Excerpt for That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Praise for

That Which Doesn’t Kill Us


“The Blooms’ memoir addresses some of the most prevalent challenges that are present in nearly all committed relationships. That Which Doesn’t Kill Us is destined to become a classic in the genre of relationship literature. It’s a real page-turner and hard to put down. Charlie and Linda reveal through their ruthless honesty, the details of what caused them to sink so low and how they were able to salvage what appeared to be a “dead on arrival” marriage. This book is gripping, compelling, and inspiring. Ignore its teachings at your peril!”

~ Gerald Jampolsky, MD, and Diane Cirincione-Jampolsky, PhD,

co-authors of 

Aging With Attitude 

“Linda and Charlie Bloom’s honest account of their heart-wrenching and redemptive journey moved me deeply. It left me with hope that when I come to places in my marriage that seem dead-ends, if I’m willing to keep opening up to what’s possible—I just might find myself in a relationship so beautiful—it was simply unimaginable.  This book will stay with you for years to come. A gem—thank you!”

~ Renee Trudeau, author of 

The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal:

How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life

“A high-five to the Blooms for their searchingly—sometimes searingly—honest portrayal of love and togetherness, for telling it like it is and not pulling any punches. Their blazing honesty and articulateness about their process of coming apart and coming together not only makes for page-turner, but it is ultimately a tribute to the hard human work of making love last.

Their book is an eye-opener and a ripping good read.”

~ Gregg Levoy, author of 

Vital Signs

“This book takes the reader on a journey of pathos and passion, conflict and commitment, love and hate, and shows us the inseparability of things usually thought to be in contradiction to one another. Don’t miss this one if you want a deep experience of how long-lasting love really feels!”

~ Susan Campbell, PhD, author of 

Five Minute Relationship Repair

That Which Doesn’t Kill Us reads like a gripping novel. It is both raw and profoundly intimate, dealing with relational issues that most readers will easily identify with. It is a story of redemption; of how a couple can descend into the darkest pits of hell and manage to find their way out with an even deeper ever-growing commitment to their relationship. I highly recommend this book to everyone. And it gives us hope for great happiness and peace if we take this ride all the way to its end.”

~ Alanna Brogan, MSN, PHN, RN, Professor

Faculty at Sonoma State University

“This book is an extraordinary accomplishment . . . not just to examine such painful memories in order to share them publicly so that others may benefit, but to do so with such searing honesty and humbleness and raw emotion that there is no doubt of the authenticity of their shared journey. Charlie and Linda are both remarkable therapists, authors and workshop leaders because of their past suffering and redemption. This book is not for the fainthearted, but then relationship never is.”

~ Denise Barak, Director of Program Innovation

Kripalu Center

“With vulnerability, transparency and courage, Linda and Charlie Bloom invite us to watch the movie of their marriage, day by day, from reel to real. A touching and authentic collaboration, this book will inspire you to go the distance with your own relationship—until you receive the full abundance of its emotional and spiritual gifts!”

~ Daphne Rose Kingma, author of 

The Future of Love


“There’s so much to say about this remarkable book. Once, I began. I couldn’t stop reading. Each page brought me closer to myself, my own history, my partner, and most importantly to an understanding of the times that have shaped our ability to connect intimately with one another. We each and all need this book right now!”

~ Dawna Markova PhD, author of

Reconcilable Differences: Connecting in a Disconnected World


That Which Doesn’t Kill Us provides an intimate and vulnerable view of a relationship between husband and wife which becomes entangled, lost and at a place of personal and relational survival, that is finally reborn. As I read the Bloom’s story of their relationship and personal struggles, I found myself opening up my own heart and falling back deeply in love with my wife. This book gave me a better understanding of my own barricades to receiving and expressing love. Charlie and Linda’s openness gave me the courage to look more deeply at my own life. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to transform their life and relationships.”

~ Gary Fagin, MD


“It is rare that we get a deep glimpse into the authentic inner and interpersonal world of a couple. Through their courageous vulnerability, the Blooms take on the inner sanctum of the relationship—showing us how working with our fears, hopes, hurts, and traumas can lead to personal and spiritual transformation. The Blooms show us how remaining committed to the marital process can reward us with a deep and rich connection born of soulful struggle.”

~ John Amodeo, PhD, author of 

Dancing with Fire


“Finally, a book by a couple who not only captivates us by a good story but also teaches us much about real love. And you get an extra bonus, hearing the story and learned relationship lessons from the perspective of both partners.”

~ Barry Vissell, MD, and Joyce Vissell, RN, MS, co-authors of

The Shared Heart and Light in the Mirror

“I found Charlie and Linda’s story moving and courageous of both of them to be willing to put themselves out there in the way that they have way. People who are struggling in relationship will gain a lot from their story, and learn that it is what we endure that inspires our relationship to be what it can be.”

~ Maya Spector, author of 

The Persephone Cycle


“Linda and Charlie Bloom are master teachers and highly gifted writers. In their astonishing new book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us, you will meet them–warts and all. This auto-vivisection of their subconscious minds is a gift to humanity. Traversing the colorful landscape of their relationship from the male and female perspective is both harrowing and enlightening.”

~ Ira Israel, author of 

How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult


“The Blooms have written a book about devastation, recovery, and transcendence. In this tale, the dual devastations of addiction, depression, and cancer are the broken places and crucibles for personal and marital transformation.”

