So far, 2018 has been like swimming in the depths of the ocean, creating waves and bubbles as I move through my day-to-day life, doing my best to rise to the surface and find relief in a sea of difficulty that has surrounded me since last year. There were times where I felt an intense tightness in my chest, almost like it was too hard to breathe because of the deep sadness I’ve been feeling. It has been a long swim back to an island called balance.
It’s part of the human condition to face challenges and adversity. While for some it may feel like a burden that can never be lifted, my intention with this post is to give you a concrete example of what it feels like in real life to learn, adapt, and overcome adversity. Though we are living in the age of self-help gurus and motivational speakers, it seems that everywhere we go, people are more stressed and lost than ever before.
To give you some context, let’s take a step back to last summer, July 2017. I had recently just moved out of my dad’s house. We had grown estranged despite living together for a very long time. I had tried to make a consistent effort to repair our strained relationship by trying to spend more time together and opening up and being vulnerable with him.
My dad was never really an understanding and proactive type of person, so a lot of the time I felt disappointed, hurt, and drained from trying to make our relationship work. It felt like a hopeless cause, so I started to create separation, and distanced myself from him because I wanted to protect myself from the pain he was causing.
When I decided to leave and move out, it felt like a thousand pounds lifted off of my shoulders; it was a huge relief. For the first time in a long time, I felt free and at peace in a more nurturing and non-judgmental environment. While our relationship was complicated and I hadn’t talked to him much, we would see each other every now and then. Even though I was at ease for a little while, the clarity and peace I felt would be short-lived. In the months that followed, things started to go down a darker path.
My dad was hospitalized several times and his health started to decline. He managed to recover, but he wasn’t the same person anymore. To illustrate this, one day while I was at work, my mom had called me. Unless it was something serious, she never called me during work hours, so my instincts told me something was up. As I predicted, on the phone she sounded upset and concerned. To make a long story short, my dad had called my mom to threaten her with a lawsuit unless she didn’t give him money, something my mom had fought hard for years to obtain.
I felt ambushed. I understood why my dad did it; he was having financial troubles from the mounting hospital bills and previous debts he owed. The unrelenting stress had taken him out of character and brought out the ugliest side of his persona. My dad didn’t know how to ask for help directly, so the way he dealt with things was by using emotional manipulation to get his way. While I understood where he was coming from, none of this excused his behavior.
My mom and I are pretty close. She’s the person in my life who keeps me grounded and has always been a recurring presence, regardless of whether things were good or bad. We’d gotten through a lot of difficult times together, and she’s one of the strongest and most loving people I know. So when it comes to her being threatened, like any good son who loves his mother, I became protective and infuriated.
I felt the adrenaline pumping, my senses started becoming sharper, and it seemed as though the room was shrinking to narrow my focus. The adrenaline was directing all my energy to fight. I felt like I was really out of my element and out of character, as I’m actually a very level-headed person.
In my work as a life coach and personal trainer, being empathetic, non-judgmental, calm, and curious about what’s behind what I’m observing is the foundation of my craft. But because the situation was personal, and a person who I cared for was being threatened, my natural primitive instincts took over.
My mom continued to tell me about her heated phone call with my dad. The outrage and pain continued to bubble up. I felt like this situation was priming and preparing me for an upcoming battle as these volatile emotions took over my entire being.
All of a sudden, I caught myself and managed to calm myself down a little bit. As personal as this was, I took the time to recenter myself and I calmly told my mom as soon as I got home that I would handle it. After our chat, I took a step back and took the next week as an opportunity to get myself back into a better headspace.
I went back to my weekly routine while trying to come up with constructive solutions for dealing with this situation, to find the courage and clarity to speak the truth and hold my dad accountable without hurting him. After a week of deliberation, reflection, and talking through it with my psychologist, I was ready to confront and deal with the issue at hand. I figured it would be best to speak with my dad after my sister’s birthday, as that would be the next time we would see each other, without turning my sister’s birthday into a public spectacle.
