What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 8, Coping Mechanisms

We all know the childhood proverb, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I prefer the grown up version of the same saying: what doesn’t kill you gives you a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a really dark sense of humor.

Divorce didn’t kill me and it did give me a dark sense of humor. Music has always been my coping mechanisms. Healthy or not, I’ve found solace in song. Coping with divorce wasn’t any different than any other challenge in my life. These songs didn’t just help me cope, they explain how I coped.

Sometime Sunday: “Home
Mikee Bridges sings of two homes in this lament, not knowing a physical home while looking forward to a spiritual home. Regardless of where I’ve lived, I never really felt like it was home. Losing the house I bought in the divorce and being forced into a small apartment reinforced the unanchored feeling of this song, “Home is a place I’ve never been.” Yet I shared Mikee’s hope in something more, “I’ll hold on to Sunday, a first time to come home.”

Pearl Jam: “In Hiding
I didn’t leave the apartment much, spent my time watching movies, paying video games, or writing. I did like the song said, “I shut and locked the front door, no way in or out, I turned and walked the hallways and pulled the curtains down.” Church on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. A small group meeting on Monday nights. Work five days a week. But if there was nowhere I needed to be, I was in hiding.

Matchbox Twenty: “Unwell
Symptoms of narcissistic abuse are varied and I didn’t experience all of them. However, I did suffer from insomnia, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Other symptoms get weird: inability to trust yourself or others, feelings of isolation, difficulty making decisions. Narcissistic abuse makes you think you’re crazy. It’s a sensation described in this song, “I can hear them whisper, and it makes me think there must be something wrong with me, out of all the hours thinking somehow I've lost my mind”

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with XPerience: “Let’s Eat
If I had one truly unhealthy coping mechanism, it was food. Comfort food. Fast food. Stress eating. Boredom eating. Social eating. Workplace potlucks. Whatever weight I lost when Bekah and I first separated, I gained it back after the divorce plus some. I know exactly what Macklemore is talking about when he raps, “I was gonna get skinny for the summer, I was gonna start doing my crunches, but looking down at my stomach, I'mma go to the beach, but I'm not taking my shirt off in public.” My craving for something spicy for lunch after church on Sundays every week worked against the efforts I made to get skinny again. Then again, “You know I feel good about this cake” can only be a viable way to cope for so long. My post-divorce body got to be the heaviest I’ve ever been.

Sick Puppies: “White Balloons
After a lifetime struggling with insecurity, divorce practically confirmed by biggest fear: I was insignificant. As a newly single man, and a single dad, I felt like a ghost – unseen and misunderstood. I heard my state of mind echoed in this song, “What’s inside of me is invisible to most even in clear view.” In my ghostly phase, there was a lot of change as I rediscovered/redefined who I was.

Of Monsters and Men: “I of the Storm
Another song speaking about feeling like a ghost, this one didn’t just address my inner turmoil, it described my appearance. “Until all you'll see is my ghost, empty vessel, crooked teeth.” There was a loneliness as I coped with grief, I was out of place and ungrounded. “I am a stranger, I am an alien inside a structure.” I had my kids and I had my job but aside from those two things, I felt lost and defeated.


The official Heartsong ornaments 2020

Every December when I was younger, my mom created handmade Christmas ornaments for my brother and me. Her plan was to provide us with ornaments of our own to use when we were older. She had a theory: when we moved out of her house to start life on our own we would have at least 18 Christmas ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree we get four ourseves. It wasn’t just Aaron and me either. She made these ornaments for all of the Budd family cousins too.

Annie also indulges in this crafting tradition. She started making ornaments with Joylyn when it was only the two of them together. Now, with our families blended together, the holiday crafts continue.

There is a difference though. When I was a kid, Aaron and I just let mom do her thing. These days, the ornaments are a family affair. The kids help brainstorm ideas and often handle sharpies and hot glue guns to assemble and decorate the family ornaments we give as gifts to our closest friends and family.

It was tempting to aim for funny this year. The thematic possibilities for 2020 were endless. We even googled in search of toilet paper roll and murder bee shaped confetti. We looked for miniature medical masks to place inside a plastic globe. We pondered the viability of using dollar store sized bottles of hand sanitizer.