~ David Kerns, MD, author of 

Standard of Care

“In That Which Doesn’t Kill Us Linda and Charlie Bloom courageously share details of turbulent times when the survival of their own marriage was at stake. Their story is poignant, fascinating, and inspiring!”

~ Marcia Naomi Berger, author of 

Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love


That Which Doesn’t Kill Us contains the seeds of wisdom, truth and inspiration. It is a must-read for couples of any age.” 

~ Ken Druck, PhD, author of

Courageous Aging: Your Best Years Ever Reimagined

Back to Contents

That Which Doesn’t Kill Us:

How One Couple Became Stronger

at the Broken Places

Charlie and Linda Bloom

Back to Contents

That Which Doesn’t Kill You

How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places

Copyright © 2018 by Charlie and Linda Bloom

Smashwords Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

The names of those associated with the organization that Charlie Bloom worked for have been changed to protect their anonymity.

Cover and text design: Miko Radcliffe

Sacred Life Publishers™

Back to Contents


Praise for That Which Doesn’t Kill Us


Chapter 1 Becoming a Believer

Chapter 2 Transformation

Chapter 3 I Don’t Remember Agreeing to This

Chapter 4 Riding the Roller Coaster

Chapter 5 Power Struggle

Chapter 6 Two Worlds Collide

Chapter 7 Dangerous Years

Chapter 8 From Bad to Worse

Chapter 9 Mind on Fire

Chapter 10 Doing My Own Work

Chapter 11 The Wounds Become the Gift

Chapter 12 Losing It, Then Finding It

Chapter 13 Restoring Trust

Chapter 14 Free at Last

Chapter 15 Trading Roles

Chapter 16 Into the Abyss

Chapter 17 Charlie’s Depression

Chapter 18 Way Too Much Drama

Chapter 19 Hitting Bottom and Coming Up

Chapter 20 After the Nightmare

Chapter 21 Meditating on the Edge of the Wall

Chapter 22 This Can’t Be Happening

Chapter 23 Sacred Partnership

Chapter 24 Winds of Grace


About the Authors

Other Books by Charlie and Linda Bloom

The End


“Why do relationships have to be so hard?” It’s a question that many therapists, particularly marriage counselors, hear a lot. Of course, not every relationship demands extra attention and hard work—at least not all the time! Still, many or most couple relationships will go through times of stress and even crisis; and often in these times we’re surprised—maybe bewildered and alarmed as well—by how fast a seemingly small difference can spiral down and out, sometimes calling into question our very future itself as partners.

There are good reasons why many of us choose partners with very different personality styles from our own, different traditions or expectations, or even different values. Often the irony is that we’ve chosen each other partly for those very differences: “She’s so organized, so responsible!” or “He’s so spontaneous, so open to new things!” These new capacities may seem and be so desirable, with each partner bringing something the other very much needs—and needs to learn. Then later on, under new life commitments and new stresses and challenges, I may come to feel that these same features that were so attractive to me then have somehow morphed now into issues that divide us, even threaten to tear the marriage apart. How do we live through these times—and not just get through them, not just paper over the conflict and avoid it going forward, but really hang in there and really reach deeper into ourselves and toward each other amid pain and fears? And then how do we come out larger, stronger, with new understanding and new capacities, not just surviving but thriving, laying the groundwork for a new life phase of change, intimacy, and growth?

This book tells the story of one couple in early midlife—Linda and Charlie Bloom—who were attracted to each other both for their shared passions and dreams and for those very different styles, different energies each of them brought to the relationship, and each saw in the other. In the alternating voices of each partner, they take us with them on an intimate journey through their marriage, including one critical, at times agonizing, year, moving deep into an abyss of stress and challenge that went right to the edge of breaking up their family and then back again to stronger, richer lives both as individuals and as a couple.

But wait, you may say at this point. Doesn’t our individualistic culture teach us at every turn that these things—personal dreams and fulfillment, on one hand, and deep, intimate relationship, on the other—are polar opposites, locked in a kind of zero-sum game in which the more I get of one, the less I have (or my partner has) of the other! That there’s a finite amount of love, support, and freedom available, and those fixed quantities inevitably get sliced up between us so that when push comes to shove (and push will definitely come to shove), we end up fighting over that last slice of something precious and seemingly rare. And then won’t we just either go on bickering (or worse) endlessly, or at any rate until one or the other just gives up?

Well, yes, those myths are out there: our culture often does seem to be telling us, indirectly and sometimes directly, that in the end a relationship is a kind of push-me, pull-you, an unnatural creature that may bring you certain things you desire and need (sex, security, children, relief of loneliness) but at the terrible price of your freedom and of fulfilling your personal dreams.

But don’t you believe those myths—because that’s all they are: myths! You have only to read the chapters ahead of you now in this amazing book to experience something deeper, newer, more revelatory. Tender highs and excruciating lows, yes, and all through it a wrenching, vulnerable honesty, a kind of raw nakedness that reflects a larger strength and confidence in the sharing. We recognize ourselves in these chapters: not that we’ve necessarily gone to those same extremes of words and feelings (or maybe we have), but most of us have felt those feelings and have reached those limits of hopelessness or panic. Perhaps most often the relationship where we felt those things didn’t make it, and we may still carry the scars, even some unhealed places from those searing experiences that the daring experiment of intimacy and vulnerability may bring.

