Tag Archives: divorce

Not-So-Self-Evident Truth


Every now and then during my morning meditation, a thought worth witnessing passes through my head. One morning a few years back, for no apparent reason, I was overwhelmed by the assurance—not spoken in words but communicated as a certainty in ways I could no more recollect than understand—that, at the end of this journey—my journey—I would return to a “soft cradle of light.” That light, bright but warm and reassuring, shown very clearly at a point between my closed eyes that morning. The memory of that light, and the comfort it bestowed, has pulled me through many difficult and uncertain times since I first witnessed it.

This morning, a new and seemingly self-evident truth paid a visit: “You can never be more—or less—than who you are right now.” Hmmm. Interesting, I thought, very nice, and I moved on. To what, I don’t recall.

The thought occurred to me again 90-or-so minutes later as I was driving along I-35 South on my way to the airport. “You can never be more—or less—than who you are right now.” No longer in a pose of meditation but sitting upright and uptight while driving 80 mph down the freeway, my next thought was: “No shit, Sherlock. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

But, if this truth were truly self-evident, why do so many of us spend so much time chasing illusive dreams that can’t come true or wishing we were something more than who we are right now? If this truth were truly self-evident, why do so many of us spend so much money seeking the assistance of professionals to help us figure out who the hell we’re supposed to be.

For a simpleton like me, spending too much time wishing I were someone I’m not or wondering about what the future holds (good or bad) can prompt a kind of fear that is detrimentally physical and visceral. It’s a fear that can make my palms sweat, my stomach queasy, my vision blurry, and my legs uncomfortably weak. For years I didn’t know how to handle that fear other than to drink and to smoke. Now that I’ve removed both of those options from my life, at least for today, I’ve had to develop alternative coping mechanisms. One method in particular has proven most effective, and it’s the quickest and cheapest one. When fear and doubt about who I am, where I’m headed, or what I’m doing sink their ugly teeth into the mortal minute of my day, I stop and ask myself one simple question to calm my nerves and clear my head: Am I Okay right now, right here, this instant? If no one or no thing is threatening my life, my livelihood, or my loved ones right now, right here, this instant, then everything about that fear is instantly proven to be folly. It is a fear that begins in my mind, it lives and breathes in my mind, and so it must be snuffed out of my mind.  If I can breathe long enough to answer that question, Am I Okay right now, there is no reason to doubt or to fear. Doubt and fear are defeated by default. All I have to do is believe that, right here and right now, and I can move on to the next right action.

“You can never be more—or less—than who you are right now” is a not-so-self-evident truth that should be plainly self-evident … every minute of every day.

Acceptance, Surrender, and Renewal


Me with My Ex-tended Family at Oceans of Fun in Kansas City, August 3, 2011. Adults from L to R: Me, my friend and my daughter

My divorce has been final for well over a year now (since 7/9/10), and it’s been more than 2 1/2 years since I first launched this blog. If there is one simple truth I’ve learned over the past 30 or so months, it is this: acceptance is a matter of the mind, surrender a matter of the heart.

I’ve actually found it relatively easy to accept certain realities as they’ve presented themselves since April of ’09. I didn’t freak when my then wife of 6 1/2 years and the mother of my kids said she didn’t know if she wanted to be married anymore. I’d been there … more than once … I got it: People fall out of love. (Reality check for all who think they’ve got a lock on their spouses: You’ve got a firmer grip on the wind, my friend.) Having been fickle in love myself, I was able, mentally, to accept my wife’s twist of fate, although the thought of our kids having to go through a divorce twisted my guts into a million tiny knots. And, when the time came, when she finally said she was going to actually file, I was able to accept fairly readily what I’d suspected all along: That there was a Him, though she continued to vehemently deny it. Thanks to Facebook, I later verified pretty easily that The Him showed up oh-so-coincidentally at about the same time as the papers. Bitter? Maybe a tinge, but it was all pretty transparent and quintessentially predictable. Few go through a divorce without that little bit of added support on the side we tell ourselves we need and so well deserve. And, on the first of July 2010, when she finally moved out, it came as no surprise that it was The Him’s house that she moved into. All of this, intellectually, I was able to accept.

