A week and a half ago was really tough. I relived the complete story about my marriage, my addiction, and my recovery with a fellow peer. It’d been a while since I re-experienced the full, detailed history of how my addiction shattered the three people closest to me.
As I remembered who I was and what I’d done, I could not understand why my former spouse and I still had as strong a friendship that we still do. I had to battle the shame and guilt that once again threatened to tear down my self-worth and self-esteem.
Using my tools, I was able to ground myself and stop the stories lies I kept making up.
That’s not always an easy process.
Blogging has become my way to help me process the struggles I go through in life. It has been my hope, that through my personal struggles I can help others, my Fledglings, realize that even though we may be battling negative self-worth and wrestling to love ourselves during times of loss, we can grow and heal from that pain.
Even though we may be battling negative self-worth and wrestling to love ourselves during times of loss, we can grow and heal from that pain. Click To Tweet
Writing as an outside observer about what I’m going through, has helped me gain a different perspective. It’s a way for me to step away from the emotions that threaten to create more stories lies, which then keep me stuck spinning in a world of suffering.
The beginning of the week I had started blogging about loss. I haven’t had a chance to finish that before this has taken precedence.
I’m not going to go into depth about what I was working through. You know, that’s another blog for another time. However, I will briefly explain what I was struggling with, which led me to schedule an appointment with my primary therapist and the next step I must finally take in my journey of healing and growth.
Last weekend, a close family member lost his best friend in a tragic incident. I can’t imagine the pain and trauma this poor young man will have to deal with for years to come due to what he witnessed. I can feel the residue of his pain deep inside my body and I pray he too can rise from the ashes and someday find peace.
Later that evening, my daughter, her boyfriend, and I watched the play Almost, Main. It’s a play about “love and loss, where residents fall in and out of love in the strangest ways.”
This was not the best play to watch right before my daughter decided to break up with her boyfriend of almost eight months when we dropped him off at home.
I drove my daughter up to the hillside overlooking the lights of the city. I held her hand as she released the pain of her first break up. I ache knowing that I can’t take this pain from her, that she has to live through it in order to grow. I don’t want my daughter to suffer.
I do what I know is important. I listen. And as she talks, I realize that her pain and confusion is very similar to what my former spouse has struggled with over the years.
“Why does life have to be so fucking hard?”
“I know he loves me and would do anything for me, but I’m not sure I can give him what he expects of me.”
“His constant needing me to tell him I love him is draining Dad.”
“I don’t want to hurt him, but I don’t know what I truly want.”
“What if I’m making a mistake?”
As I comforted my daughter, I told her, through tears in my eyes, how much courage it took for her to stand up to her truth. How brave she was to do what she needed to do for her. That to stay in a relationship just because you don’t want to hurt the other person ends up slowly tearing you apart from the inside. What she did was an act of self-love and I was proud of her.
It’s better to live within your truth and your values than it is to live a lie.
I Had Almost Let Go
I left for work the following day in a haze.
That’s when I started writing about loss. I thought about what I told my daughter and realized that, as a friend, I would have said the same things to my former spouse about us.
But, I never did. It was all about me and what I wanted.
Since my former spouse has not pushed to finalize our divorce, I have still held onto our marriage as if my very life depended on it.
Disclaimer: For those of you who are new to my blog, we haven’t actually finalized our divorce. Our process started three years ago and has sat in limbo ever since. It’s not something I wanted, so it wasn’t something I was going to finish. When I first started blogging, I referred to my wife as my ex. This was to remind me that she had divorced me in her heart and to help me process that we were over. When I started praying and my anger dissipated, “ex” felt too harsh, too cold. I started referring to her as my former spouse. I apologize if, in this writing, it’s confusing that I’m referring to her both as my former spouse and my wife. Former spouse is to help me accept reality. In all honesty, my wife is one of my most dear and beloved best friends. It feels really weird to say wife again, but legally, and in my heart, she still is.