And isn’t that the larger danger: that where those old hurts and fears have not so much healed as scarred over. We may have learned a kind of avoidance of certain places, certain vulnerable exposures, because of old fear and pain. And in the process, we may be stepping around or holding ourselves back from the kind of intimacy we once dreamed of—and as a result missing opportunities for growth both as individuals and as a couple.

Because the real truth of this book—and of our oh-so-human lives—is that the self and relationships are not opposite poles of our being at all. Rather, these two kinds of experience stand in a kind of dynamic “figure–ground” relationship with each other: each one potentially providing the grounding for new growth, a new flourishing in the other “pole” of our being. Finding the courage to reach deeper once more in my most vulnerable, most intimately exposed relationship can serve as the springboard for a new opening in personal growth, in other family and friendship relations, and in my life at work and in the world. And in the same way, a stronger, more open creativity in those other dimensions of my life can serve to enhance, not compete with, my primary couple relationship.

But where do I find the courage for these new risks, new “moves” that likely carry vulnerability and at least a certain sense of risk? Well, I’d say one terrific place to start is with this book. Charlie and Linda Bloom have been there, to the darkest places of relational despair, and they’ve come back stronger, more creative, more courageous for the journey, which now they offer to us.

For many years the Blooms have shared their skills and wisdom and experience with many hundreds of clients and workshop participants—and then through their books and blogs, with thousands more. In the process they’ve given us many lessons and told us many stories of other couples. Now they give us a deep dive into their own.

What will you learn from this profound sharing? Well, that will be for you to say. For me, among so many other things I learned—again—the huge truths that vulnerability is strength, that humility is power, and that my greatest fears, my greatest desires, my deepest wounds, and, yes, my greatest creativity and gifts all lie in the same places. And this: that the deepest courage comes not from inside myself alone: it comes from spirited companionship. This book gives us that intimate, accepting companionship, two fellow travelers for my journey. And while they can’t take my journey for me, I can take theirs with them in this retelling, and in the end that will be the clearest, most impactful teaching for my own.

Thank you, Linda and Charlie Bloom, for the gift of this precious, painful, ultimately inspiring, and, finally, quietly triumphant tale, this creation of more love in the universe out of your own pain and your own love. I’m encouraged for my own journey (in the literal sense, of encouraged)—as a partner, as a parent and friend, as a professional, and as a man—by the gift. I believe you will be too.

Gordon Wheeler

Esalen Institute, Big Sur California

Back to Contents

Chapter 1

Becoming a Believer


Our deterioration from a reasonably functional middle-class family to a disintegrating cluster of struggling survivors took about six months. It began in February 1982 in Connecticut, where Linda and I, and our children, Jesse (7), Eben (3), and Sarah (1) had been living for the previous seven years. Linda and I had recently celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. Connecticut had just emerged from one of the most brutal winters in New England history. There had been weeks of unrelenting, record-breaking freezing weather and massive amounts of snow and ice. Four days after my thirty-fifth birthday, I found myself lying in bed, having thrown out my back shoveling my car out of a huge blizzard that had paralyzed traffic in most of the Northeast.

With every movement of my arms or legs, I experienced excruciatingly painful spasms which threw me into a kind of voluntary paralysis, so I tried to eliminate any unnecessary movement that might send me into excruciating spasms of agony. Consumed by self-pity, frustration, and anger, I found one word continually replaying itself in my mind: “Enough.”

Although as a kid I had loved winter, as an adult, for me, the months between October and May had become wearisome. Three years before, after returning from a two-week trip to San Francisco, I had promised Linda that it would be only a very short time before we moved to the West Coast. The idea of living in a place where walking around outdoors in midwinter wearing nothing more than a T-shirt, jeans, and running shoes was immensely enticing to us. As I lay in bed nursing my back in a house that our wood stove couldn’t adequately heat, it became clear to me that the time had come to get out of New England and, at last, fulfill the dream that had possessed us since our first visit to the West Coast in 1969. Until then, the idea of moving to California had seemed more like a fantasy than a real possibility. We were entrenched in our little rural town, and to think of leaving the comfort and security of our life there for the uncertainty, competitiveness, and expense of California was daunting.

The shift from fantasy to possibility had actually begun the previous September. At the urging of a friend, I had enrolled in a personal growth seminar in New York City. During the five-day workshop, I had uncovered a deep desire for a change in my life that I had been denying out of fear of jeopardizing the structured life that Linda and I had carefully created together. The change that I was looking for required more than a change in scenery or weather. It was about something much bigger.

Since accepting a position at a mental health clinic shortly after completing graduate school in Boston in 1975 I had been working as a therapist and a private practitioner, and I was beginning to feel burned out. Although I was a decent therapist, my heart was no longer in the work the way it used to be, but I was unwilling to admit that to myself or to anyone else, for that matter. The consequences of doing so would have been too disruptive to the life that Linda and I had strived so hard to create. Unbeknownst to me, all that was about to change.

My friend Richard, a psychiatrist who worked at the clinic with me, was the one who stirred the hornet’s nest after he did a personal growth training that, in his words, “completely turned my life around.” Like me, Richard had been struggling with ambivalent feelings about his career and had just completed an intensive five-day seminar; he had returned home convinced that he had finally found the elixir for which he had been seeking. He also came back convinced that I needed to do the training and that I would find the answer to my question about the next step in my career and life, just as he had.

