Category Archives: Self-Discovery

Become a Sponge (aka Sharpening Your Mind to Help You Heal)

I’ve talked a lot about the use of creativity to help heal your mind and your heart on the other side of a divorce. The output of your mind. The flip-side of this coin is the intake of information. I’m not talking about entertaining-type stuff at this juncture – movies, music, etc can wait for another post. I’m talking about taking in useful, encouraging stuff that will give you something to grow on. Something to find hope in.

Here’s a brief list of things I’m thinking of –

J31_Writer

**Podcasts

If you can think of it, there’s a podcast about it. Here i would suggest searching for podcasts on something that would be helpful to you – organizational skills, how to run your own business, how to de-clutter your house, etc. Find your list of favorites and tune in as often as they are broadcast. Listen while you work out, while you work around the house, while you’re winding down for the evening. Take in as much knowledge as you can.

**Blogs

Including this blog, subscribe to writers who touch on issues that are important to you. You can find blogs ranging from Christianity to motocross, from gardening to single parenthood. Take a little time each day to read something useful.

**YouTube / Vimeo videos

While it may be tempting to just watch something fun or goofy, take some time to watch something uplifting or educational. During my darkest days post-divorce (PD), I found myself taking in a lot of sermons and historical documentaries (Ken Burns does amazing work!). My horizons were greatly expanded because of these videos!

**Conferences

Are you a writer? Go to a conference. Are you a homeschooling single dad? There is encouragement and equipping available to you at conferences across the country. Are you a pastor? The Basics Conference in Cleveland is outstanding. There’s something beneficial to going out of town for a weekend of intensive learning. The change of scenery is great and the info and networking are even better!

**Seminars

One of the best seminars I’ve been to was a Dave Ramsey financial seminar in Colorado Springs. Perhaps a stop-smoking seminar would be helpful, or one on changing careers.

My friends, feed your brains. You have an uphill battle in recovering from your divorce, but there are plenty of tools available to help you get back on your feet. Don’t just feast on junk food for the brain, like video games, movies, excessive tv watching, etc.  Take in some stuff that will give you a boost to get you out of the pit of despair that you’re in. You’ll get there, I promise. But you have to help yourself along the way.

A Most Important Exercise (aka Are You Ready for a Relationship?)

This disclaimer will sound familiar, but I have to say it – I am not a dating or marriage expert. I am just a guy who’s been through the darkness of divorce and who has, with God’s help, navigated the perilous road of singleness, dating, and remarriage. What I offer here are merely thoughts that have been brewing in my brain for 7+ years.

I’ve talked a lot about making a list of qualities you’re looking for in a future spouse – the “negotiables” and the “non-negotiables.”  I’ve talked a lot about how it’s vital that you don’t compromise, that you don’t settle. But I’d like to suggest something that’s of even greater importance before even stepping a foot on the dating path, post-divorce (PD).

It is essential that people who go through a divorce (whether it was a deeply painful experience or if the two are still “really good friends”) take time to evaluate themselves. Again, the best advice I received PD was to resist the urge to date for at least a year. Heal. Grow. Recover. Discover. Live. Once you come to a place where you think you want to try your hand at the dating scene again, I suggest this exercise:

A MOST IMPORTANT EXERCISE

Write down on paper (a journal, a notebook, etc) these categories – Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Financial, Career. Underneath each of these categories, write “Where I Want to Be,” and under that write “Where I Honestly Think I am Right Now.” As you contemplate these areas of your life, the point isn’t to look for perfection. Heck, if that were the case, no one would do very well on this self-evaluation. The point is that you are making forward progress in these areas.

**Spiritual

Even if you don’t see yourself as a “religious person,” I assure you, this is the most important category of your life. It must receive the most attention. You were born (Who constructs a baby in the womb???), and you live (Who equips your lungs to breath, your heart to beat, and your cells to reproduce????), and you will die (What happens in the end? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven? A hell?) These are spiritual questions. I urge you to come up with at least something for the “Where I want to Be” section here. How spiritually mature would you say you want to become? Where are you now? What are some things you can do to get there?

