When the dream dies

When the dream dies

While I was researching for this, I looked up “midlife crisis,” and what I found was pretty astounding.

It’s not a real thing.

We hear about it a lot in popular culture. Often, we joke about it, when referring to those of us who have reached middle age. But, it’s a far from guaranteed psychological phenomenon.

“One study found that 23% of participants had what they called a “midlife crisis,” but in digging deeper, only one-third of those—8% of the total—said the crisis was associated with realizations about aging.[4]

The balance (15% of those surveyed) had experienced major life experiences or transitions such as divorce or loss of a job in middle age and described them as “midlife crisis.” While there is no doubt these events can be traumatic—the associated grief reactions can be indistinguishable from depression.[4]”

The footnotes are from this study, published in 2009. It goes on to say that while midlife is often seen as a period of re-evaluation in adulthood, it only becomes emotionally problematic in a small percentage of adults – many of whom also experienced a traumatic event in midlife.

So, I guess that means I can’t joke about my post-divorce, midlife crisis vehicle, anymore.

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And, what’s really cool? This is a convertible. German engineering. Lovely to drive. Expensive as hell to maintain.

 

According to two additional cited studies, “the condition may occur from the ages of 45–64.[1][2] Mid-life crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women. A mid-life crisis could be caused by aging itself, or aging in combination with changes, problems, or regrets over:

  • work or career (or lack thereof) (check)
  • spousal relationships (or lack thereof) (also check)
  • maturation of children (or lack of children) (yep, this too)
  • aging or death of parents (not death, thank God)
  • physical changes associated with aging (not reall…okay, check)

Individuals experiencing a mid-life crisis may feel:[10]

  • a deep sense of remorse for goals not accomplished (check)
  • a fear of humiliation among more successful colleagues (raises hand in agreement)
  • longing to achieve a feeling of youthfulness (more than I may want to admit)
  • need to spend more time alone or with certain peers (check)
  • a heightened sense of their sexuality or lack thereof (Sure. Why not?)
  • ennui, confusion, resentment or anger due to their discontent with their marital, work, health, economic, or social status (Absolutely, every bit of this)
  • ambitious to right the missteps they feel they have taken early in life[11] 

And, yes, the last one would logically follow…until one realizes the colossal waste of time and energy, and the emotional toll that failure brings to such ambitions.

So, what do we do when certain dreams die?

Example: it had long been a dream of mine to have a family of my own. I put it off, when I was in my 20s for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t about to pass along all of my attendant neuroses to my kids. I wanted to make sure I had a modicum of my sh*t together; and 2) I remain the most ill-equipped person I know to navigate the dating/relationship world. And, I certainly wasn’t relationship material during most – if not all – of that time.

Looking back, it seems as though I settled when I married my ex. I’m not sure I would have described it that way, at the time. We were set to make a life together, and quickly realized how ill equipped either one of us was to do such a thing – financially, emotionally, relationally…all of it. And, while I’m glad we didn’t have kids, given the demise of our marriage, the biggest regret is the waste of time. She needed a better partner than I was capable of being. And, so did I.

That window is all but closed. Having kids at 47 isn’t impossible for a guy. But, raising them at 57…67…different story. I’m not sure that’s even fair to the potential kid involved. Also, that would involve marrying someone 15-20 years younger than me. And, as much as it might be nice to take the stereotypical divorced-guy route: 1) I’m not all that; and 2) much more importantly, that would require dealing with a level of immaturity…the likes of which might drive me to total insanity. I don’t want kids that badly, thank you very much.

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Stewie Griffin. Enough said.

So, given all of that, the next best thing would be to land a partner in crime closer to my age, with kids of her own. And, well, being a grandparent is a pretty sweet gig. All the fun and nowhere near the effort. So, there’s that.

One problem: I’m still one of the most ill-equipped people I know to handle the whole scene. I attach too quickly, and – in the past – have overlooked unacceptable behaviors, because: 1) No relationship is perfect; and 2) Being alone sucks. And, just when I think I’ve moved past some of my struggles in this area, I get reminded that, well, no. Not really. They just involve a different set of details.