“This is it,” he told me. “This is what we’ve been looking for. I knew that something out there would unlock the door to my heart, and this is it. I’m absolutely clear that I’m going to go to work for this company as a trainer, and after you do the training, you’ll want to, as well. You’ll see. I guarantee it!”

Having a tendency toward skepticism as I do, Richard’s extreme enthusiasm not only didn’t persuade me to join him in his enthusiasm; it had the opposite effect. It put me off and activated my mistrust of people and groups who seemed lost in euphoria and wild-eyed exuberance. I felt coerced by what seemed to be a lot of hype that Richard had been fed and swallowed. Listening to his superlatives about his experience set off alarms in my head. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say he had been brainwashed, I seriously doubted that Richard had seen the truth and the light. I decided to wait and see whether he actually followed up on all his new, enthusiastic intentions.

To my surprise, he did. Richard not only fulfilled his predictions; he also surpassed them. Over the next several months, he resigned his position at the clinic, got hired by the company, moved to California, completed the trainers’ training program, reunited with and remarried his ex-wife, and brought her and their two children to the West Coast to live with him. In less than a year, he was promoted to the position of director of training and became solidly entrenched in the hierarchy of the company.

During this time, Richard and I remained in close communication. With a combination of envy and awe I watched him transform his life. By the summer of 1981 I had seen enough, yet despite the changes that I observed him making in his personal and professional life, I remained skeptical, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never did. Finally, I realized that I had seen enough to believe the validity of what Richard had been telling me. There was no question that he and his life had substantially and radically changed. He also seemed to have changed as a person. In July I called the company’s New York center and reserved a place for myself in the next seminar.

On the day of the training I took a train to New York and a cab to the hotel where it was being held. Richard had warned me not to be late, a long-term behavioral problem of mine he had noticed. “It would be a bad way to get started,” he told me. I arrived at the hotel nearly an hour before registration began, and several people were already manning the registration tables. They were mostly young, in their twenties and thirties, well dressed; and were all smiling, wide-eyed, and excited. Their enthusiasm only activated my skeptical thoughts that were returning now that I was on the verge of actually doing the training. I found a chair away from the registration table but strategically located so that I could observe the arrival of the other students.

At precisely 8 p.m., the doors to the room opened with an announcement from a staff person: “Doors are open; come in and take a seat.” It sounded more like a command than a request. Once in the room, we were told to fill the seats, starting with the front row and working our way to the back. So much for hiding out.

Richard had warned me that I might have an impulse to leave in the early stages of the training, and he got me to agree to hang in until the end. Had I not given him my word, I’m almost certain that I would have left before the night was over. After we were seated, two of the people sitting at the staff table at the back of the room closed the doors. I noticed that serious expressions seeming to convey that playtime was over had replaced their smiles. It was time to get down to business.

The room suddenly went totally silent, even though no one told us not to talk. A few moments later a man stepped up to the front of the room, introduced himself as Jay, and informed us that he would be our trainer. Jay appeared to be in his mid-thirties. He was immaculately dressed and strikingly handsome. He welcomed us to the seminar and told us that, before the training could actually begin, there was the matter of ground rules to which we all would have to agree.

“This can go quick and easy, or you can make it difficult,” he told us. “The ground rules are the rules of the game. They speak for themselves. They don’t change. No exceptions. There is no negotiating them. No discussion. You must agree to every one of them in order to be in the training. If you choose not to agree to any of them, you will need to leave. You cannot get your money back. Any questions? Good. Let’s begin.”

Despite Jay’s insistence that there would be no exceptions made for anyone under any conditions to alter the ground rules, there was an ongoing series of attempts made by students to cajole, coerce, and otherwise attempt to get him to grant exceptions to the rules—all without success. After nearly three hours of “processing,” the ground rules were finally accepted by the group, minus three of the nearly 100 participants who had chosen to leave the training.

By the time Jay was finished with the rules, we had all signed away our rights to question the trainer’s judgment, fold our arms, cross our legs, leave the room to go to the bathroom, or speak without permission. I felt insulted, controlled, degraded, and infantilized. During the break, I commiserated with several other students who had, like me, promised friends that they would give the training a chance. They, too, had been warned that they would probably feel a very strong urge to leave and promised that they would resist the temptation to go. Like me, their friends had assured them that by the end of the training they would be glad that they had stayed. The condition that the money-back guarantee was only good if you stayed for the entire training also did a lot to keep some of us from leaving that night.

I made up my mind to stay for the entire training, not just because I wanted to keep the option open to get a refund but because I was deeply impressed with Jay’s skill as a leader. Having done some group facilitation myself, I believed that I had a lot to learn from observing him in action. I also had a less conscious motivation for my decision to stay. I was beginning to feel that there really might be something important here for me, something that Richard had been trying to tell me that I hadn’t been entirely open to receiving. I began thinking that there might be some value for me in at least temporarily suspending my judgments and skepticism. The thought was both intriguing and unsettling. While I was disturbed by the authoritarian style of leadership that Jay had, I was impressed and moved by his sensitivity, humor, and obvious caring for the students. I felt a strong desire to experience the attention that he gave to each person with whom he spoke. Whether he was challenging someone or being challenged by someone, his demeanor was consistently steady, unwavering, and always compassionate. I felt envious of those students who challenged Jay, but I was unwilling to risk taking him on myself.

