Tag Archives: Recovery

The Art of Getting to Tomorrow When Everything’s Wrong


It was exactly like those initial weeks after divorce.

I couldn’t describe what was wrong. None of my feelings made sense to me. Intellectually, I thought my body was overreacting. But our insides—all the invisible stuff that makes us, us—have a funny way of not always doing what our brains think they should.

I was robbed on a work trip to Las Vegas. They took my phone, the cash I had on me, and my shoes. I learned after visiting my bank once I got back home that they had cleaned out my checking account through a series of ATM withdraws and Venmo transfers.

I can’t prove that I was drugged. But given that one minute I was with friends listening to a cheesy Vegas cover band before leaving to use the restroom—and the very next thing I remember is waking up five hours Iater in a hotel stairwell several miles away, and apparently providing strangers with the private banking information and phone passcodes they needed to clean me out financially—I’m continuing to operate under that theory.

At the end of the day, some dickbags took my phone, wallet/money, and a pair of shoes.

People have been killed for less.

From a certain perspective, you could say I’m lucky to be alive, and that I’m fortunate to have ended up at my hotel, even if it was in a dingy metal and concrete emergency stairwell.

So why do I feel this thing I don’t have a name for?

On the surface, it’s a ridiculous comparison, right?

Divorce is hugely disruptive. Your person leaves you. Your entire life changes overnight, forever.

This was NOT that.

So why? Why is it feeling the same?

Divorce was my first encounter with inner brokenness. Things were dark and heavy and ugly and painful and scary and broken, and there was nowhere to run.

That was its defining characteristic. That you took it with you everywhere, no matter what. It greeted you in the morning. It sat on your chest as you tried to fall back asleep in the middle of the night. It sat next to you while you were driving around. It poked you and asked you to pay attention to it while you were trying to watch movies or sports. It inserted itself in your conversations with friends and family while you were just trying to have a good time like you always had.

It built and built and built until the only thing left to do was cry like a child.

And you kept waiting for it to go away, but every time you looked in the mirror, you could still see it hiding behind the dead eyes of the stranger in your reflection.

I don’t know what to call this feeling or how to categorize it.

So, I’ve always just called it being “broken.” I was once a certain way. Something that felt normal and right. And then suddenly I was something else. I was a different way, and everything about it sucked more than the old way that I’d gotten used to for 34 years.

Finding my way back from that is one of the most significant things I’ve ever done. It’s perhaps my greatest personal achievement, because I didn’t know the human body could do that, and I didn’t know whether there was any coming back from it.

But You Do Come Back

And it’s happening again.

This robbery thing broke me again for a few days. It happened last Friday. Yesterday was the first day I felt like myself again. It was the first day I was brave enough to have calls with coaching clients.

I was shaken—not just by the incident—but by the idea that I was once again feeling things in the invisible places with no means of fixing it, and nowhere to run away from it.

Feeling 80-percent regular yesterday felt like winning the lottery.

I still have no money, no mobile banking ability, and no driver’s license. But at least I get to be me again.

I’m so grateful it only took a week.

How to Recover from Divorce and Other Trauma in 3 Steps

I’d written it before, and I recognized this was an opportunity for me to try to practice things I’d preached.

When everything is very bad, we’re simply trying to survive. To return to a sense of normalcy.

I reminded myself there was no Skip or Fast-Forward button to push. That the only way anywhere sustainable is the long way.

I remembered that I only had one job. Just one.


My only job was to breathe. Just one more breath. Once I’d completed that task, my only mission was to do that again.

One more breath.

When you breath enough times today, tomorrow always comes.

And after enough tomorrows come, you find yourself further down the trail—finally a safe distance from the shitty, life-wrecking thing you were trying to escape.

Or maybe more accurately, you carried the shitty, life-wrecking thing with you as you continued down the trail, but you finally made peace with the idea of setting it down and moving forward without it.

I don’t pretend to know.

I just think there’s something important about breathing when it’s difficult to do anything else.

To recover from bad things, the three steps are:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Love yourself.
  3. Repeat.

I repeated it like a mantra six and a half years ago when I didn’t know whether I’d wake up the next day, or whether I even wanted to if there was no hope of that feeling going away.

Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.

It never happened as fast as I wanted it to. There are no hacks. No cheat codes. No magical workarounds.

There’s just the long way through. Never easy, but always simple.

Breathe. Just one more time.

I’ve breathed millions of times in my life with zero awareness that I was doing so.

So if I do it on purpose? If I try hard? I’m confident I can always take one more.

And after breathing enough times, you get to be you again. You get to wake up tomorrow where the best thing that ever happens to you might happen.

Tomorrow is a gift waiting to be opened.

When you’re ready.


You will be.

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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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The Milestones


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.


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.


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I’m On Drugs

My brain is fried. Because, drugs.

My brain is fried. Because, drugs.

I don’t know if it’s my third straight week on antibiotics, the narcotic painkillers, or all of the things in my life I’m currently afraid of (there’s a big list), but my brain is not operating at full capacity.

I try to write.

I want to tell you what’s going on. I want to make you part of the conversation. I want other people going through divorce to see how poorly I’m dealing with the fallout many months later so they can make better choices.

But I just can’t. I, literally, can’t form the words.

I just tabled a post I’ve been working on for an hour because I can’t write. I don’t know how to finish it. Or transition to new thoughts. Or say anything relevant. Or write a sentence without 46 typos in it.

To craft readable material, there are parts of my brain I need to function which don’t appear to be functioning.

I’m sorry.

Hopefully I can scrape together the mental fortitude necessary to actually write soon.

I promise I’m trying.

Drugs do not make me a better writer.

Now I know.

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The Inconvenient Truth About Divorce One Year Later


It makes you feel weak.

It makes you feel like a chump.

In manspeak, it makes you feel like a pussy.

Stage one is when your wife completely disengages and treats you, not just like a stranger—but maybe less than that, because you’ve seen her smile at strangers before. Like nothing. Like the most-inconsequential thing she’s ever known.

During stage one, your initial reaction is anger and a little bit of misplaced cockiness. She’s got the problem, not me. It doesn’t take long for the self-reflection to begin. You start to remember that you married her on purpose. That you love her above all things. So you start choosing responsibility. What did I do to cause this?

The answers hurt. When you don’t lie to yourself.

Stage two is when she leaves. Maybe you’re like me and foolishly believe she’ll be back soon. She totally vowed forever. In church! In front of all our friends and family! She’ll be back!

Surprise, dipshit! She’s serious.

Stage two is horrible. But you still have tangible hope. And hope is a critical component to living the optimal human experience.

Stage three is when you find out she’s with someone else and loves him. And she thinks you’re shit. Worthless. Pathetic.

You learn where you really stand with the person who replaced your parents as the most-important thing in your life.

Stage three is when you feel a soul-crushing rejection you didn’t know was possible.

Stage three is when you fluctuate wildly and uncontrollably between a sadness you didn’t know was possible and a rage that scares you because now even the guy in the mirror is a frightening stranger.

In stage three, you taste bile and self-loathing with every breath you take.

In stage three, you hate yourself just a little bit more than you deserve.

In stage three, you find out just how much self-respect matters to functioning as a human being.

You cannot prepare mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually for when the person you trust the most causes you the most pain you’ve ever felt.

It makes you doubt everything you have ever believed.

You die a little. You do. On the inside.

Hope becomes something you just talk about with a fake smile on your face. But you don’t really feel that way. You just know it’s the right thing to say. Fake it ’til you make it.

But when you wake up each morning and realize that thing you feared most actually happened?

You feel lost. Forsaken.

And you feel sorry for yourself.

And then you cry some more.

And then you lose even more self-respect.

Where’s your pride?, you think as you look in the mirror.

What the hell’s the matter with you?

More self-loathing.

What a pussy.

How Does It Feel When It’s Love?

Van Halen asked that in 1988 on their OU812 album.

I can’t tell you but it lasts forever.

It’s not possible, right? Not forever. I can’t tell you. It’s been a year and a month—389 days, if my math skills aren’t failing me.

Maybe it’s like maternal imprinting. Like on those occasions where an animal mother adopts a youngling from another species. Maybe I imprinted a part of me onto her that I’ll never quite be rid of.

I don’t know.

