"You only re-evaluate your life when you screw up"
Final recap. In part one of the series I described how my world existed of suffering. In part two of the series I confessed of my desire to end my suffering and wish to bring back my grandfathers kindness through managing my vindictive power. In part three I entered a mindful state by embracing the power of forgiveness and thus gaining courage when others join me. In this final part I will bare my soul and outline my game plan for walking the Noble Eightfold Path in my spiritual Armor of God.
I make a lot of mistakes. I refer to them as “Shots on Goal”. Wayne Gretzky is quoted as saying “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. I use that cleaver saying, plus “Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the decision right” to justify that you should take a chance when you have an opportunity and the level of risk is appropriate as to not cause a crisis. I work at a place where “Trial and Error” is encouraged, as long as you follow a protocol and record your results. In my personal life though this hasn’t always been the best strategy when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. Relationship building requires tacit knowledge that isn’t common sense, but rather an “Art form” based on a synthesis of meta skills. What is weird is I seem to posses strengths that make me a possible leader in relationship building. I will be honest though, it isn’t something I am a natural at. I work at it a lot just to keep my head above water.
My life is filled with a lot of loss from when I was nine till present. Many of these losses were love affairs that went astray after a few years of intimacy. In the summer of 2010 I was a little adrift in life since I just broke up with my girlfriend. I felt ugly since my teeth were crooked and I had a missing tooth from an accident as a child at my step-grandmothers house. I also had this new responsibility of taking care of a pug my parents got me, and work was challenging but not really fulfilling. I decided I needed a change so I prioritized getting my teeth fixed. To get the teeth fixed I needed to have some extractions done. I elected to have nitro-oxide. During the procedure I had a waking hallucination that felt like an epiphany. As the work was being done on my mouth I fell into a deep sub-conscious trance where I felt deja-vu and was able to anticipate when certain parts of the procedure were going to get complicated. It felt like this has happened to me before, possibly several times, and that I had the sudden realization that everything in my life was going to be fine from here on out. I just had to start consciously taking the “road less traveled” verses the worn and safe paths. When I awoke and was discharged my mother was waiting for me, and I gave her the biggest hug, and on the way home I called my father Lou and told him I loved him and of the waking dream of everything will be fine.
Seven years earlier though, it wasn’t like that. At age 34 I was doing pretty well for myself. I had a good income, great friends, and a loving wife. I was feeling pretty successful and decided to expand my education and start a masters in my field of information technology. My first few classes were pretty easy and then I found my calling. I took a strategic management class and it unlocked something inside of me. It is no secret that I was a driven individual with an ability to think faster then others when it came to strategies. I been playing games all my life, so strategies came naturally to me, as did making new friends who bought into the visions I created. Keeping my old ones is a bit more challenging though. I am a helpful person and love to lend a hand. This seems to attract others to me and make them feel at ease when dealing with me. It seems your older friends always see you as when you first met and hung out. They don’t seem to notice the changes if they are around you a lot and if they do, they sometimes get worried. After my strategic management class, I suddenly started having radical ideas on how to improve where I worked and my private life. This caught everyone by surprise and initially they found my ideas attractive, but when people seem to not be able to keep up with the speed a which my ideas came, I would get frustrated and become critical and judgmental of them. The victims of my behavior would usually respond by protecting themselves with symbiotic attitudes and projecting their feelings of inferiority onto me. It reached a critical point when my wife, after receiving her PhD, decided to leave me. I reacted by having a nervous breakdown.
The next seven years would be dedicated to rebuilding my life. I went on a self-help book diet, and after about two years I went on a food diet when it was discovered I had Type-2 diabetes. I managed to lose weight and get my sugar under control as well as excel at where I worked. I had a few long term relationships, lead a gaming guild in World of Warcraft, and was assigned a team to run CITRIX where I worked. It was during this time that I rediscovered dancing. As a youth I would enjoy dancing socially with friends at teen nights. Later the woman I was dating at the time enjoyed swing dancing as did my friends. So I started swing dancing and managed to make a new circle of friends through going to the various different swing dance classes. I was starting to feel pretty confident after a few months, but the woman I was dating was starting to affect my confidence with her hot and cold mood swings. That is when I saw “The One”. I noticed her from the back at first and as she would turn I would catch her eye and noticed she would smile the rest of the way around. When we would social dance, I felt her relax and seem to have more fun with me then the others. I noticed she would often look for me when a song we danced to the previous week would queue up. So after a few weeks, I started to talk with her after classes and get to know her more. I found her to be very interesting and a enigma of sorts, a mixture of confidence that was a bit sheltered. We exchanged contact information and I attempted to get her to join a social network to coordinate going to dances. As my relationship was ended with my girlfriend, I found myself enjoying my time with “The One” a lot more and then it happened.
