Embracing Option B: A Fresh Perspective on Loss, Adversity & Change


Something clicked for me last month. It was a combination of conversations, experiences and ultimately, coming across a book in the airport. It’s all given me a fresh perspective on how I’m living life today – and facing the future. That fresh perspective is bringing about greater confidence, hope and inspiration.

A year ago, I made a decision and commitment to pursue my passion for photography as a business, with the goal of being profitable in 2-3 years. As I’ve shared before, that is a big step for me – and a big departure from the first half of my life, where I spent my working time in corporate America. But even with that decision, I’ve struggled to see this step as anything other than a step down – something less than – not as good as – my “first option” – the career path my education and early choices led me into.

It’s also been hard to fully embrace this path because it comes on the heals of a significant loss and setback in my life in 2010, when I lost everything I had been building, because of my addiction. Even though the loss came because I got into recovery and started dealing with the underlying issues that led to my addictive behavior, it has been hard at times to fully accept the loss and change as healthy and in a better direction overall for me. I know it sounds crazy. But in addition to losing a well-paying job, house, and friends – I lost much of my identity, because it was largely wrapped up in my career – and the material things and money!

This journey I’ve been on since 2010 has been about rediscovering who I am, what I believe and how and where I find my identity and purpose in life. And although it came from a dark time of great loss, I can already see that I’m not just getting by, or surviving in this new way of living – but I’m actually growing as a result. This became even more clear as I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares how she deals with the unexpected and sudden death of her husband. She “combines her personal insights…on finding strength in the face of adversity.” She shares the moment of truth she faced just weeks after losing Dave:

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” Live is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shout of of it.

She shares a lot of amazing research and studies, along with her personal insight. Some of the highlights for me are (with credit going to Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant):

  • How people deal with setbacks:  personalization (the belief that we are at fault), pervasivenss (the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives) and permanence (the belief that the after shocks of the event will last forever.)  from research by Martin Seligman
  • As psychologists have studied people who have endured all kinds of trauma, they most focused on two possible outcomes of trauma: those who struggle, developing PTSD, depression and anxiety or had difficulty functioning or those who are resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. More recently, research has revealed a third possibility: those who are resilient, bouncing forward, finding post-traumatic growth. This manifests itself in five ways:
    • finding personal strength
    • gaining appreciation
    • forming deeper relationships
    • discovering more meaning in life
    • seeing new possibilities
  • Parents can build resilience in their children through opportunities and relationships – with a focus on four core beliefs:
    • we have some control over our lives
    • we can learn from failure
    • we matter as human beings
    • we have real strengths to rely on and share

As I reflect on my journey and how this concept of an “Option B” plays out, I can more confidently each of these elements at play.

I have been guilty of the “three P’s” as Sheryl calls them. Her insights and tips have helped me already reframe thoughts that come to mind about my situation.

I can also see where I’ve been stuck in PTSD mode – perhaps hoping to “get back to where I was.” But, I now see that where I was was still unhealthy, steeped in addiction, lack of connection or community, and unresolved loss back to my childhood. Now I see a third possibility – and know more clearly that this last year of so has been about taking steps towards “post-traumatic growth,” seeing possibilities in all the areas Sheryl mentioned.

I’ve also added these new “core beliefs” to my earlier post, where I’m collecting beliefs as I work through this journey of rediscovery.

So, this book not only gave me tools and insights I was missing before, it underscored the work I’m already doing! and helped me frame where I am in a new, fresh light. So, thank you universe – and thank you Sheryl Sandberg! To learn more, I encourage you to read her book, and check out her Facebook Groups related to Option B (which is also the name of a non-profit she started, with all of the proceeds from her book being used to support this broader effort of finding post-traumatic growth.)

An explanation and apology…as best I can via the web.


I’m grateful to be “on the other side” of a valley — but as is sometimes the case with my loud mouth and unfiltered comments, I have some damage control to do – “taking ownership for my sh**” as they say.

Or as one Christmas sign says, “Santa, I have some ‘splaining to do…”


 

It’s clear you’re upset about some things Todd, and I’m so sorry..however, you just managed to insult a whole lot of people in one fell swoop


I’ll lead off by saying that none of these words “justify” my actions or behavior over the last month, and in particular the last week.  There is damage that has been done to some relationships, which will possibly linger “under the surface” for quite some time.

For those who know me, and know my battle with addiction and mental illness (depression, mood swings, etc), some of this will be easier to understand. For some who don’t know me or my journey to “get here,” it may not even come close to explaining my actions and behavior. I understand that – I simply ask for as much compassion and tolerance as you’re able to offer.  And I’ll live with the consequences…because that’s part of taking responsibility and owning “my sh**.”


This year, life continues to happen – even with some of the grounding and framing I set out for 2015 in my “brand” and personal intentions for 2.015.

While I don’t want to go through all of what has been going on “behind the scenes” per se, suffice to say that continuing to look for part-time employment and considering a move to North Carolina in 2015 have brought me face-to-face with some of my demons and some of my past (many of which I’ve written about on my blog here before…)

Personal events in 2009 and 2010 have fundamentally changed my path in life, and either closed some doors permanently or is keeping them closed for several more years…  And while none of the information is new, facing the topics and roadblocks again is hard…and sparks off some grieving and a range of feelings from anger, to sadness, to resentment…  And, I sometimes let those flow over into comments and actions that have hurt others (as the quote above says!)