After much contemplation, a decision was made to avoid the year in review approach to ornament making. No references to the pandemic, social distancing, the election, Netflix binging, conference calls, extreme weather, or apocalyptic animals.

We realize 2020 has been a weird year. This was the year that real life imitated something halfway in between Maury Povich and the twilight zone. It started with a tiger king refusing to accept reality and is ending with an American president who refuses to accept reality. In between those two cultural mileposts, we’ve seen mask orders and anti-mask rallies. We got professional sports played in empty arenas and super-spreader parties held in NYC, DC, and LA. New generations of video game consoles were released with near life-like graphics yet the most popuar game in America is a cartoony contest about armless spacesuit wearing little people trying to catch a murderous imposter while fixing their spaceship. Graduations were observed on zoom, vacations were cancelled, theaters were closed, and everyone had to figure out how to live life six feet apart.

This world has enough crazy, we didn’t need to add to it. We ached for something normal. Nothing could be more normal for us than this.

Inside a plastic mason jar, you’ll find feathers and snow. Well, artificial snow but the feathers are real - mostly from our chickens and ducks with a few from our turkey, Uno.

While we love our horses, the birds are the heartbeat of Heartsong Meadow. Annie had a pair of Chinese geese when she moved to the farm. Elvis, a black silkie, was one of the first three chickens we got and is the OG of our farm animals. Ruby and Stanley are long time fowl residents. Wasabi the emu is one of our newest feathered friends and he’s quickly become a favorite part of our world. This farm wouldn’t be what it is without the birds.

They greet us every morning. We’ve hatched several, both naturally and artificially, raising some ducks and chickens from tiny lil ducklings and chicks. Joylyn collects eggs and sells them. Chloe has trained a few chickens to jump on her and perch on her shoulder. Annie and I even rescued a dozen abused birds while on the way to a Valentine’s Day date. Now everyone wants to pet and hug the emu.

When it came time to design this year’s ornaments, it made sense to do something with the feathers. In a year as weird and wild as 2020, the birds kept us grounded.

We all took turns collecting feathers, searching for the cleanest and most intact plumage we could find. The birds blow feathers frequently enough that we could have made 100 ornaments. However, we only made 19.

If you receive one of the Heartsong ornaments, we are sharing with you a piece of our hearts. The fake snow has been added because we’re always dreaming of a white Christmas.

Maybe next year we’ll do something funny.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 7, The Fallout

I never wanted to get divorced. However, after everything was said and done, I’ve realized divorce was the best gift Bekah ever gave me. It sucked in the moment but led to something better.

In the end, I’m happier and healthier now than I ever was when we were together. It took a while for me to fully understand this gift though. The fallout from her original filing was devastating. These songs represent my emotional state in immediate aftermath of becoming a new divorcee.

Lifehouse: “Sick Cycle Carousel
Grief pairs well with shame. My gut level reaction reflected in these opening lyrics, “If shame had a face I think it would kind of look like mine.” While this song met my emotional state, it also provided the advice I needed to move on, “Keep spinning around, I know that it won't stop ‘til I step down from this for good.”

Mumford & Sons: “Little Lion Man
The vulgarity of this song’s chorus is a punch to my gut. “I really fucked it up this time, didn’t I my dear?” My good sensible Christian inner-child blushes at the frequent f-bombs, yet I can’t help but recognize the raw emotion as my own. When Bekah said she wanted a divorce, she told me I had done unforgivable things, although she’s never disclosed what those things are. With such an accusation, how could I not feel like I was the one who fucked things up?

Rob Thomas: “This Is How a Heart Breaks
Rob spices his tale of heartbreak with manic energy and a relentless pace. Words like “Life is like a mean machine it made a mess out of me” would normally feel laden with sorrow but this song is so eager it doesn’t give you much room to contemplate the weight of the lyrics. Similarly, the frantic pace of life didn’t give me much time to ponder my existence post-divorce. I could feel the brutal sadness of what was happening inside me but didn’t have the time to process it. I felt like I was out of breath all the time while singing like “this is it now, everybody get down, this is all I can take, this is how a heart breaks.

