Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Mentally Ill Are Just as Responsible For Their Behavior as Anyone Else

responsibilityRecently, Greta Christina has asked whether the mentally ill are responsible for their behavior.

On the one hand: We cut sick people slack. We don’t hold them as responsible for their behavior as we do healthy people. We understand that sick people can’t always keep promises; can’t always do their share; get irritable; lose their temper. We understand that it’s the illness causing this behavior. We get angry at the illness, not at the people. And mental illnesses — including alcoholism and other drug addictions — are illnesses.

On the other hand: There’s a limit to that. We cut people some slack if they’re sick, but we don’t cut them infinite slack. We’d probably cut a sick person slack for losing their temper and snapping at their spouse, but we wouldn’t cut them slack for losing their temper and beating their spouse with a tire iron. We would condemn that. And rightly so.

Greta’s analysis ends up inconclusive. I empathize with Greta’s struggle, but I do not identify with it, mostly because I don’t really understand the question. What is meant by holding someone responsible? Is she talking about punishing people for wrongdoing? Moral disapproval? Shaming? Is she talking about responsibility in the personal sense or the collective sense? Mostly, she seems to be asking whether it is justified to get angry at people for exhibiting symptoms of their mental illnesses.

Most of my confusion is due to the lense Greta is using. She seems to be acting under the assumption that people should be blamed for actions that are within their control and absolved for actions that are not. I do not view the world this way.

I do not believe in free will. All of the available evidence suggests that the choices we make are the result of purely physical processes that are subject to the law of cause and effect and the laws of physics just like all other physical processes. When we talk about “making choices,” we’re talking about a physical process by which our brain is responding to stimulus and outputting commands to the rest of our bodies (and other parts of the brain). The process is fantastically complicated and impossible to fully understand at our current level of neuroscience, but that does not suggest that the process is anything but a physical chain of cause and effect. It often makes sense to treat people (and ourselves) as if free will existed, as the attitudes and expectations that flow from such treatment are often beneficial. However, recognizing that the concept of free will is merely a useful heuristic is important, especially when dealing with moral/ethical questions.

Calvin Free Will

Because I don’t believe in free will, it makes no sense to me to distinguish morally between actions that are freely chosen and actions that we are compelled to do by our brain chemistry. Everything we do is compelled by our brain chemistry. Mental illnesses are not distinguished in this way. Mental illnesses are just certain patterns that we’ve recognized as sub-optimal and (hopefully) developed treatment for. The difference between someone who behaves badly because of mental illness and a person who behaves badly because they are a jerk is merely that the former has treatment options and medical science available to help. Reasons are not excuses, and we should not treat them as such.

Because I don’t believe in free will, I attach no objective moral character to people’s actions. When talking about optimal ways to behave, I generally use the term “ethics,” because I think that it better suggests that I’m talking about a man-made system that has no objective moral character. So if the question is “should we morally judge the mentally ill for their actions?” my answer is no, we should not. We should not morally judge anyone for their actions, because people are all compelled to behave as they do.

If the question is “should the mentally ill be punished for their actions?” my answer is generally that it depends on circumstances. Reward & punishment are two powerful stimuli that can cause people to change their behavior (thogh punishment is often less effective than we would hope). In my mind, it is justifiable to punish someone for one and only one reason – to influence future behavior. So in that sense, whether the mentally ill should be punished for their actions requires an individualized determination of what will be effective. Greata briefly touches on this idea:

And when mentally ill people are held responsible for our behavior … how does that affect our illness? Does it help, or hurt? When the people we love tell us that we’re hurting them and driving them away, when they demand that we see the consequences of our behavior in their lives and in our own … what effect does that have?

Does it shake us into awareness and insight, help motivate us to take action? Does it shame us into feeling worse about ourselves, make us even less able to see ourselves as worth taking care of? Does it do some of both? Does the answer depend on the person, the illness, the degree of illness, the closeness of the relationship, the day of the week?

