About A Breakup, Part 3 of 5: The Atom Bomb

Note: Make no mistake. “About A Breakup” is a story of hope and overcoming adversity. In order to experience a breakthrough, you must experience a breakdown first. Don’t get all caught up in the tragedy. Understand that any descriptions of tragic events are written  for the purpose of illustrating the breakthroughs which will follow. Stay with me, friends.

Tyson QuoteI’m standing alone in the small parking lot of a local nature trail. I hear her peel out with a vengeance, that engine madly revving like a speed dragster that can’t get out of first gear, fading slowly until the only sound remaining is the wind moving through the trees. I start the first of a half dozen laps around the entire park.

I had a plan on this day, which turned into an expectation (bad idea). A solid plan with no holes. A plan that did not involve guilt-stricken explanations or crying or screaming tires punishing the black top. Or second thoughts.

A few hours before, we are wandering to the end of the trail, discussing light topics like the kids, and work, before moving on to deeper things, and the biggest shouting match we’d ever had. She apologizes for some of the things she’d said in anger recently. I apologize as well. I am positive she knows where this is going. I’m wrong. 

“I’m tired,” I say. “I’m tired of this tension. I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of being in purgatory with our relationship.”

I watch as she comes to realize the conversation about to transpire. We’d had breakup conversations many times before, but this one is different. The threat feels imminent. I watch her go into shock and shut down. The details are fuzzy. I recall her telling me to go ahead and cut the cord.

“What’s there to talk about?” she scoffs. “If we’re breaking up, let’s break up.”

I find myself getting furious at the ball being in my court. Again. In retrospect, I see her need for closure, to leave no chance of getting sucked back in, of false hope. I get it. She would later admit that she’d felt the same way for a while, and would apologize for projecting her anger onto me.

“So I guess that’s it then.” She picks up her bag and begins the laborious trudge back to the entrance. I catch up and walk beside her. I feel like a traitor, and this will become one of the biggest personal challenges in the days to come: overcoming my mind’s compelling argument that I’m a bad person and a failure (I DID overcome; stay with me, don’t get caught up in the bad shit).

I watch her move from sadness to despondency, from despondency to fury; Irish-Italian Catholic fury. I’d witnessed this unique fury exactly three times in the six years I’d known her, twice toward another, once toward me. In each instance, I briefly feared for the life of the party on the receiving end.

When we finally reach the parking lot, she gets into her car and asks me if there’s anything else. I make a half-assed effort to have her see that we’ve exhausted every option. Didn’t we try everything? I realize I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to her. Regardless, she’s not listening. She mutters a goodbye under her breath before speeding away.

In the half dozen laps I make around the park afterward, I recall the futility of attaching oneself to an expectation, and the power of creating possibility. Expectations are static. You lose, you fail. You win, you realize it’s nothing special. Possibility, on the other hand, is different. You lose, you create a new possibility. You win, you create a new possibility.

Though I don’t believe it in that moment (remember, just because it sucks now doesn’t mean it will always suck), in the days to come, I will recover. And I will conquer. And so will she.

Somewhere in the distant past, I sold myself on the belief that there’s not a tragedy in this life that will make me give up. You have to decide that sort of thing BEFORE tragedy strikes. 11055343_10206828659705775_5582084695053198937_oI shared that belief with some of my closest peers and mentors, who true to their commitment to love and support their fellow human beings, incessantly and tirelessly reminded me that this is who I am. A survivor. A gladiator. Fearless. And the same applies to you who are reading this. Stand on me. It DOES get better. I swear.

Look for “About A Breakup, Part 4 of 5: The Fallout.”

Cheers.

About A Breakup, Part 2 of 5: Courage (The Cold War)

Note: Make no mistake. “About A Breakup” is a story of hope and overcoming adversity. In order to experience a breakthrough, you must experience a breakdown first. Don’t get all caught up in the tragedy. Understand that any descriptions of tragic events are written  for the purpose of illustrating the breakthroughs which will follow. Stay with me, friends.

Sometime in January of 2015, as I recall, I depart Alex’s (my fiancé’s) house as usual to start my week’s nursing work rotation. Moments before, I had hugged and kissed her as http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/alan-alda/images/26135914/title/alan-alda-photoshe left to begin HER nursing night shift. After her departure, as I’d done a hundred times before, I hugged Zeke, the sweetest dog ever, kissed his floppy ear, gave him a treat, locked Alex’s house, and departed.