That night as I lay in bed reflecting on my experience, I thought about dropping the skepticism that I so often felt whenever I considered accepting a point of view that was incongruent with my usual perspective. I thought about Jay’s invitation to be open to the possibility that this experience could literally be life-changing. Wasn’t that what I was looking for? All I would have to do to find out if that really was true was to choose to drop my defenses for the next four days and trust the training, the trainer, and, most importantly, myself. That night I decided, in the jargon of the training, to “go for it.”

The next day, having surrendered much—but not all—of my “resistance” my experience shifted from feeling tense, anxious, and apprehensive to being more relaxed, lighter, and enthusiastic. I also noticed that I was becoming increasingly more impressed with Jay’s level of skill and care. His insightfulness and eloquence were truly extraordinary. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe how good this guy is!”

The structure of the training included short lectures on subjects that were relevant to most peoples’ lives, including, relationships, self-trust and interpersonal trust, risk taking, self-esteem, intentionality, accountability, and responsibility. After every lecture, Jay would put us in an experiential exercise that allowed us to personalize the distinctions that he made regarding each topic. These exercises were done with a partner, in a small group, the whole group, or individually, usually with eyes closed. During the exercises and throughout most of the training, music was played that served to intensify any emotions that arose during the process. A third part of the training was “sharing,” which refers to a debriefing of feelings and insights that were provoked through the exercises. Sharing could take place with a partner, in a small group, or while standing in the front of the whole group speaking into a microphone.

With each passing day of the training I became more impressed with the transformative changes that I was observing in the other students and in myself, as well. I felt increasingly more comfortable in my own skin: more accepting and openhearted toward others, less aloof, less judgmental, and more connected to others. I hadn’t even realized how much I needed this shift in my way of being. I laughed and cried more during those five days than I had in years, and it all felt good, even the tears.

As the training drew to a close, I knew that I wanted more. I was convinced that this experience was far more powerful than any form of life enrichment I had ever seen. Jay reminded us that this wasn’t the end of the journey; it was just the beginning. He talked about the advanced training that he promised would take us much further than this one did and would open us to literally inconceivable possibilities. Whatever that cost, I was in.

The closing ceremony was held on Sunday evening. We formed a circle and closed our eyes while friends and family members were quietly ushered into the room and soft music played in the background. I could hear the guests coming into the room and their whisperings. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew, but when Jay instructed us to open our eyes, to my surprise, I saw not only Richard but also Linda, our three children, and my best friend, Allan, who happened to be visiting from the West Coast. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that my knees went weak and I almost collapsed. I kept repeating the words “Thank you” to Richard, over and over.

In five days, I had done a complete turnaround. My previous concerns and criticisms had dissolved into an experience of oceanic bliss more potent than any infatuation I’d ever experienced. I was in love—deeply, completely, and ecstatically in love with life, with the people in my life, and with myself. The training had made good on all of its promises, implicit and explicit, to give me a life that was truly and fully worth living. Not a hollow, shallow version that I had thought was “it,” but this—this was it, and I got it!

After some tearful goodbyes, Linda, the kids, and I packed ourselves into the car for the two-and-a-half-hour drive home. The kids immediately fell asleep, but I couldn’t stop talking while Linda drove. During the drive I poured out some of the denied and unexpressed feelings that the training had awakened in me. I told Linda that I was grateful beyond words to have her in my life. She had hung in there with me despite what I now saw was the arrogance and self-righteousness that I had used to shield myself from my deeper feelings. I pledged to never again hurt or disrespect her in the ways that I saw I had. “I’d rather cut off my own arm than cause you any pain,” I said. “I know that you know that I’ve been taking you for granted, but I swear to you, those days are over. That will never happen again. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’ll never forget it.”

Even as I spoke those words, a voice in the back of my mind asked who I thought I was kidding. “Sure, you mean this now, but when the smoke clears, it’ll be back to business as usual. You’ll forget again, just like you always do.” Although I’d never experienced anything like this, I’d made and broken enough promises for Linda to know that there was a better than even chance that my enthusiasm would eventually wear off. There had been too many times over the years that I had, upon acknowledging my verbal abuse or neglect of Linda, promised to change and then returned within days to my old patterns. Why Linda had put up with these endless cycles was a mystery to me. My track record was abysmal.

But all that was about to change. In fact, my whole life was soon going to be totally different. “That sounds great,” Linda finally said after I paused long enough to come up for air. “But I’ve heard this before, and despite your sincerity, it’s hard for me to trust that things are really going to change.”

“I’m going to work for the company. I’m going to be a trainer. We’re finally going to fulfill our dream of living in California. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, and I’ve finally found it. I know that if I’m spending my time around people like Jay, there’s no way that I’m going to keep slipping back into my old shit anymore. That’s the missing link to the puzzle: support. I’ve never had the kind of support that’s required to break these old habits and patterns, but if I’m hanging out with people like him, there’ll be no way that I’ll keep falling back into my old stuff.”

An hour out of the training and one more time I was again already trying to coerce Linda into buying my latest scheme. This time it was about us giving up practically everything in our lives and moving to California. When I sensed that she didn’t seem to be buying it, I redoubled my efforts, thinking that if I raised the heat, she would see things my way, the right way.

