Tag Archives: Healing

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.

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How to Be Comfortable Alone on Valentine’s Day

guy sitting alone at restaurant

Totally NOT this. I promise. (Image/Its Box Office Forums)

If I’m hospitalized or incapacitated from a car accident or emergency health problem, my ex-wife will be the first person anyone calls.

That’s because, even four years after our divorce, she’s still my emergency contact.

In a reverse-scenario, I’m probably the fourth person to get an emergency call about her. Yes, I’m aware of how pathetic that sounds.

On a night where she might go out for dinner, drinks and whatever else with her boyfriend if our son wasn’t at home with her, I’ll sit alone in my kitchen writing things for a client after grabbing a takeout dinner on the drive home later.

I have no way to prove I’m not just writing this in some lame attempt to sound cool or tough, but I have exactly ZERO problems with my Valentine’s Day plans today.

I want to talk about why, because I think the things that make people feel lonely on Valentine’s Day are the same things that compel people to marry someone before they’re ready, or to ignore their partner’s behavioral red flags, or jump into a relationship super-fast after a breakup or divorce and ultimately suffer for that choice.

I remember when it wasn’t this way.

I remember how excruciating it is when your body is still learning how to operate with entire pieces of your insides missing. Crying, even though you never cry. Unable to breathe, even though you’re always breathing.

I remember.

Because Valentine’s Day is hard for a lot of people. We like to associate that feeling with single people and maybe feel sorry for them as if they’re all alone because no one will ever like them or find them worthy.

To be sure, many divorced people will be afraid of that. I was afraid of that. Maybe still am.

But I don’t think single people are the loneliest people. I think people in broken marriages, or people who are the givers in one-way relationships that just haven’t broken yet, are the loneliest people.

Being married or carrying the “In a Relationship” label DOES NOT prevent loneliness.

Connectivity to others prevents loneliness, regardless of whether you share an address or exchange bodily fluids with them.

Self-love (self-compassion and respect, not narcissism) and self-acceptance prevents loneliness.

And something else does, too: Getting used to being alone.

The Reason I’m Single

Save it, dicks. Of course not everyone finds me attractive. Of course not everyone likes me.

But that’s not why I’m single.

I’m intentionally single today in a way I wasn’t four years ago, and I want you to understand why because it matters.

I am divorced primarily because I spent years taking my wife for granted, leaning on her to do most of the heavy lifting of Life and household management, including paying our bills, coordinating our social calendars, planning holidays, developing a caretaking system for our newborn, and executing the day-to-day management of everything required of working adults with a child and a mortgage in the 21st century.

I think MOST divorce today stems from this same toxic condition.

I can’t speak for other guys. Just me.

I grew up in a small Ohio town. When we were all together for large holiday gatherings, or when I visited friends’ houses, or just my experience with my mom at home, I almost exclusively watched wives and mothers doing things like cooking, clearing the table afterward, broom-sweeping the floor, washing dishes, changing baby diapers, folding laundry, vacuuming carpet, cleaning bathrooms, etc.

I’ve heard so many men call this stuff “women’s work” and seen so many men retreat to the living-room recliner after dinner to let their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters take care of the cleanup, that I felt OFFENDED by my wife wanting me to do more housework.

I’ve had four years to think about this, and finally see it for what it is.

First, I was a baby and small child, and everyone did everything for me.

Then, I was in grade school and high school, and all I had to do was show up, get decent grades, and have fun with my friends the rest of the time. My parents did all of the heavy lifting.

Then, I was in college where even the super-rare chores were things I was doing with my best friends, usually while drinking beer or after sharing a joint.

Then, I was with my girlfriend. The same one who, 16 years later, would be my Life-emergency contact despite being divorced for four years.

In other words, every second of my existence from my earliest memory until the moment my wife walked out the door and never came back consisted of me having almost no life responsibilities other than staying alive, and a constant support system INSIDE the walls of wherever I called home.

Later, I either had my best friend or my wife under the same roof. An adult I could count on to back me up, and trust with everything I have including my favorite little human on Earth. Someone I could talk to. A living, breathing human being exchanging stories, ideas, hugs, kisses, comfort.

Then the only vinyl record I’d ever heard, the same one spinning for 33 years straight, screeched to a halt, and all that shit drove away in a white SUV with a woman I used to know behind the wheel, and the other half of my entire world sitting in the backseat.

I freaked.

Some of you remember.

I remember.

So when people are having a hard time on Valentine’s Day, I’m not inclined to tell them to suck it up because breaking on the inside feels so much worse than breaking on the outside and I learned the hard way that’s not something you can know until you, just, know.

I Vowed I’d Never Do That Again

Not to my son.

Not to my partner.

Not to myself.

Because it does feel scary sometimes. I can’t hitch my wagon to someone who I’m not EXTREMELY confident I could potentially have a life-long marriage with.

No settling. NONE.

But someone else isn’t what scares me.

I scare me. Must be this tall to ride.

I won’t be with someone just because I want something from them, including the comfort of not being alone.

So, here’s the task I’ve given myself: Get comfortable alone. Get comfortable taking care of yourself. Get self-sufficient in all of the areas you spent your life relying on others. 

