Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “anger at your ex

Another Reach for Power and Control After Divorce

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There should not be so much anger six years after my divorce. There should not be so much anger ever.

I’ve been divorced for six years. My ex-wife is “happily” remarried and yet still somehow furious with me. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. But I think  you get over your ex and move on. That’s the path to healing. The other, the obsessive hate, is corrosive to everything and everyone around you. Unfortunately my kids live in that environment 70% of the time. The good news is they have come out okay. At 13 and 15 I find them charming, well-balanced, and loving kids. My ex, not so much.

There’s some sort of power and control going on here, even now. She wants to know what companies I’m applying to? She wants to make sure I don’t try to skip out on the AG’s payments when I get my new job?

A great example of the game she’s still playing happened last week.

I am in the process of applying for a lot of jobs these days. And recently, with a financial institution, they let me know a credit check would be part of the final approval of me as an employee. Well, since my ex-wife sent my ass up river to the Attorney General’s office there’s a nifty little red flag on my credit report that says I’m a deadbeat dad. (Thanks ex, that’s really helpful.)

No, generally the AG’s office is reserved for deadbeat dads. Here’s a few definitions of deadbeat dads.

  • Skip out on financial responsibility for their kids
  • Hide money to keep from paying appropriate child support
  • Move away from their kids to keep from paying or being emotionally available
  • Refuses to take responsibility for their kids, financially, emotionally, physically.

I’m none of these things. Here’s what happened. I was working for a small business. The small business lost their main client. I lost my income. I told my ex-wife I would be getting behind while we looked for new clients. She waited exactly two months before filing against me with the AG’s office. Somewhere, somehow, she believed she was working in the best interest of her kids.

I had been talking to a friend who worked for the AG’s office (still does) at that time. I told her, “They do not provide the service you are thinking of. We should work it out between us. Bringing them in is only going to complicate things.” She filed anyway.

Today the AG’s office has a lien against me for the child support payments I missed during my period of unemployment. I asked my ex at that time, “Do you think I’m hiding income from you?” “No,” she replied. “Do you think I’m not looking for a job as hard as I can?” “No,” she said. But somewhere in her “still angry” brain she felt justified at turning me over to a glorified collections agency. And all hell broke loose at that time. Here’s the kicker: she knew the AG’s office would severely fuck with me and she did it anyway.

Did she get her money any sooner? No, because, as I’ve told her repeatedly, if there’s no money coming in there’s no money for either of us. She seems to understand this, but it makes her furious. Anyway, jump forward to last week and this financial institution I’m trying to land a job with. I had to ask my ex wife to write me a note saying I’m a good dad, and explaining that the lien is simply a financial issue we are dealing with together. Wow, that made me feel like I was getting a permission slip in kindergarten.

There’s so much anger coming from her side that this latest move felt normal. I mean, why would she want to give me anything that makes it easier for me?

But it gets better.

As she agreed to write the letter, she also asked to know the firm I was applying with so she could write it specifically to them. I was confused. “Can’t you just write me a “to whom it may concern” letter?” Her new husband said it would carry more weight if it was written specifically to the employer. “Great,” I said. “Then I need three more letters.” And she produced them.

There’s some sort of power and control going on here, even now. She wants to know what companies I’m applying to? She wants to make sure I don’t try to skip out on the AG’s payments when I get my new job? More likely she’s just being mean and finding a way to stay in control. And she is in control. But now each day I’m going to ask her for more letters. And she will write them. I guess this will continue until either 1. I have a new job, or 2. she gives up control and writes me the “to whom” letter.

There’s so much anger coming from her side that this latest move felt normal. I mean, why would she want to give me anything that makes it easier for me? And how better to keep on top of me than to require a letter of release for each potential employer.

Oh the joys of a power-hungry ex-wife. Blessings on her. I hope someday she forgives me so she can turn around and finally forgive herself for deciding to exit our marriage.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When Will I Get Over My Divorce?

OFF-jumpdad

This is really a continuation of my rant that began here: Money is a Bitch After Divorce

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question.

