Tag Archives: Intimacy

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.

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Emotional Pain: A Source of Hope, A Prompt to Love


I clearly remember the day, in eighth grade, that Mary Beth H. broke up with me. I was crushed, truly devastated … or, at the very least, my ego got hammered. This meant I would no longer be seen in the hallways of McGee Junior High School holding hands with Mary Beth as I walked her to class. This meant we would no longer plan secret rendezvous in the stairwells where we could “make out,” and, as often as not, be discovered by someone like my basketball coach, Mr. G., who would later rib me about my breathless moments with Mary Beth in front of the entire squad, a ribbing which, he may or may not have known, brought me great pride because Mary Beth was undoubtedly the most sought after hand to hold in the entire school. This meant we would not talk for hours on the phone at night, mostly about nothing and until our parents told us to hang up but not before we would promise to meet somewhere in town over the weekend. Two full days apart was, of course, more than any young couple should have to endure.

Mary Beth and I had been “going steady” for well over two weeks the day she dumped me and, in my mind, reduced me to a hapless loser, a status only reinforced by the fact that she was dumping me for my cousin, David H., a veritable Fonz at McGee since he was very handsome and very cool and could grow a full mustache—no surprise since, as we all knew, he would turn sixteen in the ninth grade and have a car before anyone else.

I did everything you’d expect an eighth-grade boy to do once I’d been dealt the hellish blow—I spoke at length to her friends and mine about why, about what I could do or should have done differently, about the possibility that this was a mistake and what were the chances we’d “get back together” sometime soon. I cried openly, I hoped privately, and eventually I hated venomously with all my heart. I worshiped her very being and spat venom at the thought of her freckled face in the same breath and always behind her back.

Losing Mary Beth was not the most tragic event I’d experienced up to that point in my life, and I’ve experienced many others since that are far more tragic, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt emotional pain as deeply and purely as I did that day.

I did unwittingly learn a few lessons about pain management in the hours and days that followed. My mother allowed me my share of tears and a week-long period of mourning (i.e. lots of moping around), but she would not allow me to miss school the next day so I could avoid Mary Beth and the shame of seeing her walk the halls with my cousin. My father, too, consoled me as only a father who was a union foreman could: “Ah, you’ll go through a hundred Mary Beth’s before you’re twenty.” But he would not allow me to skip basketball practice that day or the next, even though my cousin David would be there to flaunt his victory … on and off the court. They were insistent I wake up each day and “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” Ultimately, my mother would say the one thing that would stick with me throughout my life: “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you anyway?”

In the eleven years since I returned to AA, I’ve watched a lot of recovering men face this type of rejection and even helped a few walk through the emotional pain that goes with it. Recently I watched a man I sponsor grieve so torturously over the end of a relationship I honestly thought we might lose him, not to alcohol but more likely to a bullet. At one point, however, I reminded him that if he didn’t hurt so badly, if he refused to open himself to the seeming agony, it would only mean that he didn’t care—not only about her, but more so about the mysteriously wonderful phenomenon of loving and being loved. I begged him (as so much spiritual literature often instructs) to embrace the pain and become one with it, not as a form of punishment or self degradation, but as an act of hope.

It’s been my experience that emotional pain is often just that, a sign of hope, hope that we will one day experience the joy and sheer bliss of loving and being loved unconditionally again—if not by the person breaking our heart, then by someone else. The pain shows we still care.

Loss of love is painful mainly because IT, the loving, once seemed so pure and unconditional. That lingering pain that follows the end of a relationship mostly represents the desire to have IT back—not necessarily the person, but the experience of IT, which, in the aftermath of a failed relationship, is falsely associated with the person who has usually long since stopped loving us in a pure and unconditional fashion. Again, my mother: “Why would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you anyway?”

In the handful of suicides I’ve known intimately this past decade (all of them “alcoholic” suicides), hope of ever again loving someone else in a pure and unconditional fashion seemed lost. These suicides had lost loved ones, family members, friends and more with extreme apathy—not because they didn’t care about and love those people purely and unconditionally at one time, but because they had completely and utterly lost hope that they would ever regain the ability to love and be loved in that way. Why they had lost that ability, why they seemed to fall victim to an extreme state of anomie,* is not for me to conjecture. I simply witnessed that they had, by their own admission in every case, completely and utterly lost hope. As one of these dear friends attested before his death, there was no pain, nor was there an absence of pain. There was simply a complete absence of hope and therefore nothing to prompt or prevent any kind of emotional pain. No hope, no pain. No pain, no gain … emotionally or otherwise.

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.

It’s also my position that emotional pain is not only a sign that we still hope to experience love in our lives—with or without the person we perceive to be the cause of our pain—but a prompt to redouble our efforts to love those who remain faithfully connected to us. Ironically, I pity those who have not loved or cared deeply enough to have experienced extreme and debilitating emotional pain. For me, not having suffered that level of loss at least once would represent a life unlived. The key is to recognize the pain for what it is (a sign of hope), embrace it, and ultimately unearth a solution from it that will propel us into yet another not-so-well-lit dimension of human experience.

* social instability resulting from abreakdown of standards and values; also : personal unrest, alienation, and anxiety that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals

Moment of Clarity #2: True Love


In true love, there are no victors and no victims—only the genuine pursuit of time well spent.

In Absence of Intimacy


In Absence of Intimacy

Years ago, as a graduate student in the Writing Workshop at the University of Arizona, I was advised to “get some emotional distance” on a subject before writing about it. Emotional distance, as I understood the phrase, meant putting some time between yourself and the events you were writing about, especially if you were writing narrative. Blogging is antithetical to this maxim. Blogs demand frequency and immediacy. And true to the form, I’ve characterized this blog as a place where I hope to prompt discussion about what it takes, here and now, day-by-day, to live a truly sober life.

