A soul-defining divorce
This is the story of a young man, dating back to the beginning of early adulthood. But where we commence is not nearly as important as where we end up. To get there involves a tumultuous journey, one I’m not particularly excited about taking you on.
But I want to come home for good. I’ve been visiting for about six months now, and it’s time I lock in a permanent stay.
This story may or may not have a darker theme, depending on the lens you’re looking through. But happiness and the young man are in-laws, not partners. Cyclical, self-destructive patterns — perpetuated by fear, of course — can be identified as a source. But we’ll get into more of that later.
This is really about causing a seismic shift in the psyche of the young man. To instantiate self-actualization in the rawest of form.
This story is to save a life, calling forth healing and complete restoration. Healing for both the young man and those impacted — most notably, immediate family and loved ones, but the list is pretty long.
It’s ironic that people referred to me as a “bright” kid throughout my life. It was meant as a compliment but considering I had no idea how to receive one, I never noticed for longer than a split-second how backwards that statement really was.
I always had a major issue with acknowledgement. For me, whenever recognized for something, all that would show up was where I fell short. Where I could’ve done better. Where I was full of shit.
It’s not that I was incapable. I simply never cared enough about anything to truly give it my all. Bit of a downer, I know. But we’re just scratching the surface of my truth.
My outlook was anything but “bright”. Dark. Grim. Ominous. Faded. Insert whatever foul representation you wish to filter, my life encompassed it.
Side note — I’m not reaching for anything here. This would not be the case had this been written prior to November 2017, but I’m off the self-promotion wagon in exchange for a more reliable means of transporting my ideas and truths.
So without further adieu, allow me to finally shoot you straight.
My name is Daniel Whalen. And unless we’ve interacted within the past six months, my life hasn’t been how I’ve made it seem.
This is my not-so-beautiful mess.
Bundle of Nerves
Franklin, TN (2000–2008)
Iwas an awkward kid growing up. You couldn’t tell on the surface but very much afraid of my own shadow. I was never quite sure how to be and how to act so much of my day was spent wading. Teeter-tottering between shameful truth and prideful fabrication.
The evenings were usually quiet, even with three kids in the house. Upon returning home from school, I’d race upstairs and lock myself in my room for hours. Alone time was my specialty. I took comfort in the solitude while most of my “friends” gathered at a predetermined residence I never seemed to get the memo about — one of those always-welcome-never-invited type of deals.
Rejoicing in isolation, I eventually reconciled creating meaningful connections wasn’t worth what was required, careening my social life and skills off a proverbial cliff. I thought nothing of it, for I was simply modeling what I noticed growing up.
My dad was calm, but never quite still. He was a very reserved person, and very much in order. I always felt like he was harboring something. Something unresolved. I’d give up anything for relatedness with him. I just wanted to understand. But that never came to pass. Not in the capacity I wanted, at least.
As you can probably guess, I never got the love I craved from my dad as a child. I did whatever I could for his attention, even taking up old sitcoms late in the evening simply to spend time with him. For the longest time, Seinfeldwas the only thing we had in common.
At a certain point within my teens, I began to identify with what I thought Dad was dealing with. I loved him and wanted to be just like him. But that wasn’t happening. As a matter of fact, not much of anything was happening. A lost boy, I knew I couldn’t complain. I had everything I could ever ask for in life. But for some strange reason, it wasn’t enough.
Mom was always there to talk to, but knowing she was always there led me to take her for granted. The most caring and protective person on the planet,she couldn’t understand why I resisted her efforts. For what it’s worth, I couldn’t either. I guess never really know how to take care of something you don’t even know you have. The relationship began to sputter — much to her chagrin, and my indifference.
The mental construct was in its acute stages, looming just beyond the valley of my mind. I noticed the blue skies in front of me. A racket designed to tell me everything was fine.
I asserted it would get better.
Little did I know, I was one pull of the thread away from completely unraveling. Not so far in the distance, would be a dark and rude awakening.
Inever submitted a college application. Mom did it for me. Although loving, she was tough. I maintained a 3.7-ish GPA throughout high school with minimal effort and maximum disinterest. She purchased an ACT prep course for me that I lied about working on. I bombed both times I took it. With the package I was bringing to the table of life at the time, I doubt it would’ve made much difference. Had Mom not been proactive, that application would have never been sent.
Asmy high school career came to a close and my family time growing thin, my slow and docile approach to life transformed into a type of rage that only my dad could match in his darkest of hours.
I was tired of being sad. Feeling slightly more empowered by anger, I aimed to take on a new personality.
“People will treat you with more respect, and you won’t feel so embarrassed,” affirmed my uncooperative internal dialogue. I knew deep down this wasn’t who I really was. I wasn’t born nurturing angry thoughts.
Still, I was enthralled by this possibility, and attempted to reinforce it however I could. Punching through doors and leveraging those I cared about as verbal target practice were just a few of the activities that deepened the cuts.