As rants go, I think mine a pretty tame. It’s not because I don’t have access to my anger and vitriol. It’s more because I’ve been tempering my temper for so long, I’ve sort of internalized a lot of the anger. Maybe that’s what’s making me fat again. Or maybe it’s the stress of working a job and getting less than 50% of my take home pay. (Wait, I thought there was a clause in my decree that… Oh wait, with two kids they can take up to 60% of your take home pay.)

Money

When you have kids together you enter a pact. For better or for worse you are going to do whatever it takes to make their lives easier. In our case we agreed to split the chores of parenting 50/50 (as much as that is possible). And we agreed that I would continue to work full-time while she took the time she needed to parent, nurture, and do the mom-thing. It was how we saw the world together as parents. Or should I say, as married parents.

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question. In our case the idea of a 50/50 divorce was tossed out the window like a novel idea. Perhaps back in 2010 it was. And in the process, I agreed to a non-custodial, SPO (standard possession order), child support package. The problem was, my job had just ended, and while I was in some late stage negotiations with a company, after the decree was filed, the job fell through. So we calculated my child support amount on the potential job that fell through. It actually took me an additional four months to find full employment. And for each of those months I was still on the hook for the full amount.

And over the last five years, I’ve had various employment statuses. It’s sort of the nature of this unstable employment market. But the amount of child support I agreed to, back when I was blinded by the sadness of the proceedings and wanting to find the path of least resistance to get out, stayed the same. Today I still end up paying my ex-wife on behalf of my kids, about 2,300 a month. (1,200 in child support, 1,100 in health insurance) To be fair that insurance money doesn’t go to her, but the number represents my contractual obligation and my current employer does not provide insurance. Here’s how that works out in real dollars earned.

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So let’s see, I need a $36,000 pay check just to pay my child support and insurance? (I pay the taxes on the money before I pay her. And I don’t get a deduction.) That’s a lot of work. And if I want to provide for any kind of shelter or amenities for myself and my kids when they are with me… Well, obviously I’ve got to work a lot harder.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs.

And this sucks. I understand the idea behind it. And I also understand that I have to lawyer up to make a change to this amount. So, at this point, I’ve chosen to let the decree and this financial obligation to remain. “It’s for my kids,” I say to myself when I receive my portion of my salary.

When am I going to be over my divorce? Um, in about 5+ more years, when my second child turns 18.

Time

For this imbalance in money obligations I also get an imbalance in time with my kids. And if I try and see this as a benefit I can understand how dads began to get the reputation for being uncaring and stoic. I’ve had to stoic-up a bunch to make it though the extended weeks without my kids. And some weeks are better than others. Some weeks I can even imagine that I’m paying my ex-wife for services rendered as a child care provider. That’s funny for a minute. And then the next emaciated paycheck arrives.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs. The real time lost was when they were 7 and 9. Those were the years when they could’ve (I could’ve) used more closeness, more masculine nurturing, more dad. But that’s not how it worked out. And today, I’m resolved that I’m doing the best I can with the time I do have. Again, that’s the decree, that’s the way the State of Texas tends to divide the baby, so to speak. Moms are the nurturers and dads are the bread winners. I hope this continues to be challenged as a hurtful stereotype that does an in justice to the dads and the kids.

Anger

I think the real measure of being “over it” for me is how much anger I still have towards my ex-wife.

Today: not much.
Tomorrow: who knows, but she still pulls dramatic somersaults that can trigger me, so I’m not done.

I think for me, getting over the injustice of the divorce system and the divorce decree I signed was the biggest part. Well, okay, getting over her turning our affairs in to the AG’s office for collections was pretty bad too. (She knew I was unemployed and trying to save my house, but oh well…) Yep, I even have to get over that past “fk you” to move on with my life.

Do I get to leave it all behind like I did with my first crazy wife? No. With my kids involved my ex-wife is part of my life for the duration. Yes, I’ve heard of people truly walking away after their kids leave for college, but I’m pretty sure in this economy we’ll be dealing with each other and negotiating about money for a lot longer.

Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

I smile at the thought that our negotiations about money might move to a more equitable and fair percentage. And I wish there were some way for me to share with my ex-wife the feeling of futility and hopelessness that comes from landing a new job and learning that even with this new title, new salary, and new health benefits, I can’t afford an apartment or get a loan for a used car. Oh, but that has a lot to do with the AG’s office.

Am I still mad at my ex-wife?

Most of the time no. On payday, just a tiny bit. On some dramatic outburst about something, a bit more. On the AG’s office, well yes, that one I may not ever be able to forgive her for.

But I don’t let those feelings color my life much. They are still there, under the surface, if I’m honest with myself. But the degree to which the “divorce” stuff bothers me is very slight indeed. And for me that’s the main thing. Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

To those questions I must answer a resounding YES.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Trusting Your Unreliable Ex

OFF-stones

The course of divorce is long and winding. You have good weeks, good days, maybe even good periods, but something is bound to come up. At some point during my 5.5 years of being a divorced dad and coparent to two great kids, my ex-wife decided that rather than negotiate and work with me on the money part of our contract, she would file everything with Attorney General’s office with the state of Texas. I’m sure, somewhere, she thought she was doing the right and responsible thing.

That action has caused repercussions in my life, chronicled here in this blog and thought the time since being listed as a dead beat dad. Not because I was refusing to pay, but because I had lost my job and was unable to pay child support and keep a roof over my head. But at that time, she was not concerned or even considerate of me, the father of her children. She wanted her money. And some part of her afraid mind made her feel threatened enough to turn me over to the state to deal with.

She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break.

The consequences of that action now carry a weight in our relationship that is hard for me to ignore. I should forgive and forget, right? I mean, “in the best interest of the children” I should always strive to be positive and accepting of my ex-wife and her requests. But there’s this sword that’s kind of over my head. I suppose if she got mad she could get the police to arrest me and put me in jail for back child support. It’s not that I’m hiding the money. It’s not that I diverted any of my income to extravagant luxuries, or that I squandered away money that should’ve gone to her. No, she’s simply entitled to the money, due to the contract we agreed to when we got a divorce, and she wants the fucking money.

I tried, and am trying to work out the details yet again with her. But now we don’t have any way of negotiating between us. If we wanted to change anything it would require lawyers and more money. And yet we have to continue parenting together. We have to put the loving parent face on for our kids. And we have always agreed to keep money disagreements out of the parenting work and out of our kid’s lives.

And yet, there it is. I have a huge black mark on my credit that hinders me in getting a car, a job, a rental house. And I won’t get that mark off my name and credit score until I have paid her in full, all the child support she is owed, past, present and future. But here’s the rub. That was ALWAYS my intention. I have never attempted to hide or keep secrets from her regarding my work or my commitment to pay. Yet, in spite of my pleadings with her, and in spite of my promises and agreement to be more transparent about my financial plans, she brought in the state to account for my delinquency.

Maybe it was a punishment and she was mad. But today it gives us no room to discuss other options for payment, or delays or transfers to other things that the kids need money for, like summer camp. Nope, the state knows the divorce decree and any changes will require legal fees. So I’m a little stuck. When she said something like, “And we can talk about reducing the child support accordingly,” as it relates to the story below, I have to wonder… Does she get it? Does she register it was a mistake and now limits us and severely limits me for the next 6 – 7 years?

I don’t know. But it puts a bad taste in my mouth when she asks for changes and hints that we could offset some of the money I owed. Because we BOTH KNOW that THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. She’s happy to let the clock roll and her money clicks along, rain or shine, regardless of what job I have or if I am able to have a place to live. Again, I understand her priority to protect and provide for the kids, but their OUR kids. And my health and welfare is also in the equation when measuring out the relationship between the four of us. She obviously doesn’t see it this way.

+++

My exey asks for things, and she’s good at it. She’s always asked for what she wanted, regardless of the cost, regardless of the consequence. I think the divorce happened a lot along those patterns as well. And were at it again.

