Monday, March 24, 2008

My own dark night

I am reading an interesting book, "Dark Nights of the Soul" by Thomas Moore. In it he writes -

"Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical or depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, and summer and winter?"

A dark night can be many things from severe depression to a period in our lives when we doubt ourselves. Moore states that we should embrace these dark nights as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and that if we do that we will emerge at the end of our own dark nights with an insight and clarity about who we are that we did not have before.

I have often used the analogy in writing about midlife using the river journey and that a midlife episode is when we find ourselves with a need to find a backwater and sort through things before we are ready to get back into the current. There is a problem with that analogy when it is observed by people from the outside. Questions arise about why decisions weren't made more quickly, why in fact no decisions appear to being made at all. The person in the backwater can be seen as being totally selfish, as keeping other people on hold whilst they sort their own shit out. The observer does not necessarily understand that the process of sorting through the rubbish takes time and whilst it appears that someone is just treading water progress is actually being made.

In this book Moore uses the analogy of Jonah and the Whale. I won't go into a lot of detail about the actual story here but suffice to say that Jonah ran from his obligation to God and found himself swallowed by a whale. He sat in the whale's bely for three days and nights and could do nothing other than ponder his fate.

The point of the story in the midlife context for me is this. To an observer simply watching Jonah there appears to be nothing happening. He cannot move around, he cannot escape, he can do nothing but sit there and think. If the observer was able to take a step back then they would see that whilst Jonah appears to be immobile, he is actually moving in a direction that does give him insight into his fate, both through the process of contemplation and prayer, but also physically through the movement of the whale.

My whale was my childhood beliefs. That was the vessel that bound me in indecisiveness and was the reason I appeared to be unmoving to the observers. And it was in unravelling their mystery that I was able to set myself free to move forward once again.

I have also come to understand that the journey cannot be forced that in some ways the memories or chains that do bind us are like combination locks. You cannot move on to the next tumbler until the last one clicks into place. So whilst the time taken in the process does not suit the observers, the person whose journey it is can only move at his own pace.

This is a song for my Dark Night

The photo is one I took at Ao Nang on the recent trip to Thailand.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Time to move

We have spent the last couple of weekends looking at houses. The unit we are renting has served it's purpose but we now find that there are one and a half children at least who wish to live with us and the unit is too small to accomodate everyone.

But we don't have a lot to spend so it's going to be a bit of pot luck in finding something affordable that is halfway decent. Not impossible but tough. There are two we are looking at pretty closely at the moment but both are only two bedroom although they do have a fairly easy conversion of a garage into a bungalow which we may need to do. Three bedroom houses or units of similar quality are around $40-50k beyond our budget.

Melbourne's weather has been oppressive for most of the last week with temperatures hitting close to 40 again today. I know that's not as bad as Adelaide Gypsy [if you're reading] but still way too hot for March.

We will need to put an offer in on one of the houses tomorrow and the other later in the week so wish us luck.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

They Don't Understand

I am beginning to think that one of my greatest failures was to tread water after the separation. Perhaps I should have made decisions more quickly to allow the healing process to begin earlier. I've thought about that over and over again and I keep coming up with the same conclusion. I wasn't able to.

Whether the midlife episode includes a separation or the desire to buy a fast car or drop out of the ratrace for a while is in a lot of ways immaterial. For me it was characterised by confusion, by a total lack of self esteem [and I'll tackle that one in another post] and an inability to actually put things into context.

I was not able to actually move forward until I had a number of counselling sessions and I was finally able to put some of my childhood beliefs into context. And that was the true revelation.

I had grown up thinking that I had shouldered responsibilities that were thrust upon me from an early age when what I had actually done was run away from them and hidden in my bedroom through much of my teenage years. As a consequence I grew up unable to open myself up to truly intimate contact or to true deep and abiding friendship.

Am I going to apologise for treading water? No. I couldn't do anything else until I had sorted through all the other baggage and the problem was I didn't even know what the baggage was at the time. So for those who criticise that indecisiveness consider what you may also do in the same situation because you may one day also walk in my shoes.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Victim, Judge or Both

"How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on Earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake. The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves. If justice exists, then that was enough, we don't need to do it again. But every time we remember, we juge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again and again..."

