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the rise and the fall

By the Spring of 2006, my fiance and I had found ourselves in a very exciting period of transition in our lives.  We were taking some major steps together and we were laying the foundation for our future.  Soon after accepting new offers for employment, we began looking into living options in Berks County, PA.  My parents had made me aware that my grandfather had left both my sister and I with down payment money for our first homes at the time of his passing.  This was an incredible blessing.  My grandfather was never a man of financial wealth..but in life, he held far more riches than most.  He worked hard for everything he had built with God and family close to his heart.  He was always kind and always positive.  And his generosity provided me the opportunity to take the next step in my future with the love of my life.

The cost of living in Berks County was far less than that of Philadelphia and the areas located just outside the city.  Buying a home seemed like a stretch initially, but the more that we investigated our options, the better we felt about our chances.  So we hooked up with a realtor who was a family friend, and we began our search.  One day while having lunch at Liberty Place downtown I received a call from my Dad.  He explained that our realtor had a property that he wanted to show to us, but that he thought we needed to move quickly as there had been quite a bit of interest in the place.  So that evening my fiance and I made the visit after work, and we fell in love with the house immediately.  They always say that if it’s the right house, you’ll know…it will speak to you.  And that was exactly what happened that evening.  It was by far the best fit that we had seen within our price range and it had everything that we were looking for in our first home.  We began developing our offer immediately.

I was alerted early the next morning that our realtor had discovered that the property already had two other offers on it.  After a bit of persuasion, the listing agent agreed to give us until that afternoon to produce and submit our offer to the sellers for final consideration.  We rushed to get our offer in, and with some additional financial backing and support from my father, we made our bid.  Our offer was $2,500 over the asking price, and included other incentives for the seller as well.  We had a one in three shot of getting the house, and we sat in our apartment eagerly awaiting their decision with our fingers crossed.

A few hours later we received the call – the sellers had chosen to accept our offer!  We had just secured our first home.  It felt amazing.  We eventually qualified for our mortgage (which I should mention was no easy task for two 23 year old home buyers with limited credit history) and about a month later we made settlement.  The very first evening we went to the house and began stripping wallpaper.  We couldn’t wait to dive into our new project.  For the next several weekends we’d make the drive to Shoemakersville and work non-stop on our new home – mainly doing a ton of painting and cleaning.  It felt so rewarding to see the finished product of your hard work coming together.  It was really special.  I had never felt closer to her before in my life.

Commuting back and forth from the apartment to the house was becoming exhausting.  We were anxious to move in and start our new lives.  Our lease agreement at the apartment in Philadelphia was fulfilled by May and shortly after we were off on our way.  My company allowed me to use their delivery van so we didn’t even need a UHaul.  Not to imply that it was an easy move by any means…transporting everything from a 10th floor city apartment by winding through the tight halls of our complex to a back loading dock was no small task, but we made it work.  Nothing could discourage us at that point.

Our house was great and we loved it.  My fiance was constantly taking pictures to show off to her friends and family…she was so proud of our investment.  And her brain was bubbling with new ideas…we were continually adding to our furniture and fixtures, making it feel more like “home”.  She was really good at that.  Looking back at it, I should have been more supportive of some of her efforts.  I allowed myself to feel overwhelmed at times, particularly financially, and I’d ask her to slow down or I’d discourage her ideas.  That wasn’t fair of me.

In fact, far too often I allowed my  financial concerns to get the best of me.  Again, this was a result of my anxiety and OCD.  I didn’t like being “in the hole”, and I’d often become completely fixated on debt.  It all really started when I purchased her engagement ring.  I didn’t have the cash at the time to fund it so I put it on a credit card.  I could afford to make regular payments, but that wasn’t good enough for me.  I began to stress constantly over the balance.  I wanted a quick fix – how I could I make it go away immediately?

During my senior year of college I had wagered on sports, primarily college football.  I started with about $200 and I used it over the course of the season to win a couple thousand.  Unfortunately however, I never saw that money because with winning came greed.  My bets grew larger and less well planned as my bank account grew and ultimately I lost my earnings.  The house always wins – lesson learned.

But now with a large debt weighing heavy on my mind, perhaps I’d try it again as a means to get a little further ahead?  I’d bet small and anything that I was able to earn I would add on to my monthly ring payment.  Seemed like a good idea at the time…but in reality it was the worst thing I could have ever done.  Never use gambling as a means for paying off debt – you’ll only fall deeper into the hole.

