Tag Archives: Anniversary

And Then I Woke Up Three Years Later

(Image/Paramount Studios)

Are you mentally playing the Top Gun Anthem in your head right now? You should be. (Image/Paramount Studios)

I spent the first year depressed and freaking out.

I spent the second year using reading and writing to get to know myself.

This past year, time seemed to move faster than ever.

And then I woke up this morning.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. We’re funny about anniversaries. We can be five years removed from an event, and we feel good and our lives are in order, but then that date pops up, triggers a bunch of memories, and we’re left sorting through a bunch of feelings and trying to figure out what they mean.

I’ve yet to find a better word than “broken” for what I felt in the immediate aftermath of my marriage failing.

Not many people in my personal life knew how bad it was at the time. But it was bad. Your vital signs indicate being alive. But nothing else does. I roll my eyes at all the motivational posters and sometimes cliché- and a little-bit-fake-feeling “You can do it!” messages we’re bombarded with on social media, but some of them are cliché because they’re true. And one of those truths is how valuable of a life experience excruciating emotional and psychological pain can be once it’s in the rearview mirror and it’s not violently stabbing your chest and skull every day.

There’s the me before experiencing that, and the me right now.

Before experiencing that, I didn’t know how to empathize or even what it really meant.

And now I do, for having been through it. Success in love and marriage, in parenting, in super-close social and business relationships appears impossible without the ability to empathize. Maybe some people can learn it without having to hurt first. I hope so.

I tend to learn things the hard way, which isn’t the optimum path to personal growth, but it’s got to be better than never learning.

I was a WRECK. A total mess of a person. My chest felt tight every day. My head hurt every day. I felt full-body anxiety often. It made me vomit a lot.

I can’t remember many instances of feeling more pathetic than the times I found myself teary-eyed, puking, struggling to calm my heartrate, knowing I probably needed some serious couch time with a shrink but couldn’t afford it, and thinking: This is why she left you. And now no girl will ever like you because you’re a total failure.

There were a million things I wanted to know, but the thing I wanted to know most is: When will this be over? Soon? Never?

How to Heal After Divorce in 3 Simple Steps

  1. Stay alive by breathing.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I said it over and over again, even when it was hard to believe: Everything is going to be okay.

It didn’t feel okay after one year.

It felt kind of okay after two.

And on the three-year anniversary of the worst day of my life, everything is absolutely okay.

I wish I could pass out little manuals to everyone struggling with the end of a marriage and/or loss of their children at home, including the 2013 edition of me. But there are no instruction manuals for grieving. There’s no “right” or “best” way to suffer.

It took me a long time to understand that I wasn’t suffering the wrong way. I didn’t think at the time that divorce warranted the devastation I felt. I didn’t think it was worthy of so much hurt. I concluded weakness instead of letting it be what it was—a highly stressful, totally life-changing event which psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially damages nearly everyone it touches.

Three years ago, I wanted to know what I could do to speed up the process. To fast-forward to the Okay part.

I never did find that button.

Here’s what worked for me:

1. I put my son first. He’s my baseline for all things. If it’s not good for him, I don’t do it. That helped heal the post-divorce relationship between his mother and I. It helped me build a kind, respectful, cooperative relationship with my ex-wife. I’d like to believe I’d care about her wellbeing regardless, but because she’s my son’s mother and an excellent parent and caretaker, one of the best things I can do for my child is treat his mom well. Which I try to do.

His long-term wellbeing drives my business endeavors and serves as a guidepost for me as I consider potential relationships.

2. I admitted that I don’t really know anything. Growing up, I thought being an adult meant you just knew stuff. The meaning of life. How to be disciplined and exercise self-control. How to not be afraid. Not knowing anything reduces the pressure. Not knowing anything allows you to ask better questions and stay curious. Not knowing anything helps you remain humble. Not knowing anything allows you to withhold judgment, and treat others and yourself better. Almost every adult is just making this up as they go. You’re not alone.

3. I wrote here. Putting thoughts and feelings to paper (or the keyboard) has long been touted by mental health experts as a good thing to do. Everyone’s experience will vary, but writing here created a lot of good in my life.

