He figured, if I’m so passionate about how a life-changing crisis can inspire ball growth in people, it must be because I could personally testify to this phenomenon.
He was right. But when asked to share my experience, I responded, “Nah. My story is so cliché it’s almost embarrassing.”
“Everyone’s story is cliché,” he said.
I smiled. I realized that the word cliché can be substituted with the word universal. And when a story is universal, it’s powerful. It unites people through their shared experience. It makes us feel like we’re not alone. It gives us hope that if other people have survived life’s curve balls, maybe we can too.
In short, our stories must be told for the good of the world’s healing– and our own.
So today I’ll be sharing the Origin Story of this website. It is a story that can be summarized in a single word: Daniel.
* * * *
When I was 28, a friend brought me to a “group psychic reading,” where one could receive a mini reading for a mini price tag. (Hey, when you’re in your 20′s you’ll try just about anything.)
When it was my turn, the first thing the psychic said was, “You know, not everything in life is about a man.”
He was right– your world should not revolve around the ex who broke your heart. I mean really, how lame. How…cliché. But despite the psychic’s warning, and despite knowing better, that’s who I was for a very long time.
This website exists because of a man named Daniel (whether I like it or not), but mostly because of the lessons I learned from losing him.
Loving and losing someone– whether through a break-up or death– is one of Life’s great teachers.
A Refrigerator Brought Us Together
The first time I saw Daniel was in a photo on a friend’s refrigerator.
He had a kind face and a gentle smile. And there was something about him– the glasses and button down shirt, perhaps?– that screamed Nerd Alert!. So obviously, I was interested.
My refrigerator-owning friend went into match making mode and shared all the details: Daniel was a writer (swoon!), an old soul (ooh, tell me more!), a total goofball (me too!), and just a good person right down to his core (someone pinch me!).
I went home with a phone number and a smile.
First Date: Multiple Choice Quizzes, Journals, and a Song About Underwear
My first date with Daniel was a 24-hour marathon of Awesome.
We had been talking a lot on the phone leading up to our meeting, so on the big night, we coincidentally both showed up with a surprise gift for each other.
(He wrote me a hilarious multiple choice quiz about us, and I gave him a recording of a song I wrote on my guitar about his professed preference for wearing “tighty whities” rather than boxer shorts.)
At the end of our date, we ended up at his place, where I noticed an entire shelf in the living room filled with notebooks. They were personal journals he had been keeping since youth, each one containing the thoughts, fears, and triumphs of the man standing before me.
I ran my fingers across the spines of the notebooks, stopped at one, opened it up to a random page, and then had the audacity to ask him to read a paragraph out loud.
When you like a girl, you’ll do anything she asks, so he nervously obliged:
“Women here in New York are so different from the women back home in Idaho; they’re beautifully exotic and unique, almost intimidatingly so. It makes me wonder if women like them could ever see something in a guy like me.”
He stopped reading, closed the book, and smiled a nervous half-smile.
It was official: I was head-over-heels in LIKE with this guy.
Me, But With A Penis
Over the next several months, I noticed that Daniel and I were very similar in our strengths, weaknesses, vibe, and temperament. It was like we were both carved from the same stone or something. And the more time we spent together, the more convinced I was that he was my perfect match.
Seriously? He was me, but with a penis.
It wasn’t long before like turned into love. Daniel shared that he’d been imagining how wonderful marriage would be for us. He wasn’t the only one.
Even though there were no rings, vows, or flowers just yet, in my heart I already felt like we were husband and wife. He was like no one I had ever met, yet he felt familiar– he felt like home. I wanted my life to be intertwined with his, forever.
The Sh*t Storm Begins
April Fool’s Day landed on the only weekend in 2005 I couldn’t spend with Daniel.
He hadn’t answered any of my phone calls or text messages that weekend, so I was worried. But worry was better than what I eventually got: the Worst Phone Call Ever. Daniel confessed that had gotten drunk at a party the night before, and cheated on me with a girl in his grad school program.
I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. I waited for the long pause to be over, for his laughter to erupt. It never came.
No one– not me, not his childhood Idaho buddies, not his worst enemies (if he’d had any)– could imagine someone like him doing something like this. And since this was all so out of character for him, I had to believe it was a just a stupid but (eventually) forgivable mistake.
Unfortunately, it was more than that. Daniel admitted to having been slowly and secretly falling in love with this woman over the last few months. They were friends who desperately wanted to be more, and I was the only thing standing in their way.