Shortly after leaving her driveway, I’m struck with a trepidation, a panic. Call it a dark premonition. I have a momentarily vivid vision of life without Alex, of splitting up, of the relationship we’d built coming to an end.

She calls a little while later to make sure I’d left on time to get ample sleep. I mention the premonition to her, the fear still lingering, my voice unsteady. We chat about it briefly, and she assures me (as I’d grown accustomed to assuring so many friends and mentees), that no matter what, it will all work out.

About a year prior, we had begun to carry on some deep discussions with regard to the future of our relationship, having become engaged to be married. I know, I know. Work your shit out BEFORE popping the question. I think we’d found a peace with moving forward, even if every single minute detail wasn’t hammered out. Nonetheless, we found ourselves ebbing and flowing through some challenging conversations, and my heart was uneasy.

We would discuss, create a plan for how to generate new possibilities within the relationship, work the plan, and return to security and comfort. But we’d always somehow find ourselves back to being distanced, with lingering tension. So we’d discuss again. Make a plan again. Experience security and comfort for a time, and the distance would return. Again.

I had a few more of those random dark premonitions, each as vivid as the last. But I became well-versed in burying those gut feelings. It was too painful to think about. Envisioning all we’d worked for, and all the shit we’d have to deal with if we actually DID break up: relocating, the kids, the emotional aftermath, discussions with family, etc. I don’t recall how long I buried what my gut was saying, but it was a number of months at least. I went to great lengths to avoid what my gut was telling me. I feared the pain of change, despite the ultimate potential for happiness.

So I repeatedly resisted the urge to explore what was creating this unrest between us. I suppressed my intuition. If any feeling crept up that I couldn’t explain and centered around the future of our relationship, I avoided it like a drug seeker avoids Tylenol and NSAIDS. Again. And again. And again. In retrospect, though our relationship wasn’t what I would consider whole or complete (because WE weren’t whole and complete with ourselves, as I would discover), there was plenty about it that worked, we were comfortable, and neither of us was willing to challenge that. 

Somewhere around July 2015, the tension rose. We had a few heated arguments. I was angry at her for always putting the ball in my court to make a decision about where we stood. Of course, I should have been equally as angry at myself for doing the same damned thing. It’s like neither of us wanted to be the one to pull the trigger.

There was a ton of inner conflict and anxiety Waiting For The Wordwhile considering this choice. It’s like tapping into more courage than you can ever remember, in order to move on your gut instinct in pursuit of happiness, all the while praying that your gut instinct is wrong. 

I didn’t have it all worked out. I didn’t have it all tied down. But in late July 2015, with no particular reason other than I wasn’t happy (hell, can anyone explain gut instinct?), I made plans to break off the engagement with Alex. I think I reached a point where I just couldn’t ignore what my intuition was telling me any longer. It would be a lesson in dealing with failed expectations and navigating angry reactions (that make you briefly consider whether you’ll be getting out of the conversation alive, or as a ghost whose murder will be the topic of discussion for years to come). It DOES get better. I swear.

Look for “About A Breakup, Part 3 of 5: The Atom Bomb” next.

Cheers.

About A Breakup, Part 1 of 5: Code Angst (An Introduction)

Hell, forget soft intros. Here’s what you need to know: I’ve been through a divorce and a broken engagement. And I’m happy. And I have a stellar relationship with my ex-wife, her husband, and my ex-fiance. And my kids are thriving. The last time I visited them, E, one of their friends from home, flew up with me, courtesy of her kickass mother. And my ex-wife and her husband and OUR two kids and THEIR two kids and E and my ex-in-laws and I ALL went out for pizza and drinks. And it was a blast. AND THIS IS A STORY OF HOPE. 

So after my latest blog entry (addressing patient death), a bunch of you crack sleuths noticed the “About A Breakup” series and inquired about why I hadn’t finished it. I started it about two years prior, and it sort of fell by the wayside. What do losing patients and breakups have in common? Hey, don’t focus on the wrong part of the story. I just figure before I start routinely contributing to The Impossibility Movement again, I should complete the unfinished entries. Here’s an updated introduction to the “About A Breakup” series. Final entries are in progress. I’ll do my best to make each entry short, powerful, and to the point.

If you didn’t decipher it by the enigmatic title, this is a multi-post series about a real-life breakup, in this case, a broken engagement as experienced by me. I figure it applies to a wide range of broken relationships. I’m writing with the day-of-the-dead-2041971_1920intent to relate to YOU in your own breakup, personal tragedy, or otherwise crossroads, and to perhaps be a signpost to hope and joy on the other side. Hope and joy, dammit. I insist. 

