Labeling myself

As I have mentioned, we didn't tell many people of our struggles early on. We decided to work on things without involving most of our friends and family. When J moved in with a friend, it lead to several white lies to cover the fact we weren't living together. When she later moved into her own apartment, we decided to stop making up stories and let people know there was trouble in our marriage.

We wanted to tell people in person if possible. When we called the first few couples to let them know we wanted to talk to them about something, they guessed we were pregnant. No, the other thing. The conversations were of course difficult, but our friends and family were supportive. They asked some questions, but didn't demand too many details. They hoped we would work things out, but reaffirmed they would be in our corner no matter what.

Before anyone knew, it was a lonely existence, talking about everything except the most important thing going on in my life. At times it was torturous - we went to a party with friends an hour after I found out J was moving into an apartment. But at the same time, before we told anyone what was going on, I could spend time with friends discussing less weighty subjects.

Once we began sharing our story, it became the elephant in the room. Sometimes it was talked about, most often it wasn't, but it was always there. It was certainly more honest, but tougher in a different way than keeping the secret from everyone. Conversations were sometimes awkward as we danced around the subject. It now felt like I was wearing the label "friend getting a divorce" like a scarlet letter. My friends didn't treat me this way, it is just how I felt.

As things progressed, the baggage I carried into every room became a little lighter. Conversations were a little less stilted, and I shared more of what was going on. I still struggle with speaking candidly, though. I know my friends and family struggle for the right words to say, and I don't know that there are any. It seems the most difficult thing for me is when people say "I'm sorry". It is like a child who falls down and only cries if someone offers sympathy.

The label is still there, but at least it doesn't feel like it's tattooed across my forehead. But it will always be on my resume.

Friends and family

My friend Matt recently had a post called Love and Marriage. The following is a portion of it:

CS Lewis has a great book entitled The Four Loves. I will paraphrase one of his concepts: My friend Evan brings a certain element of my personality out that no one else does. When Evan and I are with a group of friends, they not only experience the me that they bring out, they experience the me that Evan brings out in me. Other people get a fuller me because of Evan. Should Evan disappear, our friends not only lose Evan, they lose the part of me that only Evan can bring out. That is one of the reasons the idea of heaven is so wonderful – everyone experiencing a fuller me-ness and you-ness by virtue of those gathered there.

All our intimate friends have that effect on us and I would go so far as to say there is a unique dimension of this that occurs between married couples. When a couple close to us splits, we lose that beautiful portion of our lives that only those two people as a married couple could bring out. In my opinion, when a couple close to us splits – it is no more a private decision and action than the wedding ceremony itself was. Divorce effects hosts of people and the pain is magnified by the love and sense of loss of the couple, their children (if any), their friends and family.
He was inspired by an excerpt of Michael Chabon's book Manhood for Amateurs he heard on NPR. The featured chapter is called "The Hand on my Shoulder", and deals with his relationship with his father in law specifically, and how divorce effects friends and family. One of the later paragraphs:
My ex-wife and I — I won't go into the details — had good times and bad times, fought and were silent, tried and gave up and tried some more before finally throwing in the towel, focused, with the special self-absorption of the miserable, on our minute drama and its reverberations in our own chests. All the while, the people who loved us were not sitting there whispering behind their hands like spectators at a chess match. They were putting our photographs in
frames on their walls. They were uniting our names over and over on the outsides of envelopes that bore anniversary wishes and recipes clipped from newspapers. They were putting our birthdays in their address books, knitting us socks, studying the fluctuating fortunes of our own favorite hitters every morning in the box scores. They were working us into the fabric of their lives. When at last we broke all those promises that we thought we had made only to each other, in an act of faithlessness whose mutuality appeared somehow to make it all right, we tore that fabric, not irrecoverably but deeply. We had no idea how quickly two families can work to weave themselves together. When I saw him sometime later at his mother's funeral in Portland, my father-in-law told me that the day my divorce from his daughter came through was the saddest one in his life. Maybe that was when I started to understand what had happened.
I don't know all the ramifications of our divorce, or how far the ripples will be felt. More to the point, I don't know how our divorce will effect those that we love. I don't imagine myself as a modern day George Bailey, but it is odd to think of the holes and broken connections left behind now that we are no longer a 'we'.

The loss of the extended family you inherit from your spouse is probably the quickest to go. J hasn't seen my side of the family since February, and I know that is a loss for both sides. I visited my mother-in-law in July, but I don't know when I will see her again. How we feel about each other hasn't really changed, but of course everything has changed.

It is a little different with our friends - no one is taking sides, and most of them have seen each of us over the months (mostly separately). Things are definitely different when I get together with them now, though. My life has changed significantly, and like Matt mentioned in his post, who I am when I'm with my friends is now different. I've made some changes myself over the course of this year, but there may be parts that only J brought out. I really don't know.

I feel like I should apologize somehow, because I let more than myself down. But in reality, there is nothing I can do for those around me. We failed, and there is nothing I can do by myself to make it right. All I can do is pick up the pieces and make the best life possible going forward. To be the most honest version of myself, and to be the best friend and family member I can be.

I can't fill in the hole we left behind, but maybe I can build a bridge. To cross over the void rather than tip-toeing around it. A bridge and a viewpoint, with one of those historical plaques that tells us how it was created.

From black to gray, shame to regret

All the love gone bad, turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I will be...

~ From "Black" by Pearl Jam

J and I had our one appointment with the lawyer two weeks ago. The meeting was to deal with the financial side of the divorce. It was of course an awful reason to be meeting, putting ten years together on a spreadsheet and discussing where the figures should land. I suppose with that as a lead in, the meeting went as well as could be hoped. We are not confrontational people to begin with, and we have done our best not to antagonize each other during this difficult time.

