Life Coach Magazine

Let Me Tell You About The Time I Almost Died…

By Gjosefsberg @gjosefsberg

I found this document hidden away on my computer the other day.  It had been written to a professor in graduate school who asked me to tell “the story of me”.  This was only a few months after my divorce.

Here goes:

One month ago I stood on the fifth floor of a parking structure in San Jose and considered how easy it would be to just step forward into the air. It seemed so inviting, so perfect; an end to the pain and the suffering, a release from the pressure and the stress. Eventually I decided to turn back, to go downstairs and meet the person I was scheduled to have dinner with. I didn’t do it because I changed my mind, but because five stories seemed too low and I couldn’t live with the fear of living the rest of my life with the consequences of a failed attempt.

Fear, that’s the word I keep coming back to. Fear was the prime motivating force in my life. Fear of failure, fear of shame, fear of conflict, but most of all, fear of not being accepted. Was it the cold, absent father still dealing with his own physical and psychological war injuries? Perhaps. Was it the overbearing mother who used shame and fear as motivators? Perhaps. Was it the cruel children of American schools who scored points with their peers by making fun of a boy with a strange name, odd accent and foreign mannerisms? Perhaps. Maybe it was all of these things taken as a whole.  Those are all in the past and, as much as I wish I could blame those parents or kids, I am an adult now and I need to take responsibility for who I am and who I was.

I was an adult who adapted to any situation by camouflaging himself. My way was that of the chameleon; observe your surroundings and then mold yourself to fit them, to not stand out. As a survival method it was highly effective. My intelligence, coupled with an ability to read people and a good sense of humor, made me friends wherever I went. I advanced at work, I had all the latest toys and I made my parents proud. Sure, there were the occasional angry outbursts, the inability to sustain a relationship and constant fear of going outside my comfort zone, but I was successful, wasn’t I?  Sadly, the answer was no. While the outside façade seemed unbroken, the inside supports were crumbling. I was lost, unable to express an emotion or need of my own and only catering to the feelings and needs of those around me. It got to a point where I wasn’t even able to feel my own feelings, much less express them. I held on through sheer force of will. I intellectualized all feelings, suppressed all emotions. I made a project plan for each aspect of my life and followed them to the letter regardless of how I felt. I worked harder and harder even as I hated my job more and more. I drove myself towards what I considered the perfect life, even though I was not enjoying my life in the least bit. When I was alone, I would binge on food, sugar and videogames as a way of releasing all my negative feelings.

And then she entered my life. She was tall and blond, smart and beautiful. I had known her in high school, one of the few I called a friend back then. It seemed like a match made in heaven. We were living together in 6 months, married in a year. Life had achieved perfection. I had it all, the career, the wife, the house, the friends, even the dog. All that was missing were 2.6 kids and a white picket fence; and an ability to be emotionally open.

She pushed me to the limit. She demanded to know how I felt and she asked what was going on through my head. If I was stressed, she wanted to know why, and when I showed the barest of emotions, she wanted me to share with her what I was going through. She pushed and pushed and pushed and, like quick sand, I moved but never yielded. I adapted, like the chameleon. I observed what made her happy and did that. I saw what she considered an emotional display and made a habit out of faking those. I even learned to fake passion and sincerity. Unfortunately, a masquerade like this cannot be sustained forever.  Eventually, I cracked. It was over something silly. A fight over something I had done four years before we even met. Eventually though, I found myself sitting alone at my desk, the same one I am sitting in front of right now, and writing her a letter. I should have told her in person, but even then I was afraid. So I poured my heart out on digital paper. I told her of the father and of the mother and of the laughing kids. I told her of the fears and the anxieties and the voices in my head which told me I was a failure. I told her all this and for the first time in my life I was emotionally honest. I told her that underneath it all I loved her and cared about her and wanted to work through all this with her. She heard it all and I hoped she understood, but she had no strength left. She had struggled against the quicksand for too long and so she left, telling me that she couldn’t keep going.

I was devastated. All my life I was afraid of being honest. I was afraid of opening up because I thought if I showed people who I really was, if I showed them what I felt, I would lose it all. I would be a failure, an object of pity, and I was right. The first time in my life that I was honest and open with my emotions and I did in fact lose it all, I did become a failure and an object of pity. And so I came to that parking structure on a late Saturday afternoon and looked down.

This is the point where most stories turn positive. This is the point where I should tell you how I learned to overcome my barriers and live a complete and happy life. This is when I tell you how I no longer feel that need for the ultimate release. Sadly, I cannot do that. This story has not yet ended and I cannot give you a happy ending. In fact, I cannot give you an ending at all, because this story is the story of my life and as long as I am alive and learning and growing, there will be no ending. So perhaps it is a good thing that there is no ending, no last chapter describing the end of life.

Instead, what I have for you is a transition; a time of pain and depression but also of growth and learning. It’s true that there are still days when I wish I could just lie still in bed and not face the world, but it’s also true that those days are rare and infrequent. More frequent are the days when I discover something about myself which I did not know before. More frequent are the evenings when I go to bed happy at having expressed who I am. Slowly but surely I am becoming a different person. Actually, that’s incorrect, slowly but surely I am removing the façade and showing the world the person I always was underneath.

My worst fear came true but it also came and went. I failed at life, failed at marriage, but I was still here. I still had a chance. That’s what I’ve come to realize in the past year and that has made braver in terms of being open. I’ve found myself telling total strangers about my feelings and I’ve found myself opening up to friends and family in a way I’ve never been able to before. I’ve even found myself willing and capable of talking to women, something that used to scare the heck out of me before.

In a way, your class was the final exam for me, or at least a very important midterm. The class contained every single thing that used to horrify me before. Dance in front of people? I think not! Tell the story of my life with both good and bad experiences? Not a chance! Recite poetry or sing a song? Not in a million years! These are things a chameleon does not do. These are things that bolder animals do, not little creatures hoping no one notices them. To make matters even worse, I found myself paired up with an intensely attractive woman for several of the exercises. This combination of factors would have put me in survival mode a few years ago. I would have observed and adapted and never gone beyond that.

To my great surprise, I stepped beyond my boundaries, helped in many ways by your instructions. I danced as best I could and I shared the story of my divorce and my arrival in the US. I even recited a poem. Through it all, you demanded more and more. I thought I was being brave and open but you asked for more. In five minutes of working on that poem you did something that took my therapist six months. You made me face emotions. You made me look at what I was feeling and express it rather than hide it. That was amazing to me. I had always considered myself a good storyteller, able to fake any emotions necessary for the sake of the story, but you made me actually feel those emotions. You made me express them in a way that I never had before and for that I thank you. It took me six months of therapy to learn to feel my emotions and five minutes of class to learn to express them.

So will there be a happy ending for me? I don’t know. There is a happy current chapter and that’s a good thing. I am no longer working towards an end goal. Instead, I am enjoying the process of being alive. Am I whole and healthy? No clue, is anyone? I’m happy, I’m learning and I’m growing, and in the end, that’s more important than working towards a happy ending. I don’t know where I’m headed from here, I no longer have a project plan for the rest of my life, but I do feel as though I’ve learned something incredibly valuable in your class. I’ve learned how to be truly open. I was capable of talking about my emotions before, but now I’m capable of showing them.

Reading this now it’s hard for me to remember those months after the divorce and it’s still difficult for me to think of the pain I caused my ex.  A wise man once said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and I agree with that 100%.  Which is why I’m happy to say that by the time this post is public, I’ll be married.  That’s right, I’m getting married this Sunday to a wonderful woman.  And when people ask me if I am afraid, I tell them “no” and mean it.

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