I’ve never felt more broken in my whole life than I did the day my ex-wife left me. The world I knew came crashing down on me, and I couldn’t see the light of day. All I could feel was the pain of 1000 trucks weighing down on my chest. I was sure I wasn’t going to make it. I was a shell of my former self, and looking back on those dark times, I realize I wasn’t even me.
Who Am I?
A lot of my identity in life is tied to being STRONG. I was a husband, father and CEO. All three of those are positions of leadership and require you to have the answers and solve problems. In my particular case, I lost all three of those positions in just a few months. My ex-wife divorced me (although it takes two people to do this), my business was undermined and taken from me, and I found myself a single parent of a 2 year old in the midst of potty training.
I had lost my identity and was broken. I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to do. Was I suppose to live? Or was I suppose to wither away in the darkness of depression. The reality of the situation is that those were my two choices. I chose to live.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the “Old-Ben” died around that time. I’d never be the same and that’s not a bad thing. I had choices, but those choices were limited and none at the time seemed to satiate my need to be whole. I had to ask myself who I wanted to be EVERY DAY and was broken into a million pieces.
The true question was, what would I look like when I put the pieces back together?
Only One Choice For Me
In actuality for me, there was only one choice. Pick up the pieces and start to put my life back together again. I realize that this choice isn’t the one that everyone chooses. This isn’t like choosing an apple or an orange. It’s choosing to persevere. It’s choosing to live.
I know this sounds drastic, but if you’ve ever been broken so badly that you are at this point in your life, you realize that it is severe. This is rock bottom. It doesn’t’ get much lower.
No Two Situations Are The Same
I recently reached out to a friend in need after reading on her FB and Instagram that she was going through a rough time. I messaged her and asked if she was ok. She replied, “I’m trying. I know you have been through worse”.
I replied, “There’s no comparing stories. They all suck.”
Divorce, sadness or depression hits everyone differently. No story is worse than another. Some may be more severe, but they all impact us the same. Had I been smarter, I would have reached out to others to help me, but I didn’t. I isolated myself like never before.
I wrote a blog titled, Alone in a Crowded Room where I talked about this isolation. I’ll tell you that hindsight is 20/20. I chose the wrong route here and my hope is that if you’re in a dark place, that you don’t do what I did. There are people who you can talk to, me being one of them.
I have empathy for what others are going through because I remember being in that place.
For me, I had Kailyn to live for. She’ll never know that she saved my life, but she did. Hopefully someday she’ll read this blog and know how important she was to me at this point in my life.
The saddest part of this story is the fallout that she’ll have to endure. Luckily, she’ll never remember what it was . . . or what it could have been. She just knows her life now. She’s got two happy homes with two parents who love her more than anything in the whole world. She’s lucky in this regard.
I’ll talk more about picking up the pieces from being broken further down in this blog, but I want to continue talking about picking up the pieces of my own life first. I realized quickly that I couldn’t be “whole” as a father if I wasn’t “whole” as a person.
It may sound arrogant, but I would wake up each morning and say to myself, “You’re Ben Brownback. Nobody can take that from you. Get up and start rebuilding yourself”.
I’m a nobody to most people. But I’m the most important person in my world and one of the most important people in Kailyn’s world. A little arrogance is probably needed to get over the hump of depression.
I was determined not to let a few pieces of shit, ruin the rest of my life. It would have been easy to stay in a deep depression feeling sorry for myself. Heck, my friends who knew me well were feeling sorry for me already. But my arrogance made me embarrassed to have let people take advantage of me. I was embarrassed that I wasn’t the leader I formerly was. That would never do. I needed to reinvent myself.
Like The Phoenix
My friend Jodie once told me that I was like a Phoenix, risen from the ashes. I can’t think of a better way to describe my journey.
I’m sure you know the story, but the Phoenix is associated with the Sun. A phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.
“Sometimes the worst thing that happens to you, the thing you think you can’t survive… it’s the thing that makes you better than you used to be.”Jennifer Weiner, Fly Away Home
“And when all that was left was ashes, she would again clothe herself in flame. Rising from the dust of her past to rekindle the spark of her future. She was a Phoenix, her own salvation; rebirthed, renewed, resurrected.”LaRhonda Toreson
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”Haruki Murakami
These are some of my favorite quotes about the Phoenix. All applicable to what it’s like to be completely broken, and then reinvent yourself.
One Day At A Time
I remember taking it one day at a time. Each day got easier than the previous day. When I first woke up the day after my ex-wife moved out, I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t imagine a world where THIS WAS MY LIFE. The new reality was so difficult to bare that I couldn’t hardly breathe. I was jobless, alone, and a new-single father. The burden of these three was almost too much to fathom.
But . . . I took it one day at a time. I tried to conquer each fear and obstacle one at a time. Collectively, they were too much to overcome, but individually, I learned I could tackle each one and eventually prevail.
I need to be honest here when I say that I’ve yet to overcome all of the obstacles. I may never. But, I work each and every day to try and be better and stronger the next. I do this for myself but most importantly for Kailyn.
I’ve been wanting to write about this since I started blogging but keep getting distracted. Perhaps it’ll become a blog of its own someday, but for now I wanted to briefly talk about it.