Because my biggest relationship failing was that. Relying on others to take care of things for me.

And that’s not okay. Life is hard enough. We can’t expect others to carry all of our things too.

And that’s where I am today. Right now.

That’s where many single people are. They’re not unlovable or unsexable rejects. They’re not all a bunch of emotional charity cases.

They’re just walking the path for the first time without a trail guide and learning to find their own way.

Maybe all of that changes tomorrow. Or maybe in three years. Or maybe never.

In the meantime, I must arrive at a place where I have complete and total faith in myself, and where I demonstrate a strong capacity for self-care and self-sustainability.

THEN. Then I can be a good partner to someone else in a way I wasn’t in my marriage. Maybe other people are that way too.

I don’t think we can NEED someone else.

That’s a bad power dynamic, and frankly, unattractive—so we’ll have a hard time finding viable partners like that anyway.

But we can be whole all on our own.

We MUST be whole on our own.

Because I think when we’re whole all on our own, we’ll be ready to deliver on the things we talk about around here.

How to Get Comfortable With Change

We have a tendency to resist all kinds of changes because change is uncomfortable.

We struggle with loss because life changes dramatically, and it’s uncomfortable.

We feel uncomfortable behind the wheel of a strange car, or sleeping in a strange bed, or moving to a new town, or starting a new job.

But, inevitably, if we stay alive long enough, the new things become familiar.

The new things become the new normal.

And we get comfortable.

Step 1 – Breathe.

Step 2 – Do your best at whatever you’re doing.

Step 3 – Repeat.

We all want painkillers or life hacks or magic fast-forward buttons to zip us past the shit storms, and we so rarely stop to feel grateful for the opportunity to gradually adjust to things in a sustainable way. No one would ever succeed at, or be comfortable with ANYTHING if we always hit the “Easy” button every time things got hard.

And things do get hard.

So, hug.

Cry.

Scream.

But also.

Smile.

Laugh.

Hope.

Because tomorrow comes. Just by breathing.

You start the journey crying in your kitchen alone wondering when the journey will end and someone will save you.

But after enough steps, you realize the journey NEVER ends.

And that it’s you who has to save yourself.

And that you can’t save others. You can only encourage them to save themselves.

Not with heroics or anything dramatic, but by doing the simplest thing we do absent-mindedly more than 20,000 times per day and 8 million times per year.

Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Writing a Letter Won’t Convince Him to Stay, and Your Life Won’t Be Better if He Does

crumpled paper

(Image/Recycle Nation)

My heart was in the right place, but I think maybe I got it wrong when I tried to write a generic letter in response to the question: “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

It’s not a particularly popular blog post, but it gets read a lot because people frequently type variations of that question into Google.

The combination of fear and sadness we feel when our spouses shake the foundation of our lives with comments like “I don’t know if I love you anymore,” or when they actually pack bags and leave, is a feeling hard to describe.

Abandonment hurts, even when you deserve it, because at the time you’re feeling it, you probably haven’t figured out how much them wanting to leave makes sense.

I can’t fathom how it must feel to people like children, or to excellent spouses and parents who don’t deserve it at all.

So, a bunch of people are reading this silly letter I wrote every day, and one of two things are happening:

  1. Readers are dismissing it because it’s probably a little bit bullshit to many people, or
  2. They’re ACTUALLY sending some version of that letter to their partners, and it probably comes off inauthentic as hell, because unless someone thinks and feels exactly the same as I did in January 2015, sharing a letter written by the Then-Me WOULD be inauthentic.

And this is important: Fake, inauthentic shit never works for long.

‘But, Matt! I Really Don’t Want My Husband to Leave! What Should I Do?!’

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of publishing a Q&A with author Mark Manson the day of his second book launch.

In that post, my final question to him kind of, sort of tackled WHY a stranger could never write any sort of meaningful letter that would convince a husband intent on divorce that he should change his mind.

Here’s that exchange:

Matt: The No. 1 question I get is: “How can I get my husband to understand what you’ve written here? He never listens to me any time I say anything he perceives as critical.” I care about helping others, and I believe husbands actively listening to their wives (hearing her, I mean; not following her directives) would dramatically improve relationships/marriage. What advice would you give women on how to communicate concerns or dissatisfaction in ways men are more likely to truly listen to?

Mark: Questions like this are hard because they’re so person-dependent. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing the couple. After all, maybe there’s something in the wife’s communication style that is preventing him from hearing her. Maybe the husband has some deep insecurity that is causing him to avoid dealing with the issue. It could be a million things.

But in general, the short answer, is that whenever someone in a relationship has problems with their partner, it always needs to be communicated in such a way that responsibility or blame for each person’s emotions are not shifted to the other. For instance, many people naturally approach their partner by saying something like, “You don’t care about me and make me feel horrible because all you want to do is X.” Because this is said in such a way that puts all of the responsibility on the partner, they will naturally become defensive or seek a way to avoid dealing with it. After all, I can’t control how my wife feels 24/7!

A much better way to communicate it is something like, “When you do X, it often causes me to think/feel badly because I feel unloved. Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but is there something we can do to make it better?” In this example, the person approaching their partner with the problem is owning their responsibility for their own feelings and reactions, and are looking to find some solution. There’s no blame or guilt-tripping going on. This is far more likely to be successful.

Then again, a lot of men are raised and socialized to be emotionally shut down and distant from pretty much everyone (but especially women), so it can be a much more long-term issue that may actually have little to do with the wife herself.

Idealism is Often Irrelevant in Real Life

Never lose yourself to keep someone else.

I have issues with idealism. Many of my beliefs, life philosophies and political opinions are rooted in an Ideal World.

I have a habit of forming my strong beliefs based on The Way Things Should Be (which yes, is subjective). I sometimes describe common marriage scenarios that I believe most people can relate to, and sometimes I frame them as Husbands Often Do This, and Wives Often Do That. The Mars/Venus stuff. Sometimes people get offended by that.

I do it because I believe it’s pragmatic. Because EVEN IF things ideally shouldn’t be described in terms of gender differences, I believe in Real Life, explaining it that way allows MOST people to relate to it. I think it’s likely the most-helpful way to explain relationship conflict to the regular guys and couples out there like me trying to keep their families together.

The IDEAL way would be to promote gender equality across the board, because it’s something I believe strongly in. Without all of the people who protested my word choices and story framing, I would have never come to believe what a powerful force I believe Accidental Sexism to be in the destruction of modern male-female relationships.

Ideally, you could write a letter to a husband saying all of the “right” things about why the couple is always having the same fight, and why it’s HIGHLY ILLOGICAL to leave a marriage over most common relationship problems to go be with someone else because hedonic adaptation GUARANTEES many or all of the same relationship problems will crop up with them too.

But the world is not ideal. Not even close.

I have no idea what kind of men these women are with. While I will never advocate divorce, I think it’s safe to say that at least some percentage of women are married to men they SHOULD NOT be married to.

In real life, people are broken.

I don’t want to write letters that might convince a dangerous someone to stay, or that might reinforce feelings of inadequacy within a wife desperately craving her husband’s approval.

Listen up, ladies: You might be messing a few things up, just like every other human in world history, but you don’t need to sacrifice your identity to appease some guy intent on abandoning you or your family without cause.

Either: A. You’re an obviously horrible spouse, and a very healthy, intelligent person is wisely moving on, or B. You’re experiencing the injustice of a man refusing to fulfill the vow he made to you.

And in either case, my personal goal is not to write some crap letter that can’t possibly mean much to guys on the brink of ending their marriages.

My personal goal is to encourage you to look at the mirror and not see the distorted image your broken insides trick your mind into seeing, but the human being—the most wondrous and miraculous thing the world has ever seen—who possesses the freedom and capability to wake up every day and choose to be whoever you want to be.

No one gets to decide who you are. But people will try.

And it doesn’t matter that you and I have never met for me to know this about you:

You’re already tall enough.

It takes a long time to see it. Like some dusty old antique or oil painting, it isn’t always obvious to us how much something’s worth.

But once you figure it out, you get to start feeling proud of it. You get to appreciate and value it. It gives you balance. Strength. Courage.

When you have those, you don’t plead with other people to choose you. Because YOU get to choose yourself.

People who don’t choose you back aren’t welcome in your life anyway.

So, “What should I write in my letter to my husband to make him stay?”

Maybe instead of writing that letter, you can begin the work of loving yourself as much as you deserve.

Get that part right and I’m pretty sure the rest takes care of itself.

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The Third Post-Divorce Valentine’s Day

Wilted rose sad on valentine's day

I didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t thinking about it at all. But it turns out, THAT is the entire point. (Image/freepromotoday.com)

My phone buzzed.

The text read: “I’m telling you now, so we don’t have to have a guilt-ridden conversation later. Today is my bday. Holla! And I am expecting a good V-day post in honor of it.”

“Happy birthday! A V-day post!? What would I possibly write about?”

“I don’t know! About being single on Valentine’s Day?… Unlessss… Wait, do you have another secret girl?!”

(For clarification, said “secret girl” was someone I went out with a few times, and it represented the first time post-divorce that I believed something serious might be happening. It wasn’t.)

“I do not. But I also don’t feel loneliness anymore,” I said.

“Well then. Isn’t that a post?” she said.

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?!”

“Seems self-indulgent.”

“How could it be self-indulgent when… so many people follow you with the HOPE of one day, being on the other side?! Those ‘I’m not feeling loneliness anymore’ posts are very important to your story. I think.”

Maybe she’s right.

Here’s the thing: I can’t remember me three years ago. I remember wanting to die. But recreating traumatic emotion is, thankfully, not a skill I possess.

I won’t pretend to know what other people feel at the end of their marriage. It was all, just, very bad at my house. I spent 18 months in the guest room. That’s, what? About 540 consecutive mornings of waking up and realizing your life is shitty and your wife doesn’t want you? That takes a toll.

I tried to stay hopeful.

On that final Valentine’s Day, I got her a card. The one I received came from our son, but not her. The depths of my denial were apparently limitless.

April 1, 2013 was the last time I shared an address with another adult.

Loneliness is a State of Mind

I freaked out.

I can’t explain the depths of the pain, fear, sadness, grief and anger I felt. I had no idea simply being alive could feel like that. You either know what I’m talking about, or you’re very fortunate.

