Pain, hurt, trauma, men don’t talk about such things. At least that’s what a lot of us are taught from an early age. I was no different. We are supposed to be tough, meaning we are not to show emotions or feelings because to do so is to show weakness, unless they are emotions of joy or elation experienced after winning some great victory on the field or court, or tears after a heartbreaking loss in the playoffs. Those are allowed. But don’t you dare let anyone see you cry or hurt otherwise. Life is a bloody fight for survival and only the strong survive so you choke down pain and you keep moving. Don’t be weak. Don’t cry like a little bitch. When I was growing up, my father was not at all like this. He is a wonderful man. But like many of his generation, there was a degree of emotional detachment from his children. Couple the generational norms of parenting in those days, along with my dad’s strong desire not to impose his will on his kids (like his father did to him) and we ended up not having much of a relationship until my young adult years. In my youth, I learned how to “be a man” from my peer groups, teachers, coaches, and from Eighties action movies. No one was pushing some insidious agenda. They were simply modeling what they had witnessed and passing along what they had been taught.
After high school and college, I was a cop for roughly fourteen years. Like all cops, I have my share of war stories. I’ve been in more fights than I can count – on duty and off duty. I’ve dealt with and witnessed the best and worst that humanity has to offer. After a rather eclectic career path, I now hold a management position in the oil and gas industry. My size, my tattoos, my love of guns, my affinity for cigars, my bald head, my goatee, my Texas drawl, my professional background – all of these attributes, combined, project a stereotypically masculine image. Upon first glance, most people would look at me and assume I drink only black coffee and whiskey, and that I use the word “pussy” a lot to describe men who are small in stature, physically weak, and lacking in intestinal fortitude. They would most likely NOT assume that I suffered physical, mental, and emotional abuse in my first marriage. Even if they were privy to that information, they would probably be shocked to learn just how much it affected me. They would definitely not expect a guy like me to talk about it. Men don’t talk about such things.
Well, I am a man, and those things are exactly what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the anger, frustration, hatred, love, joy, compassion – all of it. Waking up in the middle of the night to my wife, drunk out of her mind, sitting on top of me, hitting me, and screaming “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” was emotionally very tough. I would throw her onto her side of the bed and hold her to keep her from flailing around and kicking me until she passed out. These episodes caused feeling of hatred, despair, and sadness to well up inside of me. I felt hopelessness and anger over the fact that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many tears I shed or morning after conversations we had, she refused to go into treatment. I was riddled with guilt by her accusations that I was the reason her life was so horrible. Not all of our marriage was like this but the last several years were, to be sure. I felt anxiety, pain, fear, and helplessness when I left the office at the end of each day, not knowing what I was going to walk into at home and praying she would just be passed out. I felt like a complete failure as a husband, father, and man, as she wandered around drunk and sobbing the day the kids and I, along with her parents, loaded a moving truck with her things. I was overwhelmed with extreme guilt over having broken up our family, in spite of how dysfunctional our homelife had become. I rode a manic high for a few months as I worked to build an unattainable dream life for my kids after their mom moved out. I experienced a deep sense of shame, sadness, depression, and failure as I realized that it was beyond my control to give my kids the perfect life that I felt responsible to provide. I was extremely relieved the day our divorce became final. I was overjoyed by the fact that all of the pain, guilt, and suffering was finally over. I was equally shocked and frustrated when I later realized that a judge’s signature on a piece of paper changed nothing with respect to my inner turmoil. I felt unlovable, less than, and completely inadequate but I never let it show and that damn near ended me.
I met Amy in May of 2017, in a crowded coffee shop in North Texas. I had no idea at the time but that was my turning point. I fell deeply in love within her about thirty hours later even though I was definitely not looking to be tied down in a relationship when we first met. When I first saw Amy, love was the last thing on my mind. We married about a year and a half later. When we first started dating, she was like a mirror. I looked into this mirror and saw myself clearly for the first time in my life. I did not like what I saw. A survivor of sexual abuse as a child, Amy had an inner power, a joy, a level of self-awareness I did not possess. The anger and hatred that resulted from the trauma of my marriage and divorce was a stark contrast to her love and passion for people and life. She was open about everything, including her failed marriage of almost fifteen years, her time in the psych ward at Baylor hospital after her mental breakdown. Her daughter turned seven – the same age at which Amy started being abused by her brother – and Amy collapsed and had no idea why. She talked about her extensive therapy and recovery and her reasons for leaving her husband. I was captivated by her story and most of all, by her inner strength and positive outlook. I wanted those same things for myself. After listening to my story, she encouraged me to talk with someone. But men don’t do that, remember? Amy continued to hold space for me and listen to me, but she also remained persistent in her suggestion that I talk with a mental health professional. I did just that and thus began my awakening.
