About A Breakup, Part 4 of 5: The Fallout

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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.

Meltdown Final 2Yes, it’s a sinister image. I thought about inserting a dainty unicorn shitting Skittles here, but let’s be honest. It’s The Fallout, after all: the single biggest reason people stay in their shit job, or continue to enable a life-sucking friend or family member, or, yes, remain in a miserable relationship. Because none of us wants to endure the temporary aftermath of an atom bomb, even as the whole universe is flashing neon marquises to a different life, one with possibility, of hope, of peace. We stay where it’s comfortable. As Donna, a dear friend and mentor, once pointed out to me while I was wrestling with making a choice regarding the breakup,

On an emotional pain scale (metaphors paraphrased here), with zero being the tranquil offspring of Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and ten being Ted Bundy on Angel Dust with kidney stones, people will tolerate a nagging four or a five for YEARS, even for LIFE. We are seldom willing to experience a temporary ten in order to ascend to the life of our dreams.

The Fray LyricThe Fallout is the period of transition between the immediate pain of The Atom Bomb (rewind to part 3 for a refresher) and the realization of the uncertain changes about to transpire. The fallout from my 2009 divorce (before my “enlightenment”) lasted about two grueling years.
The fallout from my broken engagement began to dissipate after just a few months. I’ll explain how I’ve learned to expedite the closure process later.

For now, let me toss a philosophical nugget your way (calm your tits and stay with me here; it’s a NUGGET, not a dialogue from a Plato). In life events, e.g. breakups, there’s what actually occurs, and there’s all that other horseshit that you tell yourself and everybody else about what occurs.

Simple example: Some guy cuts you off on your hurried way to work. Done. That’s all that happened. Here’s the horseshit (and what will have you wrapped in emotional turmoil for years to come): How dare this jerkoff cut me off on my way to work! Doesn’t he know where I’m going is WAY more important than where he’s going? Inconsiderate asshole! That’s the problem with the world today! A bunch of stupid, ignorant-ass people who don’t know how to drive and are making everyone else’s life a living hell!

Anyway, using the above nugget, I’m going to tell you exactly what happened, minus my horseshit story, which I had admittedly so painstakingly and methodically written out, so that the reader might grasp all of my ridiculously incorrigible teen thirty-something angst.

Here’s what happened. Alex and I make it a point to be straight-forward about the situation with the kids, to whom she’d become like a second mother. We sit right down with them the day after the Atom Bomb and explain what’s going on. As usual, they take it (as kids are so prone to do) so much better than we feared they would. Their resilience both humbles and astounds me, even to this day. They’ve thrived beyond measure, and I attribute this largely to our commitment to promote love and unity as opposed to bitterness and animosity.

Two days after, most of Alex’s immediate family arrive from out of state to provide emotional support and to help her pack up. I always admired her family’s tireless commitment to each other.

Three weeks after, she submits her two-week notice at work, stating she has no more reason to stay here. I help organize her house for packing.

Five weeks after, she makes the permanent move to Florida.

I could paint you a vivid mental picture of all the emotional pain and complexities, but for what? To indulge my mind’s (inaccurate) regurgitation of what a horrible person I am for making a move toward personal happiness? To entertain my mind’s desire to regret something, anything? It’s in the past, and it’s resolved. If you want to experience an expedited recovery, practice separating what ACTUALLY occurred from your emotionally driven STORY ABOUT what occurred.

Did it hurt? Hell yes. Did I have bouts of anxiety? Sometimes. Did I think the pain and heartache and guilt would never, ever, ever end? Absolutely. Vinny Bad DaysAnd yet, here I am on the other side, killing it with complete closure, completely happy in the relationship she’s found with her new guy. I couldn’t be happier for her, and we remain good friends.

Remember, my friends, your mind will gravitate toward the worst possible (most unlikely and illogical) scenario. If you lose your job, you’ll never be rehired by anyone and will die a penniless bum; if you don’t make the cut in America’s Got Talent, you’re a no-talent loser who has no choice but to go back to your 40-hour a week office job, forever; if you lose romance, that’s your last shot at love, and you’ll die a lonely old codger who pines over the one who got away; etc. Let go of the worst case! There are a million other possibilities between your current situation and the worst case scenario.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

YOU CAN AND MUST ENDURE THE FALLOUT in its entirety before making any life-altering decisions!

