Category Archives: self-care

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

I am alone.

I don’t like being alone. I like sleeping next to someone, loving someone each morning, finding new things to love each day. I crave this connection a little too much and I know that’s a bad thing. I think I’m too susceptible right now to my own addiction. I think I might be addicted to women. In a slightly unhealthy way, that has led me to trouble in the past. So let’s slow things down a bit and look at how “the waiting” can be the best part.

At the moment I am in a perfect relationship. I wake up , go to sleep, nap, walk, play tennis, write… all that, I do all those things without considering another soul. I am in love with myself. Okay, that’s a bit extreme, but I’m learning to like my own company again. For awhile there, after my last breakup I was not sure I would survive to see another relationship. Today, I know I will, I’m just not sure how or when. It’s that unknowing that I’m also beginning to understand. I can’t say I enjoy it yet, but I get it. I’m not ready.

While there are not a whole lot of things going tremendously right in my life right now, I am comfortable in my rebuilding. As I went on a “hello date” yesterday I was happy with the me I presented. While there was zero chemistry and thus zero follow-up, it was an opportunity to tell my story again. To hear how it sounds to talk about my divorce and my kids, and what I’m doing with my life. Of course, I leave out some of that life stuff, but I was honest in all that I chose to share.

What I learned yesterday, at some point during our 45 minute conversation, is I am confident and comfortable with who and where I am. I talked about the i-ching for a minute in reference to both of our current situations. (See, when you’re going on a first date it’s likely the other person is alone and waiting for what’s next as well.) That she had never heard of the i-ching was surprising, but hey… Here’s a paraphrase of what I said.

Back when I was into the tao and zen, I used to throw the i-ching for guidance. It’s really just a reflecting pool that you can bounce your current situation off of, a philosophy. What was interesting was out of the 64 hexagrams of the i-ching, three times I threw the exact same one.

5. WAITING

Actively Waiting.

And what I learned was the great general does not rest during the down times of war. He is actively rebuilding, strategizing, readying his plans. In our case, we are in a down time, but rather than be lazy or discouraged, we must take advantage of this time and explore, learn, study, plan, everything we can think of, so that when the waiting is over we are well-prepared for the journey ahead.

Am I ready for a new relationship right now? Nope. How do I know? I’m too into it. I’m too ambitious. I’m too eager. There is very little peace in my approach right now. I’m learning and slowing that down over the past few weeks, but I still feel the lingering energy that would swoop in at the first opportunity for a relationship and create an unrealistic fantasy about the woman just so I could have a relationship.

In the waiting I’m working on a few things.

  • Continuing my exercise and good eating habits. (Helps me stay fit.)
  • Reading and writing. (Helps me plan and imagine the future.)
  • Exploring online dating. (Gives me glimpses of possibility. None that I have connected with, but it’s sort of like training school.)
  • Working a shift-job while I continue to seek my next big job. (Keeps me engaged. Gives my kids some child support.)
  • Honoring and visiting with my mom. (She’s 85 and has plenty of worldly-wise and unwise experience to share with me.)
  • Requesting opportunities to be with my kids and build our relationship. (Teenagers are usually too busy for mom or dad, I get it.)
  • Listening and respecting the pace of life. (Mindfulness is an ongoing practice.)

I am confident that each of the activities gives me more strength and passion for what’s next. That could be a new job. A new relationship. Or it could be more of the actively waiting. As long as I am not wasting this time, I am building a better me. I believe that.

When I think about myself at this moment I would say, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: meditation, creative commons usage

There’s Something Missing

Moods are a swirl of chemicals in the brain set awash by events and triggers in our lives. The fall is beginning to poke up cooler mornings here in my city and earlier in the week I was energized and excited to be walking around the nearby lake. It was as if the fall signaled to my brain, happy times, burning leaves, football games, and warm blankets. But yesterday, with the same cool weather, my walk around the lake was a struggle. I don’t know exactly what happened, but my chemicals were a bit on the sad/tired side rather than the up/excited side I’ve been grooving on for several months.

I’m not depressed. I am a bit less enthusiastic. I’m wondering why.

It was as if yesterday morning I woke up with less hope. I have to say that projecting confidence and joy in the period of my life, must be tiring. I experience it as joy, but I know somewhere, underneath, in the chemical machine of my body, I am working to maintain my happy attitude in spite of all the downers in my current situation. I know this period is challenging all of my preconceived ideas of who I would be at 54, where I would be at 54, who I would be with at 54, and what I would be doing at 54. And October is the beginning of the fall and that will put me at 55, in November. I’m more than halfway through my lifespan and things haven’t gone so great for me.

