The other morning, I received a text from my wife, “It may not be what you fully want, but you have a pretty damn good lifestyle.”
While she was struggling to get our oldest daughter, who blatantly refused to go to school, out of her house, I was at the gym prior to my dental appointment and meeting up with her and a consultant to discuss separation of assets.
My first thought was, “The lifestyle I would like to have is to come home to you and our girls, spend an hour with you before heading to bed, wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with you, then do what I can to help you out in the morning while you have ‘you time’ because you busted your ass this week once again being a single parent with a full-time job. This morning I’d rather have your lifestyle struggling with getting our girls to school rather than going to the gym at 6:30 in the morning to distract me from the lack of sleep I got the previous night knowing we were going to discuss the next step to finalize our divorce.” (No, I did not say this out loud – I’ve gotten better with boundaries and not vomiting my initial thoughts.)
We have the tendency to see the world from the negative aspects in our own personal lives, while sensationalizing the positive aspects of everyone else’s.
For some reason, the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.
Reflection at the End of the Day
As I lay my head on the pillow that evening, feeling emotionally drained and battling the beginning of a sinus cold, I came across an article that was posted on Inspire Your Marriage. It was Angelina’s Story – Perspective Leads to Affection (unfortunately the link to her blog post is no longer available). It was this article that gave me the incentive to write this piece (actually my initial writing was going in a completely different and painful direction. “Perspective” is where that writing ended up).
In this interview, Angelina allows us to see what her perspective was prior to her becoming the infamous Pilot Wife Life Bloggess who helps spouses of pilots Learn to F.L.Y. (First Love Yourself). She explains how she struggled being married to a pilot who was always on the road imagining he was having all the fun traveling to exotic places while she was stuck doing the mundane, daily routine of raising kids and a household on her own. To change their toxic pattern of resentment and withdrawal, she had to change her perspective.
So ironic! My wife and I had this exact conversation 8 hours earlier in the parking lot after finding a possible solution to how we could separate our home and my 401K retirement.
We’ve always viewed how the other’s lifestyle was so much better than the one we had or the one we dreamed of.
We have both been focused on what we didn’t have, rather than count the blessings of what we did have.
It feels impossible to explain…that I can have a job that is my passion, where I get to enjoy sunrises and sunsets, the beauty of breaking out of the dull, gray, fog into the crisp, bright sun, where I can defy gravity and feel a sense of freedom and control that I don’t have when I’m stuck to the ground. It’s a job where the people I work with feed off my energy and we have an extremely good time together. It’s a job that doesn’t feel like a job and one where people who do not know how to fly look up to me in awe.
It feels impossible to explain…that I’m not always happy with what I do. The life of a pilot can be quite lonely and is not the sensational life everyone makes it up to be.
My heart longs to be home.
When my oldest daughter was born, fifteen years ago, both my wife and I came up with one business idea after the next. Baby Store, Car Mart, Real Estate and various other mini business ventures. Unfortunately, I’d let the fear of failure, change, stability and finances hold me back from taking a risk. I even applied for a position with the FAA and a local airport manager these past few years trying to find a way to stay in close proximity of my family.
I have longed to be home with my wife and girls more than I wanted to pursue my passion of flight. And my wife, on the other hand, never wanted to be the cause that I would give up my passion.
The “On the Road” Pattern
If you’ve been following along with my blog, you’re well aware that I made some very poor decisions; decisions that cost me my marriage. Decisions that practically destroyed the one I loved. Decisions that once I hit rock bottom, I had to claw my way out of the hole I dug for myself.
Coming up on eight years in recovery, I now know when I’m feeling emotionally off and what I need to do to care for myself. I know when my childhood wounding has been activated. I know my pattern.
And that pattern starts about day four when I’m away from home. This is when the loneliness starts to creep in.
How can I be lonely when I have some amazing crew members that I work with?
They are a great distraction mind you, but eventually, I must close the door to my hotel room. This is a trigger to my childhood wounds where I spent many lonely nights in my bedroom because my parents needed to unwind after a long day of work. Interacting with their son was not primary on their agenda.
When I’m on the road, I want to talk with my wife. I want to share my day with her and I want to hear about her day. I want to talk with my girls. I want to know how their day went. I want to help them with their homework and joke with them. My love language is that of feeling needed and wanted. And up to a little over a year ago, when I had heard about all the activities I was missing out on and all the new things they’d done or learned, I’d feel envious and sad. I felt left out. And that pain, reminiscent of my pain in childhood, turned to anger. And that anger, justified my passive aggressive acting out, complaining, and remaining in a victim mentality.
