Tag Archives: Trauma

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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The Truth is What We Save From the Fire

Value of hard things vs. easy things

Like vigorous exercise, a disciplined reading regiment, and giving more than we take in our marriages, there is VALUE — tons of it — in doing hard things. So maybe don’t run away. Maybe allowing ourselves to feel is THE way. (Image/Carl Richards – New York Times)

I’m afraid of someone using a circular handsaw to cut open my skull.

But I’m more afraid of dying, so if the choice is certain death or brain surgery, I would choose brain surgery.

I’m afraid of jumping off of 100-foot cliffs into unknown waters.

But I’m more afraid of being eaten by big-ass dinosaurs, so if a genetically modified hybrid Jurassic World dinosaur was chasing me, I would totally jump if the alternative was being Indominus Rex’s lunch.

Broken down in the most primitive way possible, human beings are motivated by just two things:

  1. Feeling pleasure
  2. Avoiding pain

Psychologists say most people devote more energy to avoiding bad feelings than chasing good ones.

I believe them.

It’s always the same.

Whether I’m standing poolside, on the edge of a boat, or on a sandy beach, and I know the water is especially cold (which I realize is subjective), it always takes me a little longer to brave the plunge.

The water generally validates my fears as my body revolts. I lose my breath a little. My male extremities disappear like a sick David Copperfield prank. I may or may not lose consciousness for a second. All I know is I want to sprint to warmth and dryness because swimming is supposed to be fun and not take your penis away.

However. Inevitably. In what feels like a few years, but is probably only a few minutes, your body temperature begins to regulate itself. Your breathing normalizes. Your body parts are usually all in place.

Phew.

Depending on wind and air temperature, your body often adjusts so well to the water that it begins to feel almost like a warm bath relative to the chilly air.

I was afraid to take the plunge. I was afraid of the discomfort.

But I always adapt. All of us do.

Change is uncomfortable. But we always adapt.

I allow myself to bathe in the discomfort, sometimes because there’s no other choice. But the truth hits you pretty fast: This was the only way to adapt.

We like to run from discomfort. We’re smart. We know that putting ourselves in certain situations, or subjecting ourselves to certain experiences are likely to cause discomfort. Sometimes, intense pain.

And we run.

But at some point, we realize the only way through it, is through it.

We allow ourselves to feel.

And God, it sucks.

But we adapt. We always adapt. And then some uncomfortable things no longer make us uncomfortable. Certain painful things don’t hurt as much.

Because we’re, just, stronger now.

So, Give Me The Fire

“Pain is sometimes an indication we need to set boundaries, learn to say no more often, or take better care of ourselves; but sometimes it just means that it’s human to hurt, and we need to let ourselves go through it.” – Lori Deschene

I don’t believe in fate, per se. I don’t believe necessarily that “everything happens for a reason,” because little kids get cancer. So, no.

But there is no question that enormous value can be gained from the horrible things we experience.

Maybe there were parents who weren’t very attentive to their child, and were on the fast track to divorce, but then their young child was diagnosed with cancer, and everything changed.

Maybe a sick child can teach you how to prioritize things that really matter in life.

Maybe overcoming adversity can teach them the life skills needed to handle future challenges.

Maybe the entire experience was a galvanizing moment for a struggling couple who finally learned how to choose love and practice gratitude.

Everything may not happen for a reason. But if you ask the right questions, you can always pinpoint the positive results of negative events.

If I have to choose between living with the wool pulled over my eyes, or feeling growing pains, then damn it, I choose growing pains.

I choose truth.

You fight for what you love. It doesn’t matter if it hurts.

You find out what it’s worth, and you let the rest burn.

Ashes from the flames, the truth is what remains.

– Switchfoot

Carry On, Warrior

That’s the name of Glennon Doyle Melton’s first book.

Her second book, Love Warrior, released Tuesday.

I caught a couple quotes from her recently that mattered enough for me to save them for a moment such as this.