What threw me for a loop, what wasn’t so easy to accept and what my heart wouldn’t surrender, was that my kids would now have a new male influence in their lives. Sadly, the fact that my Ex had a Him in her life almost came as a relief; someone else would be looking after the mother of my kids in my absence (how 1950’s of me). But the fact that they, my by then 7-year-old daughter and 4- year-old son, might be influenced by someone other than me was torturous.

The torture began, ironically, with the fact that my kids liked The Him and The Him liked my kids. Intellectually, I could accept that this was, indeed, a good thing for all concerned. But at a more gut, or should I say primal, level, I’d have rather gnaw on the veins in Him’s neck like a rabid wolf than surrender to a new normal that included someone other than me winning the hearts and minds of my children—however much or little.

Luckily, The Him turned out to be a good guy from the very beginning. In fact, within weeks of the divorce, The Him contacted me on Facebook in a boldly standup fashion and suggested we meet so he’d have the chance to become something other than “the other guy” (The Him) in my mind. This won my respect instantly and less than a month after the ink was dry on the decree, I invited The Him to my house, along with my Ex, for my son’s 5th birthday party. That day he became a guy named Jason, who had two daughters of his own, and somewhere down the line, my Ex became Meg again. Over the course of the next year, we (Meg, Jason, me, my kids, and his kids) would share a number of holidays and birthdays together in the spirit of showing our kids everything was OK, and that life could be conducted in relative normalcy even if our circumstances weren’t those of the normal majority–whoever and wherever they are.

And that spirit, the spirit of putting the kids well-being before all else ALWAYS, is what made the picture at the top of this post and, for me, the ultimate surrender possible. At some point in the past year it became painfully apparent to me that no one was likely to do greater harm to my children than me if I didn’t get over myself. Today, every time my jealousy rears its ugly head, every time I want to take a stand of some selfish sort and proclaim myself king of the parental jungle, I simply ask myself: What will harm the children less or benefit them more, me making my point or me shutting up and surrendering my self-serving emotions to a greater good? Nine out of ten times, my ego doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And I’m happy to say, nine out of ten times, I’m able to take the high road and either catch myself and shut up or correct myself and make amends as soon after I’ve said or done something stupid as humanly possible.

The Boys Upon Arrival at Oceans of Fun in Kansas City: Adam, Jason, Me, and Tom.

Consequently, one afternoon this summer, shortly before my son’s 6th birthday, Meg and Jason and I were actually able to sit down in my kitchen and plan a trip to Kansas City we all agreed would be great fun for the kids. When my friend and Grace’s godfather, Tom, discovered the trip included a Royal’s baseball game and a day at Ocean’s of Fun, he asked if he could join us. So, on the 2nd of August, Tom and Jason and I and the kids piled into a van and drove to Kansas City to watch the last place Royals get drubbed by the last place Orioles. The next day, on the 3rd of August, Meg drove down and joined us for the afternoon at Oceans of Fun and dinner that night on the Country Club Plaza.

All the kids, big and small, with Meg behind the camera: Adam, Claudia, Jason, Me, Grace, Tom, Carter.

The Clan at Dinner that night on The Plaza: Jason, Claudia, Meg, Adam, Grace, Me, Carter, Tom.

The supreme irony: Nine years earlier, on the 3rd of August 2002, Tom had stood up with Meg and me as one of my groomsmen in our wedding, which had been followed by a brief honeymoon right there on that very Plaza in KC, and not once during our trip this summer did any of us realize that day at Oceans of Fun actually marked the anniversary (our ninth) that wasn’t—a sure sign to me a few days later that we’d all achieved an unspoken sense of closure and renewal.

Winstead

Grace and I at Winstead

Grace, Claudia, Tom shakin

Winstead

Grace and Adam at their first Major League baseball game.

Tom and the girls; it was 107 degrees farenheit at game time (7:05 pm).

Adam.

Grace.

Tom and the kids, out in left field ... as usual.

The kids and I on the Lazy River, where we belong.

In Flight


Flight … Not “from,” but “to.” That distinction may not mean much to some people, but for many in recovery, the distinction is monumental. Many of us have made a career of flight. Flight from the law, from our families, from success, from love, and especially, flight from the many places where we’ve torn through the lives of others so much like human tornadoes.