I don’t look back with any regrets. (Well, that’s not true, there are several.) Let me try again. I don’t look back with much regret about how I’ve lived my life post-divorce. I have struggled with depression, yes. I have struggled with my work, yes. And I have struggled as a single dad, yes. But I have kept my attitude aimed at higher states even when I was in the lowest states. I have never given up hope of returning to my victorious self, the self I celebrate and praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m still putting up a good fight.

So, yesterday my chemistry was off. Nothing else changed. I got plenty of sleep, exercise, and good food. I’ve been getting some 2nd round interviews. My writing has been going well. So, what’s off? I’d like to think it’s the WOMAN that is missing, but that’s not it either. I do write a lot about dating and wanting a relationship, but I’m pretty clear that it’s too soon for me. I’m okay with being alone until I get a bit more of my equation figured out. What would I tell a date, “I’m living with my mom and working at a grocery store.” How’s that going to work out? Or I could lie. That’s no better. So, I’m alone. That’s not it.

I have to think it’s a combination of all of these things. Of course, it’s tiring to be unhappy with your current environment and employment status. There is no doubt that I’m struggling with my lifeway and the path is not yet clear to me. But it’s also clear to me that my current living situation is not painful. If I don’t thrash against the situation, I can see how my life is very easy right now. I get plenty of sleep. I take naps. I work part-time. I have time to play tennis, bike, and walk around the lake. I mean, my life does not suck.

Still, the moods roll in and out as if on tides. There is no controlling the bio-rhythm of our energy overall, it’s really just how we respond to the varying levels of energy. And over the past several months a low-energy day was just passing through. Yesterday, the low-energy had the feeling of maybe sticking around for a bit. That got me a bit worried.

I’m not worried today. While I’m not 100%, I’m also on the incline headed back up. Yesterday, however, even after my walk, continued to be challenging. And perhaps in response to the low-energy mode I had a hard time staying positive in the face of all that is happening or not happening in my life.

I had a job interview in the afternoon that could not have gone worse. It’s not that I did poorly. It was more that became terrified during the interview that I might actually get this job that the woman was describing and it was awful. Just the kind of work I’m hoping to not return to. And I was going along with the interview as if… “Yes, I am good at that…” But I wanted to say, “But I don’t ever want to do it again.” The interview lasted about 30 minutes. When it was done I was exhausted. I was not feeling positive. In fact, I was feeling scared. I had the sinking feeling, while interviewing, that I get when I’m headed for a fall. I was powerless in that interview, in my mind, and I was heading towards a cliff.

The rest of my day didn’t go all that great. I self-regulated by taking a nap and that helped. But I never did quite shake the feeling of fear that creeped in while I was talking to this young woman on the phone. I learned something: I will not take the kind of job that is going to eat me alive. It’s not worth it, and today, I don’t have to take it. I went to bed after reading for a bit, and woke up today in a more-normal, not-down, state.

Something is missing.

I am ready to have a good job that appreciates me and doesn’t drive me into the ground. I’m ready to afford my own place again, even if that doesn’t mean buying a house. And I’m ready to be constructing a relationship again, I think. It’s this last one that’s unclear for me. I have been super happy in my natural state over the last few months, alone. I’m okay with having nothing to do on a Friday night. I’m learning again to enjoy my own company. What complications would a new relationship bring into the picture? Tons.

What I’m coming to is this: we are where we are for a reason. I am in this place to heal. I am alone to learn to be alone again. I am unemployed because I need to learn to value my work in a way that doesn’t compromise or destroy my personal life. I’m going to do all of these things better as I move forward from this place. But this place, this quiet time, is also a blessed time. A time for reconfiguring. A time for being sensitive to my moods and learning new ways to moderate or understand them.

This month leading up to my 55th birthday is a time of great power for me. I will spend this time alone and seeking my own company and counsel. When the next job, woman, or house come by I will be able to consciously make the better decision. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being still, right where I am, in this uncomfortable ego-less state. I am rebuilding, brighter and better. And until then, I actively wait, pray, and write.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: joy, creative commons usage

(Singing) Find Me Somebody to Love

Did you hear the Queen song in your mind? Here, let me help.

There. That sets the tone of my teenage mindset, from when this song came out in the early 70’s. Today, in my mid-50’s I’m still a bit like that young boy, wide-eyed, eager, and most of all lonely. It’s not that I’m not enjoying my time alone, I am. But… As an empath I really feel the aloneness in a deep way. And I know this ache still needs some time to heal before I’m really ready to quest on towards a new relationship.