Over the years, it’s around day four when my wife’s texts go down to a minimum. It’s when the phone calls drop off. This is when my wife is caught up in the busyness of her life and running a household like a “single” mother. What she needs to do is recharge her batteries and her way of recharging batteries is having alone time. And when hubby is out of town, that down time is severely limited.
My wife is an incredible stay-home-mom. She’s strong, engaged, keeps everything in order, and is present helping our girls in school and shuttling them to and from their activities. When the texts became less, when she was short on the phone and couldn’t talk long, from my perspective, I believed she didn’t need me and that I was unimportant.
As she was trying desperately to recharge her batteries, I internalized her distance as rejection.
Without truly understanding the perception of what each of us was feeling and what each of us needed, our “long-distance” marriage was doomed from the start.
The Greener Grass on the Other Side
It seems that as the more technological our society becomes, the more we keep looking at the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
What we need is to do is water and fertilize our own grass, but instead, we end up too busy neglecting our lawn because we’re focusing on the lush and beautiful hillside that’s not our own.
Welcome to the power of social media. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.
If we take the leap to the other side and view the grass up close, that’s when we notice the weeds, the brown spots we couldn’t see before, and that not every blade of grass is alive. Like the lawn of a newly purchased home, if we don’t care for it, it will soon look like the ragged mess we left behind.
I must admit, I look at the greener grass when it comes to my blog. As I have become healthier, I tune into more hopeful, uplifting, positive and encouraging messages about life. I would like to spread this new outlook to my Fledglings. However, I find that the times I end up writing, are the times when I’m hurting and trying to make sense out of what I’m going through. It feels as if my blog has a darker tone than what I’d like it to be.
And then there are other times, such as right before my former spouse meets to talk about separating assets, where I remind myself that I’ve been here once before and it might be a good idea to re-read what I had once written.
Last May I wrote It’s Time, a reminder for me to understand, from her perspective, what it is my wife needs. It is then my perception changes and I realize that I am sharing healing words for my Fledglings.
My Recovery Group
The men in my recovery group vary and it’s interesting listening to the different perspectives in meetings. There are those who are separated or divorced wishing they were like the others who were still married. “At least your wife is still giving you a chance.”
And the married men respond with, “I’m still married, but it doesn’t feel like a marriage. There’s so much distance in the relationship that sometimes I wonder if it’d be better if we stopped trying to make it work.”
Pretty Damn Good Lifestyle
I was talking with a close friend about the “pretty damn good lifestyle” comment my wife had made, and he responded, “Does your wife know how many women would die to have what she has? She lives in a family home rent free, no utilities, has a well-paying job with benefits, receives childcare and spousal support with a divorce not finalized, and has a husband that not only wants to work on the marriage, but drops everything in a heartbeat when she needs help. I’d say she has a pretty damn good lifestyle.”
Fear vs. Adventure or Curiosity
What about the difference in perspective with one person sees a roller coaster as terrifying and another sees it as a thrill ride? What about other things people fear, such as flying, spiders, snakes, and glass elevators?
I heard a story where a car was pulled over and in the passenger seat was a man who had a warrant out for his arrest. When the police went to arrest him, they found out that his wife, the one who had filed the domestic violence complaint, was the one driving the vehicle. Why would she be in the same car with the man who physically abused her?
I’m sitting on this airplane working on this piece and my flight attendant is one I have not seen in years. I remember a conversation I once had with him over ten years ago about sexuality.
“It must be better being a gay man because men want and need sex more than women. You and your partner’s sexual energy must match well together.”
“Phoenix, I’m almost 50. Sex is the last thing on my mind when it comes to my relationship with my partner. It’s still nice mind you, but I don’t crave it like that.”
I had so much disbelief in that comment back then and yet, his perception stayed with me. Today, at almost 49 years old, I see his point of view and agree with him. Sex is nice, but it no longer defines and is not what I crave most out of a relationship.
Perspective by Richard Bach
Perspective is a story found in Richard Bach’s collection of short stories A Gift of Wings. As a pilot, this is probably one of the best ways to describe the perspective of flight to people who don’t fly. It starts with his wonder as a child about railroad tracks.
“I’d stand between them, watch them go out into the world, and the two rails narrowed, they came together, they touched each other just five miles west, on the horizon. Monster locomotives would go hiss-thundering west through town, and since a locomotive is a kind of giant that needs its rails set just so, I knew there had to be a great pile of steaming wreckage just beyond the place where the tracks came together.”
It wasn’t until Richard Bach flew in his first airplane that his perception changed: “followed track all over the country and haven’t yet seen a set of rails come together. Ever. Anywhere.”
