From the outside looking in, a spiritual transformation of one’s base personality (ego destruction if you will) may seem like an abrupt seismic shift. Almost hubristic in nature, ironically. I’m still not immune to the “sin” of wanting to be as good as I can be at everything I do, even emotional evolution it seems, but “easy” has not been my experience thus far. Everything but that.
It’s not that I forgot all the things I did and said. That’s not the way the ego works. I always gave myself a pass for my trespasses. I was misunderstood. It wasn’t my fault. My behavior couldn’t possibly hurt anyone as badly as flying fists and sexual molestation. I know what “real abuse” feels like. How could my words and actions possibly be abusive towards the ones I love?
It’s taken me most of 2019 to finally wake up. The last ten days were a bitter feast of ruthless self-examination, “public” self-flagellation and a grudging acceptance of the damage done to me and by me. The latter was the most difficult and terrifying to confront because I have spent the better part of 49 years denying the worst aspects of my behavior and personality to anyone who would listen.
I’m not that guy. My dad was that guy. My step-dad was that guy. Not me. No way.
Turns out I was that guy. I deceived myself and others through a clever mix of “demonstrably normal” daily activities and a “cool dude” exterior for the world to admire. My ego was all too happy to facilitate the status quo and fill in any emotional or logical gaps that remained. This system “worked” like a charm most of my life.
Deflection never works, though. It just hid the holes I punched through the dry walls of my neglected life with paper-thin narratives of recrimination and regret. I was always the victim. Inevitably and unironically. The opposite was true, but it took losing a short-term contract I desperately needed and finding a long-term job opportunity before disaster struck to jolt me out of a waking slumber.
It took being at my most vulnerable and weakened state to see the underlying fissures that let me be irritated and angry with my four-year-old son over nothing. Literally. I resolved that day (February 23, 2019) to lengthen my ridiculously short fuse. To cultivate patience and understanding with O, so he would never again hear Daddy’s voice raised above a reasonable tone at a pleasing volume unless I was singing or trying to make him laugh.
It was amazingly successful. My first real success, actually, despite all the “awesome achievements” I’ve had over the years. The subsequent benefits to my career have been equally amazing. Like magic really. Daddy won’t be losing this job because he was a dick who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
It wasn’t nearly enough, though. Not by any stretch of the imagination. To become a better man, I had to be horrifically honest and unfailingly unsentimental. I enjoy a pretty good memory most days, but I had cauterized, compartmentalized and culled the most painful details of my life for years, all in an effort to avoid the very showdown I just survived. Seeing the truth behind all those lies still feels like a miracle to me. No good daddy wants to believe he’s the bad dad.
Having faced the pain of not being the man I thought I was, I set out to correct the actions that accompanied my blindness. I resolved to be fully present whenever my boy was with me. I shut off the computer. I put the phone down. I paid attention to the details. I listened more. Spoke less. I stayed aware of the physical sensations that accompanied each instinctive overreaction to inconsequential kid stuff. I changed. Slowly but inevitably.
That single step led to so many others that I’ve lost count now. The Universe responded with inspirational Facebook memes, deep discussions with friends and serious conversations with my mom via video chat. We dug into the darkness of our shared experiences, her decades of psychological and spiritual study guiding us down ancient and scary paths to shed light on forgotten hurts, imagined slights and repressed guilt.
We helped heal each other and in doing so gave me the emotional growth spurt necessary to confront my next challenge – owning the fact that my underlying dysfunction set the stage for the slow-motion destruction of my marriage. Irrational anger best laid at my mother’s feet found its way into our bedroom. The road to a living hell is paved with good intentions, thoughtless actions and words that can never be taken back. Mine were no less cliche. No less cruel. No less permanent.
When my son’s mom told me she was dating someone a little over a month ago, it hit me in places I didn’t know existed. I honestly thought I had dug into the truth of our life together, but I barely scratched the surface. My ego came raging back to take control of my actions and reactions. The Jason I spent eight months putting down, laughed maniacally and dug in harder.
The more I pushed her. The more I challenged her. The quicker I lost my personal progress and even the slightest chance for a reconciliation. A devastating sight to witness in real time while I dealt with the unexpected fallout. I flexed as quickly as I could, adjusted my sails and crossed my fingers. Reaching into the dark and hoping my pleas wouldn’t go unnoticed or unanswered.
Once you “see” your ego and accept the damage it has caused, you can’t unsee it or stop caring. The veil is shredded. The illusion lifted all at once to reveal the truth lying just beneath the reflections of a life I used to think was real. A truth dying to be noticed, carefully nurtured and ultimately set free. The only way to win was to surrender. So that’s what I did.
It wasn’t easy. Not at all. Still isn’t. It’s getting easier, though, and feels great. Mostly. I can’t stop now. I won’t stop now. This effort is far too important and just getting started.