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

Posts tagged “recovery

Recovery and Why the Okay Counselor is Not Enough

First let me say, I mean no disrespect to my former counselor. He worked with me through rough times. And gosh darn it, I survived, so I’ve got that going for me. And, more importantly, I don’t think any version of talk-therapy could’ve brought me out of a depression that was so obviously chemical. And with all that, firing him and getting a new counselor enlightened me to the benefit of having a more engaged and more active counselor.

Let me explain.

At several points over my dark period I was asking my counselor for a “plan,” something I could rally around. And like a normal therapist he reflected that question back to me. “If you had a plan, what would that look like.” Now, I get it, I understand the theme behind what he was doing. But when I asked the third or fourth time, I think it was time to give me some help. I needed hope desperately. I needed to imagine I had a plan, even if I had no plan. I needed him to think ahead of me a bit, and give me some ideas about what I should be hoping for in my recovery. What is the goal? What’s our path? Where are we going?

Now, I imagined him working really hard with me, and thinking about ways to challenge and encourage me along in my deep struggle. But at this point, reflecting back, I don’t think he was doing any “homework” on me or my case. I think he was going along in his tried and true method, and being the encouraging counselor that he was, and asking me to come up with the plan, the goal, the hope. That’s not what I needed. I was broken. After several sessions I complained that no hope, no plan, was forthcoming. I needed some help.

Again, we talked around it. We talked through a lot of stuff. We talked about the things I was having a hard time with. But we never came up with a plan. I’m not sure if he didn’t want to give me a plan, didn’t think it was in my best interest in coming up with a plan for me, or had no idea what a plan would look like, but the result was the same. I did not get a plan. And as a result, I really didn’t find hopefulness either.

One of the targets we agreed on was my need to feel anger. But beyond asking me to get mad at him, or encouraging me to express my disappointment at him, directly at him, we had a hard time accessing my anger. Let me put that more correctly, I had a hard time accessing my anger, and he had a hard time giving me direction that would help me get there. We were at an obvious impasse. But again, as I imagined perhaps he would be consulting his books, his notes, some recent research to come up with ideas, he came up with nada. We cruised along though our twice a week hour-long sessions doing the same old thing. Both being frustrated that I couldn’t seem to muster up my anger.

What if we tried something different?

That would’ve been great, but I don’t think it was in his mindset. And I’m guessing he was not actually “working” on my case outside of our hour. My guess, and this is 100% projection, is that he was just cruising along on with his routine counseling method. And since I fell outside the zone, he was okay with simply repeating the same session over and over, each week.

I was distraught. I was in no position to manage up. He was the therapist, I was the patient. And still, I was constantly asking him for new ideas, and any new ideas he might have for getting to a plan. We didn’t. He didn’t. And we soldiered along. But it was not very productive. There were no insights or forward movements that I could point to when my girlfriend asked, “What did you guys work on today?”

And then my new meds kicked in. And after one more session I fired him. It was too obvious to me at that time that we were not making progress. That he had no new arrows in his quiver.

My new therapist is like night and day. I was mad within 30 minutes of meeting him. No problem triggering my anger. Sure, it was still hard for me to get there, or stay there, but there was no lack of ideas for exposing my unresolved anger. I’ve got a lot of it.

So, in the world of recovery and counseling, make sure you asking for what you need. And when you keep asking for it, and getting the same results, it might be time to change horses, so to speak. Get a therapist that challenges you. One that keeps a few steps ahead of you along some path or plan that HE keeps in mind for both of you. Aimless, feel-good therapy, is not where it’s at for treating depression. And while I survived, I think I would’ve suffered much less with my new therapist.

Keep going to new therapists until you find one who fits. And when they fall in a rut and don’t serve your needs, get rid of them. You are the customer, and you can demand an awesome therapist.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: padding, creative commons usage


Losing Everything Again, And Finding Happiness Anyway

I’m in a rough place. At the same time I can’t say that I’ve ever been happier. But I’m just beginning to realise happiness is about my relationship to myself and not someone else. Sure, I’d like to be in a relationship. I really miss the physical contact, the camaraderie, the checking-in at all hours of the day with little texts and messages. I love being in love. And I love being in relationship. Until it’s not working. Then I’m not all that good at expressing what I need to make things better. So I suffer. I moan. I get depressed. What I should get is ANGRY. But I suck at that even more.