Last month, I was “in flight” with my two wonderful children “back to” the world where I grew up. Not only to the locale—a small town in Connecticut—but also to the people and the psyche and the dynamics that constitute the fundamental dementia that informed my youth. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the people and the places I visited and introduced my children to—essentially for the first time. But that doesn’t make that world any less demented, magical, or revelatory than it always has been once I put my mind to interpreting it.

A few weeks ago, Ryan, a visitor to Realtime Recovery, asked a series of provocative questions about identity. The most straightforward of those questions: Do you really know who you are? As we began our descent into Hartford and my home state of Connecticut, Ryan’s question kept popping into my head: Do you really know who you are?

In his comment on the post, “There is a Solution,” Ryan described us as slaves to our addiction. I couldn’t agree more. He also asked if I’d learned anything having gone through my divorce sober. I believe I have and hope I’ve intimated through recent posts that I believe the answer to most of our human dilemmas is in service to others. When I arrived at the doors of AA, I was told my ego had to be smashed and that the fastest way to diminish the ego is to be of service. It took me well over 10 years to embrace that reality, but, in this past year, if I’ve embraced any axiom AA has to offer, it’s that service outside myself is an antidote to many of the self-serving fears that got me here in the first place.

Do I know who I am? Hell no. But I do know that today I’m much more a servant than I am a slave, and being a servant today is a path to a gratifying kind of freedom, the freedom to help and not harm others. Last month, my purpose was to deliver two of God’s children to their 84-year-old grandmother—a miracle she herself never imagined possible as the mother of an alcoholic who, until 12 years ago, seemed hopeless and destined to drink himself to death or to the unruly gates of insanity.

It was amazing that first night in Connecticut to witness how instantly an 8-year-old granddaughter and a 5-year-old grandson could bond with their 84-year-old grandmother. All I had to do to facilitate the process was stay the hell out of the way. I had worried about the moment of introduction for months in advance. Would Grace remember anything about her grandmother whom she hadn’t seen since she was 18-months-old? Would my mother’s missing teeth frighten my son Adam who, at 5, knew my mother only as a disembodied voice at the other end of a telephone. Would my mother be strong enough to handle Adam if he were not frightened and decided to bowl her over with a hug? All pointless concerns.

Less than an hour after we landed, I pulled into the driveway of the two family house where my mother occupies the second floor, and the kids bolted to the woman standing at the door. Before I could say a word to anyone, let alone orchestrate introductions, my mother and my two children disappeared into the foyer. By the time I hauled our bags to the second floor apartment, the threesome was parked at the kitchen table, each of them talking at the same time trying to tell each other too much too fast. I’ve never been so happy to be left out of a conversation in my life.

Am I any more certain who I am today than I was before I took my kids on their maiden voyage to their father’s homeland? Hell no. Do I have a sense of purpose? Hell yes. (“Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 20.)  Am I in flight? You bet. “To” that fourth dimension of existence we’re all promised if we simply pick up the kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet the day we arrive in AA.

Kids meet Grandma

Please Note: New Address


Realtime Recovery has a new address. It is now realtimerecovery.wordpress.com. Thanks, Kayko.

There Is a Solution, Part II


Back on February 24, 2010, I wrote the following paragraph in a post titled “Emotional Pain: A Source of Hope, A Prompt to Love.” To this day, that paragraph offers as much solution as I can muster from my own experience in sobriety (and I’m committed to sharing only my experience):

“As my current marriage inches closer and closer to its own end, I hope to draw some valuable lessons from the losses I’ve both experienced and witnessed these past 50 years. First and foremost, I hope to wake each morning with a firm commitment to ‘trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.’ If past experience has taught me anything, it’s that a failure to rise up and DO is a sure-fire prescription for emotional suicide. I continue to wake each morning at 5 so I have time to meditate and hit the gym before I leave for work at 8. I endeavor each day to leave my emotional issues at home to the best of my ability and commit my focus to work while I’m there. I continue to play, read, laugh, and work with my kids in all the ways they’ve come to expect—as much for my sanity as their protection. And, I hope, to the best of my ability, I continue to respect, and maintain an appropriate level of civility with, my wife, whom I still count as a great friend. None of these efforts is perfect nor do I perform them in absence of that often gut-wrenching pain that accompanies impending loss. I’m not always fun, and I’m not always patient. But I force myself to try to be when I recognize I’m not. I’m far from perfectly civil or perfectly respectful; I’m just as capable of anger and resentment as ever. But any time anger wells up, I try like hell to squelch it (or call my sponsor), knowing full well if I indulge it, I’m the only one who is likely to suffer. I am way beyond those days when I could unleash my own wrath and enjoy it or walk away from it without consequence. Another sign of hope, I think.”

