Walls

Today is a double post day.

Occasionally a post about personal growth or observation sneaks into the mix. Today I decided to write about one such moment. Typically I haven’t been because my ex-wife loves to stalk my blog and try to indicate where I am a danger to myself and others. Then brings it up in court.

The Best Leonardo DiCaprio Memes Shared on Social Media for His 46th  Birthday
Right there, Cliff! See it!

Jeez, does that shit get old fast. If you haven’t been paying attention, this blog is more or less about personal growth, which is the opposite of that. To be clear, I write about these things too because I know a lot of other readers out there are struggling and part of healing is knowing you aren’t alone. That is if anyone is actually interested in putting in the work to heal. That being said, let’s continue.

Lately I’ve been facing an anniversary.

We’ve all been facing an anniversary. Mine is a little bit different. A year ago, I was nervous about changes that were coming. I was being taken back to court again by my ex-wife. The hearing was set for November. I had no money to hire an attorney either. Also, just on the heels of a romantic weekend in Glenwood Springs with my (then) girlfriend, it was confirmed that there would be layoffs coming at my job. As coronavirus (as it was called back then) began to trigger lockdowns we parted ways on March 13th, with the anticipation that we would see each other again in just a few weeks when the quarantine was ended. We had plans to go to the UK on a couple’s trip where we would visit London and Edinburgh. My hopes of finding someone who would join me on my adventures had been realized!

We never saw each other again. The quarantine dragged out for weeks. We talked on the phone every night and as the panic began to creep in on me about losing my job, child support probably going up, and having to cancel our trip, she decided she needed to end our relationship.

I used to count the end of our time together as April 30th, but really, it ended that night she left my house in the rain on March 13th. I could feel her slipping away, and when I would try to talk to her about it, she just told me she wasn’t going anywhere. That I was overthinking. Of course that was until she did go somewhere. I felt that trust begin to unravel two days before we were over. I played Thomas Dolby’s “I Love You Goodbye” on repeat for most of an evening before she dropped the final bombshell.

Previous relationships and of course my tumultuous marriage have left me with a lot of pieces to pick up. This one hurt. No, it went beyond that. It left a lot of damage behind. Mostly damage to my ability to trust others in relationships. It is something I struggle with. Strange how building something together that showed me it was possible to love again damaged my ability to trust so badly.

When I met her, I had been healing from another relationship, which I have talked about often on this site. Rather than get into all that BS again, I will say that it was hard to realize it wasn’t me, but seriously them. I had value. Which I had all along but had forgotten over years of isolation and abuse from before. I was fine with being Alone. I was enjoying my own company. Then I met someone who showed me all the effed up things that other person was on about for three years. Namely how badly I was being treated–even though it was significantly better than my marriage.

She never pointed these things out. It was always revealed by things that she did. Her actions. Things like calling me when she got home or not being vague about her “friends”. She treated me as an equal. We built each other up, encouraged each other. We indulged each other’s weird hobbies or activities and accepted them. We gave each other bad habits and enjoyed them together. Damn, was that nice. Each of us had a past but we chose not to let it haunt us too much.

I allowed myself to trust and slowly those walls I built to protect myself began to come down. When she ended things, the walls went back up immediately. They were twice as thick and the tower I stuck myself in this time was much higher. Unless someone was somehow on my side of the wall when that happened, there was no getting in.

The walls stay up.

Sometimes a little light gets let in, but it is with reluctance. With the light, sometimes you get rain. It’s hard to trust for those of us who have been hurt. It’s harder to not cling to that victimhood because it gets you a pass. That is something I am really wanting to be rid of. I am bringing it up today because I want to help others. I want to show them that sometimes being brave is just getting out of your own way.

Sometimes you get into your own headspace and the story you are telling yourself…well, that’s just it. It’s a story until you ask the right questions. It’s hard to ask the right questions because sometimes you are afraid of the answer you might get back. It’s hard to not beat yourself up and say you believed answers another time too, until those changed.

Sometimes you knock out one brick and replace it with two more. You might be afraid of setting yourself up to lose everything all over again, and sometimes its safe and warm behind those walls (you tell yourself it is anyway). It is really hard to be open to trust again. It gets to the point where you don’t even trust your friends. In your 40s, relationships are hard. Especially after a life-changing event like a divorce.

If your situation involved being isolated from your friends, family, or anyone else you were close to (even co-workers) you might find yourself starting all over again. The strong bonds you had with people have been stretched thin by time and distance. You are no longer in the inner circle of those relationships. You start over. This time with a layer of cynicism. You feel jaded. At some point the fear of caring about someone new is overwhelming because you keep expecting the other shoe to drop. Attachment anxiety ensues.

