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

depression

What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

Lena Dunham is the 25 yo powerhouse who’s show, GIRLS is a hit on HBO. Are she and her cast voicing millennial ennui of our time? The show tries to be shocking. Its stars are quirky, damaged, and beautiful in many different facets. At least we’ve graduated beyond the vapid (shoes, sex, power, self-obsession) view of Sex and the City. And we’ve come a long way from Carrie Bradshaw to the lead in GIRLS played by Ms. Dunham.

So sex is a loaded gun.  We’re all carrying it around in our pocket.

And the questions, I now realize are the same ones I am asking myself. The questions that divorce and recovery have pressed firmly in my face as said, “Get your shit together, or don’t.”

And we know what not getting our shit together looks like. It looks nothing like writing and staring in your own TV series.

So the voice of this younger generation… The same questions. No wonder it’s doing great. Well done, Ms. Dunham and Co. Now let’s see these three biggie questions are pretty important.

What’s sex about?

Is it possible we (I am) are still trying to answer this question? In fact, as Thomas Moore would lead us to believe, the sex in our lives is one of the last un-illuminated mysteries of our lives. It’s still the primary place that can generate elation, ecstasy, horror, passion, obsession. Not all good, not all bad, but mysterious, yes. And taken one step further, Mr. Moore suggests that there is a spiritual component to sex, even if we don’t want to look at it. God is there, in the mystery. God is there in beauty and unexplained fantasies. Not all good. And not all bad.

So sex is a loaded gun. (pun sort of intended) We’re all carrying it around in our pocket. Sometimes we have concealed permits and we keep our deadly weapons hidden. Other times, sometimes with shocking results, we wear our weapons on our sleeve. I think of the 50+ woman in the local grocery store in her yoga pants and perfect hair and perfect teeth. I’m guessing her car is quite new and clean as well. It takes money to be dressed like that, to look like that, mid-day on a work day. For most of us, yoga, midday on a Tuesday is not an option.

If I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

There she is. A loaded weapon. Sharing every good piece of herself that she can. She may or may not have been to yoga, just now, but she’s looking like she just stepped out of the Yoga Journal, or some “special issue” of Playboy, “The Yogini Babes of the West Coast.”

I don’t think she’s putting out “come hither” vibes. But she is putting out the best that she’s got in a very sexual way. And all the other loaded weapons in the store, men and women, are taking notice. And that gives her some additional lift. Her brightly colored tennis shoes springing just a tad more as she heads for gluten-free.

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

Today I have a few touch points. But of course, tomorrow they will be different.

  1. Sex is essential. In fact is on the base level of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s connected with survival. Instincts. Primal, animal, procreative sex. When you don’t have it, you either NOTICE or you don’t. We’re all animals with different wiring.
  2. Sex is fun.
  3. Sex can be messy. (Complications, miscommunications, obsessions, loss, lack of…)
  4. Sex… well it’s somewhere between Miranda in Sex in the City and XXX in Girls. Where you fall on the spectrum, has more to do with your family of origin and how you feel about the loaded weapon you are packing.

How do I make a living in this world?

I guess until you hit the ball out of the stadium, or inherit the unlimited wealth, making a living is going to form a large part of your existence. And your relationship to this task is critical to your self-worth, self-expression, and even your ability to thrive. And the rules and conditions change all the time. You think you have it figured out, and you get laid off. You imagine a big project is coming, and someone dies leaving the signed contract in limbo. There is always change in the world of work.  Learning to take the “change” with balance and integrity, forms a good portion of how you walk in your life. There is nothing abstract about paying bills. And there is nothing casual about missing mortgage payments.

Are intimate relationships worth it?

We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

I think so. But I also know the “relationship” to myself comes before my ability to relate to another person.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — nada surf, concrete bed

When I don’t have my own shit together, so to speak, it gets messy pretty quick. However, if I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship (whatever the form: lover, inspiration, ex-wife) and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

If you don’t have a clear link with your plans, if you don’t have a PLAN, you are likely to be misdirected by relationships.

There are three kinds of relationships that are most important in my life.

  1. Relationship to self and god. (*my* spiritual program and self-care regimen)
  2. Relationship to my children. (a life-long lesson in humility and blessings)
  3. Relationship to another person.

In my failing marriage, my therapist said to me,”It seems like she’s cut her flame off from you. She is protecting her flame for some reason.”

The metaphor worked for me.

“You should probably let her go. You deserve someone who can stand unshielded with you. Next to your flame. Someone who can burn brightly WITH and BESIDE you.”

Yes. We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

However, without our own flame, we are more likely to be looking for a light. That’s the wrong way to enter into a relationship.

So there you have it. Are relationships where it’s at? YES. And there are THREE of them. We have 100% responsibility for the first one. Relationship to self and god. (Please put whatever *concept* for god in there that fits with your belief.)

We have a lot of control over the initial trust and love of the second one: Relationship to my children. At some point, they will fly under their own power, but at this critical juncture, they need all the guidance and inspiration they can handle.

And on the final one: Relationship to another person. The loaded gun is in our hands. Either we have a clear understanding of our goals and purpose in holding it or we don’t. Either way, the gun is still in our hands. And the gun is always loaded.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

related posts:

additional sources:

resources:

image: man and woman on a date, creative commons usage


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 for 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 article, 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 (they tend to breed next indulgences: frappucinos, 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.

So my embarrassment about my fatness is really leftover 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


Negotiating Love and Desire: Dating as a Healing Journey

Learning about Love

There’s a great moment in the first season of HBO’s House of Cards, where the young female reporter is talking to a date as they get out of a taxi. “Oh, you thought you were going to get laid?” she said to the young man. “I’m sorry, but if I was going to fuck you, you’d already know.”

Crushing.

Women, do you know? And if you know, could you let us men know?

It seems like navigating sex is a huge disconnect between men and women. Men are like hunters, we’re trained to track, approach, and go for the close. We are hunting for sex, in some form or another, even if we’re just out for a date. At some level, we are negotiating for sex. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but there it is.

The Off Parent: Dear ladies

Women, it is said, are negotiating for love. But it has been revealed lately, that women desire sex with the same hunger as men. However, the social morals look down upon aggressive and libidinous women. And as the idea goes, rather than going to a bar to pick up a man, they go across the street to get batteries.

“So where are we?” It’s kind of embarrassing to ask. It makes us both feel like youngsters. And if it’s a miss, it really makes us men feel small when we put it out there and get shot down. So can we come to an understanding on this? Can you let us know sooner? Can you telegraph the signals more clearly? I’m doing my best, as a representative of my male counterparts, to be clear.

It’s like the end of the first date, the “hello” date, when you are wrapping up… If you have to ask, perhaps the signals have been mixed. When the YES is big enough, you don’t have to ask. There’s a feeling between the two of you, that says, “What’s next?” At least that’s what you hope for.

I’m less experienced at the YES.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

back to On Dating section

Related posts:

image: Love, Juliana Coutinho, creative commons usage


The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

OFF-dataset

We were married over ten years. We spawned two great kids. But I’d have to say there were very few years that weren’t somewhat tumultuous. It seemed like I was always begin accused of some transgression: not doing enough of the chores, asking for sex too often, not being honest, not being responsible enough. And while these weren’t leveraged at me as an excuse for not wanting to make love, it was more often than not one of these complaints that shut her libido completely off. Zero.

What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man.

But there has been a lot of time since then, and you think I’d let go of it, but some parts of the divorce and thus marriage still have big question marks for me. Could I have done more? Was I at fault? Was I a child? In trying to examine these things about my role in the relationship, I’ve come to discover there were a lot of things in her story that didn’t add up. There were some key pieces of information that were being left out at various points along the way, that have me wondering. Was it her fault? Was she dishonest from the beginning? When she told me, in couples therapy, that she’d already seen a lawyer, was it couple’s therapy or divorce counseling we’d been doing?

The first big X was when we were just getting re-acquainted with each other. We’d known each other in high school and had started “doing lunch” on a semi-weekly basis. What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man. Not just dating him, but living in his house.