I thought about my choices. I thought about my fears. I thought about my patterns. I thought about how I always ended up holding on to a delusion that things would change.
I want her to be happy, but I had always placed the expectation that she needed to be with me to find that happiness. I wasn’t allowing my former spouse to live her life.
And in doing so, I haven’t allowed me to live mine either.
I went back and read many of my blogs from last year. In fact, there’s probably another 30 or so that I have yet to publish on my site. I realized that I had started the process of letting go of my marriage. I was emotionally starting to move on.
And yet, I still had one hurdle to jump.
A year ago, the one thing that prevented me from completely letting go was that I still held onto the anger about where we had ended up. I needed to learn how to forgive my former spouse for her decision to divorce so I could release the anger that I allowed to control me. Not forgiving, and instead, choosing to hold onto resentment, only kept me shackled to my own pain.
I needed to forgive so I would no longer suffer.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how to get there. I ended up writing Take the Beef Off the Grill to help process forgiveness which lead me on an surprising journey…
Last summer I started to pray. I got on my knees morning and night praying to learn how to forgive. Not something I ever saw me doing. Not in a million years.
I prayed for my former spouse to find peace. I prayed for her friends who judged not only me, but her decision to remain amicable during our divorce. I prayed for my girls to find harmony during this turbulent time in their lives. I prayed for God’s will, not mine (that one has been the hardest prayer yet).
I found peace. I found the anger dissipate. I felt freer.
And the most unexpected thing happened last summer. I read a book about empaths and realized that, in many ways, my former spouse does feel and respond to the energy vibrations of the people around her. And I realized, that my energy has always been incredibly off. I’d been an Energy Vampire sucking the life out of her.
No wonder she had said she felt unsafe around me. I wanted to tell her what I had learned.
When I shared my insights and talked to her calmly, not from a place where unresolved anger sent passive aggressive jabs in her direction, we reconnected.
For the first time I could truly “hear” her and I was no longer flipping it and making it about me. I mean, it didn’t happen overnight. We just slowly became vulnerable with one another again.
I also realized that I really wanted to understand her. I needed to allow myself the ability to see, from her perspective, the damage I had caused in our marriage. And that too, would help me forgive.
That led me on a journey of research learning about PTSD, Sex Addiction Induced Trauma, and Treatment for Partners. It also brought me back to looking at the healing of my own childhood trauma, seeing my patterns (that I still do), and going back and posting some of what I had written last year.
I had a plan, an end goal.
In my mind, I knew what I needed to do. I had the articles all lined up to blog, combining current ideas with past blogs. I was setting the stage to let go of my marriage.
This would be my process to fully accept my divorce. I was going to do it my way.
Deep down, I knew I needed to do it, but I wanted to take myself by the hand and process my divorce step by step.
And then…I stopped!
I did not want to go any farther.
I knew where I was going with my blogs, but I didn’t like where they were taking me. It’s not what I wanted, so instead I became stubborn.
As the holidays came around, I didn’t like what my Higher Power was still nudging me to do and I refused to continue down that path. I wanted things to go MY way and I decided that I didn’t want to continue the journey I started to go on. I started to believe that maybe we didn’t have to divorce at all.
My former spouse and I started going on dates. Well, they weren’t really dates. They were Friendly Adventure Outings. My oldest daughter called them “a date that is not a date.” We enjoyed our time together, not letting the past define our evenings, but by starting with a new, clean slate we were enjoying one another’s company.
Hope creeped back in. I was hoping we could salvage our marriage. If there was a slight chance, I didn’t want to screw that up by bailing out too soon.
Since the direction I was going with my blogging was counter to what I wanted, I stopped altogether.
The Universe Repeats Itself Until You’re Ready to Listen
I met with my primary therapist the other day.
I used to come in once, sometimes twice a week, working on the emotions that plagued me. My therapist has always been a rock of courage and strength, challenging me, while also nurturing and supporting me through my struggles.
My last session was six months ago when I was managing trauma triggers. I hadn’t felt the necessity to meet with him until now. I was feeling off.
