50: Stories of Blame

Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.

– Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Painter sat at the defendants table and announced with absolute certainty, “This is all your fault.”

As I mulled over her declarations, Pema Chodron’s writing on blame came into focus.

And I wonder, “Which part is my fault?”

I am definitely responsible for filing and taking Painter to court…although taking responsibility and taking blame are not the same thing.

But is that really a fault? I don’t see it as a fault but a choice. The fact we are in court is definitely my choice.

From my perspective, I am finished having my mistakes leveraged for other people’s gain. Is it my fault that, as Painter said in her opening remarks, “Sean doesn’t deserve to have his things returned,” or is that simply the soft and tender places she is protecting?

Frankly, since last summer when Painter’s mob worked a smear campaign to undermine a COVID safe art event I organized I’ve really been finished trying to understand this experience from her perspective. Although the Good Doctor, Chef, and Star have to remind me periodically to stop hiding behind an idiot compassion for Painter and focus on what I choose to do next.

“When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship,” writes Chodron, “we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say ‘enough.’” Taking her to court is my way of saying enough.

There are other ways, but this is one way.

Regardless of what the judge decides (and he may decide I didn’t argue this well), Painter definitely kept and sold things I bought for me, brought to the relationship, and bought for us. There is no doubt she resold and profited on those investments.

Painter admits that in court.

Repeatedly.

Painter’s defense is my egregious infidelity and flagrant abuse allows her to keep whatever she wants, that I “don’t deserve” to have things returned. Her argument is that her choice not to discuss the division of property at the end of the relationship is somehow my fault. Too often, dealing with Painter and her monkeys reminds me of middle school as they post notes on social media and hide behind a whisper campaign cancelling me and making everything these adults choose to do my fault.

As if I am responsible for their choices.

In this experience, I have come to deeply respect my ex-wife, Beatrix’s cut throat approach to our divorce and her approach to transactions in relationships. There are moments I wish I was wired to take Beatrix’s ruthless approach with Painter. Win or lose, Beatrix would never have allowed this to drag out behind an idiots compassion as long as I have.

However, I am definitely practicing a more transactional approach now than I have in the past. To paraphrase Chef, “No matter how balanced,. kind, compassionate, and patient your approach, Painter is never going to own her part. She will simply leverage your idiot compassion.”

And so here we are again: me taking responsibility for the relationship and holding myself accountable for changing the patterns while Painter blames others for her discomfort and makes them responsible for her actions. Our relationship would never have lasted. By the time our relationship ended I was already exhausted by her avoidance of hard conversations around money, the twins, art, work, sex, and feelings.

That isn’t her fault, it is who she is with me. I’m sure it’s better now.

I guess the other piece that is my fault is I didn’t simply die, or kill myself, or stay in Pittsburgh, or hide, or allow myself to be intimidated and blackmailed into silence. I took responsibility and keep showing up.

That certainly doesn’t seem like a fault, seems like that is adulting.

Although, I guess a more mature perspective is I chose to own what is true and make decisions that are best for my life as I understand my life in this moment. I’m sure it looks like harassment to Painter and those that feel entitled to do and say whatever they want without irony or accountability.

Although, I am accountable for my mistakes, that doesn’t mean I have to allow my stories and feelings — or Painter or her monkeys’ — to hold my life hostage. As Brené Brown writes, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

I cannot undue any of those choices I made. I cannot blame or fault anyone else. The consequences have been real, meaningful, and long-lasting. That is my life today. That is the life I chose when I emotionally tried to be a Hero to a Damsel, let my feelings dictate my actions including sleeping with Beatrix, and mindlessly pursue love, acceptance, and worthiness.

However, as the Buddha reminds me, “Every day we being again. What we do today matters most.”

Today I am practicing a different approach and perspective.

For example, by choosing to take Painter to court I am disengaging from our pattern of Perpetrator and Victim, Pursuer and Distancer, and I am defending my life. I am striking a new tune. The impact of my choices on Painter is none of my business as long as she doesn’t want to discuss it. Even then, I’m not sure it matters. Seems like I am practicing the pursuit of growth.

Let Painter tend her own garden…or she can let someone tend it for her. Her life is no longer my burden.

