Copyright 2015 by T.J. Seitz
Ten years ago my life was a train wreck. Three of the most stressful experiences that can impact a person happened to me all within the course of a single year.
My mother died, my job was transferred to another organization and I got divorced.
I logically knew that none of those predicaments were “my fault,” per se, but that did not stop me from feeling that way. At times I believed that it was all part of a curse directed specifically at me.
The world showed me just how unfair and indifferent it could be; even when you work hard to do the right thing.
I spent a lot of time questioning myself and wondering what I did wrong.
I felt angry, alone and most of all, betrayed. I became numb and shut down. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I stopped eating and lost a lot of weight (probably because it was one of the few things I felt I had some control over).
It seemed like every time I attempted to regain a sense of balance other (unanticipated) obstacles would get in the way, stalling my progress.
Mutual friends of my ex-wife and I sided with her and stopped talking to me. Family court garnished my wages for child support. The Recession happened and I got laid off for the first time in my life.
Thankfully my daughter and son still lived with me for half the week. They kept me grounded.
All three of us craved stability. The kids especially needed to see that neither their childhood home nor I were going anywhere.
Looking back I’m now grateful that I couldn’t sit around and dwell for very long on my less than perfect circumstances.
To regain my self-confidence I had to accept my Fate and move on; despite my inherent stubbornness. I had no choice but to start over, established new routines and rebuild my life.
My recovery process began as I gradually remembered and revisited the parts of myself that I forgot; the person I used to be before getting married and becoming a father.
I took note of all the things I used to enjoy that I stopped doing because I became distracted. I started writing again and made time to read regularly. I also rediscovered baking and canning.
Throughout last decade I learned a lot and gained perspective. None of which I would have been exposed to if my life had not drastically changed.
I made new friends and repaired relationships that I neglected after getting married the first time.
Soon after splitting with my ex-wife I coincidentally became reacquainted with my high school sweetheart (who would eventually become my second wife). She and her son were also struggling through a divorce.
Her presence meant something to me. The deep connection we shared from twenty years before was still there and we needed to explore the reasons why we were brought back together then of all times. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity I could not turn down.
First-hand experience helped me understand just how clueless I was about things such as being laid off and underemployed.
Jobs that complimented my education and skill levels were not as easy to come by as I had assumed they would be when I was younger. Sometimes I had to swallow my pride to earn money. I accepted crappy low skill jobs that did not pay well; exchanging my brain for a paycheck. It was what I had to do to pay the mortgage and gain access to affordable health insurance.
I learned that I have a predisposition to closely identify myself with my vocation; people though are not their jobs. Our intrinsic value needs to be found or measured elsewhere; despite how good it feels to be appreciated by our bosses, clients and co-workers in the moment.
When it comes right down to it, anyone who receives a pink slip is ultimately responsible for picking up all the pieces of their life and figuring out what to do with themselves, not the government, their former employers or customers.
Jobs are indifferent to their existence and don’t have feelings. They come and go within the lifecycles of a business or agency.
People are not that way.
It’s the individual who performs a job that makes it so unique. There is no point in blaming anyone or taking a layoff notice to heart because neither the eliminated position nor the bureaucratic structure that runs an organization cares in the end.
What happens to you is also not necessarily a reflection of you; unpleasant things happen to good people. It’s how we handle a given situation that counts the most. The way we react to our environment builds character and leaves an impression on others to reflect on.
The truth often lies in our actions not what other people say about or do to us.
On paper I might appear to some to be a lousy father because I am obligated to pay child support. What the paperwork does not say is that I share custody of my kids and that they live me four days and three nights during the week. New York State does not recognize shared custody when it comes to child support so by law I’m required to pay as if they didn’t live with me.
For a number of years I often felt like I was not valued by anyone for more than a paycheck or a body with a pulse. All that seemed to matter was that I showed up to work on time and got paid at the end of the week. What happened in-between was inconsequential as long as I didn’t rock anyone’s boat and looked busy.
My supervisors gave the same satisfactory rating to their subordinates for working hard and being reliable as they did for when they slacked off all day. It did not make sense to me but that was the way those kinds of high turnover arrangements worked. I needed to appreciate or embrace the fact that I did not have to work multiple jobs or dig ditches in the snow to make ends meet like many other people had to do. I needed to worry just about myself (and my family) and not what others were doing (or thinking).
I did not realize how much my ability to earn money and pay for stuff affected my self-confidence and how I thought others perceived me.
Not having much money made me feel disregarded or degraded. I’ve never been rich or cared much about keeping up appearances. However I always had enough to do some extra things like go out for dinner once in a while, buy gifts or take a vacation.
That all changed after getting divorced then laid off.
I started obsessing over the costs of everything and changed a lot of my former spending habits. A lower standard of living made it hard for me to do much of anything because it all seemed to involve spending money (that I no longer had), including driving around (gas prices were very high at times) or doing simple projects around the house (wood, drywall and paint are not cheap).