The second big X came during one of our hardest moments. As 9-11 had torn everyone’s financial stability to the ground and I was struggling with how I wanted to reenter the work place, she began a series of lunches with a young man she worked with. It wasn’t that she was having lunch with him, it’s that she wasn’t telling me about him. And the day I stumbled onto an email about “his depression” and “my loneliness” I knew I was discovering what emotional infidelity felt like. We weathered this one, she admitted her mistake and vowed to never do it again. But a deep fundamental trust had been broken.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy.

The final X came when she confessed to consulting with an attorney while we were in couple’s therapy. She didn’t let on that things were that bad IN therapy, and only admitted her “discovery phase” because I asked her. She was not being honest. She was not opening up in couple’s therapy. She was planning her options. She wanted to know what she was going to get if we divorced. It’s a fear she had expressed to me earlier, in some moment of wine-induced honesty. “If you leave me, I’ll have nothing.” It was a false statement, but it was an indication of just how deep her fear went.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy. Sometimes it is projection that shows up. If she was feeling unfaithful, untrustworthy, perhaps projecting those fears on to me help her deal with her own guilt.

In the dataset I see, she was withholding and misrepresenting herself all along. This is a hard nut to swallow at this point. But it’s easier than trying to figure out what I did wrong. Because I was the partner who was still ALL-IN at the end. She’d made a decision to leave, made plans to cover her needs, and then with the backing of the State of Texas, she ripped my world in two.

I was given a 1/3 – 2/3 parenting schedule. (Called the Standard Possession Order). I was given the non-custodial parent role, that comes with a large child support payment. And I was asked to leave the house I funded. Because it was “in the best interest of the kids.”

What was not in the best interest of anyone was the bad deal I got. Rather than cooperating during tough times, she decided to file on me after three months of being late. I was telling her she would get paid. I was showing her my bank statements and my pursuit of new business. But she was impatient and entitled. So she let the dogs loose on her ex-husband. And while this big X doesn’t show up on the chart, it’s the biggest one. I can never trust her again. Perhaps my biggest mistake was trusting her after she told me she was living with a guy.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:


Rationalizing Your Divorce

There’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month?

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom gets the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why co-parenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad gets less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result, I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff

related posts:

image: the bella twins, creative commons usage

 


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


What I Can’t Get Over or Forgive

We said we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. And sure things changed and go weird, toxic even, but I was still in there fighting for my life as well as the relationship. When you made a choice OUT of the relationship, the whole house of cards came down around us. We cried together. But it was still you that had given up. Whatever your reasons, I can’t forget that you asked me to leave the house. Your house, I know, but still… You broke our promise to fight for the relationship.

I can only talk about my experience of the last 6 months of our relationship. It wasn’t pretty. And I own that a lot of the mess was my mess. I was chemically depressed in a way that I had not known since my 20s. And I couldn’t break out of it. My meds were off. Nothing was working. But I was working desperately to keep it together. And of course you couldn’t have known how bad it actually was. So perhaps, to you, I appeared lazy or unmotivated. That was far from the truth. My own internal truth.

When the wedding was called off the idea was it would be rescheduled as things regained a balance between us. But I think you began to leave the relationship in many ways from that point forward. Sure, you were in charge. You had the money and the nice job. And you had a tight grip on my balls too. But I colluded with that. I was gripping tightly to try to keep you even in the midst of my crippling depression. And that clinging was not good for either of us.

But there was another elephant in the room with us, that I was too afraid to bring up. As they say, each partner is 100% responsible for their own participation and failure in a relationship. I was unaware how powerful your drinking had become in weighing me down. Of course my dad was an alcoholic. And I’m not saying you are or you aren’t an alcoholic. I guess that distinction has to be owned by you. But I do know that your drinking affected me. It affected us. It was a problem in the relationship. And it was this reason, in the end that I decided to cut our Summer together short once you gave me the ultimatum.

What I wasn’t expecting was how much relief I experienced after moving out. As much as I loved you and looked forward to you getting home every night, I was also afraid of you as well. When you drank you sometimes got bitter and vindictive. Sure, you said you were better able to speak your mind after a few drinks, but once you were working on drink number three, there was no discussion to have. You were checking out and saying mean shit, and I had no way to respond. Talking to or reasoning with someone who is drunk is a zero sum game. So we isolated, even while we were together. And it made me very sad. But amidst all of my self-absorption, I was unable to see how powerful an effect it had on me. Until I left. When I left I got real clear, real fast, that I was no longer afraid. I had no more anxiety. It was like a miracle cure. I wasn’t even aware of the suppression that your drinking was causing in me.

Still, I was willing to keep working on it. Maybe you could control your consumption. Maybe you’d want to if I got well again.

But one of the first things you learn in Al Anon is you can’t focus on the other person. You can’t cause them to change. The only person you can work on is you. So I have worked tirelessly on myself. I have worked to let you go. I have worked to love you anyway, and walk away from you at the same time. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m healing.

I hope in your future you take the path of recovery, but I can’t count on it or wait on it. For now, we can’t really be in a relationship. For now, I can only watch you from a distance and pray for your health and wellbeing.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: drinking, creative commons usage


My Ex-Wife Never Was All That Honest

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-1-17-52-pm

She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.

That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.

There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.

So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.

So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.

It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.

About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.

I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.

She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.

Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.

Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?

I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.

She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.

Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff

related posts:

image: bathroomismine, creative commons usage


When You’re Trying to Co-parent with a Narcissist

off-childrunning

The truth is, for a divorce to happen, you both had to do something wrong. While at first, you might feel like the splitting of your marriage is a failure, I’m here to testify that it can also be seen, eventually, as the best thing that ever happened to you.

In my marriage, to the mother of my children, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was married to someone who has a pretty miserable view of the world. THEIR time was always more compromised, more valuable, and more stressful than anyone else around them. Now, divorced from this woman, I can gain some perspective of what I was dealing with while trying to keep our marriage together.

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

  • Not enough money
  • House not clean enough
  • Too busy and too tired for sex
  • Parenting routines were considered chores, to be taken care of rather than enjoyed

I wasn’t this way. I was raised with money as a given. I was always confident in my earning ability, even after being let go from a job. I cleaned house when things bugged me, but often they did not bug me. Sex was important to me and felt like one of the spiritual and emotional ways two people can bond. And the kids were always a gift, a blessing, and the routines, always cherished. I wasn’t one for complaining about how tired I was, or making excuses for any of it because I was soooooo busy. So much busier than you, in fact.

Needless to say, my then-wife and I came from different universes emotionally. I was mostly happy. I woke up each morning with a clean slate and eager anticipation of what the day might bring. She woke up with a chip on her shoulder, and usually, it had something to do with me. I was the cause of her unhappiness.

Today, six years later, she’s remarried to a man with “plenty of money.” And she’s still not happy. She’s got new shoes, new gadgets for her house, and new handbags, but she still has the resting bitch face all the time. All. The. Time. She’s expressing how she’s not happy about life in general, and me specifically.

Take the back to school night at my kid’s 10th-grade year of high school. Sitting in the classes listening to my son’s teachers talk about their program and their expectations for our kids, my ex-wife was opening her bills on the desk in front of her. Opening her mail, in my son’s back to school night? What could be more self-centered? I’m sure she had good reason to be so rude to everyone in the class including the teachers. I’m sure she’d just been too busy to do it at any other time. But why was she even at the back to school night, I wondered, as I shook my head in disbelief.

I’m certain I didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. I’m sure I wondered about her boundaries, and what she felt was appropriate vs. necessary to get HER schedule moved a few squares ahead. I was livid and cordial. And somewhere I was also noting my superior social skills and her lack of a clue or care for all the people surrounding her.

And just this week, she also started the kids on a very expensive regime of Invisalign braces. Now, under the “joint custody” rules she can not make these kinds of decisions without talking to me. If I’m going to be responsible for 50% of extraneous expenses, I need to be consulted BEFORE the expense is incurred. I found out about them because one of my kids was complaining about the braces. He apparently did not know why he was enrolled, and how he might get unenrolled if he objected. She didn’t share the important details with him either. Typical narcissist: doing what matters to them without much attention given to those around them who will be affected by their actions.

