Above All: I Trust in Me

Have you ever had to let go of or runaway from a relationship because of someone’s addictive and emotionally abusive behavior? I have, and it is a very complicated thing to do.

Yet, as most narcissistic abusers do, because they often suffer from abandonment issues, he eventually found a way to display his unjustifiable anger or contempt at me for leaving the relationship, which was a total contradiction of what he had been telling me all along. Nevertheless, I left quietly, as fast as I could in the moment, in peace, and in a way that did not damage him as a person. It was very heartbreaking, but I was determined to preserve myself after far too many unnecessary arguments, second chances, and a few gentle yet final ultimatums.

I left because I could not sacrifice myself any longer, without further consequence, for a man whose outrageous Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde-like tactics and behaviors kept him from being truly present to me, and – come to find out – for a man who proudly posted online about intentionally “dogging” and hurting women – bragging that he “means them no good,” as he claimed to be “a player,” likening himself to renowned pimp turned writer (who is now deceased), Iceberg Slim.

As I watched his addictions worsen over time and his hateful, dismissive words about women in general that he also, at times, spoke directly to me, I was finally compelled to give up my hope in a sustainable future with him and to go on with my life without him as my intimate partner. I gradually had to set firm limits on his access to me, especially, one day, after he surprisingly said to me (with a text), “we are still the best of friends.” 

Here was the problem with that assertion: in one moment, I was allegedly “the best thing” that ever happened to him; in the next, after a cigar and a few drinks, he was exploding in anger at me for not agreeing with his point of view or for expressing my own opinion and walking out of my apartment in his underwear (and I have the picture to prove it). He was frequently unable to process others’ opinions or listen to those who did not agree with his opinions, some of which were not always based on facts or reliable information (but instead on very disturbing online content, such as MGTOW and Hebrew Israelite misogynistic claims about women and sexual politics). It was very black and white with him: most of the time, even in casual conversations, it was his way or no way.

There were times that I didn’t know whether to call him a friend, an enemy, my partner, a sick person, or a monster; he was all of these “persons” to me at different points in our relationship. In the beginning, we made light of episodes like the underwear incident described above, but when this pattern and other hostile outbursts continued – happening totally without warning – like the time when he came home one hot summer evening in an angry rage, walked right past me as I was seated on the coach, opened the one window (door) we had in the apartment, turned off the air conditioner, and verbally blasted me for running the air in the first place – his hostile behaviors became very, very serious and sad to me. If you have ever loved a person controlled by an addiction, then you probably know how unpredictable and horrifying the roller coaster ride can be.

Like me, you also probably felt very alone or perhaps abandoned by your loved one who was more attentive to their addictions than they were to the care of themselves, i.e., doctors’ and dentists’ appointments. Indeed, we all have addictions that are instigated and complicated by the toxic, capitalistic society in which we live, but our addictions do not have to control us, consume us, or even destroy us and those who love us. It was not unusual for my ex-partner to apologize. With his words he would take “full responsibility” for his actions, but, nothing changed – not in mind or in deed; thus, soon his angry, abusive cycle repeated itself, yet, he was not willing to name his addictions, explore the potential reasons for them, and begin a process of healing; as a result, his addictions were in control.

Let me say it again: soon his angry, abusive cycle repeated itself, yet, he was not willing to name his addictions, explore the potential reasons for them, and begin a process of healing; as a result, his addictions were in control.

Perhaps now, I could say that we are friendly or better yet civil, because there’s no use spending much energy on someone who is in denial about his own addictions, who doesn’t believe that his actions are abusive, and who – deep down – believes his behavior is totally normal, acceptable, or even justified; needless to say, we are not “the best of friends.” That is his version of us, but it is not true; because if we were the “best of friends,” he would not seek to hurt me. In addition, I don’t expect him to be honest with me, for as it’s said, “addicts lie.”

Friendship, as far as I am concerned, is based on love, respect, and trust, not deceit or manipulation. In friendship one does not make a mockery of intimacy, and friends don’t treat each other with contempt or as objects to be “played” with for sex, validation, or a little bit of both.

Frankly, I don’t want to be friends with a man who takes pleasure in harming or “playing” women, psychologically, emotionally, sexually, physically, financially, or in any other way. Though it is often encouraged and tolerated in the patriarchal culture in which we live, men who prey and play upon women to manipulate them for their own profit or benefit (for social or personal recognition) exhibit predator-like behavior, which is criminal in my book. It is not unusual for this to happen between younger women and older men who feel entitled and thus superior on the basis of age, and perhaps with their money and material possessions, which they use to justify their manipulative and pedophile-like actions. This is one of the many nasty yet everyday examples where malevolent patriarchal power is openly articulated in social and personal (intimate) terms – and, sadly, it is widely accepted, even by women.

On the one hand, it was hard in the early phases of my leaving the relationship to close the door on a man that I once believed in and trusted. We had a powerful connection, and we shared a lot of ourselves with each other. We both articulated a shared hope for the future; for a long time, it was mutually difficult to let go. I experienced the beautiful and humane parts of him as well. And, he shared with me the traumas – the wounds – that troubled him. Honestly, I did not want to fix him, rather, I wanted to understand him, for as the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “understanding is the foundation of love.”