“I realize it’s impossible for you to appreciate the power of the training, but you’ll see. You’ll recognize it in the changes that you’re going to see in me. I have learned something that I’m certain is going to have a permanent impact on my life. You’ll see for yourself when you do the training. This organization is doing the work that we’ve wanted to do for years, and they’re doing it at a state-of-the-art level. All that I ask is that you give me a chance to prove that every word I’m saying is true. I promise, you won’t regret it.”

Linda did give me a chance. By the end of the year we had both completed the Basic Course, the Advanced Course, and the Leadership Program. We’d invested over $4,000 in tuition, not counting what we’d spent on transportation to New York a few times a month, astronomical phone bills, and additional childcare costs.

But money was no object. Linda caught the fever, and the two of us spun out in a frenzied adrenaline rush, continually pumping each other and ourselves up with near-manic enthusiasm. Our friends and family were also subject to our impassioned pleas to do the training, and several of them were so turned off that they refused to have anything to do with us unless we agreed to stop pestering them. Most of the other people in our leadership programs—we were in separate groups—were having similar problems, and much of our dialogue centered on ways we could more effectively deal with the “resistance” we were encountering from our uninitiated friends.

In some cases, the consequence of our persistence was long periods of alienation and resentment. A few of our friendships never fully recovered “Sometimes,” we were told by our group leaders, “you have to be willing to risk your relationship with someone if you really care about them.” The guise of supporting our friends and family members to “handle their considerations” meant “Don’t let them buy into their own excuses and get them to enroll.” We were encouraged to risk being overbearing if necessary to get people to do the training, to “make a difference in their lives and in the world.”

In January, after Linda and I had completed our programs, we both crashed. The stimulation and distraction of the game had worn off, leaving me with a depressingly flat, monotonously predictable reality with no exciting challenges to motivate me. Although I missed the adrenaline rush of the game, my body was exhausted from sleep deprivation and overwork, and I had a lot of catching up to do. I had been neglecting my practice and just sliding by doing the bare minimum at the local state college where I was doing some part-time teaching. The kids were tired of being hustled from one babysitter to another. It was time to pull in and slow down.

I had seen some of the shadow side of the company, and it wasn’t pretty. While the party line was about “making a difference in the world,” the unspoken message was always about “enrollments,” which translated as money. It smelled bad.

In February I got a call from Richard. He wanted to know if I was interested in becoming a trainer. When I expressed reluctance, he shifted into hyper sales mode. His argument was that it was a whole new ball game. “I’ve just been promoted to director of trainings for the company. That means that I have complete authority to implement what you and I both know this company needs in order to clean everything up and set things straight. We’re going to put the crisis behind us and see to it that it stays there forever.”

The “crisis” that Richard was referring to was a piece of investigative reporting that had recently been aired on national TV about the trainings. It portrayed the company as a dangerous cult that was out to convert as many people as possible to a perverse form of New Age spirituality. The show stated that a number of people had died as a result of reckless and irresponsible group leadership and that countless others experienced extreme psychological damage from the organization’s often-successful brainwashing efforts. There was some degree of truth in the accusations, but most of them were grossly distorted. They were taken out of context and edited in a way that seemed to be intentionally designed to create an extremely negative impression of the company.

The fallout from the show was devastating to the company. Enrollments dropped drastically, several city offices closed, dozens of staff members were let go, and confused and angry graduates from all over the country were demanding an explanation. Multiple lawsuits threatened to overwhelm the organization’s legal staff, and the company was in danger of collapsing. In an effort to stem the bloodletting, the company instituted changes in the training designed to make itself less vulnerable to public attack.

Promoting Richard, a board-certified psychiatrist, to lead the training department had been a crucial step in that process. Putting him in charge of the trainings was another. Richard’s unspoken job responsibility was to give the organization the professional credibility that it had never enjoyed. In addition, he was given the job of transforming the training by eliminating anything in it that could be interpreted as psychotherapy and putting an educational spin on it. Trainers would no longer be permitted to manipulate students into compliance by using intimidating and coercive tactics. Everything was to be “more professional, more mainstream.”

The trainer body now needed to be reoriented to the new program. Richard’s job was to either set the existing staff members straight or replace them if they weren’t able to be set straight. None of the trainers had received the kind of training that Richard was talking about. Few had an academic or professional background in human relations. Those who couldn’t make the grade would have to go. A new breed of facilitator, grounded in interpersonal and group dynamics, people who were more “trainable,” would replace them.

Richard ended his pitch, saying, “I want you to come out and be a part of the new team. The old days are over. If the old guard can’t handle these changes, they’ll have to go. This transformation is a done deal. They’ll either get on the bus or get out. I need you. The company needs you. I know that you’ve got reservations, but believe me we can make this work for you and for your family, too.”

Even if I wanted the job, Richard didn’t actually have the authority to hire me, only to recommend me. The company president and the trainer body would make the final decision after they interviewed me. I told him that I needed time to think about it and to talk to Linda. He told me the company was setting up a series of interviews the following month for about a dozen trainer candidates who were being flown in from around the country. He would need to know soon if I planned to be one of them. We agreed to talk again in a week.

The next day I decided to go for the job. Linda was 100 percent behind my decision. From a pragmatic standpoint, it seemed like a reckless, even irresponsible, move, but something about the excitement of stepping into what I suspected would be one of the hottest fires I’d ever encountered was compelling. The power of that challenge was a strong motivator in moving me toward the company. I felt a restless urgency to shake up my settled, secure life. A part of me was saying, “Take this step now! Make the move! If you don’t, you’ll forever regret it.” Linda went out of her way to be as neutral as she could, reminding me that it was ultimately my decision and that she would support whatever I felt was right, but she admitted that she had a strong preference that I at least apply for the job.