I’m a bit like a hungry ghost at the moment, and that’s not where I want to start from. I can feel it, however, in my approach to daily life. I’m looking a bit too longingly into other women’s eyes. I have a bit too much “hi, how are you” swagger at work. And I am imagining lustful scenes rather than holistic, real, achievable moments. It’s like my mind wanting to recreate a porn scene while my heart is looking for a real relationship. The two lines are blurred in my mind for now, and that’s confusing.

I don’t see myself as a horndog, but I think at the moment I’ve got all the characteristics of one. I’m not acting out, of course, but I’m actively conjuring up the energy and images in my mind. I see it as revving the motor. Harmless. And yet, the phrase, hungry ghost didn’t come out of thin air. I am a bit too obsessive. I have a drive that I’m not all that proud of at the moment, that demands a partner, a companion, a place to call home with someone else to come home to. It’s fine to want all that, when the time is right. The time is not right for me, at the moment and I know it. And yet the fire burns on.

I am walking around life at the moment with a hyper sense of awareness. I’m trying to identity what features I really “fall in love” with in a woman. And I’m not really getting the formula. I fall for 5 – 6 women a day. Of course this is in a harmless and self-aware way. I see my longing, I acknowledge the beauty of the woman I’m seeing, and I move along. I am not in pursuit.

And at the same time, I can feel the lack of that connection in everything I do. I don’t want to sleep alone tonight. I don’t want to plan all my own meals, and shop alone, and entertain myself. I crave the opportunity to do all those mundane things with someone. Of course, that’s where relationships can get off course, in the mundane. So, this time, I’m thinking I will make things different.

In fact, mundane is a fundamental process in any relationship. And getting to love the simple daily tasks with your mate is part of the journey. We get all jazzed and heated up about sex and sexual chemistry, which are very important, but sex probably makes up about 1% of our lives together. It is the rest of the time you have to figure out if you can enjoy together. I’m eager to try again, but with some new realizations.

  • Partners must have equal power and voice in the decisions of the relationship.
  • Both partners must continue their creative journeys alone.
  • Keeping an outside life enriches the relationship.
  • Adaptability is critical, but some things about your partner will never change.
  • The relationship is always considered first when making outside plans, always. A simple, “Hi honey, I’m thinking about going out with friends on Friday, is that okay with you?”
  • Disconnections must be expressed, even in the face of fear.

And there, I didn’t mention sex at all. Oh, but sex should be connective and pleasurable for both partners. If your attraction and relationship is founded on sex there is going to be a lot more of living that you need to figure out together.

Summing up, what I know about myself is I’m still a bit ghostly inside with too much sexual energy wrapped up in my daily walkabout. I am actively slowing my roll and not looking for a relationship. I can still have those lusty feelings, recognize them for what they are, appreciate the woman who triggered them, and the move on with my life as I am rebuilding it. It’s a perfect time. All the relationships I have are in my head and they are amazing.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: lover’s kiss, creative commons usage

My Failure with Online Dating Sites

What’s the deal? Online dating is supposed to offer up so many possibilities for us to find each other. To find our mate. But it’s not that easy. Here’s my recent experience (say 30 days) of seeking a relationship on Match.com and OK Cupid.

Yes, my profile is still active, but I rarely go to either site and here’s why.

  • Women rarely respond to “hello” messages.
  • The “new” profiles are far and few. So I’ve seen everyone.
  • Once you’ve said “hello” to all the interesting women, you wait. You say “hello” again. And you wait.
  • It’s a woman’s world out there, and they have the power to engage or ignore.
  • The only women who have reached out to me first we either scammers (trying to lure me off to their other page on another, paid, site.) or women whose profile pictures were actually scary to me. As in, WTF and I doing here.

I wonder, if I’m that guy to the women I’m reaching out to? I’m trying to seek within my own age range, plus or minus 5 years. And I’ll admit I’m more drawn to the younger end of the spectrum, to a point. And in that respect, I wonder if I’m the “ug” guy that keeps pestering these cute women?

I don’t think so. I think my profile shows me in a good light. I think I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. And I think I’m being realistic with who I am contacting. So what gives?