We talked about the events that had conspired, about loss, and about my daughter’s break up.
With a huge smile my therapist looked at me and said, “What I love about the universe, is that it will continue to repeat itself until you’re ready to listen.”
You know, I love my therapist. However, when I express my pain and his nonverbal language, his mirror neurons, go counter to what I’m feeling, my first reaction is annoyance. I’m looking for empathy, not a life learning lesson.
OMG! Did I just repeat what my girls tell me daily? “Dad…is this another one of your life lessons? If so, we don’t want to hear it.”
I have learned from over seven years of seeing this man (and other less empathetic therapists) that when I feel frustration at my therapist, it’s probably because I really need to hear what he has to say.
Taking a couple of deep breaths, acknowledging the frustration, letting it move through me, I then open myself to the message I’m receiving.
Ugh! That’s so hard. No wonder my girls shut me down with my life lessons speeches.
My therapist uses “Universe” the same way addicts talk about Higher Power. It’s the way others talk about God.
His favorite line is, “The universe brings us gifts.”
Instead of making up a story lie that we tell ourselves, ask, “what gift is the universe giving me?”
What was my daughter’s gift to me?
“How beautiful it was that you were able to be home when your daughter broke up with her boyfriend,” my therapist continued. “What a gift you gave her to be present and support her in her decision, acknowledge her pain, her fears, while at the same time encouraging her strength and courage to stand true to what she needed to do for her.”
My therapist paused. “Phoenix, the universe keeps repeating itself in your life. It’s once again pointed you in a direction that you’ve been resistant to. The question is, are you finally ready to listen?”
In Restoring the Shack, Episode 13, Coincidence Has a Name, Paul Young talks about a few stories that seem like coincidences, however, he believes there is no coincidences. He believes that God is weaving His tapestry into our lives.
“Coincidence has a name. This is a God who is good all the time, who is involved in the details of our lives.”
– Paul Young
My therapist has told me for years that he has no idea what the future will bring to my former spouse and myself. Other therapists, friends, and new people we meet, from my perspective, seem surprised when they find out that my former spouse and I are not together. We get along exceptionally well; we just have a sack of baggage from the past that gets dragged around.
Of course, I use any nugget of possibility to mean certainty. These positive messages gives me the justification I need to still hold onto hope.
My EMDR therapist tried to drill into me over a year ago, “You cannot hope and grieve at the same time.”
I had understood that, but I still have not fully integrated that into my being.
“Let me give you a boat analogy,” my therapist begins. “It’s like you and your former spouse are in a large boat, yet you two are on completely opposite sides. It’s time to step out of the boat.”
“I feel as if I’m already out of the boat, being towed on life preserver,” I respond.
My therapist pauses, looks at the ceiling, then, fully grinning at me while shaking his head, counters, “Nah! Not gonna give you that one. She doesn’t get to rescue you.”
He continues, “You need to get out of the boat. You need to finalize your divorce. It’s what the universe has been telling you for a couple of years now.”
Silence permeates the room. How come silence can be so deafening?
Deep down I know my therapist is right.
But, I can’t finalize my divorce.
I hear my EMDR therapist’s animated voice practically yelling at me, just so it would sink in, “There’s a difference between can’t and won’t. You can let go, you just won’t let go!”
My mind races in the quietness.
I’ve come to conclusion that silence in a therapeutic office is like a game. They’ll just say something and stop, letting the words process until one of us breaks the silence. If the client breaks it first, usually it’s to defend and justify. If the therapist breaks it, it’s to make a point.
My therapist is the one to break the silence.
“Getting out of the boat doesn’t mean your relationship is over. It means you’re allowing it to become something different. You need to let it go. That boat has been sinking for years and it continues to bring you and her down.
“You’re not giving yourself the integrity to love another while you’re still in this boat. You’re not allowing yourself to be chosen by someone else. You need to become unstuck and move on with your life.