Glennon said this in a recent Facebook post:

“I spent the first half of my life being afraid of pain. I found a million easy buttons to transport myself out of pain: Food, booze, sex, shopping, snark, scrolling.

“I was afraid of the wrong thing.

“I’m no longer afraid of pain — I’m now afraid of the easy buttons.

“Because I’ve learned that all my courage and wisdom I need to become the woman I want to be is inside of my pain. When you transport yourself out of it, you miss your transformation.

“First the pain, then the rising.

“You can do hard things, Warrior. You were born to do this.”

You will NEVER hear me celebrate my divorce. Not ever.

I failed my wife and son. I haven’t decided yet who I failed more.

It remains the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me.

Which raises something of a philosophical moral dilemma: Would I rather be married still walking through this world oblivious to the harm I cause others, to my wife’s persistent discomfort, and without the ability to help my son grow into a man capable of understanding what it takes to succeed in his human relationships?

Or… can I accept that this is what had to happen for me to arrive in a place where I have a real chance to be a decent human being moving forward?

Blissful ignorance and comfort? Or tormented enlightenment and discomfort?

I don’t know how to say that I’m happy my marriage ended, because that’s not how I feel.

I would NEVER say that I think my son’s life is better with his parents apart.

But I know how to say that I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity to experience the kind of trauma required to instill real change.

I NEEDED to hurt.

I NEEDED the fear.

I NEEDED the anxiety.

I NEEDED to break.

I NEEDED to cry.

That was my path to right now. There could be no other.

I don’t know that anyone captures the true essence of the human condition in the midst of life’s most challenging moments as well as Glennon.

I wrote about my intense admiration for her in a post last month. And it’s because I am magnetically drawn to people like her — people who accept responsibility for their life choices, who don’t blame others for their problems, who courageously admit their flaws for the sake of helping and encouraging others, and are the ones willing to stand up and raise their hands to say: “This is what it’s REALLY like when I’m not pretending to be who I think everyone wants me to be!”

Because then we all get to feel a little more “normal” afterward. It takes the brave people admitting things for us to realize we aren’t the only ones with those same feelings and fears.

It takes courageous people to teach us how to live courageously.

From Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens’ story about the Love Warrior book release.

“It’s a beautiful lesson for each of us who takes on the responsibility and privilege of partnering and parenting: Do it authentically.

“I asked Melton if it’s daunting to embark on such a public life — book tour, speaking gigs — on the heels of announcing her separation.

‘I’m used to going out all busted up,’ she said. ‘It’s where I’m most comfortable. Now, more than ever, people don’t want shiny, perfect.

‘Lovely and easy and shiny people are really comfortable talking about their problems when they’re over,’ she continued. ‘We’re not allowed to struggle until after we’ve done our victory lap. That’s fine, but it’s less helpful than hearing from people in the trenches. How do I show up in the during? Maybe this all happened to me so I can go out there and be seen in the during.’

Thanks, Glennon.

I know exactly what you mean.

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Can We Trust Ourselves After Divorce?

steel bars

Swords aren’t swords until they’ve been tempered and formed.

You know it when you hear a song.

You know it when you take a drink, read a book, or see a piece of art.

You know it when you have a new experience, or travel for vacation, or attend a party.

There is rarely ambiguity: It was either good or bad. You either liked the experience or didn’t.

We spend our entire lives trusting our own judgment. Sometimes there’s risk assessment involved—Can I get through this yellow stoplight before it turns red? Sometimes it’s as simple as trusting the colors we see, and the words we hear, and our spatial awareness as we constantly move around, and our memory of—everything (who we are, where we live, the best route to work, 3+7=10, and our phone number).

We spend our entire lives trusting that the things we see, hear, touch and experience are real. That we’re not insane.

And unless we are totally and completely crazy, everything (except for all the silly things we make up in our heads out of fear and insecurity) we experience reaffirms constantly that we can trust ourselves.

I was always right.

I mean, lighting that 101-proof shot on fire and drinking it in college showed poor judgment.

