If I had to name the god of Santa Fe, I would name it Different.
STUCK ON A LOOP
I don’t feel the need to chronicle how deep into despair I got in Louisiana… at least not any more than I already have. The amount of texts with heart emojis and direct messages from people after my last couple of blog posts tell me that you’ve had enough… and also that you care enough about me to let yourself feel my pain. That’s a high honor and I thank you for letting yourself empathize with me.
I’ll just say this about the year after Carrie told me she wanted a divorce: Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Over and over again. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
I had a few mantras that were stuck on a loop in my head, poisoning me from the inside out.
“I hate my life and wish I was dead.”
“I’m going to die alone.”
“All I did was tell the truth & it ruined everything.”
Making matters worse was the fact that I saw the “Exit Ramp” off of the freeway of life. I had never seen it before my life fell apart but now, every single day, I thought about killing myself. The pain could be over in a matter of minutes. That realization comforted me on days when there was no other comfort to be found.
I wrote my Suicide Notes. There were four or five drafts of them in my journal, most of those pages stained with tears. I had saved a farewell letter onto the backend of my website that I planned on auto-publishing to my blog the day after I ended my life.
Even in the middle of all of that pain, I didn’t drink. I had moved past the 90 day window of sobriety and found it easier and easier to abstain from drinking, even without being in a Sobriety Program.
I took a trip with my parents, sister, nieces, and my sons to Big Bend in the summer of 2017. It was my farewell trip with my family. I was saying goodbye to them without them knowing it. The one year anniversary of Carrie telling me she wanted a divorce was the date I had decided to end everything. I had tried to move on but life was just too fucking cruel.
However, something unexpected happened on that trip- Nature saved my life.
It’s hard to think about death in the middle of majestic vistas. It’s hard to wrap yourself in misery when you’re swimming in a natural spring in the middle of the desert. It’s hard to ignore the beauty of this planet when you’re paddling in a kayak on the Rio Grande. The Santa Elena cliffs are a more powerful antidepressant than you can find in any bottle.
I took the date off of the calendar. I was going to keep trying to live.
OK TO BAD
When I got back to Louisiana after that vacation, things went from okay to bad really fast. I started purging my possessions. I remember looking in the dumpster on the farm, seeing thousands of dollars worth of training manuals, textbooks, and curriculum binders splayed out all over the bottom of it. I was never going to use any of it again, so what was the point of filling up my life with it or leaving a mess for someone to clean up when I was gone? I gave away as many of my books on spirituality as I could. My spirituality was dead. It lay at the bloody feet of church discipline and hung in tatters on the barbed wire fences of a christian worldview that had no room for me.
After the week of joy in Big Bend, I was back to feeling like I was done with life. The pain I would cause my parents and kids by killing myself was less than the pain of carrying on. Carrie could remarry and find another person to fill my role in the boys’ lives. My parents could still see my echoes in my sons when they had them. That was going to have to be good enough.
I kept going for one simple reason: no one would give me permission to die. I wanted someone to tell me that it was OK to take the exit ramp. I wanted someone to stop bullshitting me and just admit that things wouldn’t get better. No one would give me permission. No one would tell me that the best parts of my life were behind me.
Out of options, I called my parents and told them I wasn’t doing well.
YOU ARE A TOURIST
My sons met me at my RV as I packed my belongings. My parents were paying for me to get the help I couldn’t afford and Whole Foods was giving me a Leave of Absence to get that help. I threw a few changes of clothing, my journal, and my toiletries into a backpack and my sons walked me to my car.
A farm hand casually looked on as I hugged all of my sons. All of us had tears streaming down our faces as I told them goodbye. I told them that I was going to a Mental Health Center for at least a month and that I probably wouldn’t be able to talk to them while I was there. I also told them that I didn’t know if I would ever be coming back to Lafayette.
I eventually got into my car and waved goodbye to my three greatest treasures. They waved to me with tears running down their faces, turned their backs to me, and walked towards my old house. I pulled away and put on Death Cab for Cutie as I began the drive to my parents’ house. The bridge of their song You Are a Tourist had haunted me since my marriage ended.
