But, a few weeks before that visit I also made one awful decision that the polygraph did not address. I started buying an ice cream bar after dinner once in a while. Then it became every night. I then told myself to stop that because I was watching my weight. I have a hard time sitting still and wanted a way to wind down before going to bed each night. Before D-day I would look to porn, masturbation, affairs, or prostitutes for that purpose when alone. I definitely did not want to ever do those again. I considered alcohol, but thought that would be worse than ice cream. So, I turned to cigarettes. I started covertly smoking. I didn’t tell TL.
There were so many issues with that smoking problem. As I look back on it now, I realize that 95% of the desire to wind down is reduced by not being alone, physically or emotionally. That year I was physically alone. Before d-day, I had made TL and I feel emotionally alone. I had been so habitually deep in self-pity and expecting TL to meet my needs that I had let that sick thinking overshadow our previously good friendship.
I still feel a little restless discomfort on those rare occasions when I’m truly alone, like on business travel without TL. I do consider alcohol, ice cream, or chocolate sometimes when that happens. But, I know what’s happening and I choose not to do it. I wonder why I’m that way, why I sometimes feel that restlessness when I’m alone.
I wonder whether it’s because I never learned how to be alone. My parents were always omnipresent, like prison guards. After that, I almost always lived with dorm-mates, roommates, girlfriends, or TL. On the other hand, there have been plenty of occasions when I did OK alone.
Maybe it’s because of my high metabolism. I’ve always been almost constantly in motion, mentally if not physically. I do find that healthy routines relating to food, caffeine, exercise, alcohol, and sunshine help me immensely. I think of them as naturopathic methods to regulate the mood-related chemicals in my body. TL and I both worry about the use of anti-depressants. We’ve both seen family members and friends who relied heavily and permanently on anti-depressants and other prescription drugs, becoming addicted and decaying mentally and physically as a result.
Second, of course, I should have told TL about the smoking, I know that the smoking wouldn’t have bothered her so much. It was the fact that I hid it from her that made her feel hopeless. I don’t fully understand why I hid it from her. It’s true that I grew up in a very conservative community, where smoking was discussed only with hushed-voices and piety. I think it’s also true that I had become afraid of TL, afraid of her anger and disappointment.
Third, I justified my smoking by blaming TL for smoking first. She had shared a cigarillo and a glass of wine with her cousin one evening and told me about it during one of our many FaceTime calls. As I discussed with my counselor the other day, justifying bad choices is bad enough. On top of that, I had some inexplicable desire to control whether TL smoked, a desire to change that reality. That feeling was familiar. It was very similar to the feeling I had before D-day when I justified my cheating by telling myself my sexual history did not measure up to TL’s. I think I felt my manhood was threatened if I could not be confident I had had more sex, smoked more, tried drugs more, drank more, or God-knows-what-else more than TL.
Why should I feel threatened based on such a bizarre thing? I’m still not sure I totally understand it. Let’s be clear. It was wrong and pathological on my part. But, explaining its origin is another question. My theory is that it was my warped attempt to be an adult, to be independent of my mother. Now I’m working on taking on genuine adult responsibilities, through being a husband, father, employee, advisor in my profession, man of faith in my religion, and citizen.
But, back then, before D-day, I was striving for adulthood, for manhood, in the wrong way. I was angry at being treated as a little boy, by my mother. I suspected that bosses, peers, women, and others perceived me as a little boy, not as a man. Indeed, my physical appearance is that of a much younger man. I’m a bit on the small side physically. And, perhaps I had developed a subconscious habit of seeing myself as my mother saw me. She was always so omnipresent in my early life.
She taught me — rather piously and even angrily — that sex, smoking, drugs, drinking, and many more things were bad. So, I think I calculated that I could measure my manhood based on my ability to do those things my mother said not to do. And, if others — particularly a woman — beat me on those scales, I felt my manhood was threatened. Yes, I know it’s pathological, and I’m working on countering my long history of such unhealthy thinking. In fact, it was so deeply ingrained in me that I wouldn’t even call it thinking. It was more of a sick, subconscious philosophy.
In any case, choosing to hide the smoking from TL was perhaps the worst decision I have made since D-day. Though it started in September, I hid it until July, revealing it only just before my most recent polygraph. We’re still recovering from that lie. I wasn’t betraying TL with sex or other people. But, by hiding part of myself from her, it was a betrayal of our friendship. I can pat myself on the back for not using porn, masturbation, or sex illicitly for three years, and for not lying to TL about anything but smoking in those three years. But, clearly I still have work to do.
Otherwise, what I remember from our year apart was the wonderful times we had together when I was home on breaks. We saw old friends and new. We had date nights and family nights. Our sex life was the best it had ever been, in my view. We had a nice family ski trip on my second break. Each break, TL and I made it a point to go away for a spa weekend together.
I took three polygraph tests that year. I passed every time. TL was in deep despair when the smoking lie came out. Thank God we’re still together. This year I tell her everything about my day, every day. I can’t lie to her again.
Around the time of my second break, I completed the self-study portion of my religious conversion. On my third break I traveled to meet with the clerics, complete the interview portion, and undergo the rituals. TL and the kids met me there. I remember that day fondly. I remember in the interview how I tied everything together.
Without getting into terrible details, I explained to the clerics that one of my main motivations for the conversion was to dedicate myself to a better path after learning from my personal mistakes and sins. I also told them how some part of my problem came from centering my life around myself. Thus, by putting God and family at the center of my life, I hoped to resolve my biggest problems that led to my sins: selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-pity.
Then TL and I returned home for our vow renewal ceremony. Close to our twentieth anniversary, we finally had the wedding ceremony and honeymoon I should have given TL years ago. Actually, we did give ourselves a nice honeymoon cruise for our fifth anniversary. But, this time, it was the whole package. It was like starting over. Our family and friends were there. We wrote our own vows. We did everything in the proper religious tradition. The night before, we hosted a nice, but fun, reception at our home. We even had a nice cake.
Earlier in the year I had begun working with an attorney to create a post-nuptial agreement for TL. We finalized it toward the end of that year. The idea was to assure TL that she had choices, that she did not have to stay in the marriage just for financial security.
In the final weeks of our year apart, I made a discovery that I still find useful. I was never seduced by women, sex, or anything else. I was seduced by self-pity. One rare Saturday I was alone in my apartment, reading. I came across a stupid men’s magazine that the previous resident had left behind. I casually paged through it and came upon an article about how to be successful as a single guy, or some stupid thing. Falling prey to my own old bad habit, my mind went back in time twenty-five years, to when I was a single guy. I recalled how very unsuccessful I had felt back then. I don’t know how much time I wasted — maybe 30 minutes or more — feeling sorry for myself and my memories of feeling inadequate.
Eventually I got ahold of myself and firmly reminded myself I could not afford that type of thinking. Unhealthy as that thinking was, this time it was also a revelation. I realized I was never tempted so much by seeing an available woman, a porn magazine, or something similar. Certainly two-years after D-day, I did not consider those things to be serious temptations. Self-pity, on the other hand, was tempting. That’s what requires me to be vigilant, ready to counter self-pity with positive and practical thinking.
When our year apart finally came to a close, we started on the most recent leg of our journey together. This brings me back to my most recent polygraph success and my terrible smoking confession. TL almost left me that day. She said the vow renewal, rings, and everything else were worthless because I was hiding smoking from her during that time.
I don’t know why she agreed to move to our current location and stay with me. Thank God she did. We had a fun family vacation drive across the country, enjoying lots of hiking, swimming, and once-in-a-lifetime family moments. Our current home turned out to be a good place for us to spend time together, nurturing the kids and our relationship as a couple.