It forced me to look deep within for answers and explore uncomfortable topics.

I discovered other people who knew how I was feeling, and when life is hard, one of the most helpful things is the realization that someone else is walking the same path as you. It just helps when someone understands.

I got positive feedback about the writing, and that gave me confidence.

People sometimes said that it helped them, and that gave me purpose.

And the entire exercise of writing and asking questions and answering questions gave me something to pour my time and heart into when my young son wasn’t home.

And then I woke up one day and it was three years later.

My son’s mom and I had a couple friendly and peaceful text exchanges about our son.

I came to work and didn’t cry or puke in the bathroom.

I didn’t feel anxious, because I’m neither a wreck nor a complete mess.

Two different large websites published my work today in what has become a regular occurrence since the “dishes” post.

I like and respect myself—which is something a person should not take for granted—and I’m looking forward to liking and respecting myself even more in the future.

It was the worst day of my life. And God knows, conceptually, I regret the end of my family. But three years into the metamorphosis, I have to ask the question: Can the thing that changed me for the better, allowed me to explore relationships with my eyes wide open and an uncommon awareness, and granted me the opportunity to actually do something that matters to people, fairly be labeled the worst thing that ever happened to me?

I don’t know.

I only know that tomorrow arrived and everything really is okay.

And all I had to do was breathe.

Then again.

And again.

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The Magical Power of Writing for Two Years (and a Bit About Marriage)

Magic-Book

The date came and went without me noticing.

June 21 was the two-year anniversary of my first post here. You can’t read it anymore because I privatized it. I privatized it because I said angry things about my ex-wife. She is my son’s mother and my relationship with her means more to me than having a published account of the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It won’t be long before I start publishing my last name. I will publish books. I want to write for larger publications. I’ll have to use my full name, and protecting people I care about matters to me. Even if they’re just someone that I used to know.

It took two years to get here.

The Advice Guy

I don’t want to be Advice Guy. That guy is usually an asshole. Plus, I don’t really know anything. If you forced me to offer the world life advice; that would be my contribution: Stop pretending you KNOW anything about anything. You don’t know. And there’s freedom in being honest about it.

Better to ask questions. Better to seek truth.

There is something about writing that gives you an aura of credibility that you don’t really deserve, but it doesn’t rid you of your responsibility to help when people want it.

I’ve published about 450,000 words here in the past two years. And for reasons that don’t fully make sense to me, some people think that means I know things.

I never know things. I just think things.

On Marriage

People ask me to advise them on marriage ALL THE TIME. Several times per week, wives email me asking for marriage advice or at least for suggestions on how they might get their husbands to understand the things they believe I do based on what they’ve read.

It happens so often now that I’ve actually looked into acquiring certification for marriage coaching. Because, you may recall, I’m nothing more than one divorced guy who failed at marriage in his only attempt.

I think every marriage reaches a breaking point. And the choices made by each (or either) spouse during that time determines the union’s fate.

I think, generally speaking, everyone gets married (the first time) LONG before they’re ready. Ironically, you’re never ready for marriage until you’re already married and THEN demonstrate good (read: unselfish) decision making.

I think we grow up seeing all these married people around us, so we’re all programmed from Day 1: When you get older and become an adult, you get married! It’s just what you do!

All we see from these marriages are the masks everyone wears. We’re kids! No one is going to tell us how it really is. That he NEVER says thank you or demonstrates appreciation for all her hard work cooking or cleaning or taking care of his laundry. That she constantly tears him down and never encourages him. That he’d rather jerk off thinking about her cousin or his old college fling than have sex with her. That she spends half her day swapping complaints with her girlfriend about what an inattentive asshole he is while both of them fantasize about one another’s husband.

We send our kids off to school to learn about the World Wars and the Periodic Table and The Old Man and the Sea and about our solar system and Algebra II. And that’s great. We should all be learning things.

But when the kids are 30, clinically depressed and fantasizing sexually or otherwise about other people and other lives because no one EVER was honest with them about what it takes to make marriage work, I have to ask: Are we really teaching people things that matter? How much good is Hemingway and knowing the atomic number for Boron really doing them? When they’re broken and sobbing on the floor?