**Physical

it’s not a for sure thing, but there is a good chance that in the aftermath of your divorce you dropped the ball regarding your physical health.  Rate yourself on how well you are eating, sleeping, and exercising. Do you have any habits that feel beyond your control, i.e. smoking like a train, drinking like a fish, eating like a pig, flying high like a kite? Before you’re ready to be a stable man in some woman’s life, you need to have enough self-control to say “yes” to what’s good for you and “no” to what is not.

**Mental/Emotional

These two areas are certainly interconnected. How is your mental health? I would be willing to bet that PD you have experienced at least a little bit of depression. At this point, how are you doing? Are you managing your depression (any necessary medication AND counseling/support network)? Do you feel mentally sharp? How’s your motivation for doing life? Are you able to experience a healthy range of emotions in appropriate situations? How are you feeding your brain – Are you a voracious reader (I encourage you to become one!)? Are you a student? Are you learning new things? What brings you the most joy in life now?

**Financial

Do you have a budget? Are you sticking to it? Do you control your money or does it control you? Do you have a debt-destruction plan? You don’t need to be debt-free to date, but I’d suggest that it’s important that you have a plan and that you’re working that plan.

**Career

Before your divorce did you have a dream to become an engineer? A mechanic? A baker? If your divorce derailed your goals, I want to encourage you to either get back on the same horse and move toward those goals, or find a new horse to ride. Come up with an updated dream job. How can you get there from here? Find a career you love and love the career  you find…

The Litmus Test

Again, the point of this self-assessment is not perfection. Are you moving forward? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Have you slain the codependent dragon?  I think that dating is a fun way to get to know someone. But I do believe that dating long-term should be for the purpose of testing the waters for marital compatibility.  Give yourself time to grow in the areas above where you need some work. Also, one of the most important litmus tests is when you can say,”I’m okay if I remain single the rest of my life – While I WANT a relationship, I don’t NEED one to be okay.” Once you’re there, I’d say, let the dating begin!

However, if you find that you have a LOT of work to do in the above categories, if you feel like you just HAVE TO HAVE a girlfriend to be okay, I assure you, that is the last thing you need. Surround yourself with guys who exhibit wisdom, men who could be a PD group of advisors for you. Get healthy in these categories, THEN re-enter the dating world.

Something Her, Something You, Something New (aka ingredients for maintaining a solid relationship)

I am not an expert in dating nor do I pretend to be one. But I would like to offer a way to breathe life (or new life) into a growing relationship. Whether you are just getting to know the woman from work, church, neighborhood, etc, or if you’ve been married (or remarried) for 15 years, it helps to have shared interests and experiences. I’m calling this approach to connecting “Something her, Something You, Something New.”

Something Her
Be the gentleman. Ladies first, right? Take the initiative here. Ask questions and find out hobbies, interests, and activities that this gal has. You pick one that she mentions. And offer to join her in that endeavor. Does she absolutely love going to movies? Even if you haven’t been to a movie in years, ask her which movie she wants to see and treat her to a movie of her choosing. Does she love to cook? If she likes to ham things up, invite her to cook her specialty while you film her, Food Network Style, complete with color commentary and interview. Does she like scrapbooking? Pay for her to go to a workshop with a friend, then when she’s done, sit down with her and ask her to show you all that she has made. Better yet, go to the scrapbooking workshop WITH her with a joyful (not begrudging) spirit. You get the idea. Join her on HER turf. Genuinely showing interest in what she enjoys doing.

Do this on a regular basis – not a one-time exercise.

Something You
Now that you’ve been able to get a glimpse into some of the things she enjoys, kindly invite her to join you on YOUR turf (but never force her. Just invite). Do you like to go hiking? Find your favorite mountain or nature trail to explore together. Do you enjoy archery? Go rent a compound bow and some arrows at your local archery range and show her how to shoot. Do some target practice together. Do you like to play disc golf? Invite her to come play with you for a round of 18. Be patient with her. Show her why you enjoy this stuff so much.

Do this on a regular basis – but always give preference to the things she likes if you have to choose between the two

Something New
Now there is something really cool about discovering something new with someone you’re dating. Let’s say neither of you have been to a professional hockey game. Save up a little bit and go watch the Blackhawks play the Avalanche. Where’s the closest museum that neither of you have been to? (The top two museums I’ve been to are the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.) Regardless, go explore one together. Make a day of it. Take in the IMax experience. Pick out together the exhibits you both want to be sure to catch. When you’re all done, talk about what you liked over dinner. You get the idea here.

Make a habit of this one, especially. You will learn a ton about each other as you discover and explore the world around you together!

It’s so important to find ways to keep things fresh in your relationship, whether you’re dating or married (you should still be dating after saying “I Do,” anyway!). This is just an idea to help move you in that direction.

For me, here’s where I’m at:

Something Her – My wife loves crime shows and I can go without tv for months on end. However, over the course of our 2+ years of marriage, we have watched numerous series together. Bones. Crossing Jordan. NCIS. Poirot. Murdock Mysteries. Murder, She Wrote. The list goes on and on. Not only have these shows grown on me, they have given me a conversation point with my wife. We often will talk about the issues uncovered in the shows or character qualities or flaws in characters. Pretty priceless, if you ask me. Any opportunity to engage my wife in meaningful conversation is awesome.

Something Me – I have always been a huge fan of football. I love it. I have my favorite team, but I just thoroughly enjoy the game of football. My wife is a big fan of her home team, and she knows some about football. But my love of football has been a relational entry point for us. Not only has my wife played fantasy football with me and others, this season we’re doing a pick ’em contest to see who can predict more winners at the season’s end. Hilarious but awesome! (Not to mention, at this point in the season, she’s beating me!)

Something New – Right now my wife is pregnant, due in December, so this is not an option really YET. Years ago my wife took some dance lessons and thoroughly enjoyed them. She’d go dancing with friends on a regular basis. Over the last few years, these opportunities have dwindled. While this is something more new to me than her, once she has recovered from giving birth to our second son, I would like to take some swing dance lessons (maybe ballroom, too) with her. I’d like to tap into something that I don’t have a lot of experience with. I think the new experience of learning some dance together would be beneficial in many ways! Looking forward to it! (If I break a leg, I’ll be sure to post a pic!)

Anyway, your turn. What might you do in terms of Something Her, Something You, Something New? Inspired? Let me know in the comments!

The Most Important Compatibility Category (aka Don’t Be Afraid to Abort the Mission)

I have so many dear friends who have either divorced or who have gone through intense struggle in their relationship because of differences in one of the most important categories in life – Religious Preferences. These friends of mine are having a tough time because they tried to fool themselves during the very beginning of the relationship.

“She’s a Mormon and I’m a Catholic. We can both go to both churches.”

“She’s an atheist and I’m a Baptist. I think I can win him over in time…”

“I’m a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. But she is a very spiritual person. We’ll get along just fine.”

Unless you prepare The List beforehand, you will be susceptible to a loud heart and a quieted brain. It will be much easier for you to make excuses. It will be easy for you to justify the pursuit of this woman who seems like a great catch but with religious differences. You must have a list of negotiables and non-negotiables before you jump back into the dating scene, AND you must not compromise.

FREQUENCY OF RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY

When you are getting to know a gal and are considering moving forward in a more serious relationship, consider the Religious Preference issue THE MOST IMPORTANT compatibility category. For you, you may land in once of these:

*I honestly have no religious preference

*I have a background in ______________ church or religious affiliation, but I no longer have ties to that group.

*I sometimes attend _______________ church or religious organization. Just depends on what else is going on.

