Monday, May 1, 2017

Please stop loving yourself "just as you are"

Most of us remember significant firsts.  

First love, first day of school, first fight we got into, first time we got our heart broken, the usual run of the mill life stuff.  Sometimes we even remember our lasts.  Last time we saw a loved one alive that passed away, the last day at a particular job, graduation day, the last time we got drunk and woke up in a urine filled ally with a homeless man rummaging through our pockets for spare change.  Stuff like that.  Run of the mill.  

I don't know how many days of football practice I've had in my life, but I remember my first and last.

My last wasn't significant other than I knew I didn't desire to chase that dragon anymore.  I would love to say I retired, but since that day I've checked the mail for my checks and not a single one has arrived.  

My first day of practice however, was far more significant.  

I was ten years old and scared out of my mind.  I had already been in plenty of school yard scraps by that age, but duking it out with another G.I. Joe enthusiast was quite different than strapping on way-too-big shoulder pads and an even way-too-bigger helmet, and smashing into other waddlers.  That's what it looks like at that age with those giant shoulder pads and helmet on, right?  You kind of waddle around, unsure of where to run or what to do.  Not unlike being at the front of the crowd during a black Friday sale.  Face smashed up against the sliding glass doors, just waiting for them to open so you can dash inside and run around frantically trying to find that television that will now be on sale for ten dollars less than it was just hours ago.  

Where was I?  Oh yeah, first day of football practice.

So there I am, totally confused at every drill, scared out of my mind.  And there's these Magnum P.I. wannabe mustachioed men wearing daisy duke style jogging shorts, standing around yelling at everyone.  Blowing their whistles at what seems like ambiguous moments throughout the day.  

"I'm just getting up to full speed, coach!  Wait, what?  Stop?  Ok.  Now you're yelling at me and I have no idea why."

Thoughts that go through every married guys head while he's trying to make a baby with his wife.

But I digress.

The final drill for the day was something called bull in the ring.  There's one kid in the middle of this circle of other kids surrounding him.  Every kid in the circle has a number.  When Magnum P.I. calls a number, whatever kid is assigned that number runs at ol' boy in the middle and they smash their wee little bodies into each other.  

My number gets called a few times.  In my mind, when it gets called, I'm running so fast that if I had been beside Usain Bolt I would have pulled his flesh right off his body with my blinding speed.  When I hit the other wee little dude who was in the middle, in my mind, I was crashing into him like that comet out of that horrible movie Deep Impact.  I'm causing tidal waves of death from Mississippi all the way to New York in these collisions.  

But not really.  

Apparently, I wasn't running very fast at all.  And also, my hitting was apparently less than the magnitude of 70,000 tons of TNT.  I looked it up.  That was apparently the force for the comet in Deep Impact that Frodo Baggins was able to outrun on a really shitty motorcycle.

So dumb...

After a few of my less than stellar collisions, I felt something pulling on my jersey.  It was a non-mustachioed man, who was not wearing daisy duke jogger shorts.  He didn't have a whistle to confuse me with, either.

Oh, it was dad.  

He pulled me off to the side and said to me "if you don't start hitting harder I'm going to take you off this field, put your ass in the car, and drive you home."

The scared shitless ten year old inside me thought this actually sounded like a very good idea in that moment.  So I agreed with him that he should just take me home.  But I probably sounded more like a scorned woman at the time, because I started my retort to him with a "fine".

You know what I'm talking about.

"Fine, just take me home."

Something a husband has probably heard from his wife during a night out at a romantic restaurant  overlooking the city during a seven course meal, where things went from awesome to awry in less than thirty seconds, and he could not figure out how.

But I wasn't having a seven course meal.  I wasn't overlooking a beautiful city from the 40th floor either.

Clearly, however, I was acting like a little bitch.  And like a little bitch I got in the car and pouted.  Dad drove off in front of everyone, and the whole team had stopped the drill to watch this scene unfold.  We didn't make it home however.  

Dad pulled off to the side of the road, to have one of those after school TV special type talks with me.  You know the one.  Some big life lesson is about to go down.  The dad, or older father figure type who has been consistently rejected despite his efforts to just show the wayward kid that he cares about his well being and what he's doing with his life.  That one.

"Listen son..." as most genuine dad speeches start off with.

"I just want you to be the best player you can be.  Go out there and give it your best effort."

That was it.  I know, after this already long write up that that speech seems very anti-climatic.  There was no one dying of cancer to go out and play hard for.  There wasn't some golden scene of glory that was going to fill up the screen in my after school special because I decided to actually try to the best of my ability.  

In modern day speak, this is what dad said.....

"Son, you suck.  You play like a little bitch.  Man up."

Are you triggered?  I read a couple of years ago that telling young dudes to "man up" was bad in some way.  I got triggered that day.  For sure, that happened.

"Take me back to the field."

Also in modern day speech..."release the Kraken."

Dad smiled that crappy overacted Bill Paxton style smile and drove me back.  I got back in the line up, and I remember seeing red.  Ok no I'm not exaggerating this time.  I was mad as hell.  When my number got called, I decided it was indeed time to ring the bell.  Namely, my own.  As I actually did run as fast as I could, and did slam into the other plastic plated toddler really, really, hard.  Well, as hard as a ten year old can.  

Shut up, Dad

Anyone who has ever been involved in contact sports where you take blows to the head, knows what the black lightening is.  That "flash" where it's black, but you get that white flash in it?  You know the one.  The one you eventually come to love after enough brain trauma has occured.

Well I got that.  Not sure if the other kid did, but I knew then by contrast, that indeed prior to this I had not been running very fast or hitting very hard.  

Dad's after-school special speech had paid off.  I carried that moment with me until the last practice I ever had.  

"Man up.  Stop being a little bitch.  Your best probably isn't as good as you think it is."

