Skip to content

Archive for

the fixer who can’t finish

Over the course of my life, I’ve never been good at turning a cheek to adversity. I was always taught to stand and fight. And I developed that side of my personality very early on, likely as a byproduct of my involvement in athletics. Many times, as has been the case with my anxiety and panic, it is that mindset that has been my only saving grace. So more often than not, I’m very thankful that I carry both an unwillingness to quit and a steadfast desire to right my wrongs. Those are qualities that I’m very proud of…but unfortunately they haven’t always led me to positive outcomes.

In the case of relationships, it’s proven to be a double edged sword. To my partner, I’m incredibly loyal and resilient. I’m pretty good at working through things, and I’m very open with communicating my feelings and needs. But that mentality also leads me to be a bit of a perfectionist, and I know that at times that I’ve made mountains out of mole hills. If things don’t appear exceptional day to day, I begin searching for reasons why, and in the end I do far more harm than good. I create problems that need resolution where there might not have been any previously. This is a part of my personality that I’m still learning to accept. It’s almost a compulsive need to be able fix things. I’m not sure where that comes from, but I do know that I have an incredibly difficult time forfeiting my efforts without a clean resolution at hand. I’m sure that the events of my past have contributed…creating an anxiety about being left abandoned with only the pieces of a failed relationship remaining.

Perhaps this is why I could not distance myself from the partnership that I had formed with my girlfriend from Chapel Hill. All signs pointed to an emergency exit, but I remained persistent and determined. I couldn’t bear to see it fail. My attempts to reason with her were futile, so in the end I would often accept the responsibility and blame for most of what took place. I was beginning to feel like a stress-filled ticking time bomb inside. I was always kept on edge…you could never predict when the next wicked turn would occur.

I remember one week I had to make a business trip to Washington, DC. I was there for two nights I believe, meeting with one client and a couple of prospects down in the District. The evening of my departure, she had received a phone call from a college friend who had just made a desperate escape from an abusive relationship. When I initially spoke to her about it, I acted with compassion but she seemed somewhat distant and short with me. I figured that she was likely just very shocked about the turn of events that her friend had described. But the second time we spoke, she even more irritable. She was acting as if I was the same vicious partner that her friend had encountered…it was as if she was suddenly full of resentment for me and our relationship. I was never, ever abusive…I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my time, but that’s a line I would never dream of crossing. So her reaction towards me was completely confusing. And then, as I was making the trip up I-83 North upon my return, she called me and calmly told me that she didn’t want to be with me anymore…

Where had this come from? I was distraught. And I still had about 90 miles of the drive left to go. She told me that we’d speak more when I got home. And when I walked in, she met me at the door with a hug and kiss, and had dinner waiting on the table. Could this be any harder to understand? We spent most of the remainder of that evening talking and arguing…I was basically pleading with her to stay because she continued to insist that we weren’t working as a couple, that we had been fighting far too much, and that she didn’t feel that we’d be able to keep things on track long term. In the moment, I was really was disgusted with her for making those comments to me…but in my heart, I knew that she was right. I was feeling the exact same things. But I couldn’t quit, and she could…that was the difference. So I ended up doing the only thing I knew how…I pressed forward…and ultimately we hung on together.

Shortly after, I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. In speaking with others, the agreement was that perhaps the reason she was feeling so conflicted was because she was uncertain of my level of commitment to her in the relationship. After all, she was far away from known surroundings, friends, and family…she was completely reliant upon me for her happiness. If things were unstable between us, it was natural for her to be on edge, right? I began to wonder whether solidifying our bond together might fix our problems…

And then I proceeded to purchase an engagement ring, and make my proposal. My plans had been to ask her on a trip to Baltimore that I had arranged for Valentine’s Day weekend. But a very positive and intimate conversation ensued one evening a few days prior, and it just felt like the perfect time. Things had been good, we were back on track, maybe this would help set us over the top…

When I popped the question, initially she said yes and we hugged and kissed in celebration. Then, a few minutes later, she asked if I’d be upset if she took some time to think about it… Really?? Wow. Sure, take your time. I walked downstairs to give her some space and absorb the devastating blow that she had just landed in my stomach, taking the wind right out of my sails.

Moments later, she came downstairs and said “yes”. I asked her if she was absolutely certain that it’s what she wanted, and she agreed. It was an interesting night. Not how had I anticipated what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life. I felt more relieved to have survived it than excited about the prospects of our future together. It just wasn’t right.

