Archive for the ‘Recovery’ Category

Sometimes I feel like being in a blended family makes you feel like you are living a bipolar existence.  This is more so when some of the other parties, namely Bert, try to turn things into something they are not.  It is this I believe that is the source of our most recent saga.

First, sorry I’ve been away for a while.  As we approached the holidays life was just crazy busy and no topics hit me with that “you can share something useful”  kick in the pants that makes me feel like what I have to say might be worthy to inspire, educate or get someone else to think differently about their situation.

So now on to what kicked me out of my writer’s block.  It relates back to the ongoing counseling of some of the kids from challenges we had this summer (“Expected Chaos” and “Dangers of Ineptness“).  In the interest of open disclosure I will say I am like a lot of men in that I feel that counseling is a tool not an ongoing service.  Like a man, I approach things in the world with “identify the problem, find some solutions, implement the solutions, move on”.  As I’ve talked with my friends it seems this is a universal guy view of counselors and over the last few months the overriding question I get from them is “when are they going to give you guys something to use so you guys can move forward normally?”

Sadly we are still trying to get there and a step in that process is what pushed me to get out what I feel and understand in this post.  Peter was initially working with a counselor for about three to four months who ultimately did very little if anything for him.  God has blessed us with a solution that makes the counseling of Peter and his sisters free of charge due mainly to the fact that Bert is on assistance and so fees are picked up.  If we were paying per session, my “man view” of counseling would have been pushing for a resolution much sooner.  In any event this woman eventually decided she was not equipped to help Peter (glad she wasted three months to get there, but herein lies a pet peeve of mine with counseling in that when they can have no goal, than means the counseling can go on forever providing said counselor with a steady stream of income) and she referred him to a place we wanted to go initially but had instead deferred to Bert’s desire to try this other counseling center.  It worked out because Bert went along without grumbling because it was not his ex who had suggested it but a third party.  Peter has basically had a handful of sessions with his new counselor but he seems to be opening up to this one where he would not really talk to the other one.  I get it, it happens.  Just wish the other bozo had not taken so long to understand that if your client is not talking and you’ve got no plan to get them to talk that’s not really a recipe for good counseling.

So feedback to my dear wife this week is what took what was pretty good holiday season with a good cheer and such as you can have with a house full of teenagers and in the course of 24 hours took her to state of frustration and worry.  At this point Greg and Peter’s counselors have not spoken to each other even after we asked them to.  This is the source of my wife’s frustration.  Completely warranted and it frustrates me to, because perhaps if they had talked a month ago like we asked she would not have gotten the comment she did that seems to have sent her into a tailspin.  There are two issues here, but let me stick with the one here which was actually the second issue.  Hope to not confuse you.

Since they had not talked and Peter’s counselor has no information on Greg and the assessment of the other counselor when asked what she recommended what we do to monitor the boys she made the ludicrous statement that we should never have the two of them together unless they are in “eyeshot”.  My friend said it best when he said that along with all the door monitors etc. is really a Fascist state and that this counselor should use her head and realize how unrealistic and stupid that recommendation is.  I understand she is just taking the ultra conservative route and not wanting to have something occur because she said we could use a more relaxed approach since she has no input on Greg.  My frustration on this is I feel what the counselor did was very unprofessional and borders on misconduct.  It is along the line of asking a movie reviewer, “Did you like Movie A or Movie B more?”

“I liked Movie A.”

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t see Movie B.”

What?  If you do not have enough information to make a recommendation then the responsible thing to do is to say that, not make some asinine statement that has no professional basis.  A more appropriate response would have been to say “I can answer that after I speak with Greg’s counselor which I will make every effort to do as quickly as possible.”  Instead what she did was launch a domino effect that sent my wife into a tailspin that was not necessary at all.  Pisses me off to no end.  I have to go in and meet with this counselor in a couple weeks in another one of her ill advised brainstorms, and I just hope I am past her incompetence enough to handle the circus appropriately.

My assessment, and I can’t read anyone’s mind last I checked, so it’s just what I have put together in my head, is that because of my wife’s fear or worry about Bert turning everything into a made up fallacy she has placed more power on this counselor that is really there.  We are not in some court mandated assessment.  This is personal counseling entered into voluntarily and therefore protected by all that is HIPAA.  At this point the counselor has Peter working through understanding that the first steps to inappropriate action by someone is usually talking about it.  This does not mean that if someone talks about it they will do it.  It’s the old version of I saw a bird.  I saw the bird fly.  Therefore all birds fly.  Yet we all know an ostrich does not fly but is a bird.  His action does not automatically cause the event.  The counselor explained that Peter is having a hard time making that distinction and that is making him hypersensitive to comments by others.  First thing this counselor has said that I agree with.  However I believe because of this worry about Bert taking the fact that natural youngster and teenage banter about sexuality and such occurs in a household somehow makes the household a problem.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you talk about inappropriate things?  How often?  As often as possible, right?  That’s the nature of childhood.  When I discuss with dispassionate folks they all agree.  It is when adults create meaning that is not there that it creates the crazy train.  Greg’s counselor has pointed this out to us, and for some reason it seems my wife feels that this counselor has jumped the fence and is somehow calling something what it is not.  I’m only seeing a overprotective counselor who spoke out of turn ad should have waited to say ANYTHING until she had enough info to speak with a grain of intelligence.  Instead she created propaganda that has taken on a life of its own in my wife’s head.