I just know that the inconvenient truth of divorce 13 months later is that I still very much love someone I don’t want to love.

I just know that when I saw her a year ago, I wanted to die, and when I see her now, I smile.

I just know that when she texted me a year ago, I wanted to vomit, and when she texts me now, it’s nice to hear from her.

I just know that I was with her and my son at our 1-year-old goddaughter’s birthday party last weekend. A large room full of people. People I only know through my ex-wife.

And there we were together, for the first time, really. The three of us.

Me. Her. Our young, kindergarten-aged son. The family that isn’t.

I just know that I liked talking to her.

I just know that when the sun hits her blonde hair just right, she looks like poetry.

I just know that I have never chose someone in my entire life other than her, and I haven’t found a way to shut that off. The anger masked it before. The fury.

But I don’t know how to stay angry. I don’t know how to maintain fury.

I just know that when she and my son drove away for Easter weekend, part of me wanted to be making that trip with them.

I just know that I almost did something I haven’t done in a long time.

I wanted to cry.

Unforgetful Me

“Oh my God, Matt. You want her back!”

Do I?

One year ago, the girl of my dreams boxed up a non-verbal “Go fuck yourself” care package and left it on my doorstep along with an imaginary photo album and highlight reel of some new guy touching my wife.

I didn’t even fight it back then.

I’d just let the scenes play out over and over and over and over and over and over again in my head.

Scenes so real, that it doesn’t matter that I didn’t actually see them.

I saw them.

I felt them.

I’m forgetful. I forget many things. But I don’t forget that.

And now I see them all the time. When I drive by that hospital. Every time. When I lay down in our bed that is no longer our bed. My own private video reel that starts playing whenever it wants.

And now maybe I never get to be me again because of it.

But back in stage one, you learned how to choose responsibility.

What did I do to cause this?

And you come full circle. Maybe it’s not your fault. Maybe you’re not entirely responsible. Maybe you didn’t deserve it.

But you could have prevented it from happening.

She used to sleep next to you every night. She used to ask you to come to bed with her.

Sometimes you said no.

You live with that.

She wanted the happy, sustainable marriage BEFORE you wanted the happy, sustainable marriage.

You live with that.

You totally vowed forever. In front of your friends and family. You could have prevented this.

And you live with that.

From Church Bells to Wish You Wells

Your brain is the most-important part of your physical body. It’s smart. Even the dumb and damaged ones like mine. Totally smart.

You can never reclaim what’s been lost. You can’t go back in time. There are no do-overs. She doesn’t want you. You are now strangers.

But your body revolts.

Maybe it’s habit. Maybe it’s psychological imprinting like we see in the animal kingdom. Maybe it’s some kind of supernatural bond I can never break.

Maybe I made that vow, and even though I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, maybe that meant more than I could ever understand.

Maybe forever is forever even when it’s not forever.

Maybe when you get the love part right, but the marriage part wrong, you have to live in this prison after it all breaks.

Maybe that’s just part of the deal you don’t find out about until you’re living there.

Maybe you spend the rest of your life in a one-man band playing songs meant for two and wondering why they always sound so shitty.

Maybe this is the curse of being a bad husband. The consequences of not doing enough. The results of falling short.

Maybe when the stakes are that high, the punishment is this steep.

A prison sentence where you involuntarily love someone you don’t want to love. Where you love someone who doesn’t love you back. Where every day your brain fights your heart. A bloody fight.

But a pointless, inconsequential struggle. Because the results are the same no matter what wins.

Maybe love—real love—is forever.

And maybe taking action today—not tomorrow—can bring you joy.

Maybe it’s time to tell her “I love you.” And mean it. And choose it.

You can stop there if you want. Maybe you’ll make it. Some people do.

Or you can take it one step further.

The part I didn’t do until it was too late.

You can live it.

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The Separation Anniversary

separation agreement

She took off her wedding ring one year ago today.

That’s when I learned she did, anyway.

It was Easter Sunday, but nothing was coming back from the dead in our house.

I will probably be doing a lot of reflecting this week.

Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage published an important post titled When Will I Feel Better?” which tackles the question every person dealing with a life trauma wants the answer to.