I think men and women are biologically different to varying degrees, and that, because of a misplaced desire for political correctness, or because people are sexist and believe their gender is “correct” or “better,” very few people ever bother to learn about gender differences.

So guys walk around their entire lives thinking women are overly emotional and crazy.

And girls walk around their entire lives thinking men are dense and are only motivated by competition and sex (but mostly just sex).

Guys think that over time, women will come around and “get it.” Start thinking “the right way.” Like a man!

Women think that over time, their man will come around and “get it.” That he will finally start understanding her and seeing her for who she truly is. The he will start thinking and communicating and doing things “the right way.” Like a woman!

Usually, 5-10 years later, it’s all fucked and broken.

All because no one bothered to teach us important things about love and communication. Because no one ever really showed us what it looks like to give more than we take. And how by giving more than we take, we actually GET MORE, and create a life of love and abundance.

No, we all hurt too much from that mean thing he said.

We all hurt too much because she is so disrespectful and makes us feel like failures.

Resentment grows. Communication lessens. Sexual interest and attraction fades. You grow apart and die on the inside.

THIS IS THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE. You’re not a freak. None of it’s good. But it is normal.

It happened to me. And now it’s happening to you. And I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how to make people care as much as they should. And I’m sorry.

I am so sorry that I don’t know how.

On Writing

People like to ask about writing sometimes, too.

My advice on writing is infinitely shorter.

1. Read writers who write how you want to write. Also read other things. Basically, just read. A lot.

2. Write often. Use fewer words than me.

3. Bleed when you write. (It’s a metaphor. Please don’t cut yourself.) Write about things that frighten and embarrass you. That sadden or anger you. Because you need to learn (and constantly be reminded of) something really important: We are all super-similar and you are never the only one. And you get to be the brave one that helps people realize that simple, but sometimes life-changing truth. Don’t take it for granted.

4. Take off the mask. You spend every second of your life trying to be who you think your parents, friends, boss, kids, lover, neighbors, or whoever, want you to be. It’s exhausting trying to be so many people and we always fail at it, because it’s hard enough just being one person. Always be you. It organically filters out all the people you don’t want in your life without exerting any energy. And it organically attracts all of the people you do want to be part of it. And it makes you come alive. This is hard to do in real life, even though we should try. But dammit, you better do it when you’re punching the keys. Make courageousness a habit.

Writing makes me see the world differently.

Writing allows me to see myself differently.

So that I can grow and change and think and love and share and be better today than I was yesterday.

All it takes is a willingness to leave a tiny imprint of your soul in the words. Bare and vulnerable.

Not everyone will care.

But someone will.

And that’s where the magic lives.

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Two Years Later

two-candle-birthday-cake-e1349305921801

I always thought anniversaries were a little dumb.

I don’t mean celebrating wedding anniversaries or birthdays. And I don’t mean observing holidays or commemorating events of historical significance. Those are good things. All good things have merit.

But sometimes when bad things happen, we hold onto those dates and relive those feelings we felt however many years ago.

It seems so arbitrary to me. For yesterday to be typical, and tomorrow to be uneventful, but today to be a big deal.

Is today a big deal?

I don’t think so.

But not being a big deal doesn’t prevent the events of two years ago from affecting today.

I told one person about it.

She said: “I can appreciate the general unpleasant feelings that come when you wake up on the anniversary date of something bad that has happened. It kind of hangs over your day.”

I can’t say it better than that.

A subtle pall, obscuring focus and clarity.

A splinter in your mind.

730 Days

Two years.

Twenty-four months.

A hundred and four weeks.

Exactly 730 days.

That’s how long it’s been since the most-important thing that ever happened to me happened.

I’d like to tell you being born was a big deal. But I don’t feel anything when I think about it.

And I’d really like to tell you the birth of my son was more important, and if you want to have a semantics argument, I suppose we can. That was huge.

But I’d be lying if I said April 1, 2013 wasn’t more profound. That little boy was a huge part of it.

Our life and marriage had grown tired and broken and shitty.

But it was normal, at least. Something you could really count on, like the ground being there when you take your next step. Even at our worst, we would still make dinner for one another, run errands for one another, share work stories with one another.

