Things I have learned

Twenty-five years ago, I was a different person. At the age of 21 you are just in the process of figuring out who you are. 21 year olds are stupid, green. They seem so sure of themselves, but they really aren’t. More times than we would like to admit, at that phase of our adulthood, we are still running on autopilot of what our parents, or usually our friends prepared us for. Our values come from our community, our peers, our places of worship, and the books and movies and television we like and relate to. All of it is our care package that runs out pretty quickly when we are first on our own.

We begin to experiment with things. Drugs. Sex. Religions. The things we read. Some of us might go through a phase where we only listen to indie rock or watch foreign films. Thank goodness for getting that our of our systems pretty quick. In the middle of this experimentation phase, we often think we’ve got the code cracked. We’ve done what no other adult in the history of ever has done. We have solved the problem that has affected generations stretching back to the beginning of time. We know better.

Or we think we do well enough to partner up and reproduce.

There’s a thing called emotional maturity. Some of us are stuck at a certain age. Most adults we know are walking around in ageing bodies with a ten year old or a fifteen year old at the controls. Many uphappy relationships stem from the fact that one partner finds themselves raising the other.

I went through that phase too, mutually raising the other partner. The only reason it was “mutual” is because I dumbed myself down enough to need to be raised from time to time myself. Mostly because of fears. Like I said, it was mutual participation, so it became a contest as to who could be the most helpless sometimes. I hope that was as much of a phase as watching movies where mimes play tennis or death plays chess with someone.

We, as humans, are awfully good at putting each other in boxes. We recognize patterns and categorize accordingly. My ex used to say I was just like her father. Only that couldn’t have been further from the truth. She wanted me to be just like her father, and dragged me into that kicking and screaming. In the end, I considered it. It would have been easier to just step into someone else’s box.

I went to the dentist one time while I was married. It wound up being for a full-mouth debridement. They scraped 20 years of crud off my teeth. That was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Underneath, I had beautiful teeth. No cavities. Just some gums that needed some TLC. I had a hard time taking care of myself or putting myself first. Though my wife at the time went to the dentist, got new cell phones, drove the new cars, etc., I made sure she and the kids were taken care of first. If I didn’t, I heard about it. That also became a competition. She would say she was nearly blind and needed new glasses, when I was the one working. I needed glasses to work, but I had the same prescription since college.

When I finally left, I started dating someone who gave me a taste of being selfish. She told me I needed to see an eye doctor because one night when I went to her apartment to go for a walk, I nearly walked right past her. I couldn’t see her face in the dark. I got glasses and I could see again. Work was easier. Writing was easier. Driving…was much safer.

Later, I went in for a teeth cleaning and they found a cavity. My first. I was 40. The strange jump my life had taken from being 21 and just starting off at figuring out my life brought me back to 21. I mean in the meantime, I had worked regularly, was in the process of raising three kids, but I had not done some things for myself that many adults take for granted. I was terrified of getting a tooth filled.

The woman I was seeing told me to close my eyes and think of her holding my hand if I got scared. Then that was comforting. That someone cared. Someone had that kind of compassion. Someone wanted to take care of me for a change. I felt better. Today, I’m not the same. I’ve been catching up.

Back then, I had never gone anywhere on my own, much less booked a hotel room, plane tickets, bought a car from a dealership, or done much for myself. By myself. Nearly every experience was raw, new, and scared the shit out of me. I had been captive. I would say my wife had done all of those things, but she hadn’t. She had her mother book rooms and car rentals and plane tickets. Her mother was always center stage, from buying our house to our cars, and so much more. We were dependent on her, which meant whenever we wanted to do something different, we had to clear it with her, since she was the one doing all the leg work. She was the only one who was allowed to watch the kids. My ex was just as much at her mercy as I was.

The things I was good at were taking kids to the ER in the middle of the night. Taking care of sick kids. Fighting with my wife and trying to hold a marriage together for a very long time. I became very good at shutting down. At blowing things out of proportion to suit the narrative. Everyone else was bad. We were poor and always going to be that way. Everyone was always out to screw us over.