A person doesn’t really understand the full spectrum of human feeling until they experience a great loss. Some people lose parents or siblings or friends or someone else close to them at a young age.

But their experiences, while unfair, raise an interesting question: Are they better equipped to deal with life trauma as an adult due to being tempered in fire at a young age?


But it doesn’t matter. Because everybody is going to go through their own personal hell sooner or later. I don’t think there’s any defense except to make your life the most-balanced and content it can possibly be.

It’s officially been a year.

Do I feel better?

So Many Stages

There’s nothing one-size-fits all about any of this.

Everyone’s situations are different. And everyone’s ability to cope mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually varies for a million different reasons.

Here’s what happened at our house.

A Great Loss

Without warning, we lost my wife’s father. My son’s grandfather. The closest thing I had to a dad locally.

He was a fantastic human being.

There was nothing fair about what happened next for anyone. My sweet mother-in-law lost her husband and a home she helped build with her bare hands. My wife and her brother lost their father. A really good one. They lost the only “home” they’d ever known. Their place to go on beautiful summer days. Perhaps the perfect place to wake up Christmas morning. My son lost his grandfather. Both deserved more time with one another. I had a million things I wanted to do with those two and my brother-in-law.


And I lost my wife. Right then. It just took me several weeks to figure it out.

I’d heard of grief changing people. But I’d never seen it up close and personal.

She shut down hard.

And instead of leaning on me, she told me losing her father meant she lost the only man in her life that really mattered and made her feel safe.

She pushed me away. She said I could not help her.

That everything she thought she felt about me and our marriage was now uncertain.

That’s when I moved into the guest room.

The Guest Room

I slept in the guest room for about 18 months.

It was an extraordinarily challenging time.

Every day consisted of me waking up sad and going to bed sad and waiting for her to make a decision about whether she was going to choose to stay married.

At some point during that period, a light bulb went off. And I knew who I wanted to be.

I did the best I could to piece it all back together. Whatever I did was wrong. Nothing worked.

Sleeping in the guest room was the second most-horrible experience of my life. But that’s where I became a better man.

Whatever I am today that is good—that can maybe help people—came together in that guest room.

The Exit

It felt long and drawn out. After breaking the news she was leaving on a Sunday night, I had to work the next day and came home to watch my wife pack a suitcase for her and our son and take him to her mom’s house.

If you’ve been there, you know how surreal it feels. We’d been married nearly nine years. Your brain is in complete denial.

Maybe she’ll come back!

Maybe she just needs some time away!

And at that point, I did think she would come back. Maybe an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder situation. Or maybe she would decide to not break up our son’s home. Or maybe she would simply decide the horror of losing half of her son’s childhood seemed worse than the horror of being married to me.

This lasted exactly 11 days.

The Boyfriend

My wife was in love with someone else.

I found out 11 days after she moved out. My then-four-year-old son let it slip in a conversation when asking me if I knew the guy. It took me about 30 seconds to piece it all together. Who knows how it would have played out had he not asked me that.

That information changed everything.

I went nuclear. Not the stable kind.

Because regardless of the details, timeline, circumstances, etc.—that’s when I realized the person I thought I knew best was someone I didn’t know.

That is some earth-shattering shit. When you find out someone isn’t who you thought they were. It’s easier to deal with when it’s just some person at work, or a friend of a friend. It’s more complicated when it’s the person you married and had a child with.

This is the thing that left the biggest scar of any life event I have ever experienced.

It has poisoned me in ways that are hard to explain. The wounds have closed. The pains I feel now are merely ghost pains. But I still feel them.

I still dream about it.

I still get goosebumps when I drive by the hospital where they met.

I still cringe when I hear his name.

I have an unfair hatred for cyclists now. Simply because he was a cyclist.

I never want to go see our local minor-league baseball team for the rest of my life because that man was part of my son’s first-ever baseball game. I put a tee-shirt on my son the other day with the team name on the front. It gave me a stomach ache.

I took a girl out to dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a restaurant where I feel certain my wife ate with that guy. Ugh.

I care about being strong. I care about pride. I care about holding my head up.

But the complicated feelings associated with that entire period still course through my veins almost every day.

Almost every day, I think about that man.

And I think about her liking him. Loving him.