At age 37, with a warm-up marriage (a.k.a. “divorce”) already under my belt, I would describe the experience of defaulting on a subsequent, almost-marriage (a.k.a. “engagement”) as something along the lines of a hormonally-saturated lovesick teen, geeked out on Pixy Stix, standing in the middle of a fire and brimstone hailstorm during the First Zombie Apocalypse, armed with only a Little Mermaid toothbrush for self-preservation. Yeah, it hurt. And yeah, I’ve been through the turd ringer. And yeah, I’ve got some mad credentials. Stand on me. It DOES get better. I swear.

So here’s the thing. I’m gonna talk about some shitty experiences in this series. Some dark and frustrating and sad and plain old shitty experiences. And like all human brains, YOUR human brain is going to zone in, like Corgnelius The Corgi to a Poodle in heat, solely on the negative emotions, out of a sense of fear that YOU might have to experience the same emotions in your pursuit of personal happiness. Vintage Muse: Stevie NicksDo not buy into that mentality. It’s bullshit. We’re all well-trained to visualize all the worst case scenarios and to convince ourselves that stepping up and saying “this is what I want in life” will certainly lead to torment and regret. But you deserve a life that you love. And for all that we say we want in life, we certainly spend vast amounts of brain cells on what we have to lose, and almost no brain cells on what we have to gain.

In order for you to get the GREATEST impact out of this series, you MUST understand that no transformation in the history of mankind has occurred without a meltdown occurring first. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a transformation, would it? Suppose you found yourself in a state of beautiful and happy and unicorns-shitting-Skittles bliss. And suddenly, you awoke from your dream and found yourself in a state of beautiful and happy and unicorns-shitting-Skittles bliss. Yeah, you read it right. It’s redundant. If all you ever knew was total bliss, you wouldn’t know a transformation if it bit you in ass. How the hell would you know the difference? How would you know blissful light without experiencing darkness? The greatest and most powerful transformations that I’ve ever experienced in my life came on the tail end of the greatest heartbreaks and tragedies. 

 It’s Yin and Yang, my friends. This is what all the great spiritual teachers mean when

imagesthey say “delight in your suffering.” They don’t mean have a tea party in the middle of the shit storm and throw rainbow confetti and eat fucking cupcakes with sprinkles and bathe in a champaign-filled hot tub whilst being battered by rain and wind and flying cows and washed-up celebs and whatever. They simply mean that endless possibilities exist when there’s nowhere to go but up. Remember that.

When life sucks now, we’re convinced that life will suck for eternity. But the future isn’t as shitty as you are convinced it’s going to be. Sure, it hurts like hell when it’s happening. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. But too often we choose to endure the mediocre because we’re afraid of how much it will hurt to go after what you really want in life. This is your happiness at stake. As my dear Aunt Janet so poetically puts it,

“You just have to keep reminding yourself that it’s going to suck. Until it doesn’t suck anymore.”

Now don’t be half-assed about it. If you’re gonna start reading this series, see it through. Way, way, way (sometimes WAY the hell down there), underneath our tears and sorrow and guilt and regret, there’s a flame burning within us from a time when we knew ourselves to be forces of nature, before the world told us we were worthless, and we started to believe that crap. I’m not guaranteeing that this series will change your life. But I do guarantee that you won’t get the full effect if you don’t read the whole thing. Stick it out, my friends. Hope and joy, dammit!

Look for About A Breakup, Part 2 of 5: Courage (The Cold War).

Cheers.

Two Breakthroughs, Part 2 of 2: Fearless

Gulls

Disclaimer: The following post is written from a place of love. Please read it in its entirety, and understand that no hatred exists within me for any human being.

The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.

from The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I will tell you the story of how I came to embrace fearlessness as a way of being.

Some time in the not-too-distant past, I am involved in a meditation exercise of sorts. I’m already reluctant to proceed, primarily because today’s exercise involves a request of me to explore what I fear the most. I’ll tell you what I fear the most: this meditation. But I close my eyes and briefly, with caution, allow my spirit to roam wherever it wishes, that is, until my ego realizes that my spirit is taking this exercise seriously. I quickly retreat to my warm and fuzzy comfort zone, much like a dog who detests baths, running into his kennel as the water begins to flow. But my spirit persists. To my ego’s chagrin, I eventually find that I am deep within the catacombs of myself. There are cobwebs and dust bunnies everywhere. Apparently I haven’t frequented this place in a few decades, and it makes sense. It’s damned creepy in here. And dark. Well, I tried.I turn to leave.