Three weeks later I flew to San Francisco to participate in two days of interviews and other events orchestrated so that the other trainer candidates and I could be observed in more “informal” settings. As my flight arrived in San Francisco I was sick to my stomach and had a throbbing headache when I got off the plane. A volunteer was waiting for me at the baggage claim. He talked nonstop on our drive to the company’s headquarters. When we arrived he showed me into a large room where several trainer candidates were awaiting their turn to be challenged, grilled, and interrogated by the review board, which consisted of the trainer body and the company president. The other candidates looked like slightly aging college athletes. They were tall and handsome, with an “all-American” look. I found them to be engaging, articulate, funny, and seemingly unselfconscious, everything I didn’t seem to be.

When my turn came, I had a fleeting impulse to bolt out of the building and take a cab to the airport. “Better just to get out of here,” I thought. “There’s no way that I’m going to get this job. Why put myself through the humiliation of being rejected?” But I didn’t even have the courage to do that, so I obediently went into the room and offered my head to the chopping block.

Oddly, it didn’t go as badly as I had expected, perhaps, in part, because I had already taken the pressure off myself by letting go of my hope that I might be hired. The volunteer who had picked me up at the airport drove me to my hotel, and I flopped onto the bed, feeling very much alone and deflated

That night the company provided an elegant dinner for the trainers and the trainer candidates. My headache and upset stomach had finally dissipated, and I even felt somewhat relaxed. I flew home the next day and spent most of the flight identifying all the reasons that I really didn’t want the job and listing all the good things about living out the rest of my days in rural Connecticut.

Three days after I returned from California, I got a phone call from Richard. He told me that he had been authorized to offer me the job. Hearing Richard’s offer, I realized that my fear of disappointment had prevented me from admitting to myself just how badly I really did want it. “They want you to start in six weeks,” Richard said.

I felt a sense of elation, followed almost immediately by a feeling of panic. Linda and I would have to sell our house and cars, terminate our practices, resign from our jobs, find a house in California, say goodbye to our friends and families, and start a new life three thousand miles away, all in less than two months. It seemed overwhelming, but I knew that somehow, we would be able to do it because I had done the training and because I knew that I was committed and that that would be enough. I also knew that my feelings wouldn’t last forever and that I would eventually be able to relax again. I just had no idea how long it would be before I would.

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Chapter 2



Six weeks to the day after receiving the job offer, Linda, our three kids, and I landed at San Francisco International Airport with nothing but the luggage we carried onto the plane and moved into a rental house in a small town north of San Francisco. Five days later, the moving truck showed up carrying all our furniture and worldly possessions that we had not sold before the move. Two days after that, I was off to my first day of work, leaving Linda to unpack and bring order to our new home. This was the first of hundreds of times I left her to handle things while I heeded the call of the job.

I was soon informed, however, that what I had was not a “job” but a calling. The trainers all shared a belief that we had been accorded a magnificent honor: the opportunity to make an extraordinary contribution to the world. Consumed by such a burning mission, all other concerns pale in comparison: family, friends, recreation, even personal well-being. Every-thing is seen only in terms of the degree to which it serves the noble purpose of global transformation. Anyone fortunate enough to be offered this privilege becomes a part of an elite group, the Green Berets of consciousness.

I left my first staff meeting, and many others over the next five years, filled with inspiration and the fervor of a missionary, dedicated to bringing love and empowerment into the lives of others and into the world. I was thrilled to be a part of such a dramatic and far-reaching mission and was excited by the influence wielded by trainers. I knew that, more than anything, what I wanted was to feel what I knew the man in the front of the room was experiencing. He exuded complete confidence, certainty, strength, courage, and brilliance. What I saw was a master in the use of power, knowledge, and compassion.

The day after that first staff meeting, I said good-bye to Linda and the kids and got on a plane, along with the lead trainer, to Orange County, where I would participate in my first training as a newly minted trainer in training. Aside from feeling tormented with anxiety, getting very little sleep, and going half-crazy with relentless self-doubt, I managed to survive my first week in the training room. I was on the phone with Linda every night after we finished the evening session, typically after midnight. I poured out my feelings, trying to convey them to her, as if by doing so I could close the gap that already seemed to be opening between us.

One of the things I had found most compelling about the training was the way in which it seemed to bring a heightened intensity to life. To be in that room was to experience a rawness that wasn’t present in my day-to-day life. I was somewhat of an adrenaline junkie and a sucker for that intensity. I loved the way the training made me feel so alive. What I didn’t realize at the time was the effect this growing addiction would have on my life outside of work.

Theoretically, my work schedule called for me to be in the training room an average of two weeks a month—not a bad schedule even if one is working fourteen-hour days during the workweek. In practice, however, I put in considerably more time than that. For one thing, I actually averaged closer to three trainings a month in cities all over the country. Along with the five days in the training room, there were two travel days for most courses, two days of meetings, guest events, public presentations, and six or eight hours a month spent on reports, expense sheets, and assorted paperwork.