I’ve spent most of my life as a dreamer – always with some grandiose vision of how my life will eventually turn out. Sometimes, I’ve managed to put those dreams into some sort of action. Such was the case when I pursued a journalism degree and ended up interning at the local alternative weekly – even though I had been denied admission to the School of Journalism, only months before. Such was the case when I became a commercial production director for a group of radio stations – fulfilling a childhood dream of being on the radio, and nurturing both a gift and passion for creating interesting things with audio…something borne out of my very first “escape” from reality, which was music. And, such was the case when I went to work for the City of St. Louis – fulfilling a more recent dream of using my passion for community engagement and neighborhood improvement to address problems in our most challenged parts of the city.

And, in each of those cases, it was self-sabotage that destroyed each of those dreams. I drank my way out of admission to the Journalism school, and allowed the clumsiness and distractions of early sobriety to keep me from focusing on the goal at hand. I allowed myself to plateau, as a radio production professional, during a time when it was becoming increasingly harder to break into the larger markets, and do some of the “bigger” stuff that was part of the dream. And, I allowed addiction and obsession, alcoholism and workaholism, to drive me to the point of complete emptiness, when I lost my job with the City – in addition to losing my marriage, house, financial stability, and what little credibility I had among friends and family.

And, yet, at times, I still envision a life, in which, I’m able to write, produce, create – and that, perhaps, I might be lucky enough that my work reaches a wide audience. These days, I dream of having a home/recording studio/writing and performance space on the family farm. And, I envision having a partner who gets me – who would be 100 percent supportive of even the most outlandish of these endeavors…as I would hope to be of hers.

But, time is short. And, while failure is a part of life, I have very little time to waste in shooting for something that may never happen. I have retirement to consider. And, if I accomplish nothing else, I’d like to be able to walk away from the work world, and do a few of the things that haven’t been possible, right now. That’s gonna take a focused career effort on making as much money as possible within a short period of time. That calls for a slim margin of error.

And, so, once again, I find myself at a place where it seems best to just let certain other dreams die. I’ve long given up on being a rock star. Or, being the kind of journalist who gets to hang with rock stars. Or, even being the kind of producer who gets to work with rock stars. I’ve given up on writing the great investigative story. Or, the great American novel. This, here, is the closest I get to writing every day. And, who really wants to read about me, all the damn time?

And, as far as wanting to share what’s left of my life with someone else? Probably a good idea to let that one go, too. At least, the professional world follows a sense of rules and logic that are easy to navigate – and, therefore, succeed. There is absolutely no logic in matters of the heart. Not a single shred. I don’t have the emotional makeup to withstand it.

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They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Whoever “they” is…

And, so it goes.

Yet, if this is as good as it gets, I’ll still take it, because even a life of lonely mediocrity is better than where I came from, eleven months ago. I still get the chance to help others who are trying to get sober learn how to not drink over every. Single. Thing. That happens in their lives. I still get a chance to contribute to the health and well being of that particular fellowship – one that has saved my life, however unremarkable that life may be. I still have the love of my family, and that’s more important than any achievement I could ever amass, or any material good I could ever possess…or any outside relationship I could ever attain. Family is forever.

I’m rebuilding a sense of integrity, which is something that was never 100 percent solid, in the first place. And, I get to serve in an area of my church that allows me to develop certain creative gifts and talents in the service of something much, much greater than me.

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This Allen and Heath digital console is a thing of beauty, and incredible function.

So, sure, it feels defeatist of me to say I’m going to let the rest of these ambitions die. And, I haven’t exactly been thrilled with that prospect. I’ve wound my way through the Five Stages of Grief multiple times, and fast enough to make a hummingbird’s head spin.

But, the alternative is to sit in despair, resentment, bitterness and anxiety, over what could have been, or what should be. Not worth it. Ever.

And, I’m not totally alone. I have my dog. Who never judges me. And, that’s more than I can say for 98 percent of the people I encounter on this planet.

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I’m one of those dog parents. Deal with it.

So, even in the midst of this, I remain grateful. And, that means I won’t drink. And, that makes all the difference.

