Tag Archives: Emotional triggers

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

man pulling luggage by pexels

No matter how beautiful things look up ahead, it’s hard to find a place to set down the heavy stuff. That’s why I mostly keep it shoved away in a closet. (Image/Pexels)

I’m good at hiding it.

The emotional baggage I drag around all the time.

Most of the time, I forget it’s there until something triggers it. I don’t like talking about it, because people sometimes assume it means I’m hung up on my ex-wife and pining for a life that I’m nearly six years removed from and barely remember anymore.

I remember being married, of course. But I don’t remember ME when I was married. I don’t remember what I thought and felt in my everyday baseline emotional state of being.

Those life choices led to the worst thing that ever happened to me, happening. So I’m not sure why pursuing that would make sense to anyone.

I also don’t like talking about it because it makes other people uncomfortable, like all those nights when I was freshly divorced and intellectually aware that no one wanted to talk about it and see me cry in the middle of a bar on a Friday or Saturday night. I used to always say to myself: “Don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce.”

And then, without fail, I would talk about my divorce like a massive, undisciplined asshole.

So when I was walking around Las Vegas last week with two work friends, they couldn’t have known that underneath my calm exterior, I was triggered and distracted by more than all the flashing lights.

The past doesn’t always cooperatively stay hidden in the closet.

It was the week of July 6, 2007.

Our close friends were getting married at Bellagio in Las Vegas on that day. My wife and I were the maid of honor and best man.

They wanted to get married on 07-07-07 (because Las Vegas), but a million other people had the same idea (because Las Vegas), so logistically it made sense for them to move the wedding to the day before.

I don’t know what my marriage was back then.

Good? Bad? Average?

She’d have a different perspective, anyway. We decided to start the trying-to-have-children process not long after that trip, which might signal that she was already unhappy at that point and thought having a baby might make things better.

Regardless of how okay I thought my marriage was at the time, 39-year-old me today would have totally pegged us for a future divorce.

She was hanging out poolside with friends at Caesars Palace and shopping in the Forum Shops.

I was playing in a poker cash game at Harrah’s, warming up for an afternoon tournament at Paris.

This past week in Vegas, I didn’t play one hand. Not one. I chose to go out with coworkers and be social, rather than sit at a table with nine strangers.

But when I was in Las Vegas for the first and only time with my wife, I ran away to play cards and do what I wanted to do, rather than invest my time connecting with my wife and friends.

If writing is my thing now, poker was my thing back then.

I was running through everyone at the afternoon poker tournament in Paris.

My wife stopped into the poker room on her walk back to our hotel room to see how I was doing. I was at the final table. Maybe five or six players left out of a field of about 200.

I was on the cusp of victory, and instead of sitting down to cheer for me to win, she said she’d see me back in the hotel room when I was done, and left.

It kind of hurt my feelings. That she had so little interest in this thing that mattered to me.

I was too dense to recognize the 500 times I had made her feel that exact same way over the years, and make that connection that might have saved us later.

I won the tournament.

And I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted her to think I was good enough.

The tourney winnings paid for the Vegas trip, and then some.

I didn’t know back then that money couldn’t fix what was broken.

I didn’t realize back then how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch me succeed at an activity that adversely affected our marriage because I usually invested more time in watching, reading about, and playing poker than I invested in anything constructive, or proactive, or meaningful to our marriage.

Still. It was a good trip. Fun. Reconnecting with old friends. Making new good memories together, including a fun night with the bride and groom having lots of drinks and laughing at a Lewis Black comedy show at the MGM Grand, and then a memorable laugh-filled walk back to Bellagio afterward.

I hadn’t thought about that moment for years.

And then fast-forward to a week ago, when I found myself walking through the MGM Grand 11 years later.

Even though I LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE that we lived in together as a married couple, and see and talk to my ex-wife several times per week and it’s super-normal and functional, here I was in Las Vegas on some random casino escalator having a moment.

Then, my friends and I walked north up the Las Vegas Strip. The same walk the four of us had made 11 years earlier on the Vegas wedding trip.

And involuntarily, I felt it.

I don’t know why that mattered.

I have no idea why it made me feel.

But it did.

It just did.

A couple of years removed from divorce, I spent a few days at Disney World and the Daytona 500 with friends, including a woman who liked me.

We were walking around the Magic Kingdom together, just the two of us.

It was cute. I liked her.

But, inevitably, we ended up walking right by the spot where I’d proposed to my ex-wife. We were talking about something, my friend and I. But walking by that spot on the bridge felt just like driving by a place where someone you know died in an auto accident.

Your insides recoil a bit involuntarily.

If you stay cool, it remains invisible to people who don’t know you very well.

The engagement-spot trigger. At Disney.

I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone about that.

And then a similar thing sort of randomly happened again in Las Vegas.

I’m not sure what to do with that.

There’s luggage—an invisible suitcase—where all of the memories live.

The good and the bad ones. The laughs and smiles and triumphs. But also, the guilt and fear and shame.

It’s baggage. Human baggage. My baggage. But I think everyone else has a little too.

It’s the kind of baggage that single people don’t want to deal with while dating because baggage usually contains or requires a little hardship.

Baggage contains surprises, because it’s full of all the grimy, ugly history that sometimes tarnishes things that looked beautiful just the day before.

The thing about baggage is that you’re supposed to be able to set it down. Just set it down and walk away. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Baggage is something you’re supposed to be able to lose. Or give away. Or destroy.

But it’s like the longer we stay alive, the more things we shove into our suitcases. They just keep getting heavier and more difficult to drag around with us.

Maybe we will be able to set them down someday and walk away. Or maybe we’ll trade them in for new ones.

I don’t know.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Because it’s always hiding in the closet.

Hardly anyone knows it’s there.

