kid? A kid with a kid.

I still feel like one of those.

Is it the same for you as it is for me? Did you think about your future and assume it would all just click one day? Magically? When I was in grade school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in high school. When I was in high school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in college. When I was in college, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I got out in the real world. Once I got out in the real world, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I settled down and got married.

And now I’m divorced. Single dad. 35.

And I don’t have anything figured out.

At one time, that might have terrified me. But not anymore. Because I’m beginning to think the older and wiser we get, the more aware we become of how little we ever really know or understand.

We don’t have much control, and we were delusional whenever it felt like we did.

Each day I wake up, I get incrementally closer to making total peace with that: I am not in control. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But everything’s going to be okay.

You had to say goodbye to me for months at a time when I’d leave for dad’s.

That must have been hard. I have such a hard time saying bye to your grandson for much more than a couple days.

You had to deal with my selfish, me-first, independent, only child nature. I took EVERYTHING for granted when I was a kid, mom. Everything.

Love. Money. Safety. Health. Fun. Friends. Family. Laughter. Innocence. Spiritual peace.

And you, mom. I took you for granted. I still do. You can tell because I don’t call you enough. Because I still am so good at doing the me-first, only child routine, even all these years later.

I think you carry a lot of guilt about my childhood. Questioning some of the choices. Wondering whether you could have done anything different to give me a better life.

It’s been a rough go in my thirties. Everything just seemed to go to hell right then. And it has taken me a long time to find my way. I still haven’t found it. But I’m not just wandering aimlessly anymore. I feel close.

Mom. You’re why that’s possible.

You’re why I get to feel any sense of hopefulness and excitement about my future.

You dedicated your existence to providing me with the guidance, life lessons, kindness and decency, principles, and spiritual foundation that have allowed me to feel alive again.

Without you, I might not know what love looks like.

Without you, I might not understand what it means to forgive, or be forgiven.

Without you, I might not be alive because I didn’t know being alive could hurt so much until one day it did.

Mom, without you, I couldn’t be me.

It was so easy to not like who I was throughout these past years. Self-loathing. You probably know the feeling because I think everyone whose lives don’t turn out absolutely perfect feel it. And I’m pretty sure that’s all of us. Even those whose lives seem particularly charmed.

And you know what saved me?

All of the things that you instilled in me, via genetics or example.

Love and kindness live inside me and the days worse than I’d ever imagined couldn’t kill it.

Friendliness and smiles are my gift to those near me because most of the time I don’t even know how to be another way.

Hope is my favorite word. My favorite idea. Hope. Always.

I’ve taken to saying the following, and I love it because it’s always true and always will be: There’s no reason that today can’t be the day the best thing that ever happens to you, happens.

I am genuinely hopeful, mom. That I can be a better man today than I was yesterday. That I can be a better father. A better friend. A better writer. A better son.

I am ashamed of my failings. And I’m sorry for all of the times I didn’t act grateful for all you’ve done. And I’m sorry for all the times I might seem ungrateful in the future.

But I need you to believe that deep down in the places no one gets to see, that I am trying to do good. To be good. To be a teeny tiny part of making this world better than I find it.

I would never want to be anyone but me, mom. Ever. I’d trade nothing but some poor choices.

So much of the good that lives in me is because of you.

In many ways, I am you.

Thank you for my life. Thank you for dedicating so much of your life to mine. Thank you for teaching me how to love.

You sacrificed everything (nearly your life, mom—I don’t forget that) for me.

And I’m not going to waste it.

That’s my birthday gift to you, mom. And I hope it’s enough.

I love you more than I say.

I appreciate you more than I act.

And I’m still chasing those dreams. The ones you instilled in me all those years ago. And now it’s time to start running faster.

I know this life can be beautiful. Because I’ve lived beautifully. And it’s because of you.

I still care about making you proud. And I still intend to.

Happy birthday, mom.

To many, many, many years.

I love you.

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How To Never Have Bad Days

candle_Candle_light_3008

I was offered a job when I was 28 that would have basically eliminated financial concerns for the rest of my life.