I had to relearn how to juggle money and live paycheck to paycheck like I did in college.
When there was not enough cash to cover the bills I asked my wife to help pay (which made me feel humiliated), use a charge card and/or take money out of my retirement account. To me it was all about keeping a roof over our heads and food in the cupboards versus my ego or having money to spend in the uncertain future.
I was very afraid of going bankrupt and losing our home.
I sometimes worry about how much my reclusiveness (or turning inward) and paranoid behavior regarding spending money might have affected my relationships with my wife and kids. I think at times I may have alienated myself and not been very fun to be around because I was so concerned about not creating any more debt than we already had.
I don’t know if my openness (honesty) regarding my anxieties helped or hampered things in the end. I hope they know how much I appreciated their patience with me while I worked through those difficult times,
Last weekend I realized that my life has come “full circle” after I threw out a plastic tote from the basement.
I was storing memorabilia from my first marriage in it for my kids when they were older.
During the last ten years I remarried.
My wife has been pestering me since moving in with us eight years ago to sort through all the boxes and containers I have scattered throughout the house. She pointed out that I was holding onto a lot of things that no one but me wanted around. The crate of wedding items was one of them.
I admit I’m sort of a hoarder and keep a lot of things for purely sentimental reasons more than actual need. It takes me a long time to get to a point where I am comfortable letting go and getting rid of items connected to my past.
Several weeks ago I started working again for the same employer I was displaced from in 2005.
The new opening was posted over a year ago. I applied soon after spotting the job and spent the following months going through the vetting process.
Although it’s not my former position, it’s in a department I often supported. I’m still familiar with many of the responsibilities and people there. I also would not have been as qualified for the new appointment had not worked there before, left and learned additional skills during the previous decade.
It felt like I was coming home after being away during the last decade.
Sometimes in life we are given messages that are both symbolic and literal. When a person really needs to receive insight the associated lessons will appear in a manner that is very difficult to ignore or deny.
I feel like this is exactly what happened to me. However to fully recognize or embrace my intended understandings I had to be let go of the past and be comfortable with my present life.
The house has been experiencing a rodent problem for about six months.
There are tiny droppings all over the shelves and my tool bench in the basement. Something that sounded like a chipmunk has been scratching around the ceiling crawlspace and the cats have been catching a lot of what we thought were baby mice.
We didn’t make a big deal of it because we live in a rural area and it seemed like our four cats were keeping the matter in check.
Last weekend I started a spontaneous project after learning my father bought a device that could convert photo negatives and slides into computer files. I borrowed the contraption and started scanning all the old bundles of negatives I had stored in the basement.
After sorting through my initial container of pictures I started looking through others and remembered that I might have additional items in the crate from my first marriage.
It was getting late. I was in a hurry to finish and clean up my mess in the kitchen before dinner.
I found and unburied the tote; it was under several leaf bags crammed full of Barbie Dolls, Littlest Pet Shop sets and stuffed animals.
Once uncovered I moved the container and removed the lid; assuming I’d only see the objects I’d been filling it up with over time (simply grabbing the packet of negatives I’d left there and moving on). I was wrong.
Lying on top of my daughter’s ducky head bathrobe was an oversized mouse and four grey pups. The babies looked exactly like the ones our cats have been catching.
I was startled by the find; jumped back and yelped.
As soon as regained my composure, a few moments later, I put the lid back on and quickly brought the tote outside to the front yard before anything could escape from it.
I instinctively knew at that point that I had no choice but to go through the container and get rid of everything that was damaged.
The only contents spared from the trashcan where a couple baggies of negatives and a baby time capsule that I was saving for my daughter’s 16th birthday; which was coincidently in a few weeks.
I gave Z the undamaged metal cylinder then tossed everything else out after clearing my decision with both kids.
The vinyl records, loose papers, photos, dried flowers, baby clothes and playthings were all chewed-up, peed-on or moldy. Nothing was worth saving.
Surprisingly I had no anxiety about the outcome. My children also felt no strong desire to keep anything because they really don’t remember that part of their life (They were very young when their mother and I got divorced).
I was holding on to items that that no longer had any meaning. There was no point or need to keep them around anymore.
The stuff I discarded was a connection to a past I no longer identified with.
Those effects belonged to a part of me that doesn’t exist anymore so why was I keeping them?
It’s like carrying around a dead twin for the rest of your life instead of just burying it.
Before setting them free I took a picture of the female and her offspring.
I sent the snapshot to my wife. She is a veterinary technician and identified them as packrats.
I laughed to myself at that point because I knew that the experience was a universal message and that I did exactly what I was supposed to do,
To get rid of the packrats in our house I had to release the source of the problem (the mother and her babies).
To get rid of the clutter in the basement I needed to throw it out.
To move on with my life and come “full circle” I had to let go of the past.