My soul and spirit are exhausted. My heart is broken and wounded. For so long, I have been carrying the weight of my mask. Behind this invisible mask is the real me. In shame, I hide from the world. My mind is wracked with pity, doubt, condemnation and a multitude of other self-inflicted abuses. The feeling of failure has overwhelmed me. The people in my life … my kids, friends, peers and relatives -- they are all clueless. I hide behind my mask because I’m afraid that the world won’t like the real me. I’ve made so many mistakes, been such a cause of disappointment; now I pretend to be who society says I should be. I can feel my vulnerable heart aching to be free, but fear pushes it down and the mask goes on. All the while, I’m burying the man that’s fighting to break free from oppression. The man that I know God is calling me to be.
I spent so much time pretending to be happy for everyone else because I believed that was what they wanted from me … that it was the best way to love them. I’ve realized that selflessness is not always love. In giving away all of my love and attention to others, I was putting myself on life support. I was trying to fill others while living in total neglect. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be cared for … even by myself. I lost focus of my physical, mental and emotional health, blaming others for my pain. I was very irresponsible towards my own self-care. The most damaging effect came from my stubborn desire to continue to believe the lies, live the facade and mire in resentment and anger. I accused others for my unhappiness and lack of motivation. I was unwilling to look past my scapegoats and take responsibility for the pain I was causing to myself. Like a cork in a bottle, there was only so long the unrest could stir beneath the surface. I was living in denial of the truth for myself and my relationships. This truth was working its way towards the surface. No matter how much fear, doubt, anxiety and shame I used to push it back down, it always managed to rise back up.
The first person to see this all coming was my ex-wife. Our unstable relationship was the perfect playground for my personal insecurities. She distanced herself from me and had grown weary in our marriage. We were sharing many of the same personal experiences, but she was maneuvering through them in her own way. Following one particular argument, I asked a question that I often threw out as a means of control. Little did we know that this day, we would actually be headed towards recovery … an opportunity to fix what was broken in ourselves. My heart spoke and asked her if she wanted a divorce ... and she said yes.
Divorce had been on the table many times before. Arguments naturally led to questions of doubt. Were we in love? Did we have a solid friendship? Were we interested in being partners for each other? In a sadistic sort of way, we realized we had been using each other for years, keeping the other hostage against their will. We were lying to ourselves about what was best for our family, pretending that a toxic environment in our home somehow benefited our children. In reality, our situation was an assault on the beautiful gift that real marriage should be; and we realized we were being very selfish. But those negative feelings don’t disappear overnight. They continued to assault me, even as we worked towards a peaceful and amicable divorce. Habits of doubt, anxiety, anger and pain do not go away slowly or silently. I found myself constantly fighting back against my “shame gremlins” -- the voices that tried to overwhelm my soul and take away my peace. They attempted to break through the doors of my mind and flood my spirit with the intent to drown me in sorrow. My mask was gone, and those gremlins were doing their best to replace it. It was a slow and painful process of courage and self-discovery. Many times, I was resigned to do my best for the next hour. Hours became days and days turned into months. Thankfully, my courage and her resolve conquered our desire for perfect. Our shared vulnerability had won the day and paved the road for future healing.
I am so grateful for this new journey. I’ve learned to trust my heart, in the goodness of loving myself and those around me. I am excited and proud of who I’m becoming … more like the person I feel I’ve always been behind the mask. I am grateful to my ex-wife for her honesty and courage in ending our marriage. I may have been content to hide behind my mask even longer, to keep up the facade and drown in our marriage. Her courage and honesty in that moment when I needed it most was a great gift. I was really asking a question from the heart, she heard my vulnerability and responded with truth. She was able to also remove her mask at the same time I was trying to remove mine. We finally saw each other in our truest form. I believe her strength in that moment, started us on the road to a solid friendship, where we have clear boundaries and more respect for each other than was ever reflected in our marriage.
Our journey has ignited a fire in me to reach out to others. I’m inspired to share my experience to educate, prevent and guide those with similar struggles. It might not be a marriage, it could be a battle with depression, friendships, addiction, abuse or any situation that is causing you to feel helpless. Brokenness is brokenness… the experiences may be different, but they share the same traits.
A recent post on Facebook brought me intense clarity -- “The Devil knows your name, but calls you by your sin. God knows your sins, but calls you by your name.”. I remember this quote whenever my shame gremlins start to attack me. We were not meant for shame, but for the joy that God offers in knowing our heart. Our minds tend to overthink… especially in difficult times like an impending divorce. It tries to trick us into continuing in a harmful toxic relationship. Shame is a different kind of emotion than guilt. Guilt reminds us of the good person we are and serves to inform us when we’ve done something wrong like snapping at your kids in frustration. Shame tries to tell us that we can never be a good person and works to destroy our soul.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, I want you to know that you were made for joy. Your soul is good, and you were created to love others with a deep and lasting hope. I encourage you to share your struggles with another person you trust, someone that will listen without judgment. Hardships in our lives, like going through a divorce, will quickly inform us about the people in our lives and the depth of our friendships. I have been blessed with a few friends that I completely trust. However, God is my number one. He doesn’t have preconceived notions or excuses for my behavior. He listens and comprehends. When I pray, I can feel God’s tremendous love pouring into my heart. His grace gives me the ability to be empathetic, compassionate and selfless. It reminds me of moments when we see that person who feels like home; or that great song that comes on reminding us of a special occasion. On my path of healing, God has been my Giver of light.
I try my best to share His light to others. God’s grace is a blessing in my life, and I intend to spread it around to as many people as possible. I encourage you to seek him on your own paths. For every person, God must be chosen. Like any great love in our lives, we give an endless love when we freely choose another … or feel chosen in that same way. Doesn’t God deserve the same love in return?
Two years ago, I could not have imagined the self-discovery, hopefulness and healing that I’ve been blessed to experience. It has not always been easy, but I am grateful for every step along the journey. For so long, I believed that living behind a mask was my best life. Despite the weight, I didn’t think that I deserved anything better. My ex-wife, the person I blamed most for my pain, offered the courage and honesty necessary to begin our journey of healing. I have no regrets and am very thankful for her foresight and actions. With her help, I’ve put away the mask for good. My trust in God has helped me to become a better man, better dad and better person.
I am forgiven … I am free … I am me.