The job was 500 miles away, and ultimately, I had to turn it down.

I had dared to dream of a life where I was never again worried about how a bill would get paid. The future would not be: “How will I afford to send my kids to college?” but rather “Do I want to go drink wine in Tuscany or the south of France next month?”

I got sucked in.

Money for nice clothes. All my dream cars. The kick-ass inground pool and outdoor bar and kitchen I’d always wanted.

Then, poof. Gone. Not happening.

And all the sudden, my very decent car seemed like a massive piece of shit.

My very decent home seemed wholly inadequate.

My wardrobe? Ugh.

Those goddamn bills? Maddening.

The not-amused Universe started delivering messages, one at a time.

Message #1: You don’t know how good you have it.

I lost my newspaper reporting job on Dec. 31, 2009 as part of another round of corporate layoffs. I’d hold my one-year-old son—just watching him. How will I provide?

My wife went to work, dressed to kill, and exceptional at the work she does.

She’d come home. I’d be watching Yo Gabba Gabba with my son in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I must have seemed like the biggest loser imaginable. I was unemployed for 18 months. I finally felt real financial hardship. I finally learned that we are not guaranteed employment in this life. I finally learned that having a very decent home and driving a very decent car in a very decent town isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that having a good job is not something to complain about or take for granted.

Message #2: Money won’t help you.

About 18 months after losing my job, and after a decent run writing freelance copy from home, I was offered my current job as a writer in the internet marketing department of a reasonably large company. We do good work. It’s a very pleasant, professional working environment. I’m good at my job. Seem to be liked and appreciated. And I’m paid much more than I was as a news reporter.

Suddenly, we were prospering financially. Whew.

A few weeks later, we had a death in the family and my marriage totally fell apart.

No dollar amount could save us.

Message #3: Inner peace and happiness is what we should be chasing.

She left me.

My son was gone half the time. And I totally lost it.

And I learned my most-important life lesson so far. NOTHING is more important to our individual human experience, than feeling peace and contentment. (I like the word “happiness” which I incorrectly use in place of “contentment,” which is what I really mean.)

When you can’t even sit quiet and still because of fear, stress and anxiety, you’re left with almost nothing.

Trillions of dollars and exotic vineyards can’t save you. With every breath, you wonder whether you’ll ever feel like yourself again. It’s hard when we deal with change. Even small ones.

When you actually lose yourself? When you don’t know the person in the mirror and are afraid you’ll never find them again? I’m not sure I’ve ever known fear like that.

And that’s when I knew: There are few things in this life that really matter. And so much of what I’d been chasing is not on that list.

Bring It

I’ll never ask for hardships. I’ll never hope for trials and tribulations. I’ll never revel in tragedy.

But I have been thinking: What if I could learn how to embrace obstacles and life challenges, knowing I’m going to come out a better person?

When my wife left, I thought I might lose my house. I was afraid of adding more drastic change to my life. I was afraid of what people would think. I was afraid of losing my home.

The same house I resented when I thought I should be living in something more elaborate.

The same house I didn’t think was good enough for me.

When I was thinking one way, the house brought me misery. Now that I’m thinking another way, the house fills me with joy, comfort and gratitude.

Can that same phenomenon be accomplished with the hardships we face?

Of course it can. If we’re brave enough to not be victims. If we’re courageous enough to embrace growth opportunities. If we’re strong enough to take on all comers knowing defeat doesn’t come easily.

If I can find a way to not blame the world and other people for my life circumstances—to look at obstacles as they arrive and relish the challenges—I believe this life can be incredibly fulfilling.

Bad shit is going to happen no matter what. No matter what.

And we have two choices: Be afraid. Or embrace opportunity.

With mind tricks, really. With psychology. With perspective.

Tough challenges make me stronger.

Hard times make me wiser.

Moments of fear make me braver.

And I want those things. I want those things for me and for you.

Strong. Wise. Brave.

Courtesy of life, just, happening.