“The One” asked me to a Halloween dance in Towson, so I picked her up in her costume as the “Devil in the Blue Dress” and I as one of the Hanson brothers from the movie Slap Shot and went off to the ball. The “devil princess” and the goon dance for about an hour or so, but we were restless and decided to go by the Edgar Allen Poe grave. Once that objective was achieved, we set our sights onto getting some diner food. At the diner I stared at her eyes and noticed they seem to be a shade of electric blue. They were lit up as we chatted about everything. She finally got the courage to ask me what my “status” was. I averted my eyes because I was embarrassed a bit due my current situation with my girlfriend wasn’t resolved yet. I needed to send a final “It’s not you, its me” communication. I’d been avoiding her for several weeks since she recently moved close by and I didn’t want to be imposed upon any longer. My embarrassment was rooted in the fact I was being the cliché of men I knew in my past, but I didn’t really know why I was doing it. I mean I could be at home playing video games playing it safe or writing the soon-to-be ex the break-up communication. Yet I am here in front of this beautiful woman, having “brunner”, confessing that I am a “gamer” (the ultimate test for any women I would ever have any possible future with), and she still seems cheery and interested. So much so that on the way home she asked me if I would like to do it again… before I could even use my line “I had a really great time, would you like to do this again?” She is breaking all my rules and I like it.
One of the things my self-help book diet taught me was relationships go through a hype cycle based on emotional development in key areas. Prior to the divorce my wife and I tried to address issues that emerged in our relationship due to us ignoring things that annoyed one another. We chose Imago Therapy due to a recommendation from our minister, and we began working with a therapist who was still new to counseling. I think she did the best she could, but due to my breakdown my wife didn’t trust me any longer, and I was feeling pretty judged and criticized for every little fault which effected me emotionally. I didn’t know why exactly, it was pretty obvious my childhood wounds took place in my emotional development of competency, it just didn’t make sense why the opinion of others close to me seem to affect me so much. After the divorce I developed some healthy boundaries and as I dated people, if my partners would cross the line and become too critical, I would find myself detaching from the relationship.
On my online dating profile I developed some one-liners that I thought were attractive, but always wondered how others perceived them. One of my favorites was “I make my own happiness, but love to share it”. During my recovery, I discovered I was trying to make others happy, and a lot of the time when someone would reject me I would get this one liner “I love you, but I am not IN love with you”. This puzzled me because it seemed deceptive, like one minute they love me and tell me how different and special I am, but once they get mad at me or I disappoint them, it is one liner city. Then I got clued in on what that line probably means. I think it means “I am not happy”… and the rule about happiness is, you can only make yourself happy. There are other rules like “People do what works”, “Everybody Lies”, and my favorite “You teach people how to treat you”. So as I got healthier I found myself meeting and dating a lot more people then I did when in high school and college. Emotionally I seemed pretty healthy, I missed being married a bit, and there were times when I felt lonely and foreign because it seemed everyone my age had families or were married, but I think some of my friends secretly admired me due to me having less responsibility. By the time I met “The One”, I was pretty experienced at dating and being open about how I felt about most everything in my life, except the dirty little secret I was hiding that I wasn’t aware of.
“The One” and I dated for a about a year and at first things were fun and the energy was high. We were very in to one another and spent a lot of time together. When issues arose, I would practice some of the imago therapy techniques I learned and also manage to incorporate some new techniques I learned post divorce from the Imago author Harville Hendrix’s final book Receiving Love where Hendrix confesses that his marriage fell on some hard times and he and his wife were working through a disconnect not really covered in his other books. He outlines most marriages have problems in four areas where the spouse is overly critical, judgmental, uses a symbiotic attitude, or projects their own emotional problems onto their partner. Hendrix emphasizes the importance of the four functions of the self; thinking, feeling, sensing, and movement needing to be incorporate when dealing with issues with your spouse and if any of these are out of balance it can lead to communication issues. Things the first year went pretty well until during my summer vacation “The One” told me that she decided to no longer commute with me to work. This began our journey down the path of miscommunication.
The patterns of miscommunication eventually lead to contempt for one another if something isn’t done to bridge the gaps. For me I felt misunderstood, not appreciated for my contributions, and judged unfairly when I wasn’t able to meet “The Ones” expectations. I found myself growing restless, and angry and I didn’t understand why. Normally I am pretty easy going and when I am judgmental it is of other people who seem to not understand the basics of civility and their lack of it affects others negatively. After a few months “The One” and I decided we had enough, and broke-up.