And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then it’s time to go
And define your destination
There’s so many different places to call home
Because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written
It’s plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions
Would you agree?
If so please show me
I was the tourist in my hometown. While I had people in my hometown who accepted me for who I was, I wasn’t accepted by the community.
I was the villain in my family’s story. My kids had a beautiful life until I fucked everything up.
I had good intentions of deepening my relationship with Carrie by trusting her more fully… and it had all blown up in my face. I thought I had done the right thing by being honest with my wife but it had turned out so fucking wrong.
I listened to Ben Gibbard sing the last year of my life as I left Louisiana for who knew how long.
There was a lot to Trauma Camp. I have a journal full of insights, art therapy, calendars, and the word “bullshit” written 56 times in a row during one particularly upsetting session. As with other times in my life, I’m trimming so many stories off to focus on my gender identity and spirituality. Sorry. You can read a few other stories here. And here. And here. I’m sure I’ll try to write more in the future about my six weeks in the desert.
As you read these journal entries/memories, please understand that I committed on Day 1 to not hold in my emotion anymore. It had poisoned me for a year and I was going to make sure my parents got their money’s worth out of this facility. I wasn’t going to blindly believe any pep talks I was given. I was going to question everything.
My first full day at the Life Healing Center was a day of Silence for the entire facility. In one of the early morning sessions, we focused on mindfulness practices.
“Focus your attention on your heart… on its beat.”
I turned my mental gaze inward and saw a coal black heart pumping death throughout me.
“Now focus on your hands. Let your presence fully indwell them.”
I got up and left. I had taught this shit to people in My Old Life. Even mindfulness practices were tainted by my past.
NOT THE HERO
The art therapy director was having us make an image of some kind related to The Hero’s Journey. I sat for about 25 minutes with my arms crossed before the therapist came up to me and asked me why I wasn’t working. I looked at her and said two sentences.
“I’m not the hero. I’m the villain.”
I had ruined Carrie’s life by telling her the truth. I had left permanent scars across my sons’ hearts by trusting their mom with something she couldn’t handle. I had betrayed the trust of my church by withholding who I was from them for decades.
COLDER THAN THE MOUNTAIN AIR
I had called my friend, Paul, with the great news. Carrie had changed her mind and wanted to get back together with me. I was overjoyed. The skies of Houston looked brighter as I hung up with Paul. Carrie and I and the boys could start over here. We could leave Lafayette and its dark past behind. She still loved me. Everything else could be worked on if we still loved each other.
I woke up to a reality colder than the mountain air of my cabin: She wasn’t changing her mind. She didn’t love me anymore.
I’d never had recurring dreams but this one would not fucking stop. I had the same dream over and over since Carrie left me. It felt great in the moment but it stole away any hope I had of a normal day before I was even out of bed.
TO BUILD AN ALTAR
One of my favorite therapists was a woman named Pasha. I always thought she looked like Janice Joplin would have if she retired to New Mexico. Pasha always smelled of essential oils. She quoted a lot of poets. She led a group called Creative Discovery. Pasha always gave us experientials, which was a trigger for me from my time leading men and giving them experientials. Our first experiential was to build an altar and lay items in front of them. I got up and left the group. I went back to my cabin and wrote in my journal instead.
Pasha has us building altars and laying items in front of them. You know what I want to lay on my altar for you?
I gave you everything and you took it all and gave nothing in return.
I’m never giving you anything again.
SORTING THE ROCKS
Remember when I told you I was a reluctant leader? If not, that’s fine. It was a few thousand words ago. Anyway, one of the things at the middle of the Trauma Camp campus was a huge Medicine Wheel. Over the months and years, people kicked rocks from one quadrant to another as they walked through it or kicked rocks from the outside into the middle. Basically, the whole damn thing was a hot mess.