You see one of the other issues that has now expanded beyond reason is that because this counselor might be worried about Greg, what would in most cases be passed off as normal behavior is viewed with a lens of adult added angst.  From time to time when Greg and Bobbi watch TV they will share a seat and hang over each other.  They will toss legs over each other or Greg will lean on Bobbi’s arm.  When I discuss this with my friend he says his son and daughter so this stuff all the time.  My brother did it with me.  I think Greg likes the fact that he has a sister, even a stepsister, who’s first reaction to him sitting within five feet of her is not “get away from me, I hate you” which is what Greg has gotten from his two sisters his whole life.  Bobbi does not get upset when Greg leans on her in fact they are usually giggling and talking.  It’s just normal human interaction.  Yet because this counselor has raised the specter of not knowing Greg because she spoke out of turn this has turned a knob in my wife’s head that what if Greg is overly affectionate?  As long as he’s not groping people etc. what parent would not be happy to have their pre-teens not be happy in each other’s presence rather than loathsome?   Yet this is what our over-sensitized counselor-fueled existence has become, and all I can think is “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

I certainly do not want to stick my head in the sand, so I have sought other opinions.  As I said, friends are saying their kids do this all the time and we are being ridiculous and are being driven to this stupid view by all these counselors.  Again, I have a lot of guy friends so their solution is simple.  Tell the counselor we need to get to a point where we can go forward as normal because we have crossed the line into the territory of counseling doing more harm than good.  Given the tailspin this is moving us into I find it hard to argue.  Do we want to be dumb and unobservant no, but do we want to react to everything with the result that we eventually have every child in the house walking around in an inflated bubble and my wife and I never sleep or go anywhere because we have to watch everyone?  Hell no!  Peter is already expressing his frustration with the fact that his life is not as he would like because he is basically under house arrest and constant surveillance, yet if we listen to crazy counselor we are not being Gestapo enough!   How is that going to raise a healthy child?  You see Peter and Greg were upset because on New Year’s Eve while all their siblings got to party all night they had to go to their rooms behind their door alarms because the adult’s were going to bed and they could not be watched.  Think about that statement for a bit.  In hindsight it was perhaps ill advised for me to voice it out loud as the reason for their having to go to bed while the other’s did not, but it was the reality of our existence.  It was at this moment that I realized this has gone on long enough and something needed to change and then all hell broke loose with mouthy counselor not using her supposedly educated head.

You see we are in a never ending stream of counseling on this event.  Why? Because the counselors have no set goal.  Is that our fault?  Perhaps, but because of my regular lack of relying on others to handle my problems for me I have not had to deal with counselors a lot until I started marriage counseling before my divorce.  I went to a marriage counselor, who I felt was very good.  What was the result?  I got divorced.  Now I have this situation.  Excuse me for not being too upbeat on the success of counseling.  I think we need to get the counselors to set a goal for the two remaining kids in counseling and that goal is simple.  We want them both to understand how to interact with others appropriately and to live a normal life.  The counselors should then be able to articulate a plan on how we will get there.  Peter’s counselor at least has a semblance of that, but Bobbi’s counselor is continuing her clueless trek down “let me talk with Bobbi and bill the state” land.  I have been content to just leave it be because it was not costing anything but now there is a cost.   Our family’s sanity.  Am I going to demand a change?  No not right away.  I realize I’m really upset and venting, but I do think we are being stupid ad doing our whole family a disservice by not demanding some professional responsibility from the counselors.  After all if I went to anyone else for a service would I just tell them, “Hey I’ll just pay you every week without any end in sight and you just take my money and do whatever you want, OK?” you’d call me an idiot.  And you’d be right.  I want to have a discussion with my wife on what our family’s goal with this is and get off the incorrect assumption that we must just let it go on forever because of the source.  Sure the events of the summer need to be dealt with and they have been, are and will be.  If your kids used drugs would we send them to rehab forever?  No.  Would they perhaps do something again that made the go back?  Perhaps, but all we can do is give the tools to make a good decision and the guidance to know what that is and then let them get back to life.  Yet in this case we are not.  My wife and I have discussed the imposition of the door alarms and so have the rest of the kids so we acknowledge the problem, yet we have taken no action to solve it.  Who’s fault is that?  We need two big fingers pointing right back at us.  Will the door alarms ever be off, honestly because of Bert’s meddling, probably not, but we did tone them back from shrieking sirens to simply loud obnoxious ear splitting beeps a while back.  This is making all of us edgy and so is it a wonder that when we get a little shove from a stupid counselor who speaks out of turn that one of us falls off the edge?  No!

This leads me to the counselor’s first recommendation and what started the discussion that led to her dumb second recommendation that I have just beat like a dead horse.  They have been pushing for about a month to get the adults from the households with the three boys involved with this summer’s activities into a room together.  When I told my friend about this his first response was “I hope you said no way in hell!”  His reasoning?  Bert is totally incapable and unwilling to be anything but productive in that meeting.  He will monopolize that meeting.  My reaction.  He is 100% accurate.  With what just happened with my wife because of the other comment this week I am frankly terrified about how she will handle this session.  I understand the counselors are doing what people in that field try to do.  They think they are being helpful, yet this is the same counselor who when my wife said she did not want to be interviewed with Bert in the same room insisted that “this was the process” and then my wife went through it, Bert used his manipulation over her to make her feel hideous and she had to talk it over with her counselor over multiple sessions and was not her wonderful self for weeks.  Yet here we go into this again.  Are we stupid?  I’m beginning to think so.  Yet I do not know another option, because I am also willing to give it a shot but the only way we succeed in there is if Bert talks we all shut up and let him go.  He will lie, say things that are untrue, but we cannot react.  If we do he wins.  My concern is I will blow up in there and call the counselor the bumbling fool she is for calling this meeting in the first place.  She witnessed what happened with Bert and my wife, and she knows the other mom has similar issues with Bert.  The only one who can deal with Bert’s shit is me.  But what I can’t deal with and I am having a real time sucking up is some “professional” placing my wife into a situation that she is not at all comfortable with and demanding she do it with a smile.  God made it clear that a man is supposed to protect his wife.  I am prepared to do that to the death someday if needed.  My wife is the most important person in the world to me and the fact that she deals with this shit on a regular basis tears me up.  Even though I know it is un-Christian I pray for God to remove Bert from this world often and vehemently.  I then pray for forgiveness that I did that.  I do not understand God’s point in these trials and testing, but I worry that I am not doing what I should.  Should I be saying “hell no!” to this meeting?  If you were to ask me today, the answer I would shout from the mountain tops would be a resounding yes.  I need to pray on it and see.  I have almost no confidence; no I do have zero confidence, that this meeting will do anything of value.  My wife had basically said the same thing.  It would seem that then we are not very smart for proceeding.  Maybe we talk with the other mom and decide that way.

