Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Busy Busy Busy

It's become quite clear that the natives are restless. People are starting to complain that I'm not posting, and someone has even wondered aloud (e.g. posted a comment) whether or not this blog is "finished". I suppose that depends on how you define finished.

There are several reasons why I haven't posted much lately. First, I've been busy. It's unfortunate, but the writing is the first thing that gets cast aside when there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. Being a Director by day and a single dad by night while nursing a blossoming relationship, preparing to go to Europe for 10 days, and tying up the loose ends of my last marriage can really take a lot of time.

Another reason that I haven't written is that I haven't had much to write about. As the healing process wanes, so does the writing here. If I wrote about every little aggravation (like finding out that the IRS hit me with the AMT this year) this blog would get excruciatingly monotonous very rapidly.

If you're really curious about what's going on with me, and you don't mind hearing the minutia, send me an email (click here to do it the lazy way).

In the meanwhile, I'll try to do a better job of documenting my journey. Don't panic, though. I leave for Europe on Sunday, and I probably won't write anything here for about two weeks. You never know, though.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I'm Back

I've slacked off on my writing again, so this is bound to be a bit of a catch-up post. Things have been quite busy lately, and change is definitely in the air.

For one thing, I'm my old self again. Like an old friend who shows up unannounced on your doorstep, my personality seems to have returned to the goofy happy-go-lucky guy that manages to annoy the hell out of everyone from time-to-time. It feels good. On second thought, no, it doesn't feel good. It feels great!

I quit taking the Zoloft almost 2 weeks ago. It started out inadvertent (I got busy and forgot to take my pill a couple of days), and things went so well, I decided to take a stab at kicking it entirely.

Zoloft is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), and I knew I was running the very real risk of going into SSRI Withdrawal, which at best can about as much fun as drinking a bottle of Tabasco as a cure for hemorrhoids, and at worst can become a very real danger, so I have been monitoring myself extremely carefully. I have had a few minor symptoms, but by and large, it's been smooth sailing. Honestly, I'll take the lows if I can still have the highs - I'd never make it as a zombie.

Since I quit taking the meds, I've been watching for a return of the original symptoms that caused me to go on them in the first place: anxiety attacks. Thus far, I have not had any trouble at all, and arguably I'm still swimming in stressful waters.

Amidst the divorce, the child custody dispute, a recent move, a blown business partnership, the new job, single parenting, and the other fun stuff in my life, the state of Maryland, in their infinite ineptitude, has proclaimed that since they lost my 2004 tax return, I must owe them $12,225.65. I've tried to keep a positive attitude about it, though. Indeed, I couldn't help laughing when I got a certified letter last week explaining how they were going to offset my federal tax refund (I haven't seen a refund in more years than I can count). I wonder if they'd be as interested in sharing my federal tax debt?

Also last week, an interesting thing happened at work. I got my edge back in a way I haven't had in 6 months or so. At the risk of sounding arrogant, in order to understand what I mean, you have to appreciate that what I do for a living is exceptionally mentally demanding. There are a not a lot of people who are able to do it, and fewer still who are really good at it.

The best way I can describe what I went through is like this: imagine you read books for a living. Then one day you get hit in the head with a baseball, and it blurs your vision. You can still see that there are words there, but they're fuzzy and you can't quite make all of them out. You struggle to understand the big picture, and have trouble following the plot line because you're missing little parts that you can't read. Then one day, just as suddenly, your vision returns to normal. You sit down and begin devouring books, thankful that you can see again. Last week at work, I was able to see again. I even got an "atta boy" from my boss.

So, I'm feeling happy again, which means I'm finally able to look back with a clearer head on the point where things went horribly awry. Like so many things in life, I think the anxiety attacks were the result of a perfect emotional storm rather than a single catalyst event.

I realize now that I pushed myself too hard -- to the breaking point, in fact. I was miserable in my job, yet pushing harder to make more money and gain more prestige in some sort of childish display for my wife.