I realized none of the other “guests” gave a flying fuck about the medicine wheel’s state of disrepair, so I did my reluctant-leader thing and started sorting the rocks. Any time someone would walk by, I would start talking to them and do a Jedi-Mind-Trick on them. Eventually, quite a few of us ended up sorting the rocks in the Medicine Wheel.
To be completely honest, sorting the rocks might have been the most therapeutic thing I did while I was at Trauma Camp.
One guy, Richard, told me, “Why is it that I can’t get control of my life or make a plan but I can sort thousands of fucking rocks without batting an eye?!”
Like I said, the rocks were therapeutic.
COALESCING INTO BITTERNESS
My therapist was a former priest named Sergio. He held up an emotional mirror for me. I could see clearly that I was full of rage, indignation, fear, sadness, grief, disbelief, shock, and hopelessness… but it was all coalescing into bitterness.
I left one session with Sergio, went back to my cabin, and stared at the drawing I had made of Carrie in Art Therapy. As fucked up as I could see that it was, I still loved her a year after she had sliced me in half. I missed her so much. I took off my glasses and cried for a long time as I stared at the picture.
I eventually pulled out the paper and pen I had brought with me and started writing a letter to Carrie. I apologized for telling the truth. I apologized for making her pick between staying with me and dying inside or leaving me and feeling the guilt of choosing divorce. I crafted a blessing for her on that paper. I thanked her for all of the good things in my life that never could have happened without her… it was a long list.
I didn’t necessarily feel what I was writing but I didn’t want to become as bitter as I had felt in my first week at LHC.
The only way out was going to be through forgiveness.
SOMETHING TO THIS WOMAN
I laid down on the table and closed my eyes. Pasha waved her hands around over my body. Sometimes they were close enough that I could feel the heat from them as she held them over my face, neck, or arms. She slowly moved down my body as she worked with my “chakras.”
My therapy team had told me they thought Reiki would be a good elective for me since it didn’t have anything to do with Christianity and all of the baggage that came with my religion.
I was just wondering what the fuck this woman was doing waving her arms over me.
After the session was over, Pasha would tell me what she sensed happening inside of me as well as what she did to balance my spiritual energy. I gave myself permission to go with it… what did I have to lose?
In one of our sessions, I had a moment of clarity. (I leave it up to you to figure out if it was the Janice Joplin clone and her mystic powers, the mountain air and clean eating, four weeks of non-stop therapy, or the Holy Spirit. Just go with whatever answer makes you happier, I guess.) I saw myself as a child. I was behind the blue recliner in our living room… I always loved that little hiding spot. I –the adult– walked up to myself as a kid and asked her if she was afraid of me. She nodded her head and, for the first time, I saw just how much damage I was doing to myself with my negative self-talk.
Maybe there was something to this woman’s Jedi Powers.
PRAYED WITH MY PEN
I opened my journal four weeks into my stay at LHC and prayed with my pen:
It’s me, Dallas.
I used to feel close to you but I don’t even know if you’re there anymore. I feel spiritually shell-shocked right now.
Are you there?
Do you love me?
Am I an abomination?
Does my life have meaning?
Why don’t you talk to me anymore?
LOOK AT MY BRA
The therapy team had set up a meeting between me and a former client, a transwoman named Angie. She walked into the room we were meeting in, all six foot of her with her knee-high boots, short grey dress, and hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.
She was different than any other transwoman I had ever met. She didn’t try to hide her masculine voice… just like I thought that it was bullshit that I should try to hide mine. She had been an Alpha Male before she came out… just like I had led men in my previous life. She used the word “dude” a lot when she talked. In other words, she hadn’t shunned the masculine parts of herself. She had fully incorporated them into her “new” gender expression.
“You are giving away your fucking power, Dallas.
“No one is imprisoning you in that body or in that wardrobe. You are doing it to yourself.
“You’re the one giving power to the Shame people try to put on you. Own that shit.
