Welcome back to a Huffpost original: a series in words and videos about surviving separation. It will arrive in 12 segments over the coming weeks. If you want to read the first two installments, there are links at the bottom of this post.
My goals are straight-forward:
- Offer hope (and humor) to men who are disconsolate after a relationship has hit the rocks
- Offer a resource to women who care about such men.
I wrote For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart because I would have liked a book like this when my first marriage nose-dived.
I offer it in a spirit of brotherhood and with a strong faith that once our broken hearts mend, we have the capacity to be more compassionate, wiser, more resilient and stronger than we were before.
Beware Precipitous Action
Action can take away the intensity of my worry. Doing something is a release, an escape. As the old saying goes, standing is more tiring than walking.
But taking action is also a choice that has got me into trouble.
My journal entry for August 12, 1996:
When I left (the family home) in a blaze of anger and anxiety, I took what I call precipitous action. It was ill-thought-out and in retrospect quite destructive. I said I wanted to have some space, and I did . . . but as time passed, I came to regret the way I got that space. The hurt and confusion it created. Now I try to take a deep breath and think a little before I take dramatic action.
This is at the heart of it for me. Choosing wisely when I am hurting and anxious and angry. Or maybe more important, learning when not to make a choice.
Now whenever I feel the urge to act precipitously, I remember. And I stop. And I make myself wait. And I take the time to know what's in my heart.
Write a Journal
I decided to cope with separation by looking within. It was hard, painful and more rewarding than I could have imagined.
After six months of dejection, sleeping in my car, at boarding houses, at friends' houses, after six months of self-pity and self-hatred, I decided to make a stand. For myself. And for my kids. As a wise counselor told me when I was spinning down the vortex of sadness -- "You have a responsibility to take care of yourself. Your children need you."
The idea made sense to me. How can I take care of the boys if I can't take care of myself. How can I be a good father, if I can't cope as an individual.
I rented a room in a house (seems like a small move, but for frugal me, it was a major independent step). And I promised myself I would keep a journal.
For 100 days in succession, I wrote about my life as I lived it. My goal was to get to know myself honestly, with no rationalizations, to get to know my feelings, whatever they were.
I decided to write the journal as a letter to my grandfather. My father's father, who died before I was born.
Here's an excerpt from the first day, August 3, 1996:
"Now I want to let you know about me. And in the process I hope to learn about me as well . . .
I am crying inside as I write this. Tears brim in my eyes . . . my heart and chest feel full of sadness and longing. I feel like a chameleon sometimes. Like a nowhere man. Like a person defined by and serving the outside world and the people around me . . . I have a lot to learn."
And here's an entry from three months later, November 10, near the end of my 100 days:
My brother called from the States just now. I told him about my letter to you Grandpa and how much good it's done me. I told him about addressing meaningful experiences in my life a second time through this journal. I told him about going through things, rather than forgetting them or fleeing them. I told him it was cleansing . . . By looking at my life again, and re-experiencing it, I can be free of it. Call it the past. Keen my senses for what's around me right now.
The Most Useful Idea in This Series
Inscribed over the oracle of Apollo at the sacred site of Delphi were two words:
This is the most useful idea in this book -- courtesy of the ancient Greeks.
For me, self-knowledge is the fundamental building block. If I don't know myself, I have trouble knowing others, I'm not sure what feels right and what feels wrong. I end up worrying more about things because I don't know where I stand in relation to them.
If I do know myself, I find it much easier to accept differences and disappointment. I find it easier to feel balanced, I find it easier to love and show my love. I find it easier to be open to the surprises that life brings.
What does knowing myself mean? Well, counselors say it means learning to identify my feelings, accepting them as part of me, and being brave enough to reflect honestly on each day and my part in it.
Of course, it takes time. My trick is to try to mark out some time alone every day. Even if it's only ten minutes. A walk to the local shop, a bath, a long moment sitting outside in a natural spot. Time spent in peace and reflection.
After my separation, I didn't see my two sons most evenings, or most mornings. It has become a sad fact of life for me.
But because I saw less of the boys, I had more time by myself. And in that alone time, I often could work out what I was feeling and what issues were prominent for me. Then, when I did get to spend time with my sons, I felt like I was ready to understand them.
I think of it as a space in my heart. If I don't understand myself, my own issues will fill my heart and there will be little room for other people. If I do get time to understand myself, then I feel I have a big space open. A space for the rest of life. A space for my boys and other people when they're with me. So I can focus on them, and try to understand the world on their terms.
When I lose patience or "get stressed" with my boys or my colleagues or my partner, I know it's usually because I've lost patience with some part of my own life. And when I am patient with myself, when I accept myself, when I love myself, I have patience and acceptance and love for the people in my life.
This is what I wrote in my journal on August 19, 1996:
Sometimes I feel distant from myself.
Sometimes I know myself as I am.
There is no echo on the line.
Experience and consciousness match.
I like it. And now that I can sometimes do it, it seems strange that I didn't do it for so long.
~ ~ ~
There's more blogging and vlogging and to come. I promise it will be personal and positive. Watch the Divorce vertical for the next installment of For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart. Or simply sign up for email alerts and each time a new segment is posted, you'll be informed. As I mentioned before links to the first installments are below. Thanks.