Okay, so my wife is still unhappy, though “happily married,” as she claims. She’s got plenty of money (both from my child support payments, but more so from her new wealthy husband) and she’s not happy. And she’s still acting out of spite towards me, and that spite sometimes includes the kids in her range of fire. She’s a piece of work.

Most of all, though, she’s still not happy. Not about anything, that I can tell. All of her correspondence with me about the braces were filled with “I can’t fucking believe you are reacting like this” to “I didn’t think you were interested in things like the kid’s health, or their dental appointments.” See, shes’ still mad that 70% custody means she has 70% of the doctor’s appointments too.

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

I am happy to have the perspective that now shows me it was not my actions or failures that made her unhappy and destroyed our marriage. She’s just this way. Somehow life is just a little more difficult for her. Somehow her chores and her time are more burdensome than the rest of us. And for that, she’s not happy. Not ever. Sure, she can smile on demand, but generally, her expression and outlook, at least while we were married, was ANGRY. Doesn’t she work with this in therapy?

Glad to be in my own skin, my own environment, and a new relationship with someone who sees life from the “half full” side of life, every single morning that we wake up together. My ex-wife’s continuous displays of contempt for me, and her repeated aggressions in emails and texts, just expose just how self-centered she is. It’s too back for my kids that she is this way. My son is a bit more cynical than I would like. But he’s doing fine in spite of it. And god knows I haven’t been the 100% rockin father that I wanted to be. But they do know and acknowledge that I have always done my best and stayed available and close to them. I can’t say the same for their mom. But maybe that’s just how she is.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff

related posts:

image: child running, creative commons usage


#dad #divorce #depression

divorced father and his kids

“They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.”

My recent series of depressions were a direct result of my divorce 6 years ago. There’s no way to beat around that bush. I had been depression free for quite some time, but the fragility was still there beneath the surface. So, even as I counseled my kids, negotiated with my soon-to-be-ex, I was reeling inside with doubt, sadness, and plan old garden variety depression.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression.

I missed my kids every day they were not in my life. And as a dad, that meant about 70% of the time I was alone. The crisis came swiftly as I was asked to leave my house, my neighborhood and support system, and move into my sister’s spare room. There was not a large amount of money in our accounts, and I’d recently lost a high-paying corporate job. It was a hard time for anyone. But with my propensity towards hopelessness, I was set up for a fall unlike any I had experienced before.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression. The circumstances of my physical life were depressing = existential depression. AND, in my case, the chemical depression caused by my brain functioning improperly and giving off distress signals that were causing untold havoc in my body, mind, and attitude.

Through a number of previous “really hard periods” I had learned the pattern of hopelessness. I was prone to giving up when things got too bad. In my youth this was a result of being kicked out of a top prep school and the death of my father when I was twenty-one. Each of those events affected me profoundly. And part of me decided that the deck was stacked against me in some way, and perhaps — the depressed person incorrectly reasons — I need to give up. I suppose the ultimate giving up would be suicide, but I was a bit of a softie for that. Heights and guns terrified me, and pills, well, there was a lot of bad pill stories out there, if you’re researching how to do yourself in. It wasn’t going to be my thing, suicide.

Instead I was going to wallow, fall, cry, complain, sleep, and hope in a magical rescue that would bring me up and out. Going for a rescue is another one of my common patterns. I make my life look so horrible that maybe someone (in my high school days it was my mom) would see my distress and rescue me. But as an adult there was no person who could sooth my hopeless soul. There was no one in my life to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.
That’s really your therapist’s role. My talky doctor and I examined past and present depressions and tried to reason some things out. My meds doctor consoled me with the idea that the meds would eventually have a lifting effect on my mood. But it was more than mood. It was life. existentially, in divorce, I was in a depressing place. Still, I had to find a way to make a go of it, for my kids, for my family, and ultimately for me. I had to find a way to stand alone, as a single dad, and proclaim that life was good. I was a long way from that a few years ago.

Today, I’d have to say, I’m in a stable relationship, I’m working and paying my child support, and I’m happy with my life. I’m okay with the divorce. My existential life has caught up with my positive attitude. It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.

When my existential life is crushed my mental life will often follow. But the level of stress I can endure without cratering is also substantial. I had been able to sustain a wobbly marriage for a year or more and get us into couple’s therapy to see if we could save the core of our relationship. I was working and doing my fair share of chores and kid duties. Neither of us was HAPPY but we were working on it.

I was not aware when we entered therapy that she was actually already considering divorce. The yaw of divorce had not been allowed to enter my consciousness. Divorce was the 100% dead option. Divorce to me WAS suicide. And while I continued week after week to talk her down off the ledge, I was ultimately unable to fix things that I didn’t see as broken. It was probably more about her family of origin than about us. But still I failed.

In failing at marriage, I was certain that I had failed in my life, that I had failed my kids. I was most certain that I failed as a man. The full story is I didn’t fail, I was still giving it 100% when I was told things just weren’t going to work out for the other person. There was nothing I could do.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me.

I fought. I tried to bully her back into the relationship. I pleaded. I reasoned. I failed again and again, because she had decided and never wavered from her decision. The rest was my reaction to this failure. My reaction to the loss of the majority of my “dad time.” There is no way to understand the loss until you are a parent and you learn that you’re going to get 1/3 the time with your kids you are used to. It felt like a violation of my life, my principles, my religion. But it was just a divorce. And in divorce the kids get split between houses.

Would I have not gotten depressed if I gotten 50/50 parenting like I’d asked, I doubt it. My stress level, in the “year of negotiations” trying to keep my wife in the marriage, and now the collapse of my marriage and loss of my kids and house, for any amount of time… I think I would’ve succumbed. The existential depression was inevitable. Could I have started the chemical repair sooner? Sure, but until things broke down I was feeling really strong. Stressed, but strong. Once I was out of my family home I was no longer certain of my positive future.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me. And in some ways, I think my kids (13 and 15) are also stronger and more resilient as a result of our break up. If she wasn’t happy, she was showing them through actions and words, what unhappy looks like. If I was stressed I was not able to be my effervescent self and the dad I wanted to be.

I am showing them how to recover from a loss, and to become a happier, more focused man. And as a dad, I am showing up in ways I couldn’t have as a married man. I’ve got more energy, more time, and more attention for each of them, in the smaller amount of time I have. They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: dad, creative commons usage


Showing Up In Spite of the Lizards (Surviving the Depression)

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.42 AMI was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and causing me to break the promises I made to myself.

I had a hard holiday season. I have a history of hard holiday seasons ever since my oldest sister committed suicide by jumping of a nearby bridge into a dry creek bed. So this Christmas was a bitch. But it also taught me a number of things about myself and my resilience.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth.
I’ve had depressive episodes since my teens. I didn’t know what was going on back then. Today I know exactly what’s happening. That’s not to say I can stop the slid into darkness when I feel it happening. (That’s what I’m getting better at, but I know it will happen again.) I feel the tingle in my groin that shares the same sensation with looking over the edge of a tall building. The thrill, the terror, the flight. It’s like that. But in a bad, not exhilarating way.

This holiday season I had a number of factors that brought me down. (And by brought me down, I mean going from upright enthusiastic and hopeful, to ready to follow my sister off the bridge.) I was stressed about my job. I was tired from a long day of traveling home from vacation. AND I had the holidays staring me in the near future. And this summer, different from any summer, I was going to have my teenaged kids in the house with me and my fiancé for 8 straight days. I was worried about everything.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth. And a little bit of electrical current is being applied in my armpits, like torture. It’s subtle at first, but I recognized my old nemesis. And even with all of the awareness and experience I’ve had, I was semi-powerless to mitigate the slip.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning.
I went from being a productive and happy member of my family to being a stone temple frog. I didn’t speak, because saying anything carried the risk of actually telling you what bad craziness was going on in my head. Like the best/worst Hunter Thompson scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and breaking the promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to go DOWN, but kicking screaming was not my way. I silently slipped beneath the surface of the dark water, hoping no one would notice my absence.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning. BUT… I had so much to stop me, from suicide, that is. There was nothing that could stop me from hitting the dark days, but my reaction and ability to just fucking show up, was my superpower in depression.