My sister’s birthday passed without a hitch, and I went to see my dad to confront him with what he had said to my mom. To my surprise, he was very frank and confirmed that he did threaten my mother with a lawsuit. I immediately started to question him and his actions. I communicated what I felt, that this was messed up and unacceptable. I told him if he decided to go through with suing my mother, his lawyers would have to deal with me because I would fight tooth and nail for her and get the best representation for her.
My dad could be a very proud and stubborn man, but for a moment as I confronted him, he went from being the aggressor to looking visibly remorseful as I made my case and how he was hurting both of us by doing this. At that moment, he took back what he had said, apologized to me, and the following day he had called my mom to apologize and told her what I had told her the night before.
Things calmed down for a while after that, and we all went back to our day-to-day lives. Sometime in November, I was working when I suddenly got a call from my dad. I was surprised he was calling me in the middle of the day, but I picked up anyway to see what was going on. He started asking me about an agreement he had made with my mom to give him money because he was struggling financially. They had reached a deal, and it was in the process of being sorted out. He had come into the conversation expecting it to be immediate, and I could sense his disappointment and annoyance at the situation.
Next thing I knew, he got upset and then asked me if I could loan him some money in the meantime. As much as I knew he was struggling and needed help, I had to be practical with my finances as I was going through a rough transition at the time and my funds were limited. I told him no, and he said to me something that I will never forget: “Well if that is the case don’t bother coming to Christmas.”
I was taken aback, and for a moment It felt like a grenade had gone off in my chest and all the fury and hurt suddenly rose to the surface and I just completely lost myself. I blew up on him over the phone and started yelling at him in Spanish, my voice reverberating against the walls and in my chest.
I called him out on what he was doing at that moment. I told him that I would ask my mom to not go through with the agreement, and that I would no longer be attending any family gatherings so he couldn’t emotionally manipulate me to get his way. I ended up spending Christmas alone for the first time in years. Christmas day rolled by, and I didn’t hear from the rest of my family after the heated argument with my dad.
The following day was a grueling day at work, between not feeling like myself due to the chaos going on in my personal life, and dealing with a draining argument with a difficult customer. I came home that day exhausted, furious, and emotionally and mentally spent. With all the compounding chaos in both my professional and personal life, I was just ready to surrender.
I looked at my phone to see that I had three voicemails from my sister. Considering that my relationship with my dad’s family had been strained, I tried to avoid it. I wanted to just ignore her voicemails and calls. But I sensed something was wrong since she was reaching out and we hadn’t spoken since my last confrontation with our dad. I took a step back to calm down and then called my sister. As she answered the phone, I couldn’t help but hear the sadness emanating from her voice. She broke the news to me that our dad had just passed away.
While I had a complicated relationship with my dad, I loved him regardless. He was my dad, and nobody could take his place. Grief squeezed my heart, and I could feel the tightness in my chest. I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I isolated myself as I cried for almost two days straight. After settling down, I ended up scheduling an emergency session with my psychologist because of the internal turmoil that I was suffering from my dad’s death.
I took time off work to reflect and process my relationship with my dad and work towards forgiveness. It was a difficult journey, and I was blessed to have many friends and family support me through it. But now I was worried about the possible war after all the tension between my dad’s family and my mom. My mom wanted to go to support me and to say goodbye. We attended the ceremony with a close family friend, and despite all my reservations, they treated my mom with respect, and there was no drama or conflict.
I managed to speak about my dad and speak to the good parts of who he was and what he meant to me. It was a palpable moment filled with emotion. My mom, her friend, and my dad’s ex-wife (who is a great friend in my life) consoled me when I most needed it. Over time, I was able to do the inner work, to move through it and come to a better place in my life.
The purpose of this isn’t to get you to feel sorry for my situation. I merely wanted to provide context to you because no matter what happens in life, adversity is part of the human experience that happens to all of us. It took a lot of digging deep within myself to find peace. I learned from my dad’s experience what happens when you don’t express what you feel. He carried many unresolved pains, traumas, and grievances throughout his life.
