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

Posts tagged “divorce recovery

Getting Quiet Again; Recovering from Another Fall Into Darkness

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OFF-blackthread-post

When you look back at depression, sometimes you laugh with swagger and bravado. You pound your chest, offer support, and if/when the sadness sneaks up on you again… Boom.

Quiet.

I am also aware that knowing how to heal is very different from the one-foot-in-front-of-another struggle it sometimes takes to keep going.

Well, that’s is my pattern anyway, and I’m coming out of a dark period of silence that spanned the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years. I am committing to writing about it, journaling through my own recovery, and working to keep writing even when I’m not doing so well. Letting my facade down even at the risk of appearing to have failed at my own recovery.

This blog is not about depression, but in many ways it is. These stories represent what it feels like to get divorced, to fall apart, and to find ways of healing and getting strong again. I believe that I have some stories to tell that might be helpful, or more importantly, hopeful to someone going through a dark period themselves. THE BLACK THREAD posts about depression are missing much of the experience of actually being down. That’s because I clam up. Rather than talk about or reveal my warped thoughts, I STFU. (Shut the F*** Up)

I am also aware that knowing how to heal is very different from the one-foot-in-front-of-another struggle it sometimes takes to keep going. The alternatives are death, going to jail, aloneness, homelessness. I don’t know what’s on the other side of my darkest fear, but I suppose it has something to do with being discovered to be a fraud. As if all the work I’ve done to reach this peace, is destroyed if I get depressed again. That’s not the truth.

If I write about divorce, depression, and recovery and then I again, fall into a pattern of depression, I have a fear that this means I have failed and that my work here is somehow wrong or bad. I do know, today, that this is not the truth. But I am only able to have awareness of the value of my writing when I’m on this side of the black thread. When I am deep in my self-suffering, I want to delete this entire site. I even have thoughts, unrealized, of deleting myself. Bad idea. Bad thoughts. Hard time.

What I have shared here, has gotten me through some of the hardest times. And in uncovering, and un-quieting myself to explore what’s happening within me again, is yet another step in pealing the onion of myself. The writing has become a kind of dialogue, perhaps a form of self-therapy, that when I’m quiet, I lose much of my own inner voice and confidence that comes from writing, journaling, telling my story.

Probably the hardest thing about falling into a depression is knowing the effect I am having on the people around me.

This then is the beginning of a new tale, and the oldest tale I have: sadness and the repercussions of being an empathic and deeply feeling person. My thinking is, at this point, that keeping the dialogue going, even as I’m pulling myself up and out, might be helpful for me. Might keep my recent wins and recovery on the path towards joy again. And even checking-in, without shame, as I am having a hard time, might also prove helpful to myself as well as others who struggle, like I do, with bouts of the blues.

Probably the hardest thing about falling into a depression is knowing the effect I am having on the people around me. My fiancé did not bargain for this. But she stayed beside me, she talked to me, she remained steadfast in the times when I was most certain I was unworthy of her love and caring. One more time into the abyss,

I don’t know what the future holds as I move forward with my depression writing. But I had no idea when I started this blog about divorce that it would grow to be about so much more. As I weave my own life as a parent of teen agers who has suffered bouts of depression, before, during, and after divorce, I am going to try some fearlessness in staying in contact with my writing, even when I am ashamed of my sadness.

This is one of the hardest aspects of depression, the shame. I am ashamed that I am dragging the people I love with me into my maelstrom of madness. Shame be gone! As I have grown beyond the shame of my divorce, now I will grow beyond the shame of my depression. From this side of the sadness glass I am breaking the silence on the black thread that has been woven all through my soul. This is part of me that I can no longer afford to silence. As I keep seeking relief and working strategies to alleviate my own suffering, I promise to bring you along.

It sounds scary. Let’s see how it goes…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You Should Go For What Makes You Happy (Divorce Me)

OFF-greenergrass

Have we made it too easy and convenient to get divorced?

I know that sounds rather absurd, after all the pissing and moaning I’ve done around my divorce. But some how, my ex-y decided it would be easier, more to her advantage, more joyful to go seeking a relationship with someone else. So she decided, well before I was aware we were in negotiations, that she would check with a lawyer to discuss options. Or more bluntly, what she could get.

And so we divorced. I was not happy about it. And though I swear I’m moving on, I don’t guess I will ever fully be OVER it. I mean, what am I doing tonight? Seeing if a date is going to materialize through the txts and emails I’m exchanging with someone from Match.com. And I’d rather be hanging with my kids: chatting about their day, their projects, their hopes and dreams. Much like the past five days of this dad-weekend.

In relationship therapy she didn’t answer the question, “When did you exit the relationship?”

The ex-y on the other hand, seemed to move on rather quickly into a couple relationships that seemed a bit more like reactions, or rebounds, or “wouldn’t this be thrilling,” rather than Relationships. (capital R added for emphasis) Okay, but I’m not here to judge.

But something a “friend” of hers said today, brought a bit of a different perspective on things. What if my ex-y’s DIVORCE gave permission for this “friend’s” divorce. Heck, I didn’t even know she was divorced as my daughter is best friends with her daughter, and seems to think they are still married. (Odd. I wonder what they’ve told their kids?)

Either way, there is something about the permissiveness of divorce these days. Perhaps greener pastures are enough of a reason today. Perhaps the THRILL of something new is reason enough to wander, to flirt, to “have lunch” with someone of the opposite sex. Or if you want to get really thrilling, how about the same sex?

So this friend mentioned how horrible I had been to my ex-y with my blog. She was telling me why or how I lost her and her (now ex) husband in the mix.

Hmm. Her point is well taken. And something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about while writing and publishing The Off Parent.

  1. I started this “process” in the heat of the divorce. It was my way of recording and vocalizing my anger.
  2. Anonymous is only so effective.
  3. When asked in the summer of 2010 to take The Off Parent offline, by my soon to be officially ex-wife, I didn’t fight back. I was depressed. I was deep in the anger and sadness of the whole mess. I took the blog down without question. And I apologized.
  4. A year later when I turned The Off Parent on again, it was from a different place. This process [of divorce and recovery from divorce] was bigger than my ex-y and bigger than my anger and advice. I learned that I was still living the experience. And that the experience of divorce never ends.
  5. The process has now devolved into all kinds of interesting topics of self-revelation: 1. depression; 2. online dating; 3. self-improvement.

And as I evolve this narrative and journal I hope it is clearer that this is not about the ex-y.

But, let’s come back to that in a minute.

When given a choice to try something  new and “exciting” my ex-y chose to exit the relationship for what might make her happy. (Or maybe at this point, for her, it was *less angry.*) It reminds me of the two times I actually feared for my relationship.

She had a working buddy who became a pen pal. I stumbled onto an email thread between her and a coworker that was all about me, my depression and how unhappy she was. Turns out she’d gone to several lunches with him. And the thread was one of several that went WAY DEEP into our relationship. Add to that, he was attractive to her, she had mentioned him in several passing conversations.

So maybe he was the first infidelity. It was only emails, phone calls and lunch. But it was all done on the down low. Just checking out things. But if it was innocent and honest, why hide it? The several times during our marriage, for example, when my first ex-wife called with some reason we needed to have coffee, I would talk to my then-wife about it.

[Um, this is how the ex-y and I got started. She was WITH someone when we ran into each other again. We went to a few lunches. It was just lunch, right?]

Fuck. That didn’t feel good. I flipped. She apologized. She agreed that she had crossed the boundaries. But in couple’s therapy she never answered the question, “When did you exit the relationship?” Perhaps it was too soon to admit it to herself.

The second time I felt a tectonic shift, very different, was at a titty bar. We were there joking about bringing home the young girl with us. We’d always joked that it was fine to have another woman, as long as she (the ex-y) was there. It was a running joke, as if she had lesbian fantasies and of course I did. I mean, you know…

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there?

Funny thing… However, when the young thing, a bit rough around the edges and smelling of cigarette smoke, was assigned to give the ex-y a lap dance… Well, all kinds of things broke loose. I guess I recalled how easily she revealed private issues with her pen pal, I felt a flash of fear, watching her really enjoying the affections of this pretty little siren, that she could just as easily leave me for a girl as leave me for another man. The point was, things were unstable, and I didn’t want to consider her leaving me for any reason. We never tried that little experiment again.

Chances are she was already in the process of leaving, separating.

And all it would take was that last offer, opportunity, greener pasture, to launch her into a new trajectory. A path away from me and the family we’d created.

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there? That’s kind of how her mind works. Still. Spreadsheet first, emotions later, if at all. It’s okay, it’s just very different from what I needed. And, as I understand from writing here, very different from what I truly think I need. I need warmth and emotion. I need a partner who takes an equal part in generating the joy and warm emotions in the relationship. I need someone who adores me, and who I adore back.

I know it’s coming. And more clearly now, than when I started this rant. I think through this process I am growing, redefining, and exploring what went wrong and what I want to get right next time.

And for now, I’m alone tonight because of a choice she made. I’d rather be with my kids. But ultimately I’d rather be with someone who loves me back with honesty and love language I understand. For her too, I hope her multi-year boyfriend materializes for her into something that makes her happier. The kids will benefit from joy all around.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Fundamental Flaw at the Beginning of My Marriage

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I didn’t know it when we started going to lunches together, but the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children was living with another man. I’m certain that he didn’t know she was seeing me across town at some organic restaurant and sharing smiles and flirts and “catching up.” And years later, as things were getting tough in my marriage, I didn’t know that she was having lunches with a younger man across town. She didn’t tell either of us about her lunches with other men.

I caught on when I read an email that looked like spam to be deleted from the family computer. It wasn’t spam. It was an explicitly intimate letter about their lunch, their trip to our local library, and a few of the deep topics they discussed, including my depression and her unhappiness.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue.

I guess that’s how it starts. Emotional infidelity might eventually lead to a sexual affair, and most likely to divorce. But we were struggling, that’s for sure, but in my mind we were struggling together, to get through tough emotional and financial times. The break in our team effort, the inclusion of this stranger, a man I’d never met, felt almost unbearable. I WAS struggling with depression. And I was in one of the deepest periods when I came across this letter. I entered a period of deep detachment.

I confronted her. We went to therapy. We worked through it. Sort of. She apologized. She said she understood how this could be hurtful to me. She never owned the infidelity aspect of what she’d done, but she said she’d never do it again.

Years later as our sex life wained, and I was asking and trying to unlock the combination to her sexual desire, the ideas of this “other man” haunted me. What was preventing her, really, in this obviously unhappy state, from seeking satisfaction outside the marriage? How was I supposed to understand the total lack of intimacy with me, and not imagine that she was being open and sharing with someone. Maybe her therapist. Maybe another man.

