One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Twelve

Welcome back! Previously I shared with you the benefits and blessings bestowed upon me in the years following the completion of my undergraduate degree. I use the word blessings because that is what I truly view them to be. There will always be far more pleasant memories of all I have gained than what I had lost[1]. That is in no small part because what I had lost was lost slowly over several years and is only now being recognized. That was the originally planned intent for Part Twelve.

When I began to write Part Twelve, a flood of thoughts came to me, so I just wrote. As I began my first pass self-review, I realized I had not held true to what I said this part would be about when I closed Part Eleven.  Nonetheless, the musings that inspired what I wrote seem to still resonate and they certainly contributed to detours and re-evaluations along this journey so I’m going to run with it.

I wish to go further into the examination of the impact of this new life I was living. Let’s pick up there briefly and then we will address the new crossroads as I promised at the end of Part Eleven. I mentioned that I was on my way to several years of traveling. A little digging into the intoxicating effects the excessive travel has had on me should prove insightful.

If you ask most people who have successfully recovered from drug or alcohol addiction about their time spent during their downward spiral, you’ll likely hear a common theme. These spirals seemed to just happen, and it feels like the transition from ‘in control’ to ‘not in control’ occurs in the blink of an eye. I was experiencing a not-too-different phenomenon with the life I was leading that was in contrast to so much of what I thought defined me. I am not criticizing the life I was living as being destructive in the way that alcohol and substances can be, and often are. I can only imagine that it is the velvet claws of both that grabs its prey such that the prey enjoys the flight.

There were long periods of non-stop travel and countless nights away from home. I was racking up hotel chain and airline points at a blistering pace. I was becoming accustomed to occasional tastes of what for most might be considered luxury. The perks that come with excessive travel (upgrades in flights and hotel rooms) began to fit me quite snuggly. I began to subconsciously interpret this new lifestyle of mine as being truly earned. I don’t believe I ever felt entitled per se. Rather, I was beginning to acknowledge my own recent successes and allowed myself to reap some bounty from the many seeds I had sown over the course of the previous dozen years or so. I felt validated in the decisions I made for myself and was convinced the universe was telling me that I was finally on the path it had been paving for me[2]. Ironically, if anyone had asked me back then what path I was in fact on, my answer would be the same as if you ask me now what path I was on then. “I have no clue”. The wind blew and my sails complied; and as always, there were no hands on the tiller.

My salary in the early years increased modestly at first. The existential experiences I was having just kept getting better and better. To contrast the life I was living with my far more modest beginnings, the idiom ‘night and day’ does not do it justice. A more accurate description might be ‘winter night at the poles and summer day at the equator’.
Before I knew it, I had the resources and flexibility to book last minute excursions here and there, all the while meeting people from everywhere. This was becoming normal for me and I was loving it. It was this that fed my insatiable appetite for adventure. In the words of Johnny Cash as he was wrestling with the strain of his first marriage, “The road meant adventure, creativity and freedom.” There are few words that have ever been spoken with which I agree as strongly. I still feel this way and it is part of the reason I have never married or had a relentless yearning for children of my own. We’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

There would be months-long stretches where I would be home only on the weekends. My social life at home was unremarkable but the road was another story. A far cry from the touring rock star experience, but nonetheless my road warrior days were not without their wild moments – sometimes in rock star ways.

The hours were long. Tack on travel time (flights and commutes to/from airports and train stations) and I found myself feeling something that had an eery familiarity to it. Whenever I was home, there was little in the way of a social life – not too unlike the nine years I spent in school while getting a career off the ground. I tried to date here and there but when you’re only home about ten nights a month, getting relationships off the ground is not easy. The underlying reasons for this are not so benign. While I basked in the adventures of traveling, it certainly made for a lot of time alone on the road and I was not alone at being alone, if I may borrow from “Message in a Bottle” by The Police. Often. When I was unattached at home, it was not uncommon to enjoy the occasional indiscretion. The lonely have a unique yet obscure way of identifying and attracting themselves with one another. However comforting and life affirming these indiscretions might have been, they drove further apart any connection for me between the physical and emotional aspects of relationships. I share this with neither shame nor pride, it mattered not to me that sometimes the woman with whom I was sharing company might have someone else at home. That they appeared willing to suspend their marital obligations greatly diminished my belief in the sanctity of it all. This, among other things, adversely affected my ability or willingness to be fully present in relationships at home.

Despite all the work demands of my time away from home and the instability it caused in trying to establish normal life routines, I rarely pushed back. The instability and adventure actually seemed to fit my persona. I was willing to simply ‘do what I was told’ because I felt needed and that I mattered. I mentioned before that when you shake the dust off all of us, that is what we all want – to matter in the world, however we define ‘the world’ for ourselves. We must, of course, matter to the right people.

Today, my hindsight could not be any clearer. I look back now and I easily see so many telltale signs that something wasn’t quite right. I was enjoying what from the outside easily looked like success. Even when I saw myself in the in the mirror, I would see the silhouette of a successful young man who was getting less young year after year. For all the success I portrayed, the way I felt was quite different. With the disastrous life I was teeing up for myself at the end of high school as a point of comparison, I certainly did not see myself as a failure. It would have been impossible for me to see myself as a failure. Everyone who knew me saw me either as successful or on my way to success. Remember that the battle cry of external loci of identity instructs me to see myself as others see me – a success. Not just any success. I had comeback from a very deep hole into which I had dug myself two decades earlier. I will never diminish or marginalize the blessings and opportunities granted to me that supported me along this part of my journey. However, I was only now beginning to suspect that my passive role in the design of my life might well have some consequences that are making life more of an emotional struggle than it needed to be.
The consequence of this over time was that I began to feel inauthentic and uninspired. I once heard the term ‘charlatan’ and about this time that is exactly what I was beginning to feel like. I was beginning to wonder if the wonderful life that had been charted for me was truly right for me after all. It was certainly a positive one in countless ways. But was it mine? The answer now, as it was then, is ‘not exactly’. How could it have been? I had no part in its design. I had been submissive to fate and over time this became more undeniable. After all I had put myself through, I thought there was no way on earth any of this could possibly be wrong. It had to be right for crying out loud! I was getting the respect of my peers the likes of which I had once only dreamed. The idea that this in fact was not quite right was extremely difficult for me to accept. I believed that this would mean losing the respect I had craved since I was an adolescent.

My response was to force myself though it no matter how loudly my heart was screaming for something different. I was going to double-down. Although I felt it was the correct bet at the time, looking I now see that what I was putting at risk were two of the most valuable possessions we all have although many of us take them for granted. The first was time. Nights away from home became weeks, weeks became months and months became years. It was my ego that kept me forging ahead despite my growing unease. And that is precisely how the second valuable possession began to slip-away. My humility. Once humility is lost, honor follows not far behind.

And that, my friends, is where we will pick up in Part Thirteen.

[1] I speak of loss here not in terms of lost loved ones but rather just the other side of the ledger in life’s credits and debits.
[2] One of the many beauties emerging from writing and sharing One’s Origins is that I am finally learning (for real this time) that my path is mine alone to chart. I may and shall lean on people who are willing to help when I need it. But it is I who is responsible for charting my path. As we have seen in the years following my return to college, the charting and paving was occurring before my eyes. All I had to do was take the steps. Consequently, I was not learning two of life’s most the valuable gifts and lessons; respectively, self-determination and self-responsibility.

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