Because Bert takes wicked advantage of everything with his sociopathy I believe my wife has added a lot of weight to this that is not there.  We recently read some excerpts from a book where the author said stop worrying about the worst that can happen because the worst rarely does, yet that is basically what is happening here.  I feel that we are letting some fear of what Bert could spin things into drive us into not demanding more from the counselors and instead taking a very passive attitude and into walking into situations that are set up for bad outcomes.

At this point however we sit at a point that my wife feels “there is a counselor with power for the county” which I feel is utterly false but she is so worried from this woman’s inappropriate statement without any of the facts she needed to make it that she will not move from that.  If we continue this way for the next few days I know my resolve will grow much stronger to say we are not participating in that joint waste of time.  The counselors have this hope that the changes they want Bert to make will be made through these types of meetings.  That is what is driving my wife and this other mom to agree though every ounce of their being does not want to do this.  They are being driven for their kids just as I am being driven for my wife.  Should I be the voice of reason?   The most dispassionate one in the bunch?  Should I stand up and say this has no chance of success?  The counselors will be disappointed but the carnage that I anticipate Bert wreaking in that room will not have a chance to take place.  If I felt one iota of possibility that he could be reasoned with and the counselors could get him to listen I would feel some hope.  As my friend said, “This better be the best fucking counselor the world has ever seen, or you are just headed into a nightmare.”  I think I’ve already established on a much smaller point that we are not dealing with that type of counselor here.  I’d really like some thoughtful comments on this one.  We’ve got a couple weeks before this meeting is to take place.  I understand that everything I’ve written says stop the madness.  Sadly that’s not always so easy.

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Well it was only a matter of time until I got sick of discussing the kids without some kind of names.  Given that every time we introduce ourselves to anyone and mention we are a blended family with six kids we get “Oh!  The Brady Bunch!”,  I figured I was as likely to get another naming convention to stick as Congress is to pass useful legislation, so I give up (hmm, that also sounds like Congress, but this isn’t a political post, so I digress).

As you are aware, we do not fit the mold quite right as we have four girls and two boys, so I have to take a little creative license with the names.  I am just going to use the names in order of age, so the boys will be Greg and Peter, and the girls will be Marcia, Jan, Cindy, and Bobbi (my creative license).  All four girls in our case are older than any of the boys, so that should clarify the sequence for you if you care to follow along at that level.  No need to give my wife and I names as it’s easy enough to keep track of us in any narrative.  Our exes have been named long ago, so for now all the characters in the saga as it continues have been identified.

Today’s episode of the modified Brady’s will feature Greg.  While Greg is going to turn ten this year, he’s always been a challenge in that he is quite intelligent and uses those skills as you might expect, sometimes to amaze, sometimes to confuse and as any parent of a boy will tell you many times to frustrate. 

Last night my kids were back after their regularly scheduled weekend with Nan.  My wife has noticed that Greg is more difficult to deal with the first day or two after they return from Nan, and Greg was always the one that Nan would ignore most, and this has really affected Greg’s personality and how he deals with things.  Lately he has returned to his place of solace, playing on the computer, where he is in charge and he can control what happens, rather than being at the mercy of everyone and everything.  As I was picking Cindy up after school yesterday, so informed me that “Greg was on the computer for like, 52 hours, at Mom’s house!”  I made a mental note that this would likely not be a good thing.  This means, if nothing else that Greg was ignored while at Nan’s.

Now I can only speculate, but my guess is that since Marcia and Cindy have always had the typical “I hate my brother because he’s my brother” thought process and Nan does nothing to encourage they stop that since she seems to dislike Greg most of all of the children, that this weekend involved much activity that excluded Greg and that no one but Greg cared.  Not Nan, not her fiancé, not Marcia or Cindy, not their dog nor their new baby.  If I was to speculate, since the new baby is now crawling for the first time since they have visited, everyone was focused on her.  That’s fine, but since Nan  makes no effort to try to engage Greg he, even when Nan and I were married, tends to simply avoid getting involved in things to avoid getting yelled at or disappointed.  So he stays on the computer.  Normally if you ask him to stop and come do something he might grumble a little, and even when I got home with Cindy and told him that I heard he was on the computer a lot at Nan’s and that he should do something else, he said OK and was off in a couple minutes without really any whining, so I do not as yet picture that the computer is a problem as such.  I view it more as his security blanket, for possibly many of the reasons I mentioned above.  He has full control and he will not be surprised by anything or be rejected by something that should support him. 

In counseling with Greg this was discussed and due to his intelligence I was told he seems to get the fact that Nan is just not interested and he has made what peace he can with that.  I understand that to a degree, but I do not think there is any area of peace that a nine year old or younger boy can have when his Mom really could care less about him.  Nan had made the effort to pick him up from school Thursday because as she told us she felt Greg could use some alone time with her since she mostly does that with the girls.  Then whatever happened resulted in the rest of the weekend being without Greg, and Greg sat on the computer.  In Nan’s form, she spent a couple hours with him alone, and then he probably did something boys do, made some stupid comment or acted out since he always looked for negative attention from her because it was still attention or something else.  Rather than realize parenting takes work, because Nan can’t handle that, kids should just be your puppets after all and do exactly what you want at all times, at the first sign of stress, Nan most likely disengaged, which is what I would witness her do all the time.  And Greg’s time with Mom was over.  And Greg in all his brilliance and intellect has no idea what he has done again because this piece of his life has never made sense.  So Greg sat at the computer.

