"Dawn After the Wreck" by J.M.W. Turner

Before The Dawn

Written during a trip to London with my husband, this piece documents a pivotal and transformation period of time where I began to rediscover a sense of self by letting go of self. A candid journey inward, questioning what it means to be human, to be a father, to be a gay man, but most importantly to be authentic.

I sit at Park Terrace in London’s Royal Garden Hotel eating salmon salad and drinking sparkling water. Get that image in your head. The pianist plays background classical — I’m sure it would enhance this description if I could name the piece, but alas it will forever be known as ‘background classical’ — like something out of a bougee upscale piano bar. I read Kerouac’s Satori In Paris, his brief account of a ten-day travel to France, written with enough abstract banter to go just over my head. And I’m like, Kerouac is cool but I don’t get the hype — he’s a total alcoholic like the best of ‘em, but aren’t we all?

So that’s the image: me in London reading Kerouac while dining on an afternoon snack of salmon salad and sparkling water.

Chris is in our hotel room after another irrelevant spat. My heart quietly folds into itself like the suffrage of a grieving widow. Because I’m tired. Because I’m confused. Not completely right in the head, or whatever that means. It means, I guess, my brain is in sort of a fog, which I’d liken to the London sky but it’s been a consistently bright 90 degrees since we’ve been here.  

I write with an eye closed because I’m so damn tired. Could be jet lag, could be staying up till 1am, could be a bit of both. Could be glutton for punishment, could be wearing myself thin, or maybe just doing the best I can, although I doubt it.

And even as I write that, as I write this scribble it all starts to blur together. The words become a cloud of gray haze. So much like the burden I’ve been carrying, the smudge on my brain, the smoke in my heart. My eyes close and I see a young man wearing flannel, a vision so real. He speaks to me, he knows me well — we’re with a few others in a cabin somewhere cold. He turns to me disappointed. Where is this vision coming from?

Who is this man?  

“Bridge in London” by Jan Toorop


Side note: On the toilet now. I fell asleep after writing in the café, ten hours have passed; awake, still in a fog but, yes, refreshed.

We took a tour bus around London today, me sinking layer after layer into thought; a thousand pounds heavier both in weight and spirit. There were moments that reminded me of our honeymoon three years ago in Italy and Greece. I remember seeing crowns everywhere — a symbol that stayed with me the entire trip. They first appeared in Rome at the Basilica di Santa Maria etched in stained glass, a crown illuminated by gold. Then all over Greece — symbols, logos, drawings — crowns repeated like otherworldly messages. Then eventually as a tattoo on my wrist months later, and an inspiration for the title of King Of Stars. We had toured Athens on a bus much like today in London. I remember the same inner dialogue — feeling uncomfortable in my body, detached from myself, questioning everything I’d ever done up to this point and everything I may never do after. Consumed by things that no longer exist or have not yet happened, sitting in the present moment with a brain like a garbage disposal.

Now on a tour bus in London filled with similar self-doubt and inner-criticism. Like I need to lose weight, take care of my body, love myself more. A giant loaf of stomach hung over my pants; the ole faithful 31-inch waistline dug into my gut.

I had to pee.

I was certain everyone could see how much I’ve let myself go. You know, all the people who don’t know me on this tour, who I’ve never met nor will ever meet; they all know exactly how much I’ve let myself go. That’s sarcasm. But they say sarcasm is always laced with truth. I was like the most disappointing, ugliest, most obscene person on that tour bus — feeling incredibly insignificant yet so incredibly significant. While I felt like the shittiest person in the world, I also felt like the most important person in the world because everyone clearly gave a shit about my weight gain. Like everyone touring London was more preoccupied by my fat rolls than Buckingham Palace. My protruding gut and two-size too small shorts were the unmarked next stop on that tour. Surprise!

And holy shit I really had to pee.

And I was starving.

And that tour bus was not stopping any time soon.

All eyes on me, the Augustus Gloop with chocolate cake smeared on his face, the boy who jiggled with every bump in the road. A few more pounds and I may need a training bra. Wasn’t that a character in Fight Club? The dude with boobs? I really don’t want to be a dude with boobs. Yes, those were my thoughts. And, yes, I already assumed everyone on that tour bus thought I was the dude with boobs.

Chris held my hand.

Did he feel me sweat?