Probably not the title you're going to see headlining an article at elitedaily, or any other such horrifically similar internet soapbox that carries article after article about how loving yourself "just as you are" is so vitally important.

And it is.  I think you should love who you are, exactly as you are....if you have zero desire to improve anything in your life.  

If my dad had been an elitedaily reader, he probably waits until after practice is over to hand me a coconut water and tell me what a "good job" I had done.  Totally enabling my lackluster effort and sense of paralyzing fear.  

"Love that effort out there, son.  Good work.  Drink this coconut water.  Hydration is important."

But this was late summer in Mississippi.  There was no coconut water, and my dad was born in 41, had 19 brothers and sisters, walked up hill to school both ways, worked in the fields all day after said walk, and later served in the 'Nam.  

In other words, that coconut water speech wasn't happening because my dad?  Well, he was a man.  

And he treated me like a man.  Wanted me to compete to the best of my ability, and wasn't making excuses for my fear, and lack of effort.

He didn't tell me to love myself "just as you are son.  You're my only son, and whatever effort you give is good enough.  You'll get better in time.  Just hang in there, kiddo."

No he impressed upon me that the here and now mattered, and that it presented a time to get better.  To not be satisfied with my poor effort, and that if it meant him embarrassing me in front of my teammates to get the best out of me, then that was happenin'.

"Well, all kids are different, and some respond better to..."

Blah blah blah.  

I don't believe that the hammer should be the only tool used to in order to drive someone to strive for better.  But the elimination of it is just as wrong as pulling it out for every occasion.  My dad was all accolades when I deserved it.  When I didn't, out came the "son, you really kinda suck" speech.

Show me a kid that is consistently coddled and never has foot broke off in ass, and I will show you a kid that consistently under performs in everything they do unless they are naturally driven on their own.  Some kids do have that, but even those kids, I've found, are receptive to tough love and hard, but fair, criticism.  Most kids, however, will skate by with doing the bare minimum effort if the bare minimum effort is what you've taught them is good enough.

And those kids, the coddled ones, the Coconut Water drinking after practice where they didn't break a sweat kids, become adults.  And they preach this coddled message that lacks any bite about self awareness, self improvement, self discipline, and the very fact that loving yourself, "just as you are", is not really loving yourself at all.  It is indeed a form of apathy.  And what's the opposite of love?  It's not hate.  It's apathy.  And apathy is the very thing that stunts personal growth, and makes someone shrink in the face of hard decisions and criticism.  Apathy is the very thing that will encapsulate your life in a world of mediocrity,  misguided self appreciation, and an unhealthy level of acceptance about who you are.

In the serenity prayer, we ask for God to help us accept what we cannot change, but also to give us the courage to change the things we can.  

Not, "God, I don't need to change anything because I accept the conditions in which I totes have control over."

"Did you just say a prayer to me using the word "totes?"  Ok, it's Sodom and Gomorrah time for these kids." -- God's answer to your totes prayer.

"The Lord God is totes fed up!"

There's a segment in society, and its very clear message is that we all are special, yet at the same time somehow equal.  Completely deserving of things we don't have to work for.  

I quit coaching football because of this.  We're back full circle to me being in fourth grade here.

Back then, I had to earn the right to get on the field.  The kids with no hand eye coordination that couldn't catch a cold or hit the broad side of a barn with a bass fiddle didn't get playing time.  Fat Johnny or Skinny Samuel weren't shunned because of how they looked.  They didn't see playing time because either they sucked, and couldn't play, or because they were cowards who shrunk in the face of adversity.

There, I'm not sugar coating it.  

No, it wasn't Normandy, but as young men our initiation into manhood, or adulthood in general, often does start by cutting our teeth through physical conflict.  And this most certainly established a pecking order, both on the field and off it.  It separates the wheat from the chaff, as they say.  

I remember years later when I played both quarterback and middle linebacker that I had flowers delivered to the the prettiest girl in the school, as she was named homecoming queen.  Had I not been the signal caller for the offense and defense and been respected by my peers, then I simply established very early that I was totes a creepy stalker child.  

Yeah, I just used totes again.  And that whole last paragraph read like it was written by Uncle Rico or Al Bundy.  I actually had a point in there so let me make it.  I could send her flowers without it being creepy as hell because of the position I had earned with my team, and peers.  I know, it's nuts to have certain perks like that due to earning something, but sometimes that happens in life.

So where was I?  Oh yes...

So I quit coaching because I was forced to play kids that reduced our odds of winning, because the school created a mandate that all kids got equal playing time.  Now you think about that for a minute and what that does to desire, passion, and motivation.  How does that set kids up for success when they are coddled and led to believe that effort is unimportant in the process of earning something?

Then they are set free to adult in life.  And grow up to believe in this warped ideology about what they deserve.  

"You deserve a good man/woman."

"You deserve a good job."

"You deserve $15 an hour to dip those potatoes into a bucket of oil."

"You deserve free college.  Let someone else pick up the tab."

"You deserve to be on that field because it's shaming you to let you sit on the sidelines while the other kids that worked really hard get all the playing time."

At what point were they told that the only thing you deserve, is what you can work to obtain, and work to keep?  

I'm not advising you hate yourself.  But you can hate your efforts, or lack-thereof.  

You can wake up and hate how you feel because you're 50 pounds overweight.  You can understand that you have the power to change it, and somehow find the "courage" (I know, it's hard) not to eat 42 tacos that day, or rationalize how you earned food like a trained dog because you did 30 minutes on the stair stepper the day before.

You can change your whole life with one decision if you want to.  But in order to do that, you have to care enough about your life to not become apathetic to it, or the situation you are in.

The net is overrun with articles about what you deserve, how to change your life into the "one you always dreamed of".  And then often times, these same internet publications tell you "just love yo self like you are."

