It felt like I died.
I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”
I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.
When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.
Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.
That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.
I was out of control.
Life was out of control.
You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.
The Loss of Control After Divorce
My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.
Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.
Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.
Not necessarily dangerous.
And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.
Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.
A New Kind of Prison
Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.
Your new prison.
Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.
When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!
I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.
It’s not possible.
Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.
Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.
I couldn’t run.
I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.
And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.
Including the illusion of control.
Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon
The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.
You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.
You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.
People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.
Not because they let go.
But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.
When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.
That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.
Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.
The Thing About Control
Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”
People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.
“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”
Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.
It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.
It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.
Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.
I know how I’m going to react.
I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.
Because I control me.
No one else does.
Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.
That’s where freedom lives.
Even when you feel trapped.
You make everything new by changing on the inside.
Because it turns out you’re still alive.