During my time in Seattle, years ago, I worked as a therapist for a large HMO, a bureaucratic regime that had a fast-food style approach to therapy. Clients who had particular insurance types were barred from going elsewhere for services (well, without some significant personal expense). I would arrive at 8 and see my first client at 8:20, my next at 9:05, my next at 9:50, my next at 10:35, and so on. With the exception of a lunch break, it was swift, mediocre therapy, truncated and brief, with no free time in between. Instead of giving my all to every patient, I was left doing routine therapy sessions on autopilot, trying to find ways to stay awake and cognizant during the long work day.
Human problems exist wherever there are humans, but away from Utah, the problems were less related to Mormonism, the clientele more diverse. I saw the single father seeking help in getting his teenage son to stop playing video games. I saw the woman who wore a dog collar while her husband, a veteran with PTSD, held the leash. I saw the old woman with Parkinson’s who would shake and just sob about her long and happy life being reduced to this. I saw the former Hollywood actress whose sole joy in life was now drinking brandy from the bottle and watching the sunset. I saw the woman who had entered a deep depression because she couldn’t get the pregnancy to take, and she was sure her wife would leave her.
I watched this parade of humanity with exhausted eyes, burning out not because of the problems or the people, but due to the rigor of the job. My capacity to help others was limited by the sheer volume of the expectations before me. Every night, I would leave work and face gridlock traffic for a full hour during the few miles I had to drive home, and I would often find myself crying from the stress.
I had moved to Seattle to find myself. After all of those years in the closet, I needed something for me. I needed experiences that I had missed out on. I had never backpacked through Europe, spent a summer in California, or studied abroad. I’d never fallen in love during a summer in London or followed a stranger on the train home for sex or got high with friends on the beach around the campfire. I was in my mid-30s and I was grieving all that I had lost before. I’d boldly set my life aside and had taken the first giant step for myself. I’d moved in with my step-brother, taking the spare room in his home for extremely low rent. I started dating freely for the first time. I ran, I explored neighborhoods, I drank endless cups of coffee in dozens of shops, writing, reading, and watching.
My first month there, I’d cried my eyes out. I had missed my sons so profoundly. I called them every night, sent them video messages, drew them little comic strips and mailed them every week. The tears came from pain and grief. It hurt so badly to be away, and it hurt because I was enjoying it so much.
And then I got a job, one that was terrible and confining. I watched my debt increase, and I saw a version of my future unfolding, one where I was living in a city that I loved, one where I woke to a sunrise over the lake every morning, yet one where I was so exhausted by work daily that I was confining myself to a chained existence. The cost of being so far away was too much, it hurt too badly.
And so, six months later, I’d made another bold step, choosing to return to Utah and carve out a life on my own terms. No longer would I grieve the person I lost (except when appropriate), instead I would become the person I was meant to be. One who took huge, careful risks. One who stayed dedicated to his principles of fatherhood, integrity, light, and love. One who set and achieved goals that would have felt impossible just months before. Moving to Seattle allowed me to take a risk on myself for the first time in my three and a half decades. Moving back, though, allowed me to prove to myself that I could do it on my own terms, smartly and consistently.
And my has it paid off.
A few days ago, I turned 39. I’ve been back in Utah for over 3 years. I’m transformed my physical health. I’ve relaunched and rededicated my career. I’ve created a beautiful home for myself and my children. I’ve eliminated my debt. And I’ve taken huge professional risks, in making a documentary and writing a book, accomplishing things I would have never dreamed were possible. I’m in a happy, stable relationship for the first time in my life. I’m traveling. I embrace myself, all of the parts that dwell in light and in shadow both.
My birthday itself was quiet. I saw a few clients. I exercised. I took my children to the park. I ran errands. My boyfriend made a delicious vegetarian meal and then we snuggled on the couch watching television shows. It was all of the parts of my life that bring me solidity and joy. On top of all of that, I had just returned from a week long writing trip to Vermont. Everything in my life felt perfect.
All across my Facebook wall, messages from loved ones showed up, hundreds of them, from people from all parts of my life. Childhood friends, siblings and cousins, Mormon missionary companions, actors from shows I had been in, college roommates, neighbors from my married Mormon days, my ex-wife’s parents, current co-workers, men I had dated. I felt a barrage of love and support, representing a composite of my patchwork life, and it left me stunned. I’m living a life I never thought was possible.
As I struggled to put all of this into words, my brain flashed back to Seattle. Why I moved there, and why I left. I thought of the clients I had worked with there, and wondered after them. I took time to measure out the person I am now and the person I was then, and how they are connected.
And I realize, again, perhaps more than ever, that I only have now. This moment. I can live now with authenticity. I can be happy, safe, and secure. I can tackle my most prickly parts with bravery. I can be an incredible father. I can love myself and those around me. I can continue to dream, travel, and build. I can do amazing things.
In this moment, I have created a life that I never thought was possible for me. And in this moment, I look forward to a life that I know is possible.
I turned 39. I’m so much bigger than I was at 38. And by 40, I’ll be bigger still.
So thank you, Seattle. Thank you, for pushing me to this place. And thank you to all of the parts of my life, all of the people, who have shaped me and helped me to arrive here.
I am limitless. I am bold. I’m foraging forward. I’m 39 and still counting.