So now that Greg was back at our house, we just happened to have a concert for Marcia that required us to run out almost immediately.  I got home from work, said hello., noticed he was sad which usually means time at Nan’s has not gone well, asked him how he was and received the normal “Absolutely great!” and had to eat dinner and leave.  Cindy and Greg were no interested in the concert and so they stayed home like they have done many times.  When we returned we found that it appeared Greg had cut some of his hair as we found some hair and there were scissors next to the bathroom sink.  Greg had also done this a few months back while at Nan’s during a really crazy weekend there.  Talking to our counselor, she had indicated that this type of behavior usually is the result of a child not knowing how to deal with stresses they are facing, so they lash out in physical behavior.  Greg denied it was his hair this morning before school however Cindy explained later when she arose that Greg had asked to play the computer again that night and when she told him we had told him he should do something else, she believes he got upset and went an did the hair cutting, which she found later.  So as I assess it now, with all my past history with Greg, he had a terrible weekend at Nan, came home where it normally is better and was basically ignored again because of the prior commitment we had for Marcia, was unable to use his security blanket (computer) and lashed out.  We will speak with him tonight and certainly spend some time with him that we could not yesterday.  Tomorrow we have another concert for Bobbi, so I want to make sure Greg is in a good place.  Normally he’s fine and these episodes are infrequent, but something is changing for him and we need to figure out what that is and determine what the appropriate actions are.  Maybe he needs to go and see a counselor again to discuss things.  Maybe he just needs to vent.  Maybe he just needs to be reassured that he is not overlooked.  We had told them we would be watching a show they like tonight, so spending that time together will help, but we will need to see if it is enough for now. 

I’ve had to help him work through this before.  The key is to not let it fester and that is certainly not the goal.  The problem I have right now is that all our other commitments with our other kids do not always make us as available as we might need to be.  Normally I would have walked with him to the bus stop today, and I had to drop out of that because Marcia needed an early ride to school for an extra credit project she is doing.  He was frustrated with the questions about the hair this morning.  I know he will not be able to verbalize why he did it when I mention that Cindy verified he had.  If he stays true to form he might weakly deny it again, before he admits it.  Also, the next thing that happens is he just needs some time with me or my wife to understand he is not forgotten.  This usually starts the healing process.  Some weeks with Nan are better than others.  This just seems to be one that was not and our schedule this week does not help.  It sucks that the kids need to deal with this, but as any divorced parent knows you cannot force the other parent to step up no matter how clear you make it. 

I pray to God for guidance.  I pray to God for healing.  I pray to God for strength.  I pray to God that He can help Nan see the effect she has and care.  These are prayers I’ve had before and will certainly have again.  I try to guide and assist and intervene.  There is never enough time.  I want to help my son.  I believe Nan is just happy he’s gone and back by me.  So far he seems to still be OK, but it is my job as his father to keep a diligent eye on if he is not.  Perhaps when I speak with him today I will find that is the case.  I pray every time that it is not.  That Nan has not hardened his heart to caring in such a way that he has also shut off to me.  I fear that one day that will be the case and that this little guy who can be so fun and full of life will just shut down and never care.  That he will one day embrace the feeling that I do everything I can to help him avoid; “If my own Mom won’t love me, why should anyone else, or why should I?”  When I was married to Nan I would see Greg get so defiant and so angry and mean, and in discussing it during counseling it was explained that this was a way for him to avoid getting hurt.  Keep Nan away and if he never asks for her love he won’t be heartbroken when it is not given.  There is a battle he wages inside himself every time this goes on and I an only lend aid from the outside.  Ultimately Greg and God control the outcome.  I only pray that his little heart is strong enough to keep loving others while Nan continues to push him away.  Two Sundays ago he was baptized, something he asked for a few weeks back.  Greg did not specifically mention Jesus’ love for him, but I look to that love to help Greg as well.  I know when Greg gets older he will be able to more easily cope with this terrible thing he has to deal with from time to time with Nan.  Every time I seem him struggle it just tears me up because there is only so much I can do.  I can love him and guide him and know that God will support him.  And I have to trust that is enough.

My wife and I had a really interesting conversation recently.  It began while we were discussing the Love & Respect book by Emerson Eggerichs that I had talked about before, but it was really an off shoot from the general topics we were exploring in the workbook. 

In our case the root cause was that we both came out of long marriages, so it would appear to be related to divorce, but I think it can easily translate to anyone who was in a long term relationship.  We had talked about this early in our dating time, but we knew there were going to be issues that just could not be worked through as a single person.  I made that observation during our conversation, that even if I had been single for a decade or longer after my divorce, these challenges would have still surfaced, and my wife very quickly agreed. 

The challenge is that like it or not, people are creatures of habit.  We fall back into patterns and look for them to identify if what we are experiencing now is the same as what we experienced yesterday, last week, last year or ten years before.  I became programmed to respond to certain stimuli in a relationship in certain ways because of my ex.  My wife has the same challenge.  The true challenge is that we need to realize that we are not with those people and to allow ourselves to learn new ways of interacting.  Luckily I’d say we are doing very well in this regard, as simply evidenced by the fact that we can talk about it.

One example we talked about that triggered an old response in me to some degree was with regards to my wife working on her computer.  She works from home, and so is often on the computer for one of her jobs.  Originally, I would pop my head in her office and ask what she was doing but she might be in the middle of something and I would interrupt her.  Trying to be courteous, I decided I would just take a peek at her screen before I interrupted her.  If it was work things, which it usually was, I’d just smile and move on but if not I would feel more open to see if she was willing to join me for some time together.  It seemed perfectly logical to me, but as so many things often go, what I had anticipated as helpful to both of us, turned out to not be.  You see when I tried this, my wife was unsure what I was doing and would give me a strange look.  Even when we talked about it, she used the term “you don’t have to spy on me”.  I explained to her that with my ex whenever I asked what she was doing she was always evasive and in many cases it was because what she was doing was inappropriate.  This was the training I had received in interacting with another.   Hopefully you can make the mental leap to understand how something like this cannot ever be fully resolved as a single person no matter how much time you give it.  It takes being with someone to bring out that interaction again. 