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: dad and baby, creative commons usage


Admitting My Depression Publicly

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.41.15 PM

I must be in a really good place or a really awful place to begin talking about my depression publicly, again. My talky therapist cautioned me. “There might be some future complications.” As in, health insurance! Or looking for a job.

In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses.

If you’ve ever had to seek services for a mental illness you’ll begin to understand what he was hinting at. 90% of the therapists I’ve seen are private pay only. What that means is your health insurance that appears to cover mental health, really covers some consulting by your family PA. Or at the maximum, a beginning therapist who’s willing to see patients for $35 – $45 per hour. And I can tell you, that’s not many.

And here I am, freaking out my family (no my fiancé however) by coming out as a sufferer. Why would I do this? Fame? Hardly. Fortune? Um, yeah, from what, an Oprah appearance? No.

I started this new blog (my 5th) to capture all of the writing I’ve done in the last 6 years about depression, creativity and depression, and divorce and how it triggered my worst depression ever. I’m coming out. Much in the same way sexual orientation used to be the stigma, I think today we’re more afraid of someone with a mental illness than we are of a gay or transgender person.

The media, and the congress majority party like to point to mental illness every time there is a mass shooting. But what they are doing is deflecting the bullets that should be going right for their main financial contributor, the NRA. Yes, mental illness is a huge problem in the US. And yes, many of the people who commit horrendous crimes are suffering from mental illness either temporary or clinical, I mean, how else could you shoot someone outside of a war zone?

Mental illness is very poorly understood. And, in fact, the doctors are only slightly more informed than those of use who suffer. See, we tend to do a lot of research, seeking out relief from this invisible and debilitating disease. And the pharma industry is working hard to replicate the success of Prozac, but even the drugs are a shot in the dark.

In my case, a cocktail of some of the old drugs, the cheaper ones now in generic form, tends to work the best. I tried some of the fancy new drugs, atypical they are called, and they flattened me out like road kill. So I go with the tried and true, and cheap, Wellbutrin-generic. (The same drug sold as a smoking cessation med.) And this drug serves like a persistent cup of coffee during the day, more than a feel-good drug. And I occasionally need to add in some Lexapro-generic when I’m starting to have obsessive thoughts. Between these two drugs I have successfully recovered over and over. It’s exhausting. But it’s better than the alternative.

Now I’ve just admitted to my illness and given you my prescription. But there’s a lot more to my strategy and care team. The drugs can help, but believe me, they are not a cure. The only cure is in my actions. I must take action to feel better. The Welbutrin tends to help me get out of bed in the morning. But it’s what I do with those 12 – 18 hours before I get back in bed, that really matters. The actions are up to me.

If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.
I believe in talk therapy as well. And I have learned over my 30+ years in therapy, that there are huge differences in the quality of care provided by the different schools of psychology and the different levels of training a therapist has. But the main thing in finding a talky doctor is to feel and empathetic bond with them. This is not transference. I don’t want my therapist to be my mom or my dad. I want them to FEEL into me, and understand and be articulate about FEELINGS. And then help me to take ACTION.

I’ve had men and women therapists and both have provided great care in my past. I have noticed a tendency that’s worth noting. Women therapists, in my experience, tend to be more empathetic and nurturing. But in the same vein, they tend to coddle me a little bit too much. They give me support where they should give me a harsh talking to. Sometimes, a therapist will collude with my depression. This is a role they must never have. None of your care team should ever agree with your diagnosis or symptoms of depression. Let me explain.

When I’m in my happy place I can laugh at and examine my depressive episodes from all angles. This is often where some of the good work around coping strategies gets done. BUT… When I’m in a depressive state it is easy, when talking with me, to want to give me encouragement and hope. Some of that can veer into collusion. Here’s what I’ve learned about that.

  • I want you to accept and nurture me.
  • When I’m depressed I need acceptance and warmth.
  • When I’m depressed I will say very convincing things about what I can and can’t do when I’m depressed.
  • You should never agree with me about what I can’t do. That is collusion.
  • If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.

Dear loved ones and therapists, please do not give me permission to stay in bed all day. Please do not excuse my missed appointments, or missed dinner dates, for any reason. They are a symptom of my depression and an example of how I am NOT DOING WHAT I MUST DO.

The recovery from depression always comes from forward momentum in action. Taking action is a contradiction to the depression that is telling you to close-it-all-down, stay in bed, isolate yourself to protect others. But those are lies.

In my childhood (between 4 – 7 years old) I would often take to the hills when my father would hit a rage-filled moment in his alcoholism. We lived in a neighborhood that had huge lots. So I would climb the hill behind my house and build stick and stone forts. I would go there to be alone, to be safe. I would gather rocks and sticks nearby for weapons. But who was I defending against? My mom and dad? How was I ever going to win or even survive that battle?

As an adult I exhibit some of the same behaviors in response to high stress and depression. I isolate. I think that I will feel better by curling up in bed and closing the blinds. But it’s a lie.

I did not get better up in my stick and stone fort. I only got better when I returned to the house and found my mom. I only got better by taking action against what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to stay up in that fort until they sent out a search party. I desperately wanted someone to come find me, pick me up, and tell me it was going to be okay. As a kid that is a perfectly acceptable request. It’s what parents should do with kids. As an adult this type of behavior and desired response from others is likely to cause you a lot of pain. It might even get you in trouble with your job, or put your relationship into jeopardy. You cannot wait for someone to come rescue you from your stick and stone fort.

I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed.
The only way out of the fort is by your own action. The only way out of your depressive moments is by making contact with others in the world. You might call your care team. You might call a friend who understands. You might have a loving spouse who can give you warmth and cuddle without the coddle. That’s what you need. You need peace, love, and understanding, and then you need action.

Only you can take the action. Your therapist and family can all make suggestions, can all think they have a handle on what’s best for you, but only you can do it. Only you have the ability stand up in your mess of a fort/life/situation and ask for help. You have to tell those around you what’s happening and what you need. And you must ask them NEVER TO COLLUDE WITH YOUR DEPRESSION.

Telling me he understands my stick and stone fort is a therapist’s job. Telling me it’s okay for me to call in sick is colluding. I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed. Sure, I don’t need to add a lot of stressful activities, but I cannot isolate. Only through massive action, action forward, action back towards engagements and people and tasks, can we find the grip on the slipper slope back to wellness. We must fight to climb back up the hill ourselves. We can have a team of people around us cheering us on, but it’s an individual sporting event.

Today, back at the top of the hill, reengaged with my family, with work, with my creative process, it is easy for me to shout about ideas and strategies for doing what I’ve just outlined. But only two months ago, I was in my own stick and stone fort hiding from everyone. The holidays are typically hard for me. But this past holiday I “took a digger.” And my lovely companion didn’t collude with me or my isolation. She constantly showed up, cooked healthy meals, asked me what I needed, and demanded we go for a walk. It is through those laborious trips up the neighborhood hills that I got my strength back. More than the meds and more than the talky doctor, it was the daily living experience that I had to heal within. And walking, staying close to someone else (even if you don’t talk much) is the key to getting better.

I may never be 100% free of this terrible disease, but I can do better each time. I can show my care team where I hide and ask them to call me out every. single. time. There are no exceptions to this rule. Anytime I was let off the hook, “Okay, you can stay home, I can see how tired you are,” was a time when I ultimately felt worse not better for the release. In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses. The truth is we can only do it for ourselves. Our friends, family, and support team can cheer us along, but it’s our legs and our lungs that have to propel us back up the hill.

… let’s continue tomorrow …

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: sadness, creative commons usage


What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

OFF-2016-sleeping

It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce.

For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.

It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.

I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.

A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.

In my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.

It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.

This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.

I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.

I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: children sleeping, creative commons usage


The Divorced Dad and the Goodbye Monday Blues

OFF-2016-mud

Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.

In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it.

Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.

I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.

On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.

Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.

