They Did So Without Condition

I’ve had better birthdays than October 10th of 2016. There was the trip to France for birthday #39. There was the way too big drunken extravaganza for my 40th birthday. There was birthday #27 at the TGIFridays in Tianjin with my “China friends.” But 2016 is definitely the most memorable birthday I’ve had.

It was my first birthday after my marriage ended.

I was still in Intensive Outpatient Therapy five days a week when my birthday rolled around last year. I was learning how to make it through the separation, coming out, and losing my ministry without grabbing a bottle and pouring it down my throat until I didn’t feel anything. I never would have stayed sober during those months without my support group.

Anyway, I woke up on my birthday and shoved all my feelings as far down as I could. I didn’t mention that it was my birthday to my support group. I didn’t mention my feelings at all that day. I just sat and smiled through all of the sessions we had. When I got home I smiled and hugged my kids. My ex-wife cooked my favorite meal for me and I smiled for her as she served it to me. Her family came over (I live on their farm) and I smiled as they celebrated my birthday with me.

Everything was so strangely normal and I didn’t want to be the person to say that things weren’t normal. I didn’t want to ruin the day for my kids. I didn’t want to ruin my ex’s efforts at giving me a normal birthday. I didn’t want to ruin my former-in-law’s kind gestures towards me. So, I sat and smiled and ate and opened presents and died inside.

October 10th of 2016 wasn’t a great day for me. I’ve had plenty better. I’m not sure I’ve had a worse October 10th than that one.

But I’ve never had a better October 11th.

When I showed up for Group Therapy on the 11th I was honest about my feelings. The other people in the group listened with care. They encouraged me. They held my pain.

After our lunch break, our therapist came back with cupcakes from a local grocery store. We all ate them together. I feasted on my birthday cupcake alongside crackheads, alcoholics, meth addicts, heroin junkies, and bipolar schizophrenics. And a therapist who spent his own money on those cupcakes.

I left that day still sad about my life but, as I look back, I cherish those moments with the scum of the earth. They loved me. And they did so without condition.

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