The duration will differ depending on several variables, but know this: If you choose to return to your ex, for example, while any pain or lack of closure exists from the Atom Bomb, you will very likely make a decision you regret, a decision that is swayed by fear and influenced by a sensational thirst to return to that warm, fuzzy, familiar (shitty) comfort zone.

This is precisely the reason that miserable couples repeatedly reconcile after splitting (I know VERY well from personal experience). We don’t allow ourselves the time to let the fear-based thoughts dissipate. We hear the fear screaming like a banshee! Where will I go?! What will I do?! Will I find anyone else?! The kids are doomed! I’m so lonely! And so on. And we go running back to what feels familiar, even as our hearts resist returning, knowing that misery is waiting upon our return. We don’t allow ample time for self-discovery, to explore what led us to question in the first place. Stick it out! Use the fallout to discover what you really want in life!

Here are two empowering agreements that Alex and I made:

  1. A firm commitment to the happiness, peace, and wellbeing of the other, no matter what.
  2. A refusal to consider reconciliation as a possibility until we had thoroughly explored our own incompletions. As a dear friend and mentor once told me, two incomplete people cannot create a complete relationship. And we both began to become very aware of our own incompletions in retrospect.

As it happens, we stood strong, did some self-exploration, and the breakup stuck. We both agree without question that it was a decision that was true to both our hearts. We are both a testament that peace and friendship CAN exist between exes (the same remains true with my ex-wife).

Stay tuned for “Rebuilding,” the fifth and final entry in the About A Breakup series. Cheers.

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Vent Once, Don’t Repeat

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I was once shadowing a preceptor in the hospital setting who was providing me with on-the-job training. He would go perform various medical procedures, and I would observe and sometimes assist as needed. This was a large-scale hospital with many different departments.

One afternoon, we were called to the neurological (“neuro”) floor. My preceptor for that day had been called to insert a central venous line into a patient. Apparently the neuro floor staff had a reputation for being arrogant. I could sense that my preceptor was on edge on the way there. When we got there, we found out who the patient’s nurse was, but she was nowhere to be found. We asked around, because my preceptor wished to converse with the nurse before the procedure to make sure everyone was on the same page. Of a sudden, the patient’s nurse popped her head out of the staff break room.

“What do you want?” she asked my preceptor curtly.

“We’re here to do the central line,” my preceptor replied.

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s gonna happen,” said the nurse, her head disappearing back into the break room like she was some kind of sporadic meerkat.

My preceptor was visibly frustrated. “This happens every time I come to neuro. They’re all assholes,” he said. He then began perusing the patient’s chart, searching for an order for the central line, which apparently did not exist.

A few minutes later, one of the desk phones rang. The meerkat popped her head back out, answered the phone, had a brief discussion, and hung up. She then cast a glance at my preceptor and said “Yeah, I’d hold off on that” before disappearing back into her burrow, leaving us still clueless as to whether or not anyone needed our services.

My preceptor had now gone from Dr. Cox’s normal demeanor in Scrubs to almost Jerry Maguire being fired. “Does no one need a f&%$#@g central line!?” he exclaimed, grabbing his supplies and storming out of the neuro unit. On the way back to our unit, I accepted the opportunity to be of service to him by allowing him a space to vent. He didn’t require much coaxing. “They’re always assholes up there. They think they know everything. I’ll be damned if I’m going to put a central line into a patient when her nurse is more concerned about her quesadilla than she is about her patient. . .” And so on, and so on.

During the rest of the day, our work, as usual, carried us to different sections of the hospital, during which my preceptor would “vent” . . . to intensive care, to registration, to radiology, to emergency medicine, to medsurg, etc. He would also continue to “vent” to me en route to different departments. It began to occur to me that as these “vent” sessions progressed, they were becoming less about the act of venting and more about perpetuating the original offense. I began to explore this phenomenon around my own life.