In the early days, I was with friends constantly. If I wasn’t home with my son, I was out having drinks. I stayed busy and surrounded by others because spending too much time in my empty house taught me how loud silence can be.

Friends and family were checking in constantly. I have never known lonely like I did then.

Lonely isn’t the same thing as isolated.

You can be standing in the middle of a bustling New York City sidewalk and feel lonely.

And you can be sitting alone on a lakeside picnic table soaking in a gorgeous sunny day with no one in sight and be the furthest thing from it.

We can’t cure loneliness simply by surrounding ourselves with others.

It has to be the right others. But broken insides don’t heal from the outside in. The healing has to start from the inside. And we don’t have much control over how long it takes.

When you first get divorced following 34 straight years of pretty much always being with someone in public, you feel like the biggest loser imaginable when the restaurant hostess asks whether anyone will be joining you.

“Nope. Just me,” I’d say, and then imagine what she must think about me since she probably thought I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me.

I’d sit there on my phone, or with a pen and notebook, and I’d meet the eyes of other diners, all of whom had at least one person sitting with them. I felt like every one of them was sending me pity vibes each time we made eye contact.

I irrationally believed everyone who saw me could tell my wife had moved out and thought I was pathetic, when the truth is they likely didn’t give me a second thought.

When you spend 540 straight nights in a guest room, then your wife leaves you and seems a million-percent happier about it than you, really bad things happen to your mental and emotional make-up.

I wrote honest stories here about how it felt. About how afraid I was of everything. A bunch of tough guys read some of it and internet-yelled: “Be a man, pussy!!!”

But, they can all suck it.

I wasn’t broken because I was weak. I was broken because human resiliency is a finite resource, and I’d just been through some shit.

When all you have ever known is companionship and connection, being alone and feeling the disconnection of divorce and celibacy and your child being gone half the time is the recipe for profound loneliness.

And that’s what I felt. Every time I saw an old married couple. Every time I saw any couple. Every time I saw big groups of friends laughing and having a good time. Every time I returned home from a fun weekend away. Every time I walked in the door to my quiet, empty house. Every time I woke up in the morning and realized I was the oldest I’ve ever been AND that my life was worse than it has ever been.

That’s a pretty bleak and brutal realization.

The Giant Ever-Spinning Globe

It’s not something you earn.

It just happens.

You just… feel better.

You have a million questions following a painful divorce, but I think the one you care about the most is: When will I feel like myself again?

Everyone and their individual situations are different. Maybe it’s easier for people to move on when they don’t have children and don’t have to see and speak to their ex constantly. Maybe people who have been through traumatic life events prior to divorce don’t think it’s as bad as the rest of us do. Maybe some people brush off divorce easily because of their emotional wiring in the same way some people can roll their tongues while others can’t.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. That day, and many that followed, are tied for the worst day of my life.

A year later, it was still hard.

Two years later, it was much less so.

Three years later? I spent two hours yesterday morning with my ex-wife and her new significant other, and there were zero ill-effects. He’s a good guy. We have history. And I count my blessings every day that he is in my son’s life instead of an unknown entity or someone who sucks.

You don’t “earn” healing. There isn’t a “best way” to heal in order to speed up the process. If you hurt, you just hurt. And it doesn’t stop until it stops.

There are no shortcuts. Just masks. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. People use them to numb the pain. To escape.

The only escape is the other side. The only way is through it.

The Earth spins around every 24 hours. It fully orbits the sun every 365.25 days.

And here on the ground a million imperceptible things are happening inside our hearts and souls. We watch the sun rise and set. We watch the clocks tick off the minutes. We flip the pages on our calendars.

And then we wake up, and it’s tomorrow even though it felt like it was never going to get here.

The days are dark at first. We feel out of control. We sometimes question whether waking up tomorrow is even worth it.

But early in the process, I thought of something important. It’s true, and it has stuck with me, and I will never stop saying it:

Someday, the best day of our life is going to arrive. The best thing that will ever happen to us, will happen, or at least something awesome that makes every day after more inspiring and life-giving.

Someday, we will be presented with a new opportunity or we will meet someone who will maybe become the most important person in our lives.

Since looking forward to awesome things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I always figure: Why not start now?

Something good and beautiful is out there waiting to randomly bump into us in the future. Look forward to it. Choose hope.

And when that day arrives, we get to connect all the dots. We get to see how everything needed to happen exactly as it did. We get to have this beautiful and important thing in our lives and we get to know that all of the shit we crawled through was worth it because it was the only path to now.

I used to say it even when I didn’t feel it: Everything is going to be okay.

It’s three years later, guys. And everything is okay.

Today just might be the day the best thing that ever happens to me, happens.

And if it doesn’t?

I like having things to look forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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When Someday Gets Here

someday

(Image/riereads.blogspot.com)

I used to believe depression was code for “weak,” and that criers were wimpy losers.

I had heard of people described as “broken,” but I didn’t know what that meant.

Then I lost everything that really mattered to me, and I broke. So now I know what that means, and that if crying is wimpy loserdom, I was a huge wimpy loser, and that if depression is weakness, then I was the opposite of strong.