The little time I had available for activities outside of work was further compromised by my need to recover from my exhausting work schedule. Most weeks I flew home on the morning after the training and stopped in the office for the Monday meeting, which usually went most of the afternoon and often into the evening. When I finally got home, frequently after having eaten dinner, I was completely exhausted. It was often all I could do to stay awake during the thirty-minute drive from the office. Linda and the kids, if they were still awake, came out to greet me. As much as I enjoyed being reunited with them, I was so physically and emotionally spent that I was often too tired to be fully present. At first, their exuberance was a joy I delighted in. Over time, however, my limited ability and energy to respond took its toll.

After a week of marathon training on my part and single parenting on Linda’s part, we each looked to the other for relief and support. In addition to wanting a break from her domestic responsibilities, Linda was also in need of the emotional connection we had shared before the move. Unlike me, practically all her time was spent with the kids. It would be a while before she developed the kind of adult friendships that sustained her. In the meantime, I was her sole source of adult connection, support, and caregiving. I knew how much more she needed me now, and I understood her situation, but what mattered most to me was the training.

During much of my nine months of training I felt overwhelmed by the challenge of mastering the training craft, and the last thing I wanted to do was worry about another needy person. I gave Linda and the kids what I could, but it was never enough. My life narrowed to a single focus: work. The other interests and activities that had been so much a part of my life in Connecticut were gone. I was, unknowingly, in the throes of an obsession that was consuming me.

My resistance to hearing Linda’s complaints aggravated the situation. I didn’t want to know about her needs, loneliness, anger, or exhaustion. It just made me feel guilty and inadequate. My tolerance for her feelings during my training period was low, not only because of my work schedule but also because I was focused on my own emotional survival. I had presumed that I would attain trainer status in four or five months, at the most, and would do it without much difficulty because I had a strong background in psychology and group dynamics. It soon became apparent that my professional background not only was unappreciated by the training staff but also was seen as a strong liability that I would have to overcome. The predominant message I received in staff meetings and from the senior facilitators was to “quit being a therapist. This isn’t therapy.”

I was constantly reminded that if I couldn’t get with the program, I wouldn’t make it. This was more than an idle threat. Trainer interns were routinely dismissed if they didn’t make the grade. I had no idea what I would do if I didn’t make it through the program. In her effort to be supportive, Linda chose not to discuss that possibility. She knew all about my fears and insecurities because they were practically the only things I talked about during my internship. This obsessiveness, which was uncharacteristic of me, was only one manifestation of the personality transformation I was undergoing in the process of becoming a trainer.

My colleagues continually reminded me that work as a trainer is not something you do. It is a way of being that you take on with total commitment, not just in the training room but also in every aspect of your life. Becoming a trainer involved an immersion in a culture that I was unfamiliar and inexperienced with. It required a fundamental shift in my identity. This new identity required me to embody a presence that could be, depending on the circumstances, authoritative, patient, demanding, controlling, compassionate, intimidating, coercive, supportive, challenging, relentless, committed, fierce, confident, empathic, self-assured, and, often, some combination of the above.

I was in training to be an advanced course trainer, which meant that I had to be willing to be confrontational, even intimidating if necessary, and not shy away from challenges to my authority. Although being macho was never my strong suit, I set out to remake myself in the image of the senior trainers. The process of trying to contort myself into a form I didn’t feel personally comfortable with was, to say the least, difficult. It also required that I take on the whole package of being a trainer. I was woefully inexperienced at the game. The “game” had to do with taking on the image and persona of a trainer: wearing the right clothes, having the right hair, driving the right car, and getting down the walk, the talk, and the look. I felt like an outsider around the other trainers, most of whom had a strongly developed sense of competitiveness, ambition, and drive, definitely the alpha males and females. About half the trainer body was made up of women.

I was well aware of how daunting the challenge was for me to fit into this new role and felt intimidated by it. I lived with a near-constant fear of failure. Failure would have meant losing not only my job but also the opportunity to fulfill what I had taken on as my life’s mission. It would have meant the loss of my purpose, my dream, and all that I believed I had been born to do. It was also important, but less compelling that I had a wife at home who was taking care of our three young children, all of whom were dependent on me to provide for their needs, which required money, which required a job.

Whenever I did come home, I was often unable to deeply connect with Linda and the kids because of my obsessiveness and fatigue. Yet meaningful connection was what I needed more than anything else. The comfort of their love soothed my soul in a way that the gratification I received from work never could. But when I did two consecutive trainings—a frequent occurrence—I had less than twenty-four hours, at home before I had to hit the road again. In my rare off-weeks, I spent time with the kids to give Linda a break and keep our family intact—barely.

Adding to these competing demands, I needed some time alone. Being an introvert by nature, my tendency has always been to seek out quiet places when I feel stressed or anxious. Being alone, particularly in natural settings has always been an important way for me to find the center that I lose when I get out of balance. Although I was spending much more time away from Linda than I had ever before, very little of it was quality time alone. And because I was feeling guilty for not being there with her as much as she needed me, I tried to make it up to her by spending as much of my time and energy at home as I could. I didn’t admit to myself how badly I needed time alone or how much I was affected by not getting it.

Early on in my training, Linda and I got into a pattern in which I would come home feeling depleted from having spent so much time interacting with people that I couldn’t wait for some time alone, while Linda was barely able to hold on until I got home so that she could have some connection time that she desperately needed. Our needs were diametrically opposed. It was a setup for disaster, and the results often were disastrous.

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