Nine Nine

FeaturedNine Nine

Steady repetition is a compulsion mutually reinforced
Now what does that mean?
Is there a just contradiction?
Nothing much
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord, hesitate

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

Two years ago, yesterday, my then wife and I struggled to find a parking spot, during a rainy September Friday night downtown, our voices ever raising in frustration. We were going to meet up with my friend, former co-worker and drinking buddy at Kilroy’s bar, after the Cardinals game. He ran an expanding side business shuttling people back and forth to the game. Home base for his service was the garage behind the bar. She was irritated that I kept passing up the bar, while trying to find a parking spot, and I was irritated – plainly and simply – with her.

“Don’t you know where this is?” She snapped.

“Of course I do,” I growled, “I just can’t get to it.”

Kilroy’s is just south of I-64 (still Highway 40, to the locals). It’s the furthest away of all the sports bars near Busch Stadium, plopped in a sea of railroad tracks and parking lots. It was an auto shop, before the owners converted part of that property into a bar, in 2006.

The parking lot is at 7th and Cerre, but getting to it involves traveling south on 8th, turning left on Gratiot, and keeping an eye out for the entrance, before hitting Broadway, which is one-way south. I’d had a couple of large beers to drink, over the evening, but don’t particularly remember being drunk. Also, I was high on pot, all day – much to my then wife’s dismay.

“I asked you not to have any, today, and you couldn’t even do that!,” she screamed, while I was trying to find the damned parking lot entrance in the damned rain, with all the damned parking lot traffic. Damned wife…

The truth is, I couldn’t imagine very many waking hours without it. Cannabis was my anti-anxiety drug, at the time, and it really sucked that weed became a $400/month habit. We had dodged foreclosure, thanks to my dad and stepmom bailing me out one. More. Time. The Wife hated how much I smoked; technically, I was vaping it, thanks to this nifty device. She hated how much time I spent doing it, how much it cost, and how using it opened the door to smoking cigarettes, again. I’d quit those, the day we got married. Which was ten years ago, this evening.

When we set our sights on spending the rest of our lives together, we intended on having a long engagement – ten months, to be exact. Given the fact that we got engaged in June – on my birthday…the logistics of which is another story in and of itself – that would have put us into April. The amount of time was somewhat arbitrary. To me, it seemed long enough that we could thoughtfully consider our next steps. It was suggested that we really use this time to review the strengths and weaknesses of our pairing – and be prepared to walk away, if necessary. Of course, no one wants to face that option. But, I’ve always believed that if more people did, then we’d have less divorces.

My ex wife wasn’t having any of it. And, that should have been my first clue. We had what I would consider surface-level premarital counseling. Even then, we were warned by the pastor who married us, that we would spend considerable time fighting our way through conflicting ways of approaching things, because we were moving so quickly.

Give me a couple
Don’t give me a couple of pointers
Turn to lies and conversation fear

J. Michael Stipe, 1983

After five years, I had concluded it was too quickly. After five years, we realized we had nothing in common. And, we couldn’t communicate without conflict or resentment. Too often, “compromise” meant giving up pieces of myself, one people-pleasing move at a time. To be fair, it also meant she acquiesced on some major decisions – one of which, our home purchase, would haunt us for eight years, and contribute significantly to our marriage’s undoing.

Still, we wanted to make it work. We attempted counseling, although much of it was stuck in mutual contempt, by the five-year mark. I had allowed addictive behaviors to get in the way of loving her properly, she complained. She knew I no longer found her attractive. Looking back, it was much more than physical beauty. I’d come to realize that her chief goal in life had been to find a man who would take care of her, so she could live worry-free as a full-time mom. Individual identity seemed severely lacking. All of her hope and grounding was dependent on me. And, I was increasingly convinced I wouldn’t achieve my own form of self actualization.

We were nowhere near whole enough to partner together. And, we hated each other for it, though we would bury that hatred in myriad distractions: dinners out, expensive vacations, endless TV watching, and a small zoo of animals that we accumulated, once we bought our house. All of that took money we didn’t have, and so cycles of financial insecurity were ad infinitum. We’d get behind, and I’d take on an extra job. She’d get miserable in her work, but struggled to take the necessary steps to find a better path for herself. I stumbled into a rewarding volunteer gig that led to a solid, well-paying career path, and she was fired from her job. Just before that happened, she told me that she struggled with feeling jealous because I’d found something fulfilling. She couldn’t just be happy for me, and as such, was a horrible cheerleader – resentful at the time my new job took.