Gratitude.

Turning bad things into good things.

Turning darkness into light.

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18 Months: A Post-Divorce Milestone

I Googled "Look of satisfaction." I got John Locke from "Lost." Fine. We'll go with that.

I Googled “Look of satisfaction.” I got John Locke from “Lost.” Fine. We’ll go with that.

I panicked when I lost my family.

You freak because those you love are gone. You freak because you feel broken on the inside. You freak because you didn’t know rejection could feel this way.

People resist change. We don’t like when our favorite menu items go away at the restaurant, or when our favorite television shows get cancelled, or when we’re forced to adjust our routines.

And then your family disappears. It feels like a lot.

Things were totally shitty between you and your wife. Cold and distant. But you knew her. There’s comfort in the routine and reliability. There’s something reassuring about growing old with someone. It’s the closest thing we get to the safety net most of us feel as children with our parents.

But then they leave. And you question everything you ever believed because now you can’t even trust your own judgment.

And maybe you have a son. Maybe he’s four, going on five, and getting ready for kindergarten. And maybe you’re not the best father in the world, but you love. Hard. You love hard. So much. Because that child is your lifeblood. That child in four short years has become your primary reason for even existing.

You didn’t know you could love something that much—this little person who you’d only imagined in some theoretical Imagination Land when you talked about having kids one day.

And here he is. Your son.

And then he’s not. Then he’s not there.

And so you lose your wife. Your pride. Your purpose.

As a prisoner inside yourself, there’s nowhere to run.

I’m always thinking about five years from now. I can’t help it. It’s a real problem after divorce, because there can be no five-year plan.

There’s so much just trying to figure out how to bleach your laundry without ruining it, and how to shop and cook for one, and how to fill the now-empty hours that your brain can’t fathom five years from now.

You thought you had the rest of your life mostly figured out and it all blew up in your face.

How can you possibly know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

You can’t.

And after years of believing your world was going to keep spinning as is, that’s a pretty frightening realization.

Dating After Divorce—A Double Life

I was overwhelmed by fear in the beginning.

In a week, I’m going to hit the 18-month mark. A year and a half since everything I counted on every day stopped being a thing.

And I need you to know, Person Who Just Lost Their Family And Is Totally Freaking Out: You’re going to make it.

It’s funny.

I was pretty panicky about this idea of dating after divorce. Right away I knew what a challenge it would be.

  1. I’m 35 with a son in first grade.
  2. I live far away from where I grew up, so I don’t have that large, institutional network or built-in family support system locally that some people have.
  3. Nearly everyone I know here consists of married couples that my ex-wife and I used to hang out with all the time—people who are friends with both of us, so it’s not exactly a breeding ground of like-minded singles.
  4. I’ve lost much of the confidence I possessed in my youth.
  5. I’m a 35-year-old divorced dad who works in a cubicle. When I was 20, there was still some question about my potential. Maybe I’d run a magazine one day. Maybe I’d write a bunch of books. Maybe I’d win the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. I don’t have those maybes on my side anymore. Now, I’m just this guy.

And let me be clear: Just this guy—he isn’t so bad.

I was pretty down on myself right after getting left, but I’ve fought my way back and will continue to.

I’m not such a bad guy. I’m not undateable. I’m not a failure.

I’m just not in the place in life I thought I would be when I imagined myself as a thirtysomething. And failed expectations are always disappointing.

I didn’t know it before. But I know it now: Life doesn’t always work out like you think it’s going to.

At the beginning, you feel something close to hopelessness.

But once you get through the initial emotional gauntlet of horror, you start to realize: I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. But maybe that’s okay.

My dating life has been a colossal failure. I’m horrible at it. And I’ve learned to accept it.

But I guess if the goal is to end up with another partner again (and that idea appeals to me much more today than it did 18 months ago when I was losing my shit), then that means I only need to get it right once.

I never meet anyone because my social life is disjointed and weird and my various social circles pretty much only include married people hanging out with one another.