This example led us to each talk about many others where we were doing that.  Even though my wife believes very strongly in the Ephesians 5:22 principle that the husband is the head of the family and decision and authority rests with me, she struggles with feeling comfortable with that because when she let her ex have authority every decision he made turned out to be a disaster for the family.  As we talked this was an example of actions being needed to get her to a level of comfort, meaning, once again, no matter how comfortable she was with the concept in her mind, until we go through enough actual decision points where she begins to see that it is different with me, her mind will still take her back to that old set of feelings of unease.  Only by teaching ourselves new tricks, to react differently, can we get past these things.

Neither of us looks at this as a bad thing or a sign that we missed something in the process of agreeing to get married and share our lives together.  Instead we know that there was only so far we could go until we were married again and working these issues out.  Just as a pilot can only go so far in a flight simulator and then needs to get in a real plane.  There are sensations one cannot simulate, and thoughts one cannot make evoke the same set of feelings when we initiate them.  What I mean by that last statement is that even if I sat there and thought through the example of seeing what my wife was doing and then thinking how I would react to that, the exercise of me thinking all that versus just experiencing it would mean my feelings about it would not be the same.  The best example I can think of is thinking about how you would feel if you walked into your bedroom and found someone roasting marshmallows in your dresser  versus actually walking into the room and experiencing it without thinking of it.  The surprise, if you will, has been removed.  The act of imagining gives your mind time to prepare for the feelings, versus just having them hit you smack in between the eyes.

The joy of the conversation was that we each got to understand what was triggering the reaction in the other person.  My wife had not even thought of how my ex had influenced my thinking to something she viewed as ordinary, but which my training had taught me was everything but.  My past had taught me when someone was not just forthright with what they were doing that it meant something bad.  Her training, on the other hand had taught her that it was rude for me not to ask but to instead “peek” or “spy” as she called it.  My training had taught me that if I ask the other person has time to think and hide and evade.  I understand my wife is not my ex and so my reaction was not automatic, but the underlying currents were there, kind of like a siren’s call to approach something I was familiar with.  But just like the sirens of myth, if I heed that call I will end up dashed on the rocks.  Placing the shoe on the other foot, my wife has those feelings of discomfort when she trusts me to make a decision.  I on the other hand find it confusing that she says she wants me to make the decision but then seems uneasy.  When she explained what she was feeling, it all clicked.  It goes back to what I spoke about a few posts back about making sure we have the perspective of the other person, especially when it might be so foreign to us that we would not even think of it in our wildest dreams.  Just as if I asked my wife to tell me the most outrageous thing she could thing of happening in our bedroom she would probably never give you the roasting marshmallow scenario I provided, she could also not make the leap that it was strange for me to ask my wife what she is doing rather than just looking.  It was never in her experience so she never learned that reality, but I lived it for over two decades. 

We acknowledged that we both have made steps in areas to begin that retraining.  We are both confident it will work out great because we work together to that same goal.  Not every couple will have that same result.  It takes a comfort and trust that is not always easy to come by, but the fact that both of us, whose trust was so violated in our previous marriages can come back and trust another hopefully provides tangible proof that it is never impossible.  God made being human a lot of work.  Those who choose not to put in the work may find it easier, but I am pretty sure they do not find it as fun.  We are both good willed and want to improve every day and this lets us support each other in learning to retrain our subconscious to react differently.  It is a lot of work, but it is work that is critical to having a strong couple at the helm of our blended family to provide a solid example to the children God has entrusted to our care so that they can hopefully avoid attaching themselves to people who teach them bad patterns that they will need to work themselves out of later.  I know not everyone will be able to do this.  Family literature is full of examples where people repeat the same destructive behavior because it is all they know.  We will continue to work and move forward.  This old dog is hard at working learning some new tricks.

I honestly can’t recall the exact date on the calendar, but I know it was late December 2009 (after Christmas).  It was the day I tried to talk to my nine year old daughter and she backed away from me in fear.  This was not some childish emotion.  I could look into her eyes and see the fear in them and it ripped me apart.

After years of a marriage that was not working, and years of trying to control the mood in the house by demanding my children be perfect because I felt this was what my wife wanted to keep the marriage together (I would learn the nuances of this as I talked it through in marriage counseling in a month), it had come to this.  My child thought of me as a tyrant and was mortally afraid of me.  The two other kids just hated me.

This was a few days after the latest time my wife had said she wanted a divorce.  This had gone on for a few years and we talked it through before but this time she was so adamant and we had sat the kids down and told them.  Before we did that I had asked, as I had many times before, if she wanted to go to counseling but as before she refused saying she knew counseling didn’t work.  She had had experience as a child when her mother and she had gone to a counselor for their anger issues and she felt it was a waste of time.  I had never gone but was willing, but I also understood that unless both parties wanted to work at it it really would not do much good.

I was then trying to talk to my daughter and she would not come near me and told me she was scared of me.  There was nothing I could do then and I understood.  My behavior over the preceding years was to discipline by yelling at them, a stupid decision that got results the fastest way and therefore calmed my wife down but left me feeling terrible.  I look back on it now after having the benefit of counseling that did help me and am ashamed and extremely sad whenever I think about.  I will never have those years back with my kids.  To this day my oldest daughter when angry will still vehemently yell that she felt during those years “I had no idea what was going on in the house and didn’t care about them”.  I was letting my stay at home wife handle things and listened to her version of the story.  That might have been excusable.  When my kids acted up in the slightest I would launch into a fit to get them to behave.  As the years progressed I became hyper sensitive and began doing this when I thought they might act up.  It created an environment for them that had to be so stressful.  That is not excusable, but in my convoluted way of thinking in the moment I thought it was what I needed to do to keep the family together.  I understood why my kids felt that way and I was devastated.  I have never felt lower in my life than I did at that point.  If things had not changed I could easily see how it may have progressed to take me to a very, very dark place.

