Rarely does life offer us the chance to start over … and if it does, it’s never a painless process.
Nearly two years ago, my ego, pride and narcissism convinced me that the world was ending completely and that I couldn’t possibly recover. There was so much anger, shame and negative self-talk occurring within. I couldn’t get past the selfish desire for control and power in all aspects of my life. All I could see were terrible consequences … no one could have convinced me that there might be better days ahead.
I was living into the reality that 21 years of relationship and marriage was headed towards divorce. I was trying to accept how this would affect my kids who would soon be living in a different home half the time. To be honest, not because I was going to miss them, but to feed this deep desire to know everything and loose the unhealthy supply of attachment and co-dependency on them and their mother. I had two choices. I could allow it to eat me alive or I could listen to my heart, which was encouraging me to stop living a lie, be truthful with myself and realize that it was for the best.
After a month of knowing the relationship would be ending, I could feel a tug on my heart to look for more. I asked a good friend of mine about church for Easter Sunday and he invited me to attend the Good Friday service. I didn’t outwardly respond to him, but I knew I would be there. When I showed up, he and his family were so welcoming and genuinely excited to see me there. As the service started, I discovered that part of it was for planned baptisms, but that day they opened it up and offered baptism to anyone in attendance. Ironically, I had grown up in a family that were pastors of a church and had attended occasionally with my father … but I was never baptized.
There was an energy reaching into my soul and embracing me. We’ve all experienced that warm touch of empathy when seeing someone in need and knowing that you would be the one to help them. Only this time it was different, I was the one in need. I wanted to be different, let down walls and open my heart to accept a great gift. In a moment of total surrender, I did just that and instantly felt a sense of renewal.
There’s still a lot of work to do and can definitively say that I feel much more confident about my direction. Baptism gave me the grace to heal from the devastation and despair of my pain; it gave me the courage to overcome the turmoil that I thought was going to destroy me. This newfound self-discovery has provided a path to re-educate myself towards striving to be selfless, set boundaries, speak up for my needs and be a great father. I’m focusing to reduce my overthinking, give myself permission to not be perfect, to do the best I can each day and thank God for the chance to work on it again.
Our children were the real victims of the troubled marriage. They often suffered the most from our stubborn and selfish actions of staying on autopilot when we both knew our marriage was over for years. My ex-wife and I never thought of how the kids were affected from feeling the pressure of being used as excuses for us to argue and fight openly. We were both so angry at ourselves and each other for not having the courage to end our marriage sooner; for being unworthy assholes. We had no clue about building a strong foundation of friendship, love and marriage.
I’ve recently asked my kids to provide their perspectives and experiences on the past 2 years. I asked them two questions: What do you think of the decision your mom and I made to pursue a divorce? And what do you think about our relationship now? They shared that they were relieved. That the separation was hard at first, but now they feel more peace, joy, freedom and happiness than ever before. They are so thankful they don’t have to see, feel or hear the toxic chaos and that their daily lives are much healthier.
All of the toxic emotions I’ve described have now transformed into forgiveness for myself and my ex-wife. We have a good relationship and our individual relationships with our children have never been better. I’m not generally advocating for divorce as you should make every effort to build and maintain a healthy marriage. But I will say, if it’s toxic and/or abusive (verbally, emotionally and/or physically), then you need to look past the glare of shame and be brutally honest. You can’t change someone! They must want to change. In my marriage, I was comfortable with the status quo and wasn’t changing at all... even if I needed to. My narcissistic patterns were more important than saving my marriage. That choice had nothing to do with her and everything to do with my immaturity and selfish priorities.
Through the final stages of marriage, I did realize that the world wasn’t ending, it was changing. And all of it needed to change -- my world, my marriage, me. Who I was for myself, and others, was not the person I wanted to be. I knew I could be a better partner, better father, better man.
So now I’m living into that second chance. Through the painful process of divorce and separation, I’ve been given the opportunity to refocus on who I am and what kind of man I am to those around me. I feel blessed, by the grace of my baptism, to thank God for the good that He can bring out of our terrible decisions and bad behaviors. I am thankful for every day I get to be better for myself and others. And I trust that His plan for this next chapter of my life is beyond amazing.