Did he know I was the dude with boobs? Of course he knew, of course he did. Listen to yourself, Ryan, this is ridiculous, self-obsessed, insecure bullshit. Go to the gym (I hate the gym), eat less cake (but I love all the cake), run around the block (but it’s so damn hot).

Only you can prevent forest fires.

Only you can prevent man boobs.

I’ve seriously derailed here.

I had to get off that bus. The guide told me a stop would be approaching soon, so I went down to the lower level and waited. Chris followed. I asked the driver when the next stop was, but he said it’s a ways down. Chris was visibly upset with me for either asking the driver when we could get off or for my tone or my facial expression or one of the many things Chris gets upset with me about.

Once we finally escaped the tour bus, an argument ensued. He felt I shut down, that I acted like a dick. I realized there was no talking to him then, not when he gets heated and condescending. So we approached the London Bridge and he walked ahead of me, left me behind. I looked for him like a lost child, searching for my husband. He was a ways up and suddenly I felt he didn’t want me around. Like I could disappear in this foreign city and he’d never notice. No one would ever notice. I’d disappear and no one would care.

I really was a lost child.


I just read the above passage to Chris — everything you’ve read up to “I really was a lost child.” He’s in bed on his phone, we’re going to Paris early in the morning. I read him the passage and he says he likes it, and I realize it means very little to me. He asked what I was writing, I read it, and he likes it. He likes it — then back to the phone.

Lost child.

On a private island.

When we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge —

Fuck, the London Bridge. We’re in London, that’s crazy. I’ve wanted to come here ever since I sort of dated the British imposter, Sean. The asshole Sean. The nonexistent Sean. I lived in London, lived here in my mind, in fantasy, for about a year. Until that London Bridge came tumbling down.

Tumbling down.

When Chris and I crossed the London Bridge I told him it felt like he didn’t want me around. He erupted into what felt like repeated lashes across my flesh, beating me again and again; tore me to shreds along the River Thames. I tried to rationalize, to talk calmly, asked him to hear the difference in our tones — but that only made it worse. He has built up anger, resentments, and they erupted right then.

Maybe that’s how the London Bridge came tumbling down?

I bit my tongue because I didn’t want to fight, I bit my tongue because the couple alongside us looked as Chris threw a few more fuck’s in my direction.

I shattered. My heart dropped to the floor. Overwhelmed by hurt, anger, confusion; feeling like there’s no way we’d make it through this, wondering what divorce is really like. This type of boiling anger and negative communication had been bubbling for some time. It explodes then simmers, explodes then simmers — a recipe for total shit. Like I’d just watched the onset of our demise. I’ve heard that before death your life flashes before your eyes; well in that moment, the moment before what felt like the death of our marriage, my future flashed before my eyes.

I was broken.

We approached Borough Market and Chris began to talk as if nothing happened — like he decided it was time to move on and enjoy the rest of the day. I could barely breathe, let alone put on my Everything’s Fine! mask.

Ahead was a grassy area enclosed by a gate, so I told Chris to meet me there after he grabbed a bite in the market. I knew the only way to carry on with any dignity was to sit him down and talk about what I was feeling. For him, for us, but mostly for me. 

The park was a backyard to Southwark Cathedral, the oldest in London. I entered the cathedral and found myself sitting on the pew staring at a stained glass scene above the altar. Like déjà vu, our honeymoon played before me as a film, remembering the stained glass crown surrounded by gold light at Basilica di Santa Maria in Rome. Almost three years ago.

Almost three years ago thinking, I’ve been here before.

Now at Southwark Cathedral in London thinking, I’ve been here before.

I’ve been here before.

Over and over and —


Truth be told, I fell asleep.

After “over and over and —,” I fell asleep. It’s, I don’t know, many hours later — like almost a full day later. Like, we took the Eurostar to Paris at 7:30am then checked into the Hotel Da Vinci in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Sitting at a café now — 8:07pm. A cup of tiramisu, which I suspect may be past it’s prime; a shitty cup of coffee. Cars buzz by the side street where I sit — me, a pair of blue slacks, black t-shirt, and slimming green jacket. Because I still feel like a balloon, a giant inflatable object like the Trump float they’re parading back in London.

Another bite of stale tiramisu.