For whatever reason, but I thank God for it often, my wife rethought getting divorced and wanted to go to counseling.  I am certain had we proceeded at that point, with my kids hating and/or fearing me the outcome would have been so very different.  I would have not been able to see my kids much as no judge could have listened to their stories and felt there was any real value in me being heavily involved.  What they knew of me was the father who always yelled at them.  I had no leg to stand on.  The court would have looked at me the same was the counselor did the day I told him that if I did not have to behave this way for my marriage, as I had been led to believe for years that I did, then I would just stop.  The counselor told me that was admirable but highly unlikely to make that drastic a change that fast.  The counselor was not me.  I did not doubt I could because I knew that I hated acting that way to begin with.  I was the one who time and time again had disciplined my kids to the point of tears only to retire to my room in tears myself.  The counselor never demanded, asked or did anything to get me to change.  It went like this.  I said I disciplined the kids that way because I felt that was what she wanted me to do.  She said that was not the case.  I simply said fine now that I know that then I won’t do it anymore.  The counselor expressed his doubts that it could be like flipping a switch.  I had no doubts.

So was I crazy in my belief that I could flip that switch?  I’ll let you be the judge.  Less than eight months later we were back in the same place, meaning my wife once again wanted a divorce.  In the proceeding short time I had been able to observe her interaction with the kids without the influence of me jumping in with a hair trigger.  She continued to get upset, yell at them, and tell them she wished she never had them, but I did not play my part, yet strangely she played hers.  When her request to leave came I quickly agreed because I could see the effect on the kids.  And at that time in December of 2010 I had that same daughter, who had backed away from me with fear in her eyes a year ago when I had wanted to talk to her, approach me on her own and ask me if they got to choose who they lived with because she wanted to live with me and not mom. 

My lessons learned in the years since this are complex and multi-faceted.  You must be true to yourself and to God in how you behave or it will tear you apart.  It was not my responsibility for how my wife behaved and what I did to try to address that was wrong and obviously pointless as her continued behavior showed.  Once I changed these behaviors things improved quickly.  I learned that counseling can be helpful as it opened a door to change in me that I could not find a way to open on my own, and when the divorce finally came I was able to get my kids into counseling and get them help, and ignore my exes ranting that they did not need it.

It is difficult now to know if what the kids say is reality or dramatic embellishment to some degree.  In counseling they shared that my exes behavior was much worse than even I thought and that is what fuels my oldest daughters flare ups us anger and hatred.  I am her father and I am supposed to protect her.  I failed.  I can never fix that and I have to live with that burden the rest of my life.  She had to parent her siblings while my ex ignored them for long periods and I was listening to my ex tell me that was not the case when my kids would get fed up enough and courageous enough to tell me something and I confronted her with it.  Friends have told me I cannot be faulted for trusting my wife, as that is what I should do.  My soul does not let me off that easy.  Does this make me susceptible to some manipulation by my kids now?  I think so, but I try to be aware of that and my wife helps me.  They can play on that guilt at times and I really do not know when that will go away, if it ever will.  My take on it is dark and difficult.  I know now my kids were being treated poorly by a mother who was telling me otherwise.  When they needed my support instead they received my wrath for years.  During that time they had two shitty parents.  I could not control my wife, but I could control me and for that I am guilty.  I do not buy into the psychobabble that would allow me to absolve myself of that time.  I just thank God that with His help I was able to see my sins and correct them and get to where I am today.  People who know me now might be shocked to hear this story but I think it is an important part to understanding how hard I have worked to get to the point I am at today in facing the demons of a bad marriage and coming out the other side to help others find their way forward too.  It is too easy to read the simple dissolution story and think my path was not as dark and twisted as those who go through a “traditional” messy, dirty divorce.  People who knew me during all this time, like the best man at my wedding, have commented on the differences.  They were unaware of the impact on me and the kids, and truthfully so were we.  Until you get out of the situation it is hard to realize what it really is like.

I see now that God understood my true heart and kept the divorce from happening until it was revealed clearly to my children.  He brought me to our counselor, even after my wife did not initially want to go, to help me see that which I could not see myself.  He gave me the courage to know that we would be OK and to decisively make the decision to accept the final divorce request and not drag the kids through more. 

The work to get from that day to today has been substantial.  Keeping other areas of my life together so that my career and other things were not severely impacted is also a blessing.  Some have told me it speaks to the strength of my character, but I cannot claim that credit.  The credit goes to God for making me the way I am.  I have my flaws, as I think you much better understand after this post, but I also have the desire to work on them and so I will continue onward to better things every day.

Making lemonade

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Christian, Divorce, Recovery

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees”  — Psalm 119:71

This weekend we got a taste of spring.  It was unseasonably warm and Sunday was a glorious day where the children played outside for bit and I got to fertilize the lawn and get it ready for the upcoming season.  It was definitely a day when we could have been on the porch sipping lemonade and thinking of the year to come and deciding what paths to take.

With divorce we all need to make a choice of paths our life will take as well and there are really three ways we can go. 

First, we can choose to have our life change for the worse.  We can let the experience of divorce dominate and control everything in our life going forward.  We can be immobilized and damaged and unable to function not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.   If you know people who are divorced, and these days I think we all do, you know that some just wallow in sadness and depression, constantly play back their marriage, assume nothing will ever be good again and on and on.

Second, we can choose to have life be the same.  We are not damaged but there has been nothing taken from the experience in regards to learning and growing.  What the psalmist states above has not occurred.  We have been afflicted, but through either stubbornness, lack of desire or lack of understanding have not benefited in any way.  We run the risk of repeating our mistakes, being attracted to similar people, responding the same way and most dangerously of thinking we had nothing to do with our failed marriage.  It was all the fault of our ex.  It is so easy to fall into this path.  Why do the hard work of searching our soul and finding out what needs to be examined and changed when we have a ready made villain packaged up for us with a pretty bow.  No matter the circumstance none of us could not learn something from our breakup.