So, it’s easy to ask for an adjustment in the schedule. And two years ago when she was dating a new man I agreed to alter the parenting plan to her alternating weekends so they matched up with his weekends. I didn’t need to do it. I actually lost my occasional double weekend in the bargain. But there was no reason I could think of to deny her request, except to be mean.

There are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments.

And more recently, she’s been asking to switch up the parenting schedule in a big way. To go on a more “week-on-week-off” schedule. The reason, she says, is to alleviate the multiple house changes each week for the kids. And yes, there is some frustration about the constant moving, but I don’t think that’s the real reason she’s asking for the change. It could be. But I’ve come to be skeptical of her good faith requests, they usually pack something underneath.

Now, I don’t think she’s suggesting this new schedule to be mean, or to upset the growing relationship in my life. But I also, don’t fully trust WHAT she is asking for.

Here’s my take. She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break. She’d like me to take more school mornings. Just as she’d like me to be more attentive, more responsible, and better at helping out. “Wait, that sounds like when we were married.”

In the bargain, that I cut in the closing days of my marriage, I agreed to the standard possession order (SPO) and non-custodial parent role. I was asking for 50/50 parenting back then. But that would’ve been a very different outcome. As it stands, I am obligated to pay her 1,150 per month in child support for the remainder of my kids pre-18 years.  And for that hefty stipend, I get less time with my kids. I guess so I can go earn the extra money.

Okay, that’s the way it is. And then she felt it necessary to file with the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the child support, even though I was talking to her and never trying to withhold any money that I had. So that’s put us in a difficult (correction) that’s put me in a difficult situation. She’s owed the money if I have a job or not. She’s owed that money, AND I’m responsible for the kids insurance as well.

She even hinted that we might consider a reduction in payments if we went to this new schedule. (Something she’s never mentioned before. Even as she’s riding behind the AG’s enforcement.)

It’s hard to trust your ex-partner when they have done so many things to hurt you. When they have put the state’s attorney on you that allows for zero flexibility and zero negotiation. So as far as that money is concerned, it’s hers and the state will extract it from me and tack credit crushing levy against me until I’m caught up again.

So in that light she’s asking to get fewer mornings as the custodial parent. She wants the money, the 50/50 schedule, and it’s really because of the kids.

I’m not so sure and I’m even considering giving back the off Fridays. If it’s about the kids switching, we can reduce that. But if it’s about the school day hardships, well, she’s already taken most of that early school years from me, so she can deal with more of the teenage years as well. I mean, as long as I’m paying for her to handle more of the kid care, at least I should get that benefit.

Yes, it is because of the kids. Yes, I would like to make my kids happier about transferring from our two houses less. But there are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments. And I’m standing firm that this request is about the kids and her. And my response will be most appropriately focused on the kids request rather than hers.

It’s hard to keep up the positive attitude with so much sludge under the bridge, but that’s the only choice I have. But when she is requesting a major schedule change, this time I’m going to remember MY requirements, and also what’s best for me.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Ex and Her Anger: Give Me a Bullet to Bite On

OFF-delete

It’s still hard for me to imagine that my ex-wife sent me into collections for child support. In some foreign state of mind she was doing the best she could. She claimed she was protecting the best interests of our children. But, wait…

Even as I try to make nice and stay positive with my co-parent, things are not easy.

I was not hiding. I was not lying about my current situation, but some how she was convinced that sending my file to the Attorney General’s Office was the right thing to do. Well, it’s seriously messed me up. And there was never any call for it. I told her what was happening when my company lost a significant client. I told her I would be late for a bit while I tried to catch up. I told her to be patient for a month and I would give her constant updates on the status of our new business pitches. I told her everything I could except when, exactly the next check was going to show up.

I’m not sure how we got to this point. I’m certain she had lost trust in me long before then, and this was the “issue” that kept coming up between us. My trustworthiness.

Somehow, we agreed to keep the kids out of our money troubles. I’m grateful for that. But the antagonistic and punitive actions she took were unnecessary, uncalled for, and will continue to do damage to my prospects for employment and housing long into the future.