Most of the time, not even me.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The 4th Wedding Anniversary (That Wasn’t)

Lucky 13 carnival

(Image/Halloween Forum)

Yesterday would have been lucky-number 13.

My wife and I celebrating 13 years of marital bliss.

Only we didn’t. Because we stopped at 9. In large part because the final couple of years were anything but blissful.

Also, I didn’t remember.

I hadn’t noticed until I flipped a daily calendar to today.

And all joking aside about my totally suspect ADHD calendar management, it’s significant that I didn’t remember.

Maybe some people feel completely fine and normal after getting divorced. But other people feel shitty and want to die a little bit and cry a lot more than they’re proud of while feeling like the world’s biggest loser and binge-watching a lot of shows on Netflix and assuming they will spend the rest of their lives celibate and alone while their exes are having orgasm parties with some wildly successful entrepreneur ready to sell their tech startup for a billion dollars and pretty much guaranteeing a lifetime of their children respecting and wanting to be with the other parent more than them.

I was a member of the latter group.

Even my grandma (the sweetest, most-prayerful and non-judgmental person I know) was probably like: “My #1 grandson seems extra-losery lately. If he doesn’t get it together, he’s going to die alone, because no woman will ever want to kiss him on the mouth, let alone play fiddlesticks in his nether regions. I’m demoting him to, like, #4 in the grandson ranking.” It’s difficult to know for sure how she felt and/or whether I’ve reclaimed by spot atop the family grandson rankings.

It’s significant that I didn’t reflect on my wedding anniversary yesterday, because that’s exactly the kind of thing you tend to do when you feel broken and depressed after divorce.

Every major holiday.

Her birthday.

My birthday.

Our son’s birthday.

The Fourth of July (our “engagement anniversary”).

There were all of these things that triggered the most powerful and unexpected emotions for the first couple of years following the end of our marriage. If you’d told me some date on the calendar had the power to trigger something within me that would make my entire body revolt, I’d have called you crazy.

But then I lived it.

I felt in the most intense ways what a particular anniversary could remind you of. If it wasn’t something on the calendar, it was one of those asshole Facebook memories that seem to randomly pop up and try to ruin your day, or it was me driving by a particular building or location, or maybe hearing a certain song, and then I’d feel all the things rushing in again.

It wasn’t just hard because it hurt.

It was hard because it reminded me that I wasn’t fully back yet. I hadn’t recovered. I remained weak and fragile. It reminded me that I didn’t have control over emotions, which meant I didn’t have control over myself.

Once every day stops hurting after a major life trauma, the next phase involves unpredictable and intermittent flare-ups.

Rock-bottom has one perk. NOTHING scares you anymore, because (even if it isn’t true) it feels like it can’t get any worse.

But once the healing begins, some of the fear returns, because the ability to just behave normally during the day without all of the hurt and fear and anxiety becomes this really important and valuable thing that you had always taken for granted until you knew better.

So when something sneaky triggers us into a mini-relapse, it can shake you up because you don’t know if that’s ever going to stop happening.

It’s hard to feel like you don’t have any control about your baseline state-of-being. As if you don’t know which “you” you’ll be when you wake up tomorrow.

I often wondered when these triggers would finally go away.

And Then Something Funny Happens

You don’t really notice because you forget to look for it.

The same way that resentment and shit-festival rides and funnel cake booths sneak quietly into our relationships and go undetected until we finally bite into some funnel cake we overpaid for and it tastes like goat piss, and then we pop three balloons with our skilled dart throwing to win that awesome stuffed monkey, but instead of giving us the awesome stuffed monkey, the carnie gives us the middle finger and divorce papers…

The same way that happens, goodness and normalcy slowly creep in when life feels like it’s beating us down.

I wanted so badly to hack the process.

I researched whatever scientific studies I could find on happiness. I went to guided meditation classes. I drank a little more beer, tequila and vodka than usual.

I wanted a shortcut, and if I couldn’t find one, I at least wanted to know when the terrible pain and sadness might end.

What is the thing or the time I can look forward to because that’s when I’ll know this is mostly behind me?

I took comfort in some of the stories and experiences of other divorcees.

But still. When will it be my turn?

And then the funny thing happens. You wake up one day and realize you’d stopped counting. You’d stopped looking for signs. You’d stopped wondering when tomorrow will come because, holy shit, it’s ALREADY tomorrow and I didn’t even notice.

There was no magic to evoke.

There was no exorcism or major therapeutic breakthrough (not that there’s anything wrong with leaning on psych pros—I’d have done so if I was financially comfortable enough to shell out $250/hour).

There was no one thing I can point to that took me from the painful and debilitating shit-festival to today. The day AFTER a wedding anniversary (that wasn’t) that I never got around to noticing.

The path to today wasn’t complex or hard to explain even though I hadn’t realized I’d arrived here. The path wasn’t around. There were no shortcuts or helpful detours. There was only one straight path that could only be traveled at the speed with which I move.

There were unpleasant and difficult obstacles from the get-go. And it turns out, Life doesn’t magically remove all those obstacles to make the path easier to walk. Dealing with each obstacle by climbing over it, or blasting my way through simply made me good at navigating them.

I wanted it to be easy and fast. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt torturously slow.

But as I look back today? Four wedding anniversaries (that weren’t) later? I don’t know where the time went.

But I’m here now. (Hi!)

The path was hard. But then it gets a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then a little bit easier. Then you accidentally get so busy living again that you forget to measure the difficulty.

Hope is the carrot at the end of the stick, and it’s worth walking toward. When you’re emerging from divorce or some other awful life event, how much better tomorrow can be than today is so incremental, we’re unlikely to notice it. But it IS better.

And when you wake up and breathe enough times, you stop, look back, and really see how far you’ve come.

The only path was through.

Never easy. But always worth it.

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