I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: kids at play, creative commons usage


Taking Dad for Granted After Divorce

OFF-2016-fight
takeforgranted

I am a paycheck to my ex-wife. Along with being a dad and provider of love, support, and transportation to my kids, I am an income stream. And a few years ago when my ex-wife decided a few late payments were the reason to turn me over the AG’s office, well, things have gotten worse from there. A lot worse.

Today I am in the process of having the AG’s office review my income and recalculate my child support payment. It looks like it will be about a 50% reduction. I’m sure my ex is none too pleased about this either. But it was her choice to bring the state’s attorney’s into our lives and now it’s hard to get them back out.

Still, even as we are both dealing with the frustrations of the system, I made a comment via email today about how it would be nice to negotiate this between the two of us, without the state in our business. Her response was as telling as it was swift.

dad

This is her blanket response. And there’s no sense in arguing it. We both feel justified in our positions. But her position is that by having the AG in our lives, I will comply with the divorce decree. Only there’s never been an indication that I wasn’t complying within the full letter of the law. Oh, I got behind and asked for her to be patient, but there was never any wiggling about me being good on my promise, on my debt.

Even as I knew I was going to be late, I tried to offer her some collateral, so she wouldn’t feel so exposed. She refused and forced me to sell my house because there was no option for refi or restructuring once she had put the AG’s vice grip on my credit. So she’s gotten her pound of flesh. And the state has taken a 10% administration fee as well as crippling me from being able to make any financial choices. Before my current girlfriend, I was living in my mom’s house. That’s just fine with my ex-wife.

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that?

But what she doesn’t understand is her jack boot is no longer effective. In fact, her enforcers are going to start asking me for a lot less money in a month. And still, she feels their presence in our accounts is best for her and the children. I could argue about how long I’ve paid child support and health insurance now that my employment has been steady. I could try to persuade her that she can trust me. But I couldn’t convince her then, what makes me think I can convince her of anything now?

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that? My collateral is no good. My trust and integrity have been part of her problem all along, I guess.

So in the state of things when a woman decides to divorce a man she is immediately entitled to a paycheck. The amount of that paycheck will be based on the number of children you have and some factor in your salary. If your salary is zero at the time of negotiations they will set it at your last known income. And for me, that was a problem, because I had been making great money at a corporate job prior to the divorce. And while, at the time, I was confident of being able to replace my job at a similar level, it still has not happened. Yeah, I can blame the economy, my skill set, or some other external force, but I don’t really blame anything. I survived.

Some how my ex-wife sees my unemployment as a debt to her. While I wasn’t benefiting from not having an income, I was actually digging a big debt hole at the same time. In a humane relationship, where two caring adults are working together, the former partners work out terms. She was not interested in hearing my ideas. She demanded her money for a few months. Threatened the AG’s enforcement. And then took the necessary action to secure her money. Except, again, that’s not really how things should’ve gone.

As the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope.

Fact: a dad’s child support obligation cannot be erased under any circumstances. There was a 0% chance I wasn’t going to pay her. The timing of those payments was the only issue. And sending me to the creditors did not help my motivation. In fact, the “dead beat dad” status lost me at least one job.

So what did my ex-wife gain by sicking the state’s attorneys on me? Perhaps some sort of vindication of her anger. Some power play to bring me to my proverbial knees and humiliate me. (Yes moving back to my mom’s was the last resort.) And still, two years and lots of damage later, she’s still convinced that the Attorney General’s office serves some purpose in our lives.

The point I was trying to make to her was how we could do this a lot easier without the AG’s office involved. And as the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope. Let’s keep the boot to my neck as long as possible to make sure I don’t squirm out of paying her something.

Just days before she made the decision to turn me in as a dead beat dad I asked her, “Do you think I am hiding money from you? Or do you think I am not looking for work as hard as I can? What’s the point of getting the AG’s office involved?”

She replied that she did not think I was hiding money or that I was not looking for work. What she said as her justification, probably the same one she’s using in her mind now, was that it wasn’t fair for the kids to have to suffer because I was not paying my child support on time.

I laugh right now, thinking about this. My well-to-do middle-class ex-wife and my two healthy and happy kids live in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the best cities in the country and go to the best public school available. There is nothing my kids have missed out on for lack of money. And by enjoining our lives with the administration of the child support division of the attorney general’s office she’s merely giving me the middle finger. There’s nothing to gain, except maybe her still-angry pound of flesh.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:


The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas, she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce, this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years, our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to Single Parenting

related posts:

image: my crew, nyc, spring break, the author, creative commons usage


Without Blame or Malice: My Unresolved Divorce Anger is Mine Alone

OFF-2016-pinatadown

I say some mean things here about my ex-wife, and I want to be clear about a few things.

  1. It’s not really about her. It’s about the experience that happened. My experience of the events is very different from her’s, I’m sure, but this is MINE.
  2. She’s not a bad person. But she is still (6 years later) making very bad decisions. Decisions against her own best interest. I can’t seem to convince her of this, so I stopped trying to convince her of anything.
  3. She really did do some stupid shit. I’m still uncovering how deep the BS went. I’m still amazed at the amount of lies she told while claiming I was the dishonest partner.
  4. I did everything I could to keep the marriage together. She did not. She made a decision, well in advance of telling me about it, and there was little or nothing I could do to change her mind.
  5. I’m grateful for the release at this point, but back when it was happening I was devastated. I’m still a bit sore about the lost time that I can never make up with my kids. She should’ve agreed to 50/50 parenting.
  6. Even as I’m angry and restimulated by writing about this stuff, I am also released from it. A good rant post is like a good therapy session. And you, my readers, are my therapist. Comments and encouragements are always welcome.
  7. I won’t ever get over the divorce because I won’t ever get over my loss as a parent when my then-wife chose OUT rather than IN. I am not angry about the divorce. I’m not angry at her today. But I can access and release the anger here, and it’s a good thing.
  8. She doesn’t read this blog. She knows about it, but I’m certain she avoids it. And that’s a good thing. These posts aren’t written to her. She’s got her own life. She can suck it, for all I care.
  9. As much as I’d like to leave that “suck it” comment there without comment, I have to recant just a bit. I still love parts of my ex-wife. She’s the mother of my children and I would never wish harm on her. I would never act against her in any word or action. (Other than write this blog, that is.)
  10. As honest and revealing as I am, I’m certain I’m not getting to half of it. There’s always more, triggered by an event, a memory, a phrase I hear passing strangers say. And I take those opportunities to release more of the distress.
  11. My distress today is over being a good parent. I want to be the best parent I can be. I support their mom financially, and emotionally I’m 100% positive. (Except here.)

It’s good to have a place to let off steam. I don’t think I would’ve recovered my center nearly as quickly without this release valve. And I keep it anonymous so that my kids (13 & 15) don’t accidentally google me and find it. This is not for them either.

In divorce there are a lot of moving parts. If you have kids together things are exponentially difficult. Every action you take in support of your ex-partner is in support of your kids. Every action you take against your ex-partner is against your kids as well. When my ex-wife filed our decree with the Attorney General’s office she essentially said, “Fuck you. I’ll let the state sort out your financial problems.”

This is not how we parented together. This is not how you treat a friend and former spouse unless you are still really angry. And it was HER idea! So, I never quite understand what she’s so pissed about. I don’t have to understand her motivations. And I no longer have any responsibility for her happiness. Again, I don’t think I would ever act adversely towards her, even after she sold me off to the collections agency of the state. But again, I’ve moved on in a way that releases me from that anger. I’m not mad at her, unless I think about the fact that TODAY she is still making the decision that the AG’s office is of benefit to her and our children.

NEWSFLASH: I have given my ex-wife a percentage of every dollar I’ve ever made since the divorce. That she didn’t like my job loss a few years ago is unfortunate, but it’s not the AG’s office that got me paying again, it’s the job. She caused me to lose my house. She caused me to not get several jobs that ran my credit report as a last-step and then passed. And today her actions are still obviously motivated out of anger. And today she’s still got the AG’s office on my ass.