Don Miguel Ruiz - The Four Agreements

I have mentioned this book many times before because it became the road map by which I was able to leave the backwaters and start to live again. But there are still times when I fall into old habits and with the comments from my friends and former family I find that again I am judging myself, again I am guilty and again I seek punishment. This comes in the form of restless sleep, perhaps of ungracious thoughts about other people, certainly in belting myself up about things again.

The very worst part is that you feel the need to step on eggshells again and maybe begin to compromise on what you think is the right thing. Despite the rocky start to the last week it ended well, far better than I expected and I am really grateful for that, but with the guilt I find that I look over my shoulder and constantly expect the worst.

So I sit here wondering what is going to go wrong this week knowing that those sort of feelings have absolutely no rational basis.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Great Expectations

It's been a big week. My daughter has been with us full time and it couldn't have been better. But there was also the criticisms of once good friends and the truth from ex family members. And as usual those things did get me thinking.

I like the metaphor of life being like a river with it's ebbs and flows, it's twists and turns, the rapids of white water and the sluggardness of the backwaters. Midlife for me was being caught in the backwater and it is a difficult thing to explain how that feels. You can have all the desire in the world to move forward but that is impossible until certain revelations come, until some of that baggage we have been carrying is ejected and left on the bank, so that we can go forward with a lighter load.

It is interesting that some people believe that I should have been able to just get back out into the current and keep going. Those who actually recognise a midlife episode will know that for many that is not possible. The pondering, the questioning and the ultimate truth come in their own time and at their own pace. Force it and the current might bring you down as soon as you get to that next bend in the river.

In the past week I have learnt that E and my mate and his wife had great expectations about the way I should have behaved. I failed their expectations, but I have wondered if they actually had any right to place those upon me. Does anybody really have the right to expect people to behave in a manner that fits with their beliefs? In these instances I have been told that it was not what I did, but the fact that I did not act to a retrospective timetable that they believe I should have been governed by. But none of them were in the river with me, they were all paddling their own course. None, not a single one of my friends, actually took the time to stop by and ask how I was getting on, whether I needed help, or even just take the time to stroll along the bank with me. So in not taking that time what criteria do they judge me by? None have heard my story.

So here is my advice. If you place expectations on other people and they fail to live up to them, understand that they were yours in the first place. If you make presumptions about people and they don't conform to those presumptions do not judge them too harshly. Recognise that people can be in dark places and are able to hide the fact that they are wandering lost to everyone, even those who think they know them best. Understand that people change, that change can be a positive thing even when it springs from what appears to be very negative situations. But also understand that change occurs at its own pace, you have no right to impose your timetable on anyone else. And finally, if you know that a friend is struggling, offer a hand, it is sometimes enough that your friend knows you are there for them even if they don't immediately take up the offer.

Two Dogs

Things have been a bit grim here lately so I thought I'd post something I was forwarded last week. Apologies for not acknowledging who the original author was.

I've got 2 dogs. I bought a large bag of Meaty Bites at Big W and was standing in line at the check-out.

A woman behind me asked if I had a dog.

On impulse, I told her that no, I was starting The Meaty Bites Diet again, although I probably shouldn't because I'd ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 25 kgs before I woke in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IV's in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Meaty Bites and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry & that the food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again.

I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a guy who was behind her.

Horrified, she asked if I'd ended up in the hospital in that condition because I had been poisoned by the food. I told her no, it was because I'd been sitting in the middle of the road licking my dick and a car hit me.

I thought one guy was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard as he staggered out the door.

Stupid bitch...why else would I buy dog food??