Unpacking all of the pain from my previous marriage and from other parts of my life was hard work. Work I could not have done without the help of Scott Lennox. Over the course of the last two-and-a-half years or so, I cried, sometimes uncontrollably, as I sat on Scott’s couch in his study and dug deeper and farther back than I thought possible, going all the way back to my childhood in several of those discussions. I laughed, cried, felt rage, compassion, hatred, and ultimately joy and relief as I was able to put the traumatic experiences of my past into the context of my life today. There have been times I didn’t see Scott every week or even every month. Sometimes I saw him twice in a week. I still see him now when I need to talk through a thought or behavior pattern I’m unable to shake. My sessions with Scott changed everything in my life. My relationship with Amy is unlike any other I have ever experienced. I was finally able to truly connect with someone. The connection I share with her is deep and extremely powerful. Such a connection simply wasn’t possible until therapy helped me clear the clutter and provided me the tools I needed to peel back the layers and reconnect with my authentic self. I’m not a “woo woo” kind of guy. I didn’t burn sage or chant or anything like that, though a lot of people find those things to be of value on their paths. Scott simply asked me hard questions that forced me to really think and uncover answers long buried under the layers of shit life wraps around us. He has never let me off the hook and never settled for anything less than a genuine response. I absolutely love that man and Amy openly credits him with having saved her life when he was assigned to her case at Baylor years ago. My time with Scott was exactly what I needed in order for me to uncover and reconnect with who I really am. Everything I have walked through in my life and the impact it had on me is still with me today. Those things never leave you. But once you understand the value of those experiences and that you are not defined by them, you can finally move forward, no longer stuck in the past. To be able to pursue your goals and build the life you want and to do so without feeling stuck or unable to make progress, is an incredible feeling. To live life at the higher frequencies of joy, peace, and excitement, is so much more satisfying that living in the low states of envy, resentment, and anger.
So why am I sharing all of this? Two reasons.
Reason number one – because we, as men, need to start talking about these things. As humans, we are a communal species. Who we are as individuals is largely determined through our connections, our relationships with other humans. It starts very early in our lives with our family of origin and continues until we leave this world. It is through these connections that we learn what we like, what we don’t like, what we want and don’t want, what we will and won’t tolerate. We learn sympathy and empathy and how do relate to and deal effectively with other people, especially ones we care about. If we don’t open up, if we continue to bury pain and trauma down deep inside, we won’t be able to experience authentic connections with others and these connections are our primary means of personal growth. The effects of this can range from simply leading unfulfilled lives to addictive or abusive behaviors, or even to acts of terrible violence against innocent people.
Reason number two – because as men, we need to know that it’s ok to have these conversations with one another. There are millions of us who think we have to give up our man card or that our balls will fall off if we tell someone else that we were hurt by something that was said or done to us. Pick whatever metaphor for masculinity you choose, it’s simply not the case. Being open and honest with yourself and with those around you about how you feel does not make you less of a man. You can hunt, fish, watch or play sports, go to the gun range, go off-roading, lift heavy, drive big trucks, get tattoos, rope steers, ride motorcycles, cuss, spit, chew, fight, ride, fly – any or all of that is absolutely ok. It’s also equally ok to love openly, share how you feel, admit that your feelings were hurt, talk about something that is upsetting to you, or admit when you’re feeling down. You can laugh, cry, be sad, be joyful, show kindness, and allow others to be kind to you. There is no rule book that says otherwise.
Guys, you can be proud to be a man and be a champion for women and others at the same time. You can be proud to be a man and be deeply connected to other people in your life. You can be a total badass on the field, in the gym, or at the card table, and still be kind to other people. Badassery and kindness are not mutually exclusive. And here’s another thing, you don’t have to look a certain way or like certain things to be highly self-aware. Nobody says you have to wear a man bun or drink green tea before you’re allowed to acknowledge the fact that your dad was an abusive alcoholic and that his behavior had a significant impact on your life. Let’s stop putting each other into boxes and assuming shit about each other when we don’t really know one another. And stop listening to people who try to do the same to us. Contrary to what some people believe, you are not a toxic, narcissistic, insensitive asshole just because you have a penis. You might be one for other reasons, but your dick has nothing to do with it. And you absolutely do not have to downplay your masculinity to prove you are not a threat. But all of this starts inside each of us. We have to be willing to look within ourselves and work to identify the things that are holding us back. If we look outside of ourselves or blame external circumstances or other people for our problems and difficulties, we are looking in the wrong place. This applies to all people, everywhere. It’s time that we, as men, start looking inward for answers. It’s time we started talking about the things men don’t talk about.