When you are in your 20s, like a hangover or the days after an all-nighter studying, you bounce back pretty quickly. In your middle years, it is much less so. Like the sounds you make when you try to extract yourself from a comfy chair or struggling to walk across a cold floor to the bathroom every morning, it takes a lot more. You don’t bounce back. In friendships and relationships you are also pretty hardened off and set in your ways to some extent. In your 20s you are maleable. Adaptable. Less broken. Like little kids who approach each other on the playground and say, “Hey! Wanna be friends!” and from that moment on, they just are. Best friends even.

Boundaries are important, but they aren’t the same as walls, even if they sometimes serve the same purpose. But those walls you build just get thicker and stronger. Because you can’t be hurt that way again. Sometimes you just wish you could step outside of them and be like you were when you were young and beautiful.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible. No. That’s what I hope for anyway. Some days are difficult. Do we chisle our way out of Shawshank with a tiny rock hammer or do we ask for more mortar and bricks to make our own prisons? Or do we build a beacon for others?

The title never fits when it’s the first thing you write

All these years we’ve been thinking like readers when we sit down to write. As a reader, other than the cover of a book, the first thing you know about any of it is the title. So when we make that transition from reader to writer, we might have some unrealistic ideas of what to expect from ourselves when we are writing. The title encapsulates the book, either from a line of prose that wraps up the entire theme, to something symbolic. I have news for you; the writer didn’t start off with the title. Why? Because as they were writing, it is likely they figured out what it all meant as they were chugging along.

So why is it in life, we think we are supposed to have our lives figured out so early on? I read the blog of a millennial the other day who was putting so much pressure on herself for not having everything laid out by the end of her twenties. I remember that I might have done the same. A friend of mine discussed out our careers need to be established by 27, and how she was already past her prime.

What a load of crap.

Funny how these days, kids can’t be expected to cross the street on their own, sit in the front seat of a car until they can drive it, or do half the things I was able to do on my own at their age. But they have a window of nine years now to figure out their entire lives, including four years of college, and the massive debt associated with that. Oh yeah, don’t forget to get married and start a family too in those years.

Green as the grass and twice as wet behind the ears as a fish.

Tonight I’m feeling a little melancholy. Maybe it’s from two solid days of DIY on the house and not enough writing. I re-walled one of the rooms, floor to ceiling. I threw in some insulation too. Today I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t do any work on the house. I didn’t do a lot really. Some laundry, visited my folks, slept in, and made acorn squash rissotto. Rissotto is one of those foods that sounds really fancy, and it is tasty, but when you get to brass tacks on it, it’s really just mushy rice.

I would rather have some decent BBQ. Honestly, I don’t know what the big deal with saffron is, I can’t taste it. I can’t even smell it. Never could. Maybe that’s good, because at least I don’t know what I am missing.

Tonight marks an anniversary for me. A year ago, a woman I was seeing at the time and I went on a romantic weekend trip for her birthday. Shortly after that, the whole state was on lockdown. I would only see her once more and then six weeks later, it was all over. It took me a while to get over that one. Someone who said they would always be there…then they weren’t. Something like that makes the walls go up. Since then, my life has changed quite a bit. My job of nearly 19 years ended, I moved back to my hometown because I could no longer afford to live in the Front Range, I got a dog, who at this moment is nagging me to play fetch with her. I have drifted from some people while getting closer to others. I tend to guard myself in talking about these because last year taught me to not get too comfortable sometimes.

Tonight, Facebook brought up a moment in 2018 where my youngest son and my daughter were ice skating. I watched the video and saw the smiles. The genuine smiles. At the time, I wasn’t all that healthy or happy. Bad relationship, bad work environment, a CPS courtroom process finally winding down, resulting in nothing other than a bunch of bureaucrats patting themselves on the back telling each other “Good job!” and nothing being any different.

Six months later, my daughter stopped smiling and stopped coming over to my house. My child support doubled. Work started to look really sketchy as far as job security. The bad relationship I was in finally folded at the end of that year, and it took a while to understand my worth. (She got engaged to someone else six months later–kinda sus).

A year ago tonight, I was sitting in a hot spring with someone I was in a serious relationship with, who may as well have fallen off the face of the earth a week later. I don’t expect a pity party, I just don’t think I could have come up with a title for the last year and the awful and wonderful things that have happened.

