Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Talking to Your "Self"

We all have this collective delusion when it comes to our identities, that there's a self.  The delusion is that this idea of self is an illusion generated by our brains.  We are our brains, nothing more, and everything you think you are, everything you care about or despise, every bit of information you soak up, it is all generated in your brain.  Truth is, Jason Wester as an individual isn't real, but a persona generated by my brain.  I am my brain.  In recovering from the loss of my marriage, one of the most helpful insights I had was that my brain didn't want to let go of my ex-wife despite the messages I kept hearing, from others and from my "self", that I ought to just let her go, move on, and so forth.  As discussed in an earlier post, those messages are unhelpful, and in my case, that I was struggling so hard to let go and move on convinced me that something was wrong with me.  I couldn't just let go, move on, as if nothing had ever happened.

I remember one day about two months ago, I had just had a great workout at the gym, got in my car to drive home, and a wave of sadness came over me.  Just unbearable sadness, and coming to a stop at a red light, I broke down crying.  At that point, I did something that I hadn't done before when overcome with sadness.  I said, out loud, to myself, "It is okay to be sad.  You lost your wife and you lost your family, and anyone would be sad about that.  Being sad is okay."

And something almost miraculous happened.  My sadness quickly dissipated and I made it home and the rest of my day was spent reading and doing the laundry.

So, I ran with this because it worked.  From that point forward, anytime I experienced a negative emotion, such as sadness, or anger, I verbally acknowledged it, and told myself it was okay to feel that way.  And, those emotions melted away.

I realized that I had been fighting against myself, feeling sadness and anger feeling bad about feeling sadness and anger.  After all, I was supposed to be moving on.  When I verbally acknowledged those feelings as okay, it is as if my brain heard that message, and I was able to focus on something else.

Pretty standard advice when reading articles about moving on from divorce is to write about it in a journal, something I did quite a bit, but it didn't really help.  Yet, this talking to myself was working wonders.  Instead of journaling about my experiences, I started to use the voice recorder function of my smart phone.  There was something powerful about speaking that was missing with writing.  And I think that is because writing, or processing one's thoughts through the eye just isn't what the eye is evolved to do.  The eye is for processing imagery, not language.  The ear, however, is uniquely evolved to process language, and my guess is, it has a direct link to the language processing center of the brain.

The brain is driving the car, and at best, the "self", which is generated by the brain in the first place, is a backseat driver that can only offer suggestions, but can never take the wheel.  I kept turning over that metaphor, and I thought, what I'll do, then, is start talking to my brain, out loud, so that my ear drum can turn those vibrations into language that the brain can understand and use.  I'll repeat the messages I want to internalize over and over until the brain starts to make sense of the loss of my ex.  If my brain is having trouble letting go, rewiring itself, I'll feed it messages and try to help it alone.

So, I started to talk to myself:  "Hi, brain.  Your ex-wife is dead.  She is dead.  The person you knew no longer exists."  I repeated this every day, multiple times.  The idea is that I wanted my brain to see her as someone who no longer existed as she once did.  And there's truth to that.  She is no longer the person I thought I knew.  I just had to convince my brain that this was the case.

It worked.  At some point, my thoughts about my ex, which were frequent before, began to spread out, and I began to see her as a stranger, in a sense.  The wife part became more of an abstraction, and she became just my babymama, someone I used to know.

I kept at it, this dialogue between my "self" and my brain, and I came up with a goal.  My goal became to make this divorce the best thing that ever happened to me.  Indeed, my life is now centered on this goal, of making my divorce the best thing that has ever happened to me.  So, I tell my brain that all the time.  "Hey brain, getting divorced from a bad person is the best thing that has ever happened."

And it seems to be working.  I can't recommend this strategy enough.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Part III: Values

I've had a hard year, the hardest in my life to this point, but surely it won't be the hardest.  The hard part is surely still ahead of me, so enduring this past year that saw me lose my mate and my family as I knew it, that saw me become a single dad and an individual, is nothing more than good practice for the harder times that lie ahead.  I find this an encouraging thought, a powerful thought that I can grab a hold of as inspiration:  My ex-wife's devious behavior has taught me more about myself and has forced me kicking and screaming to appreciate myself as a man.  It has taught me what I truly value, and what I really want from a partner; it has helped me clarify my values.