From my conversations with some of the women I’ve gone on first dates with, I understand that the online dating world for women is very different. Attractive women get from 20 – 30 offers, or emails, per day. (Even if that number is per week, it’s an amazingly high number. I get 1 a week on a good week.) So the women are literally filtering through hundreds of offers and picking the guys they want to respond to. Turns out I’m not that guy. Or maybe I’m not that “first impression” then buried in a full and filling inbox. Either way, I rarely get even a “Hey” back from my “Hi, I’d love to start a conversation,” emails. I get nada.

So this lack of feedback is disappointing. And the lack of new profiles is disappointing. And my three four dates have had disappointing outcomes. So what’s the point? Perhaps, I am deciding, I am still pushing the river too hard. Perhaps I’m seeking a relationship in an aggressive style that really doesn’t match who I am. Perhaps I need new profile images that show my newly clean-shaven face?

Or, and I think this is the real answer, I need to give it a rest and just be with myself. Write. Explore. Do my thing. And to be honest, I am enjoying this in-between-time quite a bit. So today, I’m taking another new approach. Fk online dating. I’m not really one to make snap decisions about a woman’s attractiveness based on a few photos. And that’s not how I go about starting a relationship either. Of course, I’m not going bar hopping either.

Slow it all down. As I say in my profile, I’m not in a hurry to be in a relationship. I’m looking for friends.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Relationship Timing and the Fragility of a True Connection

Two different women in the last few weeks have lit up my chemistry match. Both of them mentioned their boyfriend.

I might get bummed out, but I wasn’t. I was actually happy for both of them. Not so happy for me, but hey, I can wait. I’m in no hurry.

I said this to the last woman over breakfast tacos, “Relationships are fragile. If you’ve got one and it works out, congratulations. They are hard. I am really happy for you. If it doesn’t work out, then I’m still here. Either way I’m happy for you.”

And while I have that tongue in cheek desire to ask, “So how’s Brad?” I don’t. That would be shitty and passive aggressive. What I can do is let them go. Stay connected via chit-chat, but not make any suggestive comments. The relationship will either take care of itself or it won’t. And as far as I’m concerned, my relationship is coming.

What I’m building during this alone time is a new familiarity with my goals and desires, outside of any relationship. If I stay single forever, THESE are the things I want.

  • A stronger more committed relationship with both of my teenaged children. (This is 100% up to me.)
  • The creative drive and time to stay with my process.
  • Time to workout and time to rest.
  • Healthy meals.
  • Some inner source of self-love (must be in place before starting a new relationship)

Alone I am able to focus on these thing without distraction. I have no other pulls on my time and energy. Alone my general state is happy. But I long for a lover and companion. What I learned last time, however, was that even if you have all that you think you want, you may be missing some unknown ingredient. I think for me, that ingredient was the ability to love and forgive myself for my mistakes and ongoing flaws. I’m constantly working on them, but there they are.

We’ve all got our issues to discover and work on. The better I understand my own issues the better I can be in relationship to someone else and theirs. So as long as these other women are in relationships that are working for them, I am happy to continue down my own path of discovery. I wouldn’t want to be a backup or a rebound relationship anyway. They allowed me to catch a glimpse of what is possible for me, next time.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  coffee date, creative commons usage

Growing Up in a Warzone: Childhood Trauma and Adult PTSD

It’s no wonder I don’t know how to express anger. The anger in my family of origin was shown to me as a dangerous weapon. My father raged and the entire family cowered. I was four when it started. In these times, the war times, as a four-year old kid, what you need is a comforting adult to pick you up and soothe you. “Everything is going to be all right.” Except, in our family everyone was triggered and afraid. There were no adults in the room. And when my father drank in addition to raging, all hell would break loose inside our house. It was during these times that I escaped to my stick and stone fort up in the hills behind our house.

I was building forts and stocking them with stick guns and rocks. And I would take refuge in the hills whenever things got to hot in the house. And this happened often. And again, what a little kid needs at this point is a parent to come and find him, hold him, reassure him. What I got was relief from the roaring house and isolation. I was a lonely little boy. None of my friends could understand what was happening at my house. Sometimes I was afraid to have them over to play, because I didn’t want them to experience the war zone.

As an adult this coping mechanism is still triggered. And honestly, most adults suffer from isolating behaviors, even if they weren’t born into the anger zone. I think those of us with depression just find deeper and darker silences than most. So as an adult under major stress I head for my fort in the hills. I keep my mouth shut. And I huddle alone waiting for someone to rescue me. The rescue that never comes. The rescue that can’t really come, because I have to rescue myself. No mom or sister is going to come and find me. And even if they did the relief would be temporary.

