Before Annie and I got married, I had a dream about us moving in together. In the dream, she arrived at our apartment with a few bags and a rolling suitcase. I, on the other hand, showed up with an entire moving truck of stuff. And as she opened up the back of the moving truck, she gave me a disconcerted look and said, “I don’t know if I can live with all of this.” I still think about this dream to this day.
I entered into my relationship and marriage with a lot of baggage. The more I process my feelings, the more baggage I find. It often feels infinite. Anxiety, depression, vices, anger, past relationship woes, you name it. I never used to talk about it with my significant others, mostly because I never thought I could. How could they be with me if they really knew everything about me? It seemed so much easier to live a partitioned life.
But ignoring part of yourself is never easier. It’s a life filled with secret compartments and lies. It only feels easier because it’s a quick fix--it’s triage. You can ignore the baggage for a while, until it eats you away, permeates your subconscious, and before you know it, you’re taking out all of your problems on everyone in your life. Most often, it’s your spouse or significant other receiving the brunt of it.
For me, my baggage comes out in really ugly ways. Normally it’s in the form of irrational stress and fits of anger. Sometimes it’s in the form of intense depression and a deep restlessness. Every time it feels as if I’m exploding from the inside out. I’ve waited too long to process through my baggage. I’ve reached critical mass.
So what am I doing about it? I wish it were that easy. I wish this week I could give you 5 easy steps on how to unload baggage, but I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. I already know that working through my issues is a war I’m going to fight for the rest of my life. I’m writing to you about it because I want you to know that you’re not alone. I’m fighting for myself and for others who have this same affliction.
I know that we want our marriage blogs to teach us things or solve our problems. What’s both sad and funny is that they’re never capable of that. And I say this as a blogger who’s dedicating his life’s work to helping the world reach a clearer understanding of marriage. So far, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that my journey is so much more important than the destination.
My journey has been a tough one. Blessed, but tough. It wasn’t easy growing up in a strict, religious household. Even worse, I was exposed to pornography very early in life (3rd grade), which is a struggle I still manage to this day. As a person of color growing up in a small, predominantly white town, being the thick-skinned tough guy was the only way I knew how to earn power and social capital. This led me to be a star wrestler and class president, as well as someone with serious self-loathing and a huge temper. I lived (and still live) in a constant state of fear. Being “right” became more of priority than being kind. Worst of all, my sense of worth came from whether or not I felt that people liked, admired, or respected me.
As I grew up, I never told anyone about this stuff. At least not in-depth. Every once in awhile, I’d share isolated, surface-level facts about who I was. Mostly with close friends and romantic partners, never with my family or with mental health professionals (you couldn’t pay me to go into counseling early on in life).
As I continued living my partitioned life, I began to inevitably hurt everyone around me. As a former serial monogamist, I can easily say that none of my relationships ended amicably. In short, they failed in spectacular fashion. It wasn’t always my doing, but I definitely contributed my fair share. I still wonder whether or not I have what it takes to make this marriage work. It’s tough not to constantly second guess myself.
Life with my family was a huge mess. I love them more than words can ever express and my relationship with them is much better these days, but I can tell that the wounds are still healing. I spent most of my life selfishly ignoring them or arrogantly taking from them without giving anything back. Why is it that we always hurt the ones we love the most?
In terms of my internal struggle, my partitioned life led me down some dark and scary paths. It’s hard for me to stay away from the fantasy world online, desires for variety, and vices that I know full well are harming the light within me. Worst of all, I’m so hard on myself. I have plenty to be proud of in life, but I’ve never allowed myself to appreciate any of it. When I make mistakes, it’s hard for me not to hate myself. Peace and happiness feel like a distant, nebulous concept that I know I’m supposed to relentlessly pursue, all while knowing that it’s an ideal I’ll never actually achieve.
When Annie and I started getting serious about each other, I knew that I had to unload some of my baggage. I knew that it was time to stop living a secret life and really be vulnerable with her to have any shot at a marriage that didn’t end in a courtroom. My only problem is that I didn’t really know how to deal with these things or where to start. So I got some help.
At the recommendation of a good friend, I started seeing a therapist. It took me a long time to really be open about this to other people, but now I feel like I tell everyone. My hope is to help normalize it enough to where therapy can be as casual as going to the dentist for a cleaning.
When I started therapy, we first focused a lot on my past. My therapist asked me about my relationship with my parents (specifically my pastoral father) and my past significant others. I was able to really understand why I grew to be who I am today and how I developed my “shadow side.” Once I got a good understanding of it, a few things needed to happen: 1) I needed to accept the past and forgive myself for it; 2) I needed to be intentional about who I am and what I want out of life; and lastly, 3) I needed to be vulnerable with the people around me about it (especially Annie).
It was weird telling Annie about everything I was going through. To be honest, some of it wasn’t received as positively as I would’ve liked (much like my dream indicated), but overall, it’s made us stronger. It’s so freeing to know that my partner in life really gets what I’m going through and possesses a lot of empathy for it. Even better than that, it feels great to finally not hide about it. I finally feel like I’m slowly dissolving my partitioned life towards something more genuine.
So that’s where I am, currently. I’m not perfect, I still have plenty of bad days, but I’ve grown so much ever since I started embracing vulnerability, honesty, and above all, acceptance of myself. No one was made to live a partitioned life. We all have baggage and if we bring some to a relationship, we’ve got to be okay with unpacking it. The weight in my heart feels lighter than ever, though I still have so much more to go.
I don’t care to give anyone any advice about this, I just wanted to speak my truth. I did however want to leave you with a few questions to reflect upon:
What are you hiding from the world that you need to be more vulnerable about?
What are the things in your life that really get in the way of you finding joy or peace?
Have you unpacked all of the baggage that you’ve brought into your relationship? Has your spouse/significant other?
When in life do you feel most happy/alive/fulfilled? When in life do you feel stressed/anxious/sad?
Is there anything you need to forgive yourself or others for?
Have you truly embraced who you are? If so, what would it look like to go deeper? If not, what would it look like to begin?
These are just a few things we should be thinking about on a daily basis. It’s impossible to be good to your spouse without being good to yourself, so my hope and prayer is that we all get serious about self-care and self-love, for the sake of those important people around us. I always thought that I loved Annie with all of my heart, when really that wasn’t true. I loved her with the part of my heart that wasn’t inhibited by my issues. And as I continue to resolve and unload my issues, the more of my heart Annie gets. This motivates me to keep up with this work every day.
Now I envision myself in the same dream I had before I got married. I picture Annie with her lightly packed luggage and me with my moving truck. As Annie opens the moving truck, she smiles back at me. We look through my stuff together. We laugh a little, cry a little, and love each other so much more because of it.
I always thought that the key to a happy marriage was to try as hard as I could to be the perfect spouse, when really that’s not practical or true. For me, the key to a happy marriage is to be honest and humble about how imperfect I am and by being my most healthy and authentic self. As I continue with this practice, I’ve really pushed my capacity for love. Both for my wife, myself, God, and others. And let me just say, peace and happiness have never felt so attainable.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.