“Who knows, the someone who chooses you could be your former spouse. Just because you both step outside this boat, doesn’t mean that you two can’t get into another one. You could divorce and remarry on the same day. Just go from one county office to the next.
“You never know what gift the universe will give you. But until you listen, the universe will keep repeating itself.”
The Lunch Date
My former spouse had planned to take me out to lunch that afternoon. I had to have a signature notarized that allowed her to legally take me off benefits from her new job.
I feared bringing this topic up. It’s something I know needs to be done, however, I have resisted it for quite some time. I don’t want it.
I keep saying in my head, over and over, “this is something we need.”
As we wait for our food, an elderly couple shuffles their way to a seat in the back. He holds his wife’s hand, gently guiding her, helping her, and showing his love and connection to her for the world to see.
At least that’s the story I make up. I don’t know if they are husband and wife.
Yet, in my mind I make assumptions. I see a love that has endured the years. Years of hard work that has chiseled and cut their marriage into a diamond of many faucets, sparkling in the sun. Fragile, yet durable. A love strong enough to have faced the world together, overcoming hardships and loss, only to become more connected in the end.
I look at my wife. She’s the one I want to shuffle into a restaurant with when I’m older. She’s always been the one I wanted to share my life with.
And here I am ready to accept that we need to get out of the boat.
I hear my therapist suggest we could get married again. Damn nuggets of hope that still plague me. I feel pain, sadness, but I also am engulfed with love. She looks so beautiful.
It takes a while. I’m scared to bring it up. I know I need to, but I find ways to keep our conversation on other topics.
Somehow, we get on the topic about triggers. Staring in my eyes, my wife expresses how she still gets triggered, how they sneak up on her at the most unexpected times. She too has learned to bring herself back to ground. However, she reflects on a comment I had made when I asked if this was always going to happen; would she ever be able to let go of the past?
I don’t remember that comment. She claims it was within the last year. I could picture saying this over a year ago when I first started this blog and was struggling for acceptance while holding tightly onto the anger and pain.
I don’t argue. Most likely, I probably did mention it without being aware that I had.
I do finally understand that triggers and thoughts won’t go away completely. I have my own battles that I’m constantly working on. What’s important is that we understand they will happen and that we can either feed those uncontrollable trauma reactions or we can help the other person calm themselves.
I dig deep into some well of untapped strength and share what my therapist and I had discussed. I have been challenged to finalize the divorce.
With tears in her eyes she says, “It is what I need.”
I hurt. I see my daughter. I see her strength. I see the strength of my wife who still stands true to what she needs. I see that she never backed down taking care of her needs when she too never wanted to see me hurt.
I feel intense love for my wife. Not anger and resentment. I feel a longing for her to be able let go of a marriage that went against her morals and her values. She needs to be able to let go of the marriage that she has shamed herself for staying in all these years.
I flash back and hear my mother tell me we need to get married before our first daughter was born. Our wedding had been pushed back because our daughter decided that the day she was to greet the world would be three weeks after our wedding date. My Mom was worried about what people would think of her knowing her son had a child out of wedlock.
I remember getting angry with my mother. This was the only time in her life that I cursed at her, the only time I raised my voice against her. “It’s a piece of paper Mom! Do you think I fucking cared about a piece a paper when you divorced Daddy? Or do you think I wanted my father?”
All I’ve done is make my wife and my relationship about a piece of paper.
I have locked onto that as the meaning of what defines our friendship. As long as we had this piece of paper, as long as we are considered “legally” married, I have not failed in life.
Failure. That is the piece that I have struggled with all these years. That’s the deep childhood wound that divorce triggers inside of me.
While we were first dating, my step father whispered in my ear, “Phoenix, don’t you fuck this one up.” He emphasized the word fuck.
He never told me my wife was a good catch. He never said, “nicely done son!” In a way, he got into my head making me believe that I always screw up. That, as with everything else I did in life, I would fail with this woman too.
Divorce proves that he was right; that he was always right. I’m a failure. I’m not perfect.