The fear and isolation are inside me. And in my childhood I learned to be a wonderful performer. I made straight A’s, played all the sports, and even became a profession magician at 12. I was doing magic tricks all the time to keep the family happy. Of course, it didn’t work. I was sad. My family was sad. My dad was rageful.

It is such a familiar feeling when I retreat back into my isolation. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar. My broken and alone self is one I identify with. I have been broken for a large part of my life. I was broken at the age of four and the trauma is still deeply hidden. Of course, the body does not lie, and that trauma comes out at shame and lack of self-love. I’m really horrible to myself. My internal voice often says things so mean I wouldn’t say them to an enemy. I’m working on that one, big time.

Still, growing up in an unsafe and hostile family home trained me to be hyper-vigilant. I guard against anger and disappointment, by trying to be a better person. I’ve learned some of my weaknesses and I’ve learned to compensate for some of them. It’s a long process of growth and recovery. Today, however, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Even ending a 2.5 yo relationship, I find myself in a “sky’s wide open” future mindset. Today I could go anywhere, do anything.

The path for me now is to be still. I often rush into things before I am certain of the answer. Today my higher power is in charge of the next steps. I’m going to live my life with joy and grace and see what opportunities step up to meet me.

image: anger, creative commons usage

What’s Underneath the Pain?

I’ve been working with my therapist a lot over the last few months, trying to get underneath my major complaint: overwhelming sadness and regret. Sure I am sad and anxious. Those are real feelings. But where is the anger? I have no access to my anger. And this is a problem for me. I avoid anger. I’m scared of anger. But anger is your friend.

I learned at an early age the destructive power of anger. My dad, the alcoholic, had rages that scared the crap out of everyone in my family. I was 5. I learned from then on that anger was not safe. And like my father during his sober times, I learned that anger and disappointment were best kept inside and never exposed to others. I learned dysfunction. I learned to hide my feelings. And most of all I learned to avoid conflict at all cost. I learned to lie to diffuse tense situations. Even if the lie was not in my best interest.

This plays out in my relationships like this. A girlfriend says something really mean to me. A little time later she says, “I hope that didn’t hurt you. I was just telling you how I feel.” “No,” I would lie, “It didn’t hurt me.” But in that lie I was discounting my real feelings, I was not standing up for myself, and I was accepting unacceptable behavior towards me from someone I loved.

It’s no wonder that anger is hard for me to find inside myself. I’d rather avoid anger, conflict, disagreements. But anger is also energizing. And it’s that energy I was missing in my efforts to recover from my lingering depression. And I don’t think my therapist had the tools or experience to handle what I was going through. Sure, he tried to get me to express anger towards him for failing me in my treatment. But he was also my lifeline. He was the only one I was telling most of my fears to. And flipping to anger towards him, no matter how I felt about him, was too hard. So we struggled together. But I’m afraid I could’ve used a less passive engagement. So I’m seeking new counsel.

This pain that is underneath the sadness and loneliness is something we all struggle with to varying degrees. Some people try to deal with it head on, with therapy, 12-step groups, or journaling. Some people choose to avoid or cover it up with alcohol or drugs. The first group is trying to get through the struggle. The second group is trying to mute it, escape it, forget about it. But the second group is doomed to more of the same feelings they are trying to cover up. Alcohol is a depressant. It’s not a sleeping med. It’s not a way to relax. It’s a way to forget.

In conscious healing, an individual uses all the resources available to deal with what’s going on in their lives. In my case, the cognitive therapy was unable to counteract the bad chemistry in my brain. No amount of counseling, no amount of journaling, was going to pull me out of my depression. And as the meds continued to fail, I went through long periods of hopelessness. Even in the midst of a privileged life I was thinking about killing myself. Even with two great kids and several family members who were close and close by, I was cowering in my beautiful house trying to figure out how to painlessly off myself. But it was the bad chemistry speaking. And I knew enough to laugh at my suicidal thoughts. Sure I thought about it, that’s called ideation, but I NEVER made a plan.

If you ever find yourself making a plan, call 911. Your brain is trying to kill you.

I have a lot of pain underneath my current sadness. And I have a long way to go to get more comfortable with conflict and releasing my anger in a healthy way. For now, I’m still stuffing some of my feelings, and I’m still scared about some other things that feel out of control. In fact, most of life is out of control. All we can do, all we can focus on is ourselves and our program of recovery. We cannot wait for the other person to change. We cannot cajole them into recovery. We have to let them go, to find their own way, to seek their own higher power.

Look underneath what’s bugging you. Is there anger there? More sadness? Then get some help. Write about it. Reason things out with someone else. Because until you begin to uncover what’s going on inside your head and heart, you will continuously be driven by things that don’t serve you.

