My wife and I separated during the Summer of 2018. Looking back I can see it coming from miles away. At the time, it shocked both of us. I don’t want to speak for my wife, but we have agreed on this much. Kimley was the one that started the actual separation ball rolling on May 22, 2018. I had just landed from a weekend in Washington D.C., lobbying Congress on behalf of the National Cannabis Industry Association. Wifey and I are advocates/cannprenuers for cannabis and all the possibilities it offers humanity. I digress… The week before, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. We made it a week-long affair with special dates, outfits, and dinners, culminating in a concert at Wrigley Field. There is a new concert venue at Wrigley Field and we saw one of our favorite bands that Friday night, capping off the week and getting ready for an exciting week of bi-costal cannabis networking and business development. Candidly, I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that we were to be the next cannabis “power couple.” Looking back I can see how hubristic this was, not to mention, cheesey as fuck. My weekend of hobnobbing in our nation’s capital turned into a night in GW Hospital emergency room with cyclical vomiting, recovery the next 36 hours alone in a lonely AirBnB, and finally a phone call from our business partner that just about blew the whole enterprise to pieces. I switched my flight to return home and regroup, things had clearly gone off the rails. My flight was cancelled and I had to spend another night in D.C. Uhg!
When I landed and turned on my phone, there was a message from wifey that was sitting in my inbox just a bit differently enough that I knew this was going to be big. When I listened to the message, I could hear it in her voice. She was scared and did NOT want to be leaving the message she was about to leave, knowing that the return call would be a tipping point from which we could not return. She simply asked me to give her a call when I got in my Uber home. Her voice was cracking and she was holding back her tears, which would have let me know the true nature of her call without needing to return the message. As I realized how my life was unfolding, in real time, it became clear to me, whatever was going to come next, needed to happen.
When I returned her message and we were on the line, wifey wasted no time. She knew that this message needed to be delivered band aid style. Continuing down the concourse at Midway Airport pulling my standard issue carry-on roller bag, she claimed “Rob… you have always said you love me enough to let me go, I need you to let me go now.” Right away, I committed to myself and to my family, I was going to be a man of my word and honor what I had always told my wife. At that moment, I was somehow able to own the fact that whatever was going on in our marriage/family/business, I owned half of it and I would take my licks. If I really loved this woman, I needed to do what she was asking of me. This was the love test of my life. What sacrifices was I willing to make to save myself and my family?
Tougher still than those moments in the airport, were the moments when picking up my girls at school that same day and telling them that their family had just been blown up… again. We all have the worst days of our life list, this was definitely one of my top three worst days ever.
Now, I am not going to go into the whole Summer of 2018 process right now. Rather I want to focus on one of the major lessons I learned from that fateful Summer. Given our individual upbringings, wifey and I have learned over the years we are both prone to engaging in codependent behavior. The best definition of codependency I have heard is “self love deficit disorder.” I cannot remember where I heard this but if I could, I would give credit. This perspective has helped save my ass several times as I walk, sometimes crawl through the rough patches of the relationships that are most important to me. In these dark moments of feeling unloved, I would rather point fingers and claim “you all want to leave me….” which ultimately leads to the abandonment I fear most. This simple explanation of an incredibly complex topic is what I use to get back to the headspace that says, “this is something I need to handle myself and not blame anyone else for my ‘icky’ feeling.” The cliche of “you need to love yourself before you can be loved by anyone else really is a universal truth.
A big foundational part of my process is talk therapy. I have been engaged in talk therapy in one form or another for the past 17 years. When I was married to my first wife, we saw an excellent therapist that also ended up counseling us on how to divorce and co-parent for the benefit of our daughters. Doug is his name and it is nothing short of amazing the way he has helped shepherd my family through some of our darkest hours. Doug not only was my therapist during my 1st marriage and subsequent divorce, he was my current wifes’ MS in Psychology professor, as well as my first wifes’ husbands’ counselor when he was married the first time. In addition to being our facilitator for co-parenting and our current marriage counselor Doug is also wfey, myself and the girls work through some mental health issues in our family. I love Doug and am going to give him the best eulogy ever!
