Tonight, I am going out on a date for the first time in months. I gave up entirely on OK Cupid after the last round of dates I netted from that effort were all duds. This date happened pretty organically, so I am hoping that that’s a good sign. The phone calls that have occurred leading up to that inevitable plate of sashimi have been the garden variety “so what brings you here so late in the game, looking for love and hoping for the best?” This sort of conversation always seems to lead to my having to hear myself explain why I stayed in a relationship for five years that included, instead of affection, a chaperone.
Yes, we lived with her mother. This could work in certain situations — especially if the two parties were dedicated to making each other feel loved — but we never had that. This, of course, always leads to that one unavoidable question: two little girls? I can see having one child with someone and then it not working out. Why would you go ahead and plan a second child if things obviously weren’t good? It’s a valid question.
When I got into substance abuse recovery in 2010 — after a long career of using — I dove in with both feet. I was convinced (and rightly so) that I just spent two decades dedicated to the pursuit of my own needs. This is a common thread among those of us who are out there trying to survive in the very shady and difficult world of drug addiction. It is impossible, when you are anchored to that issue, to think of anyone or anything else. And so, when you get yourself cleaned up, you begin to realize how badly you treated everyone who ever loved you and the process of amends begins to take place.
Amends, we learn, does not mean saying sorry to everyone. The definition of the word means to “improve upon” something. In other words, 12-step programs indoctrinate a person to live in a wholly different way as a means of making an amends to the greater good — not just the people you have individually harmed with your behavior. And so, there I was in a new relationship, living a new way of life and dedicated to the prospect of doing everything right.
Unfortunately, and I think this happens more often than not, we crawl into those church basements with so much guilt when we put the drugs down, that a lot of us swing way too far in the other direction and start to live like doormats. This is very easy to do. Nobody is really there to guide you in your relationships and dealings with others and observe how over the top you wind up going. As a matter of fact, the more meetings you attend, the more you tend to hear the same message over and over: it is now time to serve others!
I don’t necessarily think this is a bad message. If you find yourself in the right situation, with the right lover, it can be a very beautiful thing. If you find yourself with someone who mistakes your amends for an open invitation to walk all over you, you’re screwed.
With my situation, there were inherent difficulties. I don’t necessarily think that my ex was out to ruin my life. I believe, more accurately, that the whole dynamic was set up to fail. We really did not have the luxury of discussing anything out of earshot of her mother. I remember bragging to my friends that we never once had an argument, but in retrospect, that probably hastened the end. We never argued because who the hell would get angry at someone in front of their mother?
I remember when my daughter Gloria was about to turn two-years-old and my ex asked if we could have another child. You can bet I had reservations. We hadn’t had sex for over a year after Gloria was born and then maybe once a month after that. I was not rushing toward a repeat performance. During her plea, she explained that my living as a truckdriver out on the road and coming home once a week was responsible for our emotional distance and now that I found a job where I’d be home every night, this would all change. I bought it. And, so we had our second child.
I sit here now writing this because, of course, that’s not how things went.
The take-away? I love my daughter, River, with a deep intense love that made the ridiculous nature of how she came to be worth every minute. I do not have a single regret. Life, I am coming to realize, is a journey where we can either come away with the treasure of our experiences or spend our time grumbling about every tree stump we trip on and every sticker bush we get tangled in.
This is not some flowery meditation on blind positivity. This is my experience. One of the most beautiful things about being alive on this planet is that we, alone, decide what it all means. This is why there are just as many miserable, rich people as there are happy, poor people.
So, the answer to the question of why it took so long to leave?
That’s how long it took to create two beautiful little girls.