Two months ago I was asked to move out of “her” house. I was broken. I was freaked out and scared that I was retreating to my mom’s house to die. I imagined myself sleeping all the time, fighting with my mom about not getting up, like a teenager. I knew the sadness was going to be overwhelming. I mean, I loved this woman with all my being, and she was everything I dreamed I wanted in a relationship, and now she was going away? I was almost as afraid of the darkness I was going to descend into, more than the darkness I was in, but I knew that staying was not healthy. I was anxious and depressed at the same time. And I needed to get out of the house and get on with the grief and healing that would come from losing it all again.

And for the first two weeks I suffered. Very differently than I thought I would. I was sad. I was grieving. But I was also relieved. I relaxed a bit once I was alone again. I slept better. I napped anytime I felt tired. I took back control of my schedule and my priorities. And one thing I did, for sure, was I exercised every day. It was a commitment I’d made over a year ago when I was struggling. No matter what, I can walk. Even if it’s only 3 miles or so. I can walk. And while that won’t make me feel better in the short-term, in the long-run I knew it was as good for my soul as it was for my health.

I also attended a boatload of Al Anon meetings. I was going almost to keep from being so alone. But I was listening too. And I spoke a few times about the struggle of giving up on a relationship. And I got a lot of phone numbers of people I could call when I just needed someone to talk to. It was the best support network I could’ve asked for. In ways that were different from friends, these “friends” had experience with what I was going through. Most of them had years in the program and gave pretty sage advice when asked for it. But mainly they were sounding boards for my recovery thinking, about the relationship, about where I was going, about how sad I was, about how I couldn’t see my future at all. And mostly they listened. That’s really what we need more than anything, someone to listen.

Well, as it turns out, I never really fell apart. I was expecting it to happen at any time, but I simply kept going on with my life. I kept walking. I read and worked the Al Anon program. I went to meetings. I talked to some people on the phone. I got a sponsor. And I really just struggled on with my normal life, except that I was alone and not living with someone. (Well, my mom, but that is different. And we worked out a pretty good relationship around privacy and sharing resources.)

I sought out the grief. I watched sad movies and cried. I read books about breaking up and grieving. I wrote goodbye letters to my former fiancé. I dug into my feelings and sat there, not really sure what actions to take. So I stayed still. I sat with the feelings. I prayed and meditated. I ate three meals a day and walked in the brutal Texas heat. And I kept going.

I wasn’t feeling better during those first few weeks. I was feeling liberated, somehow, but sad and alone.

And about three weeks in, something happened. (I think my new meds kicked in.) I started to see possibilities for the future, my future. alone but surviving. If you’ve never experienced true depression you don’t quite understand the depth of the helplessness that happens. I didn’t really see my demise, I just couldn’t imagine my survival. But a new dawn began to break as a result of my work, my time away from a toxic relationship, and the help of my chemical altering drugs.

Then my brain kicked back in at about 4 weeks. It was as if I had been sleeping the entire time prior, and now awake I was capable of accomplishing anything. I wasn’t grandiose, I was just happy again. I was hopeful again. I was still doing all the same things, walking, napping, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and boom, like a light switch was flipped, I was back.

That was six weeks ago and the reignition has stuck. I’ve gotten over the edgy side effects of the new meds. I’ve calmed down my fantastic ideas. I’ve watched my sleep schedule very carefully. And I’m still soaring what I consider my “normal” functioning self. I’m happy. I’m alone and living at my mother’s house and working a shit job, but I’m happy. And I’m writing. That’s one of the big tells with me, if I stop writing something is off. My brain likes to express itself with language. And when I clam up, I’m battling something bigger than just a temporary setback or disappointment.

I’ve learned to ride the edge of my good feelings too. And I’ve learned to laugh off the overused term “manic.” Sure, back in my teen years I had a manic phase. But since then, when I get high, I think I’m returning to my natural “high self.” There are psychological terms for this state as well, but I don’t even think hypo-manic fits for me. I could get there if I drank too much coffee, didn’t eat well, and didn’t watch my sleep. I could easily slip over the edge of mania and do some crazy shit. But I learned when I was sixteen, that this type of behavior only results in sadness later.