To me, this is the ONLY question that matters when you’re talking about potentially punishing someone. What will be the effect of the punishment? I am in no way a neuroscientist or a mental health professional, so I can’t give a general answer to that question,* but I firmly believe that it’s the question that we should be asking when discussing imposing potential punishments.

If the question is whether we are justified in using a person’s mental illness as a substantial factor in deciding what kind of relationship we want with a person, my answer is an unequivocal and emphatic yes. Our relationships with people are not reflections on their moral character or their value as people. All relationships should be absolutely consensual. We can choose to have relationships with people for any reasons we choose. Some of those decisions are better than others, but they are not necessarily a reflection on the virtue of the other person.

I often hear people use mental illness as a reason why they must forgive a person for their actions. The argument is that if a person’s mental illness compelled them to behave badly, then it would be unfair to then “punish” that person by changing the relationship (e.g. terminating the relationship, deciding not to see them alone, refusing to interact online, limiting contact to once a week, not inviting them to parties, etc.). I do not like this view, or any view that suggests that our decisions regarding what relationships we should have with people need to be fair. Fairness, in this sense, is a tool used by abusers and manipulaters to coerce people into having relationships that they don’t want. It’s bullshit.

For instance, if you have a friend who is always late, does it really matter whether their lack of punctuality is due to a mental illness or just garden-variety carelessness? I don’t think so. The question for me isn’t “why is this person always late?” The question is “how does this person’s lateness affect me?” If I can deal with their lateness, fine. If I can’t, that’s also fine. I don’t have to be friends with someone who behaves in ways that bother me, regardless of the cause.

I often point out the absurdity of the social stigma of mental illness by comparing mental illness to physical illness. Greta does this when she points out that “we cut sick people slack.” While this is generally true, I don’t cut sick people any more slack than I would a non-sick person. If my friend has a physical illness which causes them to, e.g., be unable to leave their house, that’s certainly going to factor in to what form our relationship can take. If I really like that person, it might be worth it to routinely travel to their house to spend time with them. Maybe not. Maybe I would decide to only have an online relationship or (shudder) talk on the phone. It’s not really “fair” to my friend that our relationship is limited because of their illness, but illnesses aren’t fair to anyone, and there is NEVER an obligation to maintain a (non-dependent) relationship that doesn’t make you happy, no matter what the reason is. Social relationships are not contracts, and we are all free to leave at any time.

Understanding mental illness is often helpful, not so we can forgive people for their actions, but so we can accurately set expectations. If someone’s bad behavior is due to a mental illness, if we make an effort to understand that illness, we can better know what to expect from that person. Some mental illnesses have a bounty of research available that can clue us in on how is best to interact with this person, what sort of communication will be effective, what behaviors can be changed with sufficient motivation, and what behaviors can be expected to continue regardless of effort.

Greta’s article revolves around her ambivalent feelings about her father and his alcoholism. To what extent, she asks, was her father responsible for his alcoholism (and his actions that occurred as a result of his alcoholism)? I would never ask that question. To me, nobody is ultimately responsible for their own behavior. The relevant question to me is – how should I treat this person? What kind of relationship would be best for me to have with him? Should we have any relationship? What treatment would allow us to have the best relationship possible? When discussing a personal relationship with someone, these are the relevant questions.

I tend to curate my social circle pretty tightly. If someone does not treat me how I like to be treated, I feel no guilt about excluding that person from my social circles. The cause of their poor treatment of me is not important, only the fact of it. My life is better when I surround myself with people who treat me well and avoid people who treat me poorly, and improving my life is the only reason why I have interpersonal relationships.

itsatrapEmpathy is a good thing. The ability to view your circumstances from other people’s perspectives is a skill which we should all develop and improve as much as possible. But sometimes we can go overboard. Sometimes we can allow ourselves to be abused or maintain a relationship that is not serving us well because we feel it would be unfair to hold another person responsible for actions that are a result of mental illness. In a relationship context, focusing on a person’s responsibility for their actions is a trap. A much better focus is the effects that a person’s action have on you, and whether that’s a relationship that you want to have.