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Update on Mum

I saw her this morning and it is absolutely remarkable to see the change in her foot. It is a totally different colour and temperature and you can actually see blood in the veins. She is pretty sore but was sitting in a chair for a while and I expect that they will have her up walking around tomorrow or the next day. All we have to do now is wait and see whether there are any signs of rejection or infection and the critical period for that is the next month. Thank you to everyone who has passed on their best wishes. I really value your support.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

E is not "E"

The E who commented yesterday is not the person I thought it was and I want to set that record straight because it probably requires a different response from me. To the real E's credit she did send me an SMS to tell me.

Right now though I am off to hospital where Mum is being operated on so it will be a while before I clear it up.

Mum came through the operation and everything apparently went to schedule. She is very dopey and we won't see the surgeon until tomorrow morning, so I'll go straight over before work. My mate messaged and asked how Mum was which I really appreciated.

Now onto "E".

I have read again what I responded and I don't really see anything that I should change. Only thing was I didn't send this person an email. I guess that the same response stands and that is that I would ask you not to make presumptions about my motivations, about what you think was happening or why I stayed too long in your eyes. Believe it or not I too went through the sleepless nights and the grieving. Never ever think I didn't. But no one saw that because I hid it. That is another weakness of mine, I find it very easy to close doors and not let anyone see the real person. And it takes time to unwind lessons of a lifetime. Maybe for some of us it is the midlife period that becomes the opportunity to begin to understand ourselves. And maybe understanding comes too late for some of us to solve the problems we have.

The why is a question that may forever remain unanswered and do not believe that the same thing can't happen to you.

Finally, E what is your motivation in reading the blog? How did you find out about it? If I am unforgivable and gutless, if you have a total lack of respect for me and you believe I had such an inflated opinion of myself that I considered myself perfect, why read this? Do you do it in private? Do you discuss me openly with other people? Do you sit around and offer the sorts of opinions about me that you have expressed in the comment to anyone who will listen, or do you simply keep your own counsel? I am not paranoid about it, I just find it odd. I know that I cannot change your opinion and that any issues you have with me are your issues. I have no control over that. But know that I did enjoy the times when we were family. And everyone else should know also that despite a bad ending, the marriage had good times, many of them.

I assume [and yes I know I shouldn't make assumptions] that you think that the people who give me positive comments are wrong and that it may hurt you to see that others may hold a different opinion of me than you do. All I can suggest is don't read what I write.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

E's comment

A comment on the last post said I was wrong about L bad mouthing me and I responded that I had never said she had. On re-reading what I wrote I can now see how that conclusion may have been drawn. Let me say again that L told me that she would never bad mouth me and I believe her, and maybe E was right in his comment that my actions were what condemned me more than anything. Or from what he has said more likely it seems my inactions.

I make no excuses for my apparent gutlessness. I think one of the major lessons I have learnt is that relationships fail because of a lack of communication. Purely and simply. Molehills become mountains when people don't talk. Possibly my biggest mistake when I did confess my wrongs was that I then continued in a vein where the communication between us was still stilted and uncomfortable. But old habits do sometimes die hard and when you spend a life time bottling things up it is really difficult to all of a sudden expect to be an open book.

It has taken me the best part of the two years of separation to learn that lesson, way too late to save any previous relationships. And let me say now that there is a lot more to the story than I will ever reveal to anyone. Deep seated things that go way back to childhood that came to be put into perspective through counselling.

I titled this blog "Midlife - A Journey" because that is what it has been. Here I have tried to be honest where I haven't been honest in the past. For someone guilty of infidelity I expect to be judged about my degree of honesty. I have tried very hard in every instance to make sure that people know this is my perspective, my reality, and it may not correspond with what other people believe is true.

Writing has been cathartic for me and maybe somewhere along the way what I have written will help other people. Everyone is capable of making mistakes that they regret. If I may offer a word of advice to people who do judge those mistakes, please think about how you would feel in the same place. Don't sit back and think that one day the same thing won't happen to you. E said that I held myself up as someone who portrayed himself as perfect but I don't think that is true. I did however have a set of standards and a morality that turned out to be capable of being breached. That is my true failing and it can happen to anyone.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What others think.