Of course, having our timelines for the move to NC change again (probably not until 2016!) set off another set of reactions and feelings – and grieving…

And, then last week, a friend that I used to run around with in my using days passed away from heart failure at the age of 23.  A couple people in my life knew about this, but not many…so that was working in the background, bringing about its own feelings, grieving, regrets, self-loathing and fear.  So young…

Lastly, an individual who robbed me last year and has been “AWOL” / missing for a year suddenly contacted me because he was “embarrassed” that I had posted about the burglary / house invasion.  That resurfaced some of the pain of that trauma…


 

As I’ve shared before, like most people, I’m trying my best, with good intentions – but am imperfect and will fall short sometimes.  So, if I’ve said or done something recently that hurt you – I’m truly sorry.  I’ve tried to “clean up” some of the damage that was posted to Facebook or the web – and as importantly, focused on personal apologies and conversations where the pain / damage was perhaps greatest.  And, I need to “regroup” and get back to better managing my issues and shit, such that they don’t “come out” in such ugly ways.  It’s a life-long process for me…so I’m doing my best, and try to patient and compassionate with myself (and others!) along the journey.

With some exceptions, I rarely intentionally hurt others – but when I do (intentionally or unintentionally!), where I’m aware, I do endeavor to go back and make amends.  So, if I’ve hurt you and we still need to clear the air, even after this post, please let me know.  Of course, as I aspire to as much as I can (and will still fail!), please express your unmet needs and valid feelings in an objective manner that allows me to hear and receive your feedback. Silence is by far the worst of all choices. Passive-aggressive behavior I can work through; silence robs us both of a growth experience and an ability to connect.

Perfectly imperfect,

Todd

 

 

 

A gay engagement breakfast at Tiffany’s – our ‘aha’ moment at sea!


Part One

I returned this week from an amazing seven-day cruise – relaxing, entertaining and fun. It was also particularly special because I proposed to my boyfriend on Day #2. I joked with another couple on the cruise beforehand that I’d either be the happiest man on the ship…or be looking for a cabin/couch to “crash on” for the rest of a VERY awkward vacation!

Fortunately, “he said YES!”

So, the roses that were waiting for us as part of the ship’s “romance package” didn’t go to waste…  

The dinner at the Italian restaurant was both delicious and romantic; I found the “right moment” to transition on to one knee and ask Brandon to “take our relationship to the next level!” (Yep, I’m a hopeless romantic, and wanted this to be memorable!)

In traditional terms, it was an engagement proposal to marriage – and was very memorable and meaningful for us both!

Just so you don’t get the impression this was a “storybook” unfolding of events, it came with a VERY stressful lead up to the dinner because of a hasty “last minute” read on my part about the detailed arrangements included in our romance package and dinner reservation…

Yes, I messed up – “life happens” as they say,
and I went from “0 to bi&%^” in about 2.3 seconds!

Thankfully, Brandon gently “led me” through my pre-dinner meltdown to  a heartfelt “moment of truth”
(aka ‘come to Jesus’ session) on the ship’s aft stairwell,
helping me to regain some perspective.
(One of the many reasons I love this man…)

What he didn’t fully know at that moment was…
…I had hidden motives for wanting everything to be PERFECT!

Thankfully, I humbly walked through grace
to accept the wisdom of the Serenity prayer…  

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…
and the courage to bust someone’s ass if they get in my way
!”

Well, something to that effect…

Honestly, this prayer is one of the most powerful tools I learned during my recovery and I’m grateful Brandon helped me “return to center…” because the rest of the evening, thankfully, was PERFECT!


Part Two

Fast forward from “YES” to our aha moment!

We enjoyed the rest of the cruise together, along with a short visit to Miami afterwards. During that time, we found simple “engagement rings” to wear until we figured out the timing and specifics of our wedding. Without thinking much about it, we bought matching rings on one of the islands, and went on about celebrating life, love and our engagement.

I have to admit, it was pretty cool.  I understand the “power of a moment” – shared between us, as well as with others both on and off the ship.

We had people on the ship, who “witnessed the event on bended knee,” who congratulated us on our engagement.

We showed others on the islands and in Miami our rings, proudly announcing that we had gotten engaged aboard NCL’s Getaway and were looking to “get married” sometime in 2016. We even posted a couple of pictures on Facebook about our news during a brief “wired session” at an internet café on St. Thomas, as well as via the ship’s “onboard postcard” iSnap booth. Like any “young couple in love,” we were giddy with excitement and glad to share our news.

Side note: I’m sure I’m not the first guy who ‘jumped the gun’ by sharing his news via Facebook…and upsetting some family members in my haste. We were both so wrapped up in the excitement and – as you’ll see this unchartered territory – that we didn’t even think about “how to share the news” with family.  This was made more complicated by limited phone service / internet access on our cruise.  But, all excuses aside, regrettably and understandably, I ruffled some feathers And it was all my fault – I screwed up.  Argh.  I’m sorry!  I hope to mend those bridges soon, and get things off to a better start with some of his family…  

but for now, let’s get back to the fun part of the story!)

