January 15, 2010 by Susan J. Elliott
I have to say that lately I’ve been hearing A LOT about people taking WAY too much responsibility for not being “understanding” enough because their partner had some sort of “condition” (ADHD, depression, grief, mental illness, alcoholism, etc etc etc).
People who are suffering from any one thing have two responsibilities: 1) to get help for it and 2) to not abuse or use or mistreat anyone while they are suffering.
There are NO excuses for abusing or mistreating anyone. I don’t care who you are or what your affliction is. You have no right. Not for a day, an hour, or a second.
When drinking he was an horribly abusive, belligerent crazy person. Yes, I loved the sober guy but to have that I had to put up with getting punched in the mouth (literally, not figuratively) and called every name in the book and have all my possessions destroyed when he was drinking.
For a long time (I was a teenager), I split this person all the time and stayed deeply in love with the sober person and deeply in denial about his drunken explosions. I just lived for the times he was calm and loving and fun to be around.
I justified and excused his drunkenness. One night we were out and he was so drunk. It was pouring rain and we stopped at a place where there was just a dirt driveway. We got out and he slipped in the mud and passed out. He was a big guy and I worked diligently in the mud and pouring rain to get him inside. It took hours and when we were finally inside I was muddy, cold and bleeding. He woke in the morning without a single memory of the horror that was the previous night.
Years later I recounted this story in Al-anon and one of the people there said, “you should have left him in the mud.” Wow. REALLY? Yeah, really.
Over the years I have learned to leave people in their self-inflicted mud. I’ve had boyfriends who were confused, depressed, commitmentphobic or some such thing. My first inclination is to deny and try to fix. To be the helper. To turn myself into whatever you need me to be to get you over whatever. I had a boyfriend who was younger than me in the first year after my divorce. His parents, Ozzie and Harriet, had not raised him in wll-heeled, white-bread suburbia and sent him to the finest schools so that he could drag home a gutter snipe (their words) from the Bronx: a 31 year old divorced women with 3 kids and no college degree.
For a while I thought of giving custody to the MoAB. Maybe they were right…maybe asking another man to raise my kid was wrong. Then he objected to my dog and it was in the middle of trying to place my dog, my beloved dog, that my brain snapped back into place.
WHAT??? Give up my children? Give up my dog?
The anger just shot through me.
People will let you give up anything you are willing to give up…friends, kids, money, jobs, yourself, your feelings.
No one has the duty to protect you except you. And if you don’t, the world will let you play the fool. Go ahead.
After stupid relationship above, I threw — THREW — myself into codependent recovery. I stopped my codependent ways and my tendency to use someone else’s weaknesses to make myself not appear as crazy as I felt that I was. I took care of ME which included my tendency to explain, justify and excuse bad behavior of THEIRS.
Over the years, as I got well, looney tunes and looney tunes behavior disappeared from my life. You get what you put up with and I don’t put up with very much. I found 2 long-term committed relationships with mature men who loved me and my dog and my kids. And me. Just as I was. Especially Michael who adored me and my kids and came to love my cats even though he’s not a cat person.
But because people in my life tend to be well-behaved, I have had the experience of having to “catch up” when someone suddenly starts acting like a doofus.
Entry June 2008:
Which brings me to now. A person that I love dearly has begun (for about a month or so) to engage in baffling behavior and attempts to discuss said baffling behavior go unresponded to. I have tried to speak nicely and when that didn’t work, engaged in a bit of yelling.
Okay–a lot of yelling. Then I calmed down and tried to engage in some talking and asked this person if they had any response whatsoever and the person said that there was no point to talking because I would scream and yell.
Wait a minute. I said, “I talked calmly and there was no response. I was frustrated and yelled. Yes, I own that behavior and any and all possible consequences but you didn’t respond when I didn’t yell.”
Wait a minute. I’m justifying this. Defending. Explaining. Crap. Old me to the defense of me kicked right in. Amazing.
Time to withdraw.
The next day try some new, tactful engagement.
Houston, we have a problem.
My anxiety levels go up. My obsessive thinking/wanting-to-fix everything kicks in. Abandonment issues start flying up in my face. I notice it’s sometimes hard to breathe. Anxiety. Grief. I notice that heavy chest feeling. I have a Ph.D. in heavy chest feeling.
For years I was controlled by the anxiety that under-reactors promote in me. For years I would scream and yell and carry on and try so hard to get a reaction. My therapist said I couldn’t switch gears.
And she was right. Once the anxiety kicked in, I was off to the races. Standing on my head, pulling out my hair, verbally grasping for THE THING TO SAY that is gong to get a response. I can’t afford to go there. My father, passive and unyielding, would do nothing and my mother would be so in a tizzy that she would be off to drown herself or swallow all the pills in the bathroom. Even then my father did nothing. Then I grew up to be the crazy lady and what was I going to do? Swallow pills? Even THAT didn’t get her a reaction. Why would it work for me?
Being faced with a nothing response when I deserve a response makes me crazy. My brain goes places. My anxiety spins me like a top. My grief spot in my chest starts to hurt. All from nothing. All from someone doing nothing.
Whoa whoa whoa.
I said “I can’t take this behavior and this is going to endanger my ability to be in your life if it continues.” Said person says, “what I can’t be quiet for a while? I have to answer everything everyone says? Just because you want to talk means I should want to?”
Note to self: notice broad sweeping, bordering on martyrdom response.
hmmmm…there is really no way around this. Restate the position that I tried talking nicely, I did yell, I don’t have anything to go on. Response to me: I have the right to not talk about something.
Well in my world you exercising that right triggers all my STUFF. Stuff I’ve worked hard to keep in check. Stuff I’ve worked hard to work out but still exists on some level and is there and can go crazy 5 minutes before my healthy self realizes what is going on. I’m in the emotional stew before my healthy, well therapized, well-read, healthy self knows what is going on when stuff triggers that stew.
is that stuff…that old stuff…
I want to shake this person and scream, “TELL ME WHAT YOU ARE THINKING! TELL ME WHY YOU ARE ACTING LIKE THIS!!”
I could cajole, manipulate, lecture and scream one more time. But I don’t want to engage in that sort of thing. When I say “We need to talk about this” I expect talking to take place. Without games. If this is not a good time then when. Not stonewalling. Not “I have the right to not talk.” Not nonsense and bizarro world.
You have the right to not talk but I have the right to be treated well. In fact, I insist on it. Being upset, depressed, disinterested, uncommitted does not give you the right to treat me like crap. EVER. And if I put up with that, I’m a fool.
And I won’t. Because I’m not.
I want to know what prompted this shift in someone I thought I knew. What prompted this behavior in someone that I would have bet my house would never act like this. I think and think and I can’t come up with anything.
I remember my old saying when I was dating “Anyone is capable of anything at any time.” and I think, “I hate when I’m right.” I don’t like the things this behavior is bringing up in me…the other people who acted like this…I don’t want to think this person is going to suffer a similar fate but for my own sanity…I think that might be the case. Crap. I hate endings. But I hate being made crazy for no reason that I know even more.
Yes, you have rights. You have the right to be quiet and be crazy and be obstinate and say nothing. Yes you have those rights. And more! Look up the Constitution.
But I have rights too. And that right is to not put up with stuff-triggering things that make me crazy. Even if that thing is nothing. Even if what you are doing is labeled “Nothing” as in “What am I doing? I’m sitting here minding my own business! What am I doing? Nothing!” Well, nothing makes me pretty crazy. It makes most people crazy but abandonment/neglect/passive “just doing nothing” father/crazy mother people REALLY crazy.
And you have the right to be that way. And I have the right to not accept it.
You have the right to swing your arm and flap like a bird and act like a nut. But your right to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose.
Once your right impinges my right, we have a problem.
And we have a problem.
Right now my duty to myself is to take care of myself and that is to distance myself from someone who is not responding to anything I say. For me, the only way to NOT engage and act like the crazy person running after the emotionally withdrawn is to completely disengage and keep up the self-talk that I WILL NOT play this game.
And while that person has the right to not respond and not engage…no one can make anyone do anything they don’t want to…I have the right to say, “This is not okay for me.” and to do what I need to do NO MATTER WHAT YOU THINK OF IT to take care of me. Am I overreacting to your underreaction? Maybe. For every underreaction there IS an overreaction.
But before I label it or judge it or figure it out, I need to move away from this situation because you keep swinging your arms without respect for my nose. I am detaching, disengaging and not dealing with this. Just taking care of me and maintaining my dignity.
To allow this to go on is to be disloyal to ME and to the standards I deserve in my life. If you think you can do anything you like to me whenever you like for as long as you like then I have failed in conveying what I deserve to the world. And I won’t fail me. Never ever again.
The price is too high and nothing and no one is worth my dignity. NOTHING.
I am a woman of grace and dignity and will not accept being treated less than that. EVER.
End of story.