And throughout the course of our marriage there were casual dates with her ex-husband that she didn’t tell me about. So in some corner of her mind her “lunches” were none of my business. I didn’t get it.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue. When I got a speeding ticket and didn’t tell her, I was being deceitful. All these little things kept adding up and dominating our couple’s counseling. My problems. My depression. And until the tail end of our marriage, as I was gainfully employed and beginning to feel some of my natural self-confidence back, I just went along with the story that I had a lot of issues to work through. But wait…

I did begin to speak up that Christmas and January/February before she asked for the divorce in March. I had started asking about closeness. I had started challenging her isolation and anger issues as she pointed them at me. I began to hear her “fuck you” outbursts when they came at random times. And at this time I was unwilling to bow down to the plea that I was the problem. It wasn’t me, baby, it was WE. We had a problem and it was time to either put up (“Let me out of the glass box,” I would say.) or break up. Even as I would like to put the “asking for divorce” on her shoulders, I was pressing the issue of closeness.

In the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

And in my expressions of passion mixed with righteous anger, I was saying, “Either things change, or I’m outta here.” My flaw was, I was fighting to say in the marriage, I was fighting from a belief that the foundation of our family was more important that any “issue” we had between is. I was stripping the relationship back down to its core to examine the fundamentals. “How can we go months without kissing? How is that okay with you?”

And in that last moment, I still believed we were in therapy to join together again. However, I also knew that our therapist was not a marriage counselor, he was working to get us actually hearing each other. He was trying to get us to the reality of our relationship, and not biasing our conversations in any way, but allowing us to sort through the issues. In these last sessions I believe we began to hear one another. And in the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

My then-wife expressed her dissatisfaction with our relationship and how I was not changing enough to give her hope that things could be different. She was talking about trust. She was claiming the high ground at that last second, and pointing the finger at me, saying I was not honest enough. Her statement of clarity at the end of our marriage was that she did not see any hope that I was going to become (change to become) the man she needed.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: I think this poem unlocked the feelings to make this post possible: love and what was missing

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My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller

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If anyone can explain why he hasn’t been able to find the love of his life it’s Bill Murray. And I’ve often been likened to a younger Bill, so I read this Vanity Fair article with a bit of self-interest.

“Not to diminish a relationship with a woman but I can’t take care of another relationship if I can’t take care of the things I really need to take care of the most. It’s not a selfish thing . . . it’s just sort of an obligation.” – Bill Murray

What Mr. Murray latches onto as his reason for not being in a relationship is his own lack of attention and self-examination. He mentions his children from his previous two marriages, but it’s clear Bill hasn’t found what he’s seeking in a woman.

Murray did admit that he wonders why, at 64-years-old, he still hasn’t found the great love of his life.

“I do think about that. I’m not sure what I am getting done here. I do have kids. I have children that I am responsible for and I enjoy that very much. And that wouldn’t have happened without women.” – ibid

>He knows he need to so the self-examination work, but he doesn’t really want to do it. He’d rather show up as a comedian extraordinaire and find his love in the public embrace. One of my favorite movies with Bill is Lost in Translation. It seems to capture the loss and ennui of Mr. Murray’s self-reveal in this article. Fascinated and crushing on the young Scarlett Johansen, Mr. Murray tells much of his life story. I’m guessing that this film captured a bit of what it must be like to be Bill Murray. Detached and disoriented by the “jobs” that send him all over the world. Drawn to youth and beauty. But in this touching film, the father-figure chooses not to take advantage of the young woman. It’s an amazing moment. And it’s a huge win for both characters and the film.

Only from a place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again.

And Mr. Murray plays his role in a number of Wes Anderson movies as well. Perhaps it is easier for him to act out the scripts that others put in his mouth rather that examine or work through his own troubles.

Robin Williams is another character and body type I’ve been associated with. I share the bear-ish shape with these two rock stars as well as some of their demons. Whatever depression Robin was dealing with, he killed himself while his adoring wife slept in the next room. How terrifying. How dark his night must’ve been to extinguish even his bright star of hope.

AS a bit of a frenetic funny man, myself (I’m not putting myself in the same league with these greats, please.) I am also prone to flights of fantasy and falls of desperation. And it’s wonderful to hear that someone as buoyant as Bill Murray can come out and share his own difficulties, much like he does in Translation. I can take a different path from either of these body doubles. (I wrote myself in as Ferris Bueller in divorce, as well.

I am committed to self-examination and taking care of as much of my sh*t as possible. In the same spirit I can do what it takes to keep my dark thoughts at bay. Often it is the self-examination and self-revelations that come from doing deep work, that keeps me above water. Bill speaks of the difficulties of stripping off the mask and looking at the ugly truth.

Asked what has stopped him from committing to himself, Murray continued, “What stops [any of] us is we’re kinda really ugly if we look really hard. We’re not who we think we are. We’re not as wonderful as we think we are. It’s a little bit of a shock . . . it’s hard.” – ibid

As men, we are often not encouraged to dig deep and feel what’s going one. The man’s role in the world is to be strong, to be stoic, and to be a good provider. I don’t see either of these men being described as feeling fathers. Perhaps Mr. Murray has had to distance himself a little from his role as a father. (Of course, I have no idea.)

What it takes, as a man, to deal with divorce is the courage to strip away the facade and let the feelings and frustrations out. You can do this in therapy, on a blog, or with friends. You cannot do this with your kids or your ex-wife. But most of all, you have to do it. You have to strip back down underneath Bill’s Caddyshack character and understand what’s hurting inside. Only from that place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again. Because with the risk of love comes the risk of failure, again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: My brush with greatness involves Bill Murray. I was on the set of Ghostbusters, my sister worked for Warner Bros. at the time. During a break Bill came around the corner and saw a teenage boy standing there in red painter pants. “Whoooooo’s the madman!” he shouted, as he reached out and shoot my hand.

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The Divorce Recovery Path: My Journey Back to Joy (part 1)

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My divorce has been finalized for four years now. This is how my journey back from depression, loss, and hopelessness looked. And this blog has taken me through all of these steps in a way that I can now look back and see how the building blocks were necessary. Here is my divorce recovery path in posts from this blog.

Year 1 – Anger, Depression, Divorce

Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ I believe someone going through a divorce goes through stages of grief. And for me the emotions that I struggled with directly after leaving my house for the last time were anger and depression. Often I vassilated from one to the other. And my talky therapist used to tell me, “It’s better to feel homicidal than suicidal.” (It’s a metaphor.)

Anger turned inward and unexpressed was clearly for me one of the ways I would sink myself into sadness and depression. While I was mad at my ex-wife, and mad a the decision she made and I had to go along with, I kept pointing the sharp stick back at myself. Somehow I had failed. Something about me was unlovable, or the reason she decided to opt-out of our marriage, and effectively opt me out of 60% of my kids lives.

I left the house at the beginning of June after the kids had finished 3rd and 5th grade. Here are a few of my early posts. I was acting out a bit. And I even maintained a tiny bit of hopefulness that my ex would realize how much she really wanted me back. That was imaginary thinking. She was done. And I tried to imagine the wonderful opportunities of dating new women, but of course, I was in no condition to date. Fortunately my initial run at online dating was unsuccessful.

August 2010

The first year and the shock of the loss was definitely the hardest period of my recovery. I was scrambling to find a place to live, a way to make a living that would support myself and my child support payments. And the loss of my kids was an emotional hardship that still hits me from time to time.

By January of that first year I was hitting the first skids of depression.

And the first poem appeared as an expression of my loss.

And while I had started a few dating tries I was more focused on transforming my anger and energy into something positive. Or in the face of Ferris Bueller, something funny and light. That’s how I tried to imagine myself, as Ferris dealing with the impossible situations with joy and grace. I was only partially successful.

A number of other issues hammered me as I crossed into the second year of divorce.  The pressure of the financial obligation I had agreed to began to force me out of my idea of comfort and “doing enough.” Of course I had agreed to pay child support on a much higher income than I’d been able to achieve again. I was basing my future on the hopeful high-level gainful employment, and when my next big corporate job folded my position after six months I fell into a very tough spot. (A spot I’m still trying to pull myself out of today.)

But something else began to show up in my life. I began to remember how happy I was, even alone. Just happy. And this was the beginning of the second year, where I joined a divorce recovery class and began to take charge of my own happiness and recovery from the pits of divorce.

I started to come to terms with the divorce. And take ownership of my depression.

 

Year 2 – Healing, Recovery, Kids First

And then in June of the second year, I lost all of my progress in one massive loss. The job I had found that allowed me to buy a house and start setting up my life again, decided they didn’t want to continue trying to sell their product to the consumer, and after six months my position was eliminated. And the earlier struggles with money and depression came rushing back. Just as I felt I was getting ahead of it, I suffered a setback.

And it was four months before I was able to confess to my readers what was going on. And amazing as it was, I did already have readers. A lot of people reached out to me after the loneliness post and gave me their support.

And I started to take an inventory of what I was feeling rather than run away from it or wallow in it. I started studying the 12-steps concept of self-pity as a way to get a little perspective on what I was going through. I could up and out of this.

And then in October of year two I met the woman who would become my first girlfriend. And she single-handedly changed my life.

More than anything, what I learned from my first girlfriend was how it felt to be adored. She had also been through the same divorce recovery class I had, and we had the same Love Language: touch. I was blown away by how affectionate someone could be. I always thought it was only me who had such outpourings.  But she was beside me 100%. In the end our relationship evolved into a friendship, but out love for each other has continued to grow. And I learned what a post-divorce relationship might look like. And how dating after divorce *can* be drama free. We never screwed each other over, we simply decided that we needed to pull our romantic relationship back from our friendship.

END OF YEARS ONE AND TWO – stay tuned.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom

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I’m still happy, but I’m mostly alone. That’s the hard part. I never really thought I would be alone again once I got married. Well, the second marriage, anyway. The first one was a bust from the honeymoon on. But I’m stoic, and I tried to stay in there even when all signs pointed to “get off the fkin boat.” Oh well, we live and live on.

So I was happily married. I had two kids, a boy and then a girl, and things were moving along swimmingly in my life. Well, I’m not saying there weren’t complications, but I’m saying I was working through them as best I could. We both were, me and my then-wife. But a couple of things happened over the course of the kids first 5 and 7 years respectively, that change the course of all of our lives. I was oblivious to some of the changes, and ignorantly, stubbornly, refusing to deal with a few of the others. We were sailing along, not smoothly, but together.

I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control.