*I attend religious services at _______________ on a regular basis and I like it, but it’s not the most important thing to me.

*I am extremely active in the life of ______________ church or religious organization. This is the most important thing to me, or at least I want it to be.

The woman you are considering pursuing will fall in one of these  religious descriptors, as well. I urge you to move forward ONLY IF she has the same descriptor as you. Otherwise, it will be like puling teeth. You will butt heads. AND, I assure you, most likely your relationship will be characterized by the lower of the two descriptors within a short amount of time. If you have a differing level of priority for religion, ABORT THE MISSION RIGHT NOW. Both of you will be happier for it in five, ten years. Don’t be fooled by her amazing looks or her charming personality. Your religious preferences will make or break your relationship.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

Not only does the level of priority you put on your religious activity matter, the actual religion you are affiliated with matters. I assure you, there are deep, essential, foundational differences between all of these major camps of religious thought – Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Wiccan, Universalist, new-age, etc. etc. etc. If you take the tenets of your religion and compared them side-by-side to those of the woman you want to pursue, I assure you there are going to be unavoidable differences, i.e. how one must live, what does the afterlife consist of and how do I get there, the origins of evil, what religious activities should I partake in, whom should I worship and how should I worship?, etc etc…  Catholics and Hindus are not spiritually compatible. Mormons and Christians are definitely not compatible spiritually. Again, if the woman you want to go after is in a different camp of religious thought, I implore you, ABORT THE MISSION! Hang out with women of like mind, and have them make up your pool of possibilities. Otherwise, you’ll be drowning in further heartache.

A NOTE TO CHRISTIANS

Now, a note to Christians of different denominations. Some denominations are more compatible than others. Lutherans and say, Pentecostals, not so much. But perhaps Baptists and Presbyterians are more. Here’s my point – before you pursue the really cool Christian chick that has caught your attention, do a side-by-side comparison of your statement of beliefs and hers. Doctrine is important. Probably the most important question you should start with is, “What do you both believe about the Bible?” If one of you believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God and depicts historical men and women in history and is literal, and the other believes that the Bible is simply hyperbole or analogy and is just an inspirational book for living, I would have to say, ABORT THE MISSION. This is an impasse and you should not try to force a relationship to work that has this fundamental of a difference.

Another important question, then, is how much of an authority does the Bible hold in your life? Do you find yourself easily obeying whatever it is you read in the Bible, or do you prefer to adhere to what you personally agree with and disregard what seems out of date or just too hard to do? You both need to have the same general response to Scripture to be compatible.

This might be coming across as too narrow-minded. This might fly in the face of the culture of tolerance that has been emerging in our country. But I assure you, just a few weeks or months into a marriage with a difference of Religious Preference or Practice, you will begin to feel the tension. You will begin to notice in yourself either frustration or a growing sense of compromise. The divorce rate is higher for second marriages. I have a hunch that your differences spiritually could have the potential to escalate the odds for a second (or third, etc) divorce. You can’t afford that level of heartache.

If you do find someone, though, that is thoroughly compatible with you on a spiritual/religious level, there is almost no greater joy. My second marriage is centered on our core, religious beliefs in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, marriage is hard, but we have a firm foundation that won’t erode. In our very imperfect way, we are navigating life and marriage and parenthood through faith, one step at a time.800px-Broken_bridge,_Madagascar

Fight the Taboo (aka real men get help for their mental illness)

It was this time a few years ago that I came to a crossroads. I was in the midst of my PD (post-divorce) season of healing. I was seeing significant progress in my recovery AND my self-discovery. It was an exciting, although painful, season. But, as I began to be made more and more aware of who I was, what made me tick, etc, I noticed something.

For as far back as I could remember, EVEN INTO MY CHILDHOOD, I had this sense of gloom. My divorce only made things worse. I would wake up each morning, dreading the day. The best way I could describe it was that I was functioning inside of a “black cloud.” As each day would go on, the black cloud would somewhat dissipate, but, like clockwork, it would return the next day.