I’m sorry she has so much anger. Maybe she needs a blog. Works for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:

image: piñata, creative commons usage


Where the Sidewalk Ends

OFF-header-sidewalkends

[This post is a continuation of this series: You Are Ahead By a Century and Collaborative Divorce My Ass!]

It’s a shame how divorce tears everyone apart. I have a dream (had a dream) that divorce could be different. I wanted my divorce to be fair, kid-centric, and loving. I was an idealist.

We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

Divorce is messy no matter how collaborative you are. There are sticky issues, even for the most cooperative co-parents. Like who’s going to pay for the out-of-pocket health care expenses, even if dad is paying the $1,200 a month COBRA bill? And we’re going to be coming up on some new bigger wrinkles that our decree offers very little guidance about.

My son will be able to drive next year. And he’s certainly thinking his parents will be able to provide him with a car. And we will, but who pays for that? It’s not in the decree. And what about college? If my sister’s kids are looking at annual tuition of $60,000 per year, even a $20,000 scholarship is just part of the payment. You see, when you go out past 18 years of age, the bills and financial commitments don’t just end, they actually get bigger.

And my ex and I won’t have the agreement to guide us. For me, that’s a good thing, as I’ve shouldered the lion’s share of the cost of getting divorced. We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

I say this as if I’m bitter. Well, there should’ve been a more equitable agreement between us. We parented 50/50 and we should’ve divorced 50/50. But that’s not how she wanted it. So I was forced to give her the upper hand in the custodial parent roll and by paying child support. AND I’m paying for 100% of their health care. I’m not sure how this is fair, but that’s pretty much the way the law falls if you’re a dad.

It’s not how it has to be. You can ask for 50/50 custody. You can ask for 50/50 financial agreements. The state is not used to that arrangement, but basically if you and your ex-spouse agree on an arrangement, the state is not going to get in the way. Of course, again, that’s not how my ex-wife wants things.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not.

Today she’s happy to keep the AG’s office at my throat. She claims she’s never gotten regular payment of the child support except once they were involved. I try and remind her, that no money coming in (unemployment) means no money to her or me. She doesn’t care. She just wants her money on the due date.

I’ve got an arrangement now, but it’s not a happy one. According to the AG’s office I owe my ex-y $27,000. This amount is greatly inflated, and it’s true, when I lost my employment, I had a number of months that I could not make my child support payments. But wait, she got the house (with a very low payment) she got money from me, that was greater than her house payment, and I payed 100% of the health insurance? Yes, I can see how that would work out for her.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not. Did she give a flip when I asked her to release the lien on my credit account so it would quit showing up on my credit report, the same credit report that potential employers often run to see if a new hire has got their financial house in order? No she did not.

I only have one asset and one potential inheritance. And at some point one of those events will take place and she will get her blood money. But it’s not the way it should’ve been. It should’ve been figured on both our incomes. It should’ve been figured on both our expenses. And it should’ve been changed the minute I was unemployed. I would’ve helped her if the tables were turned. But again, we are very different people.

We grew up in different economic households. I believed, that there would always be enough to go around. I still believe that we will be able to cover our kids college with future earnings and those inheritances when they occur. She believes that having the AG’s lien against me is a good leverage to make sure I keep paying my child support.

What do you think it would take for her to believe I was GOOD FOR IT? Do you think a YEAR of making solid payments would allow her to relax the AG’s grip? Do you think she has any benefit from taking the DEAD BEAT DAD label off my credit report?

It has prevented me from getting at least one high paying job. It prevented me from renting a house or qualifying for a used car loan. She’s not concerned with my well being. I mean, how could she be, she’s busy, she’s over worked, she’s tired. She’s still living in the house we bought together from my money. Money I had before we’d married.

I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

So she says the AG’s office is the reason she’s getting paid on time. Well, the real reason, honey, is because I have a job. My first obligation after food and shelter is the kids. But you don’t see it that way. You think the kids are my primary obligation before I can afford a house or a car or even a rental.

Well, it’s fucked how things turned out between us. And it’s really a shame because I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

But you forget to add that three time so far the AG’s office has simply shut down my bank account and left me without money to pay bills, buy food, or even gas to get to work. You think that’s in the best interest of the kids? Well Fuck You and your AG’s office lien against me. I will hold that against you from now until the time the kids are both 18 years old. Then… dear ex wife, you are on your own.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:

image: a

image: where the sidewalk ends, the author, creative commons usage


Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

OFF-header-reading

[This post is a continuation of this thought: You Are Ahead By a Century]

Perhaps the mere fact that my then-wife must’ve been “planning” her exit rather than talking to me in couples therapy about it… I mean, why didn’t she tell our therapist she was thinking about divorce? Why didn’t she tell me, so we could work on that. It seems the whole premise of collaborative is “we’ve worked on it and we agree we’d be better off alone.”

Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

When the other person goes to see a lawyer, WHILE YOU’RE IN COUPLES THERAPY, the idea of collaboration is BS. She was collaborative to the extent that I would agree to her terms and conditions. Other than that, she was sort of taking advantage of my good nature, my conflict aversion, and my willingness to see the best in her.

Was she manipulative? Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

See, I asked, point-blank, during a particularly confusing couples session.

“Have you been to see an attorney?”

She looked shocked, embarrassed, and mad all in the same second.

“I have. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve shouted, “Then what the fuck are we doing here, paying $120 an hour to talk about our relationship. You’ve already moved on to your ‘options.’”

What I said was, “Oh, that puts a different spin on things. Now I feel pretty hopeless.”

I did feel hopeless. It’s as if the months leading up to the confession had been a lie. How long ago did you go see a lawyer sweetheart? I mean shouldn’t we have been talking through that idea right here, instead of dropping the revelation on me… Or me having to figure it out and ask you. That’s not how this couple’s therapy is supposed to work.

But something about honesty and letting me know in advance was not in her best interest. And there were minor indications that this might be our fate earlier in the relationship. There were signs that I should’ve walked away from the relationship. But I was infatuated too soon to let go.

It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her.

At the outset of our relationship we started a series of casual lunches. We’d known each other in high school, so in my mind we were just catching up. But early on the tone of the lunches and the texts in between got very flirty. The part she forgot to mention, she was living with a man.

And later in the course of our marriage, when I was having a rough time, she also shared a few lunches with a coworker and a few very deep and connected emails about my depression and her loneliness. Um, that’s called emotional infidelity, folks.

There were other things too. Like when I’d learn two weeks after the fact that she’d gone to lunch with her ex-husband. What? Why not just tell me, like I told her, when my crazy ex called me to have coffee. What was she afraid to tell me about? Why would you withhold that little detail from your discussions, if you are going for 100% honesty and transparency? Well, you wouldn’t.

And yet it was HONESTY that she was killing me on in therapy. Like I was hiding a mistress or late-night drug habit. I couldn’t understand the urgency, when I failed to tell her that I’d gotten a speeding ticket. To her it was as if I’d cheated on her or developed a closet drinking habit.

Week after week in therapy we skipped around about how unreliable I was. How I didn’t do enough chores and it made her too tired for sex. How I was the one with the honesty problem. Maybe it was her projection. I was simply doing my best at minding my own business, sharing what seemed appropriate (like a lunch with my ex-wife) and getting hammered for not being trustworthy. Really?

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up.

The issue I really wanted discussed was why I was unable to convince her to have sex for months at a time. And how that was OKAY with her, but me forgetting to bring home the dry cleaning was a fucking disaster. The crisis seemed manufactured to deflect the deeper issue.

And that’s how things are today. Crisis after crisis is manufactured to illicit some response, to get something she wants. And I’m better at spotting a false alarm these days. I simply don’t respond for the first 3 – 4 text messages. It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her. It’s as if she were saying, “You’re not responsible if you don’t help take our daughter to the doctor this afternoon, with no notice, and it’s a really big deal, so you should pay attention.”

I’m no longer paying attention to the crisis. I am listening for the message underneath the crisis. You never help with doctor’s appointments. You never help with the kids. Our daughter is in crisis. I’m in crisis. You need to take care of your responsibility.