Soon enough in the days which followed, something happened in life which frustrated me. I don’t recall the exact event, so let’s just say it was an intoxicated patient who had come to the emergency department for an emergency syphilis check. I called my girlfriend afterward. In our usual manner, she asked me if I wished to vent or to get feedback (we are routinely up front about these type conversations beforehand, so that advice is not provided when it is not requested). I told her I wished to vent, and vent I did. But standing in the space of this new exploration around venting, I began to become present to how attached I was to the event which had just triggered my anger. My girlfriend was present to it as well, and gently reminded me of it, in addition to how much I was judging this patient who was clearly uneducated about the purpose of emergency medicine. I colorfully told her what she could do with her crap advice. She laughed and reminded me again, only this time with more aggression and some colorful language of her own. (What? Psh . . . I don’t love her).

Anyway, after I hung up the phone with her, guess what I had the strongest, most compelling urge to do? I’ll give you a hint: I doesn’t involve productive communication. The string of these thoughts and experiences led me to realize that we as a society have a great misunderstanding around the act of venting our frustrations.

Around this time, I created a little experiment for myself. It was simple. Anytime any event occurred which produced enough anger within me to feel the need to vent, I allowed myself to do just that. The catch? I was only allowed to vent once. I could vent to the person of my choosing, but only once. Afterward, I had to let it go and move on. This experiment produced some anticipated results; some surprising ones as well. In summary, here is what I discovered:

  1. a rapid decrease in the number of times I was triggered and felt the need to vent about anything
  2. a rapid decrease in the amount of time it took to let something go when I was triggered
  3. a surprising realization of longstanding issues about which I still felt the need to vent (after which I vented once about each issue and let it go)

My friends, this personal experiment eventually became a way of life for me. Here’s the long and the short of it: There is a world of difference between getting something off of your chest (or venting) and welding yourself to a point of view. Most of us do not truly know the power of the word. Language is creation in action. Be careful, dear friends, that vent sessions do not become disguised creations of bitterness and resentment. The more you vent about something, the more likely it is to become a permanent part of your thinking, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of venting.

Vent once, and let it go.

Your Life In 60 Seconds

Stop, breathe, and be here with me in this post, friends.

Image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/markmorgantrinidad/5195877234/in/photolist-8V9ehf-aH11B6-ejugSx-bmjchn-oyPJ5H-6VXZcY-duXNn7-oSR1x-wzbBL-9pWJ2t-iYqjYh-eD3uSd-nazKbv-o57ci-pwPRr-BT9c-h3TQmU-ev3Z7-6ehwAY-4GaRC-4k1un-rPiT-CGMHG-bPAYxH-b8erTp-9qTvYT-cSZwg9-puYAh7-oRzJKZ-5ttzw-B8mqc-47hQak-pKZpJS-oJP7UV-gDgR8T-CRyz5-wCPR3-aupcj-aASe8d-4siTYj-aEkqD-o57ev-6rdv5w-a5JBk5-bPAYpn-9428R6-7X9WsD-dRdG2k-3Zdexu-Kshyq  Have a look at your life. For once, stop, breathe, and have a deep, honest look at your life. I know it is not an easy thing to do, looking deeply into your own life. Just trust me on this. Trust that by the end of this short post, you will have gotten something worth remembering.

And breathe. And focus.

Looking deeply, imagine that you and I are in a quiet room, face to face, with no distractions, no place to be, and I am listening completely and without judgement. And I am presenting a simple request: Tell me about your life in 60 seconds.

And you proceed into a verbal and vivid autobiography, starting around age 5, like Chunk being interrogated by the Fratellis in The Goonies.

And I interrupt you. You might be a little annoyed. I apologize and say no, friend. You’ll be lucky to reach puberty by the 55-second mark. No, tell me about your present life as you know it. Tell me what you think about your life. Tell me what life is like for you. A 60-second summary. Go.

No, really. If you need to pause right now to ponder in order that you might get beyond the two-word answer that you give most people on a daily basis, take your time. Never mind being straight with me. Be straight with yourself. And ponder how you would genuinely reply.

Dear friends, I pose these questions regularly to my fellow human beings, having become very interested in the lives of those around me. Hundreds of these personal conversations combined with the movies, the music and the popular culture of today have shown me that the vast majority of human beings only know how to respond to questions about life by describing their circumstances, which at worst are abhorrently miserable, and at best are mediocre to average.