“Paris, Cafe de la Paix” by Konstantin Korovin

Kerouac’s Satori In Paris under my notebook, because I realize how apropos this book has become after picking it up in London. Here in Paris while reading Kerouac’s bizarre ten-day blur in the city decades earlier, I’m documenting my own European haze. Writing, scribbling rather, whatever it is you’re now reading; seems like something I’ve seen in a film once. One of those films that has an accordion playing in the background. Although my soundtrack for the past four days has been Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out.” Over and over and —

Singing it on the streets of London, walking along Notre Dame in Paris, in the taxi, on the tube — always the same few lyrics because they’re all I know —

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

Over and over again. How Chris hasn’t told me to shut my mouth yet is admirable.

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

Over and over and —

And I know it has some significance. I know at this exact period of my life, with so much change, so much increasingly daunting transitions or transformations or whatever, I know this song is appropriate. I’ve listened to it countless times before, but for the first time I’m hearing the lyrics in a profound way. Feeling like I can’t hold on anymore — to the past, to the shards of history that still make my fingers bleed. The patterns that repeat in my life over and over and —

I keep seeing butterflies everywhere, for the past few months, butterflies everywhere. Symbols, stamps, graphics, framed in glass, fluttering around bushes — real butterflies, illustrated butterflies, fucking butterflies all over.

Again, I know it means something.

And you’re probably thinking — dude, connect the dots — connect the fucking dots — transformation, change, growth, letting go, rising up. And I’m like, yeah, I see that but it’s so much more. I feel it, but it’s so much more than that.

The café owner stands next to me. Begins moving furniture. I think they’re closing. I ask, but she says the shop is open till midnight.

A French man walks across the street, smoking a cigarette in true Parisian fashion. He crosses toward me, then sits on the bench next to my chair. Well this is interesting. Hello, Frenchie. Can he tell I’m side-eyeing him? I’m totally side-eyeing him. And I’m pretty sure he’s giving me the silent Parisian come-hither gaze. So fucking cool. Maybe he likes a dude with boobs? Again, it’s all about me. He throws his cigarette to the pavement and walks into the café; I realize he’s completely uninterested in me. I realize he has no clue I’m sitting here.

He buys beer.

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way


Side note: We’re now at the Eiffel Tower. Such are the days of travel — one moment to the next, sleep and wake in new places. Eyes still foggy from a late night at some gay bar — a seedy dive tinted neon red in my memory. Surrounded by inebriated French gay men; guys next to us did a round of tequila shots that for a moment looked as though they were aboutta snort some coke. And I thought, just for a split second, I thought how much easier it would be to drink, to ask the bartender for a few shots. A few shots, a few drinks, then loose my mind on the dance floor. Which, to this sober person, sounds awful, while drunk me thinks it’s epic. Chris and I would make out as the music beat harder, all focused on the two Americans amidst a blur of sweaty French men.

Alas, that’s not what happened.

We ordered two bottles of water, my fleeting thoughts of alcohol were just that — fleeting — and we stood together as wallflowers. Me, wondering when we’d leave the bar while Chris relived a bit of his gay club youth. I never had that, never had the adolescent club-life experience. Last year I binge-watched every season of Queer As Folk then found myself mildly depressed, feeling like I never allowed myself to immerse in gay culture, like I missed some significant homo-rite-of-passage by not going to clubs, dancing shirtless in glitter while shitty techno remixes of female empowerment songs played. You know, like Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.”

Though I realized I’d never be that guy.

Once the male strippers came on stage for an all-too-serious dance routine, I knew it was time to go. One dude had a USA-themed thong, then wrapped himself in an American flag as he shook to his bare ass. That made me smile. Yay America!

“The Seine and the Eiffel Tower in the Sunset” by Henri Rousseau

We strolled Paris after midnight, wandering toward the hotel for what felt like miles. And maybe it was. Miles. Sounds echoed the night as cars whizzed by, horns honked, Parisians hung out windows cheering for France’s win to The World Cup finals. Or whatever.

Wandering the streets while really just thinking I’d love to explore the seedy side of Paris — hit up sex clubs, feed my inner demons. I looked up sex clubs on Yelp and Google of all places — because I’m that cool. I mentioned it to Chris and I’m sure he’d be down to explore. It seems hot, something straight out of a porno, but then there’s reality. Like I imagine us actually walking into a sex club, in my mind they’re all lit in blue light, and I can totally see myself cracking jokes anytime someone looked at us. I’d try to play it cool, but really it’d be painfully awkward — let alone be comfortable enough to get all hardcore. Plus there’s the hassle of getting there. But I dunno, maybe I’d seize the moment and we’d have a nasty, wild, Parisian orgy.