Even at our worst, our son still had mommy and daddy tucking him in every night, and hugging and kissing him each morning.

I don’t know why April 1 stands out.

She took her ring off the day before. That one totally knocks the wind out of you.

But on April 1, it was, just, different.

There was a suitcase and a little boy who didn’t understand what was happening. All the same things you’ve seen in the movies.

No screaming. No fighting.

Just sadness so suffocating, I don’t remember being able to speak.

That was the first time I can remember crying at the kitchen window watching them drive away.

It wasn’t the last time.

So, What Happened Next?

One of the things I like to do is tell you what happened to me because it seems like a lot of people have the same experiences.

And what that means is, if your marriage just ended or some other bad thing, and you kind of feel like you want to die, you can find out what it’s like two years later in order to have something to hold onto. A gauge. A measuring stick. Something. Anything. Because when you break on the inside, you feel so lost and out of control, you need something to hold onto. Even if it’s just one stranger’s story that might be kind of like yours.

What does it feel like two years later?

Most days, it feels just fine. I’m fine. And I don’t mean “I’m fine!” in that pretend way that people say they’re fine when they’re really miserable.

I’m okay. Really.

Two years later, I mostly feel peace when I’m alone.

I still feel sad sometimes, but it’s just as much feeling sorry for myself as it is suffering from the loss. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.

The worst thing you still feel two years later is loneliness.

Maybe people with different circumstances feel less so. If you live near where you grew up, chances are you have institutional friends and family around. Those are very good things to have.

For a variety of reasons, including too much divorce, and some life choices I made geographically, I live far away from all of the people I used to know. Life-long friends and family. I don’t see them very often.

The only people I have locally are the friends I’ve made (and retained post-divorce) in the nine years I’ve lived here.

It’s one of the reasons writing here and connecting with so many of you has been such a valuable experience. As kind and thoughtful as many of my friends are locally, they all have lives, and no one sits around worrying about what the single 36-year-old is doing, nor should they be.

Staying connected is critical. It lifts you up and reminds you that you’re not alone. And by “not alone,” I don’t mean: Hey, look at all my online friends! I’m not alone!

I mean, you feel wretched and empty.

Lost and broken.

And one of the most important discoveries is when you find other people who know exactly what’s going on inside you. People walking the same walk. Feeling the same things.

The more connected you feel, the less isolated you are, and the faster you can start to breathe again.

You’re not alone.

Two years later, I still haven’t found a way to master all the organizational life skills my parents handled when I was young, and my wife handled the first dozen or so years of adult life.

My laundry system is suspect.

I throw away A LOT of food I buy at the grocery store because I don’t know how to shop for one and a half.

I forget little things my son needs for school on occasion—moments which serve as little reminders to my ex-wife how unreliable I can be.

I’m not the best house cleaner.

I’m not a particularly good planner.

I think I am probably my best self with a partner. But when you’re in your mid-thirties and you work full-time and you have your son half the time, meeting people is a massive challenge. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard.

After two years of being single, I find dating to be infinitely easier, and not particularly scary.

That’s not what I mean.

But if you want someone to be the other half of you, things get really tricky.

There are children.

There is baggage.

There is fear.

When you’re single and in your mid-thirties? It generally means you’ve been through some shit.

Said shit keeps the It’s Complicated quotient rather high right up until that moment it doesn’t anymore.

I’ll let you know whether that day ever comes.

Everything’s going to be okay now.

You say it and believe it after six months. Again, after a year. But sometimes it takes this long to feel it on the inside.

After two years, you make your own rules.

After two years, you can go an entire day not even thinking about your old life even once.

After two years, you can drive by where she works every day and rarely turn your head to look for her car.

After two years, you can stop feeling ashamed.

After two years, you can know you’re good enough.

730 days.

A hundred and four weeks.

Twenty-four months.

Two years.

The anniversary does kind of hang over your day.

But it doesn’t define your day.

It doesn’t get to decide whether you smile, or how much fun you can have, or block out the spring sunshine.

It doesn’t determine who you get to think about, or how beautiful tomorrow is going to be.

Two years later, you can’t even really remember how you felt.

Because you’re someone else now.

Someone better.

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