You want a new life?  Does it suck?  Care enough to change the one you have.  Find the courage to make that one decision. 

You want a new body?  Does your physique suck?  Care enough to change the one you have.  Stop being slothful and make better food choices. Stop reading articles about beauty at all sizes.

You want more money?  Bank account sucks?  Get a second job, or get educated in a field  that offers better pay, or sell all your cats on e-bay, cat-lady.  Maybe if you did that, you'd get a date.

Any form of self improvement does not come with self love.  It comes with an overwhelming desire for self change.  Which will come with an eventual acceptance that a lot of work and adversity will present itself to you.  That's good, I like that.

It does not always come with self hate.  But it can be encased inside of the dislike or disdain for what currently exists.  Change or improvement in any fashion certainly will not come if you drown yourself in an ocean of apathy all the while calling it self love.

There's a difference in being the best, and giving your best.  Something I too have impressed upon my girls at everything meaningful they will do in life.  There's too many factors out of their control that may keep them from the best at something they want to do, but it's 100% within their control to be the very best they are capable of.

Maybe the reason why your life sucks, is because your efforts sucks.  

Maybe you should stop being a little bitch and man up if that's the case.

If that triggered you then then I suspect it's the case.

Thanks, Dad.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The beginning of the end, and new beginnings - Part 2

There's nothing I detest more than people constantly posting their break up drama for everyone to see. We know why you do it.  Because you need all those "friends" (real or not) to comment about how
bad they feel for you, and how the other person is a piece of trash, and you deserve better, and how the right person will come along, and this and that, and I could go on forever with all the canned cliches that will be offered up.

"Girl, you deserve better than that."

"Dude, she sucks.  Just go bang her friends."

Phrases you're probably not going to hear from educated people who actually work to help those through difficult phases in their life in regards to heartache.  Also, and let's just be honest, there's often not any words that are going to just lift the pain and give you instant clarity in regards to moving forwards in your life once you're single again.  Generally, you pour out to friends because you often just need an ear during the worst of times so you can vent about all the pain and anguish and confusion you're dealing with.

Friends can often be your worst enemies during these times to be honest.  Or let me clarify, friends that aren't honest with you about your own problems.  Your own baggage.  Your own repetitive cycles that keep manifesting in your life that leave you saying "there's no good men/women out there!" without ever considering that right now, maybe you're not the good man, or the good woman.

Great friends are the ones that know you well enough to point out the issues you keep creating.  And have the courage to tell you the things you really need to hear, and not want to hear.  Bad friends are the ones that keep telling you about all the things you deserve, and ignore all the flaws you need to fix or at least become aware of, that serve as the root cause in all the failed relationships you keep having.

Good friends aren't going to tell you how you deserve much better than him, if "him" looks just like the last 4 guys you dated in regards to how he treated you.  They are going to tell you that there is clearly something wrong in  your selection process that needs to be addressed.  That you are the common denominator in choosing these same types of men.

Good friends aren't going to tell you to "go bang her friends" because that's seeded in a form of revenge.  And as the saying goes "anytime you set out on a course of revenge, make sure you dig two graves."

I can't tell you how many times I've talked to people who have told me about all of the bad decisions they made after loss...after heartache.  And how much they regretted those choices.  Letting your emotions rule you completely during this time is like covering a gaping would with filthy bandages.  It only makes the wound fester and takes far longer to heal.  Unhealthy coping mechanisms are what we use delay the inevitable.  That is, coming to grips with what we lost, the choices we made that caused said loss, and then the recovery that has to take place in coming to grips with all of that.

In all honesty, even true friends often give bad advice during these times, so maybe I'm not being fair.  The reason they usually do so is because they know you're in pain.  They know about your loss.  But sitting down across from someone you know is in pain, and telling them that a lot of it was self inflicted isn't a conversation most friends have the courage to do.  But they know about your issues.  I mean the ones that you played a part in creating your own mess.

Trust me, they know them.  Because they most likely talk about them to other friends, then tell you to your face "you just need the right person."

Good friends who know you well enough also aren't going to tell you to keep trying to salvage a relationship that has been vaporized.  You don't take a car that has been totaled to the shop and ask them to fix it.  You understand the vehicle is no longer worth saving, and you purchase a new one.

All romantic relationships get fender benders.  Things that are fixable.  And some romantic relationships get totaled, and people refuse to acknowledge that it's done and that no amount of work could really make it driveable again.  I can't tell you how many couples I know that are in totaled relationships that refuse to acknowledge that the scrapyard is the only proper place for said relationship to go.

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away, know when to run." -- Kenny Rogers 

After my divorce, I knew I was screwed up.  My closest friends were there for me, but they also didn't enable me continuing down destructive paths that were leading me straight into hell.  They told me I was screwed up.  And I'm glad they told me that, because it's what I needed to hear.

I had devolved from the man I had been for a very long time, into someone I didn't recognize anymore.  And I knew that.  I knew I had strayed from so many of the principles that I had built my entire life around.

And each and every one of them told me the same thing.  That I had to make choices to change things.  That it was on me.  Which is also what my therapist told me.  Which is what any good therapist is going to tell you.  A good therapist isn't going to ask you "how does that make you feel?"

More than likely, you already told them how you feel.  The question that should be asked is...

"what are you going to do about it?"  

Do you even need a therapist for that?  Once I accepted all of the things I had control over, and let go of the things I didn't, I realized I had an enormous amount of power and capability in my life.  And most people truly, I believe, are afraid of that power.  Because then the onus is completely up to them to "fix" whatever it is that ails them.  And there's a lot of people that love to squat down into suffering and not move, because of how hard change can be.

But change, no matter how painful, is a lot less painful than being emotionally isometric and not doing a damn thing to get out of the mess you've made of your life.