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

I keep all these thoughts primarily to myself.

But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

We ended up back at the hotel for our own half-hearted private sex club. You know, like good, respectable men. Husbands. Fathers.

God, we haven’t seen our kids in five days.


Side note: I’m sitting at a café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés eating crème brulee, sipping a cappuccino and Perrier. Circled by tourists, Parisians, and a cloud of cigarette smoke thanks to the woman in front of me. I’m not sure specifically what makes Parisians so effortlessly cool, but you can easily tell them apart from tourists.

Anyway, I guess I’m seeing a pattern.

These past days thread together like popcorn strands adorning a Christmas tree. The idea of holding on to old rituals, craving destructive behavior, self-deprecation — it’s like a zit ready to pop — all the crap that’s festered below the surface is ready to erupt. The chatter in my head is often the cruelest company I keep, yet it’s always there. It’s the voice I rely on for everything, the voice that dictates my right and wrong, my good or bad, happy or sad. It’s the voice that dictates my inner monologue, the voice that ultimately shapes my perspective. And I’m not really sure how much of that voice is entirely me. I mean, yes, it’s me but it’s not me at all. Since birth, fuck, probably while in the womb, I’ve adopted other people’s expectations, their rules, their shit — the shit they’ve picked up since birth from their family, from society, from whatever the hell is passed on and on and on. This voice in my head, is it really me? Because when I’m the most comfortable in my own skin, the most fluid channel, the most aligned with my spirit, is when I’m filled with love. When that critical voice shuts up and there’s either silence or simply acceptance of the present moment. That’s the most me I ever feel.

But this other voice, the one that talks in my head 99.8% of the time, who is that? And the more I listen, the more real those thoughts become, the more they’re manifested as truth, my perception skewed. Because thoughts get darker, more malicious, the hunger for cheap thrills and chaos overpowers. Why should that voice make decisions? Why does that voice run the show? That voice is a drop of ink in a clear glass of water. A glass of water I can choose to refill anytime I want.

But fuck, I’ve been here before.

I’ve been here before.

These patterns are so familiar — the rise and fall of self, of peace versus chaos. It repeats year after year, finding myself asking the same questions, filled with the same discontent, wondering what’s the alternative? Because I know there is one.

Over and over and —

If I could put a dome over this period of my life, put a dot on the present moment and draw a circle around it, encompassing the past six months and future six months, I’d be able to encapsulate transformation. Look at this time and see how monumental it is to my journey and those around me. We all have moments of transformation, those periods of time we look back upon and realize how crucial it was for a rebirth of self. And I believe I’m in one of those times. Where an infinite series of events over the course of my thirty-four years has led to whatever metamorphosis is happening right now. Right now. The shedding of skin. Of whatever is happening that I have no control over.

A guy walks by wearing a shirt with a graphic that depicts exactly what I’m talking about. It looks like this:

No joke. The universe is like: Hey, you’re in the thick of it, here’s a picture of where you’re at. Like a location map with a big red arrow that proclaims YOU ARE HERE. But when you’re in the thick of change, when the awareness change brings is daunting, when you don’t know what the fuck to do with this new information, these new perceptions, what do you do? When you start seeing people differently, events differently, what do you do? When your perspective, your reality, your awareness expands and morphs into something new — what do you do?

What do you do?

I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa


I keep trying to tell you about Chris and I at the Southwark Cathedral in London, outside Borough Market. Sitting together in the grass, framed by historic architecture, maybe twenty minutes after he tore me to pieces on the bridge. I wrote something just before he came over, because it’s easier to write than speak sometimes. So I read the paragraph I’d written — word vomit, really, an attempt to break the cycle and do something different. To not fight back, not retaliate in a fit of rage, but rather communicate the way I felt after a long pause.