I’m learning now that your 40s get to be a new time in your life where you decide what your values are. It’s sad that for so many of us it takes this long. We finally give ourselves permission. The last several years has been trying to unlearn a lot of what I was taught wrong in my youth. Mostly by two young people who had a child together and were faking it themsleves. Living in a small town. Under the disapproval of family who had their minds made up about the world and our place in it. Like I said, this stuff goes back generations.

Some things still make me anxious, but not as much anymore. I figure it out. I like to problem solve. In my forties, I’m learning to worry less about what others think of you. Chances are if they’ve made that call already, it’s not your problem. It’s theirs. I’ve been held back from doing so many of the things I have wanted because I’ve been afraid of what other people might think. Every single one of us has done something new for the first time, and most of us have failed spectacularly at it. If we keep getting up and trying again, we usually get better at it. There’s no other way to master something. And if we were instantly perfect at doing it, maybe we didn’t aim very high?

Very few of us are born into a position that is guaranteed success. I’ve met people who were and they are a mess. When you are born into your life, you’re no different than that 21 year old who is just going by everything they were taught. You aren’t learning it for yourself. Those are the kind of people who aren’t happy. They aren’t sad either. They have a weird feeling they cannot describe because they’ve never wanted for anything. They don’t know what it’s like to want more and not just be able to have it. And they can’t understand that not everything we have is even something we want. That wisdom comes from loss. Or looking beyond what is familiar, and maybe wondering if it’s a cage or not.

Anyway, I’m getting better at getting out of my comfort zone. Over the years, I have been paying attention to the lessons I have been given. I no longer need someone to hold my hand at the dentist. If I need new glasses, I make an appointment. I am prepared to make mistakes and once I weigh all the options and think things through. I jump anyway.

21 year old me would have told me that was what I should have been doing all along.

A Post from Two Years Ago Revisited

Today is February 12, 2022. We’ve all been through some shit for a couple years. Let’s look back for a minute.

It’s a little more than two years ago since I wrote the last post and four from the original post. Since there is a lot to cover here, I will be brief in recapping.

I have traveled since the original post in 2017. I’m still a hopeless romantic, and have gotten my heart broken a couple times. I keep it more guarded now. I try to live more for what will give me joy, rather than the chase now. I’m getting used to being in my own skin. I’m learning more and more about boundaries and also values. I’m learning that standing up for your boundaries can be hard, lonely, and painful. I’m hoping in the end it’s all worth it.

Today I’m a little bit sadder. In the last eight months, I’ve spent less than 24 hours with my youngest. We are in the middle of a custody case. I miss him like you wouldn’t believe. I miss the home we were creating. I haven’t seen my daughter since Sept. 17, 2018 and I haven’t seen my oldest son since April 2, 2016. Time goes by, so swiftly.

I’ve moved to my grandparents’ old house and have been renovating it over the last year. I am a nationally published travel writer. I am writing full time now. The pay isn’t that great, but it is fulfilling. I’m working on a book. I was laid off from the University and I don’t miss it, ever.

Really the reason I wanted to repost this was to remind myself why I keep a blog. I was able to look back at a post from a little over four years ago and see how much hope I had. How much lighter the world seemed to be. Right now I’m not in such a great place, but hearing my voice from back then reminds me that things can get better. They probably will get better. Right now, it’s just a little rough. The blog is a measurement of progress in my life. I’m not writing it for anyone but me.

That guy back then chose to let go of his anger and his sadness. Honestly, he was excited at the prospect of new beginnings. I like that guy. He thought he had it figured out. He didn’t, but he thought he did. He’s the kind of guy who would say “Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor! Who’s with me!?!”

Today, I still don’t like bars, I’m not a big fan of concerts, I don’t like fishing all that much, I love road trips, new experiences, the sound of the surf crashing on the beach at night. I enjoy cigars occasionally, but they make my asthma flare up. Smoking a pipe is a total waste of time, but you can do it inside if you want. I enjoy whiskey in moderation. I hang dry my clothes.