Think about it; when you have this great big emotional crisis in  your life that you can't or won't properly address, every other problem that comes along feels ten times larger than it really is.

Don't read past that and not let that really sink in.

People talk about how problems come in bunches, but for the most part, we usually have all of the little problems going on, that roll off of us like water off a duck's back.  However, when there is a huge emotional cyst in our life that we won't pop, then suddenly all of our problems loom much larger than they normally would.  Everything feels "heavy".  Everything is a crisis.  Because underneath it all is this groundswell that we refuse to address.

Fix that big problem, and the little issues tend to take care of themselves.  Or let me say, at least we have the emotional strength available to us now, after addressing the big problem, so that the little problems become "little problems" again.

Since I've spent a lot of time owning that I did so many things wrong that caused my problems, I can also say with all honesty, I did a lot of things right in the aftermath of my separation and divorce.

Namely, I spent time alone.  Even after the former Mrs. Carter and I came to the conclusion that we wouldn't be reconciling, but that we weren't ready to divorce yet.  I didn't go out and date.  I spent those months working on restoring myself.  Identifying where I lost my way, why I made certain decisions, and what needed to change in my life in order to grow into the man I wanted to be.

Someone told me during this time, "the path a lot of men end up finding they walk when they go through this is that, they lose who they were for a while, then come out on the other side a better version of the man they were before all of this happened."

I knew that's what I wanted to get out of all of this.  I didn't want to continue sinking into the emotional abyss that had consumed my life, and left me in a place where I would lie in bed some nights and cry until my whole body hurt because I was ashamed of what I had let my life spiral into.

I knew for me, I needed to put my energy and efforts into myself and into the people whose lives mattered the most.  And you know who that was?


Let me be clear about something here that really annoys me.  If you want to fix your life, you have to be selfish enough to fix yourself first.  I've written many times about how on a plane, they tell you in the case of an emergency that  you need to put your oxygen mask on first before putting it on your child or someone who can't take care of themselves.  It's called healthy selfishness.  You can't be good for anyone until you are introspective enough to understand your own problems, and then take steps towards fixing them.

You should see a pattern developing here if you piece it all together.

I didn't band aid my problems with unhealthy coping mechanisms.  I didn't have friends enabling my previous bad choices.  I owned my part in how my life had become unraveled.  I worked on taking steps towards becoming the man I really wanted to be.  And that required me putting myself first for a while, so that way I could be the best version of myself in order for that to transcend into the lives of those I loved.

If you wanted my recipe for how I got my life back on track, I'd say those were the ingredients.

But there was something else that happened in all of this that manifested in my thinking....

My struggles didn't have to define me.

I know far too many people who cling to victimization and allow all the bad shit that has happened to them define who they are.  We can make poor choices and grow from them.  Or we can let them define us and our life because we sit down into those choices and say "this is who I am." instead of saying "that is who I was, and those were the choices I made, but it doesn't wholly define me."

I also wasn't going to let other people define who I was, because I can tell you this.  When you let other people define you, especially the people who want you to live in a way they think you should be living, they will always make you smaller than you are.  Those people will define you by your mistakes, and by your poor choices, and leverage that against you emotionally to manipulate your life so that your future choices are based on making them happy.

My dad tried to do this to me.  He called me and told me I was a fool for allowing my marriage to slip away.  He tried to shame me into going back into it.  I wasn't having it.  I knew that I couldn't be happy in that relationship anymore, and that we were not going to create the model of a marriage that I would want my kids to be in.  I knew I couldn't make her happy, and she knew she couldn't do the same for me.  No one was going to shame me into a life I didn't want anymore.  If you ever want to know the true definition of selfishness, it was written by Oscar Wilde....

“Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognizes infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of one's neighbor that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.”

It wasn't selfish to want to move forwards into a new life.  Into one where I could make choices to invite happiness back in.  To allow healing to take place.

It was healthy.  And I couldn't be the man I wanted to be if I wasn't healthy, and happy.  Single, married, whatever your relationship status may be, it all has to start there.  If I was ever to be good for someone again, I had to be able to bring a healthy and happy Paul to the table.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The beginning of the end, and new beginnings - Part 1

I've debated on sharing this for quite some time.  For a myriad of reasons.

My personal life has been one that, for the most part, I've kept off of social media.

I made one post about my divorce.  In which I tried to be as transparent as possible but also making sure to respect my former wife, kids, family, and friends who all knew in details of how things arrived at that place.  I've said many times, my private life is private.  That word private is in there for a reason.

But since that post, I've gotten I don't know how many messages asking how me and the former Mrs. Carter ended up in the place we are now.  Where we have a great friendship, and co-parent about as well as I think any two couple could.  Or people who were going through a similar crisis, and just wanted some words of wisdom about what my thoughts about their situation was.

Divorce can be a hard place to arrive at.  The finality of it all.  But it can also be a liberating one.  I remember leaving the lawyers office after our final visit feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders.  There was closure.  A chapter in my life I could finally turn the page on.  And my future was now this blank canvas that I could paint with any types of shapes and colors that I wanted to paint it with.  That can be scary for some people.  Or as it was for me, it can feel very freeing.

I only had one person tell me "congratulations!" when I told them about my divorce.  She too had divorced and also hated when people said "I'm so sorry" about it.  Louis CK had the same take.

"It's a stupid thing to say."

The whole "I'm sorry" bit.

Yes, it is.  It's stupid.  Or let me say, I think it is.

Because, and to borrow from good marriage has ever ended in divorce.  None.  Not one.

"If two people got married, and they had a really good thing, and then got divorced, that would be really sad.  But that has literally happened zero times."  