During a period of sobriety, in which I wanted to give our failing marriage a fair shot, she was resentful that, instead of spending time at the bar away from her, I was spending time at meetings…away from her. When I pointed out that I was a better husband because of those efforts, she was dismissive. This was probably around the eight year mark. And, the more she nagged, the more I wanted to spend time away. So, that by the time I relapsed…again (that was number six, I think), I had checked out completely.

Such was the backdrop that colored what should have been a happy milestone – ten years of living our lives together. Instead, my inability to find a damned bar in the damned rain, with a damned wife nagging me about it while driving, became the perfect fuse.

We exploded on one another in a parking lot, not far from Kilroy’s. Everything I mentioned above, I hurled at her, in catalogue format.

“This has been ten years of nothing but misery,” I shouted, both of us sitting in our car’s front seats. “And, you have to be the least supportive person I know!”

“You think this has been great for me?!,” she screamed, the rain pounding on the windshield as the wipers keep wiping away water, so as not to notice our voluble argument. “You’ve done nothing but lie to me the whole time, and I am NOT a better person for having married you!”

The next part’s a bit hazy, but at some point before this verbal disaster began, I’d let her drive, so that she’d quit bitching. I think that’s why we were parked.

“Fine, then! I’m walking to Kilroy’s,” I yelled.

“You do that,” she yelled back, “and, stay at (name redacted to protect the innocent bystander)’s house, tonight! We’re done!”

As I got out of the car, she started to take off. I yelled at her to stop and threatened to call the police on her, and I quote, “crazy ass.” I slammed the car door, and she took off, tires squealing. The Honda had excellent anti-slip control, so there was no fishtailing involved. But, she would have, if she could.

Wherein September 9, 2006 was a celebration of two people starting their lives together, 9-9-2016 was the firing shot of that futile journey’s tragic end.

We picked that date, after it was clear to both of us that we were going to kill each other before the wedding, if we didn’t stop arguing about its execution. She wanted a Fall wedding, anyway, and 9-9 was repetitive enough that neither of us would forget. Me being me, I thought of how 9-9-06 is divisible by 3, and 9-9 is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. My ex got amusement out of my first thought. She didn’t get the second one. Is it wrong that sometimes, I think that should have been my second clue?

I suppose it’s a bit shallow to place such a premium on musical tastes. She called me “weird,” and “a snob.” I took those intended epithets as compliments.

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I know women who hate High Fidelity, because John Cusack’s character is, in their words, the archetypal, psychopathic nice guy. Totally agree with their assessment. I look at his actions as a primer on what not to do. The music snob in me still loves this film.

So, what did we have in common? Our spirituality…our strong spiritual side, as the pastor who married us put it. She wasn’t wrong about that. It was, in fact, one of the things that attracted me to my ex. Thing is, that strong spirituality had been severely damaged by hurtful acts within her former place of employment, which I will only name as a large church in the St. Louis region. In fact, I had seen enough of that church’s seamy underbelly, that after Christmas 2006, I was all about us finding another place to worship, while she looked for another job…a job hunt that took over four years, and only moved forward after her former employer got strict about enforcing their personnel rules about staff being church members in good standing.

She went to work at a small church that was just rebooting, about three blocks from our house. It was the worst church plant either of us had ever been involved with. While not going into details, the position was a bad fit, budget woes aside. The budget woes only became worse when a former staff member muscled his way into a full-time position, while equally crowding her out of her limited hours. And, the way they handled it only made her emotionally sicker. It was so bad that *I* demanded a meeting with leadership and called them out. We left two weeks later, and she eventually got a job with a large hospital group.

Because of her work history, and my two relapses within our marriage, financial crises were a running theme. In fact, crisis itself was a running theme.

One would think that parting ways and ending such a tumultuous union would bring signs of relief and closure, as well as the necessary motivation to put this mess to bed.

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That was only true of one of us. My ex absolved herself of responsibility, regarding getting the house ready for sale, then hired an attorney who went after everything he could. I pointed out these facts, the afternoon she should up on our doorstep – months after having moved out – crying that I was killing myself. This was October 24, 2017. My five-month flameout involved a heavy dose of alcohol and weed, along with occasional grams of coke and meth. None of it was working. And, I thought her the worst of all hypocrites for pretending to care about me.