Yes, I have lost everything for the second time in my life. But I still have so much to live for. And, for now, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. I’m still digging into and talking about my anger resistance. But everything seems to be moving in the right direction in my life. I’m putting in the work on myself. I’m striving for success rather than just survival. Oh yeah, the meds kicked in a few weeks ago and it was like I was a different person. I came out of some sleepy depressive fog, and I could tell my old jovial, engaged self was back.

Take care. If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad clown, creative commons usage

 

Sitting In Silence with the Grief

I didn’t think I was going to survive the last breakup. Sure I was experiencing a prolonged depression that was kinda scary, but this was darkness multiplied. I was certain I was going to collapse into a depression so deep that I would be unreachable.

I knew even before I moved out that I needed to beef up my support network. I started attending Alanon meetings almost daily. I got a sponsor and about 4 phone numbers of guys I could call just to check in. What a great resource. And what a great lesson the program teaches: you can’t focus on the alcoholic and their recovery, you can only focus on yourself. In fact, you are the only one you can worry about. You are the only one you can change.

Dear God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

The serenity prayer from AA and Alanon got me through this dark period. But prayer and community were not enough. I was still left with hours, days, nights, of aloneness. And the darkness came and tried to swallow me. The hardest part is the loneliness. Sure the heartbreak is a bitch unlike any other bitch, but the loneliness is the killer. Loneliness keeps you up at night when you’re tired and hopeless. loneliness is the killer. And loneliness is only in your mind. Loneliness is a feeling. An idea. Loneliness is changeable. But getting beyond the loneliness takes time and effort. And for me that meant a lot of praying. Getting spiritually connected again was the gift that keeps on giving.

AA and Alanon are spiritual programs. No matter what you believe in, you come to believe in a “higher power” as you begin to visit the meetings and listen to everyone else’s stories. That higher power can be God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, nature, or even the collective love and power of the group. You’re relationship to your higher power is up to you. And here’s the real eye-opener, your significant other has a higher power too. And they must surrender and find that relationship for themselves. There is no fixing the other person. And there is no waiting for them to change. Their path is between them and their own spiritual program.

In the darkness, and the days and nights of silence I began to pray again. Simple prayers like, “Help me God.” Not really asking for anything specific but guidance for God’s will for me. Which is really my will and hope for myself powered by prayer and belief that there is some larger force in the universe that I can put my trust in. And there is a force in the universe that I can release the drinker to. Their path involves this transition too. It may take a year, it may take a lifetime, but I believe we call come back to a god of our choosing.

The silence and loneliness and grief brought me back to a deeper connection to my own soul. A deeper connection with myself. And that ever elusive self-love.

May you find your own path back to a higher power. And may you learn how much you are loved and valued in the world. Even if it’s only the love of the group. Attend meetings. Talk to people. Get phone numbers of people you can call when you’re down. And then sit quietly and listen. Your soul and inner voice will begin to tell you stories. Maybe some lies too, that you can examine over time and release.

You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad child, creative commons usage

Back In Pursuit of Love: Slow Dating

Giving up on a loving relationship is one of the hardest things you might do in life. Calling it quits hurts and goes on hurting for weeks or months. And somehow, when you come out of it, the desire to be back in relationship comes back as well. It’s sort of a magic process, this human recovery story. Find love, explore life together, breakup, and we’re back to looking for love again. The human spirit is very optimistic when it comes to relationships.

And then there’s online dating. For most of us, a bit to busy to be sitting at a bar trying to attract someone, the online scene is the next best chance we have of finding companionship and potentially love. But it’s a long haul. You don’t want just anyone. You want the ONE. The NEXT. The lover who will join you for the twilight years. And that adventure begins with a single spark. And that spark is oh so hard to find.

Viewing hundreds of profiles can get pretty depressing. There are so many NOPES out there you might begin to wonder if there’s ANYBODY out there for you. Even with huge dating sites like Match.com and OKCupid you can exhaust the dating pool, browsing for maybes pretty quickly. And if you’re a guy, the next step is waiting patiently, hoping that someone responds to one of your outreach emails. And you wait. And you hope. And you wait some more.