I have a puppy named Penny and she makes me laugh every day. I spend hours every day petting her, playing fetch, and she’s a wonderful companion. I survived a round of Covid-19. It was like a nasty flu. I’m glad I was vaccinated. A lot of people who weren’t are gone now. When I was sick, I understood one truth and that was that I didn’t want to die.

I’m going to therapy once a week, and it seems to be helping me get over some things that have been keeping me stuck. I’m even less attached to “stuff” now than I have ever been, but the stuff I do have I tend to lean towards the nicer end of the spectrum. It should be made to last, and it should be of a higher quality. I have paid off my student loans, credit cards, and other debts. Some of my biggest regrets are paying credit cards when I could have just been saving and paying cash for things, rather than letting banks walk around with their hands in my pocket.

I don’t cook as much. With just me, it’s just a chore and I pitch a lot of the leftovers anyway.

Lately, I’m tired. But I’m working on changing that. I know I have fewer days ahead of me than I do behind. It’s important to live like there is no tomorrow sometimes, because there isn’t one. Life is very short and the pandemic should have made that clear to all of us.

See you in two years.

Today.  December 6, 2019.

For the last five years, I have been able to measure and identify a lot of the changes in my life, what I am appreciative of, what I have survived, and what I have discovered about myself.

Reading this stuff reminds me of a few things.  Sometimes I am entirely too introspective.  And when I wrote this, maybe at the time I thought that was the apex of my personality.  That I had found myself and this was Me, moving forward.

Today, as much as I agree with a lot of what was said, can honestly say that living is a work in progress.  There are no definitives, and sometimes things are pendular.  My opinions on ice cream have changed, especially after meeting someone I genuinely enjoy ice cream with.  So far, my favorite is Little Man’s gingersnap cookie dough ice cream.  My opinions on the paranormal are less rigid now, with my former disbelief being a reaction to putting up with years of people pretending to be psychic.  I’m skeptical, but no longer atheistic on the subject. Mountain-biking kinda sucks; unless you are going downhill.

Since I wrote what follows in December, 2017, I have finally gotten to travel, and if you follow my travelogue at gettingoutmore.org, you’ll see that I can’t shut up about it. It has become my favorite vice and is truly a rush to experience.  Cigars might be up there now too. Along with good scotch and tacos.

I don’t go to church anymore.  The pastor at the one where I was going quit to become a day trader.  I really liked his sermons, but his absence created an identity crisis within the church, and sitting there, by myself, I felt like an outsider.  I adhere once again to the feeling that I don’t need a building to have a relationship with God.  I’ve seen people forget to be nice people and just cling to dogma.  Being a good person and following the rules are two entirely different things.  Something a lot of people should recognize if they read their Bibles.

I have gotten better at boundaries, both with others and myself.  Along the way, I have lost some people or changed the nature of our relationship with better boundaries.  It’s a good place to be.  I no longer do things to impress someone else or to prove my value.  I do things because I want to, or because I have to.  I am a lot more honest with myself.  I get bored of using “I” sentences, but in this case this is what has to be done.

I have also realized that I have outgrown my job, and am working on taking the next step, which will no doubt scare the hell out of me.  In good ways.  In some ways I am less cocky or sure of myself, but that has been replaced with confidence that I can get through just about anything if I put my heart into it.

I’ve also learned how to let go, and put things that hurt me behind me.  To act with grace and compassion.  Be careful, but not let sad choices cloud my trust.  To recognize happy choices and celebrate those.  To not see being an unrepentant, hopeless romantic as being a weakness, but as being a strength that does eventually allow you to accept good things.

Life continues to be stressful, there are wins and losses, things change but your attitude determines whether they are for the better or the worse.  Learn to appreciate what is good and move away from what isn’t.  I try to not beat myself up as much as I used to, and that feels good too.

