Mike Hrostoski’s personal story about love, loss and the importance of turning your heart back on.
My brother David isn’t home yet from his road trip from Dallas and I’m a little worried about him. He was supposed to be back at seven in the morning. It’s 7:30 now and he isn’t answering his cell phone.
Our minds are funny aren’t they? They are worst-case scenario generating machines. Anytime David goes on a road trip without me I worry he’s going to fly off the road as he’s posting a picture to Instagram. I know he’ll be fine though. He’s an incredibly capable man. Even at the age of 20.
When David was born I was 12 years old. I was an only child until then. We have the same parents; they just decided to wait a long time to have kids again. Or not use protection.
When David was born, I had a tough time welcoming him into the world. I had been ruler of the house and sole recipient of my parents’ love for my entire life. Now I suddenly wasn’t. And I was an overweight, shy twelve year old. Not the best combination.
So I did what any disgruntled overweight twelve year old would do. I was mean to him. I’d play mean tricks on him. I’d pinch him when my parents weren’t looking. And we would get into fights, which would make my parents furious since I was twelve years older than him. Imagine a 15 year old fighting with a 3 year old.
No, I didn’t really like my brother all that much until very recently. He would still hang out with my friends and I when he was young though. I would take him to house parties with me when he was five or six. He got drunk the first time when he was around 10. I bought him a guitar when he was 13 and put him through a summer music program when he was 16. Somewhere around then I started to like him a little bit more as he started to develop more of a personality. Which is exactly when I moved away to Ohio to get my MBA at Ohio State.
So just as I started to like my brother, I moved across the country to go to graduate school. Then following the money, I took a job in New Jersey. I would still come out and see him during breaks in school and over Christmas, but it was only two to three weeks a year.
And then mom died.
When she passed away unexpectedly in her sleep on June 4, 2011, I knew I had to do something for David. He had just graduated from high school the week prior and my worst-case scenario generating mind could only see bad stuff ahead for him if I didn’t do something for him the summer before he started college.
So on a whim I flew him out to New Jersey, took three and a half weeks off of work, and spread my mom’s ashes together across forty different locations. All over Boston, through Canada, down through Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and South Carolina, and up the coast back to New York City. I haven’t given it much thought since, but it was the most beautiful art I have ever and will ever create.
Throughout that trip we became best friends. David saw 19 states and provinces for the first time. We went out for drinks for the first time together as he turned 18 in Montreal. We saw sights all over the eastern part of North America that we probably would have never seen in our lifetime. And somewhere in there we subconsciously made a commitment to always have each other’s backs. We became partners in crime. We became brothers for the first time.
And since then, our relationship has just deepened and matured. I’m crying now. I cry a lot.
I used to hold it back more. But then again, I used to drink a lot more and use mind- altering substances to cover up the unprocessed emotion I was holding back.
Not giving yourself permission to feel your emotions is like not pooping for a month. It’s totally unnatural and you carry a lot of shit around with you in your day-to-day life.
You think it doesn’t affect you, but it does. As a man, your partner is dying to feel your heart. She’s dying to feel the depths of your love for her. If you don’t feel, your capacity to love isn’t what it could be.
People turn off their hearts for a number of reasons. Sometimes it was unsafe to show emotions in their childhood. Sometimes a parent died when they were young. Sometimes they suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at a young age and they didn’t want to hurt anymore. Or sometimes they were put on antidepressants and the pharmaceuticals turned their hearts off for them.
No matter what the reason is, a lot of people are walking around the world with their hearts shut off. I call it “bowling with the bumpers on.” Have you ever gone bowling and seen a group of little children bowling with the bumpers up? They clumsily throw the ball down the lane and sometimes it bounces back and forth between the bumpers before knocking a couple of pins down. It’s playing the game, but it’s not really playing the game.
That’s how I see people walking around with their hearts shut off. They’re playing the game of life, but they’re not really playing the game. They aren’t throwing any gutter balls, but they also aren’t feeling the joy of bowling a strike without any assistance.
If you have no idea what bowling is, then imagine a cardiogram. If you don’t know what a cardiogram is, then Google it. As you can see, there are highs and lows as the cardiograph measures the muscle activity of your heart. People walking around with their hearts shut off are playing in a very narrow window of emotion. They don’t feel the low lows but they don’t feel the high highs either. And to feel is to be human.
So turn your heart back on. There’s a chance that some painful stuff might come up. It would be helpful to have a coach or a therapist to help you work through some of it. At a minimum have some sort of support system. Even journaling is a powerful form of support.
That what I’m doing right now as we speak. And you thought this writing was for you. It’s for me.
And David just texted me at 7:47am as I was writing this. “We stopped to sleep. Just woke up.” I knew he was going to be ok.
–Excerpted from August: A True Story About Love, Sex, and Entrepreneurship.