Then someone cute and seemingly intelligent pings you back. “OH BOY,” your brain and heart say in unison. And we’re off to the races. And if you’re anything like me your imagination takes over and you begin to fantasize all kinds of date ideas, and conversations, and long walks on the beach. And the real trick is hinting at these flights of fantasy without overwhelming the other person or seeming too desperate. Just last week I overplayed my hand with the first woman who gave me hope. And in a heartbeat she texted back, “I think I’ll pass.” And this was after a very cool and promising first coffee date. But just like in real life, you have to drop the fantasy and move on. And we’re back to the waiting.

What’s different for me this time around is I have a much better idea of my ideal mate. I just had a 2.5 year relationship with a very near miss. “So close!” I just had a woman give me a taste of the potential. I caught a glimpse of that “down the road” feeling. I was looking forward to growing old with this woman. And I come back to the game with even more energy for presenting myself with a renewed vigor.

I learned these things about myself in relationship.

  1. I need someone who is athletic like me. (so we can do it together)
  2. I’m not much of a drinker, and that same ideal is of critical importance for me.
  3. The attraction both physically, spiritually, and emotionally has to be very strong.
  4. We need to be great at doing the mundane tasks of living life together.
  5. We have to both be working on ourselves, both in the relationship, and in building a relationship with ourselves.
  6. They need to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

I had all these things just months ago, and still the relationship went south.

It’s hard. Relationships are not all flowers and walks on the beach. A lot of the living that needs to be done can be repetitive and stressful. What you’re looking for is someone who can tackle those ups and downs of the human experience with a positive and joyous attitude. Yeah, I’m still working on that for myself. But I AM working on it, and constantly.

I’m not in the pursuit of perfection. But I am in pursuit of 100% authenticity. And I am listening and feeling into what I want in every venture back to the sites filled with hundreds of pictures and profiles of women.

I am hopeful again. I have one new contact that has potential. And I’m slowing my roll a bit. In fact, I woke up this morning composing a letter to her in my head. What I wanted to say next, to reel her in a bit, while remaining cool and collected. You don’t want to overheat, over-promise, or over-pursue. It’s a fine balance. Honesty, clarity, and some demonstrated amount of joy. But heck, I’m a writer, so I should be able to do this.

And I’m actually not looking to date at this point. I’m looking to find some friends who happen to be women that I can spend some time with. If things move on to dating, I want that phase to transition quickly into a relationship. And I suppose the difference for me is monogamy and getting back out of the online dating scene. I look forward to looking at only one profile, the one I experience in real life. So much of what people write about themselves is fantasy, or even delusion. And some of what people put in dating profiles are out right lies.

Finding that genuine needle in a haystack is going to be a long haul, I imagine. And this new “hello” contact is responding to my letters in a 24 – 48 hour window. So there’s that challenge as well. Keep looking while really hoping to be able to stop looking.

And that’s really what we are all looking for. Someone that causes us to stop looking. I am much better in relationship than I am in pursuit. I am much more interested in building a life rather than building an online profile.

Slowly but surely, with patience and grace, I will be in relationship again. Months from now, a year from now, I hope to be writing you again about “the love of my life.” Heck if you don’t believe it, how will you ever get there.

Yes, God, I’m ready this time. Ready as I’ll ever be. So BRING IT.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  dating, creative commons usage allowed

 

Facing My Personal Dragon: Depression

It’s a bit risky, all this talk about depression. By writing about my struggles I might, for example, give anyone googling my name access to my personal medical history. I might be limiting the future of my career. I might be scaring away potential employers, lovers, friends. But I can’t stay in my darkness alone. Depression is a disease of isolation and fear. I have courageously embarrassed my illness, though I’m not ready to admit to the actual diagnosis that is now part of most job applications. I have a disability. Hard to swallow sometimes, but real.

In my teens I experienced this major depression for the first time in my life. Sure, I’d been a moody kid, but a lot of that mood had been creatively fueled optimism. But when I moved away from home to attend a prep school, my foundations crumbled under the intellectual rigor of the school and swept me into a hopeless and airless place. I could no longer think straight. I was failing Spanish for the second time. And I was depressed and beginning to self-medicate with marijuana. Not a good period of my life.

Since that first breakdown I have struggled 4 or 5 times with utter and complete darkness. A darkness so dense that is wrecked every project, job, relationship in my life. And I know I will be depressed again. It’s a crippling diagnosis when you hear your therapist or psychiatrist say, “You will probably deal with varying stages of this your entire life.” How would you to share that with a potential girlfriend or employer? Hard to stay positive in most circumstance.

While the discussion about mental illness has come a long way, the real darkness and power of depression is not well depicted in our popular culture. Sure TV shows have “manic” or “depressed” characters, but seeing actual depression is nothing like the worst show’s scenes and conflicts. Quite simply, when a person is depressed, even if they “want” to write about it, purge it, let is come out creatively, it’s as if a power switch has been turned off in your creative brain.

