Facing your fear disempowers it, so here I am. It’s been some time now, about 3.5 years. While I’ve talked about my story on podcasts (a verbal medium), I’ve never written about it.
For me, writing is harder. It’s more personal. I associate writing with cards, texting, “real” letters — you know, stuff you save for the closer people in life. Writing is tactile. The process can be visceral.
For years I simply refused to pick up a pen or lace my fingers across a keyboard to talk about this. Now I just feel it’s time. Maybe it will help someone out there. Maybe it will help you.
My marriage of 12 years fell apart 3.5 years ago.
(Writing that last sentence was harder than I expected.)
2016 was the hardest year of my life but it didn’t start that way. The year actually started with a bang.
- I was about to land my first book deal and start writing.
- I was in the first full year of being 100% self-employed.
- I just returned from a great business event in Nashville.
A year earlier, I moved into a 4-bedroom house 15 minutes outside of New York City that was — get this — one block from the house I grew up in during high school.
The neighbors to my left? I went to high school with their daughter. The neighbor at the end of the cul-de-sac? He used to drive me to basketball practice. His son and I played together on our high school team. We went 20-4 my junior year, and I even had plays named after me.
“One-Game, Joe and Mike Kim!”
There were no other Korean kids on my team (let alone kids who had the last name of a girl) and Joe was a light’s out shooter. I guess Coach was so confident in our two-man game that he just barked out our names thinking no one could stop us anyway.
This was the house I was going to have my family in. My kids were going to go to the same high school as me. (My ex also went to the same high school, though several years after I did.)
Can’t you see? I made it!
- Broke free of corporate America.
- Started my own business and made the most money I ever had.
- Found a church, made some married-couple friends (anyone else know how hard that is?), and volunteered on the music team.
Then, life sideswiped me.
(Writing this is still harder than I anticipated.)
Lesson #1: Life sideswipes you. It’s normal.
You’ll see I’m writing very little about anyone else because the details don’t matter. If it gives you a measure of comfort, my ex and I had dinner a few months after the divorce finalized. We got to share some meaningful things. I’m at peace.
You get married together but go through a divorce alone. Very seldom do people get closure. I did and it’s a luxury I’m grateful for.
People want to know details because we’re conditioned to believe that every story must have a villain to blame (and we’re nosy). Oftentimes we watch the news for stories because they only have villains in them.
Villains are one way we make sense of the world, but real life doesn’t always work that way. We’ve all played the villain at some point, no?
Blame can be an ugly game. One of the greatest freedoms in the world is to be free from blaming.
Lesson #2: You can’t have freedom and keep the right to blame.
We all operate according to our current level of awareness.
For you personality test junkies (I am one, too) I’m an INTJ, 8w9 on the Enneagram, and an ID on the DISC.
Emotions are hard for me. I’m logical. It’s hard to live in the moment because I think ahead so much. Believe it or not I’m an introvert, despite spending a huge part of my career in front of people.
I took one of those “Which Game of Thrones Character Are You?” quizzes on Facebook (back when Cambridge Analytica scraped all our data) and it turns out I’m Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. He didn’t do so well in the romance department. Ouch.
Introverted, overly logical, and lost in his own head all the time. Sounds like an easy guy to be married to.
I’m not minimizing the role another person plays in this dance. My point is that when we see things objectively, we face a choice. Own up to your own stuff, or descend back into subjectivity and blame.
Divorce is hard, no matter the circumstances. I don’t have children, so I was at least spared that agony. I don’t have a typical day job either, so I was not spared that agony.
One thing they don’t tell you about self-employment is that when you go through a crisis, you’ll have way too much time during the day to stew and linger on what’s going on.
Many a day started at 2pm, crawling out of an air mattress with just enough strength to host a weekly coaching call at 3pm, only to crawl back into said air mattress at 5pm.
Many a night began at 9pm at a bar or restaurant, flooding just enough alcohol into my system to numb the pain without putting me into a hospital.