There was a moment when our kids were 1 and 3 that I found my then-wife in the bedroom crying. She was listening to a song, and it was hitting her in some deep sad level. I was a little afraid to ask her what was going on. The song didn’t do anything for me at the time. I couldn’t get into the guy’s voice. But the words and meaning were obvious, even if I glossed over the shock I felt at discovering her in such a tender and broken moment. I was afraid, I’m sure, for what it meant. The song was Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt.

Something in the lyrics talked about saying goodbye to someone forever, while still loving them. I knew it meant something deeper than I was willing to explore. And so I kept my distance from the topic. I did ask a couple of times, over the next year or so, but we never really explored what was happening for her in that moment of loneliness and heartbreak. What I knew at that very moment, was that it was her heartbreak, and she was choosing to not share it with me. She was crying alone, and isolating in it, rather than reaching out for me, to call me back in. She was saying goodbye in some abstract way. Maybe she was realizing the end was coming, and she was afraid to broach the subject when our kids were so young. I couldn’t read her mind, and I didn’t try. And the few times I asked about the song, I was met with a blank stare. As if I was looking at a ghost of my then-wife. It was weird. But we sailed along.

Years later, when things were hitting another stressful period we enlisted the support of a wonderful therapist who was helping us learn to communicate with each other on a different level. He wasn’t a marriage counselor, and thus, we meandered over the crisis of the day and the issues of major importance. There was an interesting moment, when our counselor and friend asked us how we felt our work was going. He asked for one word to describe how we were feeling.

I went first. “Hopeful.”

He thanked me. And we nodded and shared a bit about that. Then she went, “Cynical.”

There is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy.

She wasn’t kidding. The word carried a lot of power. There was something underneath the idea of cynicism that is already defeated. She was saying she was the opposite of hopeful. She was hopeless. I remember even the counselor being a little surprised by the venom in the word. But I would see later, that she was already well into her anger years. The final two years of our marriage when she never really got un-mad at me. I’m not sure I understand the mechanics of it. I’m not sure what she was talking about with her individual therapist, but she appeared to me as if she woke up on the mad side of the bed every morning.

Now, there are resentments and anger issues that can run in any relationship. And as a person matures they begin to take responsibility for their own anger, and their own issues. If they don’t, they may continue to blame others for the injustice in their lives. Either you do the work to resolve your issues or you hold on to them and all the righteousness they provide. But it’s a false protection. And inside the person who is shaming and blaming knows that they are off.

And during the course of the next year after the cynical comment, my then-wife had three very distinct “fuck you” snaps. Again, I can’t put my finger on what she as so mad about, but I *can* tell you that she believed that somehow I was the cause of her unhappiness. The first time we were eating dinner with another couple and we were joking about work, or politics, or something tangential, and in the course of the little banter we were flicking each other some grief, sort of tossing around the teasing comments and she just blew up at me. “FUUUUCK YOU.” She said, in a hot and frustrated tone. The conversation stopped. I was blushing. She apologized to our guests. I’m not sure if she ever said she was sorry to me, until later in therapy.

And two more times, this ripping curse came out of her in the same way. The second and third time, since we had discussed it in therapy, she caught herself afterwards and apologized for her outburst. But something wasn’t right about it. She was so angry, that she could no longer contain it in the course of everyday banter and play. There was no sarcasm in these outbursts, they were pure poison. And I kept feeling, “Wow, this is really something she needs to work on.” And perhaps she was. Perhaps this was the fuel she was using to psyche herself up to go meet with a divorce attorney and see what her options were. I can’t speculate on her timing or internal dialogue, but her actions towards me continued to vacillate between outward hostility and rage and distancing quiet.

I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be.

And the counselor we were going to see was not really equipped to handle large emotional outbursts.  It just wasn’t the kind of work we were doing with him. We reoriented and reset several times, but even I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control. I did my best at being a loving and caring husband and father. I did my best at playing the happily married man, but the silence between the outbursts did not provide any closeness.

So for the last year and a half of my marriage, my then-wife was mad at me. How does that work? It’s not like I cheated on her. It’s not like I wasn’t making money, providing for the house, and doing my share of chores, dishes, kid duty, and lawn care. I *was* doing all those things. But I was also getting worn down by the constant unyielding anger. I couldn’t make sense of it. The counselor couldn’t make sense of it. And perhaps even my then-wife was struggling in her individual therapy to understand what was going on, but nothing shifted. Nothing shifted until it broke. And by then she had already met with a lawyer and the deal was half-way to being done in her mind, before she even let me know she was considering a divorce.

In my world, Fuck You was a long way from divorce. But maybe I was being stupid and refusing to see how “off” things were. Maybe. And maybe I could have worked harder at making her happy, each time these little ruptures occurred. Maybe.

But what I do know, is that no one can do the work for you. So I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be. So that’s what I did. But I was an no-win situation. I didn’t know it, but she was crying about losing her marriage back when our kids were 1 and 3, listening to James Blunt. There wasn’t much that I could have done differently had I understood what she was crying about.

Really, there is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy. And unfortunately she couldn’t, or wasn’t willing to, either.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

back to The Hard Stuff

related posts:

reference: Goodbye My Lover – James Blunt

image: 343/365, morgan, creative commons usage

my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give, 
singing each morning out of each night 
my father moved through depths of height
-- e e cummings - dooms of love

My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

OFF-flyingchild

Step 4 of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Today is a day of reflection. I am examining what I’m doing here on The Off Parent. Assessing the damage and progress of my self-observation, self-obsession, self-centered divorce blog. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Strive to cut deep into the pain and healing of divorce recovery.
  2. Express anger and hurt without blaming the other person.
  3. Eliminate cynicism.
  4. Always go for the truth, my truth, the painful truth.
  5. Protect the innocent through anonymity and discretion.
  6. Write for my own personal journey and healing, if there is a reader that’s fine, but I am not writing for anyone but myself.
  7. Lift my psychology out of the hurt and sadness of depression and towards the healing and recovery for all the members of my family.
  8. Do no harm.
  9. Take on no more shame.
  10. Leave this discussion behind in favor of the next love and romance in my life.

Those are my goals. I’m not sure if I hit the mark with 100% of what is left here, but that was (is) my intention. I have progressed from a confused and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband to a hopeful and romantic single father. That’s the ultimate goal, and for that I give thanks.

Writing is therapy.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

For me, when I write down an experience, I begin to understand it in new ways. I find common threads with other experiences in my life. I hear echoes of past hurts. I recognise the hopeful little boy who survived a crappy divorce and has now grown into a divorce and family of my own. And here on these pages, sometimes, I process the hard stuff, I leave behind puddles of blood and anger that I no longer need. I am discarding these stories as fast as I can write them. Discharging the energy they might still hold on my emotional life, by putting down the bones of truth, as I remember it.

I am not writing for you.

I am glad you are here. I have gotten a lot of support and love through the four years that I have been writing this blog. I have been amazed by some of the comments, troubled by some of the misunderstandings, and encouraged to keep digging for gold. Digging for the heart of joy that is still inside that needs encouragement to hope and dream of loving again.

And I have found the language for that love again. I am writing aspirational love poems. There are still a few divorce poems, but for the most part, this blog has transformed from angry/divorce/rant to relationship/love/discovery. Sure, there will always be flares of anger and sadness when managing the ongoing life of a single parent, but there are also great wins and joys that I am determined to celebrate here, right along side the struggle.

Next Steps

As I continue to change and challenge myself in the coming years, I hope this blog will continue to evolve with me. As I do find that next relationship, I hope that I can write with care and tenderness as “we” this woman and I, journey down the next road of our lives together. Or maybe that will be a different blog. I don’t know. And I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here, or in my relationships.

As I grow and parent this blog will still be the rally point for my emotional triumphs and struggles. And as I struggle with depression, or employment difficulties, I will also try to pull back the armor and release the dragons that still loom ahead for me.

In all cases, I thank you for coming along for the journey thus far. I encourage you to start with the INDEX and read chronologically from the beginning. Or jump to any subject or thread that interests you at this time in your life. And if you have a comment, I value the feedback of my readers more than you can imagine. So tell me.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

Final note: Why why why write about this painful stuff? My kids were 5 and 7 when my then-wife decided for all of us that she was done with this marriage and wanted to move on to some other configuration. We’re still reeling from the fallout. Not all of it has been bad, but all of it has been transformative. I give thanks that she had the courage to step into the unknown and make the choice she thought was right for her and thus for all of us. Whatever the motivation or past, we are now a family in divorce. We have commitments and connections that will never cease between all of us. And in my attempts to heal myself I hope to continue to be a positive influence in my kids and ex’s lives. We’re in this together. Let’s evolve to a higher discussion.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage


Waiting for the Other Person to Change – The Path Towards Divorce

OFF-dead

[This post was written as a response to this post from Divorced Moms : The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce.]

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Here’s the full post:

A lot of your story resonated with me, so I thought I would comment and share some perspective from the other side of the bed. Yep, you are waiting for your husband to change. And that’s a trap, for both of you.

As the kid of an alcoholic dad I got an early experience in Alanon groups and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups as well. And one of the guiding principles is this: You cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.

I hear that you are trying to act with compassion (in some aspects) and looking out for your girls. But I also hear your resentment and anger at your husband. I get it. You’re pissed that he’s not doing enough, that he continues his pattern of irresponsibility, and you are doing everything you can to revive a dead marriage. Um, well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. He is never going to change. You on the other hand, can and have to change. It’s all you can do. Everything else is wishful thinking, fantasy, and victimization.

When she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it.

More good news, you are not a victim of this marriage. You also have all the tools and resources at your disposal to help you through this, regardless of which path you take next.

Here’s the part that’s like me, the part I resonated with that’s part of your husband’s failure. You mention him taking the “just enough” approach to a lot of his responsibilities. And on a few of your examples, my mind was saying, “Oops, that’s me too.” Let me try to pull some of those issues apart, in hopes of illuminating some of my own dysfunctional thinking, but also to share some of my perspective, that it’s not really a problem, it’s the disagreement between the two of you that’s the problem.

I am a “just in time” kind of person as well. I don’t like to pay bills. But a few late payments doesn’t really worry me either. When these issues came to light in my marriage, a lot of the friction was because we assumed we knew the other person’s reasons for their behavior. I figured my then-wife was really uptight about money because she had come from a family of origin that struggled for money. I came from a background where money was not the issue, love and time was the issue in my early memories of my parents marriage.