And truthfully it’s not so much about what was said, not about details or words. What mattered was the intention, the want to do something different, the openness of heart. I honored my feelings as well as his so as not to allow either side to harbor resentment, because I think that’s a large part of what got us here — eight years of stuffing our feelings and not respecting each other’s perspective. So we confronted it right then, there at a cathedral in London just before stuffing my face with a venison burger that was so, so, so good. But that came later because we sat at the Southwark Cathedral for two hours while Chris listened to my feelings and I his. We were able to hear one another and squash the fire with a renewed excitement to move forward on our adventure together. As two humans in the midst of transformation, who have coexisted for eight years and endured change from the beginning. Two humans who continuously do self-work and face the growing pains that accompany it. Two humans beginning to connect with themselves, and sometimes that means pulling away from each other in order to go inward. The deeper I go, the more uncomfortable I become in my own skin, the more this change manifests. The person Chris met eight years ago is different than the person sitting before him, and the person sitting before him is different than the version two-minutes ago. We constantly change, and no two people evolve the same or at the same pace. I’m realizing while I need Chris to honor who I am today means I need to do the same for him, not who we remember eight years ago and not our accumulated resentments. I need to be who I am in this moment, not battle who I was or think I should be. We hold the space for ourselves so we can eventually do the same for the people we love.

Chris and I fight. We are competitive. We are two very creative, stubborn, oftentimes entitled men who like to get our own way. We think we know best, we both like praise, and generally speaking believe our shit don’t stink. In our lives, we’ve walked through painful darkness, shed many skins, to be the men we are today. To be surrounded by the love we feel today.

Before turning into a butterfly, a caterpillar must digest itself completely. It literally disintegrates into liquid then regenerates entirely new parts. Our greatest shifts are often disguised as our greatest feats. It often comes in the wake of pain, struggle and suffering. It comes after we digest ourselves completely, after we liquefy the shell that’s protected us for so long. Once we shed the masks, the armor that’s kept us safe, once we are able to be vulnerable, able to feel the cool air against our raw flesh, we can finally morph into something more beautiful than we’d ever imagine. We are able to emerge. To take flight.

And if you could get a birds-eye view of Chris and I at Southwark Cathedral, of us sitting together in the grass, you’d see two men in an amorphous state. Vulnerable and unclear of what lie ahead. Two humans with open hearts, sharing an ache to lighten the burden.

Now the venison burger.


This is about growth, about self-love, respect and letting go. It’s been about transforming, a metamorphosis, a stupid fucking butterfly emerging from his chrysalis. It’s about this period of time when things don’t really make sense and seem so far out of reach. Learning about myself, seeing it all a bit upside down or right side up or sideways — I dunno. I guess just seeing shit, really.

God I’m so tired.

Side note: I’m back in bed, lying in Hotel Da Vinci, our last night in Paris. Back to London in the morning. It’s well passed midnight as I scribble these words, tucked under blankets, Kerouac by my side.

Eyes close for a few moments. I see a butcher sing a song about change — it goes something like: Change is everything. He holds a large knife, wears a white, blood-stained apron.

I dunno.

I guess I go in and out of consciousness a bit.

“Butterflies” by Odilon Redon

Tonight we were two kids in an amusement park. We rode a Ferris wheel, sailed midair in flying swings, ate not-so-Parisian churros, then paid two euros to use a public toilet while a toothless bathroom attendant kept said churros safe. We held hands and strolled the streets, laughter echoed the night sky. We were lovers in Paris.

Leaving this city is bittersweet. I’m excited to fall back into the routine of home life and see our kids, but feel I’ve connected here. Part of me, a large part of me, can stretch his wings when flying along the edge of adventure, when travelling like a young explorer in new cities, lost in dark alleys, captive to the romance of wanderlust. It’s a fine affair, an ever-finer journey when paved by freedom.

And again, if I could draw a circle around this time of my life, observe it with a magnifying glass — like inspecting ants in an anthill — I know there’d be significance. I know it all means something.


We’re on the Eurostar back to London with an hour delay because someone died. Which, don’t get me wrong, I find mildly intriguing. Murder on the Euro Express — the next great Agatha Christie novel. We’re in car four, seat 47 and 48. Headphones on, Florence sings in my ears.

I just farted but Chris doesn’t know. He’s on his phone next to me, inhaling my fart no doubt. I show him what I wrote about farting and he laughs, shakes his head, then resumes reading a book. I think one day we’ll look back, read this journal and think — well, I don’t know what we’ll think; but I can see reading these words in the future, our kids reading these words much later, and maybe it makes them understand me a bit more. Maybe they show this journal to me and laugh, they shake their heads much like Chris just did, and I read through it and smile. Because life will be so much different then, I’ll be so much different. Because unlike this train, there are no stops except for the final destination, in which case I better make the most of this ride.