My phone had been stolen days before, while I was wrapping up a late-night-to-morning jag on the metro area’s East Side – the Illinois part of our metro, for the uninitiated. I had been robbed, and was so ashamed by what had happened, and too drunk to make my way to work on time (I passed out on an Eastbound train, and ended up near Scott Air Force Base, while I was supposed to be in the office). Knowing that this would be Strike Three, and too ashamed to face the consequences, I holed up in my room, and drank. A former supervisor and that same former coworker knocked on my door, four days later, and took me to Barnes ER. The next day, my dad and sister showed up. Dad put me in his truck, and we went to my work’s EAP, to start the process of getting me back into treatment.

I stayed with my mom and stepdad for over six months, while dad and I worked diligently to get my house ready for sale, put it on the market, and navigated the sickeningly complicated closing process. Selling a jointly-owned house when the court has ruled your marriage “irretrievably broken,” and creditors have judgments against you…well…sucks.

And, what should have been the lifting of a Sisyphean burden became simply a shifting of Sisyphean tasks, as I moved out, struggled to pay living expenses, faced a major repair on a car I had just bought, and strained to find joy in a job that didn’t pay enough, and certainly didn’t justify the daily maelstrom I encountered, every time I clocked in. Yet, I was unemployable in my former field – having been shut out of a hiring process conducted by a friend, with nothing more than a generic rejection letter.

Sleep became my only way of coping. Slowly, I began to isolate – as I usually do in times of strife. Late May through early August were among the darkest months I’ve ever weathered. I fought the urge to drink, as well as the temptation to end it all. But, I knew this stuff was beyond the scope of my recovery program, and despite the completely unprofessional way my psychiatric referral was handled by the medical group, I kept calling. And, calling. And, calling. Until I got someone willing to break through the bureaucracy and just schedule a damned appointment for the next day – which resulted in a med change for the absolute better.

I should also mention that one incredibly positive development that helped keep me going was my growing engagement with The Gathering – a United Methodist Church with multiple sites in the St. Louis area. I remember when I first heard my pastor utter words he has since said multiple times: “If you’re new with us, and you show up at one of our services, or at an event like this (a get-to-know-the-church forum, then hosted at a local microbrewery) we want you to feel as though we’ve been expectantly waiting for you. Because, we have.”

I went to a recovery meeting a day, plugged into a “home group,” where I hold a service position, made myself available to sponsor other men, and found a new sponsor, after mine left the country for a job opportunity in Beijing.

The job that formerly seemed like a daily exercise in futility (and, still doesn’t pay nearly enough), became a challenge to be surmounted. And, I acted like the leader I’m training to become. The current financial failures became an exercise in failing with integrity, and holding my head up high in the process.

My immediate family wouldn’t let me drift too far away from their contact, and I didn’t want that anyway. So much has healed over a relatively short period of time.

Two months ago, I made a formal amends to my ex wife, and admitted with full contrition all of my wrongdoing in our marriage – with intention to make right all that I could. We now talk, occasionally, as friends who still love one another with the history that only a divorced couple can share. I know that our cats are in good hands, and I know she could watch our dog (of whom, I have custody) in a pinch. For that matter, she knows she can ask for the dog whenever she wants, to get her bonding time in, with no complaint or resentment on my end.

Because, it’s not about me.

I’ve learned that the most important person, with whom I can be honest, today, is myself. I’ve learned that success isn’t so much living the best version of myself, but the most honest.

In the midst of last year’s insanity, I managed to get a pretty clear picture of my ideal partner – the sucker punch being that I need to be that person, as well.

Last night, I told the woman I’ve just started dating that this post was in process. She was in pretty strong agreement that this was a story worth telling. Time will tell if I’m the partner that I seek, but so far, I’ve been happy with my progress – even if it’s meant revisiting painfully old insecurities, in order that I might put them in their rightful place, with the help of a Power much greater than me. In fact, that she’s around at all is testament to God doing for me what I haven’t been so capable of doing for myself.

9-9-18…life’s far from perfect, but I’ll take it. Gladly.