11: Slaves and Heroes

Ready

I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Here is the simple truth: I’m tired of this topic.

You probably are too.

I’m not saying the impact is no longer meaningful, I’m saying the meaning isn’t what I thought it was 35 months ago.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I will say it again: if I believe the experience is simply about infidelity than I lack understanding. If I believe people don’t change I lack imagination. If I believe someone’s betrayal is about me, I lack humility.

If I argue a person is all one thing, that is where I pridefully become the problem.

Set

We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong.

― Pema Chodron

Recently, I was reading the thread of a someone’s ex-husband.

He discovered that years later some of his friends are still her friends. He was lamenting their lack of fidelity to him. He talked how wrong they are for staying connected to his ex-wife.

After all, how could they hear all the stories he told them about his ex-wife and remain friends with her?

He doesn’t believe she deserves friends. “Don’t they know what a horrible person she is?!” he wails.

He is confused by the willingness of these people to continue working with his ex-wife. He sees it as a sign of their disloyalty. He repeats the victim narrative that their choice to continue a relationships is something they are doing to him as opposed to simply something they are doing. He sees their choices as hurting him, narcissitically making their choices about him.

He brags about smearing his ex-wife. He wants to make sure mutual friends know his whole story and they should agree what a horrible person his ex-wife is and, as a result join his team and support canceling her out.

His actions reek of entitlement and triangulating.

Then he bragged about his decision to kick these people out of his life. As if his friendship is a prize and the loss of his approval was the necessary punishment.

This was followed by all the usual labeling, name-calling, and victim card-playing typical of people that thrive by blaming others as opposed to taking emotional responsibility. If he cannot control her, he will control what people think: he’s a victim rising from the ashes and she’s a narcissistic predator that ruined his life, his children’s lives, and his family.

She is a slave to his imagination and vanity.

Every now and then I read things and think, “if you were this judgemental, vain, unforgiving, and righteous in the marriage, I can understand why she wouldn’t want to live her life that way with you.”

I’m reminded that for some people, infidelity appears to be the emotionally most convenient tool to get away from the abuse and loneliness. Infidelity creates a path to leaving. It’s an unskillful tool, but still a common tool.

I thought, “I wonder if he demands the same loyalty from his children and family?”

Reading further I realized, he does.

I’m sure there is some term to describe this entitlement and self-aggrandizing.

Go

Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

How people respond to pain reveals who they really are.

For example, to control my pain I kept secrets and told an escalating series of lies about a sliver of my life. This was how I dealt with my pain around abandonment and loneliness: I hid it and avoided vulnerability. This response to pain makes me prideful and emotionally rigid. I would rather die on my white horse than appear weak to the women I love and love me.

And much to my dismay, I did die. I was annihilated.

EDIT: This last sentence bugs me. I’m been rereading it over and over for the last week trying to figure out why. It dawned on me last night why it bugs me. It should read “And much to my dismay, I did die. I was annihilated and I’m genuinely better for it.”

However, in other ways I also respond to pain in a way that makes me patient and empathic towards other people and their shames. This can often be an asset in sales, management, politics, and with my daughter and close friends.

However, without boundaries, it is also why I remain in codependent and emotionally manipulative and reactionary pursuer-distancer relationships for far, far too long.

For example, I felt my ex-wife’s pain and I wanted to make it better. I didn’t want her to hurt and proceeded to lie and keep secrets imagining I was protecting her by walling her off from the things I was ashamed of. No point in getting my shit on her.

That isn’t protecting her but it made sense in the moment I made those choices.

It is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic instead of showing her to the lifeboat. I realize how I didn’t have the resources or skills to sit with the pain of others including my ex-wife. There are reasons for those choices that matter only to me, my therapist, and the people that stick around long enough to be part of the solution.

I also recognize how I made excuses for the behaviors of others in an attempt to be loved, maintain my worth, and fix feelings. I recognize the extent I will go in pursuit of fitting in and being loved.

For example, my X told stories about her ex-Husbands financial and sexual neglect, and his lack of concern for her creative and physical well-being. So I doubled down on Heroing to let her know I cared: paying all her bills, driving her all over the country, focusing on supporting and encouraging her art, and buying her kids clothes, games, and entertainment.

And she let me.

As a result I neglected my own financial, emotional, and physical well-being.

Which isn’t blame or an excuse, but recognizing and owning the pattern.

Without constructive and flexible boundaries my innate empathy, sensitivity, and compassion ends up making excuses for abuse – mine and theirs. As a result, I don’t say a great many things that need said or confront the great many things that need confronting. I simply go along to get along, trying to stay in the saddle and ride on.

Today I recognize how willing I am to throw myself on the sword in order to sell my value and avoid conflict…and how willing my partners are to let me.

I’m finished doing that.

Finish!

“Be not the slave of your own past – plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As Mark Groves recently wrote, “The best decision I ever made was to promise myself that I would have all of the conversations I didn’t want to have because those are the ones that matter.”

There will always be people who may not like what I have to say or ask, but I have conversations regardless. I do this because “I decided to never hide my words because hiding them, hid me.”

As anyone that has read anything I have written on Twitter or here have noticed, I still struggle with my fears and anxiety. I may still struggle about detaching from the opinions of others, but I am doing it anyway.

However, I am finished hiding, and if speaking my truth makes me the focus of the ill-intentioned and ill-informed, that is the price. As Dr. Nicole LePera writes, “I am not responsible for the emotional state of others” or how they respond to their stories and feelings.

Even when I’m the one that made a mistake and screwed up. We are each responsible for our responses.

In reality, I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more, just to be the man who walks a thousand miles through falling down at her door because that is how I feel, what I want, and what I need.

However, I will not get back on that horse just to play the part of someone else’s Hero. I will do what needs to be done, even if it burns down my life again. I may not do it perfectly, but I am doing it.

Today it feels strange to be in a relationship with someone who values me for who I am and not simply for what I do or how I make them feel. Someone that doesn’t make me responsible for their well-being. Someone that cares more about the relationship than the appearance of the relationship. Someone that doesn’t hide their wounds behind blame and entitlement.

But I will burn it all down if I’m asked to pretend to be something I’m not. I’ll not be the slave of my own past or the past of those that are unwilling to confront their own entitlement, ghosts, wounds, and stories. I am not a character in anyone else’s imagination.

As Alan Watts writes, I have no obligation to anyone to be the same today as I was a year ago or even 15 minutes ago. I have the right to shed the ideas, opinions, behaviors, and beliefs I held even a short time ago when I realize they aren’t working for me.

I am no one’s slave but my own. I am no one’s hero, but my own. I choose my life and my responses.

In that truth, I have discovered new self-respect and a new power.


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