Reminds me of the days prior to Christopher Columbus when everyone believed the world was flat. It takes a change of perspective to sometimes realize that what we thought was truth was actually not truth at all.
I love this quote from his story that indirectly shows how our perspective creates biases between us and others.
“I learned, when I began flying, that boundaries between countries, with all their little roads and gates and checkpoints and Prohibited signs, are quite difficult to see from the air. In fact, from altitude I couldn’t even tell when I had flown across the border of one country into another, or what language was in fashion on the ground.”
Richard Bach wraps it all up at the end:
“I’ve seen this and more, flying, and it all falls under one label. Perspective. It is perspective, it is getting above the railroad track, that shows we needn’t fear for the safety of locomotives. It is perspective that shows us beyond the illusion of a sun’s death, that suggests if we lift ourselves high enough, we’ll realize that the sun has never left us at all. It is perspective that shows the barriers between men to be imaginary things, made real only by our own believing that barriers exist, by our own bowing and cringing and constant fear of their power to limit us.
It is perspective that stamps itself upon every person up for his first flight in an airplane: “Hey, the traffic down there…the cars look like toys!”
As he learns to fly, the pilot discovers that the cars down there are toys, after all. That the higher one climbs, the farther he sees the less important are the affairs and crises of those who cling to the ground.
From time to time, then, as we walk our way on this little round planet, it’s good to know that a lot of that way can be flown. We might even find, at the end of our journey, that the perspective we’ve found in flight means something more to us than all the dustmote miles we’ve ever gone.”
Last night my daughters and I went on a walk. It was interesting to note the different colors of green, red, yellow, and orange symbolizing the start of fall. I noticed dead and broken branches from trees scattered over the ground. My girls were busy taking Snapchat videos of their feet walking along the grass, brown and crinkling, craving rain that had not dropped in months. I observed the contrast of the grass against the pavement and the difference in shading as jet, black tar that was used to fill the cracks of our walkway, snaked this way and that.
When the sun started setting, the colors that were once so crisp and different, transformed into shades of gray and black; everything started looking the same. The path that was once clearly defined, now had no edges. The pavement no longer showed its imperfections. A stillness settled on the trail as birds stopped their music. Barely visible, against a back fence, the silhouette of a homeless person was laying his sleeping bag out for the night which added a sense of alertness in my step. Any longer and our path would have disappeared completely as we relied on the limited illumination of my flashlight to show our way.
This morning, my youngest daughter and I walked a similar trail right before school. There was a deathly silence as we walked in this gray, mist covered path. I could identify the three-dimensional makeup of the surrounding vegetation, that which I had lost as the sun went down the evening before, and yet, the colors were still grayed out. It was an amazing transformation to watch the mist slowly fade, the foliage to brighten into an array of colors, and to hear the sounds of birds singing to one another marking the beginning of a new day.
Same path, same features, and yet, my perception of what I saw, observed, and felt was completely different.
This is what emotions do. Emotions influence the way we see the world around us. As they change, our perception gets distorted depending on our mood. Other ways in which we mentally distort our perceptions is our beliefs, or the stories lies we tell ourselves, our past experiences, stereotypes we have, and our expectations, just to name a few.
Here are some good articles explaining how we distort our perception:
- A Few of the Many Ways We Distort Reality by Karyn Hall
- Perception: Six Ways What We Believe Distort Reality by Margo Vega
- Do Our Emotions Really Affect our Visual Perception? by Robert Smith
Trauma and Perception
Another major factor in the way we perceive the world around us has to do with trauma.
I’ve learned a lot about trauma, trauma triggers, and how we react to those triggers. Through Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), I found out that it’s normal to have pain on a physical, cellular level. And through ACA, I learned that this pain was due to my childhood wounding.
My parents did the best they could with what they knew at the time. Unfortunately, much of the nurturing I needed as a child, I was not given.
With trauma our perception becomes clouded and we lack the ability to see clearly.
Our emotional state has been activated, the physical body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode, and our logical brain goes offline as we prepare to protect ourselves at any cost.
When my childhood wounding (feeling isolated, abandoned, or a burden) was triggered, the stories lies I kept telling myself, would cause me to lash out. I’d verbally attack my wife, belittling her, putting her down, shaming, and blaming her. She could never meet my high expectations, which really had more to do with what was expected of me as a child and not her at all. It was easier for my wife to acquiesce and give up a part of who she was, just so she could avoid my childish trauma reactions.
My daughter recently told me, “Dad, it’s really cool that as a family we are close friends with some of the families in your program.” I explained that’s because we share some of our deepest secrets with one another, we all want to heal and grow, and we realize we’re not alone. I said the biggest thing we’re all working on is how to relate to one another as adults and not as adolescent children. She quickly interjected, “You know Dad, you were Mom’s third child.”