There’s this perception that as men, we’re not allowed to express emotions other than anger or aggression, be open to others about our experiences, and continue through life bearing the traumas and scars as if it’s a badge of honor to keep it all in. In reality, men are more likely to suffer of mental health related issues and are less likely to talk about their feelings or seek help. Along with that, men die by suicide 3.63 times more often than women. You can take a look at the research in the following links:
It’s in my nature to want to help people, and that’s what has led me down this path as a health and life coach. I wanted to open up about my personal experiences to help rewrite the narrative and remind men (and even women) that this is a normal part of life. The most constructive and healthy way to deal with life’s adversities and setbacks is to be open, honest with yourself, and vulnerable, along with letting those emotions run their course and pass.
With that all being said, I want to leave you with some tools that helped me out on this journey, and I encourage you to take action with whatever you’re dealing with in your life. Overcoming adversity doesn’t have to be impossible, even if it feels like that at times. So take it step by step and one day at a time.
Strategies on How to Develop Emotional Resilience
Permit yourself to feel emotions, but don’t let them consume you.
I grew up in a household where the archetype to be a masculine man was to show no emotions or cry because it’s not what men do. While I understand the cultural differences and the stigma of men not being able to be open about their internal or emotional states, it has more negative implications and may lead to more long term damage and mental health issues if you don’t allow yourself to feel emotions.
There are many strategies and ways to cope with and deal with difficult emotions. I recommend checking out the following link as I managed to apply some of this to dealing with my complicated relationship with my father:
Here are some interesting books on this topic:
Have a support system or build one if you don’t have one.
A support system can literally be anyone or anything ranging from your closest friends, psychologist, therapist, family, or a support group such as a religious organization or alcoholics anonymous if you suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse. What got me through this was fixing the relationship I had with my family, and talking through these things along with my non-judgmental friends, family members, and work colleagues.
If you don’t have a support system or anyone to lean on and want to learn how to build one, you can check out the following resources:
Journal your experiences and emotional states.
I can’t emphasize how much journaling has helped me decode, understand, and manage my internal states along with learning how to cope and forgive my father for his previous transgressions. Writing in a diary or journal offers you an opportunity and place to hold a deliberate and thoughtful conversation with yourself and understand the things you’re dealing with in life. It also provides an opportunity to develop better self-awareness and reflection.
If you’re not convinced, you can check out the following link which provides the benefits and strategies of journaling for depression, anxiety, and emotional management:
Mindset is everything.
Your thoughts are essential; they frame the successes or failures of your life. Learning how to deal with adversity requires a change in your internal beliefs about challenges. It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond that is essential to overcoming any life challenge. If I didn’t learn how to be positive and think positive, it would have never led to my eventual forgiveness towards my father.
Even though a lot of positive psychology sounds like bullshit to a lot of people, you’d be surprised what can happen if you condition and habituate positivity in your day-to-day life. I’m not saying that you have to immediately force yourself to be positive 24/7, 365, that’s not realistic or sustainable.
Starting with the small things like practicing gratitude, doing something kind for someone, and having some type of spiritual practice or meditation is helpful for reframing your mindset.
You can check out the following link if you’re still not convinced of the benefits of positive psychology:
Don’t expect immediate results.
I guess we can blame technology for the constant desire for instant gratification, but just like anything challenging or working towards a goal, personal growth develops slowly. Even though I’ve forgiven my dad, I still feel bouts of anger, disappointment, and sadness from the way things went down between us when he was still alive. I’ve learned to see the bigger picture, to not see my dad as this “villain” because there were so many good things about him.
It’s not as bad as before, but I’ve learned to catch myself whenever I start to feel those emotions, let them run their course and not react to them, and continue on my self-development journey. Self-improvement is like a marathon, not a sprint. Just imagine your mental strength as a muscle… Every opportunity and challenge you come across is another opportunity to strengthen your mental resolve.
If you struggle with sticking to your goals, you can check out the following resources:
Free and confidential resources in case you need to talk to someone:
2018 was a long swim to the surface, but I’m grateful for being able to breathe the crisp air again, to feel life expand in my chest and leave me open-hearted rather than bitter, and to understand my dad and me on a deeper level. While these experiences are a part of my journey, I feel free to live a life unburdened by the past, learning from my dad’s life, and letting that guide me on my journey as a man.