The second time – could’ve been another day, could’ve been later that day – I revisited the notion after a long day at work. For a good month or so I’d spend at least 15 minutes in a stall in the men’s room crying softly. The feeling would just come on all of a sudden; I’d have to log off the phone, hold it in while I walked quickly to the restroom, hope no one else was in there, and just let it out as quietly as possible, sometimes stuffing toilet paper in my mouth to help keep it muffled.
Following one of those many days I had a similar mental exchange. Except when I got to the accomplishing part it seemed a little easier; I was already in my car and there was a highway right over the hill I could have a fantastic wreck on. But then I thought of the other people who might be possibly involved. And then the third voice barged in again, asking what the fuck I was thinking.
You know what I’m thinking, I responded.
RIGHT – BEFORE YOU DO YOU ANYTHING YOU’LL REGRET, MAKE A FUCKING PHONE CALL!!
And then, I don’t know, I just came to my senses and called back home to North Carolina and talked to my surrogate mom – I was ashamed and scared to tell her what I had been considering. Ashamed for the stigma surrounding people possessing such thoughts and scared to admit it because that somehow makes it more real.
She wasn’t mad, she wasn’t ashamed, but she was scared for me and suggested I call my former therapist. I called her right away and we talked for a few minutes. I called her again a few days later; no more thoughts along those lines, and by that time more people were coming into my life.
The all caps, bold and italic lettering voice I think was the voice of God; or my guardian angel if you think God is above using the f-bomb.
Have you ever seen a dog chasing a car? Ever wonder what a dog would do if it actually caught the car? That’s kind of what it was like when I moved to Ohio. I didn’t really know what to do once I caught the woman I had been pursuing for going on three years. So, I just made her my life.
I had no other friends except those I met through the church I started attending because she was already attending. I wouldn’t spend any time with those friends unless she was at work or otherwise occupied. I basically felt as though I was nothing without her.
That’s too much of a burden for anyone to bear, the burden of another’s existence, of another’s value. And it proved too much for her. Ultimately that relationship failed and because I had invested so much of my life into it, when it was gone and she was absent from my life all of a sudden, I felt like I had nothing. What was the point of waking up each morning only to feel the worst I had ever felt in all my life? Day after day, each hour of each day, each minute of each hour.
There were two distinct occasions – shucks, it might have even been the same day, time was just slushing along, all mixed up – but I distinctly remember two separate times at which I seriously considered ending it all.
One of those times was one morning as I woke up. My internal dialogue went something like as what follows:
What’s the point?
We have to go to work.
Because, we have to. Responsibility.
But why? What’s beyond that? Why keep on doing this?
Because we’re here.
What if we weren’t?
I imagine we’d feel a lot better.
We wouldn’t feel anything.
That’d feel better than this…
And then I started thinking about how I could accomplish it and I guess as I woke up something else woke up and barged into the conversation: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING??!
That was enough to scare me back from the proverbial edge.
Shortly after I started therapy, I met a woman who absolutely knocked me off my feet. It was a lady in the Young Singles Sunday school class I had recently started attending, and I was just absolutely floored that someone of such physical and apparent inner beauty would strike up a conversation with me. Later I’d find out it was primarily to run interference for her roommate, fearing I was some kind of Sunday School creeper.
Nevertheless, we soon became friends and I was enamored from the start. Clarification: enamored with the IDEA of her. It would be another few years before I’d learn what it’d really take to be in a healthy relationship and what that actually looked like.
The people-pleasing part of my baggage is rooted in the earliest years of my home life that I can remember, trying to make our family appear as though nothing was wrong to outsiders while at home things were less than right. Somewhere along the line I just got it wired into my brain that if you make everything appear and seem right, ultimately it will be.
And the whole thing about following your heart…ugh. It’s not wrong, but in retrospect I think one needs some training in how to read the heart; and/or one needs to train the heart to be able to ascertain between that which glitters and that which is actually gold.
Well, that fateful meeting that Sunday morning did indeed turn into a friendship which I tried to fan into a romance – through cajoling, through fervent prayer, through just plain old persistence. All along my therapist was encouraging me to just be a friend, just be there. Ultimately, that’s what won out.
After a couple years of trying, giving up, trying again, etc., things finally took a turn and I wound up moving to Columbus, Ohio where she had moved, and we’d actually give this relationship thing a shot.