So just for your own insight here, when someone tells you they got divorced, just say congratulations.  Or simply ask "so what's on the horizon?"  But at least try to avoid saying "I'm so sorry".  Even if they feel broken up about the split, you can ease the pain a bit by helping them to realize that as an adult, they have a future in front of them that is probably not shackled to a romantic relationship that wasn't worth being in anymore.  They have choices.  They have control.  People have to learn to embrace those things post divorce, and take steps towards moving on with life.  As a great friend told me "you're not starting over, you're just getting on with life."

But that's not the social norm.  Saying "congratulations" about divorce, I mean.

And I know there's probably quite a few people reading this that don't agree with me.  And that's ok.  Because you know what?   You'll never walk a single mile in my shoes, and you'll never pay a single bill of mine, or carry any burden I will ever have to bear.  I also know what a lot of people are probably thinking as well.

"No, it's sad because of what it puts the kids through if they are involved."

And I have an answer for that as well.

You shouldn't save a marriage, or stay in one, for the kids.

Two people staying together for "the sake of the kids" and creating a model of a relationship they see everyday, that isn't filled with love, passion, enjoyment, togetherness, and harmony.  That's what sad.

Those are the traits kids should be seeing day in and day out, along with how to resolve conflict, which will happen in every marriage, in a way that helps the relationship to grow and prosper that they too can learn from.

It's better for kids to exist inside of a model where two people are split, but co-parent effectively in a loving manner, than for them to exist inside of a home where to people co-exist but don't share intimacy and a deep seeded love for each other.  Couples living as roommates that split bills?  You can find one of those on Craigslist.  That's not a marriage.

A loveless relationship without passion and excitement is a tomb.  It's where souls go to die before our physical body does.

I wonder how many people surrender their happiness to a life of misery in those relationships?  For their kids of course, I mean.  Because splitting means there will be emotional trauma, pain, long and unpleasant talks about why mommy and daddy aren't together anymore.  That shit is not fun.  And many people avoid all of those things because it's painful.  It's painful for them to have to watch their kids try to understand the complex natures of these relationships and the emotions involved in them.

But you know what else causes trauma and damage?  The kind that is not easily undone either.

Keeping the kids in a loveless home where two people sleep in a bed together (or maybe he's on the couch some nights), talk about finances, and do shit together...with the kid(s) of course...but there's no real joy in it all for them as a couple, is tragic.  And you're fooling yourself and lying to yourself daily if you don't think the kid(s) don't know that.

We don't give kids enough credit, even at young ages, for really understanding the lack of love and intimacy shared between their parents.  They may not can express it or articulate it in grown up words when they are young, but they certainly can, and will, when they are older.  The recognize it.  They feel it.  Trust me, they know mommy and daddy don't hug, kiss, and snuggle on the couch together.  They see disconnect and apathy.  They are fully aware of it.

"We don't yell, or argue in front of our kids."

Take yourself back to your childhood for a minute.  You didn't always understand what your parents may have been arguing about, or the complexity of what they were hashing through.  But you did understand emotions.  You did understand love or anger or bitterness.  Even at a young age.  You did understand rejection and apathy and rejection and a wide array of emotions that we as adults like to pretend kids don't grasp.

They don't grasp the depths or the complexity of the situations that caused us to arrive there.  But they understand what the emotional destination looks like.

And this is how people lie to themselves.  Kids end up enduring the emotional alienation that exists in the paradigm of the relationship shared between their parents.  What's the opposite of love?   It's not hate.  It's apathy.  If kids can feel love between two people, do you really believe they can't feel apathy as well?   Damage doesn't have to be loud.  It does't always exist in the form of furious words or physical abuse.  It can and does exist in the the vacuum that is known as the absence of love and disowned romance.  That's the tomb.

And kids are sponges.

Give them anger, and they will soak that up, and wring it out in their future relationships.  But show them nothingness, and they will suffer through repeated failed relationships in their future because you'll be the one responsible for having left their sponge empty.  How are they to shower someone with genuine affection, love, and sincerity when you never genuinely showed them what that meant at a truly authentic level with your significant other?

I give my former wife all the credit in the world for being an incredibly courageous and strong woman, for having the knowledge and strength to know we were no longer showing our kids what a great marriage looked like anymore.  So she walked.

And she always give me credit for working my ass over in the years after that, to make amends to her and working hard to co-parent with her in a way that ended up creating a new and wonderful friendship between the two of us.  A co-parenting relationship we've been able to watch our kids thrive and flourish in.

After our divorce was final, I actually took her out to dinner at this really nice restaurant and we toasted to all the years that were great, not so great, and to our future together to be the best parents we could be for our kids and to a new friendship.  Our kids still see love between us.  Not discontent or anger or resentment.  They got to watch what letting go of resentment looks like.  And in retrospect, I also realized  we've given our kids a model that when or if their relationship is no longer serving them or growing them, or isn't fulfilling, that there should be a time when letting go of it will serve them the greatest.  

All romantic relationships aren't worth saving.  That includes marriages.  And certainly, there comes a point where you should be introspective enough to recognize that while relationships take work, they shouldn't BE work.  I had a psychologist tell me that people have to learn what to "fix" in their relationships. And they often don't understand that "fixing" a relationship, sometimes means ending it.  For your health, your significant others health, and the health and well being if there are kids involved.  That most people do not understand that kids growing up in a home that is devoid of love between their parents is horrifically damaging.

We were smart enough to know that it's better to split for all the right reasons, than to stay together for all the wrong ones.

Falling on a sword and being a martyr in a romantic relationship is a benefit to no one.  Not even your kids.  There is absolutely nothing heroic about it.  I don't care what your therapist, friends, or the dude behind the counter at Quick Trip tells you.