It is no secret that I have made mistakes. Last night after I had told my lady about the events of the day she broke down and made up her mind to leave. It was all too hard. We were judged, despised and condemned by people who knew only one side of the story. And sometimes it is really difficult to see when things may begin to improve. It's often one step forward, two back.

And in any story whilst both sides have elements of truth the ultimate reality lies somewhere in between. In my desire not to hurt anyone anymore than I already had I let other people either tell my story, or let them listen only to the one side that showed me in the worst possible light. And in some ways that did suit me when you harbour guilt or lose your self respect it is easy to believe the worst. I have done my best to accept all blame and not make negative comments about my ex to anyone. Yesterday made me believe that perhaps I hadn't been afforded the same courtesy.

It was a message from her daughter that convinced my lady not to walk away. "You know Mum" she said, "I am sure everyone is hated by someone, but at the end of the day if you come home to a really nice guy it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."

That made us both feel much better.

I have begun a private blog taking the lead from some of you and I'll send out email invitations to those of you who wish to view it. I will definitely keep this one going but there are times when I need to be a bit more circumspect with what I say. If you haven't received an invitation but would like one please drop me an email.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Old Friends and the Ghost of Me

There have been many times over the past few years when I have wished I had someone to talk to. In the end I found that voice in my blogs and the willing ears to listen to my woes, my concerns and my stumbles along the way, as my relationships with people changed and changed again.

I have spoken before about the fact that I've spent a lot of my life being a loner and an observer. I haven't actively sought friendships and in fact I've probably feared them in some ways. Safer that way sometimes. The mother of my children has had no problems along those lines and has had many friends to lean on during those times. And I'll say again that the failure of the marriage was in my eyes my fault, not hers.

Anyway, she's moving on and has a new partner, as do I, and I trust that one day everything will be OK for all of us. I said a couple of posts ago that my daughter is staying with me whilst her mother is on an overseas holiday and I thought that was wonderful but I will admit it hasn't been all smooth sailing. I won't go into details here but I am thinking of a private blog where I can air that stuff too.

This weekend she has stayed with friends of mine and her mother...really good friends, god parents to our kids, best men at each others wedding etc. And I know that they have been a great shoulder for my ex-wife to cry on and I'm glad that they supported her. But with what's happened things can't go back to the way they were and that came home with a thud this morning.

Yesterday I asked if they minded whether my new partner came over with me to pick up my daughter and they said that they didn't, but on speaking to them this morning they said that it would be too uncomfortable to meet at this time. Now in my mind I know that this is their issue, not mine, but it also draws a bit of a line in the sand. I am not sure if they have met the new partner of my ex or not, but I hope when they do that they don't see him with the ghost of me hanging around. He deserves the chance to become their friend too.

My ex is lucky that she has been able to maintain those other relationships with friends that she had before the break up. The fact that I haven't maybe simply rests with that fundamental flaw in my character that makes friends hard to come by. Maybe the fact that in my desire not to burden anyone with my version of events I have simply allowed other versions to become the reality.

Perhaps the friendship I actually thought was there may have passed into memory some time ago and all I feel now is an echo of what once was. My only choice now is to leave further contact to them. One day I hope they may be ready to move on too. It reinforces our need to make a new circle of friends now, because you can't substitute old relationships with new ones. You really have to start again.

Addendum: 9:30pm
My mate wasn't there when I picked my daughter up obviously choosing to stay away. His wife did ask me to step outside when I arrived and said that she would never forgive me, not for what I did, but for the way I did it. She also said that she wasn't one to judge people and therefore this was not an issue related to my new partner, but to me. I told her that people make judgments based upon their personal knowledge of issues and that in this case, given she had never discussed anything with me, that she was basing those opinions entirely upon one side of the story.

To be honest I have absolutely no idea what she meant by "the way I did things." I told her that if ever she did want to ask me about my actions that I would be willing to talk about it with her and that she knew where to find me. I have arranged for my daughter to stay elsewhere next weekend.

It had been my mates 50th birthday when I was away and I bought a book for him which I gave him yesterday. In it I wrote "Thanks for the years of friendship and memories. May there be many more." Somehow I no longer think there will be.