My biggest struggle from being divorces is that I got left behind. My ex remarried, had some kids and is living her best life (I hate this phrase by the way, but I can’t think of any phrase more fitting right now). In all respects, she’s happier than she ever was with me and her new husband (my ex best friend) are more right for each other than we ever were. It’s taken me 6 years to say this, and it’s even hard to write at this point in my life. To say I’m happy for them would be a lie, but I am glad that they found each other . . . even it was at my expense.
In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m still standing in the same place, trying to pick up the broken pieces of my life that they (my ex, her husband and my ex-employees) destroyed. DESTROYED. I’ve remained constant in life, while they zipped on by. I haven’t figured out a way to completely reconcile this yet, but here’s what I’ve recently figured out.
I not in the same place I was, so comparing where they are to where I was isn’t accurate. It may feel like I’m still in the same place picking up the broken pieces, but I’m far from there. I’m not even on the same planet as I was, despite feeling that way sometimes. I need to remind myself daily how far I’ve come, how different of a person I am, and how much better my life is now. Some days are better than others.
Feeling Sorry For Myself
Some days it’s blatantly obvious how different I am, but some days I just feel sorry for myself. I try and allow myself to feel this way because of how broken I was. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to give myself a little dose of reality. Things WERE bad. Things are now MUCH BETTER. But from time to time, I do feel sorry for myself and I think that’s ok.
For me, feeling sorry for myself allows me to dream about what could be . . . or more importantly, what I can create. I believe that you create your own destiny. There are people who influence it along the way, but I’m in charge of where I’m going in life.
I recently wrote in my blog titled: 10 Things I Tell Kailyn, that she needs to be responsible for her own actions. How can I preach this to her if I don’t live it myself? I’m responsible for my own actions and the path that my life is on. ME. I can make the life I want to live.
Being A Father
The hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life, is pick up the pieces of my broken life AND be a father at the same time. Unfortunately, you can’t put being a father on hold while you figure out your own shit. I wish that was the case, but you’ve got to do both at the same time.
I don’t have any magic pieces of advice to give you here except to say that you just do it. Looking back at this time in my life around 2013-2014, I honestly don’t know how I did it. But I did. And so will you. You’ll wake up each day you have your kids in your custody and you’ll be a kick ass parent. You’ll do this because you have to. You have no choice.
In private while your kids are in bed, you’ll figure your own shit out, but while you’ve got them, “it’s on”. I can’t stress the importance of this. If you’re in the early stages of divorce, this could be the difference in you retaining custody of your child(ren), so get your head straight and in the game. Child First. You Second.
Seemingly Never Ending Battle
Once you have a child with someone, you’re tied to them for life. And the battles you’ll fight on behalf of your kids will seem like a never ending battle. As long as you choose to be a good parent, this will never change.
For me, it’s important to put Kailyn ahead of my feelings. For this reason, I kill my ex with kindness. I try and be the best father I can be, and encourage her to be the best mother she can be. I give her the respect she deserves as the mother of the child . . . not the disrespect she deserves for the choices she’s made in the past. This is an important distinction. If you try and “level the playing field”, it’ll make you feel better and will also have devastating effects on your kids. For me, I choose the high road.
The history books will show that I showed compassion and respect to Kailyn’s mother. Even if it doesn’t make a difference, I can live every day knowing I did the right thing. This is an effect of being broken and rebuilding myself. I wasn’t capable of this prior to my reinvention. It’s only afterwards that I’ve able to be as objective as I am now.
Be Better Every Day
I’m still a work in progress. In a lot of ways I’m still broken, but I work on being better EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It’s not easy and you have to be cognizant of your feelings, emotions, and actions. But I do it for Kailyn first, and to be a better human being next. And in the end, everyone benefits.
I’m still scarred and will probably be for life. This isn’t to say that I’m a newly born, better person . . . but the process was still painful.
Every one of us has battle wounds of some shape or form. I’ve said before that the mark of greatness is not how you act at your highest point in life, it’s how you act when you’re challenged with adversity. I’ve definitely been in adverse situations these past 7 years.
I’m proud of my actions. There are a few things I’d like to take back, but all in all, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my cool. I just want to be proud of myself when standing in front of my ex, my daughter, my family, and my friends.
I like to think my friends and family are especially proud of me, and that someday Kailyn will be too (once she figures out how everything went down). That’s my goal, and nothing’s going to stop me from achieving it.
The Next Chapter
So onto the next chapter . . . I don’t know what I’ll bring. I do know that I’ve set the foundation to be something great and just hope it lives up to the hype I’ve created for it. Some days I’m sad, but most days I’m happy. I’m blessed to live each day with a new chance to better myself, my life and enrich the friendships I’ve created.
I hope this blog helps you realize that you’re not alone if you feel broken. There are countless people around you that are in the same boat, and you should reach out if you’re in a dark place. Don’t make the same mistake I did because the road to recover is that much harder if you take that path.
In almost every blog, I offer my assistance if you need it and this one’s no different. There are dozens of ways to reach me, and I promise I’ll be a good listener. I’m not sure I’ll be able to solve your problems, but I know that by listening to you, it’ll make it hurt a little less.
Thanks for reading my thoughts and as always, thanks for making it all the way through this 2500+ word blog. I’m rooting for you and praying that you rise from the ashes like the Phoenix. Nobody’s pulling for you more than me!