My values:

1. I believe in family.  I believe family is worth fighting for, and friends are so rare, that I ought to cherish and maintain the ones I have.  The hardest part of going through divorce was not losing my ex-wife.  That's actually the best part about all of this.  Our values are grossly incompatible.  The hardest part was losing the thing I valued the most, my family as it was, with a mother and a father and children living together under one roof.  Letting go of that ideal was the hardest part.  I will never again have that kind of family, but I've accepted that as long as I have children, I will always have a family.  And that has to be good enough.

2. Loyalty.  There are a handful of people in this world who would give me the shirt off their backs, and I remain loyal to them because of that connection.  I would do likewise.  My ex-wife had no loyalty to me or to her family.  This is a gross incompatibility, and any partner I commit to in the future must also commit to me, and remain loyal.

3. I believe in getting things done.  I'm no procrastinator.  I get things done.  Though this one isn't a dealbreaker, I do appreciate people in this world to take care of business, people upon whom one may rely.

4. I believe in straightforward communication, something I never had with my ex.  No games.  No scorekeeping.  Let's just be direct and be who we really are.

I'm not sure one woman in the world shares my values, and if not, that's okay.  The important thing is that I am clear about what I value now, and my job is to embody those values, to be true to myself and my children.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Part II: Red Flags

I envisioned this post as unsolicited advice to myself, the 21-year-old who made a very bad decision to marry the wrong woman.  What would I tell that guy if I could?

Well, clearly, DON'T DO IT.  Get as far away from her as you possibly can and next her with extreme prejudice.  Easy to say now, and I thought about what a dear friend of mine told me recently, that all the checks he wrote in his twenties are now coming due, and that bit of coinage hit me like an anvil.  Fucking A, I thought.  All of those huge life-decisions I made in my twenties, that have put me on my current trajectory, well, I'm not sure I did anything right, in hindsight.

I married the wrong woman, which amounts to 20 years of complete waste.  I can't recover one single golden nugget from that rubble.  It is all just waste.  All of the investment, all of the time, and energy, all just waste.  But further, I earned three college degrees in the humanities that are worthless.  If I could go back and kick my 21 year old ass, I'd kick him straight into a STEM field.  But I digress.

Truth be told, even that younger version of myself had serious misgivings about tying the knot to my ex-wife, and I've spent a lot of energy thinking about those misgivings, and how they could have, if I had paid attention, spared me from making the biggest mistake of my life.  These are the red flags, and on the off chance that one of my readers is some clueless dude in his twenties thinking about marrying a woman, I hope these red flags are completely missing from his mate, but if they are there, I think some real reflection is in order.

1. She was always a branch swinger. She cheated on her current boyfriend at the time with me.

This one is huge, as this pattern of behavior very much continued in our marriage.  At the time, I remember thinking I was something special to be able to pull her away from her current boyfriend.  Context is everything.  It was a red flag.  In her life, there's a continuous string of men, one to the next to the next.  She was unable to express her unhappiness about our marriage until she had fucked another guy, and when she moved out of the house, she had to have another guy to swing to to enable her to leave.  It's pathological, and sad, really.  A person needs some time alone to figure out who they are, is my guess, and swinging from man to man to man never allows time form self-discovery, which is also why she was such a non-person, without interests and an identity of her own (the subject of another post for sure).  But most tragic, in a marriage context, I was devoted to living my life with this woman, to working through whatever problems arose, but she was just never in that mode.  Not once.  When the going got tough, she started scouting the next man to swing to.

2. She did drugs.

She would do any drug that was put in front of her, the ultimate sheep in the herd.  No real identity of her own, she just assumed the group identity.  Crystal meth?  Sure.  I'll snort that.  For me, I'd never put meth in my body, and back then, when I learned that she'd done meth (with her boyfriends mother, no joke) I'd considered breaking up with her.  I remember riding in the car with her, thinking about dumping her over just that.  If only.  Point is, she had zero standards in her life, and I think if I could go back and do it all over again, I'd seek out a girl with some sort of moral/ethical compass of her own.