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*I am an attorney, and I feel qualified to state that our current criminal justice system is not creating socially beneficial effects, and requires major reforms if it is to achieve its stated goals.

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Naming Names.

So this is a post about publicly naming your abuser, which sadly, is an area I know a bit about.

When I was in college I dated an abusive guy who used to do things like shove me into walls, push me out of bed while I was sleeping, and break my things and throw them on the lawn. The list of things he did to me was long, and I stayed because I thought he understood me in a way no one else could…and also because I was afraid of what would happen to me if I left. I mean that both in the sense of what he would do, and then also where I would end up. He cut me off from my friends so effectively that by the time we were over, I had no where to go but back to my parents. And that was a less than ideal situation for me. But one night he woke me up at 4am to inform me that he hacked into my online journal, a journal only three people besides me had access to, and read all the things I wrote about him. He also informed me that he looked through all my stuff, trying to find evidence that I was cheating on him. For the record, I was not. But he had cheated on me. Repeatedly, and over a period of months. That afternoon, I moved out while he was at work. He then proceeded to stalk me for several months, prompting me to call the cops on him. He showed up at both of my jobs, and at my parents house in the middle of the night.

I’ve outted him as an abuser more than once over the years. Because I’m concerned for other women. I told his close friends, many of whom were also my close friends, what he put me through. I told them…tell other women who show an interest in him. Don’t try to protect my privacy, protect them from having to go through what I went through.

He was bipolar, and he showed time and again that he wasn’t interested in getting better. He was interested in doing what it took to get away with mistreating and controlling me. With testing the line. When I finally left him once and for all he tried EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to get me to come back. I moved across the country, in part to get away from that town, but mostly so he couldn’t find me and manipulate me anymore. He was an expert at finding and exploiting my weaknesses and I was only just beginning build the skills I needed to avoid abuse.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that experience. One of those lessons is that manipulative people often come clean about their deeds! Kind of. They’ll preemptively share what they’ve done so they can control the narrative. “Yeah, I want you to know, I used to fly into rages and mistreat my ex. But let me tell you all the stress I was under. I mean, I’m really the victim here. And it‘s not like that anymore. I‘ve worked very hard to control my anger.” Or maybe they just say something vague like, “I just drive the people I love away…I don’t know why I do it. I guess, it was my childhood.”

He told me what he did to his ex. He told his next two girlfriends what he did to me. But I know when he told me about his ex he wasn’t being honest. He twisted the truth. For example, he told me he got angry with her once because she was cheating on him. She never cheated on him. That part of the story was a fabrication. And I know she was telling me the truth because her version of the story made way more sense than his did and she had friends i trusted verify her version of events.

Years later, I witnessed an abusive altercation between my best friend and her husband. She had told me about his anger before, but I think either she in her telling of it or me in my imagining of it had downplayed it, because I had no idea that’s what she meant.

Some time passed, and they eventually split (thank god) and she was telling her story on her online journal, and I seem to recall someone she knew personally acting as if they didn’t believe her interpretation of events, so I was like, oh no. I was there. I’ve seen it.

The shit storm that followed was unbelievable. My credibility as a witness came into question. There were people who didn’t believe us! And I was there! I saw it with my own eyes! And here I was defending myself against accusations like, “I’m really supposed to believe you find him threatening? I think you‘re lying about all of this.” Yes! He’s a scary motherfucker when he’s mad.

And that was the first time I got a whole heaping load of shit for “naming names.” Like, how dare I drag this guy’s name through the mud. Because I witnessed him abuse my best friend. I never expected to get called out for publicly speaking up about what I saw that day. I guess with my ex, he was pretty open with his dude friends about his mistreatment of me and they thought he was kind of a jerk already. In this case, the guy did a pretty good job of making people believe he was an all around nice guy. I mean, I believed it. I was shocked by what I witnessed. But it still happened and I felt I HAD to speak up. She’s telling the truth! I vouch for her!

I still carry that experience around with me because some people really couldn’t believe it, and they viciously attacked us as if we were the assholes.