I began wagering on the internet which meant I was using credit cards to fund my account or that I was doing transfers electronically through my checking account – neither was a good idea.  I developed an addiction, and it became very hard for me to walk away.  If I won, it was never enough, and I’d let it ride until I lost it all.  If I lost, I was convinced I could win it back, and often times I would, but it was rare that I cashed out, so the book always won.    Worst of all, I was no longer just betting on sports…I had begun wagering in the sites’ electronic casinos where the stakes for winning and losing were far greater.  My anxiety and OCD were fueling a powerful addiction.  I could not have chosen a more detrimental, self-abusive hobby.

The reason that I mention this here is because I’m certain that it played a factor in my relationship. I didn’t do it all of the time, it was cyclical/seasonal.  But when I was wrapped up in it, it was all consuming.  Instead of just going to bed with my fiance, certain evenings I’d find myself glued to the computer screen trying accumulate winnings, playing blackjack or analyzing my picks for the next day.  It created a separation between us.  And I’m very, very regretful for that.

In addition, it led to more panic and anxiety related issues.  On nights that I gambled, win or lose, I’d often wake up with nightmares or panic attacks.  Of course this led to inadequate sleep and then as a result further physical setbacks, stronger anxiety, and general irritability.  I didn’t want to admit that it was causing a problem in my life, so I’d place the blame elsewhere.  I’d make a big deal out of my fiance spending $100 on groceries a day after I spent $300 wagering.  The way I acted was shameful.  I began watching every penny…except for those that were involved with supporting my addiction…somehow I made peace with that?  I’m absolutely certain that it wore on my fiance.  Even though it never affected our bill payments or most of the things that we choose to do, she had to have sensed its effects on my well being.  By opening up my insecurities and creating negative thoughts and apprehension, it made me a controlling partner….an image that fills me with disgust today.

When we first got engaged, my fiance was anxious to begin wedding planning immediately.  She went to Barnes and Noble and bought every magazine that you could think of in search of ideas.  Colors, arrangements, place settings, locations…it all seemed a bit over the top to me.  And then we bought our house and began its renovation.  There was so much happening all at once that I felt we needed to take a step back.  I convinced her to hold off on the wedding plans until we were able to get fully settled.  Eventually she agreed that it was best, but I know that I probably completely robbed the wind of her sails when we had that conversation.  I was selfish, and I was diminishing the value of her dream for a perfect wedding.  My anxiety and insecurities were again creating separation.  If only I had recognized it then.

Now, I’ve just painted a very negative picture of our relationship with each other in our new home, but really that wasn’t the case the majority of the time.  For a long time we still really enjoyed each others’ company and we were very much in love.  It was nice having the house and inviting people over for get-togethers.  She and I were both doing well in our new jobs and we were enjoying the more relaxed setting that we had achieved.  We remained active and often times we’d spend the evenings working out together.  We kept the fire burning from a romance standpoint and we still took random, spontaneous vacations to keep things interesting.  For Christmas one year I planned a trip to California for the two of us.  When my fiance unwrapped the gift and saw how much time and effort I put into the presentation of it all, she could not stop crying.  It was very special for me to see her react that way.

But over time I sensed that she was distancing herself from me.  She was living far away from her family on the Gulf Coast of Florida and that was beginning to wear on her.  She had an older sister who had both a young son and daughter, and it was hard for my fiance to miss out on birthdays and special events.  She was given and felt a lot of pressure to visit regularly.  It wasn’t fair to her, and it frustrated me.  But I didn’t understand it as well as I should have likely because I was fortunate to have my family only five minutes away.

In the months that followed it also appeared to me that she was looking for an escape from reality.  The theory of separation anxiety worked in one regard, but in another it made no sense at all.  Because when we visited California that winter, she said to me “why don’t we move out here?”….and she was completely serious.  A move to California would be as far as she could go to distance herself from her family and her known surroundings.

I began to feel very confused about her state of mind.  She started withdrawing from interaction and intimate connection with me.  At night she’d head to bed at around 8:00 or 8:30 certain evenings.  She’d crawl under the covers and put on a boxed set TV series and hide out alone.  It was bizarre.  I thought that she was likely beginning to suffer from depression.

And then one day we woke up, and she dropped the bomb on me.  Out of nowhere she said that she didn’t know if she wanted a house anymore, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be married, and she missed the beach and the sun and all of the things that were characteristic of the life of a Floridian.  She said it as though it was the most well thought out determination she had ever put together in her mind.  It wasn’t as if she was worried about how it would affect me at all – she acted as though it was completely rational thinking, and that I would most certainly understand her position.

My heart dropped.  I literally fell to my knees.  I’ll never forget that day, or those that would follow…

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