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A life out in the cold

Updated: May 1

Check out another post about this time of year and handling loss & depression: Dealing with loss and depression during this season

man watching family from outside

Out in the cold The chill of the cold winter night settled into my bones as I stood outside the cramped window, my feet firmly planted in the freshly fallen snow. The frost stung wind burning on my face and neck, my hands so cold they burn. Watching the moisture fog the bottom of the glass and the moisture from my breath, gave the window an eerie look as if it was a magic portal with a glimpse into another reality. This had been my family's home for so many years and yet here I was, standing in the cold like a stranger, an outsider, a watcher.

man watching holidays outside

It broke my mind more than once

It's been a little under a year since my wife gave me divorce papers out of the blue. It was completely unexpected, as we had been happily married for 15 years, raising our two children, and making a life together. A life that many could only wish for, but it was mine. And then, without any warning, it wasn’t. At first the situation was so overwhelming that I found it difficult to move forward. All I wanted to do was stay in my house with the love of my life and my kids, but it wasn't possible. I had to move out and make plans to leave, but it felt like an impossibly heavy task as despair and frustration consumed my heart and mind. How could I have not seen this coming? How could I have known this person as well as I knew myself and still hadn’t had a clue? When I thought about the loss it was total, my lover, my confidant, my confidence, my conscious, my best friend, my problem solver, my cheer leader, and the only place I knew of as home, Not the one built with wood and metal but the one that you go to when you need comfort, care, compassion, and love.

watching family without him

A love that songs are written about

I thought that home was built on a stronger foundation then any giant skyscraper, it was a love that people only read about in books, but, how could this be happening? That’s who I thought we were to each other. And the thought of missing even a second of my children as they grew, it all felt as if the inside of my chest had collapsed and left an endless darkening void of nothing but desperation and despair. I tried to prepare myself for life away from my family, but it felt like an impossible task.

Reality became as frayed as an old shirt

So for a while, I forced myself to move on with life and make plans for myself, trying to pretend that everything was okay. But no matter how hard I tried to put on a brave face and move forward, reality hit me hard every single day. And at times, the pain and torment that I experienced during this past year of divorce felt unbearable. I would go without sleep for days at a time, until the lines of reality became frayed like an old worn-out shirt, with periods of delusion weaving all through out my consciousness day as a snake winding through a rocky outcrop in the middle of the desert. I was experiencing thoughts, hearing voices, seeing things, thinking madness and at any moment my consciousness could snap as easy as a wind blown twig. I tried to withdraw from those around me, feeling that the only ones who mattered were gone, out of reach. I had nothing, no where to go, no means of support, all I had was some clothes, pictures of another life, and a van.

dinner without you

No matter how far I drove, my home always ended in the rear window

That's when I hit rock bottom. With no other place to go, I found myself living in that van parked out on the street. I would drive for hours to escape yet when I parked it at night somehow the glow from the warm windows of that home that was built by love always were set in the rearview window. I couldn’t escape it no matter how hard I tried. There were days when suicide seemed like the only way out; staring into the darkness of night made it even easier staring up into the abyss and feeling its gaze pour back through you until there was nothing inside except the darkness. These moments were uncontrollable, and unbearable sheer insanity, I didn’t know if I couldn’t go through with it because of the need my kids would have for me and how weak they would think I was, or if it was me being week that kept me trapped in this body like being trapped in an endless dark well.

The long journeys of mourning had left me weary and exhausted; everyday tasks always felt like too much effort to undertake. To provide financial stability for the family I thought didn’t want me, I started working extra hours at my job, sacrificing any time for self-care or rest in order to make sure that my kids had what they needed and to try and show my wife I had it all together when in reality, a strong breeze would have sent me flying into a million pieces like the white seeds being blown off of a dandelion from my child’s warm breath. For months I would be in a constant state of fog and there was no thought to my actions. I became like a robot, unthinking, just doing what was expected because even the brief thought could tear me in half.

cartoon out in the cold

Now I'm standing watching the life I had a year ago play in front of me like a television show