I’m not normally prone to depression … not in the absence of alcohol anyway. But these past 18 months, I’ve woke more than once with little or no desire to “trudge the happy road.” I hadn’t experienced that kind of debilitating malaise (the kind that straps you down and makes getting out of bed seem monumental) for well over 10 years. During the divorce, however, I woke many mornings feeling this way. I would often lie in bed after the alarm went off and play the “maybe-I-don’t-need-to” game. “Maybe I don’t need to meditate today; if I don’t, I can get an extra hour of much-needed sleep.” Bullshit! “Maybe I don’t need to go to the gym this morning; I’ll head to work early and squeeze the workout in at the end of the day.” Bullshit! End of day workouts haven’t “worked out” for me for years. If you’ve had a morning routine that works in sobriety and you find yourself playing the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game during tough times, start playing the NO BULLSHIT game instead. I learned to will myself out of bed and mindlessly back into my routines. They had worked for me in good times for a reason, a reason I didn’t need to understand. I just needed to learn to wake up willing to DO and not question. It’s no different than willing myself to a meeting. I don’t know why meetings work for me. They just do. They work their magic in spite of me, so I mindlessly will myself to meetings on a regular basis.

Some mornings I’d wake up suffering the Great Ache, that low-level ache in the gut that, left untended, could make me nervous and even nauseous with the realization that soon I’d be divorced, soon the kids wouldn’t be in the house with me every morning, soon my life would be a life I no longer recognized as my own. Again, my antidote to the Great Ache was, and still is, the same as my antidote to the maybe-I-don’t-need-to game: Get up fast and DO, do something. Once I’d willed myself out of bed, I’d will myself to meditate. Often times my meditations were worthless, my mind wandering or obsessing, my body failing to relax. Didn’t matter. Going through the motions of prayer and meditation, however mindlessly, was far more effective than staying in bed spinning yarns in my head and nurturing aches in my gut.

Once I’d made it through meditation, getting to the gym was much easier. I was awake and actually hungry for the energy I knew the workout would give me. By the time I shaved and showered, I was ready to be away for the day–somewhere I could give myself a mental and emotional vacation from the heartache. Work, golf, a trip to the park or grocery store with the kids, any of the simple activities that used to weigh me down in my drinking days, proved to be the best antidote to fear of the unknown in those final months before the marriage ended. Finally, as I have for the past 12 years, I hit 4 or more meetings a week and kept current with both my own sponsor and the guys I sponsor. Nothing has done more to insure my sobriety and my sanity than “intensive work with other alcoholics.” Nothing ever has; nothing ever will.

I don’t mean to suggest that doing what I’ve always done to stay sober made divorce any easier or less painful. Only that it did make the process more tolerable. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest for a moment that I “have” the solution. I only wish to remind all of us that there is one. It’s in our basic text, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” (Which reminds me of something I’ve heard Johnny H. from California say almost every time I’ve heard him speak: “If you want to hide something from an AA member, stick it in his Big Book,” implying most of us don’t spend nearly enough time in the book.)

So, the circumstances and challenges life throws at us may change (and certainly are likely to continue to change), but the solution doesn’t seem to waver much from its path. We’re handed a simple kit of spiritual tools when we arrive at AA. All we really have to do is will ourselves to pick it up.

Identity Quest


A few days ago, a visitor to RealtimeRecovery (yiothesia8) posted the following comment:

Greg, I have a request of you. A friend of mine recommended your blog to me. Maybe you’ve done this and I haven’t seen it, but how have your views of yourself changed through getting sober and having a marriage end? What’s your identity? Who are you really?