I also never meet anyone because I’m the world’s biggest chicken shit about introducing myself to strangers.

I could have a bunch of casual relationships, I suppose. And some people do choose that path in their post-divorce lives.

Maybe if I wasn’t a father, I would have too.

Maybe you’re different than me. Maybe we’re not all as much alike on the inside as I believe we are. But lustful, meaningless, empty sex just doesn’t do much for me except make me feel bad on the inside.

I wonder sometimes to what extent it’s a factor in marriages breaking up—people using sex as a tool to feel good.

Casual can work. Two well-intentioned, honest people agreeing to make one another feel good is a viable option. It feels morally bankrupt to me. But it makes sense. Because there’s an element of unselfishness to the proceedings. An element of giving.

If sex is only about pleasing ourselves, one wonders what the point of a partner is at all.

If sex is about service—an expression of love—an act designed to give more to the other person than we take. Then I think maybe the foundation is there for something lasting and meaningful.

I say all that because so much of these past 18 months have been about exploring who I want to be moving forward. If this is a second chance at choosing a life for myself, then I want—need—to get it right.

And my son is at the very center of that desire and thought-process.

I cannot teach that boy about the finer points of love and self-respect and choosing a partner down the road if I don’t know who I am, and if I’m not walking the same walk I wish for him.

That Was Totally Rambling and Disjointed

Sorry.

I just want people like me to know it’s going to be okay. That’s it. I could have saved you a thousand words, and simply said that: Just wait 18 months!!! Mark it on your calendars and look forward to it!!! Everything’s going to be okay!!!

Bam. Message delivered.

Because it’s true.

It is scary and horrible when you get divorced.

It is messed up and wrong when you lose so much time with your children.

It is daunting to think about how you’re ever going to move forward functionally in a post-divorce world and find someone to love you again.

If you’re in the beginning, I’m so sorry. Don’t give up. Because something beautiful is on the horizon.

If you’re here with me?

Smile.

We made it.

Still breathing. Still alive.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

*shrug*

That’s okay.

Probably going to be awesome.

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We Do What We Know

suicide king

He shot himself.

Right in front of his wife because he learned she was sleeping with someone else. Just a few months ago, she gave birth to his third son.

And now he’s gone.

It feels so unfair to love someone when they don’t love you back. You want so badly to settle the score. To balance the scales. To make the pain go away.

A dramatic act of violence in front of his wife who’d rejected him seemed the most-effective way to even things out.

Taking his own life seemed the most-effective way to make the pain go away.

Pulling the trigger seemed the most-effective methodology.

He was a man who grew up surrounded by crime and poverty. Death and violence are interwoven into most stories that begin there.

Despite overcoming enormous odds and achieving financial success and settling into family life, death and violence are what he knew.

He died yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound intended to eliminate his pain, and as an unforgettable goodbye note to his wife.

We do what we know.

The Suicide Kings

People sometimes call the King of Hearts in a deck of playing cards “The Suicide Kings.” Because they appear to be stabbing themselves in the head with their swords.

There’s no blood. It’s not a violent image. So maybe the artist meant to show a brave king wielding a sword behind his head, preparing to strike an enemy.

Or maybe it’s designed to evoke images of a sad, lonely man considering taking his own life, but unwilling to do so.

Maybe the heart has something to do with it.

All we really have in life are the people we love and care about, and the people who love and care about us. That’s why it’s so hard for many people to move far away from home.

Our roots are important to us. They provide sure footing during uncertain times.

And when we’re away—disconnected—and facing life’s inevitable hardships, we can feel lost at sea without that anchor of comfort and familiarity. We can feel isolated, lonely and lost when we don’t have, or are far away from, home.

Because home is what we know.

I don’t think we ever lose the natural instinct to run into our parents’ arms when we’re hurt and want someone else to make it better for us. It becomes more of a metaphor as an adult. But our human instinct to crave comfort and reassurance remains.

The hard times—particularly the first ones we experience as people—feel REALLY hard.

