If you came to this post via my Amazon Author Page, I’m going just apologize in advance. You may have been looking for some insight into how I come up with the stories I write or, if you are like my daughter and some friends, you may be looking for information about when I am going to be releasing the next book in the Shadow Initiate series. Spoiler alert for both, this post isn’t going to be about either of those things. No, sadly for you, this post is going to be about some of the insights I’ve gleaned along the recent journey of self-growth I’ve been on. I suppose, indirectly it will give you some insight into my stories, because most everything I have written has some elements of me within the story. Some thing or truth I’m trying to work through or make sense of wrapped up in a pretty bow of a story.
A little bit of a backstory is probably in order here. I have been operating under the belief, the self-talk for nearly 10 years that I was unlovable. That I was not boyfriend or marriage material. This was born from the fallout of 2 failed marriages in nearly a 20 year period of my life. Spoiler Alert–the seeds of those feelings had been planted long before I said “I do.” Twice.
So, after the second divorce, I was happy to float along in a sea of relationships of varying degrees of commitments and intimacy, never truly diving into the deep end of the ‘we’re a couple’ pool. I thought I was happy. I thought I had my shit together. I wore my pain and angst and shame of being a failed husband like armor. Looking back at those years, I see the people that I hurt along the way. Cue more shame. Cue more feelings of “I deserve to be unhappy. I am not worthy of the love of a wonderful human. But hey, at least I can get some good Instagram poems from it.”
It was kind of a shit show, but I was comfortable. It was my shit show, you know? I knew how to navigate the waters of f***buddies and casual physicality without letting anyone get too close.
And then last September, something happened. I had a moment in my life where things were going well with my latest book. Where I was starting to feel worthy of what people were saying. Where I started to believe that I was not unworthy of the good things in my life. Where, for once, I was not waiting for the other shoe to fall off the power line and knock me the fuck out.
And that’s when she came into my life. A friend of a friend replied to a comment I had posted on Facebook and a wonderful friendship took root. That friendship sparked a wildfire of love, passion, you name it. The first time we hugged, I felt like I had come home. And I felt loved. I felt truly loved for the first time in a long time. And the key, in looking back at that, is that I felt that I deserved the love I was being given. And that really is the key. I know I have been loved before, but until I came to the place where I felt that I deserved to be loved, I couldn’t see it for what it was. I saw it that night. I felt it. I would apologize for flooding my social media feed with pix and posts of two ridiculously happy people, but I’m not sorry. Not for a single second of it.
For nearly five months I did cannon-balls all day every day into the deep end of that pool. I think we both did. I didn’t notice things I should have because I was just so caught up in the US feeling that I was experiencing. I was so busy trying to keep the wonderful feeling of being with someone intact that I was losing myself along the way. Looking back, I realize that wasn’t a sustainable model of a relationship. And so it shifted. We went from being an item, a couple, a hyphenated-something-so-cute-all-our-friends-were-getting-diabetes-from-how-in-love-we-were to being something else…something like friends, but still not something that had an actual word. At least not one I’ve found. The conversations were hard, but we both spoke from a place of truth and love about what we needed and what we needed from each other.
And, I have to be honest, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. To us. For our friendship. I can say that now, nearly 2 months removed from that shift in descriptors. At the time I was heartbroken. I knew, as we had the conversations, that it was the right move, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.
That shift, that saving of a friendship, put me back on the path of looking inward. At first it was a path of shame and doubt and a lot of negative self-talk. I will admit now what I couldn’t admit early on in this discovery process–I was stuck in a shame spiral. I felt like I had fucked up another relationship–this one that was so amazing, and I couldn’t even make it work. And at first the self-exploration was with the goal of “figuring out why I was broken, so I could fix myself. Because if I fixed myself, she would take me back.” That was a fool’s errand. For a few reasons (well, for many, but for a few that stuck out).
The primary reason being that undertaking a journey of self-growth and understanding for anyone other than yourself is a lie. Someone can be the catalyst for the start journey (or the return to doing the self-work), but never the only reason–you can’t do it for anyone other than yourself. That’s the rub. The only way everyone benefits from your growth is if you do it for nobody but yourself.
We didn’t stop being a couple because either of us were broken. The shift happened because both of us, in our own ways, were veering WAY off course from who we were as people. And in doing so, there was a shift in our own authenticity, our own compasses. And it was messing with us. When I was able to pull back from the situation, get out of the pool, if you will, I was able to see that in myself. I wasn’t being the true Todd that she fell in love with.
And I wasn’t broken. There was nothing to fix. And even if I did manage to convince myself through this process that I was somehow “fixed,” there was no way I would be the same person I was in September. Heck, I’m not the same person I was yesterday. The more I did the work, the more I realized that I needed to do the work for me. Not anyone else. Not to get a gold star or a ‘good boy’ from anyone, but for me. I needed to focus inward and untangle decades of shit that had led me to this point. That was moment I made the true shift from ‘fixing myself for her’ to ‘learning who I am and realizing I am worthy of love’–for me.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. If you are reading this and we are friends on Facebook or Instagram, you have probably seen little breadcrumbs I’ve dropped along the way. I have been told that it seems like I have a tendency to over-share. There was a point in my life where that was done because of an attempt to get some external validation. To get that recognition of ‘Wow…Todd is so vulnerable, look out much he shares. What a guy.’