It taught me one of life’s most critical and valuable lessons: empathy.

Now, when someone is grieving, I can more accurately guess how they’re feeling and am better equipped to support them.

Now, when someone is crying, I know they shouldn’t feel shame, and that it might just be years and years of bottled-up shit coming out in an inevitable and psychologically necessary purge.

Now, I know what’s really at stake. Inside of a person. Now I know the importance of taking off masks in relationships. Of a good night’s sleep. Of the support of family and friends. Of health and wellness. Of peace.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you laying in the silent darkness. Just you. Not the one wearing any of the masks we sometimes wear at work or school or church or socially or on dates or whenever because we’re so afraid of people seeing the real us and running away or pointing and laughing or telling us we’re not good enough.

When the lights are off, and it’s just you? When you take a deep breath, and smile, and feel good, because you like and respect yourself? There is no amount of money we would trade that for. Because there is no thing in this world that can heal that brokenness. When you come apart internally, you feel it every second of every day no matter where you are.

There is nowhere to hide.

People try to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs or money or sex or other escapism. But it just follows you around because wherever you go, there you are, which is, I think, why people sometimes kill themselves. Because maybe then the hurt will finally stop.

Learning about that hurt—and what it really means to be a broken person—changed everything for me. Forever. There’s no going back after that. There’s who you were before, and who you are now. And they’re not the same.

There’s Always Someday to Look Forward To

One of the best things about writing this blog was the discovery that so many other people knew the same pain.

People here got it. People here really understood. It helped. It mattered. I’m not the only one.

One of the worst things about writing this blog more than two years later is that I’ve crawled through the shit, and now I’m pretty much Andy Dufresne standing fearlessly and triumphantly in the cleansing rain while the thunderstorm rages, but countless others are still desperate to find a way out.

Every day, someone in the throes of despair—someone who can’t even catch their breath—discovers this blog for the first time and finds a guy who was once just like them.

And then sometimes they write me: “I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?”

But you don’t make it stop.

You just serve your sentence and bide your time. And when the time is right, you crawl through the shit tunnel just like everyone else had to. No cheats or shortcuts. Just the way. And then you’re less afraid. Because freedom no longer represents the loss of everything you were ever sure of—of everything steady in your life.

On the other side, freedom looks like hope and possibility.

I didn’t get much right in the early days of divorce. But on my darkest days, I always chose hope. That part, I got right.

I’m so afraid. This hurts so much. How do you make it stop?’

It’s good to be afraid, because it’s the only time we ever have the opportunity to choose courage.

It’s good to hurt, because when everything’s broken, it’s the only way you know you’re still alive.

And it’s good that we’re forced to be patient. Because forcing things generally yields undesirable results.

I used to give myself a pep talk to maintain my sense of hope.

And now I find myself giving it to others.

In the context of the human experience, I think it’s one of the most important ideas I’ve ever had.

Someday will eventually get here.

When we feel like we lost everything—when we hit the floor and know it’s rock bottom—we have a few choices.

But there’s only one good one. And that’s holding the following truth close to our heart and remembering to breathe every day, because your only job is to stay alive:

If you just keep breathing, tomorrow always comes. Someday eventually gets here.

Someday. When it doesn’t hurt anymore. When everything will change.

Someday. When something inexplicably beautiful happens.

Someday. When you get to feel like you again, only now you have these superpowers because now you have courage and wisdom and strength that you didn’t have before.

Because of fortitude. Fortitude and breathing and bravely getting out of bed in a brazen attempt to live.

And finally—finally, dammit—you get to look at a puzzle image coming into focus. A picture of your life that helps explain that you could have never gotten to today—to someday—without every single experience before it. Even the bad stuff. Maybe especially the bad stuff.

In my experience, there is very little in this life better than anticipation. Like a child staring at unopened presents under the Christmas tree.

We don’t need much. Air. Food. Water. Shelter. And something to look forward to.

And that’s one of life’s secrets that not enough people think about: We ALL have something to look forward to. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what it looks like or when it will happen.

Someday will arrive. Every single day we wake up, someday is closer.

Sometimes someday arrives. Awesome! But now we have no idea what might happen next. Afraid! Because the unknown is scary. That’s when all that courage and something like fearlessness helps. You earned those things. You earned them by crawling through the shit.

And now the wind, thunder and lightning don’t faze you. I’ve survived worse.

And now the heavy rain feels like an old friend.

Because salvation laid within.

When someday finally gets here.

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A Post About Nothing and Everything

(Image/teepublic.com)

(Image/teepublic.com)

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen. Another one of those I-don’t-know-what-to-write moments.

“What happens if you just took a pass on writing a post for today?” a friend asked.

“I took a pass on writing a post on Wednesday,” I said.

Maybe it’s time to cut back to two days a week. Or maybe something awful needs to happen because I tend to do my best writing when I feel.

It’s not that I don’t feel. Life is just more typical of the human experience I remember having prior to all the shitty things that happened once I turned 30.

Maybe that’s something, though. Sometimes people hurting after divorce want someone to tell them how long it’s going to hurt. That’s what I wanted to know the most back then. When will I be ME again? Ever?