The world got crazy and since the St. Patrick’s Day that wasn’t, now everyone hates Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

I’m far from being 27 and I know that I don’t have my life figured out. Other than there are a lot of things I wouldn’t want to repeat, and a few I wouldn’t mind going back to once in a while. In some ways I feel truly blessed, and am working every day on how to just let those blessings be good for me. To not push people away because it hurts when they get close. To just be content in the silence of a house I am lucky enough to fix up.

Tonight I’m playing fetch with the dog.

Start Running

Recent events in my life have definitely thrown me for a loop. I have around a week of the day job left. The final bits of an event in my life that has lasted for nearly 19 years. After that is the uncertainty of freelancing full time. I have a lot of uncertainty about that. Most people have already switched jobs about half a dozen times at the very least in that amount of time, but not me. I’ve stuck it through during recessions, housing bubbles, tech bubbles, and now the Higher Ed bubble. When I was married, it was the only stability I had. The job market where I have lived for the last 19 years hasn’t been all that welcoming to my skill set; not when you are the sole source of income for a family of five. Quitting would have devastated my family as we had no savings and were usually behind on bills. Long story short, kids, marry someone who is on the same page you are when it comes to making a budget.

I’ve lived modestly, biding my time for when I could finally try my hand at writing. That moment arrived this year in a sink or swim kind of decision. The stability of the boring day job is going away next week. I am thrilled and I am terrified. I see my university as being the canary in the coal mine. It won’t be long now before people recognize Higher Ed for the Ponzi Scheme it really is.

Even the place I am leaving had a $10M deficit each year and these cuts were supposed to curtail that. We had around 108 days of funds left barring any natural disasters…then COVID-19 hit. Now the university looks to be sporting a projected $15M deficit and counting. Per year. That’s up around 50%. I’m glad I took the severance and won’t be looking back.

But the idea of filling my days writing articles and copy for companies is a little panic-inducing. I guess I’ll just have to adjust. It could be the best decision I ever made.

The end of a wonderful 10 month relationship has left me teetering on the edge of just move on with my life and being bitter. Today I choose to just get on with my life, rather than dwell on the details. The whys of “Things were going great and then…they are over.” That just plays into my abandonment issues, trying to change myself to suit what I imagine their needs to be, etc. Nobody asked me to do any of these things. This is just life. Sometimes things just don’t work out, even if you thought they had been.

I was watching a Chris Voss video the other day. He’s the FBI negotiator you might see on YouTube ads. He said something particularly interesting about psychological stress and leverage. As someone who was in the equivalent of FBI special forces, he said uncertainty is the biggest obstacle we have to face. On his training, he said they didn’t do things like torture them or haze them for the final test. He said they picked them up in a car and said, “Let’s go for a run.”

They dropped the trainee off and said, “Start running.” We are all built to know how to pace ourselves if we know how long we have to endure something. He said he could do a six minute mile, but that involved knowing that it was only going to be so far and for so long. When someone says, “Start running” you don’t know if it’s going to be ten minutes or six hours. You just start running. You wonder if you are doing it right. You wonder if you are going to last or wash out. What breaks people is the uncertainty of when, or rather IF it will ever end. Hostages and their loved ones wake up every day without knowing if today is the day that they can stop running, for one reason or the other. It is stressful. This is why routine is important. Run until this, you can make it another 100 yards. You can make it to the next 100 yards. Keep going.

Chris Voss said he had to run for about 45 minutes, but it was one of the most challenging moments of his life. If felt like hours and hours to him. Right now, I feel like that is what I’m up against. I don’t know if freelancing is going to be successful. I don’t know if I will ever meet someone again. There is a gap between right now and what is coming up and I don’t know anything about what to expect.

I am being eaten up by this uncertainty. Someone told me to just start running. I saw an inspirational meme that helped out some. It said something about the space between what is happening now and what you expect is filled with uncertainty. Don’t be frightened about the uncertainty, but be curious about the possibilities.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

All I can do is trust that I’ve made it this far and I have plenty of tools in my toolbox to prepare me for about 80% of what happens next. That’s a lot more than a lot of people have going for them right now. I’m looking down that long road ahead, unsure of what will come next other than the distorted lens my experiences have given me on Trust, future plans, or committment. Too many sad choices. I’m in my forties. I don’t have a lot of faith in people left anymore. God knows they all have their baggage too. I can focus on a few things right now. Getting my business going. Raising my son. Being open to whatever good things are just over the horizon. The list is getting shorter though, I must admit.

I hope to show gratitude for the good that has happened in my life and patience for the moments that challenge me. The work keeps me company. My memories help fuel the work. I have the rest of my life to run. Starting…now.