Okay, so I didn’t mind paying a few bills late and possibly even letting a few go longer. This drove my partner crazy. Was I being irresponsible as she claimed? Was I refusing to grow up? Of course, those are perspectives about why I would think and act differently around bill paying, but they were not the answer. However, the resentment around this issue was much worse that the issue itself. There was a lot of energy coming from my partner about bill paying. And the intensity of that emotional panic gave a lot of insight into how differently we saw the money issue, but mainly, it revealed a few of our “unspoken agreements.”

She believed that if I loved her I would pay the bills with precision and promptness. I didn’t connect the two items at all. For me bill paying was a pain in the ass, even if I had the money. She was very disciplined (maybe obsessed) about chores and I was not. We could walk down the same hall day after day and I would never notice the burnt out lightbulb, yet every day she would get madder and madder that I was not a responsible or caring husband. Why? Because I was not changing the lightbulb. What?

We saw the world and the house in very different ways. And it took a while to uncover a lot of these assumed agreements, that weren’t agreements at all. In her mind, if I cared for her, I would change the lightbulb when it was burned out. Anything else demonstrated my irresponsibility and disdain for her priorities. That wasn’t really it at all, I just didn’t notice the damn lightbulb. And for her part, she was waiting for me to change, to notice things like lightbulbs and scruffy lawns, and just do the work. Just take care of it. Just fix it. “Just pay the damn bills on time.”

Now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool.

Uncovering the assumed yet unspoken agreements is hard work. And while, I am not saying this will change your husband into the caring and loving person you want, it might get to the core of what is bothering you.

Your initial reaction that things were over, that it was a dead relationship, however is harder for me to fathom. And this is just the point that hit me the hardest. I read your title, and kept the email in my inbox until I was ready to read it. See, I think my ex, also, decided at some point that things were over, she just failed to mention it to me.

And when you mention his addiction to porn, um, are you sure that’s what’s going on? Again, I can’t possibly see into your relationship, but sometimes the “addiction” has more to do with sexual issues in the marriage, rather than his insatiable desire for 19 year-old porn stars. I’m guessing that as you decided he was a corpse in your house that your interest in sex with the dead man has been almost zero.

In my marriage we had periods of peak sexual connection and then nothing. The connecting activity of intimacy, even that didn’t involve sex, came and went with the emotional tides of my partner. And when the tide was out, she rejected all offers, all invitations, all teases, all strokes, that MIGHT lead to intimacy. She exited the relationship emotionally and one of the ways that showed up was in her lack of desire to connect with me on ANY PHYSICAL LEVEL. Nothing. Nada. She could go a month and never think of closeness.

Meanwhile, I was frustratedly pining away. And sure, I turned to porn. It was even a spoken agreement between us. When she was recovering from giving birth to each of our two kids we went through the normal periods of asexual intimacy, and I would take care of myself in other ways. So I did, but it was no substitute for her, or the real thing. It was cold, emotionless, release. And sure, people can get deep into it, and addicted to all the varieties of fantasy that they might never act out in real life, but that wasn’t my case.

But when she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it. I understand that women are very different from men in their need for sexual release. It’s something about testosterone levels. But when the woman shuts the passion down completely, something else is happening.

I can guess at what my wife’s dysfunction was, but that would also be silly. So much of sex and sexual intimacy is in our heads. To try to pull apart her lack of sexual desire, for me, would be a serious case of projection and bullshit. So I didn’t do that. I asked nicely. I asked jokingly. I set aside special kid-free times. I did the dishes and bills more often. I looked for the lightbulbs that might be out. And guess what? Nothing worked. She was still closed for any form of closeness.

Okay, so now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool. Bad idea. And she was having issues of her own: antidepressants maybe, overworked and overwhelmed maybe, unresolved anger issues with her family of origin. And of course, unresolved issues with me. But when the distance and anger goes on for days and weeks, the issue is much deeper than her and me. And it was. Or, I assume it was, I still don’t know.

But in my experience of the fracture and fallout at being placed in this emotional prison was horrible. And I thrashed a little, while trying to get things to change. I tried new things. I tried different ways of asking, connecting, nurturing. But again, that wasn’t the issue. I could not make her change. I could not make her be someone else.

You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy.

As I realise, now, four years later, that I was just like the partner of an alcoholic, waiting for them to change, I am glad I was ultimate released from that unwinnable spiral of loss and frustration. And for my kid’s sake, I hope she’s happy. I hope she figures it out with her new boyfriend. I really do. Because I don’t want to see her in pain, even now. Even divorced, I want her to be happy. Her happiness is directly tied to my kid’s experience of happiness and hope.

I learned my dependency in my family of origin. I was the little kid trying to be a hero, magician, football star, to get my dad to notice me and my value. I was trying to get him to stop drinking by being valuable enough as a son to be worthy of his attention. Of course, that’s not how it works. Nor, does that path ever work. Ever.

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Speak now or forever hold your peace as you move along for the good of yourself and your daughters. Your husband will eventually have to take care of himself.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@offparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

reference: The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce – Divorced Moms

related posts:

image: hurt, nicu buculei, creative commons usage

A big part of my recovery program is the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.


Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again

OFF-lovehandles

Getting right with yourself after divorce is the biggest challenge you’re going to face. All the mechanics of divorce, will eventually take care of themselves. But the emotional fallout might be a bit tougher. I often rely on the language and support of the 12-steps to recover my balance when I’m under the rock of depression or sadness.

And for me, the biggest part of that recovery was regaining some self-confidence and self-love. I felt defeated and broken when I walked out of my marital home and into the world of single dads everywhere. I knew the loss that was coming, now and for the rest of my life I would not have unlimited access to my kids and their hopes and dreams. That loss is still the hardest part for me. I used to love going in late at night and appreciate (give thanks) for their beating and healthy little hearts. Now I can’t to that on most of the nights.

But the areas in me that needed healing were much more personal.

  • I didn’t feel sexy or desirable
  • My extra weight felt like a fat-sumo-wrestling-suit
  • The sadness made it hard to exercise at all
  • My initial attempts at dating felt desperate and disconnected
  • Loss of all touch and closeness (except from friends and my kids)
  • Loss of the hope that I would ever be with another woman
  • My mental processes were so wrapped up in ruminating the past, that I felt slow and unintelligent most of the time

And at the deepest core of my pain, I wasn’t sure my body, my soul, was worth all the effort it was going to take to resurface and regain my position as a strong father. A strong single father. At a few dark moments, it just didn’t seem worth it. But then I remembered my dad, and what the loss of him in my early twenties did to me, and I soldiered on.

I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself.

Today, four-ish years after I walked out on my kids and married life (not my idea) there are still points of pain and sadness, but overall I’d have to say I’ve recovered most of my energy and enthusiasm. I still miss my kids on the nights they are not here with me, but we’re managing. All of us are managing.

Today I read a piece about how the human body ages over time, written from a very healthy and zen perspective. And while I don’t do all these things, I wanted to share them, and the source post, in hopes that you might find some inspiration for your own journey. You are worth it. Whatever you have to go through to get back on top of your game, whatever it is, DO IT.

Here are the  8 Things I Learned from 50 Naked People – published in The Elephant Journal.

breath in - the off parent

click for larger version

So let’s spend a brief moment together, breathing *that* in. I could spend a long time trying to absorb these wonderful affirmations into my own self-image.

The physical body needs love: Your body doesn’t lie.

What are the things that need healing around your body image? I’ll share mine.

The thing your most embarrassed about: my size. Notice I didn’t say weight. I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself. And I’m working on it, on just loving whatever I am at the moment. Today those emotions are more tripped up by something I ate, or bloating, rather than some massive increase in my girth.

And what I can do about it:

  1. A better diet (not dieting)
  2. Fewer rich indulgences (the tend to breed next indulgences: frappacinos, ice creams)
  3. More activity (doing what I love)
  4. More energy from healthy activities; 4
  5. Emotional boost and joy from being in a relationship (when that happens).

I’ve got a gentler way of talking to my 50+ year-old self. I’m still easily influenced and sometimes angered by fat obsession. And I’ve never really felt fit enough since I left high school hyper athletics: I lettered in three sports and was always driving myself to win.

Now, of course, the matches are less important, and it’s the game that makes me happy. Even losing, I can appreciate the skill and performance of the other players. (Tennis is my passion.) But I love playing. I love seeing a player who has it all and disassembles my game with several well placed shots at critical moments during the match. It’s a chance to watch my own emotions and my own reaction to winning (when I win) and losing (when I get creamed). And that too is about balance.

So I lost at marriage. And here on out I have to learn to be a single dad to my two kids. So what. Sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it to, so you move on, try something different, and give up only after the last point is played.

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

So my embarrassment about my fatness is really left over shit. I’m not *that* fat. I’ve been much fatter. And healthy, for me, is not obsessing about fit or fat, but focusing on eating better and playing more tennis. And knowing that we’re not getting any younger, when I look back at some college photos of me, when I was (at that time) feeling quite fat, and noticing how great I looked.

I’m guessing if we could look back on our “now” selves from our “much older” selves, we’d admire our energy and vigor. We would probably not say how fat we were. We might, but those are the tapes I am eliminating from my vocabulary, both inner and outer. So much of what we say to ourselves is mean. If you say it out loud, you might hear how to be more supportive of your process, as you would be supportive of a friend.

I’m not trying to become a model. I’m not really trying to call in some much younger women who are super-fit and perhaps more focused on super-fit guys. I’m not going to be that guy. But I am aware of things more tangible, like my energy, my optimism and creativity, my blood pressure. All those signs are GREAT. What more can I ask for?

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

 other posts of interest:

sources:

image: love handles are whorey handles, laura g, creative commons usage


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


Loaded and Broke, Again: The Drama of Divorce and Money

Dad and Money and Ex-WivesI’ve got my largest two week consulting check coming in, ever. Problem is, it should’ve arrived on Saturday. AND my car stopped running properly on Saturday. AND my ex-y asked for “timing” advice last night. And my client said, “We will get it in the mail this week, sorry we were on Spring Break.”

There is no doubt that cash flow problems hit us all. And I will also admit that I am not very good at mapping bills and expenses to income, especially when things get tight. And sometimes they get so tight…

So the drama between the ex-y and I continues. Except the drama on her side is really for show, for frustration, for antagonism. No, I take that back. She’s not even interested in upsetting me. She would get no benefit from that. But she is not required to take my situation into consideration, nor does she. I’d use the word narcistic, if it weren’t a bad word. Self-centered would probably fit more appropriately.

The part I don’t get, when her wants and desires become the priority in her life, over, let’s say, our kids lives. Let me give a few examples.