I'm also realizing now that she was extremely difficult to be married to. I never did feel like I lived up to her expectations. No matter what I did, it wasn't enough. I got to the $125,000 annual salary, but I had to push for more. I nearly drown on my certification SCUBA dive, but I had to push myself to keep doing something that terrifies me to this day in order to keep up with the younger guys who did. In fact, the week I started having anxiety attacks I was supposed to take her SCUBA diving. At the advice of the doctor who put me on the Zoloft, I told her I couldn't do it. She tried to be "understanding", but I came away from the experience feeling like less of a man and sorry that I opened my mouth.

That's all behind me now, though. I've realized that I've paid my dues. So I'm getting older - there's no shame in that. It's much better to be a "has been" than a "never was", or worse yet, a "died trying". I have my legacy, and now I can focus on other things - like my writing. Plus, my new girlfriend makes me feel like a man. That sounds like a very silly thing to say, but it is the truth boiled down and condensed.

I met with the ex late last week to get the paperwork signed. It was the first time I'd seen her in more than a month, and I felt... absolutely nothing. It was rather like running into an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in a while. Things were cordial enough between us, so I can't complain.

That brings me to another interesting point. There is no such things as anonymity on the Internet. Period. I say that with confidence not only because I've worked in this industry for 10 years, but because I have a Master of Information Technology degree in Internet Security.

I have a hit counter on this blog, and among other things, it records interesting statistics about the people who visit and read this site. (Related side note: I also know each time someone follows the link to this blog from the Love & Romance forum of "PBS" because part of the information your browser reports with every page request is the referring URL. [That should cause a stir and a flurry of new posts!])

I should also point out that I recognize the "fingerprint" made by specific people when they visit. With that in mind, I discovered that my ex found and read this blog (you may be interested to know that she spent a lot of time reading the comments you leave for me). I confronted her with it, and she denies it to this day, but the forensic evidence is sufficiently strong enough that it would hold up to scrutiny in a court trial.

So to summarize in two words or less: more progress. As predicted, things have gotten much better and they continue to improve. I think I'm even going to pick up writing in my regular blog again. If you need the URL, email me and I'll share it (please don't post it on PBS).

Thank you for continuing to read. You keep reading, I'll keep writing, and one day we'll realize that the healing process has finished.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On Childhood and Parenting

Parenting is difficult; there's no question about it, and very few people would disagree (even those who do not have children). I gave it some thought this morning, and I'm realizing that parenting has a few hard-to-see challenges that I hadn't previously considered.

Take the situation with my son, for example. I'm a bit concerned at his level of emotional maturity (or lack thereof). He's 13 now, and arguably he should be much too old for whining and carrying on. Indeed, I look at where I was at his age, and the comparison is striking.

My son is starting to have a real sense of entitlement. He thinks the world owes him something, and he gets exceptionally wrapped up in his own ideas about what constitutes equity and fairness. I suspect that part of the problem is simply that he's never really had to work very hard. For that, I blame myself as well as others who enabled it.

As parents, we each want to give our kids a better life and childhood than we ourselves had. The tricky thing is that sometimes the bad stuff really does build character. As painful as it is at the time, there is no substitute for experience and some hard-earned credit hours in the School of Hard Knocks.

So the question is, how do you balance tough love and character building against making things better on your kids than you had it? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Those who know me will tell you that I had the type of childhood books are written about. Consequently, I sometimes think it's unfair to compare my son's life to what I went through. Still, I'm beginning to wonder.

I've only known hard work, and it was pretty rough sometimes. At age 13 & 14, I worked construction putting the plywood on new house roofs. I spent the summer on the business end of a hammer, 2 stories in the air, clinging to trusses while drinking in the sweltering 130 degree Las Vegas weather. For this backbreaking effort, I earned about $10 a week (also a great tan and a back injury). At the end of the summer, I had saved enough money to buy school clothes and supplies (about $90).