Now that I became aware of this, I took a drive across Colorado to visit my oldest sister. I had a five-hour trip to put my finger on what, exactly, I wanted to say. All I knew is that I didn’t want to live that way any more.

By the time I arrived in my hometown in western Colorado, I knew what I needed to declare. The words weren’t easy to spit out, but I needed to say them, “Sis, I think I’ve been fighting with depression. For a long time.”

You see, it was so hard to get those words out for a couple of reasons.

1.) My family of origin – My parents were old school when it came to dealing with issues. You either dealt with it “in-house” or you swallowed hard and kept silent, thinking that you could pull yourself out of any mess by your own boot straps. We never discussed mental illness at all during my growing up years except in reference to the hypochondriac, manipulative, angry aunt who raised my mother. But apart from that, the subject never came up. I had no frame of reference, no way to know what was normal or not in terms of depressed feelings. Regarding the need for any kind of counselor, totally out of the question. I’m sure if I would have asked to see a psychologist as a kid, my parents would have looked at my like I had 13 1/2 hands and three noses.

2.) I’m a guy – Not to over-generalize, but most guys don’t talk about their feelings. Not necessarily because we don’t want to, but mostly because we don’t always know what it is that we are feeling. Those pesky things called emotions are so hard to put a finger on, that it’s easier to keep quiet about instead of looking like a bumbling idiot who doesn’t know what’s going on in his own self. For me, I was scared to death to put a label on what I was feeling, because of how SERIOUS DEPRESSION IS. 

But, because my five-hour trip gave me the courage to put into words what it was that I was battling, I knew I had to tell someone about this internal wrestling match.

My sister and I, and a high school friend and I, had several good conversations that weekend. By the time I left that part of Colorado to head back to Colorado Springs, I was resolved to do something about this “black cloud” of depression.

Upon returning, I met with a recommended psychologist to get some testing done. This was done on the following Friday. The doctor who administered the tests felt that my situation was serious enough that she needed to call me the next day, instead of waiting until Monday.

She explained that there is a spectrum of depression, where on one end a person is pretty much depression free. On the opposite end of this spectrum, you have severe clinical depression. She described what the few middle notches on the spectrum were like. She asked me where I thought I was on this scale. I honestly answered, “Oh, somewhere just beyond the middle of the spectrum, I guess.”

She explained to me in detail that, no, I didn’t have things that good. She said that I was on the far end of the scale, and that I needed help, and fast. She suggested getting on medication as well as undergoing some counseling.

I was especially nervous about taking any kind of antidepressant. Again, my lack of knowledge paved the road to fear. So, after doing some research, and talking with my new core circle of friends, I came to realize how brain chemistry worked, and that taking an antidepressant was the equivalent to a diabetic taking insulin for health’s sake.

Fast Forward A Few Weeks

It usually takes a handful of weeks for Zoloft to kick in, but when it kicked in, it made such a HUGE difference. I remember the morning like it was this morning.

Instead of waking up with this “black cloud” surrounding me, instead of feeling paralyzed to do what I needed to do that day, I woke up early, about 5am. While I was lying there in my bed, it struck me. “Wow!” I thought. “Is this what it feels like to be happy and undepressed?” As I took inventory of my mental faculties, I began to laugh. Not because my situation was funny, but because I felt for the first time a major sense of relief.

Are antidepressants a fix-all? No. But, under the right circumstances, they can be a life-saver. Was I permanently healed? No. Again using the diabetes analogy, the diabetic has to use insulin long-term to maintain their body’s needs. It could very well be that I need to remain on Zoloft the rest of my life. Honestly, I’m okay with that.

Are Meds Enough?

The best one-two punch in dealing with depression is careful medication coupled with counseling. Being able to get that extra set of eyes that can look into your life objectively is a significant part in making sense of depression, ESPECIALLY FOR MEN.