It’s not that any more. I share these things now because I know that I am not alone. I need to know that I’m not alone. The shame I had felt after each of the divorces and felt especially deeply after this recent break-up had all the power over me if I didn’t share my journey as I went through it. Would I have loved to have these conversations over beers on a patio somewhere late into the evening as we contemplate life? Maybe? I mean I am an introvert, but I’m working on it. The current pandemic climate is also a factor. But, who knows? I’m saying ‘yes’ to more things this year, so that may change too. There may be some patio beers and deep discussions about life in our future. I share because I need to remind myself that I am not alone in this kind of journey. Neither are you.
But I don’t need anyone to validate me or measure my progress. I can see it. I can see it daily. I can see that I have come so far. I can see that this is a daily journey and there is no finish line, just a deliberate, intentional choice to do the work I need to do to release the beautiful soul inside me that has been hiding for so long in these shadows of doubt and fear and shame.
But what of the heartbreak and LEGOs, Todd?
Good question, imaginary reader-plot-device. It would be easy to say that the shift in descriptors (or ‘break-up’ as some would call it) left me heartbroken. In fact I have used that word to describe it both in my journals and in conversation. And I don’t think it’s wholly inaccurate. I think that is a layer or a kind of grief that happens when someone so special in our lives leaves it. And I don’t mean that she actually left, but the presence, the space we held in each other’s lives shifted into something…different. And that is something I am still working through.
The wonderful thing about it, the true gift, is that it has helped me realize what I need in a partner. And the gifts I can offer to a partner. It has helped me understand that I am worthy of a partner who can share such gifts. And it has helped me identify ways that I need to still maintain my own identity and self when engaging in that kind of relationship in the future.
So, yes, there was a moment where I thought through all of the metaphors of heartbreak. There were unsent letters written. And probably a few songs that may or may not ever reach other ears.
But it wasn’t until this morning that I realized they weren’t quite right. It didn’t quite fit, this image of a heart ‘broken.’ At least not for me. Not for where I am at this point in my life.
You see, if the negative self-talk that I had bought into was that I was ‘broken’ and needed ‘fixed’ was bullshit (and it was), then the image of my heart being broken was also bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, as a description of the type of grief I felt (still feel on some days when it sneaks up on me), it’s a decent image, but it’s not completely right.
I have come to realize that my heart, my metaphorical heart–the center of the love I have for myself and the wellspring of love I have available to give to others–is really more like a set of LEGOs. There are thousands of pieces that make the whole heart.
When I started out as a child, they were all there. The set of thousands of pieces was put together exactly like the picture on the box. This is “Todd’s Heart; Ages:0-99” and when it’s assembled out of the box, it’s a thing that is capable of endless amounts of self-love and love for others. It’s really pretty amazing.
Here’s where it gets tricky. If you have ever played with those amazing Danish building blocks, you know that, in most cases, the only time you assemble the kit as intended is that first time you take it out of the box.
The same is true for the “Todd’s Heart” set. Somewhere along the course of living, the original construction changes. Bricks get taken off…others put on in different places. And, sometimes, the creation is changed completely and made to resemble something completely different from that picture on the box and more like what we think someone else wants to see. Or rather, more like what I thought someone wanted it to be.
I was really good at rebuilding that heart into the heart I thought people wanted to see in me. And also good at convincing myself it was fine. That it was what was meant to be. No matter how many times it was broken, I managed to rebuild it in some manner that seemed to work OK.
But it wasn’t really broken, was it? No. Not really. LEGOs are notoriously hard to actually break. They can survive building and rebuilding countless times, but rarely truly break. The “Todd’s Heart” set is the same. I realized that after seeing what my heart was capable of becoming (and feeling like it was as close to that fresh-out-of-the-box heart from my childhood), that it wasn’t broken. She helped me see that it was possible to build that heart for me.
The heartbreak, wasn’t really a heartbreak at all, just a kid…my inner child…playing with some LEGOs. Inspired by recent events. I had just taken the opportunity to lay out all of the pieces and start rebuilding it into the heart I needed.
At first I saw the pieces with her name on them. There are bricks in this set that will only ever belong to her. There are some special souls in my life who have their own bricks. No matter what shape my heart takes, those bricks will always be theirs. I hope those people know who they are. *Note to self…do a better job of reminding them.
I have been working through a lot of things in my life, and in my self. And I have been doing so with the understanding that the only way to truly find the love of self and love for others that I know is in there (I mean, it’s right there in the builder’s guide), is to rebuild that “Todd’s Heart” model with only Todd in mind. Not anyone else. Being true, being vulnerable, and knowing I am worthy of that love is the only way it’s going to come into my life. First from within, and then all around.
It’s a daily process. And I’m being as intentional about it as I can right now (there’s another blog post coming about intentionality, but not today).
Some days are easier than others. Some days are harder. But all are worthwhile. Because I am worthwhile. This untangling, journaling, learning, changing behaviors, being vulnerable, practicing love and vulnerability, are all worth it.
Because I’m worth it.
And hopefully, if you are struggling with anything even remotely like this, you’ll come to the understanding that you are worth it, too.
Have an awesomesauce day, my friends.