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.

When You Are Loved

You will know when someone loves you and wants you in their life

When they make themselves present and available to you,

When they tell you about their day and how it went, but they also want to hear about you and your feelings;

They will want to be there for you, emotionally

Because the power of love makes room for reciprocity.

Most of all, when you are loved, they will show you that they care about you in word and in deed.

When you are loved, you will be a priority:

The first thing in the morning, and the last on their mind at night.

You will be to them like a light at the end of a dark tunnel,

Like an oasis in the middle of the desert or a dry place.

And, when you are loved, it will be hard to go for a day without you.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

On the Spelling of My Name and the Seeds of Change

I have been spelling my name in lowercase letters for at least a decade; come to think about it, it has probably been closer to two decades than it is to one. All these years, embracing the spelling of my name has been my signature, my trademark. Looking back, I was first inspired to modify the spelling and thus the visualization of my name on papers and publications to lowercase letters because of bell hooks. Her critical thoughts and writings on feminism, love, men, power and many other issues had such a profound impact upon me that I decided to put my newly recognized consciousness out in public – and as a passive but powerful way of identifying with feminism as a way of thinking and being. At the time, I must admit, I really did not realize the power of what I was doing.

Recently, I was “advised” by someone associated with an academic organization that I needed to use the uppercase A and the uppercase F if I anticipated my name being publicized or in print. This directive, made by a white woman (who I knew formerly and casually) did not sit well with me. And that it came via email didn’t help matters either. Initially, I thought, was this advice or a threat? I wondered why she felt the need to tell me what to do with my own name. And, I wondered what was coming next. Maybe, I imagined, she would feel familiar or superior enough to me to tell me what to wear or where to sit. Since she knew of me from academic circles, it baffled me that she needed or wanted to tell me what to do with my own name; as if somehow she thought that I did not know. Of course, I responded to her just as boldly and confidently as she came to me, but I also thought that perhaps it is time for a blog on the spelling of my name, just in case others were having similar thoughts or urges.

First, the spelling of my name is mine, all mine. I don’t expect others to use lowercase letters to spell my name. But, every chance that I get to control the look (and feel) of my name, I use lowercase letters. One of the first public experiences that I had with this was in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had just given a lecture at what is now the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and a local newspaper reporter asked me how to spell my name. In addition to getting the spelling correct, I also asked if the “A” and the “F” could be written in lowercase. Much to my surprise, and at least for that particular local journalist, using lowercase letters was not a problem, and so he published it as I requested. Seeing my name published in the local newspaper the next day in lowercase letters was very important and very powerful. It was an affirmation of my own identity, and it was a declaration, one that let other people know – in a very public or political way – that the spelling of my name was and is ultimately up to me.

Aside from the”bell hooksian” influence on the spelling of my name, there are a few reasons that I have continued to spell my name in lowercase letters. The first is that spelling my name in lowercase letter is a visual reminder to me of all the seemingly insignificant things that I did in life to get to where I am today. By no means do I think that I have done all that I can do, but I have accomplished a lot. I have also had the awesome privilege of traveling alone in and out of this country and taking charge of my own future or destiny. Sometimes, when I look back at those little things, including the places where I lived or worked, I am blown away. I have been through many ups, downs, stops and starts, and, of course, I did not get there all alone, but seeing my name in smallcase letters always brings me to a deeper appreciation  of my life’s journey and of the power that I have because of that journey.