I tried so hard to prove myself to my wife. Just like I tried so hard to prove myself to my parents. And the message that has always come across, is that I’m a failure in the eyes of the people I love.
Hello Rafiki. Missed you Man!
I wrote the Hello Rafiki to start processing a previous conversation I had with the “real” Rafiki, and also the Rafiki I now have within myself, and one minute later, I receive two links from him to read on this very topic. How does he still do that?
“I feel like a failure,” I comment. Not a complaint, just a recognition of emotions and thoughts.
“‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,’” Rafiki quotes. “That was Winston Churchill. There’s also an old Chinese proverb that says, ‘Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.’“
“Um, you lost me there,” I mumble, confused.
“Very simple. Phoenix, I do not see the dissolution of your marriage to be failure.”
“I’m trying to see it from your perspective, but it’s a struggle to see it that way,” I reply.
“When you allow your perception to become clouded by the definition and subsequent emotional feeling of failure, your divorce will continue to plague you. This allows you to take upon yourself the majority of the blame. That will either destroy your self-worth or put all your energy into fixing your faults.”
“What’s wrong with fixing my faults?” I counter.
“You stop living life.” Rafiki pauses a minute. “Phoenix, you need to live your life. Stop trying to fix you. Accept that marriage and divorce takes two people. You may have done a lot of things in your marriage, but I believe many of the patterns between the two of you would have been there regardless of your addiction and your actions. You both had childhood wounding that affected the relationship. This is not to point fingers, but to understand that both of you had a piece in the divorce.”
I don’t respond. Rafiki continues, “What you’re coming to now is acceptance.”
“Yeah. That’s been hard,” I admit.
“Acceptance is the human duality between perception and reality,” Rafiki continues. “Many times, perception and reality are constantly in conflict. That’s why the serenity prayer is so powerful. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ People have a hard time with acceptance.”
“It has taken me many years to get to where I am today.” I’m not as animated as I talk, more contemplative. Kinda numb, but also at peace.
“In this culture, accepting a situation projects that we’ve given up. We feel like failures.”
“People resist acceptance. What’s the opposite of acceptance? It’s denial. People don’t want to be so complacent, so your choice is to deny. It doesn’t change the situation; the situation is still the same. Your choice is then not to do anything.”
“I’ve been told that I’ve lived in denial for quite some time.”
“Let’s say it’s raining. If I accept that it’s raining, maybe I’ll take an umbrella. With non-acceptance, you don’t have any choices. With acceptance, you now open up a world of choices that were closed off because of your denial.”
Rafiki points me to the first article he sent me, Amor Fati: Learning to Love and Accept Everything that Happens. “I love the comment about ‘musturbation.’”
“What the …? Musterbation? Really? Couldn’t they find a better phrase?”
Rafiki’s voice becomes more intense. “Musturbation is the faulty and damaging belief that things must be the way we want them, or must be the way we expected. It prevents us working with what actually is.”
“Ok, I get the ‘must’ part of it. Sounds like the controlling part of me.” I stop for a minute, in contemplation, then add, “I really like Epictetus’s quote in this article.”
“Do not seek to have events happen as you want them, but instead want them to happen in your life and your life will go well.”
Do not seek to have events happen as you want them, but instead want them to happen in your life and your life will go well. Click To Tweet
I get distracted. “Hey, Rafiki,” I ask. “What was the Epictetus quote I used in my About page? For some reason it reminds me of what I wanted to learn with my former spouse when I first started blogging.”
I quickly jump onto my website to find the quote.
“We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak”
“Whoa! That’s ironic,” I exclaim.
“My former spouse always said I flipped things. You know, made it all about me. And this one quote was a reminder that I need to listen more than I speak. Something incredibly difficult for me to do. I know, I know. I’m preaching to the choir.”
“No comment,” Rafiki laughs.
“And then add this next Epictetus quote. I never truly listened to my wife. I never listened to my Higher Power. They both kept telling me the same thing. I lived in denial seeking to have the events happen the way I wanted them to happen.”