Do you think she wanted me NOT to have a house? I don’t know. Do you think she was in danger of losing her house? No. So what’s the rationale for throwing your former partner under the legal bus? When we paid more money on our parenting plan than our legal divorce, we were agreeing to divorce compassionately. But somewhere along the road of surviving as co-parents, that compassion turned cold.

Again, I want you to know this was not a dead beat dad manuveur. I was not carping away from my financial responsibility. And I am NOT in any way trying to get out of paying. In fact, I’ve been paying 20% of every thing I make for a while now. It’s not enough. It’s not going to get me out of debt to the AG’s office. No, she’s gone and dinged my credit for the long haul. And today, when I was turned down for a RENTAL property, the credit issue about Child Support came on like a shameful curse. There was no discussion about the situation, just a big fat NO. Obviously, I was a dead beat dad. Why would anyone rent to someone so evil.

Except that’s not what happened. That’s not what’s happening. And even as I try to make nice and stay positive with my co-parent, things are not easy. And today, I had to simply shrug my shoulders as the realtor relayed the news. There’s absolutely nothing I can do at the moment that I’m not already doing.

See, to support yourself and make hefty child support payments to your ex, you need to have a pretty substantial job. Freelance, self-employment won’t cut it. Since the divorce took all of my nest egg with it, I have no cushion. So even when I felt like I was doing okay, even when I was caught up, I was scraping pretty close to the bottom of the available cash flow. And one change, put me under water.

Had she been civil, had she remembered who it was she married, she would’ve been able to see I was not lying. She should’ve been able to understand that I was desperately trying to keep a roof over my head, and when they were with me, my kid’s heads. But she didn’t care about that. I can’t imagine the thought process. I can’t imagine taking such a horrible swing at her for any reason. Infidelity, lying, cheating, nothing could cause me enough pain to strike such a hurtful blow at my former spouse.

She was tired. I didn’t do enough to help. And there wasn’t enough money for us to continue the way we were going. Always.

But her mind doesn’t work the same way as mine. And even before we divorced, she had been withdrawing emotionally and physically from me. She had stopped hearing my love songs. (I was still writing them at the end.) She had stopped recognizing my efforts. Sure she decided to break up the family rather than work on what what separating us, but even that was forgivable. It’s okay that we’re not married any more. And I do still hope she is happy in her new relationship.

She wasn’t at risk of losing her house. She didn’t have to strip her retirement account of all funds. She might have wanted more stuff, and more security, and more leisure time, but that was one of her constant choruses. That was always the issue. She was tired. I didn’t do enough to help. And there wasn’t enough money for us to continue the way we were going. Always.

Always as it is and shall ever be. So at some point that disconnection turned into anger. And at the first sign of blood she went in for the kill, rather than remembering that I was also the father of our children.

There was an amazing moment, when things were just beginning to get frosty between during the first month I was late with my child support payments. In an email she said, “Some how you think your bills and expenses are more important than the expenses and bills of your children.”

I counted that I was just trying to keep a roof over our heads. I shared my progress on job hunting and client hunting. But she hadn’t ever been very trusting about future plans, future hopes, future promises. So something clicked over for her, something inside her changed and she no longer saw me as a co-parent. She wanted her money. She needed her money. And if I wasn’t earning the money, maybe she’d give me some incentive.

Except that’s not how it works. I was incentivized. I was struggling and ashamed of my flailing career. I knew I would get back up. I knew I would get caught up on all of the money she was entitled to. But she didn’t know it. And she didn’t believe it. Somewhere, somehow she imagined that I was going to try and skip out on my debt and responsibility to my kids? WHAT?

I’m working hard to keep her in my prayers and well wishes, but it’s all I know how to do. Any action that hurts my ex-wife immediately hurts my children.

There is no way she could believe that. I kept asking her if she was getting prodded by her father to enforce the decree and turn me into the authorities. She flatly denied it. And yet she kept threatening, and by the end of the 2nd month, I suppose she’d waited long enough. She would no longer meet with me face to face about anything. She was shutting me out emotionally and physically. (She’d actually been building up to that for some time.) And somehow she must not have understood the ramifications of her actions. Because if she did actually understand that her angry slap was going to cause me to lose my house, cause me to lose several job opportunities, and now, even at the dawn of my new job, cause me to lose a rental house for me and my kids. Can I imagine actually doing something so damaging to my ex-wife? Never. In fact, just the opposite. I strive to keep 100% of my anger out of our parenting agreements.