The Prayer Chain: “Grylliade
Eric Campuzano, The Prayer Chain’s primary lyricist captured my emotional state better than I ever could have on my own. “You've pushed me all around, and now I've had my fill there's nothing left for me to say.” Yeah, I knew how that felt. “I feel like the grylliade, two inches tall or nothing at all.” Been there too. Word for word, no other song explains my attitude after my marriage ended better than this.

Everclear: “Wonderful
Art Alexakis grew up as the son of divorced parents. When he and his ex-wife split, he wrote this song for his daughter, sharing his experience with hers. “Promises mean everything when you're little and the world is so big, I just don't understand how you can smile with all those tears in your eyes.” I don’t have the ability to feel the way my kids feel, so this song helps me see things from their perspective, “I don't want to hear you say that I will understand someday.”

Staind: “Home
For every cause, there is an effect. In this song, Aaron Lewis sings of the effect first, “Today just fell apart like everything, right in my face,” before explaining the cause, “I try so hard to be, everything that I should never take away from you again.” And that’s what it was for me for a long time, trying to be everything just to see it fall apart.

Breathe Carolina: “Shots Fired
If divorce is war, I was outgunned and under siege. I was constantly protecting myself or playing retreat. “You said some things that you can't take back. I know where it's going when you look like that. You can see what you started, and you still want more. You sure you want a war? Shots fired.” Even after the end, I still lived in a defensive mode.

Buckcherry: “Sorry
Josh Todd penned this tale of blame and regret with the desire stay together. I didn’t share his desire for unity, but I understood how he internalized the guilt. I found solace in his lyrics, “This time, I think I'm to blame. It's harder to get through the days. You get older and blame turns to shame. Cause everything inside, it never comes out right.”

Hoobastank: “Good Enough
The last words she told me before leaving haunted me. It's an expected reaction when you’re told your best will never be good enough, especially if you (like me) spent a lifetime fearing insignificance. Hearing this song was a reminder I wasn’t alone. “Still after all I gave it's not enough for you. Well, I can't give any more.” I’m not the only one.

The Fray: “Heartless
This was a Kanye song, then The Fray made it more earnest and turned it into something you might hear played in a coffee shop. There’s a little extra heartbreak when they sing, “Somewhere far along this road he lost his soul to a woman so heartless.” While I tended to my emotional wounds, I found one of the most supportive groups of friends I’ve ever had. When this song comes on, there’s a line I sing along with conviction because of the truth behind it: “You got a new friend, I got homies.”


American Irony

The Christmas story begins with a young girl, pregnant and not yet married. Her fiancé is looking for an out because she’s bearing another dude’s baby. He loves her but understands the scandal of raising a bastard child. People in their small town talk in whispers; rumors spread faster than urgent news. So the teen mom leaves home and visits a distant relative and stays with her for a few months while the gossip back home dies down. She and her fiancé soon marry but they do so quietly, avoiding the big celebration they had originally planned. The baby is born in the most unglamorous setting to be raised by his stepfather.

Can you imagine the mix of emotions Mary feels? She’s been looking forward to her wedding, but she never imagined it would be like this. Excited to be a mother, but this isn’t what she had panned. She barely gave consent, but how could she have said no to an angel considering the circumstances. How do you even raise the son of God? Most new parents are worried about the mistakes they’ll make. The pressure Mary felt to succeed would have been unbearable, especially for someone so young.

Fast forward a couple millennia. Imagine how the modern American evangelical would treat someone in the same situation: a pregnant teenager, she’s got a boyfriend but the baby isn’t his. How welcoming would the church be? In my experience, Christians have not always been as loving as we should be.

I’ve seen churches turn away rape victims for their indiscretions. I’ve seen pastors blame women for the violence committed against them. Purity culture told women they deserved it because of their immodest fashion choices, and that’s if their claims are even believed. Too many Christian folk are quick to doubt women who make accusations of rape, assault, and harassment – especially if the perpetrator was a member of the church staff, a pastor, an elder, or a deacon.