I took this on for a multitude of reasons, but mostly to cope with the distance between myself and the rest of the world. I wasn’t enjoying life, and this was an exciting new twist. And lucky for me, I was able to justify it.
I pulled the heredity card. I knew my dad struggled with anger throughout his life, so I identified with it for myself — perhaps even unconsciously, in efforts to create a connection with him. Either way, I knew if things didn’t change, my probable and almost-certain future would be self-hatred and depression.
By the time I left the house for college, it was good riddance. Mom was over it. She and Dad had been divorced a couple of years and I was behaving the exact opposite of what contribution looked like. I took her to hell and back without compunction. My selfishness consumed me like a disease — unforgiving as it was blinding. To make matters worse, my actions were rooted in something more harmful than self-importance: self-doubt.
And therein lies our first central theme— I fell short with everyone else because I first fell short with myself. Never learning or caring to love myself created a ripple effect in my self-esteem that would grow in distance whenever I chased. The frustration mounted, so I decided to re-direct.
Instead, I chased significance. Distinguished and reinforced by everyone but me. This would persist for years to come, totally unaware I’d be taking a knife to an open wound.
You‘d think separating from the safety net of people that loved me most would cause this shit to finally reach its apex.
Nah, we were just getting started.
Chattanooga, TN (2008–2014)
Nearly six years had passed since I left home. I had seen Mom a handful of times. I think less than ten. Dad, considerably less.
From the outside looking in, I had done discernibly well for myself. I had just been promoted at my company for the third time, despite attacking my college education with less enthusiasm than my taxes. Notwithstanding the job success, I was still miles away from happiness.
With my self-worth on life support, the angry persona had carried over to addressing my physical appearance. Always known as ‘the tall, skinny kid’ in grade school, if I were to be taken seriously, I had to look the part of my short temper.
The most powerful force in the human psyche is a desperate need to stay consistent consistent with who we identify as.
A degenerate with an identity crisis, I was able to channel my violent turmoil into a career in the gym industry — as there’s no quicker route to self-love than steroids and vanity.
All this in conjunction created a tag-team partner for my insecurity. One I never had experienced before: a wildly inflated ego.
Bonus: I was able to bullshit my way to the position of General Manager, which also fed my ego a 5-star dinner.
Disclaimer: Not knocking the gym industry, by any means — it was reallygood to me. I was just in it for all the wrong reasons.
Irented a 2-bedroom townhouse in the Southwest corner of Chattanooga— about 10–15 minutes from the Georgia border. My girlfriend found the place for me, a steal for $1,000 a month. The color scheme was mostly walnut brown with tan accents scattered throughout, complete with the finest living room and bedroom sets a third and fourth credit card could lend.
The clothes, the car and the attitude all followed suit. And yes, this got expensive.
“What do you make, $90,000?” inquired one of my veteran employees.
Honored by the fact that I had effectively closed a $40,000 gap in his perception, I did whatever I could to keep up the image — including tunneling into debt. Ego versus all.
In psychoanalysis, ego is defined as the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious, and is responsible for a sense of personal identity.
This couldn’t be more fitting, as floating between the conscious and unconscious was exactly how I went through life.
When you’re operating from your ego, you’re not in reality. Ego may be leveraged for reality testing, but you have to leave reality and re-enter the ego to do so.
A walking billboard for the clearance section of Men’s Wearhouse, the human being had checked out of my body. I was malfunctioning robot. I pretended to have all the answers, highlighted mostly by plagiarized responses. My upstart team members ate it up as I relished in their praise.
Onthe home front, I had a loving and caring girlfriend. We had met while I was managing a neighboring location and hit it off right away. She actually was one of the few people I had come in contact with where I felt comfortable enough to let my guard down. I let her in on what I thought was every crevice of my soul. Even the rocky relationship with my dad. Even the sexual affinity for men I was reluctantly harboring. Unfortunately for both of us, there was a deeper level I was failing to disclose. I would end up seeing another girl simultaneously within that same month, and then another about 30 days after that. I blamed it all on her. I told Mom this girl was crazy after she confronted me for what I had done.
When lying gets you what you want, you position it firmly in your repertoire. It’s much like a drug — the deliberation before commencing, the rush of uncertainty, and the rejuvenating high of unscathed survival. And when it works in your favor, why abandon it?
Lying was my drug of choice.
I had so much to hide, yet so much to live up to. If people realized I wasn’t the same calm, cool, collected leader I was propping myself up to be, I’d be destroyed. Powerless. I could never come back from that. So I made sure it never happened.
More and more time passed by, coupled with more and more lies. An excuse as to why I couldn’t do this. Or concealing why I did that. Not petty crap, either. Serious sacrifices were made on my behalf and as long as I got what I needed, I didn’t care where the rest of the chips fell.