Even now, even as her AG-move has caused me untold grief, I’m merely writing about it here in my anonymous blog. I’m working hard to keep her in my prayers and well wishes, but it’s all I know how to do. Any action that hurts my ex-wife immediately hurts my children. We are all deeply connected.

She is still unable to to see that. Even now, her actions do not show gratitude, they demonstrate her anger. Something about the entitlement to the money, the house, the good life. I don’t know. But she seems satisfied in her justification for everything. There’s no sense talking about it. Why poke the bear? Except I’m still getting poked, caged, and wounded over something that should’ve been collaborative and cooperative, like our divorce.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Of Course You’re Not Happy With Me, We’re Divorced

my jackass sequence to recovery

And I want to do better, and I want to not enjoy just a smidgen of her troubles… But she can still make me madder than anyone else on the planet. And that’s understandable, she’s my ex. Legends about the evil ex abound. There are even Twitter hashtags devoted to the cult of the ex. Of course, she’s not that bad. (On Twitter see #thatswhyyourmyex)

My unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness.

In fact, in this fourth year since our divorce, I am working to release her from the evil ex moniker. But a little healthy anger can sometimes help, if we know how to use it appropriately or dispose of it. Keeping your anger inside is a known stress booster, it shortens your life and lengthens your belt size.

I’ve been framing up something I’m calling The Divorce Recovery Roadmap, and anger plays a very critical role in this growth through and ultimately freedom from anger at your ex. I believe anger is part of the engine that got me out of my depression. When my world was shattered, even if I was complicit in the dismantling, it wasn’t until I found my anger, and began to voice it, that I started to recover my authentic self.

I’ve talked a lot about the self-awareness part of my recovery. And I will state it again as clearly as I can. Divorce has been the most devastating event in my life. And it has transformed me, sometimes by fire, sometimes by tears, back into the happy and creative individual I was before the divorce, maybe even before the marriage.

When I started this blog, even as I was still living under the same roof with my ex-y, I tapped into the vicious anger that was brewing inside. “What? You’re fucking giving up on me?” I wanted to rage. But I wrote it instead of yelling it. And it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was hurtful and spiteful. As if I wanted to say, “If you’re taking me down, I’m taking everyone down with me.”

But the fight wasn’t with my ex-y at that point. The fight of your life, the recovery from the wounds of divorce, is with yourself.

In that summer of discontent, when I had lost everything and was living with my sister, basically homeless, I raged. I wrote the FUCK YOU that I couldn’t say. I got a few pats on the back for the blog and pressed on, and eventually found my voice, with The Off Parent.

Then she found out about the blog and called me on the phone.

“I found The Off Parent.” she said.

“Okay.”

“And I want you to take it down. It makes it too hard to trust you. And we’re trying to raise these two kids together, and it’s just too hurtful.”

At that moment, I was so distraught at my situation, and my self-pity (we’ll get back to that in a minute) that I simply said, “Okay, I’ll take it down, now.” And I mothballed the blog.

What was not apparent to me at over the next month of so, was how quickly my unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness. I didn’t get suicidal until the following summer, but I lost touch with my anger at her. Healthy anger. Anger that needed an outlet.

In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well.

I crumbled. And maybe that’s when I hit what alcoholics refer to as rock bottom. Because I started feeling really sorry for myself. I started placing the failure and blame on myself, on the things I did or didn’t do. When, in fact, I made numerous pleas with my ex-y to stop and reconsider her request for divorce. I wanted reconciliation, I wanted change. But I didn’t want a divorce.

I had been exposed to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a long time ago, when I started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, back when that movement was emerging. And some of the principles I learned, still guide me. But in my despair I grabbed onto two AA principles that lifted me back from the dead, even without this blog.