No one ever fixed a problem in their life by waiting around.  Reactive people are the ones that end up with mountains of stress in their life because they are constantly having to duck and dodge all the shit that is being hurled at them.  If you've ever watched boxing, you'll know the guy eating all the fists to the face is the one standing still, and not bobbing weaving.  The problems in life aren't a lot different.  If you're just standing in one spot, expect to eat a lot of punches.  

Proactive people have stress too.  But proactive people understand that usually there's one major underlying issue that has to be resolved, that has a domino effect in their life that transcends into resolving other minor problems.  The proactive boxer responds to stimulus by making a choice to try and avoid getting hit, while answering back with his own fists.

Staying in a relationship or marriage for no other reason than the other person is the mother or father of your child is is faulty logic.  It's failure.  Plain and simple.  And one that is going to leave you with a very fragmented legacy because one day your children will be adults.  And most likely, unbeknownst to you, they may be in a conversation with friends, or even with their significant other where they utter a sentence, or sentences, that if you knew about, could break you.

"I knew my mom and dad never really loved each other."

"They only stayed together for us."

I read from a Christian author that, the greatest gift we can give our kids is a marriage that radiates love and passion and desire that is undeniable to them.  Because that's the representation of what Christ gave to us.  Whether you are a person of faith or not, I think that's a hard concept to disagree with.  And if those things aren't there, then something else has to be existing in place of them.  And those things will be what they take from you to carry on into their own romantic lives as adults.  You get to be at least partially responsible for the model they create in their future romantic adventures.

"Paul, this whole thing sounds like it's very pro-divorce".

I'm not pro-divorce.  I'm pro-awesome marriage.  And I'm fully aware that it can't be awesome 100% of the time.  But if you can't meet the 80/20 rule then something is amiss.  80% of the time, it should be awesome.  Everyone should be able to put up with 20% of bullshit, or times where things suck.

I'm pro-working on things to make it better.  But you can't get blood from a turnip.  And you should reach a point where you know that what's going to serve you best after you've exhausted your emotional and mental resources, is to walk away and work on that new blank canvas.

So what happens after all of this?   What was my aftermath?

I was single again.

No I really was.  Apparently that's what happened after my divorce decree arrived in my e-mail.  It didn't tell me "hey Paul, you're single."  I kinda figured out that it went without saying.

So there I was...........single again.  With more baggage than LAX at Christmas time that I had to figure out what to do with.

Part 2 later.........

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

The process of identification

I've been asked on numerous occasions as to how I came into this personal insight about life, and relationships, and all sorts of crap I write about.  I hate even writing that sentence because I feel like it comes across as haughty or arrogant.  And I certainly rarely feel like I truly have the answers to people's problems.  Mostly, I write about what I've experienced, what I've learned from those experiences, and the things I feel I could have done differently when I was existing inside of those times in my life.

I'm not special.  Or unique.  I'm just old enough to have enough seasoning, if you will, to have walked down enough paths in my life that I can often identify with what others in similar situations are going through.  I've also read enough crap on all these things that if combined, would probably fill the library of Congress.  Not that it's always served me.  After all, knowledge is useless without the ability to apply it.  Which is something that hit me most recently when I was pondering over a certain phrase I hear quite often in relation to the average dude/chic.

And that is "people are just stupid."

I have no doubt, that some of my closest friends, who love me dearly, could at any time utter that phrase about me.  Despite all I've written, all I've read, all I've learned through books or life or whatever, I'm positive the people who know me best could tell you "Paul can be really stupid."

And that's not true.  Ok, so it is.

And you know what?  You're probably not that stupid either.  Or maybe you are.  Bear with me...

Someone reading this right now probably does think I'm stupid, mostly because of something I wrote before that they didn't like.  But disagreeing with me on something doesn't make me stupid.  If you're smarter than I am (which most are, trust me), then perhaps I was just ignorant.  Or perhaps I didn't care.  Which would make me apathetic.  Or maybe I was ignorantly apathetic.

Possibly, I didn't have enough sleep the night before and just had my asshole meter pegged out.  Take your pick.

Where am I going with this?

I don't think it's stupidity that holds most people back in life, or keeps people from making what others would deem a more "proper" or "appropriate" decision.  You know why I think that?

Because anytime you're immersed in a situation where you have some type of investment in it, your own personal decision making can become very shoddy.  To everyone else looking in from the outside, they often can and do give the same advice.  Think about that; if you have 8 people all telling you the same thing, there's probably some truth to it.  And in your mind, you may already know those truths.  But your heart tells you something totally different, doesn't it?

Like......."don't listen to them!  WTF do they know?"

Or there's just so much conflict between your head and your heart that the noise reverberating between the two creates and echo chamber, where everything is so loud that you can't differentiate between what seems like a logical decision, and what seems like an emotionally driven one.

Logic most often seems so sound doesn't it?  It's like putting the key into a car.  Someone asks you to start your car, logic has you put the key in and turn the ignition.  Simple.  Straight forward.  I like it.

But life isn't starting a car.  Life is driving down the interstate on cruise control, with your favorite jam on, with the windows down in 72 degree weather, and you have this amazing tan, and your hair or beard or eyebrows are on point, and there's nothing but open road in front of you.

Then you look over and gaze at the sun, to notice it's starting to set and the sky is filled with all these magnificent colors that look like God hand painted it all just for you to marvel at.

Then you look back to the road, and you have no idea where that petroleum truck came from, but it's veering all over the place, and then smashes into the bus full of toddlers, exploding into flames as you cry "Oh God, NO!!!!!".  And there's no time to lock up the brakes to avoid a head on crash into the chaos you've just witnessed, so you veer around it only to see the ground opening up, and realize it's a massive sinkhole developing right there in front your eyes.  And you can't avoid it and drive right into it, falling for what seems like an eternity into this deep dark black hole.  Then suddenly it all stops.  Miraculously your car stops and you realize it's landed on something sticking out of the ground.