We spent about a year apart, and during that year I decided to make some changes in my life after having the dental procedure since I was about to turn 42. I read in this book called The Power of the Subconscious Mind that we physically change every seven years, and as a result so does our personality. The cosmetic work was to fix some imperfections on my outside, but there was still something disconnected on the inside. In October of that year, based on a recommendation of a friend, I rediscovered photography again. I spent several months relearning the process and experimenting with different processes and going on photo shoots. I wasn’t feeling very confident in my ability until one day I watched this Benjamin Zander video and discovered one of the pieces that was missing in my puzzle. I rediscovered what passion was and finally my work began to take on a life of its own. I began to work on managing… not controlling my intonation and impulses in my work, and suddenly I started to understand peoples reaction to my work.
“During this time, “The One” and I kept in touch and finally we decided that we missed each other enough to give our relationship another go. This time the romance was different but familiar. We still had miscommunications, but they seemed rather minor this time until I felt it was time to “pop” the question. I brought up the subject of marriage and at first we agreed it was a good idea to explore. Then a few days later she got cold feet and in the car she decided to hold off. This is the second time the car caused us have a major disagreement. I didn’t know what to do, so I withdrew for several days from contacting her until I had the right words to describe my disappointment. Internally though, I felt once again misunderstood and unappreciated. We patched things up, and over the holidays I made lite of the situation by giving her a big gaudy fake engagement ring.
The holidays passed and the thought of getting married seem to warm up to her, and we made a serious attempt to find a ring this time. Little did I know, she was doing her homework and had a ring already in mind. I grew to understand her insecurities more and realize I need to be more patient and not expect her be as fast of a thinker as I am due to her personal biases. Bias isn’t a good or bad thing, it is just a position of either loyalty or power. The first time we attempted the marriage idea, I mistook her position as a power trip, when she was just trying to be loyal to her family and their home. Committing to the ring was pretty easy once I knew which one she liked, and just like that we were officially engaged.
A few weeks later I turned 43, and celebrated with my friends and family at the local rib place. The following week I went with “The One” to visit her mother and join her family in a christening. It was a pretty emotional weekend for me because it was my first time back in a church in a long while. Specifically a Methodist church. This church wasn’t like the church I grew-up in though, it was very family oriented, and borderline new age. It had a coffee shop, bookstore, and in-house rock band. For the first time in a long while I felt home, and very emotional.
During the sermon, I felt the presence of the lord once again, and the message I was hearing was “The battle is over, you no longer have to fight the good fight… unless you want to”. I was being given a choice to put away the psychological armor I have earned from all the emotional pyric victories and lead a life of peace. The rest of the day, I struggled with that message, it was a tempting offer, but something didn’t seem right. I felt I had a gift and to chose not to use it, would be akin to being a coward, even if my Higher Power said it was okay not to. There was still plenty of work that needed to be done on this Earth as in heaven. What I found odd was the “Armor of God” in the story of the Ephesians sounded a lot like the rewards I would get playing a MMO like World of Warcraft. The connections were rather amusing, but also sobering.
On the ride home “The One” and I talked about the message I heard and the connections. She seemed supportive, but cautious of the grandiose idea. I wasn’t bothered by it until I mentioned I would like for us to talk to my parents about a family problem that has been going on for over a year. I tried my best to phrase it as something we could do together to help everyone meet and focus on something other than the dysfunction. Unfortunately her reaction and my reaction to her reaction were again at odds. This time though, it unleashed my hidden secret.
I spent the next 24 hours trying to figure out what had happened. I prayed and waited, then a message from a friend came on Facebook asking when the big day was going to be and I responded with a song from my youth. As I listen to the lyrics, I wept as I discovered what my terrible secret was for the past 43 years. I didn’t love myself.
For the past 43 years, I tried hard to love others, but when their insecurity grew too great about me, it would unleash my deeply guarded insecurity that I didn’t love myself. It seems selfish to love yourself when so many people out there need aid and help. The conflicts in my life with bullies and those in authority who lack civility, were actually within me and how they made me feel unworthy of receiving my own love.
About 25 years ago my music teacher told me that I wasn’t good enough to play music professionally. After watching the Zander Video, I understood it was my lack of passion and inability to connect with the music I played emotionally that was my inhibition. 25 years later, I finally discovered that when you love yourself, it is through your love of yourself you have the ability to give love to others, do what you love, and love what you do. So from now on, I will have faith in myself, love myself, and even though I think “hope is for sissies”, I know “with valor there is hope”. It seems the “Armor of God” I have been collecting fits now.
I felt rather angry at the music teacher for not taking the time to teach me the architecture of music like Zander did in his short video, but at least he taught me one important life lesson, how to march in a straight line with a vision of greatness and pride.