Somehow during this time I helped write a best-selling book for a client, spoke at conferences, supported survivor care for kids rescued out of the sex trade, and launched an online program that helped people raise money for ministries, of all things. I tried to work a lot. It was a cycle of work, sleep, drink, cry.
I thought the cycle would run its course.
It did not.
Lesson #3: The only way to break a cycle is to break it.
To choose growth is noble. To actually grow is messier than a pig pen. Extend grace to yourself. Clean breaks don’t often happen in real life. Get around good people. I hired two counselors and read tons of books they recommended. Most important were my friends.
Crisis doesn’t create community, it reveals it. My friends loved me well. They never judged (at least to my face). They just loved, prayed for, defended, and protected me. They told judgmental people who believed they had a right to label me (because they read a few blog posts of mine or something) to go … do something naughty to themselves.
During those years, my phone nearly died every day because one of the many friends in my life would text or call me.
It drained my battery but it filled my soul.
I could fill a book with their names. I have a document on my phone called The File of Life and it’s a priceless collection of advice, wisdom, and humor. I would never have The File of Life had I not gone through what I did. I’ll be damned if I let it die with me.
Thus I’m writing now.
3:14am – March 31, 2016
That night the chaos started. I called my friend Christopher. He usually goes to bed at 9pm, so I asked his wife Jenny to wake him up. She knew it was serious because Christopher and I use our phones for everything except actually talking.
He called me while I walked past my old house from high school. I thought to myself, “I would never have imagined telling the boy who grew up in that house that he would be dealing with a divorce in 20 years.”
Christopher said to me in measured, weighty words:
“You will have a great life, no matter what happens. You will have a great life. Just make it to the next meal. You have my sword, buddy.”
If I ever get married again, Christopher would be in my party. Who the hell says, “You have my sword” in a moment like that?
His entertainment value alone would be worth it. He is a sci-fi writer now. He actually made me a character in one of his books and I can only imagine what he’d say during a toast.
(It’s getting easier to write this now.)Getting healthy can be fun. I’ve never broken a bone before, but I’ve heard that a bone ends up stronger after it heals. Maybe the heart can be the same way. I believe I’m living it.
Over the past three years, people have told me to be careful with what I share. That I’ll hurt my brand. They’ve told me I’m a leader, that I have influence, and that people look up to me. That I shouldn’t post this, say that, drink this, or go there.
Hmm. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned were in those places. They’re full of some of the most loving, honest, real people I’ve known. They’re also full of some of the saddest. We’re not so different, you and I.
I refuse to act. Actors can make a lot of money in both Hollywood and the online industry I’m in, but they sometimes don’t know who they are. I’d rather be me.
I struggled with the idea of publishing this piece. A friend told me, “You should. Your freedom liberates others. It liberates me.” I have good friends.The only thing I’d ever want to lead is a movement to help people have the courage to be themselves, no matter the situation. Self-honesty is the starting point of true fulfillment.
A preacher once told me, “Never trust a leader without a limp.” It refers to the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God one night only to have his hip dislocated. People who read way too much into the three dots on text messages say this is symbolic because the hip is the strongest bone in the body. God had to cripple Jacob to fully bless him, they say.
Jake never walked the same again, but after that his kids started a country and they had a good amount of money for awhile. I might take that deal. At least I’ve got a (figurative) limp.
I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I believe human beings try to find reason in everything that happens. Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes the reasons aren’t good enough for us. Sometimes we make up reasons to numb pain and cast blame.
Maybe you’re going through some hard stuff.
Be honest with yourself. Love yourself. Fight to keep your heart open, even if it hurts. I’ve spent a few years trying to do just those three things. It’s hard.
Another quote from The File of Life: The one thing you’ll truly have to fight against is any kind of self-loathing. Do not give ear to that. Do not let this struggle define you.
Not bad advice for a sci-fi writer.
’Til next time,