3. Her parents had serious marital problems, and she wanted her own mother to leave her dad.  
Her mother came to live with her at her apartment when we were in college, while were were dating, and I remember she told me she'd wished her mother would just divorce her dad.  In other words, she believed in divorce.  Huge red flag.  Never marry a woman who believes in divorce, especially if you believe in the whole til death do you part thing, because you will not be a perfect husband, and you will end up divorced.

4. She had serious self-esteem issues.  Even though she was very pretty, she always considered herself fat.  

My guess is, most women have self-esteem problems as a by-product of living in an American context, but with her, the only validation she ever found was in that supplied by a doting man.  She could never validate herself.  She was always easy pickings for any man who paid her attention.

A marriageable woman, I think, would have some self-respect, some standards of ethical behavior, and some belief in the sanctity of marriage.  The woman I married had none of those qualities, and I have paid a steep price for my inability to recognize it at the time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Divorce and "Manning Up"

Telling a man going through divorce to "man up" is the worst advice one could possible offer him.

Google surviving divorce, and take note that the majority of articles are written by women, for women.  Resources aimed at men are out there, but you have to dig for them a bit, and by far the bulk of the help is written with women in mind.

If you're a man, and you're struggling with divorce, often you'll get the advice to "man up," advice that was given to me fairly often, even by the source of my struggles, my ex-wife.  The message here is that men are supposed to suffer in silence, but more troubling is the implicit message that something is wrong with men who suffer, who feel grief, sadness, and find themselves plunged into deep depressions because every aspect of the world they relied upon has been turned upside down.  Having one's world utterly destroyed, losing one's mate, his family, his home, everything he held dear, is surely among the most painful experiences one can have, yet men are told to "man up" and the range of emotions he feels are cast as abnormal and wrong.

I watched as a wellspring of support engulfed my ex-wife, with friends coming out the woodwork to support her, despite that fact that she had two affairs that were serious breaches of professional ethics, despite the fact that she was the driving force in the destruction of our marriage.  None of that seemed to matter.

For me, though, a handful of close friends checked on me occasionally, and the only real support I found was in my mother and father and in the paid services of a Psychiatrist.  I'd relied on my ex-wife for my emotional support to that point, and with her gone, I had very few places to turn.

So, with the dominant cultural message being to "man up", with primary source for support now the enemy in the for of the ex-wife, and with other sources of support scarce to non-existent, no wonder, then, that divorced fathers are at a much greater risk for suicide than single men or divorced women.  Their families gone, their support gone, and hearing the message that bearing the grief and the anger and the sadness in stoic solitude is the proper way to deal with those emotions, divorced men are killing themselves rather than live such damaged and deranged lives.

Men are protectors and providers.  When reflecting on this, I kept thinking about our primate ancestry, how it must be hard-wired in males to take a family under his protection, his mate and his children.  Nothing is more important.  It is his sole reason to exist, and so when these things are taken away, when his protection is no longer required, what does he do?  How does he deal with the loss?

The loss is catastrophic, and required a radical reconfiguration of this thinking, a reconfiguration so profound and difficult that for many men death is preferable.  And again, tell him that this radical reconfiguration and the intensity of emotion that comes with it is something he must simply endure in silence, moreover, that those very emotions are somehow wrong and a sign of weakness, and well, no one should be surprised that divorced men choose suicide.  I argue that we ought to recognize that men suffer in divorce at least as much as women, and if my story is in any way representative of what men experience, I know I've suffered more than my promiscuous ex-wife to move forward and reboot my life and re-envision my role as protector and provider as a a single father.  That I'm writing this at all demonstrates that suicide is avoidable, that the reconfiguration is possible, that life can move forward, but so much of that I came to on my own.  Men need better support.

Telling a man going through divorce to "man up" is the worst advice one could possible offer him.