So here I was now -- standing outside the cold window of my former home as another man sat at the table enjoying dinner with my wife and kids, as I held the half-eaten already cold burrito from 7/11 in my left hand. The contrast between my world now compared to a year ago made me realize just how much pain and suffering this transition had caused me over this past year -- physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally. I was watching my life right there in front of me, the laughter, the joking, the playful teasing, the longing looks between this man and my wife and the slight touches under the table out of site from the kids. It was my life, my family, and I was watching it through a window like I was watching a television show that switched out the main actor. Where was my place in this world if I was watching my place become filled?

finding yourself

Knowing nothing about myself, I needed to learn who I was again

All I knew was this life, with this role as a father and husband, my mind couldn't comprehend a life being anything else. And yet despite all this pain and sadness, hopeless and helplessness flooding through me as if I was the mouth of Niagara falls, watching this man take the place of what was once mine -- fatherhood – a home built with love where I belonged – a place where I was loved and valued- there was also something else stirring within me; something even stronger than anger, pain, emptiness, hurt or ache now gnawing within me. I stood there knowing that it was the question of who I am. I was just an empty vessel, but I needed to find that man again. Not the one before the life as a part of a family, but one of someone who cared for himself, who cared for others, who wanted to make others laugh and help when I could. I spent so long caring for my family, I didn't know the first thing about myself, my wants or needs. What I needed was a sense of determination; determination that whatever new journey lay before me, no matter how challenging or difficult it may be, I would not give up hope or strength despite how much agony remained burning within me or how many more mountains of pain I needed to climb. I had to prove to myself I was worth more then a seat at a table. I knew I had to begin new, but the road would be a long and hard one to travel, and one I would have to travel alone. This terrified me. I had no idea of where or even how to begin. I was in a cycle of self loathing, hatred, and pity, what would it take to break this cycle and take a first step?

no trail landscape

Who am I? What new direction will my path start?

Standing outside that cold window, watching my wife and kids celebrating Christmas with another man taking the role as husband and father. Thinking of how I broke my back paying what the court ordered, living in my van, standing outside in the cold windy winter air while watching the warmth laughter and love that was there, but it all was with someone else who was enjoying the life I had loved so deeply just a year ago. Despite feeling absolutely crushed inside by all the brokenness of what once was, and the endless dreams and hopes of what could have been, despite every single painful emotion surging through me like waves against shoreline, despite the memories of dancing all night, while all eyes were on us wishing they had what we had, thinking of the endless summer days with my family enjoying watching the laughter, the play, the love that would never be able to have a second of these experiences in front of me again. The happiest memories were behind me and the course I set and built for my future was gone, like the puff of smoke after blowing out a candle on a birthday cake. I knew that wasn't my future, yet through all of this -- there was still one thing that would hold true no matter what: that who ever I am now, I will never give up on my myself and search for the man I was once. It had been so long that I was playing this role in life, I didn't know how to play another character, but I needed to find out. The knowledge that I was a great husband, a great father, will be the strength I need to move forward. Knowing I tried and fought longer and harder than anyone else ever would, fought to keep my place at that table in that home and no one could possibly say I gave up. The knowledge that no one could say I didn’t give them my all, that gave me my first insight into who I was. I was someone with the strength and character and this would be the foundation for the first step in the long, arduous journey into finding who I am and what path I may take. It showed me a fleeting reflection of what was once myself. I knew then that the person I was to become would refuse to give up under any conditions, my perseverance, determination, and willingness to get back up and fight over and over is a strong first step to this unknown, unforeseen, yet incredibly hard journey set Infront of me. The path that I once saw clearly was replaced by a void, no directions but forward. My new path is my path to carve out alone. For whatever good or bad that will come, it is the results of the carvings by my own choice. How will I know which direction to start?

walking away from window

Letting go of the past's future.