What captivated me initially and keeps me listening is his story.
Mike grew up in the Southern Baptist evangelical church a staunch Christian and in his adult years, married and a father, served as a deacon in his church. When his parents’ marriage fell apart his faith wasn’t too far behind. He began studying the Bible furiously and found his faith crumbling faster and faster. It wasn’t too long before he was an out-and-out atheist, though he kept that a secret from his closest friends and family for as long as he could.
A few years later, the story goes, he had a miraculous encounter with God which ignited his faith in a new way. And now he’s a voice (among many of a growing crowd) for the spiritually frustrated and homeless. It says as much on the Liturgists website.
In April 2014 I was four months out from my divorce. I had been down this road of doubt before and always found myself back in the faith, but this time was different.
It’s funny, but I think all my major catalysts for times of doubt were failed significant relationships. The first time was when my first ever girlfriend dumped me, blaming (from my perspective) God for it. That was the summer of 1998, when I graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to East Carolina University. Three years earlier I had my first real experience with God, where eternity met the there and then, and had been on fire for Jesus ever since.
Well, it was starting to fade by end of senior year, and then going to a “secular” school – outside of home, family and my Christian bubble for the first time – I found myself questioning a great many things.
And so the cycle of doubt-faith-doubt-faith began for me. And again, each period of doubt followed the failed attempt at a significant romantic relationship.
That cycle more or less broke when I went into therapy nearly 10 years later. Well, I don’t know if it broke so much as it evolved. Instead of trying to control everything and be a good Christian boy I started just letting things happen.
Almost another 10 years later I finally got my first shot at marriage, that sacred, holy institution of the Western Church (WC); what the Catholic Church calls a sacrament (and the term Protestant churches appropriate in their search for deeper meaning and depth in their faith to fill the void left by condemning and abandoning all Catholic tradition).
So there was a lot riding on this.
I did everything to the best of my ability – being patient, loving, kind; doing things dictated by the Western Church such as asking my ex to not have any male Facebook friends I wasn’t friends with (that went over SUPER well) and other things along those lines. Being a long-distance marriage didn’t help (I was stationed in a place she wasn’t able to live), but following the prescriptive dictates of the WC didn’t help much either, except to quicken the inevitable, perhaps.
And so I entered another phase of doubt – this time not so much toward God, but toward my understanding of Him as propagated by the WC. However, without that institution I was so accustomed to since birth, I found myself with more and more questions.
When I found out he was writing a book about his experience I was super excited and volunteered to be an advanced reader and reviewer. And so my review of the book will be up some time this week.
However, I strongly encourage you to check it out yourself – shucks, it comes out TOMORROW* (9/13). Check out the linked websites above, listen to his podcasts, listen to the oft-mentioned You Made It Weird episode! It’s great! It changed my life and I’m super duper excited to bring this review to you soon.
We shouldn’t live in the past, but by all means we should be connected with it.
Tuesday morning I went into the gym for my daily Fit By First workout. It involved jumping jacks, situps/crunches, planks, and other things.
I took my place in front of the mirror.
I shook and shimmied involuntarily as I put my body through the paces.
And I watched.
Never have I seen me in such a state.
I’ve weighed this amount before, but I’ve never put myself in front of a full-body mirror and tried doing full-body exercises.
A few years ago that would have been mortifying. Now it’s…well, while I’m not satisfied with my metabolic status quo I realize it’s not going to change overnight and I’m not going to lose anything of value while I’m in it.
According to the Navy, for my height I’m about 30 pounds out of regulations. I think it’s fair to say it’s not all muscle; it’s not even 50% muscle, I think. I’d say it’s probably more significant than I think, but nowhere near what I’d want it to be. Well, maybe near; I’m not obese, but I am rambling, so to the point:
A lot of change has been going on in my life.
I became a father this year. I went back to school. I’m getting out of the Navy after five years of service. Jenn and I moved and she went back to work. I have to drive Stormy to his grandparents at 0530 every morning (If we leave on time) and be back at Manoa in time for my 0730 class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m writing a book and getting coached in how to publicize it and sell pre-orders to get it published by Inkshares. I’m working on a prospective project for my side business. I get 4-6 hours of sleep most nights.
And while I don’t want to stay 30 lbs out of regs – even after I separate – I’m not super-ashamed because look at my life.
Crazy? Frenetic? Hectic? Abso-toot-ly.
