Not all injuries are physical.
After the motorcycle accident, it took a long time for me to feel normal or safe again. Even after that, there were some situations that brought back memories of the accident and its aftermath in vivid detail.
I was never a good passenger in a car. I always felt safer when I was driving – not because I was a demonstrably better driver, but I felt that if I were driving, at least I could have some control over my own destiny. When other people drove, I would wear out the armrest, dashboard and carpeting from my gripping the door, pre-emptive bracing on the dashboard, and ‘invisible’ braking to make sure we stopped.
The 2008 bicycle accident only made it worse. To top it off, I had totaled my car in a driving event at Summit Point Raceway. I wasn’t racing my car – it was a driving improvement seminar, focused on building car control skills and driver confidence. None of that mattered when my brakes failed on a straightaway. The instructor and I rode the car into the woods, snapping off saplings and small branches as the car came to a stop. There were no injuries, but the car was a total loss.
I started having trouble focusing at work, and the atmosphere became increasingly toxic, where corporate politics were starting to become more important than actual work. A number of my colleagues left the company, leaving fewer friends for mutual support.
My company went through a merger with a larger firm, and I was laid off from my job. It took several months to find something permanent, but I was able to get some consulting work which paid the bills. The new job didn’t pay quite as much, but it was less stressful and closer to home.
All the stress took my focus away from exercising and eating right, and I started to gain weight, which also added stress to the marriage. My wife started to go through some emotional struggles of her own, which came out in some negative ways…including affecting the kids, which she seemed to feel was all my fault from having the accident.
My marriage was deteriorating. No marriage is perfect, and every couple has their challenges, but ever since the accident, my wife and I argued more often, and little disagreements became major disputes. She frequently brought up the accident as a reason she was so angry. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t blame her. It had to be hard on her side, too.
Despite taking time to put more focus on the kids and time together, nothing seemed to help. We took a number of family vacations to Ireland, Puerto Rico and even Costa Rica. It was good to get away, but at the end of the vacations, I felt just as stressed out.
Fortunately, the new job was so close to home, it allowed me to spend more time with the kids, which helped. Because I was so wrapped up in recovery and getting back to work, I sometimes lost sight of the impact the accident had on them. I tried to do more things one-on-one with both children, and do what I could to reassure them that I was not going to do anything to put them in that situation again.
It didn’t seem to alleviate any of the marital tension, however. I suggested couples counseling, which was quickly rebuffed. I was told that I needed to deal with my issues.
That Thanksgiving, we rented a house in Florida with my 2 sisters and their respective families. We went to Universal Studio in Orlando as a group, and also spent time on the beach and at a nearby wildlife preserve. During a break in the activities, my wife asked to go for a walk with me.
As we walked on the beach, she said that 4 years later, she was still angry with me for putting her and the kids in that situation. On top of that, despite the recovery from the accident, I had gained weight, and I wasn’t taking my health seriously. If I didn’t do something to improve things, she needed to think about her options.
I told her that she was right. I had let my weight creep up, and that I was dealing with the work stress by eating. I didn’t drink or smoke, but I agreed that my eating habits were not good – that I needed to seek outside support on improving them, because I wasn’t doing well on my own. As soon as we got back, I would find a professional to work with me on the issue.
When we arrived back home, I started looking up the names of potential therapists who dealt with stress eating or similar issues. I didn’t get too far, when the kids started acting out in school, and I got called in a number of times to deal with it.
It took a couple months, but by the first of March, I had located a therapist who I thought would be a good professional to work with. I filled out all the advance paperwork, and scheduled my first appointment for the following week. I knew I needed to work on the stress eating issues, and having a new resource to help made me feel a bit more optimistic.
Despite leaving my previous company, I tried to keep up with my old friends, share advice on job hunting, and provide general support. They frequently did the same for me a well. One day, I was talking to a friend from work who had also been laid off. While I had landed a new job, he was still searching, I was trying to cheer him up, when my wife called me upstairs to have a ‘family meeting.’ I called up that I ‘d be there in a minute, and my wife said, “You need to come up NOW.” I told my friend I’d call him back later. I hung up the phone, and went up the stairs.
When both kids and I were sitting at the table, my wife came in, sat down, and said,
“I want a divorce.”