“Sounds like a true addict to me,” Rafiki jabs.
“Remember the other day at the meeting we read the AA Big Book, first page of How it Works?,” I asked. Without waiting for an answer, I continue, “I jumped forward and read a paragraph I’d highlighted on page 60. Here let me read it to you.”
“The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would be wonderful….What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right…Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.”
AA Big Book
“That whole section is about me trying to control my own show,” I sigh.
Rafiki quotes, “‘The harder you work to eliminate uncertainty and ambiguity from life, the smaller the confines of your comfort zone become. True comfort is found through embracing discomfort, not shielding yourself from uncertainty—and this is the paradox of comfort. The wider the range of potential scenarios that you’ve trained yourself to handle, the better things will turn out.’ Found that in The Stoic Guide to Winning the War of Reality vs. Expectations.”
“Yeah, I’ve definitely tried to control my outcome,” I agree.
“I heard you tell me that your wife said, ‘This is what I need.'” Rafiki pauses a minute, then continues. “Phoenix, she told you that three years ago. That which one resists, persists. You needed to find this in your own time. It seems like you finally have.”
“The world around you, it is as it is. The events that happen, they are what they are. The people in your life, they’ll do what they do. Accept them. Understand them. Empathize with them.”
“Remove the judgment, and you have removed the thought, ‘I am hurt’:
Remove the thought, ‘I am hurt’, and the hurt itself is removed.”
– Marcus Aurelius
I Am Grateful Today
I’m grateful that my daughter opened the door for me to truly see what my wife needs. I’m grateful that I was in a space to accept it. I’m grateful for the support and love of my peers in program and my many friends who have gone on this rocky emotional journey with me, wanting only to see me happy and to stop focusing on the person I once was.
I’m grateful for the universe, for my Higher Power, for God and his never-ending love. I’m grateful for His forgiveness, for it has been that belief that has allowed me to overcome the shame and guilt that I’ve held onto for years for my past actions. His forgiveness allowed me to shed my negative self-worth, and truly learn to F.L.Y. (first love yourself).
The consequences of my actions significantly hurt my former spouse, left scars on both of us, and created parents who weren’t fully able to provide the nurturing our two daughters needed in their early years.
I remind myself that through the courage my former spouse took to care for her needs and the courage I had to dig deep into my core issues, we have both been able to Rise out of the Ashes and become reborn.
We are more present. We are more aware. We manage our emotions when they’re off. We now have tools that we can pass to both our girls, so they too, can learn how to care for their needs. We’ve grown to let go of the anger and bitterness that had defined our marriage, while learning how to appreciate one another through our transformation.
I am incredibly blessed.
I wrote a blog March 4, 2017. This is one of many that I have still not yet posted.
I ended that blog with a prayer. I had previously prayed this prayer twice daily for over six months, willing myself to actually believe it. You can’t just will a belief.
I finally had accepted this prayer last March. It brought me peace as I felt myself slowly letting go of my marriage. And yet again, I fell back to holding onto hope that I wouldn’t have to let her go.
Today this prayer is my blessing to my wife.
I give you permission to leave, to be gone from my life forever.
I don’t want you to go, but I want you to be happy.
You have my love and my blessings.
I let you go.
I wish my wife all the love and happiness in the world. She will always hold a place in my heart.
I have no idea what the future looks like and for the first time, I’m not trying to control it. It’s not my will, it’s God’s will. I will let it go to my Higher Power. I will listen to the universe. As my former spouse has always told me, “It’s actions, not words.”
I’m reminded of the ending of Terminator 2.
“The future, always so clear to me had become like a black highway at night. We were in uncharted territory now, making up history as we went along.”
– Terminator 2
May my wife and I burn the failed marriage of our past, so we can both can Rise out of the Ashes and F.L.Y. with eagles.
If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.
Meant to Be
– Bebe Rexha (feat. Florida Georgia Line)