But it didn’t really matter because I knew I was telling the truth, and I knew people needed to hear it, even if they didn’t like it. I didn’t feel guilty because it might make things uncomfortable for this guy because HE DID THOSE THINGS. He put himself in that position with his actions. He didn’t deserve an expectation of privacy for abusing his wife in their own home where most people couldn’t see. Fuck him.

So fast forward to recently and I was actually on the other end of this. I started dating Wes and I found out one of his ex’s is friends with the best friend from the previous story. She was like hey, just so you know, my friend has some terrible things to say about that guy you just started dating, do you want me to tell you what I’ve heard?

And I take that kind of shit VERY seriously. So I was like, oh wow, yes. Please tell me. You know, I don’t want to find out months down the road that the guy I’m dating is secretly horrible and really good at hiding it. I’m not interested in wasting my time on shitty people.

So she gave me her version of events, and I sat back and looked for red flags. I looked really hard. And I have to say, I’m pretty good at spotting red flags at this point.

And I didn’t see them. So I debated what to do next. And I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but I ended up just confronting him. Like hey, your ex contacted me and said all these things about you, what’s the deal?

Then he told me about his ex. And Gina and Jessie confirmed everything. And their version of events was well flushed out and didn’t add up with said ex’s version of events. And even within her own story, not taking into account anyone else’s version, things didn’t add up. Like her time table conflicted with itself and that meant one of two things she said probably wasn’t true.

I seriously had nothing to back up her story. That was over five months ago, and that’s still the case. I’ve now been with Wes much longer than that ex was and things are going really well.

So, I’ve been on both sides of this. In fact, with my abusive ex from the first story, people warned me about him and I didn’t want to hear it. Because he fed me his version of events and I didn’t know better. I just believed him because he seemed sincere. But the evidence was there, smacking me in the face. When I finally listened, I was like oh yeah, that makes way more sense than what he was telling me. I’m such a fool.

In this case, I thoroughly investigated the information given to me and found it rang false. And that’s fine! I’m not upset she contacted me. I’d rather someone say something. I want to know if someone has had a bad experience with the person I’m dating so I can be on the lookout for trouble.

In this case, I think the person just…was weird about certain things, and misread events, and didn’t have the best communication skills. Whatever the deal was, I haven’t come across the same issues.

But yeah, fast forward to now. And we’ve had Shaun vaguely telling his version of events on his blog for months. With lots of passive-aggressive digs at Wes. And we have Gina who finally came out and told a more specific (and still very generous) version of events, and we have an anonymous commenter angry with us for naming names. And another person on facebook who thinks that it’s not okay to speak ill of exes. And what we have here feels pretty similar to the situation I experienced with my best friend where all I did was say what happened, what I saw with my own eyeballs, and suddenly I was the asshole. For outing an abuser. For telling people what happened.

I believe Gina. I think everyone believes Gina. So what’s the problem here? That abusive people have a right to privacy? That you shouldn’t openly speak ill of anyone even if you’re just accurately recounting events?

There‘s a saying by Anne Lamott that goes “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

We don’t owe anyone our silence. If they treat us badly, we have the right to say what happened because it happened TO US. If it makes them look bad that’s not our problem.

I think there’s only one thing you really need to ask yourself before writing something on the internet and that‘s “Is this true?”

Public Service Announcement

We live in a culture of intimidation and silence. As an American woman, I have been conditioned to accept that my voice has no power, that good women keep their mouths shut, that I mustn’t tell the truth publicly about who has harmed me. To speak up is to rock the boat and is a threat to our culture as we know it.

I say good riddance to that culture. It is a coward’s culture and one that serves no one but those who seek to harm, manipulate, and take from those of us who are vulnerable, caring, loving, and generous. I will not apologize for my vulnerability. I will not apologize for caring for and loving people with all of my heart. I will not apologize for giving everything that I have to give. And I will not feel guilty for publicly calling out those who hurt me by taking advantage of my kind nature. To allow myself to be shamed into silence is to endorse the culture that empowers hurtful people.