"Why...that looks like part of the root of a giant tree!  What a miracle!"

Suddenly, a light from above starts illuminating the pitch black you were enveloped in, and you look up to see what it is.  Then realize it's that petrol truck.  Somehow it too fell into that sinkhole with you and now it's coming down  through the blackness right on top of you.

And then....

Well, you know what I mean.  In a split second things can change in our life, and most of the time, those things are completely out of our control.  And we often do our best to navigate past the toddlers on fire, and avoid the giant sink holes.  But sometimes we crash right into that pre-K school bus too.  Or we do drive right off into that sinkhole.  And in those moments, I bet money, if someone really cool and collected was watching from the side of the road they would have all the answers as to how to avoid that whole mess.

"Ya see, dumbass, you shoulda just eased on the brake a bit then veered further over to the median where there is safety and comfort, and mixed drinks.  But noooooo, not you.  You lost all composure then then you're all baffled as to just how in the hell you went careening off into a big ol' sinkhole."

Yes, we all have that friend, with all the answers.

But they aren't the one behind the wheel, and they aren't the one trying to avoid the flames and massive holes in in the ground that swallow us up.  And even worse, if they have been your friend long enough, you've seen them punch on the gas and plow right into the flaming toddlers and asked them "just what in the hell were you thinking??!?!"

But in a jumbled mess, we often do fall right into that sinkhole.

And when we do get swallowed up, it's hard to be logical sometimes.  Most of the time, I actually do believe we "know" the right things.  We have the answers.  Here, let me make this simple.  Is your current situation one filled with doubt and uncertainty?  Is it filled with angst and trepidation about your future?

That's good.  I like that.

You know why I like that?  Because it means you are on the cusp of growth.  But not until you figure out what you want to lead your decisions with.  And that's the other part in all of this.  Sometimes we need to lead with our heart, and sometimes we need to lead with our mind.  And sometimes, it's a little bit of those two things helping each other to reach the decision we need.  In fact, most often, I have found that it takes our heart and mind getting on the same page before we can have some clarity, and find the strength to make the choice we feel is our heart.

So in the end, it's our heart we need to appease.  Because ultimately, that's where our passion and desire comes from.  Our mind is the voice that says "the speed limit is 65".  It's our heart that screams "but I like to go fast!"

Then that petro truck....

Anyway, there's another point to all of this.  It's through all of this "crap" that gets filtered into our roadway that we navigate through that serves us with something called "experience".  And it's that experience that allows us to connect very deeply on a level with others who have also witnessed the Petro truck/toddler horror/sinkhole combination.

"This one time, I was driving..."

"Holy shit, me too!"

You've had those conversations.  And when someone gives you the "holy shit, me too" there's an instant form of connection that happens within that moment.  The process of identification.

The "I too drove into massive sinkhole..." connection.  Not many people have that.   It's a rare one.

But your problems and conflict feel rare to you, don't they?  They feel unique and probably most often make you feel like you're isolated from the rest of the entire universe in your pain, and that certainly no one else has been through it.

"Not like this."

"And this ain't her first heartache
But it feels like, it feels like the worst
And she says
Can someone tell me how this can happen
And I guess that God only knows
My heart used to be
The sweet shop of love
But now the sign on the door
It says sorry we're closed
And I hear myself tell her
Some old words I know they won't help
And then I feel guilty
'Cause I closed some sweet shops myself" -- Edwin McCain

This one part in this song encapsulates everything I'm taking 9 million words to write about here.

She's heartbroken.  And it's the worst one ever, and she feels alone in this, and has no idea how this all happened.  And Ol Edwin, he's trying to throw some verbiage at her that will soothe the pain, but he knows through experience, through identification, the pain she's dealing with.  And that there's no words to ease what she's feeling.  And then he feels like shit, because he sees in her, what...most likely, he's done to someone else.

Hollllllllllllly shit that's deep.  No, it really is.  I think it is.  You don't have to.  That's fine.

But because he's been there, on both sides of it, he can identify with what she's going through.  Maybe he can't ease it, and his words may give no consolation, but there becomes a connection through experience, that only experience can create.  And this is how we develop those bonds of friendship or love or romance or trust.  It's through the experiences we've had that we can see in someone else.  All the ways our lives unfolded in front of us, that they too have had unfold in front of them.  And boom, connection.

I've read many times the criticisms of motivational memes, or memes about success and that "none of the people posting these are successful, or are inspiring people".  But I really don't think that's why people post them.  I think they post them because they are trying to inspire themselves.  Or perhaps said meme resonates with them in a way that conveys how they are feeling in those moments.  I don't think it's really for anyone but the voice inside their head that is in the waves of feeling particularly good, and riding the crest, or particularly low, and trying not to drown.

Certainly, some people peacock on social media about their relationships.  We all know "that couple".  The one who puts up pics together and writes gush post after gush post that starts with "this man..." or "this woman...".  But behind the scenes, for those that know them personally, know things aren't so peachy keen.  For those people, it truly is about presenting an image they wish they were truly living.  Who doesn't want that?  Who doesn't want a relationship or love life filled with deep feelings of limerence for someone?  Dopamine is a hell of a drug.  And truthfully, one we need fairly often to simply feel alive again.

People going through the down slope in their lives enjoy a "like" or five-hundred when they post a pic of them and their significant other.  I read a while back that we're at the point now where people cannot differentiate between a like on social media, and a truly genuine compliment in real life.  And when you apply that method of reward in a deteriorating relationship, you can understand that it's immediate feedback that "everything's ok."   Even when it's not.  But the temporary release from the clutches of despair due to all of those likes can offer up the reprieve one may need.  It doesn't make it "real".  But who knows what is real anymore?  Is the feeling of relief one gets from fake affirmation real?  To the person feeling it, it is.