Don’t Get Cold Feet

If you even have a tiny clue that you might be dealing with depression (if you’re divorced, divorcing, or on the rocks, chances are you ARE dealing with some level of depression), Google the counselors and psychologists in your area. Just do it. Don’t overthink it. When you’re depressed, you can talk yourself out of almost anything. Just do it.

Beyond that, find at least ONE trusted person in your circle of influence, a friend, relative, coworker, etc, that you can say to them, “I think I’m battling depression.” Get those words out. Then, you can have a compassionate ally on your side who can understand you and help you get the treatment you need. Don’t chicken out on this part of it.

Don’t Buy It…

Don’t buy into the notion that men aren’t supposed to be depressed

Don’t buy into the notion that you are weak for admitting you are depressed

Don’t buy into the notion that there is no hope for your situation

Don’t buy into the notion that you are less of a human being, less of a man, because you are seeking treatment for mental illness

Don’t buy into the notion that counseling is for wimps

Don’t buy into the notion that antidepressants are evil and aren’t to be trusted

Guys, regarding the war against mental illness, and specifically YOUR BATTLE WITH DEPRESSION, with the right help, YOU’VE GOT THIS. Hang in there.

Your Brother in the Battle,

BKM

The BEST Advice I Ever Received (My ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE to you!)

There is no cookie-cutter formula for a guy to get through the difficulty and pain of divorce. I’m not pretending to say that “if you follow these three easy steps, you’ll have no problems getting past your divorce.” No, instead, I’m sharing from experience what was exceptionally helpful for me.

On the heels of my divorce a handful of years ago, someone told me to not put myself into any kind of serious dating relationship for at least one full year. Instead, I was told to take that time to figure out what a single ME likes and dislikes, enjoys and despises. Instead of grasping at something I felt I desperately needed (another relationship), I was free to investigate for the first time in my adult life who I had become. Not only that, I was able to avoid making some relationship decisions I know I would have regretted because I was a needy, broken man without a clue. So, I found out a few things about myself.

Just a few of my personal discoveries:

**Although I knew that I had enjoyed playing the trombone in school and a little bit in college, I never realized that I absolutely LOVED listening to big band swing. I also discovered for the first time that I got a big kick out of 60s rock (yes, I became a fan of Credence Clearwater Revival. Don’t judge me…).

**Regarding food, I quickly ascertained that I like key lime pie, and I don’t normally care for popcorn or cake.

**I learned that I enjoyed trying different beers and I occasionally enjoy smoking a Sherlock-Holmes style pipe.

**Regarding my viewing experiences, I discovered that I was not so much of a movie guy as I am a historical, nature, and crime documentary person.

**About books, I had the freedom to determine that I am thoroughly swept up in reading biographies and Charles Dickens and Old Testament prophets.

**When it comes to transportation, I found that I am a Jeep-a-holic and have been bitten by the motorcycle bug.

**Spiritually speaking, I finally was able to articulate my own set of theological fingerprints. Who knew that I was a cautious continuationist with shards and shreds of Calvinism embedded in my beliefs?

**Concerning mental health, I had no idea that I had been dealing with severe clinical depression since I was a little kid. What a major difference it made to find treatment!

**Interpersonally speaking, I discovered that I greatly value deep communication, I learned that usefulness of expressing anger, and I determined many of my defense mechanisms.

If you are on the fresh end of a painful divorce, I urge you to take my ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE.  Despite the urge, don’t date for a year. Read lots, talk lots, and introspect lots. Experiment with food, music, hobbies, and other tastes. Surround yourself with a small crew of trusted people. If you can’t find a crew, settle for one person you mildly trust. If that’s a stretch, then at the very least, keep a journal of what you discover. You will pleasantly surprise yourself during those twelve months!

If you are willing to take this ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE, let me know. I’d love to keep tabs on how your progress moves forward. Let me know your thoughts!