Anonymous commenting on this blog is no longer active. If you choose to come on here to attack me, you must let me know who you are so that I can avoid contact with you in the future. Why on Earth would you want to have anything to do with Wes or me when you clearly think so lowly of us both. To come onto that blog post and inject your venom into it was an unwarranted attack on me and drips of cowardice and intent to harm. People of this ilk are not welcome in this space, nor are they welcome in my life.

Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to speak without fear will do so, not just for ourselves but for those who do not yet have a voice. I will not bow down to cultural pressures to be quiet and polite to those who seek to keep us under thumbs.

In short, I have fucking had it and I am putting vindictive cowards on god damn notice.

A Vignette: Labsplosion!

This has been a somewhat lousy week for me keeping it together and being productive. But at least today I managed something: I totally accidentally lit something on fire in a laboratory.

So, my job is pretty cool. I make coatings for paper and board that go from liquid to solid instantaneously when they are exposed to high intensity UV light. Because I need high intensity UV light to cure my stuff, we have cure units in the lab that house, for lack of a more fabulous term, miniature suns. As such, they heat stuff up pretty quickly if flammable things are held close to the lamps for a long time.

Here, a long time is about 10 seconds.

So there I was, minding my own business trying to cure some coating like it’s my job (because it is…) and my coated paper gets stuck in the machine. The following transpired:

Me (thoughts): Oh shit. It’s stuck. Hmm…what should I do…stick my hand in there? Turn it off? Hmm…such a decision. Lemme look in there. OH SHIT DON’T LOOK IN THERE JACKASS. MINI SUNS ARE ALSO BLINDING. Crap. Um…should I put my hand in there?

During this really interesting conversation I was having with myself, the machine and paper decided to solve the problem for me. Suddenly my paper came flying out of the machine, half in flames.

Me: Oh…oh that’s not good. Um…

And I proceeded to try and blow out the fire. After several attempts I succeeded, because I have a degree in science obviously. By then another lab person came over with a rag to help me stamp out the embers and the place smelled like a campfire.

I talked to several people and it had happened to them also with this particular machine (not the model I usually use, but ours is down). Some of these people have Masters degrees and PhD’s. So…um…there.

Not burning down the lab was pretty much my biggest accomplishment today, but I’d say it’s a pretty good one!

For the Record

Hi. I know I’m late to the blogging party here at the brand spanking new Living Within Reason.  I’ve wanted to write, but honestly, the types of things I usually write about have proven to be painful and difficult to get through.  The truth is that is has been an extremely tumultuous several months and whenever I’ve attempted to write about anything other than the reason for the tumult, I have hit a wall of anger and sadness.

I deeply dislike feeling hatred and anger towards people.  It does not make me feel powerful or inspired or motivated.  When I get into a pit of anger I have no energy to get out.  It is not where I want to be.  In the past I used to climb out of these places by blaming myself for everything that has been done to me.  “If I were better, stronger, smarter, it wouldn’t have happened”.  But this is the most egotistical thing I could think.  How could I truly believe that I would be impressive enough, good enough, worth enough to another person to make them be impressive enough, good enough, and worth enough to me?  That’s not how people work.  We are who we are.  Yes, we can change, but we can’t do it for anyone but ourselves.  That was something I had to learn for myself and it was something I had to accept about others. Still, even atheists can be the victim of faith when we desperately want to believe that someone will come through for us.

I haven’t written about any of this because I thought it was my responsibility to spare people the truth.  Yes, it is my truth, but I have trustworthy witnesses to much of it and I have an impeccable memory.  I began to doubt my truth after a while because I was being gaslighted and patronized on the regular, but I was able to rally my strength to not forget.  Before, I didn’t have the self respect to speak up for myself, to demand good treatment, to accept that the behaviors that made me uncomfortable were unhealthy and not just a figment of my mental illness.  That person is not who I am anymore and I wish for my side of the story to be written, mostly for posterity, in clear, direct terms.