And I probably should have realized more quickly that Gay Dave was trying to sleep me that one time.

And sometimes I miscalculate stuff and suffer consequences large and small for doing so.

But mostly? I was always right.

The grass really is green. I caught the football because I correctly guessed where it would end up and my hands did what they needed to in less than a second to not drop it. I always remember my birthday and social security number and address and telephone number.

When I do X, good things happen. When I do Y, bad things happen. I know the difference. I can trust myself.

I think most of us are pretty good at this. Every second of our lives, we exercise judgment, and we’re mostly rewarded for it by virtue of not being dead.

But Then Something Happens

I have no idea what.

One time I got super-intoxicated and got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the restroom, and that’s when my wife started yelling at me, which was REALLY annoying because Leave me alone while I’m relieving myself! I really have to go! before waking up enough to realize I had just peed all over a bunch of my own clothes hanging in my closet.

That was life-changing in that it was the first documented instance of me losing total control of myself. Proof that I can’t always trust myself.

But not even that did it.

My marriage ended.

Not in some explosive, dramatic sort-of way. It was—for me—an imperceptibly slow death by a thousand pinpricks I didn’t recognize until there was no going back.

And after 34 years, everything in my life I felt sure of went up in smoke. I freaked out. And there are a lot of reasons people freak out when their marriage ends. But one of the reasons doesn’t get talked about very much. For many people, divorce is the thing that shatters our illusion of good judgment. Once you have invested all of your time and money and dreams and future plans in a failed marriage, you realize something terrifying: I can’t trust myself anymore.

At first I was all jacked up and didn’t even know who I was looking at in the mirror. I sort of looked like me, but my insides told me everything I needed to know: I WASN’T ME ANYMORE.

And that shakes you. Hard. You don’t even get to be the old you again once you lose your I-can’t-trust-myself-virginity. That person is gone forever.

And then you wake up every day a little less sure of yourself.

You’re scared when you used to be brave. You’re insecure when you used to be confident.

You engage in self-loathing and self-destructive behavior because fuck everything.

The Next Chapter

Other life trauma can trigger the terrifying I-can’t-trust-myself-anymore feeling, but for those experiencing it because of divorce, many people insanely, but understandably, try to date while they’re totally messed up and unable to recognize their own reflections.

It’s because people enjoy being kissed by someone who likes them, and being alone all the time feels lonely and foreign to people accustomed to marriage and companionship.

Fools rush in.

We see it all the time. That shit usually crashes and burns.

Others harden their hearts because of anger.

And others build walls around them because nothing feels scarier than going through that again.

But time marches on, and stuff that used to hurt stops hurting. Things, just, get better. Like magic.

If you just keep breathing and stay alive, the pain resides, the fear lessens, and our smiles return.

We’re not our old selves anymore. We can never be.

But we start living again. We start feeling again. And, even though it seemed impossible just a couple years ago that we could ever be with someone else, it starts to feel possible.

We meet people we like. Sometimes we sabotage it. Maybe for good reasons. Maybe for bad ones.

More time.

More people.

When it’s time to make a decision, how will we know?

When life teaches you unequivocally that you can’t trust yourself, how can you trust yourself? When there’s so much at stake? When there’s so much to lose?

And then I look around. My fingers almost always hit the right keys. I hear the music. I feel the keyboard. I see the sky, and I’m smart enough to know it’s not really blue, but that light refracting off a zillion air particles makes it look that way to our eyes even if I don’t have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads proving it in a dangerously awesome and random color-science demonstration.

I don’t think we ever get to fully trust ourselves again. I think it’s probably always scary now.

You can’t buy heartache insurance. You can’t sign up for a membership to the Easy Life Club. You can’t be assured nothing bad will happen tomorrow.

You only know that, no matter what, you can handle it.

How will we know?

I don’t think we ever know. But I know we never fly without taking the leap.

So maybe now it’s not about trust anymore.

Maybe now, it’s about faith.

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