I often use the word “dying” to describe it. It feels like how I imagine dying to feel. Maybe worse. There’s a difference between the pain we feel in a physical sense—like a flesh wound or bone break—and the pain we feel when something happens to us internally.

To our hearts.

To our minds.

To our souls.

When we break on the inside. They don’t make painkillers for broken hearts. For poisoned minds. For torn souls.

Your entire body is tense, aching, and you feel like a prisoner inside it because there’s nowhere to run and hide.

And when it happens for the first time, it’s the most-frightening thing that’s ever happened to us because we didn’t know our bodies were capable of feeling like that.

What if I never feel like me again?

Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?

I didn’t know it was possible to hurt this much.

Only in that moment can a person understand why another human being could take their own life.

You can’t know until you know.

Misery Loves Company

I didn’t know how common this reaction to a life hardship was until I was feeling it myself. When you go through difficult times, other people sometimes are more willing to open up about their hard times. Sometimes, those talks can help both people heal a little more.

I’ve talked to SO MANY people going through challenging times over the past couple years. Divorce and broken families are the most common. But sometimes people died. Sometimes people’s children were suffering in extreme and unimaginable ways.

The theme is often the same, and it’s the EXACT same thing I said after my wife left and I eventually learned about her new relationship:

“I don’t want to die. But I kind of don’t care if I do. Because at least then I won’t feel like this anymore.”

My friend texted me about yesterday’s suicide. She was shocked and devastated to lose someone she talked to and worked with every day. She was asking so many questions.

“I keep thinking… ‘What if Matt had done that?’,” she said, drawing parallels between how her now-departed friend was feeling relative to how I was feeling 18 months ago.

I remember driving by the hospital where my wife met the other guy. Sometimes, I had to drive by on my way to the office. Tears fell more often than I care to admit. My insides twisted. And I couldn’t escape.

And I’d think: Would it really be so bad if I just went head-on into that massive concrete Interstate pillar? Do I really care whether I wake up tomorrow?

It’s the closest to suicidal I’d ever been and ever hope to be. It’s scary to understand that. I spent my entire life not understanding how someone could ever want to kill themselves, and I’m confident in reporting that it’s infinitely better when you’re too innocent, happy and ignorant to understand it.

The truth is, I didn’t want to die. But I felt like I’d exceeded my pain threshold. And all I wanted to do was make it go away. I couldn’t function in any area of life, making the entire exercise seem somewhat moot.

Just. Shut. It. Off.

The Sun Will Rise

“Why does one person shoot himself and the other start a blog?,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I know why. It’s what they know. He grew up in the slums. He knows violence. Guns. A lot of gun death.

“You know words.

“We do what we know.”

Why did that man kill himself when I wouldn’t?

Is it because I don’t know gun violence? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I don’t know.

But I do know some things.

I know life is precious.

I know good conquers evil.

I know happy is better than sad.

I know happy is good.

I know perspective matters.

I know there are billions of people who would gladly trade lives with me right this second if they could because they believe I have it so good.

I know we have purpose and it’s our job to seek it.

I know I love. Deeply. My son. Life. You.

I know every day I wake up could be the best day of my life, and sooner or later, that day is going to come, and I choose to look forward to it.

I know I have a choice: Despair. Or, hope.

And I choose courage. I choose love. I choose hope.

That’s why I’m still breathing.

That’s why I started writing.

And that’s why I’ll keep trying to do both for as long as I possibly can.

We do what we know.

So, know it: The sun will rise tomorrow. Everything’s going to be okay.

Without the low, there ain’t a high.

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Why I’m Not Writing

aokWriting for the sake of writing is important for personal growth.

But writing for the sake of writing and publishing it on this blog is an enormous waste of your time.

So I stopped doing it.

Maybe I’ll start again. I’m going to do whatever I want.

But for now, it feels important to me to have something to say.

I haven’t had much.

Why I Write

I started this blog because my wife left me and I lost my mind. There weren’t very many people in my life I could or wanted to discuss it with, so I turned to the only thing I knew: the keyboard.

