Monday, April 22, 2024

My Wife Almost Left Me (And Still Might)

For far too many years on here I wanted to be the good guy. I never slid into anyone’s DMs. I wasn’t inappropriate with anyone. I got suspended for 12 hours because – if I remember correctly – I said I hoped a guy (Cardinals fan, maybe?) got syphilis. But here’s the thing: I’m an asshole.

Y’all never saw it because I had cultivated this online persona of Thickie Don. Having a Twitter account and a blog that had been around for a while came to be my sole source of dopamine. The likes and RTs that came with some joke or comment, or blog post, or [waves hands around head] was the dragon I chased. It’s incredibly embarrassing to say that out loud, a “man” my age was addicted to Twitter (it will never be “X.”)

There were other dragons. Pardon, there are other dragons.

She and I grew up in the Church of Christ. If you’re not familiar with the Southern American Protestant denominations, that’s the one that doesn’t use instruments, politically (and these are sweeping generalizations) to the right of Baptists, and they think you’re probably going to hell. I went to Abilene Christian University, and got a very conservative liberal arts degree. It was a joke that girls at ACU attended with the idea of getting their “Mrs” degree (get it?). The point of dating was to find your life partner, get married so you could finally have sex, and go on about your life.

We got married in Houston and moved back to Abilene while she finished school. I had a very random chance encounter in the nine months I lived in Nashville after graduating in trying to find an apartment in Abilene that got my started on a career in museums which eventually took us to Cooperstown, New York, where I was the Manager of Visitor Education at the Baseball Hall of Fame. She worked five jobs to support us on my ridiculously-low museum salary, and I didn’t really think anything of it, because this was my career.

There were complications in trying to start a family. Miscarriages – six of them – three were ectopic and two of those almost killed her. She put her body through absolute hell trying to have a son (I’m the last male in my family line) until she couldn’t get pregnant anymore. Four weeks post-surgery, stitches still present, she packed up our house and loaded the U-Haul because I wanted to work as long as possible to have a bigger check as we moved to Nashville, another step up in my museum career. I didn’t think anything of this, either.

I threw myself into my job, as I had done since moving to Cooperstown, because I was trying to build my resume. My dad and grandfather are/were Church of Christ preachers, and I was the first of my last name in three generations to not be one, and I was trying to prove something. Moving to Cooperstown brought some legitimacy to my career within my family, and that was another dopamine hit: Validation.

Of the number of revelations I’ve had about myself through a variety of means which I’ll get to soon, I understand that there’s a decent amount of toxic insecurity within me. I need to be constantly validated. My wife was wonderful at this, building me up, supportive in every single way, but I never took that to heart – to my eternal regret. Instead I sought it from others. This insecurity bred arrogance and selfishness.

What I thought made “A Man” was so preposterously off-target. I worried constantly about exactly the wrong things: dick size, body shape (I was 300 pounds when I graduated from college), resume, etc. My wife went to have a D&C after another miscarriage and I was…at work.

We were all at church one Sunday morning in Nashville, our perfect, beautiful daughter included. The sermon that Sunday was delivered by one of my wife’s favorite psychology professors at ACU and our regular preacher, and the theme was “Have The Ego Strength To Be A Nobody.” Later that week – around ten years ago from now – I flew to Texas to interview to become a teacher, and then, eventually a soccer coach.

I worked under a coach who was the epitome of toxic masculinity – I had never encountered that before, really, on such a personal level. I had never failed at a job. I tend to stick to what I know and I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone (i.e., “Astros County”). I’m like Joey in that episode of Friends where he only bought the V encyclopedia. But instead of pushing back and saying, “I don’t really think this is who I am,” I bought into it, trying to match his energy.

It was about this time that my wife found theatre – a true community of like-minded people that not only supported how expressive she is, they encouraged it. Meanwhile, I was sitting at home. Don’t get me wrong: as the Introvert’s Introvert, this was fine with me. But she was screaming for something else. She was screaming for fulfillment and meaning outside of this bubble in which I insulated myself.

