The difficulties of extenuating life circumstances, a need to process deep-seated pain, a comment thread on a Facebook post, and a several-weeks-long obsession with Roger Waters’s recent documentary on his three-year world tour.
It’s funny how seemingly unrelated events can connect. A quick preface…
The last six months have been full of both upheaval and stasis – none of which is happening at the most opportune times. When I want things to stay static for a moment, they change. When I want things to move forward, I get another roadblock. Rinse, repeat.
My wife of ten years and I are getting divorced. I won’t comment on details, as the legal proceedings are – for better or worse – still pending. It’s in the attorneys’ hands, now, so let the continuances…well…continue.
And, we still have a house to sell.
In that time, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief numerous times. And, I’ve gone from committing to turning the ship around to just wanting to set fire to the damned thing and jump.
The first is impossible. It’s among the most humbling of moments to read a legal document, in which a standard line states that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.” Sadly, no truer words have ever been written, concerning our predicament. It’s probably the one thing, on which, both of us agree.
The second is irresponsible and unhealthy. Which, leaves the third option: do what’s in front of me, in as much time as it takes.
I could get into all sorts of reasons why this frustrates the living shit out of me, but it wouldn’t be prudent, right now.
All I know is, recently, I found myself at a point of despair similar to where I was, emotionally, when all Hell broke loose in September. The ninth, actually – our ten-year anniversary. Thus, my several-week obsession with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and specifically, the role bassist and songwriter Roger Waters played in its conception.
When Syd Barrett went schizophrenic and was unable to continue as front man for Pink Floyd, Waters stepped in as chief songwriter. He was the band’s intellectual – a tortured soul, who channeled that angst into broader commentary on mental illness, politics, the music industry, authoritarianism, and – finally – his own damn demons.
Some people look to music to get them out of a specific mood, make them feel better, etc. I don’t. I’m in it for the catharsis, and it was clear I had some of my own damn demons to exorcise.
In the midst of this phase, I posted an article on Facebook, concerning a young, incendiary, conservative host who was suspended from her job.
What stayed with me was an off-tangent conversation I ended up having, related to the comment I wrote along with the post. I wrote, “Be nice to people on your way up. You may need them on your way down.” An old classmate – someone, with whom, I don’t interact regularly – responded. He agreed with the sentiment, then apologized for an incident that took place in 7th grade. He had tripped me, apparently, while I was holding a huge stack of books and supplies. I say “apparently,” because I don’t remember it. I assured him there were no hard feelings. And, truly, there weren’t. Kids are mean and stupid. Myself included. Most of us outgrow our childish behavior, and some don’t. Or, don’t outgrow all of it. Again, myself included.
But, because I am the kind of person that can over-analyze a plate of food, I asked myself why. Why didn’t I remember the incident? The likeliest reason: 7th grade was part of a year that included other deeply traumatic events. It was bad enough that I was in a new school, with new people to make fun of me, because of how I walked (the product of a mild form of Cerebral Palsy) or talked (the product of a precocious childhood, surrounded by adults, and a well-above-average reading comprehension level). It was even worse that I was one of the working-class kids from Rock Hill, all of a sudden surrounded by the old money of South Webster Groves. Money and status were important to me, at the time, and dad had made it clear that we were on our way up…until October 1983.
That was when my parents announced their divorce. My dad was both my hero and champion; home was safe. Irrational as it was, I was afraid I wouldn’t see him again. Also, he was the sole breadwinner. I’m sure you can figure out the very real impact that had on my day-to-day life. Really, though, this isn’t about a decision my parents made, especially now that I find myself in a similar boat. This is about how I coped with it – or didn’t. How I internalized horrible beliefs and attitudes about myself, and the world around me.
At the time, I convinced myself and others that, really, I was fine. I wish I had been more honest.
I responded, in part, by comparing myself to others who I thought were worse off – so that I could feel better. I became less invested in studies and more invested in being liked. Or, at least, not hated. And, I built my own wall – only to have it become my eventual, and repeated undoing.
After decades of unhealthy coping mechanisms, followed by occasional fits of growth, I realized that I was capable of being that right combination of witty, charming, intelligent, personable.
I learned that I was capable of casting vision, coming up with a plan, and sticking to it – while allowing some of that plan to change, if needed.
I learned that I could persevere, no matter how bad it felt, and how many times I wanted to throw in the towel.
I learned to do what I love and love what I do. And, I learned that there are any number of things I can do – both vocationally and as hobbies – that fulfill my core passions of art and activism.
Slowly, I am learning to be okay with me.
Every once in a while, however, I get hit with a curve ball. Someone says or does something critical of me – especially in a public or semi-public forum – and immediately, I’m that kid who would get humiliated in public on a daily basis. It’s confirmation of my worst fear: that I am not worthy of being valued, liked, accepted, loved. That I am an impostor, and my success can be snatched up at any given moment.
And, while those new incidents take me back to a familiar place, the lessons to learn are new. The first having to do with holding seemingly contradictory beliefs in tension. It’s possible for an incident to feel very familiar, and in parallel, recognize that it is not the same. At least, that’s what my therapist said. I’m told that this tension of beliefs is a critical first step to breaking the familiar narrative – one that keeps me in the role of victim and justifies any number of bad decisions.
The second lesson deals with my unconscious beliefs about safety, security and trust. They developed before my parents’ marriage blew apart, and shaped my reaction. Today, those unconscious beliefs continue to shape decisions – good and bad. The more I’m able to make the unconscious behavior conscious, however, the better off I am in the long run.
As part of my quest for safety, security and contentment, I still look for hope in the external. And, that isn’t necessarily bad. But, externals can change in an instant. Frankly, it pisses me off that these things come from within. Historically, I haven’t had the faith that I could pull off such a feat.
Every once in a while, any number of my well-meaning friends who share the same faith as me point out that I should seek hope in the eternal. While those individuals are correct, I still want to punch them.
I’m overdue for another reading of the book of Job.
What I do know is that the last 40-something years of operating the same way haven’t worked.
Six months ago, I came up with a plan – much of which is on hold until the divorce is final. But, this – writing – is part of that plan. I have no expectation as to where it would take me. Only the goal that I would improve over time. For me, that’s huge.
And, it’s confirmation that the best thing I can do, today, is stick to the plan, do what’s in front of me, and keep things moving – at whatever pace I can. To never sacrifice direction for speed ever again.
I’ll never slay my demons – not permanently. I don’t think that’s really possible. But, I can rise above them, day by day. And, sometimes, it’s important to protect myself from their intrusion.
I just need to be careful that the wall I build doesn’t close me in or swallow me whole, so I can still deal with the difficulties of extenuating life circumstances…