Part I: The Timeline

  • September, 2015: She'd complained that she felt bad, that her leg hurt, and she said she wanted to go to physical therapy, which I encouraged.  She was referred by her doctor to a therapist 100 miles away, and she began going to therapy every Wednesday.  
  • After a few therapy sessions, she showed dramatic improvement.  She began to lose weight and exercise.  She bought new underwear.  On the Wednesday's she went to therapy, she left for work dressed to the nines, and though her therapy sessions were late in the afternoons, she'd leave work at noon to drive there.  She began to return home later and later, to the point that the kids would be in bed when she arrived home at 10 and 10:30, slathered in her new Victoria's Secret lotion.  When I ask her why she came in so late, she said she was having dinner with her parents.
  • I begin to have nightmares that she's having an affair with her therapist. 
  • December the 16th, 2015, my wife was getting dressed for the day, and she snapped at me about something.  She walked up to me and said, quite clearly and plainly, "It is over. Our marriage is over."
  • And I knew she meant it.  I asked her who she was seeing, and she said she was seeing no one, simply that she was unhappy with the marriage. 
  • She stops sleeping in my bed and moves into the guest room, which generated a lot of confusion for the kids, and a lot of tension in the house.  We do our best to put on a normal Christmas for the sake of the girls, but the atmosphere is tense and it is clear that our family is falling apart.  
  • New Year's Eve: She leaves and drives to Tupelo, where her therapist lives, to ring in the new year, leaving me and the kids to ring it in without her.  
  • After the new year, I go to the guest room and sit down with her, and I ask her is there any chance of keeping our family together.  She flatly says no.  Again, I ask her if she is cheating on me, and she says absolutely not.  I tell her the tension in the house is unbearable, and I ask her to move out.  She agrees.  
  • January 7, 2016, she locates an apartment and moves out.  
  • January 8, 2016, when I check her cell phone records, a new number appears exactly one day after she moved out.  It wasn't there before, and all of the sudden there it is.  Hours of conversations and reams of texting to this new number from that point forward.  
  • January 15, 2016, I ask her who she is talking to so much, and she says it is a friend and confidant.  She denies a sexual relationship.  She refuses to name the person she is talking to.  I ask her one hundred different ways who it is, and she refuses to name him or her.  
  • January 16, 2016, I file for divorce. To this point, her story is that we have irreconcilable differences, that she has been faithful to me, but that she is unhappy and wants to move on without me.
  • January 20, 2016, I take the kids to visit her at her apartment the day before she is to have a kidney procedure.  I was trying to be nice and let her see them before the procedure.  Her purse is sitting on the coffee table with a little notebook sticking out, and I grab the notebook and close myself in the bathroom to read it.  In it, she describes having an affair with her physical therapist and with another unnamed man.  The truth comes crashing down.  Though she has told me repeatedly that she has been faithful and that she just wants out of the marriage because she is unhappy, in truth she was having sexual relationships with two different men, and one was her physical therapist.  The weight of the truth, which I had to discover on my own, comes crashing down on me.  All along I knew in my bones she was having affairs, but she denied it, so there was some relief in learning the truth.
  • March, 2016, I visit her office to find her talking with one of her non-traditional students, a student I also taught a few semesters prior.  The body language made it clear that this was more than a student/teaching conference.  Weeks later, she comes over to the house and admits to me that he is indeed the second man.  So, I now have the awful knowledge that my then-wife was having an affair with one of her current students. Both of her affairs represent breaches of professional ethics, highlighting her compromised mental state.  
  • April 30, 2016, our divorce becomes final.  
  • May, 2016, the student she is seeing confronts me on Facebook, calls me a pussy and threatens to fight me.  I forward the message to her boss, along with the phone records of their conversations. 
  • June, 2016, Confronted with the inappropriate relationship with her student, and the As he received in her classes, my ex-wife resigns her teaching position and moves in with her parents.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Beginning Again

After devoting 18 years of my life to a woman, creating a life, starting a family and a career, I find myself rebooting my life from scratch.  I am a single father who married and divorced the same woman twice, and surviving those divorces was by far the most difficult thing I've ever faced in my life.  It is my hope that my experiences can help people out there suffering through divorce.  It is hard, but it is survivable.