By the time I was 15, I had moved up to painting movie theater floors at night, while going to High School during the day. I don't recall being paid for that at all, but I was working for my biological father, so all proceeds went to help my family.

When I turned 16, I was relieved that I finally qualified for legal employment and could earn minimum wage (at that time, $3.35 per hour). I rushed out and got a job at Weinerschnitzel (a hot dog fast-food joint), and each time I cashed a greasy paycheck, I gave a great deal of it to my parents to help out.

At age 17, I was probably the only person in Basic Training who felt like he was making "good money" ($918 a month). By then, my parents had divorced, and I split my check 3 ways: part for my mom, part for my biological father, and part for my girlfriend (who later became my first wife) and her mother. I kept about $50 for myself to get haircuts and buy shoe polish.

Obviously, all this work was not fun, but it helped make me the person I am today, and I can't help but wonder if I'm somehow depriving my son of the beneficial side of hard labor. Sadly, it's probably too late anyway. If he were asked to do any of those things, he would simply refuse. It must be nice to have the choice.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Squeaky Mouse Gets the Results

Following up on my previous post about the email I sent my soon-to-be-ex-wife, I think it made an impact. I guess sometimes people really do need to hear the hard truths (there's a lesson in there for me somewhere, I'm sure).

Since reading my email, her attitude seems to have changed profoundly, and a mutual friend privately disclosed to me that she is acting more like her old self. Maybe it was a wake-up call - I'll never know for sure.

At the end of the day, I guess it's just a funny world with funny people.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Pictures By Request

I have it on pretty reliable authority that there are a lot of people out there who wonder what I look like - particularly since I've mentioned losing weight and getting some tattoo work done.

While I am not comfortable posting my pictures publicly here, I did take some new pictures over the weekend, and I am happy to send them by request. Email me at watchmeheal@gmail.com, and I'm happy to share with you.

No More Mouse

Here's an email I sent to my wife. It should be interesting for people to see the angry side of me.
[her name],

I'm sorry you're so bent out of shape and angry at the world (and me in particular), but at the end of the day, it is your own doing.

With respect to the separation agreement, and specifying a deadline to exchange belongings, you should know that I have already allowed you to take more than you are legally entitled to. Legally, what you did qualifies as abandonment, which means you get the clothes on your back, and nothing more. Furthermore, the courts in this part of the country tend to frown on it. If you think about it, I made it VERY clear I didn't want you to go, I asked you to stay, I asked you to come back, and I begged you to go to counseling. You abandoned me and the kids, and essentially just left us to fend for ourselves.

At perhaps the worst point in my life, you opted to make things easy on yourself, and simply threw in the towel. The true test of a person's character is what they do when the going is difficult -- not when things are easy.

On the college thing: YES, I put you through college. When I met you, you were a high school dropout with not many options. I encouraged you to push yourself, and lent support -- financial, emotional, and logistical. I even helped you select a career field in which you could be successful and well-compensated.

First, I paid every penny for you to get your Associates Degree while you went to school and didn't work. It was my understanding that we were going to be together to enjoy the fruits of both our labor. Then I helped while you finished your Bachelors degree, taught you about the career field, gave you contacts, and helped you get your first job.

And just in case you're feeling justified, you should know that you hurt me worse than what [other ex's] did COMBINED. After you decided to make it easy on yourself (and ONLY yourself), you played cat and mouse with me, ostensibly as an act of "kindness". Well, you know what? It wasn't kind; it was cruel.

Nobody likes a flake, and that is what you have become. You don't return phone calls, you don't respond to emails, and you let people who genuinely care needlessly worry about you. It's not just me -- I'm merely the only one with nothing to lose, and therefore free to tell it how it is. If you don't stop this destructive behavior, you're going to find yourself terribly alone.

Good luck -- I think you'll need it more than I will.