In my experience, teen moms have struggled to find safe haven in churches. I’ve seen pastors call children of single moms a consequence of their sin. I’ve seen girls removed from volunteer positions in church because they got pregnant out of wedlock. I’ve sat through Sunday school lessons and youth group devotionals demanding abstinence, and watched as youth leaders ignore the needs of kids who didn’t follow their advice. Too often, pregnant teens and single moms are either an object of scorn or of pity inside American churches.

I’ve heard slanderous labels like slut and whore lobbied at girls who became pregnant at young ages while the boys involved in making those babies never endure the same level or ridicule and rarely face any consequences. While never spoken out loud, the attitude I’ve observed in most churches is “boys will be boys and girls should know better.”

This is the irony of Christmas in America: we reject those made in the image of the One we believe breathed life into our entire universe. We mock the single pregnant teenager while worshiping the offspring of another single pregnant teenager. We alienate heroes raising illegitimate kids while our savior was the step-son of a humble carpenter.

Our nation is imprisoning immigrants and refugees on the southern border at unprecedented rates, separating children from their parents, and caging them in dismal quarters. Of the people I hear applauding this inhumane immigration policy, most have claimed to be followers of Jesus. They forget how Joseph and Mary once fled to Egypt with Jesus, themselves becoming refugees in a foreign land.

Dear church, what the hell are we doing?

To affirm the beauty, strength, and resolve of the Christmas story, we must treat the young women in our community who suddenly find themselves alone on the threshold of motherhood with the same dignity and respect we bestow upon Mary, the mother of God. From the women bringing their babies across the Rio Grande to avoid the gang violence in Honduras, to the Muslim girl escaping war in Syria, to the teenager assaulted by the pastor’s son, to the college kid who wasn’t careful.

What if we loved these vulnerable young women the same way Jesus loved his mom? What if we validated their humanity and their fears with encouragement and acceptance? What if we told them “You are blessed and so is your child,” the same words Elizabeth spoke to Mary? Could we inspire an entire generation of mothers to sing like Mary?

Maybe then we could see God do what Mary promised: “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

What a wonderful world it could be.

Amen and merry Christmas.


What It’s Like to Be Me: All Falls Apart Pt 6, Finality

Endings aren’t always the end. Sometimes, everything fades to black at that final moment as credits begin to roll. Other times, there is a mess to clean up after things are over. Some endings become new beginnings. And some stories demand an epilogue after the final chapter. For me, the end of my marriage was all of the above.

There was finality to it. When she said she was done, it was an irrevocable point of no return. I felt enveloped in darkness as if curtains just closed after the climactic scene of our tragic play. The end of my marriage was the start of a new and better life, but that was yet to be realized. In the moments and days and weeks and months after divorce, there was a mess to clean up. We had custody schedules and division of property to figure out. While our story was over, this was my epilogue.

Sevendust: “Separate
It was a Sunday when she told me she wanted divorce. In a text message. While I was at church. I was a volunteer and had a few hours left to finish my duties before I could go home. Despite feeling devastated internally, I had to hold it together on the outside. But I fell apart as soon as I got home. I sat in darkness by the pantry door and asked God why it was happening. I prayed “help this make sense to me.” For a long time, that was the only thing I could think to pray so I repeated it over and over again until things did make sense. I find comfort hearing Lajon Witherspoon echoing my prayer in this song, “Help me, make this make sense to me.”

Papa Roach: “Leader of the Broken Hearts
My predicament found me in a situation similar to Jacoby Shaddix’s lamenting song: “Here I am with nothing left to lose,” feeling like I walked off a battlefield burdened with grief and pain. There’s a weird balance with broken hearts; there is sorrow but there’s also relief. I survived. And as I came out of this broken marriage, I’ve found an ability to lead others with the same broken heart.

Andy Mineo and Co Campbell: “Still Bleeding
As a writer, I am intimately aware of the power of words. This is the truth about language Andy raps about in this song, “so ironic how these phonics are made of frequency waves that can stir oceans of emotions and invoke them old things, I need composure just to compose them.” It often seems as if he wrote this song on my behalf, as I was still bleeding from the wounds of the words she said, that I’d never be good enough. He continued, “your words are so filthy, I don't even know the damage, God used words to create this planet so be careful with them.” But it wasn’t only Bekah’s words that were weaponized. I got text messages from her friends saying I was worthless and telling me I was a shitty dad. There were false accusations reported to the police. They mocked me online and harassed my new friends. It was relentless for a while. I get it when Andy says, “stick and stones may break some bones and some words scar forever, you’re hard forever, make it hard to get up.”