“People ask me, ‘Do you like pink?’ and I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah. Look at my bra.’ One of my transwoman friends is dating a woman. People try to shame them by asking if they use a strapon and that transwoman says, ‘Yeah, she puts it on and goes to town on me.’
“Own it, Dallas. They’re surrendering their power to you.”
After she had me laughing at her swagger, pride and irreverence, she got a little less Motivational Speaker and a lot more Emotionally Honest.
“I used to do what you’re trying to do, Dallas. It won’t work. You’re going to get tired of wearing the wrong clothes to work. You’re going to get tired of changing clothes when you get home. You’re going to get tired of changing again and frantically wiping off makeup when someone randomly knocks on your door.
“It’s OK to be where you are. I used to be there, too.
“But you’re going to get tired.”
She then got a little philosophical with me.
“Transgender people throughout history, all over the world, have been cultural prophets, showing everyone how fucked up Gender Roles are. You are supposed to give society that gift. Move into it instead of being ashamed of it.”
ALL I NEEDED
One day, during an art therapy session, Alanna had us draw something relating to the word “Home.”
I had no home. My home belonged to my ex-wife. Normally I would have spiraled down into self-loathing and despair at this thought. This day was different, though. I was getting better… a little.
I told the group that “home” was my backpack. I had everything I needed in that backpack. I had clothing for a week. I had my journal and a pen. I had a water bottle. I had a picture of my kids.
That was all I needed in life.
Alanna told me, “That is a sign of true resilience and strength, Dallas.”
THIS OR DIE
“You’re making the right decision, Dallas.”
Sergio told me that I had PTSD from all of the negative experiences that happened to me simultaneously in Lafayette. Other people had suggested it to me over the previous year but this was the first time I had seen that diagnosis on paper and heard it spoken aloud.
I had told him that I had made peace with moving to Dallas so that I could live with my parents and try to start over.
“You’ve been standing next to the corpse of your old life. How could you possibly start to build something new when there’s a dead body next to you?”
I’d stopped thinking about killing myself every day… I still had my down days but they were fewer and further apart. The theory my therapy team and I were pinning our hopes on was that leaving Lafayette would continue to help me heal. I had tried being a good parent and staying in hell-on-earth for my boys but it just wasn’t working. I couldn’t get better in Lafayette.
I have friends that had sworn off certain cities or states because of the trauma they suffered there. I didn’t understand them until it happened to me. I was having to put my hometown on a No-Fly List. I was having to place certain friends in Quarantine.
It was this or die. I realized with a start that, for the first time in a year, I thought that maybe I didn’t want to die.
TAKE IT BACK
I sat with Su-Motherfuckin-Zanna, the younger, cooler, more-X-Chromosomed version of myself (she also didn’t have a sense of self), and Bryce, the Anglo, also-shaved-head version of myself (he had a sense of self but crushing anxiety). He was a Seahawks fan but I let it slide. All of us had been given an experiential and spent time outside doing it. As the three of us came back together, I chose my wording carefully.
“I don’t want to lay down the victim card.
“I won’t say that they took my spirituality from me. I’ll say that I let them have it. I made the choice to let them take it out of my hands.
“I need to take it back.
“It will look different.
“But I can always fall back on Nature, on its truth and my experiences with it.
“No one can take those from me and I can have one of those any time I want to.”
AND THAT’S OK
I sat down my last night at Trauma Camp and wrote in my journal.
What have I learned?
That I’m funny. That messed up friends are the best kind. That my little six year old self needs a lot of love. That chalk pastels are super fun. That sorting rocks is therapeutic. That it’s OK to cry in public. That some people love me more because I’m trans. That washing other people’s plates, refilling water jugs, & sitting with others’ pain is never a bad choice.
What will I miss?
I came in saying I’d leave with every problem I came in with… and I am. But I feel better about a lot of them.
I will miss Carrie. And that’s OK.
I will have a hard time because I’m trans. And that’s OK.
I will eventually find love again. And that’s OK.
It will still take more time to recover from everything. And that’s OK.
Read the next chapter: A god named Nature