So, in the spirit of blogging and the mission of RealtimeRecovery, I’m going to take on a subject I wouldn’t normally write about unless I were more “emotionally distant” from it. That subject is intimacy—or, more accurately, the truly devastating effect the absence of intimacy can have on a relationship.

Since beginning the blog, I’ve been as open and honest as possible about my own marriage, without going into gory detail. Bottom line: On Valentine’s Day ’09, my wife of (now) seven years informed me she didn’t know if she wanted to be married anymore. I’m not the first male in mankind to face this situation and certainly won’t be the last. The important thing in the context of this blog is to understand how to live a sober life, 24 hours at a time, faced with this revelation.

Really, there is no “good” time to talk about lack of intimacy in a relationship. It’s like trying to have a high-spirited and positive discussion about terminal cancer. In the end, the outcome isn’t likely an outcome anyone wants, no matter what they tell themselves to keep their spirits up along the way. 
And, like a cancer left untreated, the absence of intimacy will grow, consume, and ultimately destroy the host relationship, whether that relationship is a marriage, a friendship, or the forced affiliation of family ties.

So what exactly are we talking about when we talk about the absence of intimacy? First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking “just” about sex. But, it is my experience that when a relationship suddenly takes a turn for the worse (whether it’s because one partner doesn’t know if they’re “in love” anymore, or because one partner has “cheated” on the other, or because one partner has somehow abused the other, or because one partner has plainly and simply checked out of the relationship after too many years), no matter the cause, physical intimacy is usually the first type of intimacy to either slowly or very suddenly disappear.

To some, this may not seem like such a big deal. But to many men, and to many recovering men with whom I’ve spoken about the topic, it’s a very big deal. It’s a big deal because, however shallow this makes us, the absence of sex in a marriage or partnership flat-out spells REJECTION. For many of us, the fastest and clearest way to say “I don’t love you anymore” is to lose interest in having sex with us. By no means am I asserting that this is true for everyone under all circumstances. I’m merely saying that for many recovering alcoholic men, the absence of physical intimacy is the first sign that they’re not good enough, a failure not only at love but probably everything else as well … it is, plain and simple, the first sign they’re on their way out the door.

The absence of sexual intimacy also makes it more difficult to engage in other simpler, but possibly much more important, forms of physical intimacy.  Hugging, kissing each other good-bye in the morning or good night before going to sleep, holding hands, you name it, all of these become increasingly difficult to do. The longer the absence persists, the more difficult it becomes to be in each others physical proximity for fear of touching each other, even by accident. Watch how two people who share a bed and bathroom act around each other, and I’ll bet you can tell within minutes whether their relationship does or does not include an active sex life.

Even when physical intimacy is on the wane, or gone, many people can sustain a strong and lasting relationship by nurturing emotional intimacy. By emotional intimacy I mean the ability to be empathetic—or, put more simply, the ability to genuinely “give a shit” about your partner and what’s going on with them. In my case, this is what keeps me hanging on. In the absence of all else, I truly do care about what my wife is going through, partly because she’s my wife and my friend, and partly because she’s the mother of my children, and their “complete” well-being depends as much on her well-being as it does on mine. I empathize also because I’ve gone through what I think she’s going through—that point in your early 30’s when you suddenly feel as though everything fun and glamorous in life is about to pass you by if you don’t act fast. That very ethos cost me my first marriage, and in an ironic fashion, may cost me this one as well. But again, I can’t help but empathize. I’ve been there. I’ve also been in relationships that didn’t pan out, that led me to believe, rightly or wrongly, that I didn’t love and never would love the other person. Again, I empathize. I know what it’s like, whether I like it or not. I also regret, in my own cases, having acted too rashly, leaving my first marriage abruptly and later frivolously ending really good relationships that had far more depth than mere fleeting romance and temporary excitement could have ever provided. But again, I was young and shortsighted, and, as an actively practicing alcoholic, far too immature emotionally to appreciate what I had. I was thrill seeking while my partners were seeking meaningful relationships. Describe for me last time you had a meaningful relationship with a practicing alcoholic, and I’ll quickly and quite easily chart for you all the ways in which you have serious issues around DENIAL.

But again, for many men, myself included, being empathetic and emotionally available isn’t always easy in the absence of physical intimacy. Again, for many (not all, but many) men, the absence of physical intimacy spells REJECTION, and for any man with a decent size ego, this inevitably leads to deep and lingering resentment. In the long run, it’s hard to continue to “give a shit” about someone you recurrently resent. Eventually, it becomes hard to even like them, let alone love or care about them.

Once things get to this point (the point at which my first marriage crumbled), the last form of intimacy to fall is psychological intimacy—that very simple ability to communicate about and agree upon things that matter above and beyond the relationship itself. Whether the issue involves the kids, parents, friends, politics, religion, finances, it becomes next to impossible to discuss any issue rationally and civilly. When resentment and physical distance are running the show it becomes extremely difficult to want to agree with the other person about anything—even when you know they’re right. At this point, DOOM always feels as though it’s right around the corner—and left untreated, it usually is.

So I’m curious. Have others experienced some or all of the “absences” I’ve described at some point in a relationship? Do you advocate certain solutions or abject surrender? I have what I think are potential solutions—my own and those I’ve read about and gathered elsewhere—but I’m much more curious to know other people’s experience because, if I know one thing for sure, my own experience is hardly unique.