So I’m alone, homeless, and happy. How joyful I will be as things begin to turn in my favor. And it’s the season, fall, where I usually get stronger. I’m trying to relax a bit more. I’m thrashing a bit about being alone. But at the moment, as you can imagine, I don’t have many options for being in a relationship. And I KNOW that I don’t need another relationship right now. My relationship to myself is the one I need to nurture and continue to build. I’ve still got a lot of forgiving to do for my failures and failings. At the moment, though, I well on my way.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: cartwheel, creative commons usage


Getting Quiet Again; Recovering from Another Fall Into Darkness

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

OFF-firestarter

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

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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

dark woundings of my own

OFF-dark-mermaid

[from a second wave – poetry]

the precision in a glass of wine
loosening the tongue just enough
to truthfully expose the inner heart
the pumping seething heart
rich red with healthy passion
or black blue with choked off pain
i cannot stand in your way
nor cushion your deep slide this time
my target is moving now
released by your trigger finger
and slippery anger-joke-anger
mad, just kidding, is still mad
and opening the door
date-night door, as well
with “i’m mad” is a sure sign
as sure as the slight slur
almost imperceptible, almost passable
but the message uncoiled and venomous
was unfiltered this time, by feints and jests
and the bile poured on the floor between us
what could’ve caused the flood
releasing pent-up frustrations and …
what
a deathly release from being loved
a striking to keep from feeling
a fear greater than being loved
a fear of loving and losing again

i can’t survive this poison
i’ve seen too clearly the trajectory of loss
disappointment and un. met. expectations.
i survived this song long ago
so long, i no longer want to do the dance
around the venomous tongue
the wounded and striking viper
i won’t go back to charming
starring with glassy eyes, praying
playing the flute
hoping for a long and happy life
i failed my snake charming class
and burned the books
branded with my F
but released from that prison
of dangerous shadows and unknown traps
i am released and recovering
from dark woundings of my own
i won’t take on more
hurt
no matter
what the
love
provided

now

or

then

8-1-2014

image: models dive 25 meters, bejamin von wong, creative commons usage


Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

OFF-healthycoupling

Divorce is hard. Dating after divorce is tricky too, and I’ve found some things I think are good indicators of how whole a person is, and how ready they are for a healthy relationship. Sure, your dating profile says something like, “Let’s be friends first and see where that takes us.” But most people I meet are really hoping that friendship takes us to the next wave of affection. I think we are mostly looking to me found and appreciated by another person, while having the opportunity to appreciate them back. We want to become the most fantastic cheerleader for their hopes and dreams and we expect that positive affirmation in return.

We don’t need a relationship. We want one. We are fine alone. We have found our own way out of the desert of depression and despair. And now, standing strong and alone again, we are ready to dip our toes into the idea of being loved and loving again. It is a huge risk. And some people can’t get over it. Their divorce is still too painful, or their relationship with their ex is still too volatile. They are really not ready for a relationship.

If, however you begin to think your shit is sufficiently together to date again, some new boundaries are in order. And here is what I’ve found to be the indicators of a healthy start.

You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too.

1. The relationship with the ex is business-like and drama-free.

If your potential partner is still dramatically engaged or enraged at their ex partner, watch out. You are likely to take some of the “stand-in” damage for the anger that needs a place to dissipate. Irritation and conflict can always arise. But pay attention to how this person deals with these setbacks or conflicts. It’s likely this is how any future conflict with you might evolve, as well. Are they able to articulate what the problem is? Can they negotiate a solution and then let it go? The emotional baggage from divorce is huge. And it’s tough to get through all the processing that needs to happen before we can cut it loose and be free of the burden of our ex.

2. The other person puts their kids ahead of the relationship.

In my experience, I find a potential partner who has had kids (they can be older or younger than mine) is more likely to be accepting and accommodating of my relationship to my kids. When my kids call, they come first. Sure, it’s an interruption, and sure it puts the “special friend” in a secondary role, but it’s clear to me that my kids emotional and physical well-being is much more important than me having a girlfriend. At least at this point in my life, while they are still in school, and still very much under my influence. I have a deep respect for my role model as a dad, and as a man. I am showing both my daughter and my son how a man acts in the world. Even under duress, I am showing how I can remain calm, and make strong and positive decisions. And always, my kids come first. Especially in the early stages of a new relationship.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case.