Near the end, Shaun and I were having a heated discussion that was mostly about Wes, because of course it was.  At the end, pretty much everything he talked about was how much a selfish, abusive jerk Wes was and how dare I expect more from him when I let Wes get away with everything.  He saw he and Wes as equivalent mental cases.  He was incorrect.  When I would tell him that he was incorrect, he would explain to me that I have sacred spaces in my mind that I protect from attack.  One of these spaces is dedicated to Wes.  Another is dedicated to believing that I have worked very hard to shatter my emotional walls and grow as a person and that I have exceptional perspective on the world around me.  He called them sacred.  I called them ideals I was willing to fight for.  When Shaun met me, I was unwilling to fight for anything, certainly nothing that would improve my life at the possible slight cost to others.  In the end, winning the argument with the person I am today is not so easy.

But the most enlightening thing that came out of that conversation was our different views on trust.  Shaun stated that he and I don’t look at trust the same way.  He said that I based trust on what people do and that his concept of trust was about what he thought the other person was underneath it all.  In short, trust for me was an evidence based belief and his was a faith-based belief.  As a scientist, and a generally rational human being, I will continue to base my ability to trust people on the things that they do, thanks.  Otherwise, I will just keep letting myself be open season for emotional abusers and that is not who I am.  Not anymore.

I met Shaun a few months after I had been raped.  He was kind and gentle with me and seemed to hold consent in very high regard.  That is what I needed at the time from a new sexual partner.  Because he gave me those things, I instantly trusted him.  This was a mistake.

A couple of months into our relationship, he put me in a position to have sex without a condom.  I did it because I knew it would make him happy.  That was mostly why I had sex back then.  Afterwards, I felt terrible about it because it was, like, the one rule Wes and I had about our other relationships. Obviously, I had to tell Wes and Jessie as soon as I got home because obviously.  The rule was that we used condoms until we discussed it with our other partners and made sure they were comfortable with that.  It wasn’t even a thing that was off the table.  We just had to treat our other partners like autonomous beings with their own rights and boundaries and health.

Wes was upset, understandably.  But we made it through and Shaun and went back to using condoms.  I beat myself up a lot for having done that.  I felt unworthy of being polyamorous.  I felt unworthy of anything.  But that was pretty much the person I was back then.  I wouldn’t even call the rape a rape (or even an assault) at that point because I figured it was my fault and I deserved it for going up to his room in the first place.  I was in denial about my trauma. I would both do whatever another person wanted and hate myself for it.

After a few months, Shaun was frustrated about having to use condoms and argued with me about it.  I was terrified that having to use them would make Shaun not want to be with me anymore.  I was also still feeling like a piece of trash for having given Wes a reason not to trust me.  Wes was over it by then, but I wouldn’t forgive myself.  Still, I couldn’t stand to have Shaun unhappy, so I talked to Wes about it and got the go ahead.  But I asked that he not finish inside me because I had a lot of fear about that left over from my mom and her teenage pregnancy stories.  It was a boundary and I thought it was a relatively reasonable one.

After a few more months, Shaun was unsatisfied with having to pull out.  He was frustrated and wanted me to get rid of that particular boundary.  Again, I was afraid that he would stop wanting me if I was unwilling to sacrifice my own comfort and boundaries for his pleasure.  I thought that this was a reasonable line of thought.  I didn’t want to but I felt that I had to get over it for his sake.  So again, I talked to Wes about it and we agreed that it was something that was OK to do.  I didn’t tell Wes that I was feeling pressured and anxious.  I didn’t tell Wes a lot of things.

Admittedly, now I am glad that I was able to become comfortable with it.  So I suppose I should be grateful for the kick in the ass, but what I have learned is that I am allowed to do things at my own pace and on my own terms.  I don’t live for other people anymore.