The first principle was Self Pity. It is one of the core shames we learn when we are raised in broken or breaking homes. As we uncover just how horrible things have been, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves and our plight. (This is magnified 100-fold for folks battling alcohol addiction, so I don’t mean to make light of it.) In my case, as I was in my sister’s house, basically breaking down mentally, was this sorrow at what had become of my beautiful life. My regrets and should’ve-dones became like a mean Greek chorus shouting me down as I tried to find my footing as a single late-forties man. Man In Divorce, it’s a thing.

I started reading some recovering alcoholics notes on the web. I attended a few AA and Alon meetings to remember how miserable I was, and how far from those darknesses I still was. And the idea of getting over my self-pity, my wallowing in my own stew of misery, was a good one. I wanted to comply, to shake it off, and to grow up and grow a pair, but it wasn’t that easy. Those AA slogans are great when you finally believe in them. Initially they come across as unhelpful platitudes. Still I grabbed on to the life ring of Self Pity and waited for someone to pull me back to safety.

Of course, that’s not really what happens either. Not in real life, anyway. So I slogged on. Read some AA material and tried to apply the maxims to my life. Live and let God. Giving up my pain and process to my Higher Power and all that. But it wasn’t until I hit the next gem of wisdom that I finally got moving.

I was reading a blog about recovery and the phrase that struck a nerve with me was “Take Massive Action.” The idea is, in recovery from addiction it is not enough to go to meetings, say the sayings, read the literature, you could not dabble in your recovery process if you were serious about getting well. In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well. And leave no little pockets of doubt that you could fall back on later.

I needed to build and agree to my own Massive Plan of Attack. Here’s what I did.

  1. I enrolled in an Aikido class that was a few miles from my sister’s house and I agreed to go to class 3 or more times week.
  2. I enrolled in a divorce recovery class that started in two weeks, based on the book When Your Relationship Ends.

And two weeks later I was already feeling the changes as I attended the first night of the divorce recovery class. And when I started hearing this masterful gentleman talk about the divorce recovery process I knew I had hit a vein of gold. Here were 20-or-so men and women in various stages of divorce and willing to admit that things sucked and we needed help.

The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.

And that first week after the class we were required to call at least two other classmates and check-in on the phone. I remember really hitting it off with the first person I called. And as we chatted she let me know she was a recovering alcoholic. She became one of my champions in my Massive Action campaign.

I called her a few days after our first phone call and said, “I don’t want to go, and you don’t need to call me back, because I’m going to my Aikido class right now. I’m not happy about it, but I wanted to let you know I was going. Fuck.”

(People in that class liked to cuss a lot. And fuck seemed to be one of the best words in use. Maybe because none of us were fucking.)

And so my massive action plan began to take shape and I began reshaping my relationship to the divorce. More importantly, I began reshaping the relationship to myself.

About seven weeks into the class comes Anger Night. Essentially you go through a process of expressing all the “fuck yous” you need to by writing a letter. A letter you never send, of course. And then you share your letter with some of these other people in your class.

I was sad and overweight when I started my massive action plan. And by Anger Night I was at least in motion, but I was still pretty depressed. But the night after the class, when we were given the assignment, to write the real letter, I came uncorked.

That night, in the process of writing out all my fuck yous and complaints to my ex-wife, I reconnected with the healthy part of the anger. The part that I had been stuffing and hurting myself with. The fury, once unleashed, became unmanageable. And I wrote from about midnight to about three in the morning. But I was transformed.

When I accessed my anger that night, it was like a switch had been thrown on inside and the power to my healthy system was restored. The transformation was notable. And four weeks later, when the good doctor was looking for facilitators for his next session, he invited me to be one of the shepherds. What an honor and a validation for the work I had done.

By the end of the class I was on a roll. I was negotiating a new job, I was still hitting the mat in Aikido several times a week, and I was beginning to feel like “life” was possible again. I’ve never looked back at that letter. It’s still here, on this computer, somewhere. But I don’t need to read it. The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: Santorini’s Donkey sequence via creative commons license