It was one year ago today. One year ago today, the story that I thought I was living was interrupted with the most unwelcome plot twist. Things had seemed strained between us. She’d seemed preoccupied. She’d been spending a lot of time on her phone. I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to check our cell phone records; but when I did – after a Wednesday night Bible Study – it was clear that there was something going on. During the current statement cycle, she’d managed to log over twice as many minutes and over four times the amount of text messages as I had. The records didn’t show the content of the messages, but they did show the telephone numbers of the maker and recipient of each phone call. I recognized most of the numbers – mine, her parents’, even my brother’s – but there was one number that I didn’t recognize. And, it was on the list a lot. Late at night, after we’d (I guess that should read, “I’d”) gone to bed. Early in the morning. During her drive to and from work. On her lunch breaks. The same number, over and over.
When I asked her if we could talk about it, she was already in bed – I’d gotten home late from band rehearsal that had followed Bible Study. She sat up and immediately began to cry; she said his name was Jon and something about being in love with him. I don’t remember the exact words that she used that night to tell me that she was seeing someone else. I just remember how it felt. And, it felt like a car had been dropped on my chest from the top of a tall building. Everything became a blur. I sat at the end of the bed and, even though I knew she was talking, I couldn’t hear the rest of what she was saying. I could barely see her through the pain that had clouded my vision. It was like in the movies, after an explosion, when things drift in and out of focus and there’s just silence. Silence and confusion. Silence and confusion and crippling fear.
I was angry and sad. I was afraid. I was cold. I was shaking. Most of all, I felt utterly alone.
My body wouldn’t stop shaking. It was a warm, spring night, but my body didn’t care, my body was cold. I couldn’t get my mouth to cooperate with my brain. I wanted to say something, to ask questions, but I couldn’t get words to come out. If it’s possible to feel nothing at all and agonizing pain at the same time, that’s what I was feeling. I was angry and sad. I was afraid. I was cold. I was shaking. Most of all, I felt utterly alone. I had no tears. She had enough for both of us.
She asked me to sleep in the guest room. I made my way across the hall. When we were dating we had lived exactly 655 miles apart, but that hallway was the greatest distance that had ever come between us. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I laid in that bed and my body shook as my mind raced. The questions that had started to form earlier were now taking shape and were flooding in like water from a fire hydrant. How could this have happened? Why didn’t I see it coming? Who is this guy, anyway? Why him? How did I screw this up so bad? Why me? Why us? Why now? Can we still make this work? How could I have been so stupid? What’s wrong with me? Am I really not worth loving? Why does everyone leave me? Why does this keep happening to me? Why does this keep happening to me? Why does this keep happening to me?
I made myself a promise. I will not let this kill me. I will not let this destroy my life. I will be okay.
As I wrestled with these questions, thoughts that I’d never had before began to take shape. Maybe I should just give up. I’d be better off dead. These thoughts started as a whisper, but grew louder and louder. You could end it all so easily. All it would take is one pull of the trigger. I was still shaking. But, now I was trembling with fear. Not the fear of dying, but fear of the thoughts themselves. Fear that I might be weak enough to succumb to the thoughts. The moments that followed were perhaps the most important moments of my life. In those next few moments, I made myself a promise. I will not let this kill me. I will not let this destroy my life. I will be okay. I will be okay. So, I got my body out of bed and I put on a pair of shorts and an old tee and my running shoes, and I took my body outside and I gave myself one command. Run.
I ran until I couldn’t run any longer. Which, I’ll be honest, wasn’t very far. Then I walked. Then I ran some more. I ran and walked and ran until I thought I was tired enough to sleep. Somewhere along the road, the tears that I couldn’t summon earlier in the night found their way to my eyes and mixed with my sweat and the two soaked my clothes. I made my way back home and showered and crawled back into bed. I still didn’t sleep – but I was too tired to think, so I settled into a kind of numb rest. And, I hoped for sunlight.
The sun finally rose and I made myself get dressed and go to work. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day, but I knew I wasn’t going to get through that day or any of the next many on my own. So, I did the only thing I knew to do – I asked for help. I called my best friend and I told him I needed him. I called my Employee Assistance Program director and had them put me in touch with a counselor. I asked my friend to lock up my guns at his place. I asked the counselor to help me put the pieces of my story back together.
The days and weeks and months that followed were brutal. I lost a lot. My wife. My house. My city. My church. My parents-in-law. My siblings-in-law. My nephew. A lot of my friends. But, I was determined to keep my promise. I was not going to let this kill me. I was going to be okay. And, in keeping my promise, I began to realize that I was gaining a lot, too – my health (emotional, physical, mental, spiritual), a new appreciation for family, and a new understanding of my identity.
The price we pay for community is vulnerability. In doing life together, we expose our brokenness.
I’ve learned a lot over the last year. (You can read my post, “Nine Things I’ve Learned From My Divorce” here.) I’ve come to be thankful for that night. It served as a catalyst for my pursuit of health, my pursuit of a life of authenticity, my pursuit of sobriety from the porn addiction that had prevented me from being the husband that I should have been, my pursuit of a life lived in community. I’m still learning a lot. And, there are days like this one where the weight of this last year sits heavy with me. But, I’m still keeping my promise. And, I’m not doing it alone. I’m choosing to do life with other people. With family that loves me. With friends that support me. With a counselor that challenges and encourages me. With a support group of men striving to live a life of purity and integrity. With a church that feels like home. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. The price we pay for community is vulnerability. In doing life together, we expose our brokenness. I believe that the beauty of this human condition, though, is that we’re stitched together by shared experience, shared brokenness. And, we find healing in the context of relationships. On days like today, I’m leaning on the people that have chosen to do life with me. And, I’m finding healing in the context of community.