The hotel in Kensington has a distinct smell of sandalwood. Apparently this scent is only on the sixth floor because it smacks me in the face when I step off the elevator to our room.

Back in London as of yesterday, another day hiking around the city with half our time spent navigating the tube. After dinner we end up in an underground bar with live music. Two guys in their mid-twenties sat bathed in blue light playing ‘90’s covers. We’d walked from Notting Hill when I heard vocals echo from below ground, up a stairwell crowned by a red neon sign that read: DIRTY BONES. Good acoustic music wraps me like a lasso, so down we went.

Chris and I sat cuddled in a booth facing the musicians, a cinnamon donut with coffee gelato glistened in front of us. And when I say cinnamon donut, I mean a freshly made, still warm donut that melted the gelato. That shit was devoured in minutes.

The musicians laugh before doing a cover of “Genie in a Bottle,” which ends up sticking in my head for an hour or so later. I swear it’s like a repeat from our honeymoon when we watched a musician cover songs during the cruise. It looked just like this, with blue lights saturating a makeshift stage; me and Chris seated together far from home. In another time, another place.

Another life.


It’s a wet paper towel balled in my chest, a feeling that festers with no particular direction. We’re in flight back to The States, another four hours till landing in Miami. I close my eyes because my head throbs, my head throbs because I’m exhausted, and I’m exhausted because I was up last night until 1am. Hours after Dirty Bones, I sat in our hotel while Chris slept like a responsible adult knowing of our early morning flight. So as not to disturb him, I sat in the hallway on a single chair by the elevators, watching red digits go from ground level G up to floor 10, down to 8, G, 4, 2, G, 10. Back and forth, sometimes stopping on 6 where I’d act like a silent greeter — notebook in lap, phone in hand. Flashing an awkward smile as the elevator doors opened to reveal me patiently waiting. Obsessing over who would get off the elevator next, what mystery person would appear. And I guess this sums up where I’ve been lately — stuck, stale, awaiting the climatic reveal of some great mystery, bloodshot eyes taped open so as not to miss a thing, and in turn missing everything.

“Waiting for Dawn” by Hugo Simberg

I looked at sex sites online, wondering what it would be like to meet someone in the hotel — bring them into our room or sneak away while Chris slept. The fantasy, the excitement fueled a growing compulsion for sex. I remained seated by the elevators attempting to journal as minutes turned to hours turned to an unnecessary late night. Writing was like trying to squeeze juice from an unripe lemon, you strain a few drops but the quality is shit.

I wandered the tenth floor and lobby pretending to cruise for a hookup, while really I must have looked like a red-eyed monster in slippers and sweatpants. As a kid I remember exploring hallways in my grandparent’s apartment building; remember how mischievous it felt secretly climbing the stairwell to new floors. I must have been, I dunno, eight or nine, an age where everything is an epic adventure. I felt completely alone with a gripping intrigue of mystery, wandering mirrored corridors with blood red painted walls, driven by the thrill of curiosity.

But, yeah, I’m exhausted. Moreso interested to know what impact these last few days will have. It’s a blur of one stop to the next, shops to cafés to exhibits to restaurants to new cities. And you can miss so much wasting hours with chatter in your head, polluted thoughts that so easily sour a moment.

Before leaving for Europe, my therapist discussed a need I have for acceptance and adoration. A need that’s been with me since I was a little boy seeking applause after solo performances for family. With such a need comes an intense fear of failure — of not being good enough, never fulfilling this skewed concept of success I’d set for myself. This vision of me center stage, bathed in spotlight and attention, the ultimate validation for my accomplishments. The process of writing King Of Stars was indescribably rewarding but to me the outcome has been failure. Not yet traditionally published, not recognized by a wide scale audience, certainly not on any bestseller list or Oprah’s Book Club. My name still insignificant. Failure. The bar has always been set to the highest standard, and if I’m unable to surpass it or feel I wont be the best, then I may as well give up or not even start. It’s all or nothing.

And, listen, this revelation is nothing new. It’s normal, it’s always been a mentality that’s completely normal, never a thought about it otherwise.