I feel at home at the keyboard. Like an extension of me. Punching these keys is as natural to me as anything else I do. And for reasons I don’t understand and have never really explored, I know how to communicate and express myself more effectively via the (type)written word than I do speaking.

I thought I was dying. It felt like how I imagine dying to feel. And writing was medicine. Relief. It helped.

So I did it.

I was so hurt, so sad, so angry, that nothing else mattered. I could write anything. Because there’s nothing you could think about me that could ever make me feel shittier than I felt.

I felt so weak and helpless in my real life.

But not at the keyboard. I had my own arsenal here. An unlimited combination of words that could be written and a seemingly endless string of thoughts and feelings and experiences as I tried to document what it was like to be me. The newly single, scared-shitless divorced dad.

Here’s why it mattered: Because I’m just like so many of you. And so many of you are like me.

It mattered because you’re not alone.

It mattered because I’m not alone.

So we connected here. And I needed to feel connected to something. Maybe I still do. But everything’s different now. I just know I’m still alive.

I’m a mid-thirties single dad who just got thrust into the wild, ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the world I now face.

And I wanted to write about that experience. Because maybe some other person got divorced, too. And maybe they felt like they were dying. And maybe they cried more than they knew they could. And maybe they were scared again just like when we were kids only now their masks could no longer conceal the fear because aging without wisdom doesn’t make us more courageous.

There’s one super-important ingredient to making the writing (and the reading) a worthwhile exercise.

It Better Be Honest

It’s all bullshit if it’s not real. If it’s not honest.

A year ago, it was all: Hey! I’m sad and depressed and my life is shitty and I don’t feel like doing anything except writing about it!

And I did. And just kind of laid it all out there, raw and uncut. To the right people, it really mattered. I know it mattered to me.

And now? It’s not like that. I’m a different person than I was a year ago, just like I was a different person the year before that.

I’m a pretty resilient sonofabitch. I know it doesn’t look that way when I’m pissing myself and crying like a small child and whining to anyone who will listen about how hard my life is.

I started to heal. That’s still happening. And it’s all still getting better every day.

And then, as each day passed, things were happening in my life that I no longer felt comfortable telling you about.

My relationship with my ex-wife continues to improve. All things considered, I think we’re doing a great job working together to raise our six-year-old son.

My dating life remains shitty and not discussion-worthy. Everyone who likes me lives super-far away. I rarely meet people because I refuse to online-date and because I’m sometimes a coward about introducing myself to others. I had a date last weekend and she was super-nice and we had a great time, but it was clear romance would not be in our future.

And that’s really the root of my writing “problem.”

I am not going to exploit women I meet and jeopardize friendships by writing about them.

I am not going to teach my son to love and respect his mother and then write about her personal life as if it’s anyone’s business, including mine.

I am not going to bore you with the mundane details of my life as I continue to figure out how to juggle my various responsibilities with efficiency—work, parenting, chores, etc.

If it’s not therapeutic to write, or can’t help someone, is there really any point of writing at all? Maybe. But probably not as part of what I want to be doing here in this space.

I want to help people. Not lots of people. Because I’m not qualified to help people. But I am qualified to help one. Just one. That person out there who understands what I’m feeling and thinking and can breathe a sigh of relief: I’m so glad I’m not the only one. Now I know I’m not a freak.

Because that person isn’t a freak. But we lie to ourselves because we’re all a little bit crazy and we convince ourselves that we’re too dumb, too short, too fat, too weird, too <insert personal insecurity here> and everyone else is so much better than we are.

And it’s an effective lie because so many of us believe it.

And we become empowered. Strong, even. When we realize that we’re not alone. That we’re all fighting the same battles, and that maybe together we can win more easily than fighting alone.

We’re smart enough.

We’re good enough.

We’re tall enough.

Everything is different now.

I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. But I’m not afraid. Everything is going to be okay.

I’m better apparently at writing about misery than I am about hope.

So.

Fewer words. More hope.

Not a bad trade, really.

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