That night, all those years ago, I sat on the dream bed in the dream house, totally confused. I had no idea that I was being called to an initiation.
Yet, something mysterious tugged at me, challenging me to move away from my marriage, and be willing to lose everything as I knew it. But I was frozen.
Clearly, my life had turned into a nightmare, and yet, I was still incapable of making changes. The initiatory journey confronted me in ways that I feared.
I was scared of betraying my wife, being a bad man and “not on her team,” but it was becoming impossible to deny that things needed to change.
For years, I refused the call for change, the call to adventure, as mythologist Joseph Campbell called it. I danced with it, knew it was in the room with me, and engaged it in a way that barely kept my head above water.
Many people refuse the call by numbing themselves with alcohol, pot, pornography, or work. In my case, I had spent years leaning into my pain, like a boxer seeking redemption with each blow absorbed.
For me, the numbing came in the form of masochism, a dancing in chains, a leaning into my own suffering, a martyrdom. Look at me, I’m meeting it all head on to be a better man – when in truth I was in denial of my emotional reality. I was miserable and suffering to the point of exhaustion and a nervous breakdown.
In the heart of darkness, I ran hard to be strong for my family, working, cooking, cleaning, balancing most of the logistics for our son. When time permitted, late at night or early in the morning, I secluded myself to my man cave in our basement, a psychological-spiritual isolation chamber where I had set up a private space and altar.
A spiritual man on a spiritual mission, I journaled, processed, did shadow work, self-coached, and read Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir, determined to make meaning out of my suffering. I engaged my misery, safe in process and unwilling to act.
If I am strong enough, spiritual enough, soulful enough, I will get through this and be bigger afterwards, I told myself. I will honor my family, my wife will get well, and we will live happily ever after, stronger in the end for it all.
It seemed noble and in line with my heroic male programming. Rescue the damsel in distress. Be strong for your family. Be a man. In truth, I was a naïve male trying to be a superhero.
Spiritual athleticism, poet Robert Bly called it in the poetry anthology The Rag and Bone Shop of The Heart. Trying to be at the mountain top when you’re at the base. A denial of reality.
My approach was narcissistic and self-destructive. Since I did not have the courage to speak the truth of my emotions, I co-opted my wife’s illness for the only gain I could still imagine – my own personal growth.
She became a project through which I could heal my core wounds. In my spiritual practice, I sought to transform resentment into gratitude. I tried to make light from shadow, jewels from hardship.
And while I felt the light and grappled with my shadow, the jewels did not materialize. I had forgotten the most important step – to listen to my soul. In fear of failing my family, I ignored what my soul wanted of me—to leave my wife.
To avoid this hard truth, I used spirituality to bypass anger and fear. I became a spiritually strong wimp, a wife hater and a momma’s boy, needy for my wife’s love and touch.
I was deep in the mother wound, transferring the mother-pleasing behavior of my youth to my wife. Don’t upset momma became synonymous with don’t upset your wife. I was unconscious, uninitiated and lacking mentors and guides.
No wonder it got so bad before I answered my soul’s call.
Previously Published on StuartMotola.com