Within a month of our divorce being finalized, she was sleeping with a plumber who’d worked on her house. Not that there’s anything wrong with plumbers, but this one had rebound, revenge, self-centered written all over it. A friend told me about it. I was furious. Oops, my bad. I was supposed to be detaching. And of course she had tightened down her chastity belt so tight, I guess her sexual needs could not be contained. All I can say about the plumber was, thank goodness we’d put a 6-month chill clause in our divorce decree, before either of us could introduce a significant other to the kids. I asked her, “What example is he going to set for our kids?” Again, nothing against plumbers, but as the next pseudo-father of my kids, I was aiming a little higher. I understand it’s not my decision, but I have some hopes that he will be a creatively intellectual individual that my kids will admire and aspire to be more like. Again, I never met the man with the dragon tattoo. He may very well have been the Michael Angelo of plumbing.

Another misqueue in my opinion (a problem with that right there, I really don’t have a right to an opinion) was all the times I’d check-in with my kids on a weekend and they’d have a babysitter. Again, I don’t even pretend to imagine the different experience of the world and making a living, between men and women, but it certainly wasn’t sexual companionship she was looking for. She was in the immediate hunt for my replacement as a provider. She was panicked about being alone. (Part of the reason I didn’t want the house, too many ghosts around if the kids weren’t there.) But deeper, I’m guessing, was her fear of not being able to make it alone.

Again, I am speaking about something I know nothing about. I know about money woes. I know about companionship. But I also know that MY healing comes from time alone, feeling the feelings, and working things out. First with myself. Then with another person. She was aggressively trying to fill my spot before she really had to do the work of understanding why it was empty.

So I paid a few weeks late on last months child support, and she made a big deal about how much she needs the money, how dependent she is on my support checks. But it’s bullshit. It’s the clear and present danger in HER mind, but she’s only thinking about herself.

Let’s see: 1. she’s got a house that is worth at least 100k more than her mortgage; 2. she’s got over 25k in retirement accounts; 3. she’s got me paying almost all of her mortgage every month. Where is the money crisis in that?

I think of Bill Hader’s drama queen character. The kids and I watched a couple SNL skits last night before bed. And in this one, Hader played a fireman who was still not over a relationship that had ended over nine years ago. He simply screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

It was a fitting metaphor for my ex-y’s behavior.

1. She knew I was struggling to get last month’s payment to her; 2. She’s working on her own budget for the week/month/year; 3. Like a bill collector, she’s asking when is she getting the next payment and “how can we set this up so it doesn’t affect me and the kids each month?”

Good question, that last one. I’m thinking this is the answer: “Get the fk off my ass for $1600. You are NOT in crisis. You are connecting your emotional vulnerability to the payments from me. They are NOT the same thing. You have plenty of money. I am paying as best I can. Saying “thank you so much” and the bringing the enforcer ask right after is not caring, it’s manipulative. Unfortunately it’s also transparent.

I won’t answer her with this vitriol. It would do no good.

So as I do with the mortgage demands that start coming in the day after the payment is due, I ignore them. She is a detail and a bill collector. She does not have feelings, nor should she need to, about me and my money. It’s just business.

And fk that. I’m a person. I’m also worthy of respect. And before you hammer me about “when is the next check coming in?” please check your balance sheet and know that YOU ARE OKAY. You’re security and joy does not depend on my money. Never did. And I will support you as long as the law demands it and the kids are in school. I am 100% committed to that.

Let’s not forget that she started threatening turning the process over to the Texas Attorney General’s office and Child Support Division a few months ago. She’s just working to get me with the program. Not a very compassionate approach, but I’m not part of her drama unless she can make me part of it.

But this week, when the check comes in. I’m going to pay last months mortgage payment. And a few other bills that have significant weight. Yours no longer carries that priority. And your drama-infused demands no longer have the power to affect me. (To be honest, they still can rile me up. This post is an example.) I will pay you, as I have for 2.5 years. We’ve got approximately 8 to go. And if you continue to scream “oh my god” in your emails to me, I’ll just start putting you in the spam folder with Wells Fargo. They are going to get their money too. Everybody is going to get their money.

Now we need to relax and pay attention to the things that are more important than paying bills or finding a boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s time to wake the kids over here and get them ready for school. And that’s an activity worth my priority and attention. Your self-imagined money crisis, is not.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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On Domestics, Exotics, and Sports Cars (An Aspirational Relationship Metaphor)

Exotics, Domestics, and Sports Cars

I am pretty sure I would have a hard time picking any domestic car that I would be happy with. In the same way, I’m pretty sure I would feel like I was settling if I didn’t aspire to be with a beautiful woman. And then there are the exotics. The Ferrari’s of the woman world, lulu lemons, fit, mid-day at the local Whole Foods still slightly damp from their yoga or crossfit class. Oui!

Now, stepping back and looking at my 2.5 years of post-divorce longing I have a few more data points into my likes, loves, and must haves. And most recently, I ended (mutually, I might add) a relationship with a beautiful woman, who floored me with her ability to express her feelings, and completely disarmed my defensive resistance by her adoration. “She really digs me,” became one of my refrains when describing her. I said it internally, as a mantra, like one continuous healing prayer. “She digs me, she digs me, she really really digs me, someone could really dig me, she digs me…”

There was nothing not to like about this sports car model. She was fast, sleek, shiny, responsive, and did I mention, she adored me?

But…

And this was the hard thing for me to fathom… At some level she was not the brand of sports car that got my pulse all hot and ready to go.

At first my internal dialogue sounded something like this… “Oh shit, I’m older, oh crap, I’m fat, oh hell, I’m depressed, oh my fucking god, I’m having sexual disfunction for the first time in my 49-year life. (Of course, I’m 50 now, a point we used to laugh about, me being the younger man and all.) But it was a mystery to me, how this “perfect” model could be more *ho hum* than *rev rev*. And it saddened me a bit.

But I went with it. I often over think things. I WAS depressed when she met me. And fuck if I knew what my brain or dick was thinking. Maybe it was my meds. God forbid if it was my desire or my erectile proficiency. God forbid!

The first month my dialogue went like this, “Oh I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what I need, I need this, I really need more of this, this is incredible, but… well… why am I not getting the *burn* for her?”

The second month my inner dialogue sounded a bit different, “Well, we’ve only been together a month, there’s no reason to jump to conclusions, I don’t have to move in or marry her right away, it sure feels good when she’s here, really really good, what is wrong with my dick and desire, how is there such a beautiful woman who digs me and I’m looking her gift mouth in the horse?”

Moving into the third month things began to get a bit more frustrated and my self talk took on a new quality, “She’s amazing, she’s everything I want, she’s beautiful, she’s stable, she’s got her finances together, she’s a HUGE plus, I could really see combining forces with someone like her, but… It’s not her?” I did my best not to thrash with my emerging thread, “It’s not her. It’s not really (consciously) me. It’s something else. It must be chemistry.”

Adding one more metaphor into the mix, I started trying to understand the ON and OFF switch to be something a bit more mammalian. “Two dogs meet up in the park, they sniff and size each other up, and based completely on their animal instincts, one of them wags an expressive and desirous tail and the other dog walks away with indifference.” There’s no accounting for size, color, breed… Nothing. It’s as if some internal radar system that detects passion level is ON for one of the participants and the the other is a MAYBE or an OFF. There’s no point in dissecting the WHY at some point. For the dogs it just IS. There’s no shame for either dog. It’s just the magic game of life and love.

So, my girlfriend was a sports car to be sure. There were a few things that were different from any previous relationship I’d been in. There were a lot of things I could point to as desirable and great qualities. But some internal radar was not wagging my tail. Why struggle and fight?

Except I wanted to observe what things DID make my tail wag. I did want to see if the logic and affection could override the heart.

In my case, the heart won.

As we moved into the holidays, there were moments of great joy and moments of disconnect. She had a catch phrase that would pop up at times when we hadn’t seen each other for a while. “How is it with your heart?” she would ask.

I could never really come out and say it. “Um…”

We both knew what she was asking. She was checking my pulse. In her own way she was asking, “So… You feel it now?”

An amazing thing connection we had kicked our connection off in an amazing way. We were both graduates of the WYRE divorce recovery class, given in town by a psychologist who’d been leading the classes for over 25 years. I was a graduate of class number 172 and a facilitator of class 173. When we made that shared connection at about minute 20 of our first “date” it was a slippery slope into bed. We were both hungry. I was ravenous.

So the other day, post “back-to-friends” change with the girlfriend, I was out with my daughter. We ran into a woman who was one of the most charming exotics I’d ever met. “She’s almost too pretty,” I said to my daughter, who was gunning for me to ask this new woman on a date. “She liked you,” said my little 10-yo wingman.

There was a blood rush that happened the moment she began talking to us. A smile, a tone of voice, a laughing style of talking. WAG WAG WAG. She’s also 10+ years younger than myself. No ring, so there was that as well.

I was a bit intoxicated as we left the “party” in the local high-end dog treat store. She was “selling” for a local high-end veterinarian business that was nearby. Maybe she was selling, I thought. Surely someone that pretty and happy has a boyfriend. Surely.

My concern with the exotic in general goes something like this, “She’s hit on by every man in a 100 yard radius. Eventually Brad Pitt is going to show up and she’s gonna go with THAT exotic.” But that’s a projection of my own insecurity. For me, once there’s a lock, there’s a loyalty and a trust that can be established that is unbreakable. I’ve seen it. I know it exists. I’ve experienced on my side. And I’ve seen it fall apart on the other side, IF it ever really existed.

So, I’m into exotics but I’m a bit scared of the intoxication that goes along with them. (Lot’s of preconceived notions about who they are and how easy their stroll through life has been. Of course that stereotype is bullshit. But still hard to shake.) BUT, the funny thing was, when the tail wag happened there was very little I could do to stop the rush, longing, the “hey, let’s go sniff around that for a bit more.”

She was charming. She was selling services to a local vet. She said how pretty my daughter was. She made sure we had the $25-off coupon. I made sure we said good bye in a “see ya later” way.

I don’t drive an exotic. But I don’t drive a domestic either. I drive something on the sporty side of sports cars. A solid german car with a bit of a AWD punch added in. I love my car. I am loyal to it. I don’t have eyes for ANY OTHER CAR. That’s the way I roll, I guess.

And that was the final tell for me in the relationship to the beautiful ex-girlfriend. I was clearly not DONE when I was with her. I wanted to be DONE, I wanted to be SET, I wanted to be LOVED. But I was unsatisfied at some dog-brain level.

She and I used our training from the WYRE class to discuss our friendship, hope for the other person to find what REALLY lit up their passion radar on all levels. And mostly, we hoped for each other that the adoration would be mutual. She deserved someone who adored her, who coveted her, who IMPRINTED and LOCKED on her scent, color, strength, and passion. She deserved more than I could offer. And her, “How’s it with your heart,” question pretty much illuminated how much she knew that and desired it too.