Anyway, without any more jabber, here’s my post on Facebook from two years ago.  A few of these have changed, except for my hope and my optimism.  If you find some nuggets of wisdom in any of this…well, that’s good.

December 6, 2017

Over the last three years, I have been on a journey of self-discovery.

When you are divorced and free from an abusive relationship, everything you thought you once knew is demolished. You have a chance to actually know what is important to yourself, reject what is not, and embrace your new life. This takes a lot of navigation and personal reflection. Some things in your life should be consistent. Work being one of them. This is perhaps the easiest to keep consistent, since it is the independent variable of your life. The work continues, you are just the one who has been doing it.

So keep work. At least for a while. This is one of the things that I did. For the most part, the people I work with were very welcoming and forgiving.

Keep your family. They are probably your closest support system. Your kids might not be. They will be fighting their own battles for a while.

Your friends will change, this is okay. Keep the ones you can, welcome new ones, bid a fond farewell to those who will leave your life.

Your things. You might not value some of your possessions as much as you once did. Many of these things will be painful reminders of good times and bad. Other things, you might not view with the same importance. This can be a moment of catharsis when you realize, it’s just Stuff. However, some things might hold sentiment that is ingrained in your personality. You might need to hang on to these things, having a new understanding of exactly what they mean to you. Gone are the album books of wedding pictures, vacation snaps, souvenirs, expensive cookware and appliances, antiques you picked out together, birthday presents, CDs you might have listened to together on that roadtrip to Santa Fe, or even the couch you bought that wound up lasting much longer than your marriage.

Instead, you might have found the importance in an old blanket your great grandmother made, a bookcase full of books you have spent your adult life working through, an old chair a friend gave you because your new place lacked furniture, old love letters from someone you haven’t seen in twenty years, which had been gathering dust in your parent’s house–which on a day when you needed to be reminded of it, you were once, and one day will be worthy of someone being crazy about you again. An old pocket knife, a leather jacket, jumper cables, a collection of baby pictures your family gathered up and gave you to replace the ones you’ll never see again. These little things will get you through some of the rough spots. In time, you will gather more stuff, and even let some of these things go as well.

Little dreams. Big dreams.Sad dreams. Dreams to remember.

One of the first things I wanted to do when I was on my own was to make up for the experiences I was missing out on for years while I was married. Travel and new experiences being at the top of the list. Like anything, you have to learn to walk before you can run, and after surviving a divorce battleground, you won’t have money to do pretty much anything for a while. It all gets eaten up by attorneys, bill collectors, and responsibilities that you will have in reestablishing your life.

Let go of your anger. It’s a shadow that will follow you everywhere. It will eat anything good you can put in your heart before you even know it’s there, unless you get rid of it. I am not angry about much anymore. Traffic is about as irritated as I try to be. Sometimes something will jump up and get my goat. It’s usually something having to do with my old life. Irrational requests from the ex-wife, frustrations that crop up. I’ve found that you can handle just about anything if you are calm. You are allowed to be angry, just not ever to let it control you. Take some time to settle down when you get that tight feeling in your stomach. Because things can get much worse, you don’t need to help it get there.

Let go of bad habits. Fear, jealousy, panic, paranoia, etc. These were probably a culprit in the destruction of your marriage, so lose as many of them as you can before they get a chance to poison someone else. Kids. Future relationships. The First and foremost, before they have any further opportunity to poison you. It isn’t just about faking being “fine” so others want to be around you. You also need to feel comfortable being with you.

Take the advice of friends with a grain of salt. Some of them are probably living out their own divorce fantasies through you. Be cautious of this. Take things slow. Rushing out and partying, sleeping around, blowing lots of money, doing things that are out of character are not the best ways to explore what this new you is. Usually because there might be long-term consequences to this.

Find your faith.

