“I’m a good man, with a good heart, had a tough time, got a rough start. But I finally learned to let it go…I’m hoping, knowing somehow, my shadow days are over.” – John Mayer, Shadow Days
John Mayer played this morning on iTunes. Though there are plenty of lyrics in Shadow Days, I found myself focusing on just a few, particularly the line, “I’m hoping, knowing somehow, my shadow days are over now.”
On the car ride to school the other day, my 11-year-old daughter said how my divorce from her mom would make her a more aware person. If she were to go through similar hard times with some future husband, she would know better how to move through them. She said experiences like the divorce help teach her how unexpected turns are part of life and knowing how to deal with them is important.
This exchange is exactly what a parent in a divorce hopes for. The growth from my youngest daughter shows that our children can weather the shit parents do in their quests to find happiness and maintain identities, especially when a marriage ends.
I told her I was enormously proud of her. That is precisely why I have come to value difficulties. We can’t stop them from occurring. All experiences are life. It is we who label them “bad” or “good.” My daughter’s observations reminded me of this.
I told her I was enormously proud of her. This is precisely why I have come to value difficulties. We can’t stop them from occurring. All experiences are life. It is we who label them “bad” or “good.” My daughter’s observations reminded me of this.
She said she had noticed that both her mom and I seemed happier now than when we were married to each other. In fact, she went on that both of us seemed better now than at any time in the five-year transition from married and unhappy to these new lives we lead today. It’s been a messy road and my daughter’s sense that things have turned out okay was a revelation.
She said, “You seem better now because before you were chunkier and had long hair and were sad. Now you are thin and fit and you seem much better with (my wife). And Mom seems happier with (her boyfriend) too.”
Her comments felt like an affirmation of something I have noticed over the past year or so: I am emerging from my own dark time–my own shadow days–of difficulty, anger, immense hurt and guilt.
It hasn’t been that I haven’t felt sadness occasionally, even the kind that sometimes stopped me in my tracks (and I’ve written about it here). Who doesn’t ever experience emotional pain, disappointment and epic failure in their lives? I have tried to be philosophical about it most of the time but sometimes life has felt endlessly and relentlessly difficult. A big bag of doodoo.
But imagine for a moment that it is possible to actually lollygag through life, bouncing like a butterfly from one great experience after another, never shedding a tear, in a fairy tale world where nothing bad ever happens. Doesn’t it make sense that butterfly person’s happiness would be muted eventually because only good experiences would be the norm? This butterfly person wouldn’t know the difference between one experience or another because everything would be felt as equally happy.
Without failure, how can someone know success? Without disappointment, how could someone know joy? Without tears, how could there be sunshine? The sameness of every experience would have to lead to despair.
My youngest daughter’s sense that bad things are as normal a part of life as good made me do some reframing of my own. I’m certain good things happened in my childhood and throughout my adult life. But if you were to ask me, I would not characterize my life until now as happy. Most of my memories as a child are of sad times, hurt, disappointment. And as an adult, I tend to see my past as failure, missteps, things not turning out. In fact, I was like a butterfly of despair–I only knew bad experiences.
The work of reframing I have done over the past couple of years has led me to view life with more balance.
Experiences are just experiences. How we choose to frame them determines our happiness…It’s as if all the work I’ve done to become more present, to understand more clearly and to move forward..has essentially done what I’ve hoped for.
Today, it feels like I am becoming whole. This awareness–that experiences are just experiences and how we choose to frame them determines our happiness–has been hard-won. It’s as if all the work I’ve done to become more present, to understand more clearly and to move forward–all the books I’ve read and the therapy sessions and the late night conversations with my wife, Elin–has essentially done what I’ve hoped for. Almost without notice, all this effort to improve has incrementally made me better, more able to choose happiness over sadness.
My long period of shadow days, years in the making and years ending, appears to have passed. My awareness allows me to see, like my daughter, that bad events are temporary and not always caused by me. I can take a healthy amount of responsibility and let go. My bad experiences have even helped me grow. They have allowed me to be better equipped to see happiness or peace as a choice.
I can choose love.
I can choose to feel happy. Alive. Special. Talented.
I can choose to feel badly about something I did and then move on. I can acknowledge my responsibility and feel guilty and then forgive myself for being flawed.
This might be automatic for some; it has been anything but for me.
“It sucks to be honest and it hurts to be real. But it’s nice to make some love I can finally feel. Hard times let me be.”
My shadow days are over.