If I understand this perspective now, that the crisis is her way of controlling the situation, I begin to see how and why her “divorce attorney” revelation was sprung on me. The crisis was created immediately. The imbalance in power was complete. I reeled for months while she planned, strategized, and got me into parenting plan discussions, and financial split discussions, before I was ready to even consider that we were heading towards divorce.

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up. And today, 6-years later, I’m just starting to put the picture together. She sprung the divorce on me. It was to her advantage NOT to talk about the relationship in the couple’s therapy, she was already planning her escape.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Where the Sidewalk Ends

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:

image: a few good months before the end, the author, creative commons usage


You Are Ahead by a Century: A Dads Divorce Story

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.45.52 PM

Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip.

So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.

And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.

I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?

I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.

In the session, I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over.

As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.

“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”

One rough spot too many I suppose.

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.

And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.

It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon-to-be-uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.”

She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)

While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce, you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.

When her lawyer requested a hefty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)

But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.

Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary caregiver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.

Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.

My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person? What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.

Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests

In my case, I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderest years.

Well, fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:


Getting Too Close to the Sun

banan

I’m pretty tired of writing about depression. I really am. I’d like to be back to working on my parenting relationship, or my primary relationship with my fiance. But, alas, the depression requires some serious consideration and management.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects.

My depression is directly related to my creative output as well. When I’m writing and playing music is when my life is in the best condition, as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When I’m actualized I’m creating and living on the same frequency. When the depression strikes the first thing to go is the creativity. I get quiet. And suddenly my creative expression, perhaps part of what keeps me on an even keel, is the first thing to go. I’m left mute and isolated, even from myself. It’s not a pretty picture. Let’s take a look at how the creativity and depression on interdependent.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects. When I hit a moment of doubt in depression I am immediately taking back to survival mode, reptilian brain and all that stuff. The only thing that matters at that point is food, shelter, and rest. All of my extracurricular activities not only take a nose dive, but they become minor panic inducing worry about future planned events.

Case in point, I play an annual music festival here in town with my band. When the doubt struck this year, I was ready to jettison everything. There was no “point” in playing the gig, in fact, the mere idea of it caused me to hyperventilate. I was so freaked out at the next band practice, that I’m certain the guys thought I was on drugs. The problem was, I was not yet back on the drugs that might help me moderate the panic and anxiety. I was going cold turkey and failing.

So as cliché as the term bipolar is, that’s a bit what this looks like. You get so depressed that you want to head towards the bottom of the ocean, or at least the bottom of your bed, under the covers. And when I come out of it, and the creative energies are once again brought back online, I want to lean into the excitement and “muse” and let the mojo flow. Isn’t that understandable? Is this bipolar, or just mood swings? Is there a difference?

It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

It’s not hard for me to see the link between my creative process and the depression that causes everything to fall away. Survival becomes my modus operandi. It’s a sad state of affairs. And I can create a lot of drama just by shutting my mouth for days at a time. I don’t want to tell you about. I don’t really want to tell my therapist about it. I’m so frustrated by having been dropped to my knees again, that I’d rather stay at home and be alone. But aloneness is not the solution, nor is it a very good place for me to be.

It seems to be that part of my strategy for dealing with the eventual low again is to really grok the idea that it ALWAYS abates. I always come back to where I am today. It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

In deciding to blog/journal about this process for me, I am attempting to put the brakes on the next slip before it happens. Or when I start feeling the LOW again, that I can begin here, with the affirmation that I DO come out, and I WILL come out sooner if I allow just a bit of HOPE to creep in. It’s the hope that’s almost impossible to find, as if my hope blood cells had all been drained away.

I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

I commit to writing through the next LOW in the hopes that I can prevent the damage I just experienced. Sure, 90% of that damage and drama was in my own mind, but my lulls are not without effect on others. I think I have a pretty good handle on things. I think I’ve been working my recovery pretty hard these days, but as this depression showed, I am never completely free of the potential for depression. Much like an alcoholic might have a propensity towards wanting to drink 5 rather than one margarita, I tend to dip down through five layers of normal sadness into something that looks very little like the person who is writing this post today.

Let’s do this together. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve suffered from depression. Sure, my most recent bouts were triggered by my divorce, but it’s a lifelong journey for me. I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

[In future posts I will examine how this life of struggle may have affected my kids and what I will be watching for as they move beyond high school and jr. high school.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:

image: this banana is a freak out, creative commons usage


Co-parenting with an Angry Ex: My co-parenting Failure Story

co-parenting failure

co-parenting failure

I need a little anger right now.

Things have been too cordial between the exy and me.

WAIT A MINUTE. Be careful what you ask for…

Let me take that back.

I could use the energy that I get from being really angry about something. Often that target has been the divorce and damage done. Recently, my anger has been pointed in at myself. And I’m still struggling a little with that. Like what did I do with all that OFF time when I wasn’t writing or publishing? Yeah, I lost some weight, but wasn’t it mainly due to my suppressed appetite?

What if a good portion of life is really fairly mundane? And we seek out anger, excitement, even depression when things get to smooth. I’m not saying that’s what happened in October when I “took a digger,” but there’s something to be said for my initial sentence there at the top of this post.

I don’t do mundane very well. I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constraints of the steady job, child support and insurance payments, to liberate me as an ARTIST once and for all. But is that how it works?

I’d like some anger because it makes for a better, more impassioned story. I’d like some anger because it fuels attention outside myself rather that AT myself. I’d like some anger because the mundane is boring.

I know that I have always put my sails to the wind in search of a big win. Writing and music, those have been my inspirations. And neither of those paths offer quick or simple wins. There’s really not that many slots on American Idol, and I’m a bit old for the camera anyway.

But I go on. I keep working.

I’m in a lull. Not a deep lull, that’s what I’m coming out of. But I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, and this makes me sad, scared, a bit bored, and mostly just restless for the burning inspiration that comes from the white-hot heat.

I’m not asking for an incident. I’m not asking for a movie deal. I’m really asking my inner creative to get back to the task at hand. Writing. The blog is a great start, but it’s not going to earn me any royalties. Meanwhile, I continue to have very little money in my pocket, because in the divorce I agreed to pay child support AND healthcare for both kids. That’s good when you have a job that provides for a good portion of that expense, but when you’re paying it all or paying through COBRA, it’s a lot to swallow.

There’s my anger. Why am I working a job to give 98% of it to my ex-wife and kids? The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping. That’s the mantra in that household. It’s not a way to establish a relationship or orient a life. But I’m not privy to the 65% of their “family” time. I’m only able to provide my parenting around alternating weekends. And in some ways, I’m afraid I’m becoming my father.

Does my son even know me? Am I just the next dress shirt that I can buy for him? Does my daughter think of things other than Lululemon? And I’m complicit to a certain extent, I let them squirrel away into their rooms most of the time. They are 13 and 15. Tough times to be sure, but I’ve got to do a better job of setting some examples of “things we can do together, besides shopping.”

It’s a challenge.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

related posts:

image: angers, lionel roll, creative commons usage


The Unbearable Weight of Things

sad

When you’re down, everything seems hard. I know this sounds like whining, but it’s something deeper. My silence usually means one thing. SAD.

It’s a bit more than sadness, however, that pulls me under. It was a bit more than sadness that changed the marriage to my kid’s mom as well. And before I get the push back about depression just being a weakness of character, or laziness, let me clarify what I’m talking about.

Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general.

You know the sinking feeling in your body as you can tell the flu has entered your system? Depression is kind of like that feeling, except you don’t have any outward signs of illness beyond your refusal to do things that bring you pleasure and avoid everything that’s hard. But it’s not like a hiding that’s going on when your depressed. It’s more like a death that’s happening right inside you. There is simply no pleasure to be had. It’s as if the hope molecules have been completely depleted from your body. My self assessment comes in the form of ice cream and my craving or lack of interest in it. If I can’t get excited about Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, then something is seriously out of whack with my system.

The minute I feel it coming on, if I’m that self-aware, I begin taking action to delay or avoid the storm. I try to exercise regardless of the ballast that’s beginning to weigh down on my back. I do my best to get enough sleep and good food. I try to keep talking to my loved ones. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I fail and fall in to a period of silence.

