25: Loving Karen

“…When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say ‘enough.’

— Pema Chödron, The Places That Scare You

When it came to my ex, my boundaries sucked.

There is nothing I wouldn’t suffer for her if it were in my realm. In many ways, I believed suffering her vengeance would demonstrate a willingness to walk though fire for her, for Us, and atone for my mistakes.

As such, without retaliation I have suffered her venging through her silence and smear campaign as she narcissitically fueled rumor-mongering, harassment, bullying, and stalking by proxy.

I suffered these behaviors mostly out of a sense of romanticism and mythology. I suffered, because I believed in her and Us, far more than I believed in myself.

In the name of not shutting our heart, we let people walk all over us. It is said that in order not to break our vow of compassion we have to learn when to stop aggression and draw the line. There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries.”

— Pema Chödron, The Places That Scare You

Today I feel angry. As Mr. Nancy of America Gods says, “Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”

Today I am practicing responding appropriately. Today I have established boundaries.

Throughout this recent chapter in my life, some people have confused my moments of grief, self-reflection, kindness, and patience for weakness. In response, a few people have leveraged my struggles, mistakes, and unskillfulness as an opportunity for their self-aggrandizement—emotional and sexual carpetbaggers in my land of loneliness and grief.

Last June I heard a friend compassionately say to me, “In the six years I’ve known you, you have always strived to do better and treat people better. You sincerely are concerned about the community and people. You care about the impact of your actions. At times to your own detriment.”

However, you hold yourself to an impossibly high standard and your ex to almost none,” she added. “As such when you make mistakes, it devastates you. You want to fix it. When she is cruel, you enable her and pursue understanding. However, she leverages your compassion against you for power. She is never going to value your heartfelt efforts.” 

Clearly.

Owning all of these truths, I recognize growth and change require more than philosophical and value statements. Growth and change require sacrifice and vulnerability. Growth requires I be vulnerable, embrace uncertainties, and make choices that leave me uneasy. Growth requires I actually do things differently even when I don’t know what will happen in the end.

Even if I make mistakes in the process.

As I wrote recently, I am accountable for my own life. Self-protection is my obligation. If I do not feel safe or secure, that is no one’s burdened by my own to sort through. If others have wronged me, I am responsible for taking appropriate actions to defend my life. Growth means not allowing the opinions and feelings of the people I love to be the sole arbitrator of my actions. 

I am still sussing out where those lines are, and what is appropriate. Trauma repeats without boundaries. As Elle Grant writes, “My heart, my rules.” It is sound advice regardless of the situation.

Sometimes it may require walking away from an abusive situation. In others, it may mean dragging a past Partner back to court to confront their entitlement and create closure.

As I angrily said to someone I love recently, “We are in this situation because you won’t adult.” 

It was an aggressive response. The situation isn’t black and white. I recognize my statement to her is not completely true. I have been unwilling to adult either on these issues.

For example, I contributed to this situation because I repeatedly excused behaviors over the last seven years and carried responsibility for other people’s choices and feelings. I misunderstood generosity and compassion jumping into enabling, excuse-making, and codependency.

At other times I confuse the line between patiently loving and hero’ing. 

In my unskillful, unconscious, and aggressive rush to fix my discomfort, and hers, I misunderstood the data. Post-relationship mistakes compounded.

Therefore, growth requires a different tact. 

In the Karpman Triangle, it isn’t the Victim that is in danger. The Rescuer is the one truly vulnerable. They have the most to lose.

— Dr. Deb Goldberg

I now recognize the choices I am currently making to defend my life and hold myself accountable needed doing years ago. Perhaps my ex wouldn’t feel the need to hide under tables and I wouldn’t be compelled to write if we would have sat in our discomforts, and in the same room, and talked like adults for a few hours. 

But that isn’t what she chose to do.

Instead, what is left are the intentions we imagine about the other and court summons.

I didn’t recognize throughout our relationship we both embraced patterns of intimacy and vulnerability that reinforced the very feelings, stories, and traumas we were trying to avoid in leaving previous relationships. We brought the habits to the relationship we knew and unconsciously repeated them.

Unfortunately, when this started, forever the Hero, I believed my infidelity excused all of my ex’s actions. I excused so much because from the beginning through the end I still believed in her, Us, and fairy tales. After all, she was the Queen, and I only mattered to the extent I served her ambitions.

In the process, I defended her repeatedly, even when confronted by the evidence. I overlooked her behaviors at the time because I believed she was a better person than me–to the repeated annoyance of meaningful friendships. I felt my infidelity, secrets, and escalating series of lies canceled my humanity and I had to re-earn it. 

The truth is I offered her far more grace than I gave myself. 

It has taken a great deal of distance, curiosity, and therapy to realize that her venging had more to do with her skillsets when neurological charged and little to do with my infidelity. My infidelity provided an opportunity to safely act out on her own unaddressed Ugly. Hurting people hurting people.

Although I genuinely care about my exes, and the suffering I have contributed, I will not continue to submit myself to other people’s entitlement. I am accountable for the impact of my choices, I am not responsible for how she chooses to respond to her feelings about it. 

I also did not understand how shaming and blaming are fundamentally different than taking responsibility and holding people accountable. I repeatedly excused my ex and her varas’ harassment, stalking, rumor-mongering, splitting, triangulating, and silence. Especially early in this experience my decision-making processes was hijacked by constant anxiety, sleep deprivation, a desire for reconciliation, and a sense of misplaced moral and ethical obligation to my exes over my infidelity, secret-keeping, and escalating series of lies.

Out of my reverence for my ex’s feelings, a generous approach towards her intentions, and a misunderstanding of responsibility and accountability, I kept finding excuses not to do what needed to be done. For example, I kept sending money, reaching out to her with bids for connection, and suffering her fools. 

In hindsight, I should have ignored her, taken her friends to court for harassment, and sued her to recover my things. In some respects, love makes us react stupidly.

Don’t misunderstand anything I am writing here: I love her and she has good qualities. However, my love for her doesn’t mean I suffer her abuse. Her good qualities aren’t the ones impacting my life. Holding myself accountable demands I see her for who she is today, and reinforce emotional and financial boundaries.

Looking back over the last several years, it is obvious I was playing blackjack, and she was playing poker. Unfortunately, she is much better at poker than I ever was at blackjack. Of course, she was playing with house money.

However, last June, after more of her fucketty and her Flying Monkey’s shitheadery my generosity reached an end. After three years of generosity, I finally had, as Pema Chodron say, “enough.”

I’m doing now what probably needed to be done three years ago when our relationship ended. It will scare and make other people uncomfortable. Other people will aggressively return to the rigid stories they imagine as they have done for years. 

Thankfully, today I recognize I am not responsible for other peoples’ ghost stories. I can care about those people but not to the detriment of my own life. 

Therefore, I’ve come to realize a truth, my growth demands a sacrifice: my idealism and her comfort. 

“Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”

– Mr. Nancy, American Gods