Instead of supporting her in all of these endeavors, I doubled-down on being an asshole. I threw a fit that my wife could find any kind of fulfillment outside of me. That is not, after all, what the Church of Christ (and probably most Evangelical churches) told me marriage was about. And I couldn’t care enough to try to find out what it was about – because it wasn’t about me. I had all of the ego and none of the strength. I tried theatre, doing a show with my wife and daughter sounded fun, but I didn’t have an awesome time and so I made sure that she knew that I wasn’t having an awesome time – a petulant child, unwilling to put in the time to understand.

I drank. A lot. I know I can teach history hungover. I know I can run a soccer practice hungover. I also knew that I couldn’t be trusted with hard liquor, so I switched to beer. Then I kind of realized how many calories were involved in that and I switched to hard seltzer. 80 to 100 of them a week.

It was on our 20th wedding anniversary trip last summer that things came to a head. My wife – through a bizarre set of circumstances – was in hospital for the entirety of the trip with hyponatremia, her body didn’t have enough sodium (or potassium, or magnesium) and had about 75 seizures, two of them massive seizures. I knew something was wrong throughout the drive to Colorado but when it started I froze, terrified. I waited way too long to call 911. She’s okay now, but there was about an hour where I thought she wouldn’t be.

When we got back and she was recovering in bed, screaming in pain because her muscles had completely freaked out…I sat on the couch and drank. I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything. Once again, in one of her biggest times of need, I chose myself. I texted someone else, and while it wasn’t traditionally unfaithful (in every sense you might be thinking), I still was talking to another woman, looking for validation, while my wife was recovering from something that almost killed her. That’s not masculinity, that’s fragility.

During the course of this soccer season she (and our daughter) got COVID. She had a recurrence of the seizures. I had a cold, and she asked me to stay home from our game. Now, I will go to my grave swearing that I misunderstood what she was asking, but it doesn’t matter, because she asked me to stay home with her and I said, “But I’m the head coach,” and I walked out the door.

My wife has her own story with her own upbringing and her own traumas (and boy, does she have them), and it’s not my place to share that story. But that moment in January started us down a path that has not been pleasant. We are technically separated. She has not felt emotionally connected to me since at least 2016 (when I think my mental health became An Issue) because I didn’t feel emotions.

None of this was new to me. She had asked, repeatedly, for me to do some very key things differently for her and for our daughter. And I would, for a little while, and then I would get frustrated and go back to doing whatever it was I was doing before. But the fact is that they both saw me throw myself into the soccer program I run (defense mechanism) and not give them the same level of attention. I can’t do that anymore.

I’m figuring out who I am when you take away the ego, the self-righteousness, the social media, the blog (the irony of putting this on a blog and then tweeting about it is not lost on me), the likes and the RTs – I’m assuming Elon hasn’t changed RTs to “florps.” I am an alcoholic who has chosen to not drink for 231 days and counting, not wanting the sound of me opening a beer to be the soundtrack to our daughter’s childhood. I’m in a 12-step recovery program and in therapy. There is meditation and journaling. We’re going to church – not a Church of Christ. In February I was diagnosed with “Recurrent Severe Major Depressive Disorder, Without Psychotic Features” and am on an antidepressant. We’re working on ourselves for our daughter. One day I hope to God she can trust me enough to restart a life together, but that’s not up to me.

Mainly, I’m learning how to be a real man. A man who stands up and shows up for his wife and for his daughter. A man who his daughter can look at and see how she deserves to be treated. A man who can put down his phone and pay attention, look around and see what actual life has to offer. My wife and I are in a good place, working back towards each other. But I have to understand that the hurt I’ve caused may run too deep.

Now, she was sitting next to me as I wrote this out. She read it, and approved.

If any of this comes as a surprise, it’s because I wouldn’t let anyone see who I really was. None of the above are excuses for what I’ve done and how I’ve hurt my family, but I’m trying to make it right. And if any of this sounds familiar to you at all, please reach out. Mental health and masculinity are not a one-size-fits-all band-aid, but I’m more than happy to share ways that I’ve tried to get back on track.

And the Astros kind of suck now?