There were a lot of things that happened after that which I added to my “Reasons to Maybe Not Trust Shaun Completely” list.  But they aren’t all that important.  Mostly it was that I couldn’t trust him to treat me as though I was important when there were other women around whom he wanted to flirt/have sex with.  I often felt overlooked or in the way.  After one particular incident where he got mad at me for not leaving him alone with a very good friend of mine (so that he could ask her if she was into him), I got into the habit of asking him before every social gathering whether I should stay away from him.  I was constantly worried about being a problem. I was also constantly worried about being replaced.  I didn’t feel this way about Wes.  That is because he and I worked very hard to get to a place where we knew that neither of these things were things that were going to happen.  I did not have enough evidence from Shaun to feel secure in that.

In addition, Shaun suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.  I admit that I thought I could handle it, but ultimately I could not.  When they moved in, I cleaned incessantly hoping that it would be clean enough for him (and that he wouldn’t complain to me about Wes and Jessie’s messiness).  My anxiety about us all living together, compounded by work and family trouble, got to such an unmanageable degree that I sought out antidepressants.  I knew that Wes, Shaun, and Ginny had issues with each other, but I thought it would work itself out.  That was a mistake.  Treatment helped but I was still always on edge about the cleanliness of the house.  In addition, I was always on edge about the dynamic between Wes, Shaun, and Ginny.  I was also always on edge about interrupting him when he was playing a computer game or writing something because sometimes it was OK to do so and sometimes he would snap at me.  Basically, I was always on edge and didn’t feel like my home (with my name on the deed) was my own for the entire year that they lived with us.  I tried very hard to make it comfortable, to let myself get used to it, to enjoy it, but I could not relax.  I upped my Zoloft dose and started seeing a wonderful therapist.

That combination speeded up my development into the person I am today.  After several sessions, I was starting to really feel a sense of my own self worth.  I began to feel and know that I am worth the best treatment, appropriate salary for services rendered, and the right to live my life as I saw fit.  This was pretty strange for me because instead of feeling guilt about people treating me like crap, I started to feel anger. “No, I didn’t deserve this and this is not my fault.  You are just an asshole.”  That kind of thing.

Sometime last year, Shaun started seeing someone new and he was head over heels very quickly. I liked her but had my usual anxieties.  On the surface though, Shaun was doing everything right to make me feel comfortable and supportive.  For the most part anyway.  I didn’t really appreciate the loud sex at 2am, but I bought earplugs to try and not be an asshole about it.  But yes, I trusted that Shaun had the health of my relationship with him linked into his new relationship.

One night, about 3 months after they had started dating, we were coming home from a burlesque show.  He was acting kind of weird.  I asked him what was up and he said he didn’t want to tell me.  I pushed the issue because he clearly wasn’t ok.  He then told me that he had been having sex with this new person without a condom for weeks and hadn’t discussed it with anyone.  I was furious and heartbroken.  I truly had believed that he would have learned at least a little something from the experience that he and I had gone through early in our relationship.  I didn’t for a second think he would do something like that and do it for weeks without saying so much as a word.  He told me that he had been afraid to tell me because he knew I would be upset and also he had been so happy with this other person that he didn’t want to do anything to mess it up.  He was regretful seemingly that night and for a few days after that but in seeing some email exchanges he’s had with a dear friend, it would appear that he’s rewriting history now.  Now he says that it wasn’t a thing he thought was important or that had been a rule that needed to be discussed.  I trust my memory of events better, as they are burned into my mind.  I still get upset thinking about that night sometimes.

After that, I didn’t know what to do.  I was desperately trying to make it work but my trust in him was completely broken.  It didn’t help that he became often callous about it all, insinuating that I shouldn’t be upset about stuff like that (and that I’m upset because society has the wrong values).  I felt like I had to remind him every other day of the severity of this trespass and he would meet me back there but then forget later, it seemed.  I started to feel insane, like I didn’t know up from down.  We were in trouble and I had no idea how to fix it.

