For the longest time, I have been living in this Castle I built. The walls were high, the foundation solid, and the protection was unmatched – virtually impenetrable. No one could come in or out without me knowing or putting up a fight.
My Castle was built on the pillars of what I thought I was as a man and as a person in the world. One pillar was my family. Another was how my extended family perceived me. Another was my home. And the last pillar was my job. I thought I needed these things to be strong and to support me and keep my head held high. They kept me happy and safe and ensured I was living the best life I could live… or, at least, what I thought was my “best life”.
My family fell apart first. I thought I was with a person that shared my interests and cared for me. Some of this was true, but it turns out I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t have many of my own interests. I used every ounce of my energy to push her out of my life. I use little comments and small actions and they built up to contempt and jealousy and eventually anger. When they finally boiled over it was long past the point of hate it was just a void filled with my own pain. And when she left I thought I would never love again. My pillar was broken, there was a gaping hole in my defense and slings and arrows of pain came in and beat my heart to a soft mushy mess. And I was lost.
But then, I reached out to a friend I knew who is wise and honest – she never seeks to protect me, only to let me know what she sees. And she saw a man broken – a man lying to himself, placing these walls up to keep himself from feeling pain, from feeling love, and from ever having to move forward and do anything “dangerous” in his life. Safe in his predictability, safe in his ivory tower, he could point at his family and let them know he was king. But that was not true. And it was not fair to him or to them. And he tore down the pillar and learned to be humble.
This friend Emily helped me feel safe again. She helped me put down all my weapons: sarcasm, anger, mean-spirited comments, and self-deprecating thoughts. All these tools I had sharpened to use at any moment to protect a fragile ego. Yet she came to me with open arms and said: “This is what love is. This is how to feel safe. This is family, and you don’t need to pretend you are strong anymore. You can be you and love you and trust your own thoughts and feelings. And, when you do, others will love you for exactly who you are.”
The next pillar to fall was my concern over how others perceived me – in particular, my extended family. It was nearly 9 months before I told my mother, my brother, my aunt, and my grandmother that I was getting a divorce. I was so ashamed that I had let everyone down. In their eyes, I was the “good student”, the “good father”. I was the one with a college education and a great job. I couldn’t be the one that failed. I didn’t fail.
But suddenly I felt like a failure. I thought of all the people that had told us we married too young, all the people that said she wasn’t right for me, and all the people that said I wasn’t ready for marriage. Their words echoed in my head as defeat – as torments in my heart. I didn’t want to believe that I was so blind, while they could all see it so clearly.
But, one at a time, I told my family. And the most amazing thing happened: they thanked me. They said they were glad that I could finally see that I was unhappy in my relationship. They were glad I had finally let it go. And they were happy I had told them the truth and had come to them for help.
I was amazed by how much this idea of perfection was just as harmful to them as it was to me. It didn’t allow me to be authentic with them. And when I let go of this perception of my own perfection and asked them for help, I was inviting them back into my life. I was tearing down a wall that had been blocking them from really knowing me, and it brought me new life, and I could see even more clearly.
As the process of divorce moved on, I had to begin paring down most of the possessions I had accumulated during the marriage – including my home.
A home is not just a building or a shelter, it is the place you keep your dreams, raise your kids and plan for your future. When you lose it or give it up, it’s like giving up on that future, giving away those dreams, and not having a safe place to keep your hopes alive. I gave up my home when I decided to sell it and it now just became a place that I slept. I took all of my hopes out of it and got rid of all the things inside – things I had bought to fill a place I thought would be my home for the next 30 years. All of it was stuff I didn’t need, that didn’t keep me safe or happy. And, as I got rid of it all, I was no longer bothered by the burden of a mortgage for a house I didn’t want and where I never really felt at home. It turned out my kids still love me and they didn’t need those things either – they were just junk keeping us distracted from truly being together.
The final pillar was my job, standing there alone as a single tower. I was both its king and it’s captor, and I had no reason to ever come down. I got my job over 9 years ago right out of college. It didn’t pay well at first, but since I had never had a job before, I was happy. I worked very hard at it, and, as time went by, I had earned the respect of my colleagues, was promoted several times, and now received a steady income.
But, in some ways, I had become a complacent. The job had become easy, and I had become overly content – even lazy at times. In the middle of my divorce, my boss came to me and asked what was going on. I had never received a less than excellent performance review the entire time I worked there, and I was too proud to use my divorce as an excuse. I told her I didn’t want to work there anymore, and I would be looking for another job. I had finally decided to come out of my tower.
I did some casual searching but still only looked for safe jobs, nothing too risky. In the meantime, I had found a buyer for my home, so the clock was ticking. I decided to take a new approach. I looked for the job I wanted and called one of the contacts on the list. We discussed my resume and what I was looking for, and he was more than happy I called – even said it was “great timing”. This was yesterday.
It was the final tower, the one that I thought I could never get a better job than this one and I wouldn’t be as happy in another office. I thought I had a pretty cushy job making good money. But I didn’t even like the job. I didn’t even realize how suffocated I had felt working there. They don’t look for go-getters, they don’t encourage change. I have been at the top of the promotions list for too long to know that I wouldn’t be moving up anytime soon. My work there is done.
It’s time to move on. It’s time to let go of all these pillars that I thought were supporting me. In fact, many of them were holding me back. And I was actually holding on to them, propping up the idea of them in my head. And as each wall falls and each pillar crumbles, I feel free. My castle was no longer my prison, and I am so thankful I can go back to living among the people.