Another reason that I spell my name in lowercase letters is related to the connection between the personal and the political. The more that I spelled my name in lowercase letters in print, the more that I was asked about the spelling of my name. Who knew that such a small thing could have such an impact! Consequently, the (re)spelling of my name brought me to the realization that even the smallest change to the social order of things or the status quo is always noticed. Indeed, I know how to construct a grammatically correct sentence. I know that breaking the rules with the spelling my name in all lowercase letters will be seen by many as incorrect, improper, and perhaps, need I say, DISOBEDIENT! And that is it precisely. Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a type of stand or attitude; it is a personal manifesto that speaks to popular thinking about women and identity. Spelling my name the way that I want to spell it is simply a way of accepting and loving myself. But, it is also my way of letting people know that I am not a follower, although I am totally capable of collaborating with others on various projects and programs. I don’t always need to be out front and in charge, but I have always been a leader. I have always been womanish in attitude and expression, or, as Alice Walker says about womanism; a womanist is “serious and in charge!” Others may disagree with me or reject the spelling that I give my name, and they may make it “proper” for personal or institutional purposes, but at the end of the day, I am in charge of my life, my actions, my body, and, of course, I am in charge of saying or determining who I am. How I spell my name is up to me, alone. Yes, it may seem like such a small or unnecessary thing to say, but control over my name, the power to name myself and thus to know myself is a powerful freedom, and I take that freedom very seriously, just as other black women, like Audre Lorde, have done without shame and without apology.

Most people don’t break the rules. We live in a society where conformity is the name of the game. People keep the peace; on the job and beyond, they often engage in groupthink and peacemaking. Even with all that women and men have been through, especially black women, by and large, people don’t “rock the boat.” Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a passive yet strong way of saying that I am not afraid to break the rules. I am not afraid to walk down a new path if necessary. When I look at people who cling to the rules without a willingness to question them or perhaps change them, I see followers. This is both sad and disappointing situation because a great many of the rules, laws and practices that govern us actually need to be changed or broken. Many of the rules that dictate our living and our being, at the least, need to be challenged, or at least questioned. When people express a desire to control how I spell my name, it lets me know that they are probably not willing to make a change, not even in the small matters of their own lives. And, if they are not willing to start with changing self, I doubt very seriously if they will be willing to challenge the order of things when it comes to bigger matters, such as sexism, such as racism, such as heterosexism. When people do not model change or plant the seeds of change when it comes to their own affairs, it is doubtful that they will do it for others.

I should not have to say this, but one of the things that the world  desperately needs is people who really are willing to be the agents of change. The world needs bold, brave change agents, not the so-called change agents or change makers who merely appropriate the rhetoric or talk of change during election season in order to get votes. Today, many are appropriating the word “change-agent” or “change-maker,” but there is little doubt in my mind that many of those very same people would also be the first ones to tell me or others to “go along to get along” if they could. If they could get away with it, I believe they would tell me and others – the ones they may attempt to control –  to know and stay “in our “place.” Yet, the place they want others to stay in is often the place that makes them comfortable or secure in life. And, what they tell others to do is often a reflection of their own self-esteem or self-image: stuck.

By contrast, I don’t require others to spell my name in lowercase letters, but I don’t let others tell me what to do or how to spell my name so that they will feel better about themselves or what it says about their day to day choices. Fortunately, we live in a country that allegedly values “the freedom of speech.” And, that freedom applies to the spelling of one’s name. I feel free to model that freedom to name myself in my personal and in my public life, which are very interconnected. In the (re)spelling of my name I also model what it means to be in control and accountable for who I am.

Last month I watched the politicians and pundits claim to be the agents or makers of change. Yet, I don’t see how they are much different from who or what has gone before them. To be an agent of change you’ve got to be willing to change yourself. If you are not willing to change, if you don’t know the power of changing things on your own, how in the world can you expect or require change from anybody else? And, if you are quick to tell others where to go, what to do and what to do when they get there, then I doubt that you will allow yourself to get out of place for a worthy cause (and perhaps not even for an unworthy cause). These days, there’s a whole lot of talk about change, but that talk is often just what it is: talk.