He said YES!
He said YES!
Our "Sugarmoon" kiss!
Our “Sugarmoon” kiss!
Rings to prove it...
Rings to prove it!  (But…what is “it” exactly?!)

We got some questions along the way, as you might expect…

Fortunately, the response from friends, family (and strangers who’d listen!) has been 110% positive.

One man I spoke with whom I spoke on the ship is a strong Christian. Admittedly, I was a little weary of how he might respond given my bias/prejudice at times towards the more conservative right.  Of course that’s my “shit” – my baggage – my “narrative” based on some events in my past. But more often than not, my fear of rejection and shame is usually unrealized – as it was in this case.  The man spoke of marriage as a “visible celebration of a couple’s love for one another” and could see that as worthy for anyone in love – gay, straight, bi, Thai…  How healing that conversation was for me, given my own lingering shame and internalized homophobia (on which I’ve written here before…)

But the question we probably weren’t ready for was
“Did you guys get married too?”

Huh?  What?  Married?!

It struck us both as a little odd – though given our reality, we could understand how some might think we jumped head on into this and tied the knot right away!

But it still “ate at me” a little – like “really, do you think we’d elope?!” (putting it in traditional terms) right there on the Norwegian Getaway!?!

Of course, that would be ok…but it started to reveal a deeper truth – giving us insight into a “new era” in LGBT relationships that, at least for us, was playing out for the first time.  Like much of my “coming out,” there are few role models for us to look towards.  That’s both exciting and scary at times!  Let me explain…

Gay marriage has been “in the spotlight” for several years, as countries across the world have been evolving into accepting the reality that gay couples deserve to be recognized just like straight couples.  Setting aside any religious or faith-based aspects of a ceremony, there are some very real, practical benefits to being legally married.  (And, some real, practical risks as well!  To death do us part…)

However, what we’ve largely seen (at least what I’ve largely seen…) are “existing couples,” many of whom have been living and loving together for years, formalizing what most of their family and friends already know and accept.  They may have been in a “domestic partnership” (legally) – but marriage is only a recent option for many (at least in parts of the US). So, there’s been, if you will, a “backlog” of marriages, where folks are simply are simply catching up to where they could have, should have been all along.  It’s like playing Monopoly – they were able to pass through “Go!” without collecting $200…they had essentially “already been there, done that” but now had the “marriage T-shirt” to show for it!

Grand Marriage Equality Wedding Event

But, what about the “rest of us!” who are still in the courting, dating phases of our LGBTQ relationships…who are weighing the spiritual, societal, physical, emotional and financial “benefits” of “popping the question” and taking our relationships to the “next level…” – from “dating” to “engagement” – a step that traditionally comes with an engagement ring.

But, our path is far from traditional!

For many of us, myself included – at 46! – we’ve never even thought about the possibility of getting engaged (in the traditional sense), because it was never an option!  Like much of our “coming out stories,” this is new territory…something for which most straight men and women are prepared, and perhaps “take for granted.”

As we thought about this more, we started to realize that the question “did you guys get married, too?” was coming from the “traditional frame of reference,” because we had “shown the world” our two rings!  And this would normally symbolize marriage!  Wow!  Aha!  Now I get it…wow!


Part Three

Now we’re faced with more questions than answers!

After all, what do you do when a man proposes to another man?  Who gets the ring?  Do both get a ring?  How do our “engagement rings” compare to or evolve to our “wedding bands?” Does one wear the ring on the right hand, or the left hand?   Do we start with the right, then switch when we get married to the left?

So many questions…so it was time to Google!

Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time
Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time

And the results only underscored our personal “aha! moment!  And thankfully, we’re not alone!

This is unchartered territory (for us at least) – and for many others.

Our society is “getting used to” gay marriage, and I believe it’s only a question of time before all States in the US recognize it (at least on paper).  We’ve “broken the race” barrier and (finally) elected a Black President.  African-American parents no longer have to raise their kids, telling them “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re important” – and can be or do anything you want in this life….except become President.

It’s only a question of time before parents will also be able to give their children guidance on engagement and marriage, whether that be gay, straight, or bi!

This was emphasized at the start of our cruise, when I read about the White House’s brief to the US Supreme Court, outlining why the various State bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.  We even referenced the 36-page brief as we shared our news – not realizing that as that reality “settles in” to our collective conscience, we now have this new pre-cursor as well…

“Gay Engagement!”

As with much of our narrative, there are no rules – no traditions.  For better or worse, it’s up to the couple to create our own traditions, our own reality.  Of course, in doing so, sometimes, we will either have to explain or clarify things to others, who may see things (as they have) through their own filters, their own “traditions.”

But I’m ok with that…as is my fiancé!

Hmmm…I do like the ring of that…pun intended!


I’ll close with a collection of links I found from my Google search on “gay engagement.”

Thanks for walking with us from “YES” to “aha!”

 May we all continue to inspire each other to greater understanding, peace and health.


Gay Engagement