I kind of wanted to die for the first six months, didn’t care whether I died the following six, but noticed improvement. I don’t remember the 18-month mark which means it wasn’t that significant, and I must have felt better.

As we sit today, I am two years and more than four months away from the separation date—the worst day of my life. And I’m totally fine. Things about my life are shittier than when I was married. But some things are better. It’s how you feel when you wake up in the morning that really matters.

The “problems” I wake up thinking about today are a spoonful of sugar compared to the fuckness of divorce. I’m down nearly 20 pounds. I feel pretty good. I’m actively engaged in various business pursuits as I attempt to improve my financial standing.

It’s a very nice change. To not feel wretched all the time.

I’m not saying two years from now, you won’t hurt anymore. Everyone deals with these things differently in their own way and at their own pace. But I think MOST people are MOSTLY the same on the inside. I think you can mark your calendars for the two-year mark as a nice “I’ll totally feel better then!” benchmark. But don’t forget to be grateful each step of the way when you notice the pain fading.

It’s a slow process.

But you notice yourself breathing more easily, smiling more, living more fully, with each passing day.

As I sit here not knowing what to write, I choose gratitude for those things.

Things on my Mind

That’s usually what I try to write about. Whatever’s top of mind.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my career.

No one gives a shit. I’m not going to write about that.

I was interested in, and entertained by, last night’s GOP presidential debate even though I tend to feel mostly disgust for Washington politics (toward both major parties) and am usually politically engaged only during election cycles.

Political conversation is too divisive. Debate and defending myself exhausts me. And I’ve never (not even once) seen someone change their mind while discussing issues with someone with whom they disagreed. I don’t want to write about it.

To that end, I’ve been reflecting on relationships between people from different backgrounds or faiths or political philosophies, and whether it’s sensible for those people to try to make a relationship work.

Not unlike my general belief that couples too far apart in age are often making a poor choice in terms of sustainability, I have strong feelings about other aspects of a couple’s personality makeup as well.

I once spelled out exactly what I’m looking for in a relationship partner. It has been read just 162 times because it’s one of my oldest posts.

I went back and read it to see whether I feel differently today.

I don’t.

I’m not going to write about that because I already have.

So what am I going to write about?

Nothing.

Everything.

This.

I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter.

But I do know it’s good to be back. To recognize myself again. To feel back.

And maybe that’s what this is really about. You tell me.

*PUBLISH*

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An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 11

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

(Image courtesy of ansnuclearcafe.org)

When a conjoined twin dies, their attached sibling usually dies soon after.

In most cases, one can’t live without the other.

Occasionally, surgeons can separate the deceased twin from the other before the dead infects the living.

Maybe life goes on.

But things will never be the same.

When you exchange wedding vows, your soul becomes conjoined with your spouse’s. Every second after, your life is no longer just your own. A part of you is imprinted on her, and her, on you.

Your life just became infinitely more important than it used to be because now someone else’s life is in your hands.

Don’t Try to Fix Your Marriage

Before every flight, the attendant giving the safety spiel always reminds you that in the event of an emergency in which the plane’s oxygen masks deploy from the ceiling, parents flying with children are strongly encouraged to put on their own masks first before helping the child with his or hers.

It goes against our caretaker and unselfish instincts.

As a parent, we always put our children first.

As friends and family and co-workers, and in many other walks of life, we learn to put others’ needs before our own and are taught that this is virtuous and makes us good people.

We are sometimes taught that it’s selfish to do what we want or need to do for ourselves.

But the truth is, if you aren’t right, you can’t be good to anyone else.

If you don’t have your oxygen mask on and you pass out, you can’t save your child.

If you can’t be your true, authentic, best self in your marriage, then the union is already doomed.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

We’ve been collectively rolling our eyes at that bullshit break-up excuse for eons. But I think in the context of mending a broken marriage, the idea has a lot of merit.

Maybe two sad and angry people who feel trapped, disrespected and unloved, shouldn’t necessarily be trying to work cooperatively all the time.

I believe the right way to attack marriage problems starts with NOT trying to work together.

I’ve sat in front of marriage counselors with an angry spouse. When couples disagree, they spend the entire session telling the therapist what it is their partner does to make them feel sad, angry and miserable in front of the person they’re supposed to love the most.

I think it’s a piss-poor strategy.

Maybe if we took all the finger-pointing out of the equation, we’d see real results.

Not: She makes me feel like this! She does this to me and it isn’t fair!

And more this: What is it that I need to do to make my partner feel safe, and content, and loved, and happy?

And if your spouse is doing that same thing to you in reverse? And attempting to make internal and external changes on your behalf?

I think everyone who wants to make it, will.

I think we just have to choose it.

Rethinking the Problem

Politically conservative people are furious with the number of illegal immigrants flooding into the United States via the southern border. It’s because the undocumented people don’t contribute to the tax system but provide an economic burden on the health care, criminal justice and education systems.

Politically progressive people want to make the path to legal citizenship easier, and in the meantime, appreciate the fact that immigrants most often are performing jobs that help the U.S. economy that most Americans are unwilling to do themselves—namely low-paying agricultural jobs and others in the service industry. They believe innocent children should not be punished or denied access to health care and education because they believe in compassion and helping others and believe the government is in the best position to do it (whether or not that’s true).