As we were having coffee and breakfast after the breakup, I told her, “You have been my best friend for three months. I don’t want to give that up. I will continue to care about you and encourage you to not settle for anything but AMAZING.”

We are good friends. She’s a lighthouse who brought me out of the deepest of self-fogs. She illuminated the possibilities in my heart before I could seen them for myself. She loved me out of my stupor. And I will continue to LOVE her, I even said it in a txt or email last night, in a different and powerful way.

She is my healing relationship. (a WYRE concept) She still IS.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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What You Can’t Leave Behind After Divorce

Kids. Pets. A House. A neighborhood. A lifestyle.

looking for love after divorceThere is no escape from your history with this person. And the loss of so many touchpoints in such a short period of time… Devastating. As I tried to capture in the Jetpack post, you have no idea that you are about to go into free fall, but it is coming nonetheless. And the reaction and recovery from that shock can determine your trajectory over the next several years, maybe lifetime.

Another U2 song then quickly becomes a new anthem. “I Still Haven’t Found, What I’m Looking For.”

One of the things I realize, as I am now single again, is my complete commitment to my previous relationship. What I was certain of, and what perhaps prevented me from noticing the devastating changes in my marriage, as it was falling apart, is I was IN. There was no hesitation or ambiguity about my loyalty. Even as I fell further and further into lonliness and depression–WHILE STILL MARRIED–I was unaware that the foundation of my marriage was in danger. For me I was still 100% committed. While my ex-y had already consulted with a lawyer about “options.”

So I’m learning, or at least exploring, that adoration must go both ways for me. And I’m not talking yoga instructor hot, but there has to be a sense of overwhelm, intoxication, before I’m convinced that the object of my affection is enough. I’m still trying to figure out if that is an unrealistic or unhealthy expectation. Or if it is a requirement that wraps up my imagination in a way that excludes any other woman.

Too much intoxication or obsession signals a different problem. And probably points to an unhealthy relationship with my primary care providers, mom and dad. But not enough and I’m not sure that I’ve found what I’m looking/longing for.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Single Parenting Magic – The SPO Has Given a Happy Moment

July 2012 the SPO delivers a "fifth" weekend

One. Three. Five.

Do those numbers sound familiar? In the SPO (standard possession order) those are the weekends the typical dad gets his kids. The first, the third, and the ever so lucky fifth. So this year we have Christmas in July. For some great turn of the calendar, this coming weekend is a magic “fifth.” And what that does, if you don’t know, is set up the double-weekend.

So I’m not saying she’s not being a good mother, but I do think our priorities are different. In some ways she WAS ahead of me in the entire divorce process. She would say it wasn’t premeditated, but she was closing down our communication channels for several years as she distanced herself from intimacy with me. It wasn’t hard. I was compliant. I took care of myself. But in doing so, I lost the heart of why I was in a relationship. It’s more clear now that I don’t have it, but I was desperate to stay connected. When that wasn’t offered, I was desperate to stay together until things got better. (Um, yeah. That’s a bad equation. NOTE: The other person is NOT going to change. They “might,” it’s possible, but it’s like waiting for the alcoholic to stop drinking. There’s always wishing and hoping and planning and doing better… And then there’s the slip or exit.)

Drop off and pick up can change the tenor of my entire week. Going by our old house was almost unbearable for the first year and a half.

So within weeks of the finalization of our divorce she was leaving the kids with a sitter to have sex with a repair man in another city. Oh boy! Yes, the word REBOUND came screaming up at me when I heard about it. And in my divorce recovery class, it was the only solace I had. Yes, she was already having sex with someone else. BUT HEY, it was a definite “rebound.” Fuck that. In many ways she had moved on and was all ready to GET IT ON with someone else. I have to say, “I get it.” But I was a little more calculated in my decisions, or maybe I was just so far behind in understanding emotionally what was happening.

The loss of the kids, the unlimited time with your kids, is the hardest thing. Well, that’s AFTER you get over the fact that this person has decided to bet against you. And suddenly you are left alone (and in my case homeless) to fend for yourself. And on all those nights that she has the kids for consecutive nights, you will learn to lick your wounds and get back up on your feet. Yes, it’s a process of self-discovery, but it’s like having the ladder out-of-the-hole kicked out from under you.

I guess there’s no good age for kids in divorce. And while my kids are thriving, I can see the loss in my daughter’s face when we are finally back together after a long period away. And her hugs and “mother hen” affection are just a bit over the top. I love it. I glow in it. I am careful to be the awesome dad in the father daughter constellation. As they say, she is learning, will learn, how to be with men by the healthy ways she learns to relate with me. It’s a huge responsibility. And it makes me sad not to be there for her. (The ex-y can date and babysit herself to her heart’s delight, but my daughter has become one of my primary concerns.)

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with her “relationship,” these days, but it does seem to me, that she puts her needs ahead of the kids. Perhaps that was the switch that allowed her to actually file for divorce from me. At some point she had to detach from me first. Then she had to make a decision that being without me was better for HER than being with me.

The kids are the hard part. Drop off and pick up can change the tenor of my entire week. Going by our old house was almost unbearable for the first year and a half. It was too close, to easy to want to crawl back into my old bed, to easy to long for a “return” of some sort.

And the SPO does take a huge portion of the time away from the dad. The lawyers and counselors likes to point out that “it’s pretty close to 50/50.” The problem with that logic is how that balance is achieved. There is this provision for the summers, that the NCP (non-custodial parent) can have the kids for an entire 30 days.

Let’s see what the problem is with that idea.

1. Financially it would be a huge hardship. If you could take the month off, it would be a killer vacation opportunity. But, like most parents, I would guess we have to keep working our normal schedule, then it becomes a 100% child care expense for a week.

2. Emotionally the kids are going to suffer being away from the other parent for a month. Maybe as the kids get older this will be an easier decision. But right now, the kids would be hurting to be away from Mom for that amount of time.

3. Logistically, you’ve got to make provisions for their care, entertainment, and nurture, while continuing to provide financially for both them and their mother.

As they say, if she’s happy, my kids are happy, and that’s supposed to make me happy too. It sort of works that way.

So, let’s just say, it’s going to be awhile before I am able to swing (or even want to swing) a 30-day visitation during the summer. THEN, the next best thing is the magic fifth weekend.

One more moment of reflection on the “balance of the schedule.” So JULY for me is going to be like EVERY OTHER MONTH is for her. OUCH!

I’m not interested, nor do I have the funds to change our legal agreement. BUT… at some point the “balance of time” vs. the “balance of the financial obligation” might have me looking at changing the custodial arrangement. I simply don’t have the funds to pursue it. And, for now, it’s working out to my advantage. A sad and somewhat lonely advantage, but nonetheless, I am getting a ton of work done in my “off parent” time.

So for now, I can thank my ex-y for taking care of the kids the majority of the time. (Note: during the school year she does shoulder an unfair burden of school parenting and homework, but hey, that’s the breaks.) And I can be the best dad that I can be during the time I have my kids. And I can celebrate the little gifts of the “fifth.”

And she can go right ahead and remarry, as she’s already mentioned in relationship to her current boyfriend, if that’s her path. I’ll do what I can to support her and the kids through whatever’s next. And I will keep the anger and bitterness here, in this process-writing, rather than in the my dealings with my ex-y. As they say, if she’s happy, my kids are happy, and that’s supposed to make me happy too. It sort of works that way.

In July, this year, I’ve got a lot to celebrate.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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How Much Longer Until I Feel Better? (Post-divorce Depression)

when will I feel better after divorce?

One a day, or one day at a time, is the only way to think about recovery from divorce. Recently a trusted friend said that we DO need to take vitamins, that there were some key elements (in the general population’s diet) we were just not getting from our diet any more. And while I’m certain she was thinking of something more holistic than one-a-days, the price and convenience was right.

Each day, I dutifully swallow these little green happy pills. And I can’t help but wonder, “When are these new minerals and vitamins going to kick in? When will I feel better?” (Of course, if you need real happy pills be sure and talk to your doctor.)

There is no map out of this land of confusion. You press on, day after day, because you must, because there are people [kids in my case] counting on you.

There are going to be good days and bad days. And even when you feel completely free of the influence of your ex-y, something will happen, a trigger, a song, a restaurant, a movie, that will trigger you feelings of longing and loss again. It’s okay, it’s good to feel into those deep feelings in the moment, and then move on past them.

For me, the routine is the thing. I’m usually up by 6:00 am when I do my creative writing. (I developed this habit when I needed time to write and I would wake up before the entire house to get an hour in before I needed to wake everyone else up. It was always a little like being Santa Claus. Every one was soundly dreaming away an I was up making coffee and lunches and sitting in my comfy chair and writing. It was a golden moment.

And I enjoyed the routine of getting the kids out the door every day, for school. I was the breakfast dad. And I’m sure, from what my kids tell me, things are a bit different at the old house now. My son told me he shared with my ex-y about how I get them up in plenty of time to listen to some music and roll around in bed before having to get dressed. There’s always music in my house.

I do have to get the work done, so I can keep the house, and keep making child support payments, and eventually catch up on my taxes and credit cards.

So now there are 4 or 5 days in a row when I don’t have them to wake up, when they are with their mom. I still get up at 6 and write. And even by myself, even on weekends, I love this time alone. And I think this blog, this writing about it, has brought me up and out of any lingering sadness completely. Not so sure about the One-a-Day vitamins. I think my friend was imagining a more holistic vitamin. (grin)

So I’m up and at it early every day. And not that it’s getting really damn hot during the day, I try and get my walk in before 10 am as well. There is no question that the walking has helped a lot. Not with my buddha belly (yet) but certainly with the energy and confidence that comes from “doing what’s good for you.”

And today, just for a moment, speaking to my son on the phone, I wanted to be with him rather than where I was. I could’ve changed my day and done something else with him, but instead I stuck with the plan. I do have to get the work done, so I can keep the house, and keep making child support payments, and eventually catch up on my taxes and credit cards. Onward we go.

And walking down the road or trail with my iPod blasting, I can imagine that I will come through all of this in a better place. (Hey, maybe that One-a-Day is working.)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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The Language of Divorce – Like a Stranger In a Strange Land

graffiti of the heartTo GROK is to know, consume, and “become one” something. The concept comes from Robert Heinlien’s Stranger in a Strange Land. In the book a Christ-like man has returned to Earth in the very distant future. And while this man can indeed do miracles and does appear to many to be the return of the Christian Jesus Christ, the ultramodern society cannot quite embrace his proof. In the end this uber-Christ is killed. And in a bazaar “final supper” his followers boil him into a soup and eat him. By finally Groking him, they are knowing and becoming him.