It got weird, too. Such as over-analyzing four, five, and six steps ahead as to what people may say or do, and how I could get in front of it. My objective was to be the stopgap between reality and my experience of life. I was so deep in my web of lies, everything was a fabrication. Therefore, nothing was pure.
When something isn’t pure, it’s contaminated. This is what I told myself, at least. My life had no life at all.
So I lived with the pain. Second-to-second survival. I would hold my breath every time the phone rang, panic when an email came through, and unleash defensive outbursts at the drop of a hat. My anxiety ran me ragged.
It almost makes me sick to stare this dead in the eye. But this is what happens when you deliberately ignore the virtue of self-awareness. When you just assume clean it up later. Sweeping your shit under the rug thinking someone will bail you out.
The truth called for action, which I was not a man of. I was out for two things — survive while accepted.
This became increasingly difficult after my next relationship, thwarted by the impasse of my sexuality and resistance to trust.
By the time my company was acquired by a national competitor, I was walking on a tightrope. Looking in the mirror was the perfect storm.
Oh, I forgot to mention. I hadn’t even started drinking yet. That didn’t come until age 25.
And when that bomb went off, there was no remorse.
At Wit’s End
Phoenix, AZ (2014–2015)
After the acquisition, things took on a very different shape. Starting from square one in a new company, I didn’t hold the merit I was used to. My influence was rendered down to zero.
It was during this transitional period where I finally had a moment to take note of how many people I had alienated over the years with my insecurity, overcompensation, and impostor syndrome.
For the first time in nearly a decade, things were quiet again. Most people would find this peaceful. I found it suffocating.
I couldn’t stand being with myself. The lack of appreciation I showed myself growing up had transmuted my self-doubt into self-loathing. The entirety of my 20’s was spent bouncing from relationship to relationship, if for no other reason than to avoid being alone. I had no clue who I was or wanted to be.
I had to leave. That was always my answer. Leave home. Leave college. Leave my job. Leave my relationship. Leave my parents. Leave everything.
This time, for Phoenix.
But as the old adage goes,
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
Iused to tell this story in triumph. “I drove 26 hours across the country, leaving everything behind, for an opportunity I knew nothing about. Not knowing a soul. No guarantees of anything. I spit in the face of fear. What a powerful experience it was.”
Well, that’s a crock of shit.
This was an all-out sprint in the opposite direction of what I should’ve been confronting. The expiration date had long since passed.
There’s only so many band-aids we can apply to the same wound. In this case, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
Once I arrived and developed a routine, I made diligent efforts to find a girlfriend as soon as possible. I was still unresolved in the sexuality department, but dealing with that wasn’t an option — perpetuating the impact seemed like a much better idea.
I met a nice girl, and settled right back into my self-sabotaging ways. I caused the end of that relationship the same way as all the others — a serving of lies, a dash of jealousy and a mountain of blame.
Except this time, something felt different.
Maybe it was just the change in setting, or perhaps it was one too many people pushed away.
My tank ran empty. With no enthusiasm to refuel.
Out of alignment in one area of my life, I fell out in other areas consequently.
In a flash, the job front was (once again) up in smoke. I decided to roll the dice a final time, betting on what I thought would be the ultimate ego trip: entrepreneurship.
I left my steady job to holdout for the formation of a new business, conveniently located on the other side of the country. I sold everything, including all the fancy furniture, and moved out of my condo to couch-surf with some friends to save money. Over the next few months, I would max out credit cards, go into negative bank balances, and continue to lie my ass off. Whatever, it’s all relative.
I get it, we make mistakes when we’re young. But it’s a far better story to tell when you’re making mistakes chasing your dream. Not avoiding your nightmare.
We flew out to Atlanta for a meeting with the partners in July of 2015. It was there I would have my first real drink of my adult life.
With the emotional hotbed of my mind joining forces with uncertain nature of alcohol, you can probably guess how it turned out.
Tampa, FL (2016-present)
It goes without saying, the entrepreneurship thing didn’t work out right away. You know the state I was in. Not only was I unfocused, I was unwilling to take responsibility for the decisions I had made.
Entrepreneurship is no joke. Running a business is no joke. I found out both had a lot of truth very quickly, before and after I moved to Florida.
Out of a job once again, I packed up what little shit I had left and took off for the Gulf.
My drinking had since developed into a nasty habit, one I was in total denial over.
“I only drink on Friday nights, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and sometimes — most of the time — Sundays.”
The validations I had been leaning on all my life kept showing up in new ways. Each referring back to the same truth: I still wasn’t willing to confront myself. And my word didn’t mean anything.
What the hell was it going to take for this stare-down to ensue?
I hadn’t seen my mom but once in a few years. My dad only at Christmas-time. Our communications and relationships had improved but damn, were they shallow. Yet another costly by-product of not being true to myself.
