I want to tell the story of the last seven years, but I don't know all the words yet.
I spent about five of them in heavy therapy and lightly medicated, until I felt like I had the scaffolding and stability I needed to try to grow as a person. I had built up a lot of good boy points with my shrinks by checking a lot of boxes on the page marked "Protective Factors". Stable housing, wife, dog, hobby, friends, articulable aspirations. These are what led my shrink to agree that I should try without the twice-weekly training wheels, at least for a little while.
So I took a break from therapy, and six months later, decided to try Real Life™ without the Zoloft. I found that I was indeed ready for personal growth. And I found that others were not so ready.
Frankly speaking, my wife liked me a lot better when I was too focused on therapy to pay much attention to what our relationship was really like. I was, to her taste, a better companion to her when I asked her for nothing, because I was sure that I wasn't deserving of anything. When I was so worried about making up for being what I saw as a defective person, that I would do anything at all to make up for imagined faults.
Once, after she spent almost six hours in the kitchen making a beautiful, elaborate filled cake for coworkers that she had previously described as morons, lunatics, and wastes of oxygen, I straight up told her I felt left out because she had never once baked anything for me that didn't come out of a cardboard tube. She quit baking for work parties shortly after that.
After three years, though, of trying to communicate with her, trying every method and medium available to help her understand my feelings, she finally told me that she actually just didn't want to hear about them. That one sentence explained so much of what I had been blaming on myself, but full understanding would not yet be mine.
I didn't get it when I started having to wake up in time to make sure she wasn't too drunk to drive to work in the morning and force her to call in sick if she was.
I didn't get it when I had to literally flee my own home to escape from her violent rage. She had been trying to bait me into a shouting match all day. By her second bottle of wine, she had literally backed me into a corner of a bedroom, screaming and spitting while I asked her to please stop, please stop. She didn't or wouldn't or couldn't, so I fled the house, and drove 3 hours to my brother's place in the dark of the night.
She called and texted me almost two hundred times until she finally passed out. When I got home, I told her if that ever happened again, I was gone forever. I told her it was either booze, or me. She quit drinking, and I didn't get it when she started again less than a month later with promises to "keep it moderate". I didn't get it when "keep it moderate" turned into hiding the empties.
The true realization happened one day when she idly asked if I had heard of love languages. This was the first time ever she had initiated any sort of conversation about the mechanics of personal relationships or communication, and I was ecstatic. After how many failed attempts, I thought there might finally be a breakthrough, however small.
"Well," she said, "Yours is acts of service obviously, and I think touch too."
"What's mine?" she asked.
This moment here, this instant after she asked, is when I felt myself transfixed with sudden understanding as the truthful answer leaped to my mind and my lips.
"I don't know," I told her, and shook my head. "I honestly don't know."
Her eyes went wide and her mouth opened a little in shock and maybe horror. I watched a fat tear roll down the side of her nose but I genuinely, truly, did not feel it in my heart to want to comfort her. It's not that I relished her pain and surprise, but I didn't feel responsible for it. I had been telling her this for years and she had been telling me that my feelings didn't count. Maybe, I hoped. Maybe this is the inflection point.
Surprising nobody, least of all myself, nothing changed. I still felt like a ghost. Another birthday rolled by for her to completely ignore (no cake, either). Another anniversary celebrated by one, and another Christmas spent agonizing over the advent calendar and guessing games and present hunt that I put on for her every year as I told myself that giving is its own reward.
More lame excuses to never leave the house with me. More new hobbies to pick up, explore, relish gifts in support of, and then make things for other people. Another vintage automobile for me to overhaul, rebuild, detail, and then park in the driveway forever.
Finally, finally, after another seething rager, I told her I was leaving and to keep the house, because the fight wasn't worth what might remain of the friendship. I wanted her to have a safe and stable place to live, and if I had insisted on getting my half, it would have meant selling the house to split the equity.
And really, my half was a small thing to give up to just be done with it.
In the almost year since the divorce was finalized, she has only helped show me that my decision was the right one.
So, I threw it away, except for the dog, of course. My American Dream was a stage play put on for the benefit of others, and the bastards didn't even have the decency to applaud.
As I've had more time to process and more time to consider my own values, where they come from, and what they mean for me, I've realized some very important things.
One: "Fuck the program." I am not damaged or deranged because my values do not align with the standard articulation of "healthy" or "normal". My experiences have been out of the ordinary, and so it follows that my perception of what is important or valuable also diverges from the norm.
I am straight up not interested in taking another swing at the white picket fence existence, or participating in programs or processes that are aimed at putting me there. I cannot find happiness in regression to the mean (or the median or mode, for that matter).
Two: "Fuck the rat race." I am not the only person to ardently disagree with many of the fundamental tenets and priorities of those who have not lived through enormous challenges to their sense of self, community, and purpose. In fact, our culture and society are very bad at understanding the magnitude and importance of this gap, and even worse at knowing how to reintegrate and accommodate people who do not wish to, or cannot, ignore themselves in favor of external conformity of ideals.
On multiple occasions, my expressions of long-term goals were literally interpreted as a death wish. When I realized that this was the case, I understood completely why it would be so, and couldn't bring myself to hold it against the people involved.
Specifically, my expressed desire to find a nice place in the boonies to live quietly and contemplatively was evaluated as a rejection of life itself, and not simply life as usual. The loss of "Protective Factors" was seen as absolutely untenable and the worst possible outcome from a clinical perspective. As a result, I spent five years being told that the dream that kept me going through three flavors of Hell was pathological, and since I have taken concrete steps towards that goal, I have literally not been so happy in a decade.
Three: "Fuck around and find out." I'm going to live on my terms and according to my values, and while I respect the desires and ambitions of others, there is no longer a place in my life for people or powers who are unwilling or unable to support my choices.
I no longer wish to spend time and energy cultivating "Protective Factors" simply for the sake of satisfying clinical criteria. My Protective Factors didn't show up when my house flooded... twice. But they were around when I threw a weekend BBQ.
I no longer wish to suppress myself or forgo choices or expressions to make others comfortable. I was terrified to let my Protective Factors in on a lot of my inner self, because if I can make a VA shrink cry with a story I didn't think was that rough, what the hell is a regular person gonna do? I've passed up adventures because they made other people nervous, and missed lifetime opportunities because others do not share the confidence I have in myself.
So what is all of this? A declaration? A proclamation? A manifesto? It is all of this and more from your weird uncle who has been gone for a long time. I have always treasured the anonymity and acceptance that this place offers, even when I was frustrated with the details of the machine.
I thank all of you who continued to read my writing and send me messages while I was gone, and I thank all of you who have been around even when I didn't have much to say aside from lunatic screeds. I hope to continue tossing bright sparks down the deep hole to see what catches, and ask your forbearance as I re-learn how to speak to humans.