Third we can choose our life to change for the better.  Your self talk changes from “why me?’ and “God why did You let this happen?” to focusing on how to make you life better.  How can you take what has happened and glorify God? I have chosen to continue providing support to other people going through divorce.  I write this blog, I facilitate DivorceCare groups, I talk with people one-on-one as the opportunity presents itself.  I have learned what I did that contributed to my marriage failing such as not talking openly about my beliefs and needs/wants in starting and continuing a relationship. 

On this bonus spring day when we should still be in the throes of winter cold, it was easy to be happy and excited about the possibilities.  As we process our divorce, the same thing occurs.  Everyone gets that giddy feeling that comes with being out of the emotional weight of day in and day out struggle of a collapsing marriage.  It felt like I could breathe and did not have to walk on eggshells and could just do what I wanted without clearing it with anyone.  Just as it takes strength to remain optimistic and cheerful after three weeks of rain and clouds and gloom, divorce runs that parallel too.  So many things are real concerns that need to be dealt with, but the lightness of being that comes from choosing the take control of your life and trust God for His help is so much better than letting life run you over.

As I minister to others I see how hard it is to take the third path.  Society, media, other people we know make it so easy to stay in the sadness and hurt.  Just like the news reports almost exclusively things to inspire fear and paranoia, our negative stories provide a lot more spice and fun as we share them than a conversation about how we have grown as a person by making some little change.   

As spring approaches, if you find yourself on one of the first two paths, vow to cut through the woods and get to the third path.  You will find the tress less foreboding and the water you need to refresh you less dank.  Chopping through the dense underbrush, brambles and low hanging limbs of the forest to get across to the path will not be easy.  You will inevitably stop for a rest in the middle of all the toil and be tempted to turn back and just walk back to the path you came from, but press on.  Finding and taking the third path is not always easy, but I promise you the lemonade tastes awesome.

It can suck you in

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Anger, Divorce, Recovery

One of the things we all hit to one degree or another when going through a divorce is anger and bitterness.  Myles Munroe makes a statement about this that really hit home, “It’s not what you eat.  It’s what’s eating you”.

I struggled with this heavily at times while I was still married but knew I was on the way to a divorce.  A big part of the pain was that I knew that there must be a way to fix what was wrong and I was trying everything I could think of.  I was being extra attentive, making changes in how I talked with her, being more interested in things, spending even more time with her than before.  Sometimes a change would appear to happen for a while and I was ecstatic.  If you recall, I mentioned at one point, that she began reading the Bible every day.  We were in LifeWay for something.  The fact she was even there without constant negative comments was a mini-miracle in itself.  Then she said, “I should get a Bible”.  Not a question of should I, but a straight forward declarative statement.  Having learned my lessons for many years I was not so easily sucked in so I did the natural thing and assumed she “should” get a Bible because she just remembered some friend who would like one.  After all we were in the heart of the Bible Belt and a huge portion of her friends were very, very religious.

After verifying that no, in fact she meant for herself, she did ask a question.   “What kind should I get?”  We talked about the various formats for a while and she eventually settled on a Quest Bible thinking that would work best for her doubting mind to get some more direct input into why she might want to believe.  I was pleased, but still not over joyed.  After all, many people have Bibles stacked in their homes and none have ever been opened.  Like the first step on a journey, buying a Bible was only step one on a very long road to her becoming a believer.

Then for the next three months she read almost nothing else.  She would regale me each morning about what she had learned the night before.  She would pepper in comments like, “I can see how it makes sense now.”  I thanked God several times during this process that my patience in not hounding her and just letting Him change her heart had finally paid off.

Then one day, nothing.  The next day, the same.  After a couple weeks, I nonchalantly asked, “So what’s going on with your Bible?”  “Oh, I’m taking a break.  You know me.  I read so fast, I read as much in three months as an ordinary person reads in a year.  I can stop.”  Sounded reasonable to me.  A few weeks later, I asked again.  I knew she was reading front to back, and I saw the bookmark about a third of the way through, so she had a lot to go.  “I’ll get to it.”  I was starting to get the normal feelings of distrust and passive aggressiveness that I was used to.  To cut to the chase, she never cracked that Bible again that I was aware of.  She actually looked for it when she moved out, but no idea why.

I was so upset with myself for trusting that she might have changed.  I knew she had done other things for months and then just tossed out that she was trying on the new behavior or activity like a cheap sweater.  It seems she had tried on God to make sure she hadn’t grown into Him, and found He still didn’t fit.  She pulled something similar just before she announced she wanted to get divorced for the last time.  About a month before she became super attentive and affectionate.  Sitting on my lap and chatting for fifteen minutes, greeting me at the door when I came home.  Sitting close on the couch for a few minutes before moving back over.  It lasted for about a week.  When I asked about it out of curiosity a couple days after I had been to the lawyer to start the process, she said, “She was just checking to make sure.”  Again, quite a bit of bitterness on my part, though she was never shown anything directly at that point.

I work with several people and talk with a brother who has also gotten very, very bitter in the last month about their divorces.  I know how you can start making decisions that are not very rational mainly as a feeling that you will somehow be vindicated, make your ex pay, or some other petty form of retaliation.  In DivorceCare they talk about this phenomenon as the only control you have left so you use it in an irrational manner.  It invariably leads to worse results, more frustration and sadness for you as you realize that you just did something you are not proud of and you still got lackluster results.  My fiancée mentioned that in her case it was not helpful when people suggested she just get better.  I agree that asking for the impossible is fruitless and we all need to work through our emotions in our own way, however I still think that for most of us as stupid as it sounds just having someone suggest a different way is helpful.  We are usually not thinking anything near clearly at these times and it just does not occur to us that stomping our feet, screaming and throwing a fit are not the only options.  Behaving like a rational human being is not in our mind set.  If we could all just choose the correct path easily there would be no need for people to spend money on therapy.  Yet they do that to have someone tell them what they already know in most cases.  It is the reinforcement from an outside person that helps us get the strength to make that change.  These are the people God puts in our lives and we need to not get overly irritated with what may seem like blathering happiness or optimism and understand they love us and are trying to help.  Otherwise it gets too easy to get stuck and make that bitter life style the new you.