The language of divorce had the same effect on me. I was disoriented and unprepared to begin talking about my ex-wife. There was none of the newly-married fascination that comes with referring to someone as “my wife.” Do you refer to her by her name? Do you call her my ex? Or my ex-wife? Or on good days, “the mother or my children?” I actually prefer “their mom.”

Sometimes it is good to say “my fucking ex.” The words have power.

And terms like Standard Possession Order and Non-custodial Parent become new definitions that you have to get help to understand. And you will learn new ways of talking about yourself as well. Do you want to be referred to as “single” or “divorced?” And what do you say when people ask after your now-ex-wife?

A friend from my divorce recovery class told me after about 6 months of knowing me, “I’ve never known your ex-wife’s name. You always just call her ‘my ex'”

And you also develop subtle ways of letting people know you are a single parent. “Oh, I have the kids that weekend, we’d love to come if it’s kid-friendly.” And the ever popular, “They are with their mother that weekend.” Words like “the kids” and “their mother” become keywords that identify us as DIVORCED with CHILDREN. Not exactly a humorous or popular term, but one which you must embrace and GROK before you can move on into becoming what’s next.

But after a while, after consuming the broth of everything that was your marriage, you will begin to recover a new self that is ready for what’s next.

There’s an amazing scene in the movie The Descendants when we meet the older daughter for the first time. She is drunk and very unhappy. Her first line of the movie is “Fuck Mom!”

I was in the process of courting a potential date online last week and I referred to my ex as “my fuckin ex.” Oops. I was trying it on for measure, almost as a line from the movie. The woman I was communicating with was not impressed. And with a few quick txts we established that I was still mad at my ex-wife and would refer to her as “the mother of my kids” or just her name.

That’s okay. But sometimes it is good to say “my fucking ex.” The words have power. But it might be best for you and your same-sex buddies rather than mixed company. And it’s true, if you are constantly triggered by the thought of your ex, it might be necessary to do some more “work” on them.

I think we have to reach a comfort with the language and rhythm of divorce. At first we are lost and confused. But after a while, after consuming the broth of everything that was your marriage, you will begin to recover a new self that is ready for what’s next. It’s a bitter soup. It’s a process that requires many spices and experiments. But you’ve got to rise above the “fucking ex” in order to move on.

In some ways this writing is my soup preparation.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Close of Business Between Us: Taking Back the Heart of Darkness

Conduct your ex-wife transactions as if they are a clerkIt wasn’t too long ago, six months I guess, that I was feeling a moment of pause, reflection, and doubt. During a kid drop off moment, I had the idea, “If I’m going to start completely over with someone, I’d rather start completely over with my ex-y.” Not to remarry, or move back into my old house (we’d certainly gone to far for that) but to actively date for a bit. She was still the one person I wanted to chat with more than anyone. And it wasn’t about sex, although at that moment I had not been with any one else.

I wrote her an open email about where I was standing. Professed my continued love for her, and proposed we discuss, imagine, see-if something like “dating” would appeal to her as well. I was pretty sure at that point that her “other lovers” totalled about 2, but only one had been confirmed.

But it wasn’t from a place of weakness or sorrow. Actually it was a place of great strength. I was thinking, “I’m big enough to tell her this.” And a funny thing happened when I sent the email. I was actually able to let go of any expectations of what the result would be. In fact, in many ways, I was releasing her with one final ask, “Are you sure this is what you want. Because it is STILL NOT WHAT I WANT.”

The silence was deafening. About 36 hours later she responded with, “I’m very touched by your offer.” And some more blah blah blah. It was a resounding NO.

“Think of your ex as a convenience store clerk. You are there to conduct business and leave. You don’t need to exchange pleasantries or ask how things are going.”

But even before she responded I was feeling a huge lift. In a way that I had not felt since she asked for the divorce, I was feeling free of her. I clarified after her ho-hum response. I was not looking to move back in, or really change the current living or even kid schedule, I was merely imagining that we might want to spend some time getting to know each other again, before we truly moved on.

It was clear from her lack of follow-up that I was the one still wanting to get to know her. Her last missive on the subject alluded to how I was a “very desirable man” and … blah blah blah… She was not interested.

A few weeks later we made plans to do the kid’s Christmas presents together in my house. She would come to my house, since I had the first half of the holiday in our schedule. I could not have done this had I not had this release.

At the end of the 2nd message I put something in there about going out on the open dating market for the first time. (I don’t know why I needed to put that in.) And sure enough within a few weeks I was aligned with my dog-loving ice breaker.

Today, many months later, she has let me know she has been seeing her new lover since Dec. At least that gives me the idea that she was really in a place to consider my re-connect offer. Who knows.

And as she has now discovered this blog (Thanks to Google+ and Google’s advertising efforts) I now have even less to talk about. I don’t disdain her. Far from it. But there is a completion to my process with her. I don’t really want to see her when I drop off the kids. I don’t like her renewed fantastic shoe fetish, nor her recut short blonde hairdo. I’d rather not… Not even imagine.

And a helpful concept from the divorce recovery class comes to mind often in our “drop off” encounters.

“Think of your ex as a convenience store clerk. You are there to conduct business and leave. You don’t need to exchange pleasantries or ask how things are going.”

In fact, I’m best not knowing any of the details of her life.

So six months ago, I negotiated our final close of business. And now we are free to date, love, enjoy. And, as she has been in this entire process, she’s still just a few steps ahead of me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: I found this black half-heart stone on my walk today, it’s on-top of the check I am writing to my ex-y for child support this month.

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Thanks for the Jetpack, Where’s the Fuel?

diversions for divorcing parents

WARNING: In 5 minutes you are going out the door of this plane-in-flight whether you want to or not. Here’s your divorce supply list:

  • 1 Used Jetpack (no instructions)
  • Craigslist (for rent) pages
  • Half-priced books “divorce” section
  • Coffee shops and restaurants for internet access (ah, the web)
  • An appointment with a divorce counselor
  • An appointment with a divorce finance counselor
  • An appointment with a lawyer
  • What you can pack in a few bags

At least now you know what’s going on. Don’t panic. You can make it through this. The first step, taken willingly or with a push, is the hardest. And after awhile even free fall won’t be so terrifying.

The first problem is, you have a jet pack and not a parachute. Here are some ideas about how to get yours started and even potential sources for fuel.

  • Journal about what’s happening – you don’t have to start a blog, just begin putting down the words, in writing, not in your head
  • Get some exercise – even a walk is better than no walk. The internet and research will still be there when you get back. I know you don’t want to.
  • Remember the wider world of life – take a trip into nature, swimming, find ways to help others
  • Find a tribe or two to hang with – you’re not alone in this loss and disorientation, find a group to chat with, a recovery group to heal your issues, go be with friends even if you don’t really want to be seen in your current state (they won’t mind)
  • Discover computer games again (you may find gaming as a way to reconnect or stay connected with your kids. Caveat: don’t over do it with escaping in to computer games, make sure you’re getting your work and other healthy things done too.)
  • Uncover the world of the opposite sex again – i’m not advocating porn or strip clubs or erotica, but I am saying it could help lessen some of the shock (caveat: from Folding My Desire, “I slept and stayed up late cuddling with the internet. Computers and videos make terrible lovers.”
  • Sleep well (if you are having a hard time sleeping get some help, drink less caffeine, in sleep so much of our brain repairs from the stress of the day. And you are in major stress.)
  • Eat as well as you can (Opt for the salad over the burger when it’s feasable. Sure, comfort foods are okay, just watch the intake so the waist doesn’t balloon up)

I know that’s not much to hang on to as you are edged towards the abyss. But you have to trust that it’s enough. You’re gonna make it back to Earth.

Take a deep breath and count to ten.

Jump.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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* image from Jetpack Joyride (iPhone app)

 


The Good Side of Divorce – Making Things Go Easier

my son's observations of me

Sometimes it takes a 3rd party to show you how good you’ve got it. This weekend a sitter asked my kids to write a simple page about why they like me. Above is my son’s observation. (I’ll share my daughter’s in a later post about fathers and daughters.) A few of the things I am grateful for in my divorce (see it’s not all rant and rave):

  1. We don’t fight (we didn’t, but we still don’t)
  2. We always put the kids first (if I can be flexible and help her, it’s best for the kids. If I get more kid time as a result, so much the better.)
  3. She’s a great mom and I try and recognize that as much as possible. (She’s not just the mother of my children, she’s someone who I still care about deeply. And she has a huge responsibility with the SOP in getting them to school, fed, loved, and cared for. And she rocks it. Regardless of how my anger often blows out on this blog, I don’t…Try not to…let any of it fly her way.)
  4. I have a lot of time to grow myself into a better dad, a better lover (eventually), and a more responsive and expressive human.
  5. My kids and I can get silly for hours at a time. (some of the policing she provided, might not have been necessary. Now we don’t have it. I’m the police, jester, and mediator, all in one.)
  6. When I have my kids I am ON 100%. (Dating and all the crap that goes with finding a new relationship, takes a back seat to my kids. Always. I’m glad we have a 6-month before introducing a GF or BF rule, but I haven’t even gotten close. I’m not looking for “almost’ or “good enough” this next time around. I’m looking for extraordinary.)
  7. She takes the best care of them she can. (I was always amazed at the kid-centered activities she could come up with. She’s better with the school activities. She’s much better with painting and crafts with friends… She’s got a ton of great gifts that she is giving to them as well.)

+++ No buts.

My anger is my own. My kids are a shared resource and responsibility. My ex-y is a wonderful human being who is doing her best in the world.

We’re done, but we’re never DONE. Like it or not, she’s in my life for the duration too. Her eventual BF-to-husband, is merely a matter of time. Dr. Marriage Divorce Counsellor said, “The deciding parent is often a lot more able and willing to move on. They’ve been moving on long before the actual divorce happens.”

How that still makes me sad I don’t know. But she moved on. And the more I support her “what’s next” the better it is going to be for my kids. (It might still hurt, but that’s part of growing into this new world order, and getting on with what is good for me too.)

This blog aside, I keep my shit to myself for the most part. Maybe too much when we were married, to the detriment of my own happiness. But I don’t have to do that now. My anger is my own. My kids are a shared resource and responsibility. My ex-y is a wonderful human being who is doing her best in the world. It is my hope that The Off Parent is more about me and my struggles, joy, and recovery than it is a bitch-fest about her. Sure I can go there. But in the real world, I leave as much of it HERE as possible.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Why Blog About This? What’s The Point?

how bob dylan told me to blogTwo summers ago, my ex-y was hipped to this blog. She called on the phone.