But then tonight, after Jenn finished feeding Stormy – his last before bed – I was carrying him, gently burping him, and he had his head on my shoulder, facing toward me, but eyes shut tight, breathing deep, falling deeper into sleep.
Skinny Cliff would kill for such moments.
I thought back to when Jenn first told me her pee test popped positive; when we got our first ultrasound of him; the first time we saw his little body developing and he had limbs and as soon as the camera was on him he stretched out all the way, all of a sudden – a real live critter, just starting out; strong heartbeat, good vitals, our future son.
And that connection, that memory of the not too distant past (though it feels like a world away) flooded me with appreciation and emotion for this moment tonight.
I thanked God for this life, portly though I may currently be, and I’m just…happy. I’m content. I prefer the abilities of skinny Cliff and am working to get back to that, but to keep my spirit. Same body, a little leaner; same spirit, always growing.
Therapist-B had a more effective way of getting to the heart of the matter. I don’t know if it was because she’s a woman, or if I was better able to communicate my concerns or what, but instead of getting caught up in the guilt of porn or anything else, she saw and treated it as a sign, a symptom of something deeper.
So we just dove right in, deep down to the heart of the matter.
Now, I don’t want to get too far into the weeds of therapy here, because that’s not the point of this post (or series of posts as it may turn out), suffice to say I went into it a melancholy chronic self-loathing, manipulative people-pleaser and three years later emerged a melancholy less than chronic self-loathing, not as manipulative, people-pleaser.
The thing about therapy is, it doesn’t just make everything all better. It’s not the kind of thing where you go in all busted up with issues and come out all put together without issues. In my experience, what one comes out with is the emotional and spiritual tools and weapons to deal with the issues. I am significantly better off than I was 10 years ago, but I’m not 100% by certain standards. There are times I still find myself plagued with self-doubt, a lack of confidence, and wanting to make people happy.
What therapy helped me learn is that I am enough as-is and that I am worthy of love; love of myself, no less. After all, how can one love anyone else if one is incapable of loving one’s self? And I’m not talking arrogant assholery – again, trying not to get too deep into the weeds – but being able to care for and appreciate one’s self. For some it comes naturally. It could be genetics, a good home life, whatever. For others it’s a little more difficult for any number of reasons.
Anyway, previously I mentioned that the catalyst for all this was my 20th or so failed attempt at a significant romantic relationship. Therapy helped me be more confident, and therefore more choosy, in the romantic partners I would pursue, and to do so in a more or less healthy way.
In the Spring of 2006, nearing the end of my 25th year, I had experienced my 20th or so failed relationship – this one being a long-distance one with a lady I met through Christianmingle.com. I had been to visit her in Indiana, she visited me in North Carolina, and then she called it off.
I have a tendency to get attached really quickly and really deeply. It was this proclivity that was the primary cause of ending most of my relationships theretofore; not the only cause – I’ve broken a couple hearts and upset my fair share of women, too, but mostly I’ve been on the rejected side of relationships (mmmmaybe about a 70/30 split).
My time with Indiana lady was unlike anything I had experienced up to that point. I don’t know that it was the best experience I had with a woman up to that point, but it really got my attention. Not to devalue or discount previous relationships, but this was the first time I was involved with a bona fide female nerd. When we were together we played video games, watched Battlestar Galactica (2004), talked about Star Trek and music and I just knew (as I had known in previous relationships) that she had to be the one.
When she proved not to be the one, I decided that it was time to do something different.
For years my dad and surrogate mom had encouraged me to go to therapy. Finally, I was ready.
The first try didn’t work out so well. The therapist was a guy who told me porn wasn’t such a big deal, as I was engaged in a rousing bit of self-loathing and self-condemnation at the time for looking at pictures of naked women on the Internet. So, I decided he wasn’t a good fit. My dad, thank God, suggested another he knew of through his network of professionals and I met with her.
Deciding to give therapy another chance changed everything.
You see, in addition to my proclivity for attaching quickly and deeply, I also sometimes tend to give up on something if it doesn’t come easy or natural to me. Part of me wanted to do that in this case, but a stronger part insisted on giving it another chance. At that point I had tried the same haphazard strategy with relationships for years and only had that many years of disappointment and heartbreak to show for it. I had given therapy a chance only for about an hour. Yeah, whatever that part of me was saying, let’s give it at least one more shot.