I think the saturation of social media has created a lack of connectedness in real society.  We see memes or read a status that makes us laugh, and we more or less share in that with someone by liking or commenting.  But roll our collective eyes at the ambiguous writings or pictures related to pain or anguish and dismiss them as attention seekers, who should just "get their shit together."

You know who really has their shit together?  Kids.  You know why kids do?   Because life is often fairly simple, and because it's simple, they can apply straight forward simplistic solutions.  Kids who aren't inundated with social media by having a smart phone can read people better than most adults, because as adults, most often we become so fixated on our own world, we don't often take time to pause and remember the universe doesn't revolve around us.  When we have personal pain it's really hard to remind ourselves that there are people living in the rest of the world dealing with pain and anguish as well.

I had someone tell me one time "the thing about emotional or personal pain is that it's like hitting your hand with a hammer.  If you miss the nail, and smash your finger or hand really hard, then until that pain subsides, you'll have trouble finding empathy for someone else's pain."

So there you sit, scrolling through your news feed, enveloped in your own personal crisis and what jumps out at you is some meme, that resonates with how you're feeling.  Without taking a moment to think the reason the person posting it, might also be dealing with some personal crisis or area of pain in their life, and that it spoke to that place inside of them no different than it is doing for you at that moment.

But you've smashed your hand really hard with that hammer, so your focus is turned very inwards, and the rest of the world gets shut out.  And the truth is, that's not always a bad thing.  One of my favorite metaphors about dealing with problems is comparing it to the safety check they give you on an airplane.  They tell you before you put the oxygen mask on your child, or person you are caring for, put yours on first.  Because you have to be at your best before you can take care of someone who can't take care of themselves.

And often times, through social media, I really believe that people post stuff or write stuff out of a longing for a certain degree of connectedness while they are navigating through pain points in their life.

I can scroll through my feed now, and when I read something or see a certain meme, especially if someone keeps using similar themes over and over again, I say to myself....




"really in love..."

"ambiguous status means someone will see it and know it's about them and it's there to get some response...possibly in private..."

That last one was long, but I really think that.

The reason I come to these conclusions is because I've been there, and writing is my outlet.  But I've never written for anyone but myself.  It's an outlet for my own personal pain, or high wave crest riding.

And you know what's happened over the years?  Since I'm usually fairly transparent about all of the really bad choices in my life, or the struggles I've gone through?  I get a lot of messages from someone who reads it, and they too feel like...

"Oh man, I fell into a sinkhole once too!"

And that's what binds us together as friends, family, casual acquaintances, and significant others.  And without our sinkholes, we can't have personal identification with others who are struggling as well.  We need those toddlers to be set on fire.  We need those sinkholes.  It's those moments of terror and chaos and uncertainty that eventually shape who we are, help us connect with others in crisis or pain, and give us the chance to grow into more than what we currently are.

And at some point, you're not going to be hooked onto that tree root, deep down in the depths of that sinkhole with the flaming petrol truck bearing down you.  You'll be back on the road, with your favorite jam on.   You'll have stopped to take a look in the mirror and notice your hair or beard isn't as perfect as it once was.  A reminder of what had previously happened.  And your car won't be so pristine looking.  Someone will stop to ask you if you got in a wreck.  And you'll say "Yeah..." and tell them what happened.

And every once in a while, when you tell someone this, they will look back at you, with a familiar look, and say "oh man, that happened to me."  And you'll realize at that point, that most of the roads we traverse down, were beaten paths already.  Walked by so many people long before they presented themselves to us.  And eventually all of these struggles and pain and toddlers that are engulfed in flames by petrol trucks, aren't situations that were unique.  They were just unique to us.  But they serve as a means to identify with others who have struggled with those same situations, and found a way to get back out.  But it also serves a means to help others, who have fallen into a hole, and have no idea how to get back out.........

A hopeless chronic relapsing alcoholic addict had fallen into a hole and could not find a way out.

Friends and family heard the alcoholic addict crying out for help in a sincere and despairing appeal, "I cannot go on like this! I have everything to live for! I must stop, but I cannot! You must help me!" So they offered the addict "frothy emotional appeals," bailed the addict out of trouble and gave the addict a ladder to climb out of the hole with, but the chronic relapser sold it to finance the next spree only to realize afterwards that the hole was now deeper than ever!

A doctor who was walking by heard the alcoholic addict crying out for help, stopping the doctor said, "Here, take these pills, it will relieve your pain." The doctor offered the addict methadone, suboxene, and a whole plethora of anti-depressants. The alcoholic addict took the pills and said thanks, but when the prescription ran out the pills ran out and the pain came back and the addict realized that he was still stuck in the hole.

A religious person happened to be strolling by and hearing the addict calling out for help stopped and gave the addict scripture, replying, read this scripture while I say a prayer for you." The addict read the scripture while the religious person prayed, but it the help was all faith and no works and the addict realized he was still stuck in the hole.

A renowned psychiatrist walked by and heard the addict pleading for help. He stopped and said, "How did you find yourself in that hole? Were you born there? Are your parents to blame? Tell me about yourself and your life in that hole, it will alleviate your sense of loneliness." So the addict talked with the psychiatrist for approximately an hour, then the psychiatrist said he had to leave, but he would come back next week. The addict thanked the psychiatrist for his time even though he was still stuck in his hole.

Finally a 'recovered' alcoholic addict happened to be passing by and heard the poor man's cries for help. Right away, the recovered alcoholic addict jumped into the hole with him. The suffering alcoholic addict said, "Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck here in this god forsaken hole!" But the recovered alcoholic addict said with a twinkle in his eye, "It's okay brother, I've been here before; I know the way out!"

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