Then there are people like me. I agree and disagree with both sides.

I agree that the financial strain on the system is unsustainable, and that our country is a business and should be treated like one. If you can’t pay for anything, you’re screwed.

But I also (mostly) love human beings and believe the value of a human life can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

What’s a political moderate to do on the subject of immigration?

Choose Option C. The road less travelled.

I think you solve the immigration problems in the United States by creating more economic opportunity for people in places like Mexico. I think if Mexico’s economy and health care and education systems improve, Mexicans will want to stay in Mexico, because there’s no place like home.

I vote we make Mexico so awesome that WE want to go there.

Problem solved.

Don’t sit around thinking about how your spouse makes your life miserable every day.

Think about how you can actively change yourself in an effort to bridge the divide between you and her.

Be selfish about making yourself the best you can be so that you’re strong enough to actually be unselfish when the situation calls for it.

Another Definition of Love

“I moved a step farther toward accepting my complete inability to change another person and my inability to change myself. Love has been called many things, but maybe one definition would be the utterly unbridgeable gap between any two humans and the attempt to bridge it anyway.” — from Stumble, by Heather King

It doesn’t start with her.

It doesn’t start with “us.”

It starts with you.

You May Also Want to Read:

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 2

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 3

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 4

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 5

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 6

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 7

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 8

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 9

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 10

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 12

An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 13

…..

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The Milestones

shawshank1

Right after your wife leaves you and you’re crying and barely able to breathe, the only thing you want to know is: When is this going to end?

I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but when I felt that for the first time, that’s when I knew why someone would do it. To shut it off. I was a naïve optimist who had never felt pain from life. At least not the kind that rewires you.

I liked talking to people who had been through divorce and understood what I was dealing with. I was always a little bit like “Fuck you” every time they’d sit calmly on the other side of the table with a smile on their face and assure me it was going to be okay.

They were smiling because they remembered and were so relieved they no longer felt that way.

“Just give it time. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

I wanted to punch every person who said that to me. I would scream on the inside: “You can’t know how this feels! You must not have cared as much! You must not have hurt this much!”

One time, a divorced mother told me she sometimes enjoyed when her son was with her ex-husband because she was able to do fun things that would be otherwise impossible.

On the inside, I screamed: “You’re a shitty parent then! You must not love your son as much as I love mine! I will NEVER enjoy my son not being home!”

I’ll never forget feeling that way.

The rejection fucks you good. You’re not good enough!

But then all the sudden your child is gone half the time, too, and the combination of those two radical life changes just ruins your insides.

You pray and beg for relief. You drink vodka sometimes even though you’ve always had a never-drink-alone policy. You indulge in escapism with friends and books and movies, but when you wake up in the morning, life is still real and hard.

You’re still alone.

Your heart is still broken.

Your life still feels over.

And all you want is for your friends’ predictions to come true: Everything’s going to be okay.

Lessons From the End of a Marriage

That’s the name of the blog and book written by Lisa Arends who I like and admire very much. Yesterday, she published a post called “The Shortcut for Healing After Divorce,” which I instantly clicked because I want to know the secret and tell everyone!!!

Lisa’s clever post title compelled me to read the story where she expertly told me something I’d been figuring out along the way.

There is no shortcut. There is just… the way.

Nobody wants to hear it because we all want things now, now, now. There’s no immediate gratification when your spirit is broken. The amount of love and laughter and adventure and friends and family and new life experiences it takes to recover is pretty immense.

The journey for each of us is exactly how long it’s supposed to be. I think the road is the same length for everyone, but some people are better conditioned to run to the finish a bit faster.

No tricks. No magic.

Just slow, sustainable healing as you rediscover yourself.

Andy Dufresne: Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.

Red: What’re you talking about?

Andy Dufresne: Hope.

Signs Along the Way

You’ll see them without even looking hard.

The first one I remember is that I could go have dinner with a girl without feeling that Everything is wrong feeling I’d had for so long.

And then you notice the silence at home isn’t so loud anymore. You can be there alone and just be still. And it’s home. It’s safe. It’s okay. That’s when I knew everything would be okay.

And then you develop new routines. Make new friends. Build a new life. I can do this.

And then you can drive by places that used to make you cry, but now they don’t.

And then you can walk by the very spot where you proposed to her and surprisingly your heart keeps beating.

And then you can sit with them at school events for your child and laugh like old friends.

And then you can learn about an out-of-town trip they’re taking without that familiar panic setting in: Where are they going? Who are they going with? Oh fuck. Oh shit. I’m dying.

It’s not something you could have understood two years earlier. It’s just… okay now.

You’re not dying.

It’s like magic, but it’s not magic. You walked the path.

Everything is no longer going to be okay someday. It IS okay. Right now.

You can live with your son being with the only other person on earth who loves him like you. You love him just as much, but don’t carry guilt for enjoying life even if he can’t be there, too.

You can feel tangible joy.

You can feel brave.

Strong.

I’m not just different almost two years later.

I’m better.

I am the best version of myself I have ever been.

You crawl out of the emotional shit tunnel just like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.