Our marriage legally ended exactly one week after our nine-year wedding anniversary. And that was the day I found out her relationship with that piece of shit ended.

Not even five months after she left.

Not even five fucking months.

It was good that it ended.

But it was bad, too.

So cheap, my entire adulthood.

What a waste.

Acceptance and Healing

There was no healing during those five months. None. I foolishly tried online dating because I insanely thought that if I could be with someone else that I would balance the equation and not feel as bad.

As if that would put us back on equal footing.

But I wasn’t ready to date, and I sucked at it, too.

I was so tired of feeling like I didn’t have any control. Like she had the upper hand.

But she always did.

Once that relationship was over—and I knew she and my son were in a healthier, safer place—real, actual healing finally did begin.

That was August.

And here we are. Seven months later.

And, yeah.

I feel better.

I don’t know if I’m better. Sometimes when I talk to my father about divorce and he tells me stories about my mom driving me 500 miles away from him when I was four years old, I can hear the anger and resentment in his voice. More than three decades later, you can still hear the bitterness.

Maybe I will always feel this.

Maybe that’s my penance for all the things I got wrong in my marriage leading up to it breaking.

Maybe that’s going to be part of the fuel that helps me continue to grow as my years advance.

One year later?

I can breathe.

I can laugh.

I can relax.

I can enjoy being in my home.

I can look forward to seeing a girl who isn’t my wife.

I can say bye to my son without breaking down crying after he leaves.

But, one year later?

I can’t let go of the anger.

I can’t stop wanting her to care.

I can’t shut off my desire to try to protect her.

I can’t escape the memories that haunt me.

I can’t make her stop mattering.

She dropped off our son at my house over the weekend. I asked her if I could hug her. I do miss her. I do want her to know that I’m trying hard to be a big person. That I care.

She said I could.

So I did. And kissed her cheek.

She didn’t reciprocate.

Which is okay.

Because, one year later?

A lot of things are different. A lot of things are better.

But a few things?

They’re exactly the same.

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A Glimpse

It's just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

It’s just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

There’s a U.S. military arsenal not far from where I live—adjacent to the small township in which my ex-wife grew up in Ohio.

Why here?

The story I always heard is that the government chose this area to build a military facility because it is statistically the cloudiest place in the United States—making satellite surveillance of this region particularly difficult.

I don’t know whether this really is the cloudiest place in the country. But it’s so gray that I’m not sure it matters. We have our share of pleasant weather in the summer and autumn seasons.

But winter? Even spring?

It’s certainly the cloudiest place I’ve ever lived, and that’s including two other locations in Ohio hours away from here.

A lot of clouds. A lot of gray. A lot of sad.

It’s the Great Lakes.

There’s a lot of water. And water makes clouds.

The grayness feels like a prison sometimes.

Whenever you fly out of here in particularly cloudy weather, it’s always fun to break through the cloud barrier into the clear skies at high altitudes.


Day after day after day of the clouds can sometimes wear on you. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence they call the ailment SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

But ever the positive spinster, the geographic conditions do cause one lovely side effect. When the skies are clear and the grass is green, we tend to take notice.

We tend to not take it for granted. We tend to soak it in. We tend to feel gratitude.

So it is today.

The only remnants of winter, a few small snow piles that have yet to succumb to melting.

The grass, green.

The sky, blue. So blue.

The bare tree branches criss-crossing the blank canvass, giving our eyes more access to the big, blue heavens.

It’s not forever.

It’s only a glimpse.

Merely a sample.

One small taste.

A whisper of spring.

Silent and still.

To hear the whisper.

Sudden noise may scare it away.

So it waits.

And so we wait.

So still that it lingers.

Like a promise.

A promise that tomorrow, and next week, and next month can be better than now.

A promise of rebirth.

An opportunity.

To do what we want.

To be who we want.

But, don’t hurry.

Winter’s not through, yet.

There’s still time.

For the world to spin.

For wounds to heal.

For scars to form.

For dreams to take root.

For growth.

So for now, we wait.

Not on our time.

On nature’s time.

Not what we want.

But what is right.

That sweet day, full of warmth, light and birdsong.

When new life begins.

And we climb once more.

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