Know what you don’t like. After three years of going to clubs, parties, social events, mountain biking, hiking, long drives, bars, sporting events, etc. I realized that there were things I was missing out on when I was under marital house arrest, and things I wasn’t. I realized that I enjoy writing much more than hanging out in a club, shouting back and forth into a friend’s ear while trying to have a conversation. I realize I love a good hockey game. Baseball, not so much. I can take or leave watching football on TV. It’s easier just to follow the scores on Facebook. I prefer a quiet hike in the woods to drinking with friends. I hate casinos. I don’t get the point of lifting weights. I love sea-kayaking. I don’t like running. I like mountainbiking. Working out helps clear my head. Cooking is a chore. I like binge-watching a good series on Netflix, but loathe watching network television. I like to read, but am often bored by it. I didn’t like graduate school, fishing, or court hearings. I have outgrown things like Renaissance Festival, Halloween, and tasting different kinds of whisky or wine. I’m fairly adventurous with foods I like still, as I always have been. I love spending time with my kids. Concerts just feel like a lot of standing in a crowd and going deaf. I no longer believe in the paranormal and haven’t been frightened by a spooky place in years.

Work is often boring and tedious, but it is consistent. I still don’t like ice cream or cake. I know now that I can refuse it if someone offers it to me. I know too that I need glasses all the time to see, not just for reading anymore. I know I will probably never run a 5K because my ankle joints just can’t take it. I’m fine with that too. I know you don’t have to reciprocate every time someone is interested in you. Sometimes you can just smile and say “have a nice day.” I’ve learned that you can come into contact with germs every day and not die of some illness. I’ve learned that usually when you get sick, you’ll get better. Often, you’ll be recovering alone and without sympathy. Sometimes people will come by and keep you company, lift heavy things for you, pick up the tab at dinners, text you in the middle of the night for advice.

I am an unrepentant hopeless romantic.

I like church and the gym for the same reasons. Both are new additions to my life. I don’t like going to either place, but I do like how I feel when I go home. I feel like both are making me a better person. I hate camping. I am over it. I did it every month when I was in Boy Scouts. I like a nice, warm, comfy bed much better. I actually do like walks in the moonlight, soft music playing in another room, but I don’t like movie dates. I enjoy dancing. Trading stories. Learning more about someone. There are moments when I am capable of just walking away. Standing up for myself. Being bored at home and being fine with that. I like how I look with a beard but I hate how scratchy it gets. I’m still not comfortable with compliments. But that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them. Because I like giving them.

In three years I have not found a reason to spank any of my kids. Much less many reasons to ever raise my voice at them.

I have to base what I like or don’t only on if I truly do, not by the context. Some context is good and some is bad. Prejudice is meaningless. You have to find your own beliefs, your own convictions, and sometimes rules are fine to break. Some aren’t. Some wound you further down the line.

I like coffee, but I don’t need it. It gives me bad breath. I liked the social aspect of it. People get together and drink coffee. Ordering coffee is a conversation with someone you might have missed out on otherwise. Alcohol just makes me want to sleep. And then I miss out on conversations. I don’t need pets. I don’t miss cleaning up after them, feeding them, or taking them to the vet. Kids require enough of that, and they are more interesting. It’s okay to have opinions and not waver from them. It’s also okay to change your mind on a subject. You won’t be judged as a liar for changing your mind if you keep the right kinds of company. You aren’t a loser if you aren’t going out with friends on a Friday. If you decide to do laundry for a lazy Sunday, it might just be enough. It’s okay to be alone. It’s fine to look back, look forward, living in the moment is fine too. Moderation is key. You’ll have regrets, you’ll have ambitions, you will continue to mess up, fall on your face, but just keep getting back up again.

Sometimes I talk too much. I overthink. Then I don’t say what really needed to be said, for fear of losing anything I have gained. I have been greedy with my emotions. Needy. Isolated. Reluctant and second-guessing myself. As we tend to be when we are brand new at life.

I like to write. It got me through a shitty marriage, and it’s going to be with me for a wonderful life. It supplied these words you have just read. I still haven’t traveled, other than some introspective journeying. But now, I have the patience to understand it is my life, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. I have time.