I believe that addiction is the secular word for what the Bible calls slavery. While we’re born free to some degree, we’re really just free to choose our master. What master we choose is based in our identity. If you have interest in exploring that in this blog, I’d love to read it.

yiothesia8.wordpress.com

This is precisely the type of discussion I’d hoped the blog would prompt. I’ve committed to trying (emphasis on “trying”) to address the first question in a later post. The set of questions, however, and yiothesia8’s commentary, invite a much broader and more provocative discussion than I’m capable of handling alone. If you’re intrigued, visit the comments section of my post, There Is a Solution, and join the discussion thread.

There Is a Solution


On Valentine’s Day 2009, my wife announced she wasn’t sure she wanted to be married anymore. Shortly after her declaration of doubt, I began this blog. I launched it not to lament a marriage on the rocks, but to invite a discussion about how it is people with double-digit sobriety walk through some of life’s more disruptive moments with dignity and grace. In a phrase, how we deal with life on life’s terms.

On Valentine’s Day of this year, my now ex-wife announced she was filing for divorce. Shortly afterward I stopped posting to the blog for legal as well as personal reasons. On the second of July, before the divorce was actually final, she moved out of my house and into a house owned by the boyfriend I’d always suspected but to whom she never fessed up. (He was initially presented to my daughter and son as mommy’s “friend.”) Within hours of completing the move, my ex, my kids, the new “friend,” and his two daughters traipsed off to dinner at what had always been one of “our” favorite Mexican restaurants. A week later, on the 9th of July, the marriage was officially dissolved.

All told, the process, from the declaration of doubt to the dissolution of the marriage, took 18 months. During those 18 months and since, I’ve been approached by numerous men and a few women (most, but not all, in sobriety) who are now facing the same set of circumstances I faced: Spouses who declare they’ve fallen out of love and want to move on. Everyone asks the same question: How do you get through it? For some of those in sobriety, I know the underlying question is’ “How do I get through it without drinking (or going crazy trying to figure out why it happened)?”

I don’t know that I’ve gotten through anything, but I do know that I haven’t had a drink (in fact, I celebrated 12 years on the 31st of October), I haven’t become any crazier than I already was, and I haven’t exacted any vengeance since the process began. I haven’t tried to defame my ex (to the contrary, we’re better friends, I think, than we’ve been in years) or turn my kids against her. I haven’t stalked her boyfriend and waited for my chance to show him how fast and furiously an older man can move, jab, uppercut, knee, and head-butt once armed with evidence he’s been cuckolded. (Don’t get me wrong, my thoughts haven’t always been as pure as my deeds. I’ve overshot my exit by miles while driving home from work fantasizing how that encounter would go down, and who would hit the pavement first.)

What I do know is There Is a Solution. It’s the same solution that was handed to me the day I walked through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous. Back in the early ’90s, when I first showed up at a place on Penn Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa known affectionately as the White House, I had dozens of “old-timers” feed me the classic newcomer line about staying sober: “Staying sober’s easy, Kid. All you have to do is change your whole goddamn life.” I often waited for the big guffaw as they walked off, but it never came. They meant it.

Luckily, as I branched out around the city to more and more meetings, I heard somewhat more expansive and hopeful versions of the same message. I was told that meeting makers make it; that if you don’t know what step you’re working today, you aren’t working a program; and, after strenuous resistance, I learned the value of sponsorship and became closely aligned with a group that valued action and sponsorship above all else (except maybe God) as a path to the solution. Prayer, meditation, studying the steps as they were presented in the Big Book, sponsoring and being sponsored, service work, fellowship–not necessarily in that order—were presented to me over and over as tenets of the solution, which, if practiced simply and consistently, patiently but fervently, calmly but often, would keep my ass from falling off. Initially, I resisted so much structure and direction in my life, a life that had been predicated on hard work, instant gratification, and the notion that, since my father was no longer alive, no one left on earth was going to tell me what to do—unless they had a gun. Consequently, my ass fell off repeatedly, I stayed drunk for years longer than I needed to, until finally, I was beaten into submission.

This time around, I’m not waiting to be beaten into submission. I’m testing acceptance and surrender from the start. And that’s where I’d like to restart this blog, with the solution as it presents itself on a daily basis, with a discussion about what it means to surrender and win. I hope you’ll join me.