3. In meeting the kids, there are no major hangups or obvious attachment issues.

Divorce traumatizes all of the family members. And often this trauma causes us to revert to old and unhealthy defense mechanisms. And of course, as a divorced, and now-single parent, I am going to do everything I can to take care of my kids needs. BUT… this has to be carefully done. I have seen both men and women who were WAY to enmeshed with their children. Maybe the kid was a brat who was completely undisciplined. Or perhaps the child was overly shy and withdrawn, folding themselves into the parent. At younger ages some of this behavior is acceptable. But as the child ages, and reaches the end of elementary school they should not need to be coddled or babied, because the other parent is trying to make up for some loss. The single parent cannot make up for the divorce. But everyone survives and moves on. Both the kids and the parents need to return to healthy boundaries and healthy communication styles, so that everyone can grow up, and let go of the stigma and shame of the divorce.

4. Conversations about divorce, parenting, or relationships are not tense.

In early stages of a relationship, most of the time you want to hear, “What happened?” And this opportunity to share your story and hear the divorce story of the other person, is a great time to listen for their repose. How have they accepted their own responsibility for the divorce. Even if the divorce was the result of some infidelity, have they been able to move beyond the anger? The best approach to the ex is to live and let be. Focus on the kids. Walking away from a marriage is hard work, and the way someone tells their divorce story is important. Listen.

5. Clarity of intention and honest expression of affection and desire.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case. You’d even imagine, that someone who puts up a dating profile online, and who talks about what they want in their next relationship, probably has some intention of being in a relationship. BUT, you might be wrong. I have been on quite a few dates where the woman had no idea what they wanted. I had one woman, who I connected with and had just spent nearly two hours talking to, tell me in the parking lot as she was getting into her car, “I can tell you at least three reasons I’m not right for you.” She didn’t, but she said she knew she had no real idea of what she wanted in a relationship. If you’re dating, be clear on if you want to “date” or have a relationship. I’ve heard that some people are into casual dating and casual sex. That’s never worked for me, but if that’s your thing, make sure that’s what the other person is saying as well. If the person cannot give  you a good idea of what they are looking for, how their next relationship might look or feel, they may not be ready to be in a relationship. And if you can’t articulate what you are looking for, if your vague, or simply lonely, you might want to keep working on yourself, and your approach to relationships before jumping right back into one.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship.

6. Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.

Drinking together can be fun, but it shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, unless you are both into it. If the person doesn’t really open up until a glass of wine or two, you might be rubbing up against someone who has a hard time expressing themselves. In moderation, as a celebration lifter, a few drinks on the weekend are no problem. But if it’s every single night, and the glass of whatever becomes like the cup of coffee in the morning, a necessary lubricant, there is probably an issue there. And I’ve seen TV become the same sort of numbing or escaping addiction. I went on a few dates with a woman who professed an addiction to reality TV shows. She also turned around and fought with me about the virtues of TV overall, and how TV was no less interactive than reading a book or playing a game with someone. Um…. Yeah.  Escapism should not be a common theme. You want clear and present as the normal relating condition between you and another consenting adult.

7. Affection that moves into sexual relations doesn’t change the overall tone of the friendship.

Of course, you’d like to be friends first. And if the chemistry is working, there may be a pull towards the bedroom. But of course you need to know that if you are looking for a relationship, sex, while important, is not the most important aspect of a relationship. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too. Don’t get me wrong, a good sexual chemistry is a powerful motivator. But don’t let the sex cloud your understanding of who the person is, and what other things you like to do together. You can’t screw all the time.

And initiation of sex shouldn’t cause major shifts in the relationship. You’re friendship should still remain a focus in all of the stages of a relationship. Perhaps that’s part of what led us to divorce, we stopped dating our partners and began to take them for granted. We stopped cheerleading and became more of a negotiator, or even antagonist.

Listen to yourself as you talk about the relationship as well. When you are describing your relationship to a friend, notice the words you use. How do you describe this new interest? What are the highlights that you are proud to share about this person?

And listen as you talk to this person as well. Are you open and free with your expressions of affection or desire? Can you say what you need? Are you holding back, or withholding some information for fear of upsetting the other person? All of these are clues that the relating part of the relationship might still need some exploration.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship. It doesn’t have to be about marriage, but can be more about learning to love and feel loved again. Take your time. Be intentional with your time, attention, and actions. And if things don’t feel right, move along. If you’re not in a hurry, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of time to find one that’s just right. Or at least better than what you’ve done before.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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

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

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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

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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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