In March of 2009, my Tar Heels were making an amazing run through the NCAA basketball tournament. Everyone loves March Madness…but when you’re an alum of a team that’s making a title push, it’s even more exciting.

I always enjoyed tracking my brackets and following the pool. Unfortunately, my interest in winners and losers soon led to a desire to wager on the games. I started betting on the NCAA tournament, and I did very well…in fact, I made a killing. I thought that I would stop there, but everyone knows that it’s impossible for an addict to quit while he’s ahead. So I continued… the NBA and then the beginning of the MLB season. And by mid-April, my bankroll was quite significant. And then I got greedy, and my luck turned…

I was betting way too big. I ripped through all of my profits from the past month and then some in a matter of a week. In fact, by the time I was finished, I owed a sum of $7,000. This was an all-time low for me. I had seemingly hit my bottom. I didn’t have enough cash available to fully pay off my debt to the bookmaker, so I made a very tough decision…

I came clean with my family. I wrote them a long letter detailing the ups and downs of my gambling addiction, and I included my fiance as well, because I felt that she had the right to be involved. I was turning over a new leaf. And there was no other way to do that then to face my problem head on. My parents agreed to loan me the additional cash I needed to pay off the debt as long as I promised never to come to them again with such a request. They wanted to see me move past it…and they wouldn’t be there to enable me should I happen to relapse. It was a horribly embarrassing day for me, and I really regret putting them in that position. But I thank them wholeheartedly for supporting me….I know it was very difficult for them.

When I discussed with my fiance my gambling habit, she was a bit shocked by the value of the wagers that I had been placing. And she had every right to feel that way. Those were big numbers…and I was making decisions with money that were far beyond my ability to effectively manage. She and I had made a couple of trips to Atlantic City during our time together, but honestly, I always seemed to win when she was along for the ride. And nobody questions a winner. Plus, in Atlantic City, my bets remained a bit more under control…I’d risk losing more than I should, but I never put really big money on single wagers. That was what made it so eye-opening to me that my problem had grown out of control. The amount of my wagers had grown so significantly…it was as if money had lost its value to me altogether.

I now really wanted to make a commitment to move forward. I was recently engaged, I was a homeowner, and I had a been working in a new job for the past year…it was time to pull it altogether. I could not afford any more setbacks. And I recognized the impact that my relapses with gambling had in my previous engagement, and I certainly didn’t want to repeat my mistakes. So I decided to go to a couple of Gambler’s Anonymous meetings…

The first night was tough, but I got through it. I told my story to the group and learned that there were a lot of people facing similar challenges, many of whom were far worse off than me. At least I had escaped before the real damage was done. I had a woman that loved me, a great family, and whole new life ahead of me. I left the meeting feeling really good.

My fiance and I had met for dinner prior to that meeting, and things were really flirtatious between the two of us. I couldn’t wait to see her when I got home. Everything was coming together. It felt amazing to have such a new lease on life. When I came in the door later that evening, she was wearing a cute outfit in anticipation of my arrival, and we enjoyed an amazing night being intimate with each other.

The next morning, she had to leave bright and early for work, and I remember her standing over the bed kissing me on my cheeks and forehead over and over, repeatedly telling me she loved me…it was to the point that it almost seemed odd…”I love you too, have a great day” I said. Shortly after, I proceeded to get up and start my work day. Over lunch I decided to run something over to my parents’ house. As I left their place, I called my fiance to talk to her for a few minutes but she didn’t pick up. It seemed a bit odd to me since we usually talked during her break, but perhaps she was in a meeting? No big deal.

I came back to the house and began making a sandwich, and a couple of minutes later there was a knock at my front door. It was my Dad. He had a look of both disgust and terror on his face. I asked him what was going on. And he he proceeded to tell me…”I just received a call from — (my fiance), she told me that she’s leaving.”

Later that afternoon, I watched her come home and scramble to gather all of her things, pack the car, and head off on her way to Florida. There was no discussion…she wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t even really look at me. Her mind was made up.

Once again, I was left with the pieces of a broken engagement…she walked out on me at a time when I was down and needed her most. But then again, I should not have been surprised. I should have seen this coming…

I immediately reflected on the conversation with my friend from that October weekend in 2007 when we first met each other…”Don’t take things any further if you can’t leave it here, Matt”. He was right. I paid the ultimate price.