Going into my last depression that was triggered by the loss of a new job, I knew I was headed into a depression, but I was powerless to stop my slide into despair. I could see it was coming. I asked my talky  doctor and my meds doctor for help. I pleaded for help. I committed to writing it out, and staying present with my sad ass self. It simply was not possible. Stringing a few sentences together while in full-blown depression is… well… nearly impossible.

So, headlong I went, tumbling, into despair. I was fulling conscious of what was taking place as my creative and emotional faculties diminished. I was front and center as my 2.5 year relationship crumbled under the weight of my illness. And ultimately I was left to face my dragon alone. Utterly alone, homeless again, and defeated. And yet, not defeated. Somehow, I kept going. I kept walking 5 – 7 miles a day. I kept eating and sleeping well. I kept making and keeping appointments with my care team. I kept going in spite of feeling like ending it.

There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend. — Reshad Feild

Somehow, I have been forced to accepting my fatal flaw. I cannot escape my own demons, I have to live with them. I cannot fight with the dragon when the dragon is a part of my DNA. As crushing as it is, I have to befrind my own depression, learn to accept my limits, and continue to work on forgiving myself for succumbing to the madness that is depressive illness.

Let me describe for a minute the experience I had three weeks ago, as a new medication came on-line and vanquished my depression. From the pits of isolation and self-pity, I kept working my program. I kept taking the meds and demanded of my psychiatrist that we try something new. I was not satisfied with survival. I was going to thrive again. And while I wasn’t confident in my plan, or in my doctor’s ability to offer me a fresh torch inside my deep cavern of shame and sadness, even in the absence of confidence, I had to walk on.

And then an amazing thing happened. It always happens. I always come out of it. But this time it was so dramatic, this switching back on of all my facilities, this return of hope and confidence, that everyone around me noticed the change. My inner power source was lit again. I began blogging immediately, even though I was dealing with a major breakup AND depression. This new drug, somehow, lifted the sleep-like fog that had suffocated me and my loved ones for the last 6 months. Like night and day, I was writing, contemplating new songs for my band to rehearse, I was imagining myself back in a relationship, with a good job and plans for the future. I was reborn.

And that type of swing is scary as shit. It’s horrifying for the people arround you to see the lights go out and their happy friend vanish into some abyss of sadness. In depression my thoughts become so heavy, my very existence becomes so tentative, that I simply STFU (shut the fuck up). I can’t tell you how I’m feeling, so don’t ask. If I told you it would freak both of us out. I can’t express my utter rage and disappointment with my life or my illness that seems to routinely rip all the joy and hope in my life. So I get real quiet. And for someone who writes, and someone who loves to talk and laugh, this transition becomes obvious and dramatic for everyone around me.

Okay, so I have this illness. I have this diagnosis that isn’t ever going to change. I might have long periods of stability and progress, but in the shadows is ALWAYS this prospect of losing it all in a wash of bad chemicals in my brain. It’s no joking matter. My family and a very select group of friends knows or have seen my loss. For everyone else around me, I just seem to disappear. Sure I”m still ON Facebook but I’m not posting anymore, I’m lurking and feeling sorry for myself that so many of you are going on with your normal, amazing, everyday lives. I’m stuck in the asylum of my mind, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to stay out of bed in the afternoon, and struggling with the simple tasks like shaving and dressing in normal clothes every day.

And, once again, I’m hopeful. Once again I have confidence to look for a high-powered marketing job. Once, again, I’m open to looking for a new relationship, even though my last one was crushed under the weight of my sadness.

That’s the part that I’m more in touch with than ever. Okay, doc, so I’m going to go through cycles of this the rest of my life? I’m not sure how to plan for that, or tell prospective mates that they might lose me at any moment, but I’m willing to take the steps to keep moving forward. The dragon, my depression, is with me. He’s not going anywhere. And to fight him is to fight and destroy myself. So instead, I’m going to love and befriend this dragon of mine. And while the beast has the fire power to destroy my life again, I have hope, I have confidence, and I press on with the believe that understanding will make the cycles less potent., the depression less debilitating. Still I’ve got to talk to any prospective mate about this dragon before we begin making future plans. And while I’m not ready to check the box on job applications that says I have a disability, inside I know I do. Inside I know the fall is just a slight tweak of my brain chemistry in the wrong direction.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  my temporary tattoo, creative commons usage allowed