The phone call

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Dating, Divorce, Recovery, Remarriage

So I’ve explained how I went through my process understanding that my divorce was done on God’s terms, how I understood reconciliation and how I had processed my divorce well. I was clear and I was good. It was summer and I was moving on. I had posted a profile on a couple dating sites and had exchanged e-mails and phone calls with a few ladies but nothing clicked and so we never agreed to meet. I had learned what I needed moving forward and these ladies did not have it, but I had just had a few conversations with a new one that had gone really well. She lived over an hour away and meeting would be a challenge but if you don’t work for love you might pass up something great, right? I was good. I was on cloud nine. Or so I thought……

My parents were in town and I had received a call from my ex while out with them and the kids. She had left a voice mail. This in and of itself is a rare thing as normally she wants to talk to gauge my reaction in real time, push buttons, I don’t know. I have a busy job and now I’m a single dad with kids and all that entails so I encouraged her to at least leave a voice mail and then when I got back to her I could respond and make progress. Still, she rarely ever did, so I figured something was up.

We got home and everyone was getting ready for dinner and I figure I’ll listen to the voice mail. She left one, but of course nothing more than, “I need to talk to you. Call me.” I walk down to the end of the driveway and call back and she answers. She started by quizzing me if the house sold, which was really none of her business given she had quit claimed the thing in the divorce, but she was due equity, so I figure it might be that. She goes on for about ten minutes talking about nothing, kind of like Seinfeld, but not nearly as funny, especially since I was not sure why she needed to talk to me. In any event, we hang up.

No sooner do I take the phone away from my ear and it rings again. Her again. Did she butt dial me? Must have but I figure I’ll answer.

“You know I was just thinking maybe we should get remarried”, she says.

In my head: WTF?!!! Is she nuts!? No way in hell I would even consider it. She’s not changed nor will she and this would be stupid.

What I said: “Uh… You’re engaged.” Very deadpan delivery.

“Yeah, I know, but it’s so hard. I think I understand him but then I do something and he gets mad. With us even though it was not great we understand each other so we know what to expect.”

Wouldn’t that just make you want to jump back into someone’s arms if they called you with that reasoning? Especially after why she wanted out with you was because it was no fun and hard and she just wanted Prince Charming and what she knew to expect is that she could just scream at me and accuse me of all kinds of things including being a lousy lover, man, human being and general lack of space on the planet. Oh and you cheated on me with this guy you’re engaged to and while you’re engaged you’re calling me back to ask if I want to marry you again. Oh yeah, now that I’ve heard that I’ll get right on it.

What I said:,”Uh… You’re engaged.”

“I know, but now that the house is sold we could all live here and it would be tight, but it would be fine.”

At this point I just did not say anything; after all she should have understood my response would be. “Uh… You’re engaged.” I few seconds went by and she said something like it was probably a dumb idea but she wanted to know what I thought. I asked her if she needed anything else. Nope. Cool. Hang up the phone.

And now I’m pissed. How dare she call and ask me this? I just had a wonderful phone call with a woman that I felt might be a great fit and then she calls and asks me this? Then my head went to what we learned at DivorceCare and I start to panic about the reconciliation lesson. I certainly do not want this, but now that she’s asked does God expect me to stop trying to date and try to work it out with her, again, for the umpteenth time? Immediately I knew I needed some help so I called my old DivorceCare leader.

Luckily she answered. I proceeded to explain the situation to her as she calmly listened. After all she’s been doing this for fifteen years and I’m sure I’m not the first raving post-DivorceCare lunatic she’s had call her. I explained how my ex wants to remarry or so she said, but I don’t want to and in fact I want to go on the date this woman and I had set up, but can I. I felt selfish. I felt torn. Was I spitting in God’s face saying I wanted to date when all he wanted was for me to reconcile? It was a terrible feeling.

The answer I received was the greatest thing I think I ever heard. The piece I had missed in the reconciliation process was that nothing was required of me until there was genuine repentance on the part of my ex. She had heard enough about my ex and also met my children at church a few times to clearly state that there was no belief in her mind that my ex had repented in any way, so I was under no obligation from the Lord to do anything about it.

My next concern was, ok, if that’s the case I understand about now, but am I obliged to wait around now? She stated what I felt in my heart, that she felt my ex would never repent and come to the Lord given her views on religion and therefore waiting would most likely result in nothing. It would be much more beneficial for me to move forward and follow the new path the Lord had for me. We did talk about that at some length, to again make certain I was trying to date for the right reasons and not because I was not healed. I had searched my heart and prayed to God many times on this, so I knew the answer to that. I hung up with her feeling much better than I had a few minutes before when I got the question that sucked me into a terrible spiritual place.

So be aware, you can be sure everything is good, but then you can be sucked away in a heartbeat. Keep yourself in contact with good godly people to counsel you at those times and I know you’ll be OK.

As a postscript, that lady in this story is NOT my fiancée. That situation deteriorated a few day later when her true character was revealed to me on another phone call before we met. I never met her, and in the process of explaining that I did not want to saw even more of her character, making me very thankful that God had given me the understanding to know what I needed in a partner for me and my children and the strength to see through the fog. While she was attractive and fun to speak with, her inner soul was not godly and she was not recovered from her divorce of years past. I thank God I was able to see that and later meet my lovely fiancée.