Look around you. How many people do you know who effortlessly and authentically convince you that life is absolutely, cosmically, unquestionably as amazing as God intended it to be? Recall the various types of communication you encounter daily. Do you see hope? Do you see joy? Do you see wonder? I propose that if you do see these things, they are only fleeting glimpses, quickly replaced by the more permanent sense of worry, frustration or sadness.

Recently, Sheila, a friend and mentor, described to me the exhilaration of living like a two-year old (and my God, does this woman live). “Look at toddlers,” she said. “They are crazy! They are always running! They spill things, break things, discover things! And then they pass out and sleep like mummies! And then they wake up and do it all over again! They live every day to the absolute fullest, and they sleep without worry.”

When I’m asked about my life, I don’t usually give the same response twice. I like to say what comes to me in the moment. If I were asked today to describe it briefly, in this moment, my response would be as follows:

My life is great. I’m an emergency nurse. I have two amazing kids. We are an integral part of each others’ lives. I’m considering getting back into music as a career option. I write a regular blog entitled The Impossibility Movement. It’s about my reflections on how to impact people and change the world. I’m working through a breakup, and I’m creating that whatever the outcome, we will create mutual peace and something powerful, though we may not be able to envision it yet, and that’s OK. We also get along quite well with my ex-wife and her husband. My parents and sister are wonderful people, and I’m working on expanding my relationship with them. And I keep a life list on the side, which includes becoming a certified solo skydiver, getting a black belt, swimming with sharks, and doing medical missions. I love impacting people’s lives in a profound and lasting way.

Dear friends, allow me to freely share one of the most effective and lasting things I did to shift from a chronic loathing and questioning of life to a passionate love and adoration of it: I changed the way I spoke. “I’ll never be truly happy in life” was not merely a descriptive assessment based on past experience. It was a declaration of my future. Consider that in your routine communications with other people, you are not actually describing your life.

You are creating it.

A Surreal Moment At My Ex-Wife’s House

Well, to be clear, the house actually belongs to my ex-wife Catherine’s folks. Catherine and her husband are visiting from California with our two children and staying there during their visit. My girlfriend Alex and I are visiting for brunch. So there’s my ex-wife, her husband, her aunt, her parents, our two kids, their newest edition, my girlfriend and me. If you are getting a slightly awkward vibe from this scenario, you are among the majority of people who consider this sort of gathering bizarre.

Here’s the bizarre thing: It’s not bizarre at all. The impossible has occurred. A permanent shift has happened inside my way of thinking that wasn’t present before. Seriously, hop into the nearest plutonium-powered time-traveling Delorean, go back in time two years, find me, and ask me if I think there’s a chicken nugget’s chance in a shark tank that I’ll find my way to complete resolution with my ex-wife, and to absolute peace after divorce. My answer would have been worse than a “no.” I would have told you that I’m as resolved and at peace as I’ll ever be. A gnat’s sneeze away from suing for custody of my children, refusing to step across the threshold of the home of my ex-wife and her new husband, holding most of the blame over her . . . I’ll show you bizarre: That was my definition of a peaceful resolution!

At this present-day brunch, I look around the house where I once resided (we had to move in with her parents for a spell). I briefly notice the furniture, the smells, the pictures, the layout of the house. And I am suddenly aware that there is no meaning attached to any of it; no burdensome memories. I am struck with the unmistakable realization that I am absolutely at peace. The world briefly stops spinning as I reflect on a time when I couldn’t have set foot inside this house without having a mental breakdown, surrounded by the dark memories and broken dreams attached in some way to every object inside those walls. And here I am, at peace with everyone present, the kids as happy as ever, with the added blessing of an amazing girlfriend with a spirit strong enough to gracefully share this experience with me, surrounded by the family of my ex-wife.

Dear friends, this is the very essence of The Impossibility Movement: Taking something which previously existed outside the realm of possibility and watching it move into the realm of what is possible. The Movement is not limited to finding peace and resolution in the wake of divorce. This is only a minor representation of what is possible. The end of world hunger, harmony among religions, alliance among politicians, a planet without war, these are among the things that are completely within the realm of possibility where hopelessness once existed.

No one ever generated anything great, powerful, magnificent, or miraculous by operating within the realm of what everyone accepted as possible. No, my friends. Operate within the realm of what is impossible with the intent to make it possible, and watch the miraculous happen.