Now all I have in my gas tank are the memories of those endless summer days at the beach full of laughter and endless nights dancing until the watching the sun rise. Those are memories of a life that most couldn’t comprehend were in a place just out of reach. Looking back it all, it seems close enough to touch, to enter into one of those memories like replaying a game or a movie but was forever in the past. Ahead I had planned for every possibility for the future of my family, for the future of our family. I could never even imagined a path where I was forced to travel it alone. Every well made, soundly built path was washed away in the time it takes for a heart to beat. It was all washed away violently in a fraction of a second like a hurricane tearing down docks at a beach or a tornado erasing well planned communities built in a strong foundation and made to last for an eternity. I thought I had planned for everything, knowing what my future would be. Now all I see ahead is a darkness, like a minnow lost within the emptiness of the sea, surrounded by an endless abyss, unaware of what creatures are lurking in its depths. The only path that I couldn't take was the one I was so sure I was meant to travel, the one so painstakingly created and built within the strongest of foundations. But now, in that moment, the very fabric of the universe ripped apart leaving only the knowledge that all of our dreams, and all of our goals for our future were erased from existence. It was known that everything that was planned, all of our dreams and aspirations for the future were no longer mine. The future hurts the most. The loss of every possibility we had was suddenly nothing more then the dreams of my past. Realizing that everything including my future was now my past and I had to figure out what a future could even look like for me. I didn't know who I was, I had no past, no goals, no ambitions, no path to walk, that all became someone else's story. My story ended there in the cold, looking at the warmth and love of someone else's life story. I had to struggle to find my new story.

Taking account of what I had to let go of

What I had to walk away from, was something that most couldn't imagine. It was the possibility of sharing the experiences that we once shared together forever vanish. This was something more than love. it was a love that people could never understand if they never were lucky enough to experience it. The love of children, walking through the door after work and coming running into my arms causing the days stress to instantly disappear. the love of a woman, that is deeper and more full of meaning its as if half of you disappeared without warning. The fear of knowing that the future will hold no more of that. Its so much deeper than having others read about and try to imagine what its like from reading about it in a book. The same love that others dream of or pray for. The kind of love that inspire incredible poems, plays, books, movies, art, and music. The strength of that emotion, leaves people who never had the chance to experience it, with a tiny taste of what true love is. Its a glimpse of an emotion so strong that it stay's with you long after the last page is read, the last verse is sung. A love that moves your heart in ways you can't understand from just experiencing it through someone else art like, songs that are written and sung with such emotion that chills crawl down your back, when you hear it and your eyes swell in tears but don't know why, or hearing a poem that stirs emotions deep inside you from some places unknown. Reading, writing, singing, painting, music, all express emotion and it all becomes a glimpse into something I got lucky enough to experience while others, they can only have a taste of an image of what its like through art. Movies, art, books, and even music can only allow an inch into an emotion more addicting than any drug, one that builds your character, making you want to be the best you for someone else, and always building that person up, supporting them through good times and bad, a best friend, and someone who you can trust and know their thoughts and feelings just by the look in their eyes. Living a life that was based on making others happy, I forgot what I need to be happy, I didn't know how to make me the most important person in my life. Knowing the experience I had most people can only dream of, but never actually get to feel and to cherish, meant in a way, I was luckier than most to have had it, even if it wasn’t happily ever after, it was more than most get to say.

walking through fire

The past stay's in the past, what's to come is my choice

Right there on that cold wet ground I made a promise, no matter how hard of a road, no matter how tall of a mountain, I will conquer it, overcome it, embrace the suck, and show my kids that their father has been and always will be there for them. Standing under that window I became the watcher of my children. I vow that I will always be there watching, waiting for whatever, and whenever they need me. But the future is mine to walk with any and every direction Infront of me, just after this first step. I need to find my strength to build a path for myself that I can experience that joy within myself. I know it will be one of the biggest challenges I will ever face, even the first step, letting go of the past me, at times is overwhelming and unbearable. But those times pass and I keep going forward. That's the focus, keep moving forward. As I walked away from the window, into the cold night air, I dropped the half eaten molten burrito and with it, the grasp I held to the life that was no longer mine. The darkness Infront of me made me feel as a wondering fool, without a safe harbor to dock in. It was the first step to the next stage of my life.


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