More residual outcomes:
- Uneasiness at my new job, highlighted by my inability to ask for help when I truly needed it. Pride so damaging that it actually collapsed into itself.
- Usage of drugs and alcohol to temporarily check out from life, putting myself and others directly in harm’s way.
- Acting out and sleeping with what seemed like a new girl every weekend, compensating for what I deemed as irrevocable blasphemy in my head — that I may differ from the norm in my sexual preference.
- Slippery slopes with friends, focused solely on what I expected of them versus valuing their presence. Resentment and bitterness aplenty.
- A revolving door of close and then not-so-close confidants, never being open or consistent enough in my communication to foster a real connection.
- Constant worrying from the things others said about me, as what they thought of me was more important than what I thought of me.
All of the above were a source of me being someone I wasn’t. I was (again) pedaling through life as a person I didn’t recognize. Fear drove all my decisions, and the need for approval reinforced them.
A blessing from God, a health scare forced me back into sobriety. Long enough to clear a little head space for healthy cognition to ensue.
Still with the ego and never being enough running the show, I stumbled into a personal development course I thought was business-related. It was there the alarm clock of my life would finally go off, leaving me no choice but to get out of bed.
I looked at my past. The one that haunted me. How much fluff and how little substance there was. How empty it was. How I made a decision in my youth that resulted in a permanent conversation inside my head for the rest of my life.
I looked at my present. The one held together with Elmer’s glue. It was clear I was operating from a standpoint of deficiency, always focused on the hole in the doughnut. Always trying to get somewhere else. Feel something different. ‘Enough’ wasn’t in the vocabulary.
I looked at my future. The one I couldn’t see. I didn’t have enough enthusiasm for life to create a vision. I made stuff up so I could have a compelling ‘5-year plan’, but the real version of that was simply react to life — and only when I absolutely had to.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein
We forget to distinguish our brain is not out to make us happy — it’s there to tell us what’s wrong. The automatic of the mind is not forward momentum. We must cause positive thoughts.
For this to transpire, for me at least, I had to get present to every area I was pretending in life. Where I was being inauthentic. And I had to take hold of it. I had to look at my word.
Words set outcomes into motion. When I consistently keep my word, I become it. What I say goes. It’s no surprise that lying my entire life resulted in breakdowns, and not a single breakthrough.
Without integrity, nothing works. Integrity is not morality. Integrity is being whole and complete. Integrity is honoring, keeping, being your word.
When confronted about my word, I would give an excuse or a reason. I never owned what was actually happening, in efforts to remain perfect in the eyes of another. I thought nothing of it, assuming I could push it off to the side and still have life work.
Unfortunately for us humans, we cannot multi-task. How we do anything is how we do everything. What shows up when we break our word is what shows up everywhere else. The ripple effect is drastically underestimated. I saw firsthand how not honoring my word can impact people, including myself. I am cause in the matter of integrity — no one else.
Power doesn’t exist inside of reason. Power acknowledges reason, and steps outside of it— pushing toward what it’s committed to most.
Everything about me I was trying to avoid had no dominion over me when I stepped up and owned it. By embracing who I am and what I deal with, I am as powerful as I will ever be — for I am working with the truth. Truth wipes the slate clean, serving as a breeding ground for creation. A clearing for new possibilities.
That new possibility exists now.
On April 26th, 2018, — my little sister’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Bridget) — I draw the line in the sand.
Fear. Doubt. Anger. Stress. Depression. Anxiety. Resentment. Jealousy. Arrogance. Self-defeat. Self-destruction. Self-sabotage. Self-hatred.
And it’s my word, my cause, in the matter.
The line is in the sand. The son you never knew if you’d connect with, the one who lied to you, the one who didn’t appreciate you and tell you you’re the greatest source of motivation in his life, the one you couldn’t trust, and the one you didn’t want to visit.
He’s not here anymore. And he’s never coming back. Your sweet little boy you’ve missed so much is back.
The line is in the sand. The son who resented you, who made up stories about you to make himself feel better, who didn’t give you credit for the effort you put in, the one who only called you when he needed something, and the one who was too scared to tell you he loves you with every fiber of his being.
He’s gone. The son you always knew you had is here to stay.
To everyone else gracious enough to read this far,
I’m not perfect. I don’t say that in the face of anything. I don’t need the self-promotion anymore. I am enough as I am. I deal with stuff. Every day. Real, internal battles just like you. I will never be above that, nor would I ever want to be. I want to connect. I want to relate. I want tell you how awesome you are. I am finally secure enough in who I am to allow the spotlight to shine on someone else for change. I love myself exactly the way I am, and I have exactly what I want. Once again, not in the face of anything. This is just what’s so.
It took me 28 years to draw the line. So as the old cliche goes,
Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
Said another way,
Today is the first day of my life. The one that I absolutely, finally, love.