A week or so later, his new girlfriend told her boyfriend about the condomless sex and he was not happy about it.  It seemed that Shaun’s relationship with her was in jeopardy because of it.  Because I was there, he was getting emotional support from me about that, even though I was completely furious with him about the same thing.  I tried, but ultimately I couldn’t take that he was calling the boyfriend unevolved for having such an issue with it.  I called Shaun out on it and he got mad, snapped at me, and stormed off.  Wes and Jessie got home to find me balled up on the couch sobbing. I went over to gauge whether he was in a place where we could have a non-abusive conversation.  I believed him when he said we could.  He then snapped at me that Wes is abusive and if I’m going to be upset with him then I should be upset with Wes too.  This broke me and I went back over to Wes and told him what he had said.  Wes went to Shaun and asked what makes him abusive and Shaun yelled at him to get the fuck away from him or he will break Wes’ nose.  Wes came back and we decided to go upstairs because there was nothing left to say and Shaun started screaming at the top of his lungs and threw dining room chairs around.  I was terrified.  Jessie, the brave woman she is, went down and talked him down.

Things were bad.  I didn’t know what to do anymore.  We ended up having a housewide conversation about all of this and Shaun and Ginny told Wes that they thought he was abusive to them.  This was in response to us being afraid of the violent rage attack of the night before and the fact that I had been generally afraid of emotional attacks from Shaun for months.  Ginny said that Shaun hits her where she is strong and hits me where I am weak.  I didn’t have the wherewithal to say that using the word ‘hits’ in that sentence speaks volumes about the truth of my feelings.

The next day, after a lot of deep thought and sadness, I knew that our living “experiment” had failed and that it could not continue.  I wrote an email to the family saying as much and asked them to move out as soon as they could. The tensions between Wes, Shaun, and Ginny were insurmountable and I was simply afraid for my own safety and also questioned my ability to continually make healthy decisions for myself.

A mutual friend had found a house in Philly and Ginny and Shaun agreed to take a room in it.  Tensions in the house were at an all time high and it was decided that they would move out in 2 weeks.  I thought Shaun and I could make it and try to start over without the stress of sharing a house.  I was desperately clinging to the relationship hoping that it could turn into something healthy. I wanted all of it to have been worth the time and effort and pain I had gone through.  I couldn’t let it fail.

But within those two weeks, Shaun continued to pursue new relationships and bring them to the house for dates and loud, intrusive sex.  The last week he was there, he made a date with a new friend of ours (who had not previously been poly).  On the Monday that he had the date with this person, he informed me, on my way to therapy of all places, that he had made a date with yet another “hot off the presses sort of poly person who wasn’t poly a several months ago” friend.  And I admit that this completely broke me.  I showed up to therapy in tears knowing that it couldn’t be saved.  I just couldn’t deal with being the welcoming wonderful metamour for these people knowing how he had hurt me (multiple times in multiple ways) and knowing how scary he can be.  I already didn’t trust him with me.  I didn’t trust him with others and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore.  I came home that night and broke it off.

I cried myself to sleep that night knowing it was the right decision but letting myself believe that the failure was my burden to bear. For the next week I was utterly terrified to be in the house with them alone.  I was scared to come home from work.  I was scared to not leave the house on the weekend.  I was convinced that he would lash out at me or at Wes.  I was kept safe and secure by people who love me.  I am very, very lucky.

There’s so much more to say, more characters to add, more evidence to share, but it’s not really important.  I wanted to tell my story.  I’m tired of being quiet.  I’m tired of feeling crazy.  I needed to get this out there.  I need to move on from all of this.  I silenced myself online to spare people this, but this is for me.

A couple of weeks after the breakup when they were living in their new home, Shaun started turning his sights again on Wes, writing passive aggressive blog posts aimed at him.  It became clear quickly that the breakup no longer had anything to with me.  I was a passing character in it, the regrettably lost prize in a war between good and evil (apparently).  Wes is the villain and I am gone because of his villainy.

So here it is.  These are the things that happened.  I know that I am not crazy.  I know what happened and how it all made me feel. I know that I am right.  And most importantly, I know that I am worth so much more than all of this.

This is behind me now.  I am cutting all ties that can be reasonably cut and am choosing to grow from this instead of shrivel.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”Image