Of a sudden, some images begin to flicker within my imagination. Upon further exploration, I realize that I have begun to visualize a particular conversation I had with my girlfriend Alex’s parents three years ago, which occurred shortly after we began dating. Actually, it wasn’t as much a conversation as it was a (quite successful) attempt on their part to make it clear to me that I would be dating their daughter over their consummately departed bodies. And I instantly made the decision to excommunicate them from my life . . . for three years. For three years I had a wonderful dating relationship with Alex and no relationship with her parents. I refused to associate with them.

So that the reader understands, my girlfriend, Alex, and I had met most unexpectedly about three years prior in nursing school. I was not looking for a relationship, finding myself only a few months past a divorce. Every counselor and piece of literature I could find suggested a one-year time window between divorce and dating, which didn’t really bother me, because I had a slightly longer time window in mind (until my cold death) for being single. Even still, I could not deny the connection I felt with her. This connection was overshadowed by my unwavering mentality with regard to several things:

1. We were nowhere near the clinically recommended time window for dating. If the books and counselors were correct, this would certainly ensure the horrendous and timely death of our seemingly delightful relationship. Strike.
2. I was ten years her senior. If we each had rewound a decade, I would have become a 21-year-old child molester. Mother of God. Strike.
3. I was raised Protestant. She was raised Catholic. I was about sixty percent sure that this interreligious fraternizing would at best abolish us from any hope of heavenly bliss, and at worst, give us a one-way ticket to a certain flaming inferno, complete with autographed pitchforks. Kiss of death.

In all honesty, most of what Alex’s folks communicated to me only served to reinforce what notions already existed within my mind about our relationship. Additionally, on all points of contention, Alex remained calm and steadfast in her hope that we would forever be spiritually connected, dating or not.

Note: So much of my perception has changed, and I look forward to addressing some of my more spiritually-based discoveries in future posts.

Returning to the meditation on fear, I feel myself becoming annoyed. My dense spirit obviously does not understand the point of this exercise. The aforementioned conversation with Alex’s parents left me angry, yes; but fearful? Certainly not. My ego rushes to intervene, politely telling my spirit that we will be meditating on that “fearful” experience over my consummately departed body. But my spirit persists in reproducing that experience as long as it takes to realize just how saturated with fear I am. I am paralyzed by it and powerless against it. Through guided imagery, I revisit that conversation again, and again, and again. And then a most curious thing happens.

I begin to interpret the “harsh” words of that conversation from another place. Momentarily, I am not listening to the words of Alex’s parents as personal insults. I’m looking deeper. What are Alex’s parents really communicating? What commitment lies underneath their words? And I see it: They fear for their daughter. Their love for Alex, their commitment to her well-being and happiness, runs so deeply that any perceived threat to that elicits a reaction which would strike fear, indeed. They are operating from a place of love as it occurs to them in that moment.

Immediately after the meditation, I called Alex’s parents, and after three years of resentment, had a conversation with each of them for the very first time. A few months later, we had a proper introduction in person. Not long after that, I stepped into their home without hesitation, and everyone in her family welcomed me with open arms. That experience continues to remain a memorable one and a remarkable display of the absolute joy, power and freedom which accompanies love and forgiveness. Additionally, that experience translated into a monumental loss of fear in every other area of my life.

It has been said that the major driving force behind every action is either fear or love. Do your life’s decisions revolve around a fear of what may happen, or a love of what’s possible?

Janet FearlessPersonal Snapshot: 2012 October

Intro pic located at:
flickr.com/photos/free-stock/8425076629/sizes/z/in/pool-77356438@N00/
Emilian Robert Vicol
Flicker Public Domain Photos
Taken on September 25, 2009
Some rights reserved

Two Breakthroughs, Part 1 of 2: Access To Power

Breakthrough

Sometime in mid-2009, I sit inside a small room with my wife, the pastor of our church, and a crumbling marriage. This is our Hail Mary, with a little less adrenaline, risk, fortune and glory. Our pastor asks my wife, Catherine, if she wants to save this marriage. She responds with a reluctant, yet undoubtedly committed, “yes.” He then turns to me.

“Tripp, do you want to save your marriage?”

I hesitate. “I don’t know,” I say.

“Why don’t you know?” he says.

“Because we ALWAYS come back to this place. I don’t want to commit to something that I can’t deliver on. I don’t want to commit to this marriage, just to see it fail.”