On the other hand, I did not want to accept the scary, abusive parts of him. I wanted to believe that he could be better, and thus the man that I wanted and needed him to be, and, Maybe (with a capital “M”) he wanted to believe that he was capable of being someone other than who he really was. There were many tender moments where he would say, “I am not a player,” and, of course, it was always great to hear those words. But after watching the same addictive and abusive behaviors play out for the umpteenth time with little to no willingness on his part to change – even after a significant health emergency – it dawned on me that he did not know how to not be a player – and everything that goes along with that. Being a player was the dominant way that he came to understand and value himself. Unfortunately, his emotionally abusive words and actions, driven by his addictions and his propensity to embody a player’s attitude about women and intimate relationships, gradually chipped away at my ability to believe in him and in our ability to be together, long term.

Very early on in our relationship, he told me that most of his dominant and greatest teachers and icons were players and those (including women) who unabashedly exploited and devalued women to get the stuff and recognition that they wanted in life, but he did not claim a desire to be like them… until he was drunk. Conceptually, when I stopped making excuses for him, and it was clear that his mindset was no different than his misogynistic and abusive influences, I conceded that enough was finally enough.

I did not want to have a front row seat to the unfolding of what looked to me like a pseudo suicide attempt, nor did I have the stomach or the time to be intimately involved with a man who defined himself, women, and life in general from the street-logic standpoint of a player. I knew that I deserved better. In addition, I personally know men who were raised with similar influences in life, yet they do not try to emulate or mimic the destructive, hateful habits of their predecessors. Just because a young boy is raised around male toxicity does not mean he has to accept it or embrace it as a man. Furthermore, none of us is required to stay bound to the mistakes or bad expressions of the generation before us or those who raised us. This is what growing up is all about.

Anyone who knows me knows that I work hard to live in truth and to line it up with my actions. I try my best to trust my gut, above everything and everybody – with the exception of the times when trust in myself has reached its limits or is not possible. But, there were a lot of times in this relationship when I set aside my gut feelings in an effort to try again or give it one more chance. I do not beat myself up about that because it kind of goes with the territory of loving an alcoholic; there are many do-overs and stops and starts. However, it was liberating to get to the point where I did not second guess myself or what was really happening.

Eventually, I ran out of f***s chances to give, and I decided to get “off the merry-go-round,” but it was not without warning. Months before I left, I looked him right in the face, after a difficult night before, and said I’m not doing it again. He acknowledged me, said he understood and that he loved me. A few months later, we were back to the same results, so I kept my word and let go: I got off the merry-go-round.

Indeed, there are still times when it hurts – badly – because I lost someone who was precious to me, but knowing that I stood my ground and believed in what I was feeling, above all other feelings – even the good ones – helps me get through my feelings of grief. Without a doubt, I am grateful that I did what I needed to do to reclaim and preserve my life, not to mention my sanity. Trusting myself above any of the voices that were in my ear (even the well-intentioned ones) – so that I could gather the courage to stand up for myself, breakthrough my own denial, and “detach in love” from an intimate partner – who claimed to love me – but who in reality was narcissistic, self-destructive and emotionally abusive – has been one of my greatest and hardest lessons.

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Be Who You Are, Not What You Do

The things that I do for a living do not make me who I am. I work, primarily, so that I have money to pay my bills. On the one hand, my work is – to some degree – a reflection of who I am and what I value in life. On the other hand, and this is something that I believe we have all learned during the Coronavirus pandemic, is that work (as in a job) is temporal. It is time- sensitive and often limited by the environment in which we live, whether we understand that or not.

I know people who define themselves by the work that they do (or for more superficial reasons such as the benefits of work, i.e., money, prestige, power, material possessions). But what happens when that work dries up or goes away? Who would they be if their day-to-day work duties came to an end through no fault of their own, or through some fault of their own? It is good to take pride in our work, but it is even more important that we learn to define and express ourselves by what is within us, as opposed to what is outside or around us. And, we must know that who we are is not contingent upon what we do for a living, rather who we are is contingent on the beings that we are deep down inside.

There are people who I know in life who define themselves by the work that they do day-to-day on “the job.” Often, those very same people are workaholics, which is, as I have been told, one of the most acceptable yet destructive addictions that a person can have. Because, without that work, they feel meaningless, worthless, and very lost (in a world of so many possibilities). These very same people, who display so much pride and ego about their jobs may easily feel like nothing if and when their jobs come to a complete halt (and so do the things that that work provided). And, this should tell us something about their character, huh? Perhaps they lack the ability (or the courage) to reinvent themselves when life calls on them to create new ways of being and doing; and, unfortunately, that work and those things are what they use to define themselves. It does not have to be that way. 

In summary, who we are is connected to our character, which is an intangible thing and something that we develop over time, ever since the day that we came into this world. Are you a lover of trees or nature; are you a friend to the broken-hearted or the homeless; are you a fighter for peace and justice, or a natural-born leader? Are you a person who genuinely wants the good or advancement of others?

Or, are you only concerned about yourself and your earthly possessions? Do you misuse and abuse others? Is it easier for you to hate than to love? Of course, I know people who do not know who they are; or, they pretend that they are someone who they are not, usually to (cowardly) get what they want. These people do a lot of damage to themselves and to others.

Whoever you are, it is our character that will reveal who we are: good, bad, or in-between. To be sure, I do know some people who are genuinely good. That is, they are in touch with their own sense of self, which can exist on its own, apart from work, others, and the environments in which we live. Of course, character comes out in word, but most of all it is articulated in our deeds. Yes, the work that we do on a day-to-day basis may be a reflection of our character, or maybe it is not. It all depends on how and why that work is needed. Perhaps the work that we do today for ourselves simply sets the stage for what is to come later, or maybe the work we do today will last for a lifetime. Only you can be the judge and the jury for the place or value that work will take in your life. But, in times of uncertainty, it is always important to remember to be who you are, not what you do.

©2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.