My childish actions and poor decisions, in turn, created trauma and PTSD symptoms in my wife, which, when triggered, clouds her perception about what she’s experiencing.
Unless we learn how to identify and manage our trauma, our perceptions will stay hazy. It’s a cycle that will continue to repeat itself generation after generation until we learn how to parent our inner child and heal our interpersonal trauma wounds.
Perception and Loving Yourself
The short and sweet of it is this, we continue to recreate trauma to heal old wounds, especially wounds in childhood. This is why we’re attracted to the people we’re attracted to. If we can fix it “this time around” we will resolve our trauma from the past.
Unfortunately, trauma doesn’t work that way. When we continue to recreate it, we only lodge it deeper within our bodies. Trauma lodged in our bodies is recognized as physical and emotional pain which will continue to cloud our perceptions. As our perceptions remain cloudy, we end up hurting the people we love.
F.L.Y. First Love Yourself.
We need to learn to love ourselves first.
An important piece in loving ourselves means we must take the painful leap to heal the wounds that keep us stuck in the past, whatever that may entail. We need to take this first step to rip off the scab, clean out the infection, and mend our suffering souls.
This process means learning how to be gentle on yourself.
It means recognizing your positive attributes as well as accepting all your flaws.
It means taking care of yourself.
It means trusting your intuition.
It means learning about your needs and wants and asking for those needs and wants to be taken care of.
It means learning to say “no”.
It means looking for gratitude and finding things in life that make you happy. Make sure to write these down so you can refresh your memory when the going gets tough.
Look for the wonderful in life so you will feed your soul.
Loving yourself allows us to take the next step in our loving journey. When we learn to love ourselves, we can then follow Jesus’s commandment:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
– Mathew 22:39
Perception and Loving Others
The key to loving others is having compassion and empathy. And the only way to establish that is to see things from their eyes. We need to understand their perspective.
Seeing and understanding another person’s perspective is imperative to loving, not judging.
When we allow ourselves to be open to another person’s perspective, they feel safe around us; they become vulnerable. This vulnerability opens up intimacy between two people. Negative emotions like pain, anger, and jealousy lift and are replaced with love, connection, joy, and happiness.
Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
When we listen to others, and silence ourselves, we understand one another. Peace settles upon us and with this new sense of harmony, we find that it becomes even easier to love ourselves and take care of ourselves. We, in turn, open up to more and more people. We water and fertilize the grass of our lives. And soon we see that we have cultivated the lush green grass we had forever been longing for.
We have a pretty damn good life!
Life is Beautiful
In a couple of months, I will finally have a job where I will be home more than when I’m gone. Halleluiah! A schedule where I can spend 3-4 days at home consistently, not just home for 24 hours on 5 hours of sleep before heading back to work for another week-long stint. A schedule where I most likely won’t be gone for more than 4 days in a row and I will return home before that loneliness of living on the road starts to creep in.
I can have my own bed more days out of the month, wake up to my girls more mornings, help them with homework, listen to their day at school, enjoy family meals at home, be a part of more activities with them, and wish them goodnight most evenings.
I can put all my energy to tend and cultivate the beautiful garden I do have, or I can keep looking over the fence at the grass on the other side believing my grass would only be greener if she was still my wife.
Understand her perspective.
Accept and honor my wife’s decisions to finalize our divorce.
Let her go so we both can F.L.Y.
God, I may not have the life I want.
God, I may not have the life I am destined for.
But thank you, God, for the life I currently do have.
For this life is BEAUTIFUL!
Perception = Healing
Perception allows for understanding.
Understanding allows for forgiveness.
Forgiveness brings acceptance.
Acceptance allows us to Rise from the Ashes.
As we Rise from the Ashes, we learn how to love ourselves.
Loving ourselves opens the door to loving others.
Learning to love one another and….
Together We Can Heal
After I posted this blog, I was at the gym and searching for a podcast to listen to. I found Using a a Partner Sensitive Approach with Sex Addicts and Partners featuring Carol the Coach interviewing Tim Stein, MFT, CSAT, CCPS.
This interview focused on teaching the addict how to understand and have empathy about what their partners experienced due to the betrayal. Tim explains how the addict needs to be aware that it is not just sobriety that can trigger a partner, but behaviors that the partner deems addictive can also create uncomfortable emotions the partner must manage. This is the reason my wife had asked for separation four years ago; I couldn’t see that my behaviors were still addictive and she was still being affected by them.
In recovery, it’s important for the addict to understand the perspective of their partner, so the addict understands how his behaviors affect the one he’s with.