He pauses. “Well, I think that Catherine needs a commitment on your part if this is to work. I believe healing can take place, but not without a mutual promise. If you really want to see this marriage work, you need to give Catherine some indication that you are committed to her.”

I think for an eternity. “I can’t. I just can’t do it.”

We were divorced a short time later. Though we had several conversations involving respective apologies, the three years of my life that followed were characterized by resentment, plain and simple. If I ever told anyone about the history of my marriage, you could bet that I wouldn’t outwardly place the blame on Catherine, because I wanted you to know I was a stand-up kind of guy. You could also bet that I would tell the history in such a way as to insinuate that most of the blame resided with Catherine, because I wanted to convince myself that I was a stand-up kind of guy. She remarried. More resentment. She conceived. More resentment. Though I never spoke about our marriage in front of our two children, in retrospect, it’s quite obvious that they felt the tension.

And at the end of the day, I sincerely believed that this dynamic was good enough. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It also could have been much worse.

Fast forward. In October of 2012, I sit among 150 total strangers inside The Landmark Forum. My mom, having never seen me so dark and confused (see my previous post, entitled “A Prelude”), and with a level of concern so deep I cannot possibly imagine, has asked me to consider attending, stating that it changed her sister’s life. I say I’ll think about (with no plans to think about it). She says she’ll pay for it. I say “fine,” and reluctantly agree.

During a session on the first day of The Forum, a woman, Deborah, has volunteered to share with the group. She approaches the microphone, and hesitantly, but courageously, begins to speak about her marriage. It is her fourth marriage. The first three were about as amazing as three-day flat beer, and this one’s looking like a foot in the grave and a foot on a roller skate. She begins to list all the ways her husband has caused this marriage to fail. I’m no philanthropist, but I’m pretty sure that most of the group agrees with me in that there is more to this scenario than Deborah is sharing; the Forum leader concurs. Deborah is oddly the last one to see it. I think it’s bizarre. Isn’t it obvious what’s happening in her marriages? I sit, satisfied in my accurate assessment of the clueless Deborah. And then a most curious thing happens.

Of a sudden, my spirit begins to conjure different random images of my failed marriage. First, a flood of wonderful memories, memories of romance, of forgiveness, of first kisses, of admiration, of dating, of friendship . . . of love. My brain politely tells my spirit that this is freaking me out a little, and to please, respectively, shut the hell up. I feel temporarily schizophrenic. My spirit continues. I rapidly bear witness to the vivid storyboard of our entire relationship, ending with the aforementioned Hail Mary in our pastor’s office. I am in that small room, listening to myself explain my unwillingness to commit to our marriage, only this time, I am Catherine. It is as if I am completely immersed within the world as it occurs to her, and I am listening to my spouse, my friend and confidant of ten years, the person to whom I gave my life, refuse to commit to our marriage. I am utterly devastated. The flashback fades. I realize that I have spent the last three years making Catherine wrong. I also realize that I am sobbing. Dammit. This is alarming. I’m a grown man. These people are strangers. Wait, I hear others crying. OK, the Forum leader is passing a box of tissue to the guy who is going for a second snot pass on his shirt sleeve. I feel a little better about the sobbing thing. I take a moment to breathe. I feel oddly at peace, which is pretty unfamiliar territory for me.

A few days later, I called Catherine. In a conversation that lasted less than thirty minutes, I erased three years of resentment. I explained to her that I had no idea how much bitterness I had harbored and directed toward her. I told her I understood the tremendous burden she’d carried as a result of my own actions, and she didn’t have to carry that burden anymore. Almost instantly, the entire dynamic of our relationship changed. Our kids changed. And the impact didn’t stop there. My personal access to power began with the creation of a clearing with my ex-wife, but it also led to the discovery that I wasn’t a victim of circumstance as I had portrayed myself to be all these years. In fact, I created my circumstances. I’ve come to believe it a common misconception that accepting total responsibility for all that’s missing within our lives is a begrudging admittance of all the ways we’ve failed; at best it might serve to relieve us of a little guilt.

On the contrary, when you have discovered just how responsible you are for whatever way your life has turned out, you have discovered how to shape your circumstances into anything you can imagine. This, dear friends, is a vital part of inner peace. Cheers.

Intro pic located at:
flickr.com/photos/fotolamancha/10622523406/sizes/z/in/pool-77356438@N00/
emp&isd
Taken on July 16, 2004
Some rights reserved