Be the best.

Make them laugh.

Show your feathers.

There are moments my chest physically aches. When pain creeps like a whisper, until suddenly it’s there and I realize I’ve been holding my breath. For however long, seconds or minutes, I’ve been lost in my head either taking occasional shallow breaths or not breathing at all. So consumed in the toxic spiral of my thinking or complete lack thereof, my dissociation, that I stop breathing. I stop breathing until I feel the pain of my body begging for oxygen. And I know much of that wasted time is spent wandering dark corridors again, either literally or in my mind, aimlessly drifting from one empty thought to the next.

Why am I not good enough?

Why can’t I make it?

If only I was more dedicated.

If only I was more fearless.

It goes on and I’m sure in some way you can relate. Blindly consumed by feelings of jealousy for other people, comparing myself to their accomplishments, their looks, their life, wondering what I need to fix mine. Wondering why I can’t seem to getit right? Or, fuck, why I can’t just realize how great I already have it? Then of course pretending like everything’s fine and I’ve got my shit figured out. Pretending I’ve truly adopted acceptance of self when it’s mostly bullshit. And maybe I’ll never be truly okay with me. Because if I don’t have the adoration, if I’m not a household name, if I haven’t achieved the greatness imposed on myself so many years ago, then I’ll continue to wander those dark corridors. The frustrating thing is if ever I were to receive that level of success — if I became the famed Ryan Sirois — I don’t think it’d ever be enough.

That’s the sick truth.

That’s the normalcy.

So, yeah, I guess I’ve known this about myself to a degree but, you know, sometimes the planets align in a peculiar way and our mind receives messages differently. My therapist so eloquently shines light on my need for approval but this time it makes me uncomfortable. This time I get a little sweaty and clutch the pillow tighter.

And just as these thoughts began to untether my tightly wound mind, Chris and I flew to London.

The rest you’ve been reading.

My normal state is no longer working for me, because as my husband embraces life, takes on bigger risks to pursue his passion, I’m left wondering about my purpose. The spotlight shines brightest when we live in alignment with our best self; well, his spotlight shines brighter while mine has dimmed. Left in darkness.

If I’m not the main attraction, who am I?

Who am I?

“Dawn” by Martin Johnson Heade

I know I’m more than the dude with boobs, more than the creep who watches an elevator at 1am. I’m more than my resentments, my fears, my feelings of inadequacy. I’m more than my thoughts, more than a man, more than a husband, a son, a nephew, a father. I’m more than a traveller, a writer, a showman, more than a social media post, more than a book, a story.

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

I still haven’t finished Kerouac’s Satori In Paris, but it went with me everywhere. Satori is a Japanese word for enlightenment, and in Buddhism refers to the experience of seeing into one’s true nature. It’s like messages illuminate around me but I’ve yet to connect the dots. These words are a snapshot of life, the portrait of a man in his cocoon. So maybe this is my satori. And it’s lonely, fuck, I feel really lonely — and sad, like a lost kid on the London Bridge. My heart is heavy, I’m painfully sensitive, and I’m struggling to keep my shit together when really I want to curl in bed and disappear. But I’m not alone in these feelings, I know it. So many others go through a rebirth, a complete metamorphosis when finally realizing our patterns no longer serve us. Awareness is a painful blessing. Once our frequency rises, once our vision shifts and we’re given more dimensional sight, there’s no going back. There’s no unseeing what has been seen, no unfeeling what has been felt, and no forgetting what has been brought to the forefront of your conscious. I’m uncomfortable in my body, like I’m ready to peel off layers that’ve bound me for a lifetime. It’s the cracking of an eggshell, a snake shedding skin, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly — it’s forgiveness, it’s letting go, it’s tenderly embracing the whole of you. It’s clearing debris from past chaos and finding the little boy buried beneath rubble. It’s rediscovering innocence.

It’s letting that little boy out the closet to dream once again.

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

Shake it out, shake it out,
Shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa

Over and over again.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Ryan Heller currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland with his husband and their 3-year-old twins. Professionally, Ryan is an Art Director for a brand development firm with over ten years of experience telling stories and shaping identities for companies around the globe. As featured speaker and writer for several publications, Ryan ebbs between fiction and memoir-inspired storytelling. His background is in writing, art, design, and performance.

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