Alison Wonderland, Brave, & Lido: “Already Gone
The first time I heard this song, my emotional state was described in the opening lyrics, “I've been nursing a broken heart, it took so long for me to adjust.” Completely cutting off contact wasn’t an option because we shared children. Every time I picked up the kids, it reopened old wounds. It took me a while to figure out how to exist on my own and be OK with the way things were but she didn’t make it easy for me. “Still you manipulate things, you already broke my heart, why make it so damn hard to move on?”

Staind: “Everything Changes
Aaron Lewis opens this song with a hypothetical question: “If you just walked away, what could I really say?” This wasn’t a hypothetical for me, I had an answer: nothing. If one party wants a divorce, there is absolutely nothing the other party can do to stop it. In the eyes of the law, it takes two people to get married, but only one person to end the marriage. When Bekah walked away, there was nothing I could say. In that moment, I became what Lewis described, “I am the mess you chose, the closet you cannot close, the devil in you I suppose.” Everything changes. Marital status, living arrangements, financial stability, tax filings. Everything.


The (adjective) Elf on the (noun)

Hiding a little elf for kids to discover when they get out of bed each morning has become a favorite (and sometimes loathed) holiday tradition for many families. Santa’s mischievous spy has become an internet sensation as parents seek out increasingly creative ways to display their elves and avoid repeating the same thing over and over again. The inappropriate ideas posted in chat forums and on social media became a meme worthy of a notorious reputation for hilarious antics.

If you were to purchase the official Elf on the Shelf, you will get more than just a simple posable elfin doll, the box also includes a storybook to be read to children explaining the elf’s life and purpose. We have one of the Elf on the Shelf branded elves, Joylyn named it Elfy when she was three. Elfy has been a recurring element of our home every year from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. Elfy came packaged with a storybook. However, not all elves have a backstory.

We recently added a second elf to our holiday routines. Annie and I hide one elf every night like we always have while the older kids take turns setting up the second elf for their younger sister to find the next morning. We didn’t buy a second Elf on the Shelf though; instead we got a craft store elf - similar in appearance yet distinct enough to avoid confusing the two mythical creatures. No storybook was included with the discount elf, just a doll in a box.

With no backstory for our new elf, we had to create our own. As a writer, this is something I could easily concoct on my own but that wouldn’t be fun. Wouldn’t it be better if the kids created his story? And what if they didn’t know they were making a story about an elf? For our second elf on a different elf, we did it Mad Libs style.

Now Joylyn is aware how Elfy and *checks notes* Chad know each other. With two elves, we have twice the opportunity for hijinks and shenanigans.

Need a story for your elf? Feel free to play along. Have your kids (or significant other) fill in the blanks for your own elfish story.

Hello, my name is (goofy Name). I am a (adjecive) elf from the (direction on a compass) pole. Elfy is my (adjective) friend. We met each other while playing a game of (something you play in PE), elves versus (animal plural). We won.

Santa asked us to (verb) you every day from now until (holiday). He has a (noun) to keep track of which kids are naughty and which kids are (adjective). If you want to be on the good list, make sure you (verb) your parents, and be (adjective) to your siblings, and do all of your home(noun plural) for school. Don't forget to clean up the (noun) you make after dinner and brush your (body part plural) every morning.

Look for me every (general time of day) to see what kind of (noun plural) we have while you sleep on your (piece of furniture). I might be (adjective) or I might be (adjective), but my goal is to make you (verb).

I will (verb) my final report to Santa on Christmas Eve. Only (adjective) kids will get the best presents under their Christmas (type of plant), bad kids will get a lump of (mineral). After Christmas, I must say (a different way of saying goodbye) and (verb) back home to Santa's (type of building). We are going to have the best Christmas ever!

Love, (same goofy name as before) the Elf

Enjoy. I would love to hear what epic stories you and your loved ones devise. Feel free to share. Or, like the elves do with Santa, report back on Christmas Eve.