While Doug is a vital part in my own personal mental health, he is not my personal therapist. For about 12 years I saw a female therapist that helped me immensely. There came a moment however when I realized that I needed a new counselor… maybe it was when I realized that she was actually a bit of a man hater…meh. As I started my search for a new therapist, I simply went and asked for a referral from someone that looked as if they “had what I wanted…” I asked Tom, as I had known him for my entire recovery career and I knew that he indeed did have what I wanted for my own life. He gave me the name of a therapist he had seen over the last 20 years and while he had not been to see her in some time, he thought very highly of her and would go back if he thought he needed a tune up.
I immediately called Leslie and set up our first appointment. Keep in mind the genesis of this relationship predates my “separation Summer” by about 6 months or so. Leslie and I hit it off swell right away. She sees a lot of children. I think it is this part of Leslie’s practice expertise I feel most comfortable. I knew right away I was lucky to have discovered her, Leslie was exactly what I needed. Within the first couple weeks and after several emergency phone sessions in between our scheduled face to face meetings, she asked if I had ever been to see a psychiatrist. She thought I was experiencing something called “flooding.” I had been to a psychiatrist once in about 2005 for an ADHD diagnosis but never continued with treatments after I determined that the pharmaceutical prescriptions they gave me were worse than the disease I was trying to manage. It is really dangerous to give a recovering addict a prescription that is in the same class of drugs as cocaine. I am pleased to report though, my second visit to a physiatrist resulted in a successful bipolar/PTSD diagnosis. Truthfully, I had wondered to myself if I was bipolar for years. Knowing that the way I was feeling and acting had a name and it could be managed was a huge relief.
It cannot be overstated as to how comforting it was for me to get the news I was bipolar and had PTSD. I have viewed myself as a 1%er for a while, but not the kind that the momentary zeitgeist tells us is the type to be despised. I am a member of the 1% club that has saved their own asses. It is sad but true, long term sobriety is elusive to most that attempt recovery. The success rates for addicts achieving 5, 10, 15 years of sobriety are frustratingly low. Alcohol and it’s related issues kill about 2.8 million people each year. Having licked this beast, I felt supremely confident and humbled at the same time to be charged with taming this beast as well.
Two things I have learned over the years as a result of attending talk therapy are, 1) therapy sessions are meant to be a safe place to discuss tough topics and 2) through these dialogues, a new perspective is born that allows me to tame my demons in bite sized pieces.
In the very next session with Leslie after my diagnosis, she laid it on me. She looked me square in the face and said “you have a big engine… not only do you need to learn how to handle your own engine, but you need to stop letting other people have the keys to your engine and you need to immediately stop driving your wife’s engine.”
I almost immediately knew what she was referring to and the metaphor she was trying to make. I am extremely physically attracted to my wife. More now than when we met, it is like she truly has found the fountain of youth. She is also humble enough to not dress like she knows this and has something to prove. I remind her that if she were a car, she would be a Ferrari, who has a Ferrari and keeps it in the garage? Let’s get out and run that thing!!! I’ll drive!!!!
One of the most comforting things that I have been told by my general practitioner is “there is no such thing as a grown up…period.” His words not mine. So I asked, “what does that make those of us that are fully grown?” He replied, “fifteen year olds.” He is gruff and has more yesterdays than tomorrows so I let it end there but I understood what he was talking about.
What does this all mean for me and my marriage? Well, let’s start with a question we can all answer. What happens when you give a 15 year old boy the keys to a Ferrari? I can tell you this 15 year old boy drove ‘his’ Ferrari right into the ditch as it overheated from not keeping up with proper maintenance and driving her too hard. I deserved what I got. What in the world was I doing driving wifey’s Ferrari anyway? As I see it, I felt my own big engine “party bus” was not adequate. Wifey and I both have big engines and thought it would be fun to go for a joy ride behind the wheel of each other’s “engines.” This was a big mistake. These are high performance engines that need to be operated by the people charged with their daily upkeep. Anything else could be dangerous to the driver.
Let’s be honest, my “big engined party bus” looks like a lot of fun to a woman like my wife. And a super sexy “Ferrari engine” is also irresistible to a fast tracked 15 year old boy such as myself. But the bottom line is that I need to be driving my own “engine.” So we spent the Summer of 2018 learning how to drive our own engines again. Over the course of those months, we came to learn a couple things. First is there is no greater thrill than driving your own “engine” through life. Nobody knows that engine like you do and you will always feel safer driving your own engine. Second, it is really scary when you are in the passenger seat of your own “engine” and the driver is operating things in a manner you know is not right. It feels suffocating and out of control… because it is. Day in day out, we all need to remember to drive our own damn engines.