He cried along with me as he confessed, almost as if he, too, was shocked and confused by how he felt, what he’d done, and what it would mean.
For the next several days I didn’t eat, sleep, or even drink a sip of water. How could I? I was in shock.
When I finally did emerge from hiding– puffy-eyed, exhausted, and distant– I told everyone that my best friend from college had suddenly died.
I hoped this was a specific enough lie to get people to excuse my behavior, but an awful enough story for them to leave me alone for a while. It worked.
This Is What Crazy Looks Like
Here’s the thing about Loss: it turns you into someone you don’t even recognize.
Aside from the typical post-break up behavior (talking with friends, seeing a counselor, reading self-help books, seeking spiritual support, etc.), I was also desperately seeking answers from unusual places. I was:
- paying to see psychics, angelic channels, and “energy healers,” wondering if Daniel would come back to me.
- on a television talk show and a radio talk show, spilling my guts and seeking guidance.
Whether I was standing in a crowded subway car, or on a bathroom break at work, or pumping gas, or eating a sandwich, you would find me distraught and sobbing.
Oh, and these random crying spells lasted for about 3 years.
After your world is turned upside down, and you realize that your future will be nothing like how you imagined it, your mind gets flooded with questions like:
- How did this happen?
- What could I have done to prevent this?
- Why wasn’t I good enough?
- How long will this pain last?
- Will I ever be happy again?
- What does my future hold?
- Who will I be without this person?
- How could I be such an idiot???
…and many more.
But mostly, I realized that Love and Life are nothing like I once naively thought they were. Nothing was “fair”. You can lose everything in an instant.
And if I was to accept that life is unpredictably painful, and that others cannot be relied upon to complete your life, I had to find some other way to experience happiness, fulfillment and stability, no matter my circumstances. But how?
The best thing about wrestling with so many difficult questions is it moves you to seek answers, to seek meaning, to seek Peace.
For me, this happened in 3 phases, each with a central theme, and each moving me one step closer to healing:
Phase 1: Why didn’t Daniel and I last– what was it about his wants, wounds and needs that didn’t mesh well with what I had to offer?
Phase 2: How did I become someone susceptible to such deep and long-lasting despair over a break-up?
Phase 3: What is this loss here to teach me? How can I become better, not bitter?
In the midst of these 3 phases, I realized I had to stop wasting my time wishing that my circumstances were different. Instead, I had to change my actions, attitudes and perceptions.
At first I was angry and resentful about this. In fact, I was less angry about Daniel cheating and leaving than about the fact that this crisis was forcing me to become a grown-up.
A crisis forces people to assess their place in life. And when I looked around at mine, I noticed that I had been more invested in Daniel’s happiness and well-being than my own; I was settling for a career I didn’t love; I was making poor financial choices; I was avoiding conflict– and difficult but important conversations– whenever possible; and I wasn’t taking care of my health. My life choices were made from a place of Fear instead of from a place of Wisdom and Love.
So I sprung into action. Tons of books, journal writing, therapy sessions, and conversations helped me find the courage to make major changes in my life. Over the next 5 years, I:
- went back to school and made a career change.
- developed a healthier view of food and of my body. (As a result, I moved from being medically overweight to having a much healthier BMI.)
- got my finances in order and paid off all credit card debt.
- improved at communicating my needs, expressing my anger, and speaking my truth. (When you’re conflict-avoidant like I am, you’re VERY bad at these things.)
But of all the benefits that ballsy living has granted me, the most rewarding ones are:
- knowing what it is to truly forgive.
- being able to consciously let go of suffering.
- having Faith in that which cannot be seen when stumbling through the Dark.
- knowing that I survived a sh*t storm, and that I’ll be strong enough to do it again in the future.
Daniel, the sh*t storm, my subsequent depression– they were my Great Teachers. But this was only possible when I gave up control and chose to become their student.
Everywhere I go, I encounter people whose lives were changed for the better because of the inner strength that emerged as a result of a personal crisis in their past.
Sure, it’s a cliché storyline. But it’s a good one that MUST be shared, processed, and celebrated. Why? Because no one is safe from experiencing a sh*t storm at some point in life, but everyone is capable of surviving and thriving after one. That is, if you are brave enough to be an excellent student.
Your Turn: Has a sh*t storm ever kicked your butt, grown your balls, and saved your life?