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

Posts tagged “when your relationship ends

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

< back to The Hard Stuff pages

Related Posts:

Resources:

image: Santorini’s Donkey sequence via creative commons license


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

< back to On Dating Again index

Resources: