Last week, I ran into this 6 word story in a listicle:
Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.
and when I reached this story, I sort of froze inside. How many times have I experienced this? Too many? Just the right amount?
Not enough times?
Someone I used to think fairly well of used to say that relationships ending isn’t always a bad thing. A transition of a relationship from one thing to another is often good, and I have people in my life who have transitioned from lover to friend (and sometimes back again) and other transitions, in various directions, numerous times. I am on very good terms (even if we have often grown distant) with most of my previous lovers and partners, with a few glaring exceptions. Some people I thought I would never speak to again are now people I’m closest to. Others, who I thought I’d never be apart from, are now strangers.
Nonetheless there have been a number of relationships that have ended where even a friendship could not be maintained. Sometimes it was due to a mistake, miscommunication, or other problem one one or both of our parts, but quite often it was just because things changed, and our relationship changed. And, sometimes, we drift apart completely.
And, in time, no matter how I felt at the time, perspective is gained. Time heals all wounds? Maybe.
And sometimes that perspective provides greater truth and understanding, but not always. Sometimes, our own biases create stories that leave our memory of a person, and what happened with them, as a work of creative fiction. And while I try to avoid this (as all decent people try to do), I am as susceptible as anyone else (although I suspect I think about this more than most).
And through this process of greater understanding, perspective, and internal narrative creation I have come to look back on some relationships as failures (on one or both of our parts), some as escapes from something terrible, and some as really stupid misunderstandings which cannot be fixed because of one or both of our feelings (often pride and hurt).
Sometimes it’s just best to walk away, and leave a stupid situation be stupid, even if it’s for stupid reasons.
It’s frustrating, but there’s little we can, in general, do about it.
The last year
My life has changed very significantly in the last year. I was married, and now I’m not. 2014 was a tumultuous one of a household breaking up, dealing with unwanted drama, and all the people involved acting pretty terrible (yes, all of us. Some much more than others). And then my marriage went to shit (long before she left), partially due to the immense amount of tension from that situation, and it left me feeling unstable and perceptually afraid and hurt. Eventually, everything was awful and I suffered through months of the deepest depression I have ever known.
Now, I speak to none of the people I used to think of as my poly family two years ago, and have no desire to be involved with any of them again. I do not expect that to change, but I leave that to the future. I believe that nobody, no matter how awful, is completely beyond redemption. I’m just not holding my breath for any of them.
And I think I’m better off that way.
I never wanted to be divorced, so I waited to get married until a little later in life, and married someone I thought was someone who would be a good partner. I was wrong. The transition has been painful, anger-inducing, but mostly just disappointing. But I’m happier now than I have been in years, and I have, in fact, learned and grown significantly.
Anyone reading this who continues to scapegoat me as an abusive asshole can fuck themselves right off a cliff. I made mistakes, and I have always admitted my responsibility, and I will not accept your brushstrokes as reality. I’m not afraid of you, the truth, nor of myself (that, in itself, was a huge step for me). I accept the nuances that we all erred, we all had reason to be angry and hurt, and I can only hope that time will offer all of us the wisdom that it was all stupid and avoidable, even if not salvageable.
I’m responsible for my journey, and I will leave you all responsible for your own.
Am I angry? Damn right I am. But most days, now, I’m not. Most days, I’m actually doing very well. But I am angry, sometimes, and it’s for very good reason. The transition to get here has been shitty, but enlightening. And the goal is not to rid myself of the anger (that would be pointless to try, anyway), but to focus on the future rather than the past. The past is for learning, not for living.
The hardest part of the transition was forcing myself to remember that I made mistakes and hurt people. It’s so easy to allow the self-defensive narrative to write itself in my own head. Yeah, this person was awful in this way, and they did this, but I also fucked up. The other side of that is not taking all the responsibility; to stop punishing myself for mistakes I made because those mistakes happened in a specific circumstance, and I can learn both from the circumstance and from knowing how it felt to be responsible for hurting someone who trusted me and cared about me.
People who are now strangers.
And so I kept asking myself a set of questions; OK, so I fucked up. Now what? Am I going to stay the person who made that mistake or am I going to change? Am I going to solely blame others, or take responsibility? (those two are really the same question). Am I going to hide in a hole, allowing mistakes to define my whole life? Am I going to accept unquestioning support from people who sometimes said to me “they aren’t worth your time,” they are assholes,” “fuck them” or will I ask them to help me better understand what I did wrong and what I need to do going forward? When the people around you just tell you what you want to hear and feed the tribalistic impulses we all have, that’s not friendship or love; that’s part of what keeps narcissism alive.
And, perhaps most importantly for me, am I going to keep punishing myself, or am I going to remember that I made those mistakes because I was hurting, and because I tolerated people hurting to me for too long. Because I understand why I made those mistakes; I didn’t defend my boundaries and I allowed resentment turn into anger, and anger turn into being mean to people I cared about. Abuse happens for a reason, and where I have acted abusively I will simultaneously accept responsibility and fix the cause; and the cause is not that I’m an abusive person inherently, it’s that I am a person who has experienced abuse myself, over many years, and that cycle has to stop somewhere.
The Quakers have a saying, as part of one of the songs I learned while in (hippie) school;
“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
Well, let the cycle end with me. I will try, every day, to no longer pass on the pain given to me by others because, as I have been working on for months now, I will defend the boundaries I need for myself better. I will no longer allow resentment and hurt build up until I hurt someone because they are (or someone else is) hurting me. In other words, I will not punish myself nor others for any pain, from any source. I don’t accept the threats of punishment from an illusory god, and I will not accept the punishment for an illusory sense of personal justice. When I, previously, saw the response to being hurt or injured as Justice rather than compassion, I internalized the same megalomaniacal fury of an insecure bronze-age god (YHWH/Allah/Elohim/etc) that I have been decrying for years.
Hypocritical as shit, I know. But at least I’m figuring it out now.
(I’ll point out, here, that Nietzsche has been trying to tell me that for years, but I wasn’t seeing it clearly enough. Thanks, Nieztsche, for trying.)
And I have never felt better about myself, my relationships, and my future. There will always be work to do, but I’m no longer controlled by the pain I have dealt with all of my life. And I no longer, as I said, fear myself. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it did happen. I’m supremely glad about that, because being afraid of oneself is, perhaps, worse than hating oneself (which I have also experienced).
Coming clean and moving forward
I have made some pretty awful mistakes in my life. Most recently, I hit my ex wife with a pillow and yelled some pretty awful things at her while I was immensely hurt and angry at her for reasons which are not relevant here, mostly because they are not excuses. I still have nightmares about it ever since, although they are increasingly rare these days. And while many people close to me have sympathized with my own pain, and in some cases even argued that what I did was not bad enough to warrant the marriage ending, that is not my nor their decisions. No matter how much I disagree with that decision and wished there had been any room to try to go a different direction, I have done my best to respect it and made no attempt to fight the request for a divorce.
And now it’s all over. I’m mostly OK with that, I just wish it had been possible to make the divorce a transition, rather than an ending. I simply could not accept the terms I was given, to make it a transition. Had I accepted the terms I saw in front of me to try and rebuild a friendship, I would have been capitulating to what I saw as a lie. I will defend my boundaries, where previously my insecurity would have sacrificed by thoughts, feelings, and very self in order to save the relationship. That will never happen again.
Due to that same insecurity, I’ve lived through many relationships with people who were terrible to me in many ways. And rather than create firm boundaries I allowed my resentment, anger, and fear to build up until I would throw a stool, hit someone with a pillow, and yell hurtful things.
And then, of course, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on in pointing out my own pain because I’ve moved the attention to myself. I throw a stool, so it doesn’t matter if this guy is being an asshole and making other people’s lives a living hell. He can just point to the stool I threw, and now I’m the focus.
Or, I hit her with a pillow so now all the reasons I had for being furious with her are irrelevant and can be brushed off and ignored.
That’s been the pattern, most of my life and with too many people. Not in all cases, mind you, but especially with people who trigger certain insecurities within me. Had I not buried the anger, allowed resentment to build, and let fear govern it all I could have avoided the outbursts and the alienation I felt.
I have understood aspects of this over years, but it is more clear to me now, after the least few years, than previously. And I will work on, every day, making sure that this cycle is not perpetuated.
To whom it may concern
So, those of you who are reading this and don’t trust me, think I’m an abusive person, or who might continue to make my mistakes the primary story…well OK. Cool story, bro. But we define ourselves not only by our decisions and mistakes, but also by how we respond to them. I will not ignore or merely dismiss your accusations and judgments, but i will only accept them as part of the story (unless they are true fabrications, which I have also had to deal with). I will learn from you, even if you have no interest in helping me, because there might be some truth to what you say, even if it is biased, embellished, or malicious. If I ignore that, I am merely pushing the narrative closer to my own comfort zone. That won’t stop the cycle, but merely inches along rather than strides towards growth.
Changing just enough as you have to is almost as bad as not changing at all.
And I will offer the same to you (all of you, out there). If you have made, or continue to make, mistakes, my judgment of your character will also be informed by how you respond, and not merely what you did. We all hurt people, to varying degrees. Own it, grow, and in time those you hurt may forgive you. In some cases, they never will. That’s hard.
Finally, those of you who have been there for me over the last year (or years, in some cases), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all, and I owe you a lot for your listening, emotional support, and trusting me enough to see that I am not the person that others say I am or are afraid that I am. You believed that I cannot be defined by my mistakes, and made an effort to see me through the work I had to do, when it would have been far easier to abandon me. You understood that if you really believed that I could grow beyond a set of mistakes, learn from them, and truly grow and heal, you had to stick around to see it.
Alternatively, If you said that you believed I could get through this but made no attempt to stick around….
Then perhaps you are not the person you think you are either.
I know who I am, and I like that person a lot.