The silence is only in what I’m willing to share. My brain is not quiet at all, if fact, it’s on fire with bad ideas. Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general. And again, I want to stress this (especially now that I’m on the other side of this “episode”): depression is an illness like no other. The flu-like symptoms are mainly in your mind. And when I try to tough it out, it’s usually the sadness that wins.

And it’s not that I’m giving up, either. I’m fighting like hell to maintain my outward appearance of normalcy, but it rarely works. In normal times I’m fairly loud and flamboyant. When I go quiet, everybody notices.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine.

On this side of the darkness I can look back, examine, plan, and talk about ideas that might help next time. When I’m IN it, there are almost no words that help. Here are a few that did make a difference. My significant other did her part to remind me that she was here for the long haul, that she loved me, and that she was not leaving. And even when she couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me, she stayed close, cuddly, and supportive. That’s the best you can do. Stand beside me. Don’t try to make it better, that’s my job. But do tell me you’re not leaving. And then stick around.

Depression is exhausting for everyone. If you, as my partner, can stay out of the tractor beam of my darkness, you can take time for yourself, and let me know it’s hard. And primarily, take care of your heart and your emotions. Mine are shot. I will try to get you to save me, primarily by replaying my helplessness. But don’t give in. I’m not helpless, that’s the depression. And it’s my fight against my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that is my path back to normal times. Happy times. Even ecstatic times. (Oh, but be careful about those, the term bipolar is bandied about too easily these days, but it must be taken into account.) Those of us with the deepest lows often spring back into hyper highs. And without meaning to, we can rebound off the happy ceiling and blast right back into the sadness. It’s a vicious cycle, this cycling. Something must be done.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine. I’m introducing my “big projects” back into my activity stream, but I’ve got to be watchful that I don’t blast off. Finally released of the flu-like hopelessness, you can only imagine how much I want to soar, and zoom back into my ultra-productive hyper times. My thinking today is that it’s the small steps that I can take to come back online. It’s also the tiny victories I will log as I reject my avoidance habits and step back into full responsibility for my actions.

It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

It’s not like depression is a release from those responsibilities, but it’s as if I no longer see myself as being capable. And when you begin imagining yourself absent from the future consequences, because you simply won’t be alive, you can see how this too (suicidal ideation, they call it, thinking about suicide rather than acting on the idea) is an avoidance. We learned avoidance when we were really young. And as a defense mechanism it occasionally serves it’s purpose. But as an adult coping mechanism, avoidance is the worst. I can’t say it’s the reason I fall off the wagon, but it’s one of the harbingers of my decline.

Taking the responsibility for all of my life again, requires some ramping up. From things like, making a dentist appointment, getting the car into a service appointment, and even showing up at my daughter’s basketball games, is part of my responsibility to SHOW UP. It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

We all need defense mechanisms. I’m looking to build some healthier ways of coping with stress and complications of being a parent and recently engaged partner. If I can just say the things that are worrying me, write them down, share them, I can find a way to own up to getting them done. I believe for me, those are the baby steps back towards making the unbearable actually joyful again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

image: into the blue, arindam bhattacharya, creative commons usage


With the Time I Have Left: Keep Climbing the Hill

couple

I’m not a young man. I’m 53 years old. And still tripping and falling flat onto my face. And each time the structures and supports around me have supported me, but not before I have done damage to my friendships, my professional reputation, my creative partnerships. Everything comes to a screeching halt. And then, miraculously, I bounce back.

I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet.

But the set backs have been vast. And my confidence is shaken every time, like there is a new small marker of doubt planted in my mind reminding me that my darkness is ready to pounce down and crush my plans. Even as things begin getting good, there’s a shadow of doubt now that causes me to question my hopefulness. I’m not saying that I can never go back down, but I am actively seeking a way to avert the slide as it begins happening, notice the signs before they become symptoms, and keep writing and telling my story throughout the entire experience. How does that sound? A bit grandiose, don’t you think?

I don’t want to become the poster boy for bipolar disorder, but there’s no sense calling my cycling by any other name. I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet. That’s a pretty wide swing.

Just as I think I’m done with it, as I proclaim that my episode is over, I begin forgetting what got me down and what types of activities helped bring me out. Not this time.

Bringing my Achilles heal out into the open may give me some insights, and I may also lessen the impact even as another swing is in progress. Here’s why I think that’s so.

  1. When I’m in the deepest pain my own thoughts become dark, circular, and very self-focused. My depression seems very real and consuming, but when I try to articulate “what” is getting me down, I have a harder time explaining it to someone else. In my head it’s perfectly clear how f-d up I am. When I try to explain it to someone else, a friend or therapist, it suddenly seems irrational and silly.
  2. By opening up my dialogue to include this audience, I’m hoping that the same illumination becomes easier.
  3. Most of my depression is a narcissistic whirlpool of self-pity and shame. As I reveal and discuss those things I think are literally killing me, I’m hoping I will see that my madness is more made-up that real.

Nothing about my depression was fake. But a lot of my fatalistic thinking was 100% false. We cannot know the future and obsessing about it, replaying scenarios where NOTHING works out, is a very quick way to sink yourself into anxiety and depression. For me the two are closely linked, like thunder and lightning, anxiety and depression. Anxiety piles on when I’m starting to lose my footing, and suddenly I’m in a semi-catatonic state, just wanting to be left alone.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid.

That’s the other fallacy of my depression: being alone sucks. My past as a child, and as a depressed person has trained me that being alone was safer when I was depressed, but it’s certainly not better for me. I know this is true. As much as I want to hide and isolate, I know this is part of my illness. Wanting to be alone is a bit like wanting to disappear. If I could just be gone, just sleep on, have a heart attack, something, this pain, this self-sabotage would stop.

Of course, that’s wrong too.

My oldest sister jumped off a bridge when I was in my twenties. It was Christmas day. The joy of the holidays has been bleak ever since. For a while, my young children provided a distraction and fun activities to chase away that time, but this holiday season, as I got further down, further away from my authentic self, my sister’s death felt like a call to action, and not in a good way. I’ve never really been suicidal, but the idea of just being gone, occasionally crossed my mind over the past few months. And something about having a history of suicide in my family, seems like it would be understandable. “For whom?” For the people left behind? My daughter and son? No. Not acceptable.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid. The old sticks and stones fort was not working. As part of my recovery I had a faithful partner who stood with me and encouraged me to keep exercising, even when I didn’t feel like it. And to my own credit, in the darkest times, I probably said no twice. And right as she was exiting to go on the walk/run without me, I regretted it. I got what I asked for, to be alone. I wanted to be with her, I just didn’t want to exercise. But that was part of our deal, part of our relationship, part of what bound us together. She goes and I follow. Each time she would ask, I’d remember, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just find yourself alone.” I’d put on my winter coat and hat and running shoes and off we’d go. Together.

She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

As I was catastrophising in the last few months, one of the things I was soooo sad about was losing her, losing this wonderful relationship. She gave no indication that she was leaving, she actually continued to tell me she loved me and was happy with me, even in my current state. My sadness didn’t believe her. But that’s okay, she kept saying it, kept asking me to climb the hills, and kept showing up every night to make dinner together.

And something my meds doctor said as I was asking for help, “She sounds like the real deal, and I just want to get you some relief before you blow through her. We’re on this planet for such a short time. I mean, how many more chances to you have?”

Today I can hear that as a positive challenge. At the moment, I turned it from dread into effort. Effort to get better, effort to keep saying yes and climbing the hills beside her, and effort to keep showing up as the man she fell in love with.

In both of our previous marriages we were the partner who really fought for the relationship. And as we were initially coming together, just about a year ago, today, we both appreciated and acknowledged that if we were both the fighters in our relationships then perhaps we’d fight together for this one and win. We are a win-win. And today, I am even more grateful to her for her steadfastness and courage. She didn’t have to stay beside me. She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

She didn’t. We are still climbing together. And I hope through writing and speaking about this illness I can first shed light on my own situation and strategies, and perhaps give encouragement to others to “keep climbing the hill.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff posts

image: standing on the beach with my sweet woman, the author, creative commons usage