[my real name]

Sometimes, it feels good to not be the "nice guy" for a change. At the end of the day, I have feelings too, and I also have worth. I'll never again let anyone treat me otherwise. I'm going to take the advice I gave to my kids.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Letter to My Kids

Dear Kids,

I know things have been difficult lately, but there are lessons to be learned here, too. Although it sometimes seems dark, you are learning things from this experience that will benefit you your whole lives.

First, let me say that I'm proud of you both. Yes, things have been difficult for me, but I realize that they have also been difficult for both of you. It has been a hard few months, but we've really managed to pull it together.

Things haven't been easy for you, and I realize that. I have done my best to make it as smooth as possible; still, there are some things that are beyond the control of a man. At the end of the day, though, life is difficult for everyone. So when you feel yourself getting frustrated, try to remember that it is the challenges that give life its flavor. Without them, we would each have a mundane existence devoid of any real meaning.

Don't be angry with your mother for the way she reacts to you living with me. She loves you, and she is human, so she hurts just like the rest of us. Try to understand that although she may say spiteful things, at the end of the day, she is merely lashing out against the hurt, and not necessarily at you. It may not be fair, but where emotions are involved, fairness is rarely a consideration.

Don't be angry with your step-mom for leaving. We each have to do what is best for our own lives. That is true for me, it's true for you, and it's true for her. Sometimes people aren't running away from something, they're running to something else. Try to respect the fact that different people have different needs, and they may not always make sense to us.

Don't be angry with me for the way things have turned out. Being an adult is difficult most of the time, and the right decisions are sometimes harder to choose than they appear.

I don't want this experience to leave either of you jaded or bitter. Although there are always exceptions, there are very few bad people in the world. Mostly, there are bad decisions, and usually these decisions are made by otherwise good people. I've always told you to take risks in your life (SAFE risks, anyway). Sometimes they pay off, and sometimes they don't. If they don't, it doesn't make you a bad person. It doesn't make other people bad, either.

Always try to find the good in people. If you look hard enough, I promise you'll find something good about everyone you meet. Try to ignore the bad. We all have faults. Some faults are obvious, others are kept well hidden, but every person has something less than perfect about him or her.

Be good to one another. You are each the only person in the world uniquely qualified to understand what the other has been through. Over time, you'll realize that this bond is special and important, and you'll be glad you have each other.

Don't hold back in love. Sure, you might get hurt eventually - a lot of us do. But despite how it feels, it is well worth the risk. No matter what happens, always strive to love like you've never been hurt before, and never give up the fight. While you're doing this, don't forget to love yourself. Never tolerate anyone treating you poorly.

Son... oh, son. I know we have had some rough spells lately as you make this difficult transition into manhood, but would you believe I still sometimes think of you as my baby boy? I remember when you were about 2, and you had a hard time making the "k" sound. You always used "t" instead. Instead of "cookie", you would say "tookie". One time I tried to show you. I said, "No son, it's 'cookie'. Say 'c-c-c-cookie'". Eager to please, you imitated me the best you could: "c-c-c-tookie!"

Princess... You've always managed to have daddy wrapped around your little finger. Although I feared having a daughter, from the day we brought you home from the hospital, I was hooked. I appreciate all of your help, both around the house, and in doing your best to be my friend, but try to remember that I'm the parent. Your childhood is nearly over, and you only get one. It is one of the most precious things in life - don't squander it.

Son, don't let any of my experiences impact your view of women. Sometimes you may feel like you'll never understand them, but that is part of what makes life interesting. You are, no doubt, aware of the obvious: women are soft and warm, they smell good, and they give you butterflies in your stomach.

What you also need to keep in mind, son, is that women are just as capable as men. Like men, women can be creative, smart, assertive, intuitive, and fun. In fact, a good woman makes the best friend. If you only remember one thing, remember this: always treat women with respect and honesty. Tell the truth, be yourself, treat her the way you want her to treat you, and the rest will take care of itself.

Keep doing what you're doing, kids, and things will work out fine. We'll get through this together. Remember: even on a cloudy day, the sun is still there, patiently waiting for the wind to take the clouds away.

Love always,