A huge gulp of air. Of emotional freedom.

And now anything is possible.

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Finding Yourself After Divorce (and Other Trauma)

(Image by Sheilah Wilson)

(Image by Sheilah Wilson)

When you first get divorced, everything feels wrong.

Virtually every facet of your life changes overnight and your brain and body aren’t equipped to deal with it. So for a long time, you just feel different than you’ve ever felt before. Maybe some people like it. I think most people hate it.

I hated it.

One of the most-terrified feelings I ever felt was staring at my own reflection in the mirror and legitimately not knowing who I was looking at. I don’t mean like amnesia. I knew it was physically me. But I think everyone who knows anything about divorce or serious marriage problems understands that our physical realities mean just a bit less when we’re broken on the inside.

I’d just stand there, looking into my own eyes.

Who are you? Where can I find… me?

Despite not having very much money growing up (a lot of used cars and budget grocery stores and cheap clothes), I lived an incredibly charmed life for my first 30 years.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and I was super sad to not see my dad often, I was totally immersed in a large, loving family; attended a great Catholic school in my small Ohio town (thanks, tuition assistance) and was blessed with many friends, a handful of which I stay in touch with today.

Anyone who measures their worth by career and finances need only go from my safe and charmed childhood, to my tormented and broken adulthood to fully understand how nearly irrelevant our paychecks really are.

For 30 years. Laughter. Fun. Safety. Innocence. Security. Hope. Comfort. Everything a person could want.

And then it all died.

I didn’t have my family anymore.

It was a slow death, and I think that might be the worst kind. I became more sad. More hardened. More hopeless.

I thought it was depression but I think that’s just a word we use to lazily describe the feeling our bodies naturally feel when it’s telling us to remove ourselves from bad situations. That’s just how our brains work after a million years of avoiding predators, James Altucher says. He’s probably right.

My brain was full of all these memories. All these ideas about my identity. Who I was versus who I am. And even though I’d built up decades of stories I knew about myself—who I perceived myself to be to others, and who I knew myself to be inside my own head, heart and soul—I couldn’t remember that guy anymore.

I felt—literally—as if I’d lost myself. And I didn’t know if I was ever going to get me back.

I think a lot of people feel this way after divorce or losing a loved one or going through some other radically life-changing trauma.

It’s really scary to feel that out of control.

To realize just how fragile the human experience can really be after you’d been insulated from its cruelness for so many years.

“When were you… you again?”

That’s what she asked. My friend who lost a child and a marriage within three years. Someone who’s trying to find herself physically and emotionally.

The question made me pause.

And then I realized just a little more truth.

You don’t just wake up one day and feel like your old self again. There’s no magic switch.

It’s a moment.

At first it’s a laugh and a smile. The kind you don’t have to force.

And then a series of moments that begin to compound.

Then maybe you drive by one of your many pain hot spots—because she’s in there, or often is, or whatever. But you don’t feel the stabbing anymore. You don’t want to cry.

Then a date. Then a kiss.

I can do this.

You make more friends. Have more fun. Make new memories.

I’m alive.

And then you can just sit still. All alone.

You can just be still.

And the silence is no longer deafening. You don’t feel like you’re going crazy. You don’t over-think.

You can just… be.

It would have been sweet relief had you been able to find that peace in the beginning, but there’s no shortcut to reclaiming your life.

There’s just… the way.

Maybe it’s weeks. Months. Years. I imagine everyone’s journey is a little different, and in some respects, never-ending.

You just collect the moments and hold them in your heart.

Smiling comes easier. Peace, more abundant.

Justifying all that hope you thought might have been in vain.

You can breathe again, but no longer have to force it.

In through the nose. And hold. Out through the mouth. In, then out. Don’t forget to breathe.

But when you’re you again, there’s nothing to remember. You’re just breathing.

Because you’re back. Resurrected.

Still here.

A glance in the mirror.

I know you.

Alive.

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A Vacation From My Problems, Vol. 2

I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.

I’ve been away because I went on vacation and had fun and neglected this space and other life responsibilities.

It was warm and sunny and the food tasted better than I’ve grown accustomed to in this new life where I almost never cook anymore.

Sleep was scarce and now my brain doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to and I won’t be writing anything of substance until that changes.

One thing, though: Because my family is fragmented and lives far away from me, I spend the vast majority of my vacation time visiting them. What that means is, I rarely get away on anything resembling an actual vacation.

I can’t be the only one.

Maybe you are too.

If you are: Get away.

Because there is magic outside your life bubble. The same kind of magic you feel when you write about the things you think and feel and somehow actually feel better afterward. The same kind of magic you feel when you connect with people who understand you because they’ve been there too or are walking the same path.

I’m always like: Why does this help? I don’t get it.

And I no longer ask the question. I don’t understand how my heart keeps beating, or how green plants create oxygen, or how the earth keeps spinning.

It just does. It just helps.

As my friend said: “We need time to get away and sort of escape. Even if what we’re escaping from isn’t bad!”

Excellent way of putting it.

A good way to get unstuck.

After a couple good nights of sleep, of course.

As soon as I hug my son again, I’ll be happy to be back home.

I’m already happy to be back with you.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

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