Oh how I wish that more people would be willing to break the rules and get out of the places that people and society have constructed for them to be. I long to see people who lead and from a place inside of them that is authentic and thus political (or socially responsible). Donald Trump, for example, is the antithesis of authenticity and accountability. He uses the rhetoric of change yet promotes the ideas and nostalgia of a troubled American past. What former greatness does he want to revive or replicate? Yes, there were times in my past that I was pretty good, but the person that I have become today is much better, stronger and confident. There is actually no part of my past to which I would like to return. Indeed, I look back and I learn, but life is moving forward, not backward. My being who I am today is based on my ability to grow and  learn from my past mistakes and successes; yearning for something that I once did, for the person I once was, or for the life I once experienced would indicate to me that there is some preoccupation or unfinished business that I have with regard to my past. Perhaps, in some weird, twisted kind-of-way those who want to go back and revive the past, like Trump and his followers, really are preoccupied by something that is back there. Clearly, for better or for worse, they have some preoccupation or attachment to the persons, places or things of the past that they remember. Maybe they want to fix something that was broken in the past; or, perhaps they want to repair some damage that was done in the past, or maybe they have regrets. As far as I am concerned, I cannot fix the past; no one can. But, what I do with the present and what happens in the future depends on my ability to interpret the past accurately and then to plant the seeds of change that will bring forth powerful and better futures.

To the would-be and rising change agents out there, I must say that you cannot bring forth better futures if you keep looking back, longing for what was once there. To feel the power of change, to be a powerful agent of change, you have to be willing to break  the rules, to cross lines and usually that means you will be in the minority and perhaps alone. Don’t be fooled by those who merely talk about change, because to be a  true change-agent or a change-maker you’ve got to be willing to be in a new place, not the old. Indeed, it is not easy being in a new place, or being in the minority. But please know that today, more than ever, if we are going to create powerful and better futures, we desperately need those who are bold enough and brave enough to spell their own names.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Kim Socha for Writing Such a Liberating Book!

Every now and then I am asked to support the work of other writers and artists, and most of the time I am thrilled to do it when the author or the artist is actively engaged in promoting freedom and ending oppression, domination and abuse. Recently I was asked by Dr. Kim Socha, who is an educator and an activist, to write a blurb for her forthcoming book, Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed, which will be available on Amazon on October 7th, 2014 (published by Freethought House).

About a decade ago, I was a vegetarian, but it was primarily for health reasons; I wanted a healthier diet, which today is a very popular idea to embrace. In recent years, I hadn’t thought much of vegetarianism or veganism, but, after reading the advance copy of Dr. Socha’s book, I must say that I am seriously reconsidering my food consumption habits from a whole new point of view, and with atheism in mind – as an ethical/conceptual framework. Upon receiving the advance copy, I found many similarities between Kim and myself, but I also came to respect her for being a scholar-activist in her own right in spite of the challenges and the hostilities that she has encountered from loyal meat (flesh)-eaters. In addition, I was keenly aware and appreciative of the way in which some academicians and some of us with PhDs are not hiding in the shadows. We are making our ideas and voices heard in the public square and articulating education as “the practice of liberation” (Paulo Freire).

Thank you Kim for giving me and all those who will read your book so much to consider about the narratives and ethics we employ to justify human domination over non-human animals. Although I have much to learn about veganism, I support your efforts to stand up to the myths that have enabled us to do harm to non-human animals in the name of human survival and nutrition. And, I am inspired that you are challenging the treatment of non-human animals as an atheist! Indeed, there are many who cannot fathom that one can be morally good and atheist at the same time, which is often an attitude exhibited by religious narcissists and fanatics who are gripped by fear, paranoia and an unrelenting desire for immortality (when, in fact, most violent and abusive crime in the U.S. – and beyond – is committed by theists).

For those of you who follow my blog, it is without a doubt that I recommend Kim Socha’s bold, new book, and I applaud and stand in solidarity with her for daring to dismantle the myths that have informed and dominated our eating habits to the point where we are not really as free as we think we are. This book is a reminder that liberation is something that we must strive for each and every day for ourselves and on behalf of others, and especially for those who cannot defend themselves against violent, malevolent powers . For more about this book, or to learn about it on Facebook, please follow this link!

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.