“I saw The Off Parent.”

“Okay.”

“And as a parent, trying to trust you, I want you to take it down.”

“You’re right,” I said. It was a very low point for me. “I’ll take it down right now. I’m sorry.”

+++

And then something happened a few weeks ago. I was thinking about a post, I was angry with my ex-y (go figure) and I wanted to write about it. I remembered how my depression returned with a vengeance  right after the conversation above. “What was the point?” I asked myself.

And as I was walking across the parking lot of the local grocery store, I said, “When my kids are grown up, I want them to know the truth. I want them to understand what I was going through.”

The point being, my kids are on the internet. They are not searching for me or my blogs. And this blog, The Off Parent, would be hard to trace back to me. You can do it. There are some threads. If you really wanted to.

BUT why would my kids be searching for a blog about divorce? Um, unless they are searching for a blog about divorce. (Good point.)

My friend said to me, “Do you think Bob Dylan’s kids have heard Idiot Wind?”

So this is not for them, this is not for you. This is for me. I am attempting to share the truth, and release the bitterness and sadness, so that I can heal and move on.

This is also a document that will be revealed. I’m sure it’s my ex-y’s worst nightmare. Well, sorry, hon, it’s up for keeps this time. Oh, and it’s not for you, either.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Info Source: Sara Dylan on Wikipedia

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Iron Man 2: Divorced Dad’s Review – Hidden Messages At My Ex – I’m No Tony Stark

I write a tech blog during the day. And occasionally I do a movie review. Just for fun, I call it. And I did one a while back on the release of Iron Man. But it was a thinly veiled slam on my ex-y. How could she walk out? There is NO GIVE UP. I was mad, I was confused… Here’s the review.

+++

Reviewing Iron Man 2 - from the divorced dad's perspectiveThere’s a critical juncture at the end of Iron Man 2, where Pepper Potts throws in the towel. In the romantic version she is doing it because she loves the real Iron Man too much to keep going through saving the world over and over again. She’s had enough.

From the Wikipedia entry on Pepper:

Paltrow reprises the role in Iron Man 2. In the film, Potts is promoted to Stark Industries’ CEOwhile Tony is attempting to set his affairs in order due to his impending death due to the poisonous side-effects of the arc reactor’s power source. When talking to Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man 2, Tony also hinted that he and Pepper were in a relationship and his life was back on track.

So in the movie version of reality, I guess we don’t really know if they are going to hookup. It’s not like there hasn’t been some tension in Pepper’s “caretaker” role. Sure she’s holding his life together. And sure she’s an amazing organizer and champion for all things Tony Stark. And being promoted to CEO and essentially bazillionaire of Stark Industries might be nice. But, she is DONE.

cartoon version of Pepper Potts

So in the non-movie version, in real life, for example, when the CEO says, “I quit.” Are there any further options? Is there a way to “talk” the leader back into the leadership role? Back to the movie, do we even care about the CEO role at this point? (I imagine the sap inside all of us was yelling, “Kiss her, you fool.”)

So my personal reaction was something along the lines of “What? She’s done?” Again, I’m sure I’m projecting here, but… “After all that? Sure it was HARD, and sure you’re TIRED, but you’re QUITTING?”

In my mind we’re talking about something bigger than HARD and TIRED.

On the flipside, the new agent is also a winner. And quite a feisty contender, that Natasha Romanoff.

And what CAN you do when the leader, or the other person, says, “I’m done.”

What I think Tony Stark has to do is let her go. At what juncture in the future might the stress be too much for Pepper yet again? How can you count on that prior bond/faith/strength, after the other person has opted-out? Won’t they be likely to opt-out again?

I don’t remember the final scene in the movie. Did they kiss? Did they talk about a vacation in paradise somewhere? But I do remember being stunned and a bit frustrated that she’d quit. Perhaps a little bit mad at the sugar-coated ending. Because the failure was devastating. Or is it a new beginning?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Note: Learning not to send sizzling zingers at my ex-y has been one of my most valuable growth steps. It does no good. I remember writing this and hitting the publish button… “Heh heh heh.”  She’ll get the message. It will be humiliating. (Self-reveal.) Oops. That’s not a good thing. She’s the mother of my kids. She’s a person I loved. She’s still the woman I married. So even putting together pointed txts and emails together was fun, but was also destructive, and in many ways, still holding me to the woman I so desperately wanted to leave behind at this point. No thrashing. Barbed emails and messages are just thrash.


Just Being Dad Is Enough: A Hot Summer and a Ghost Horse

the off parent talks about the road ahead

Since my divorce in August of last year I have been rebuilding my life and my relationship with my kids. Too much time at work, too many economic ups and downs, too much stress, have all brought me to this point on the journey. Today.

As I was walking alone in my new neighborhood this morning the slowness of the activity and the drowsiness of the heat had me recounting summer time with my Dad. And the contrast between those very sparse memories and the more generous memories I am working to create with my kids on Fridays and alternating weekends this hot hot summer.

My new neighborhood is very conducive to bikes, so when she is here, my daughter and I ride every morning, “before it gets too hot.” And I have seen streets and areas we might never reach on foot. And we zoom together around the quiet streets. Fearless. Explorative. Together.

And my son and I often go for walks, since he does not like bike riding at this point. We mostly walk to the lake/pool neighborhood complex, and occasionally to the convenience store where he partakes of his favorite summer drink, the mango slushee. The last time it was just my son and I we were walking along up the hill in the picture above when he noticed a horse.

“Dad, that’s a horse in that yard over there.”

Sure enough there was a large brown horse staring at us as we puffed up the hill in the heat towards the mecca of slurpeedom. We stopped and said a few words to the horse. He said nothing. And we walked on.

On our return the horse had moved out of sight and we talked about how wild it was that a horse was “just standing there.”

Now every time we pass this place in the road we look for the horse. My daughter and I ride by the field looking for him everyday she is with me. She was disappointed not to have seen him. We are both hopeful, but so far the horse has not reappeared.

So this magical moment reminds me of the optimist’s Christmas joke when the child is given a bucket of horse poop as a Christmas gift. He opens the present and laughs, “I knew there was a horse in here somewhere.” A nice summary of making the best out of a bad situation by keeping our perspectives on the positive side.

And here’s one other thing that I find entertaining. The name of the street to my house is San Juan, or Saint Juan. (As if…) And even better is the cross street that accurately marks this crossroads in my life.

the off parent - san juan

At the meeting point of sainthood and bs. As I see it, we always have a choice to go either way.

UPDATE 7-29-11: This morning, Friday, the three (plus dog makes 4) of us trekked to the local taco trailer for breakfast. And along the way we saw:

the off parent - ghost horse

Again, the horse said nothing, but we are almost certain that we saw an actual horse and not some mirage from the heat. My son said he saw the horse breathing.

We were blessed with one other creature who enjoyed as much ride as walk:

We’re pretty sure the dog didn’t see the horse. There was no acknowledgment of either one by the other.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Depression is No Joke: Suicide is Not the Answer to Any Question or Problem

get help for depression in your divorceAs I’m thinking about some of the darkest times in my life, the fall from having it all to having nothing was the harshest thing I could imagine. There were moments…

(Disclaimer: I am not a counselor or mental health professional. I am not offering advice on how to treat your depression or suicidal thoughts. I am saying GET HELP and GET IT NOW. See also the Divorce Reference Library page)

For now, here are a few things I learned about depression.

Your brain is fooling you. You can no longer trust your own thoughts. Even the negative thoughts are not accurate. What was critically important for me was to realize when I was getting depressed and go into humorous observation mode. “Wow, my thinking is really fucked up.” There’s nothing funny about depression, but sometimes if I could amplify my dark clouds to the ultimate extreme I could remind myself how silly my thinking could get. I mean, I was probably not responsible for nuclear war. But that’s how it felt sometimes.

Soft thoughts about suicide are actually suicidal thoughts. Harder to admit the word “suicide” into my vocabulary. But I had vague ideas about jumping from a bridge or crashing my car at high-speed. And while those are called “ideation” they ARE actually suicidal thoughts. Take them seriously. Again, remember, your brain is crazy at this point. Even odd thoughts about how you “might” kill yourself are actually thoughts about killing yourself. I know that sounds kind of circular, but it’s easy to discount the “concept” rather than the “plan” of killing yourself.

Tell your care team about your “ideation.” Even the littlest thing can be a clue into what’s going on in your brain. And once you get over the hurdle of talking about it, you can begin to disassemble the issues and problems that are making you consider that ending your life might be a solution to ANYTHING. It’s not a solution!

If you ever find yourself with a plan, call 911. Do whatever it takes to get yourself to share your planning with someone else. This is serious. If you have a plan, call your healthcare provider now. If you’re plan is in motion, call 911. Only you can take the action to prevent this.

Everything else can wait. Everything else, every problem, every situation, can wait for you to clear your depressive thoughts. There are a lot of helpful things you can do to move forward and out of depression. I have some powerful references in the Library. But for now, just know, that ANYTHING you do to stop your depressive acting out is worth it. Ice cream, funny movies, computer games, whatever it takes to break the spiral of dark thoughts.

Isolation is your enemy. Those dark thoughts can seethe and spin unchecked when you are staying in bed or blocking and not returning phone calls. What you need but can’t seem to ask for, is companionship. Just another soul to be with, to check in, to ask, “What are you doing tomorrow.” Do what you can to find that one person who understands. And then thank them for providing you with a check-in. That’s all you need at first. A “check-in.” Someone who is going to call and who you cannot block. It sucks, but the longer you dig in to the darkness the harder it is to pull out.

In my case I used some of the 12-step literature to help bootstrap myself back out of my dark cave and into recovery. The concept of MASSIVE ACTION really spoke to me. The idea being, that little incremental steps were not going to be enough to pull me up out of depression. So I signed up for a divorce recovery class (10-week counselor-led group) and joined an Aikido class. And every day, I made a plan to get out of bed and out in the world for a healthy lunch.

Just beginning these commitments toward health signaled to my depression that I was not going to take it lying down any more.

Some people have the idea that depression is a weakness. That everybody should be able to pull themselves up if they wanted to. Fuck that. Depression is a real beast. If you’ve never felt the weight of the black beast on you, you are lucky. But if you have dealt with, or think you may be dealing with depression, GET HELP.

You don’t have to do it alone. And trying to do it ALONE might even make things worse. The shame of depression is still real. But you cannot let it prevent you from getting the help you need.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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See also: Followed By the Black Dog of Depression

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