As usual, I was early for the appointment. I stopped at a coffee shop less than a mile away to grab a cup of joe and to go over some paperwork. When I left the shop, the song "Black" by Pearl Jam was just starting on the radio. Whether you believe in fate, synchronicity, or cruel twists in a random world, it was an odd coincidence to have it play as I drove to meeting. I can think of few songs that more wrenchingly describe the end of a relationship.

The song previously made me think of the girl I dated before I met J. When I met this girl, I had not dated anyone for several years. In that time by myself, I had come to know who I was, what I believed, and was the most confident, strongest version of me. All I needed was someone to share it with. I picked the wrong person.

We were together over a span of four or five years. In that time, she broke up with me three times I think (I've lost count). We worked together, so there was no real separation, just the torture of seeing an ex several days a week. We got back together after each breakup, but I and the relationship were weaker each time.

I put aside that confident man I was when we met, and lived my life in a way I thought would make her happy and sustain the relationship. I lost who I was by living for her. The relationship took me from my strongest point and dragged me down to become a shell of my former self. But I didn't blame her as much as I blamed myself for letting it happen. For returning again and again for more anguish. I was doing it for what I though was love, but I became someone I didn't respect in the process.

I have carried that shame with me, never really dealing with it. I've never returned to that strong, secure person I was in my 20's. When J and I met, I was somewhat damaged goods. After letting my heart get walked on repeatedly, I kept my guard up, never really letting myself feel vulnerable. I had no reason to mistrust J, and it wasn't her I was defending myself against. I just couldn't find a way to open up, to trust again. I withdrew from life and only exposed a portion of who I really was.

I built up a wall with bricks made of past failures, and that wall needed to be torn down for J and I to have a chance. I don't think it doomed us to failure, but it definitely made our path more difficult. When we first started seeing a counselor and getting things out in the open, I assumed the failure of our marriage rested squarely on my shoulders. Even J admits to feeling that way somewhat. Of course it turns out it isn't that simple, but I am still walking away with mountains of regret.

The end of my relationship and marriage to J cannot be compared to my last relationship. The women and my feelings are incomparable. This time the loss is larger by several magnitudes, as is the shame I feel at this failure. I have been to much darker places than I had before, but this time I am turning to others to help light the way out. I am also trying to move from shame to the less tortuous regret.

The walls have come crashing down and I am sifting through the rubble to try and build something new. The bricks remain what they are, but I am hoping to put them to better use this time.

The book shelf

I have added a list of books to the sidebar - ones I've read recently, and ones I need to read again. If you have any suggestions to add to the shelf, please let me know.

The power of song

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song.
If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.
And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you'll use them, however you want to .
~ "Just Breathe" by Anna Nalick

I am the type of person who finds himself in lyrics of songs, pieces of poetry, and characters in books. Songs seem to be the most powerful one of the bunch, with the addition of music to stir the senses and emotions.

Not surprisingly, the most popular subject of songs is love. Celebration of new love, reflection on lost love, and the sometimes overwhelming emotion that comes with it all. There are songs that describe pain that I appreciated in the past, but reach on a whole different level now that I am going through this.

There is a song called "Last Kiss" that was redone by Pearl Jam a few years ago. It describes a traffic accident while a young couple are headed out for a date. The girl dies and the song is heartbreaking. J would always turn the dial whenever it came on. She couldn't take the sadness of it. I liked the song because it described such a powerful, tragic moment. So real and concrete. Of course if I had gone through something similar, I don't know what the song would mean to me then.

Why do artists share these powerful, emotional moments in their lives? Part of the process is getting it out of your head to help you deal with it. But why take the extra step and make it all public? Why open yourself up like that? There's money at some point, but that isn't why they began to write. There has to be an additional catharsis by sharing with the world.

By listening to stories about what others have been through, I think we find understanding or perspective on our own trials. Stories reach us on a level that instructional material can't. There is also some comfort when you understand you are not alone, your experiences and feelings not so unique. Why else would sad songs and tear-jerker movies continue to do well? There is some sort of appeal that we may not be able to describe, but understand nonetheless.

Though some stories can reach us whenever we come upon them, they are all the more powerful when we are going through something similar. Recently, I have been overwhelmed when certain songs come on the radio. I had to stop listening to one station for a couple of weeks because their song rotation was particularly tough to listen to. I've also avoided certain CDs, sticking with more light-hearted fare, but I am still surprised by songs that I glossed over when times were better. I was near the end of a 15 mile run a few months back, and the song "Walk On" by U2 came on. The song had not meant that much to me in the past, but it hit me like a two-ton heavy thing that day.

There is no question I need to "get it all down on paper, so it's no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to". I've kept journals in the past, and wrote in one sporadically earlier this year. It was helpful as I sorted through my emotions, but I stopped at some point and haven't gone back.

For some reason, writing this blog seems the right thing for me now. I live inside my head far too much as it is, so I have tried to talk things through with friends and family. But it can be difficult for people to know what to say, and I can make it all the more difficult when I can't manage my emotions. This blog is somehow an easier, but a more risky way to bare my soul. A few friends have cautioned me on what I write here. What goes online stays online.

The line of what I will discuss is still written in sand as I find my way through. I will of course hold back certain details, but will describe some concrete moments as I go along. My intention is not to describe these moments to tug at the heartstrings, but to find larger understanding by looking at moments in time.

I'm no artist. The six lines of the song above do a better job of describing things than my nine paragraph post. But hopefully amid all the rambling, you will find something to connect us like a good piece of music can.

Quote of the day

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. ~Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937