More to the point, we could argue that instead of hiding out in shame, continuing in the role of one more of Painter’s generic broken Knights, and not surrendering my well-being to hers, I am breaking my codependent role in the patterns that undermined our relationship.

Although, I would argue the conversation around the end of our relationship being my fault or Painter’s choice is a bit of a gray area. Clearly, ending the relationship wasn’t my choice, so who is responsible for that decision? Does fault even matter?

Prior to the reveal, I spent over a year and half trying to cover up my mistakes. Contrary to the nonsense, I wasn’t in an intimate relationship with Beatrix when she called Painter — I wasn’t in an intimate relationship with anyone else either. I was simply trying to find ways to keep Beatrix from contacting Painter and fawning as a threat response.

These were not my best moments or best look. A lot of shitheadery and fucketty in covering up my selfishness.

My multiple layers of my betrayal created a fracture in trust, intimacy, connection, and experience. Frankly, Painter’s decision to end the relationship seems pretty reasonable. I do not blame her for that decision. I certainly don’t blame Painter or Beatrix for my betrayals. I have always honored her choice.

My behavior fractured our relationship. A fracture that also revealed an opportunity to explore something even deeper…or not. Painter never had an obligation to explore anything with me.

Knowing this doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt and that there aren’t feelings of grief and loss for me. There will be a variety of perspectives on this, but the reality is, Painter lost far more than I did. Painter’s approach to this means she also lost our history and her history. Meanwhile, I gained a deeper love and passion for the time we had together.

Although, from my perspective, if someone reimagines everything in my relationship with Painter as shitheadery and fucketty that is simply revisionist history. Listening to Painter gaslight our history, and the silly accusations from monkeys, I often stand silently flabbergasted or compulsively wordy. Early I often tilted at the windmills built on other people’s ignorance or Painter’s anger.

In reflection, I think of Dawson’s response to his wife, Amelia, in Esther Perel’s book, The State of Affairs. In a therapy session, Amelia self-righteously accuses Dawson for her wounded feelings and of not caring about her or the relationship. Dawson angrily responds, “My loyalty has never wavered. I was always there. I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. But when you measure my allegiance only by where I stick my dick, it’s as if the rest doesn’t count for a thing.”

My sense of loyalty to Painter never wavered, although my sense of identity and integrity did.

Painter can believe anything she wants about the end of our relationship.

To that end, I guess Painter could also argue that, “After I learned Sean slept with his ex-wife, Beatrix, I decided to end the relationship because of my values, sense of self, and own well being.”

That would be truthful and empowering. Of course, that isn’t the narrative, is it?

I am deeply ambivalent about Painter’s perspective though. I can only own what is true for me. And frankly, Painter has never been interested enough to ask. Instead what Painter said is, “This is your fault! Take responsibility for what you did!”

I have taken responsibility.

I have held myself accountable by going to therapy up to two hours a week for nearly three and half years, by being open and transparent, by taking Lexapro for the anxiety, not rolling up on Painter in public or private, and by getting on with my life.

In a hundred ways everyday I have take responsibility.

Taking Painter back to court is one more place I needed to take emotional and financial responsibility. It is one more way I have held myself accountable.

“Blame is a way,” as Chodron writes, “to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”

I recognize when Painter blames me, she is simply trying to protect places were she is vulnerable. If adopt Chodron’s perspective, Painter’s decision to blame me is a way to avoid those own tender and soft places she is avoiding. A lifetime of the feelings Painter doesn’t know how – or doesn’t want — to confront. “”Blame is a way,” as Chodron writes, “to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. “Rather than own that pain, [Painter] scramble to find some comfortable ground” and paint me as the monster.

I recognize this perspective is probably too generous and compassionate but the alternatives are not consistent with who I am or how I feel about her. Doesn’t mean I don’t feel angry or hurt by her revisionist history and silence but that isn’t her fault. I will feel what I feel.

However, how either of us feel isn’t important in court. Which is why I filed.

Fault and blame are irrelevant in court. In court, what matters is the impact of the truth as the judge decides.


Brené on Shame and Accountability

In today’s solo episode, I share my thoughts about why accountability is a prerequisite for change, and why we need to get our heads and hearts around the difference between being held accountable for racism and feeling shame and being shamed. I share my personal stories of being held accountable and holding myself accountable, as well as my strategies for pulling my “thinking brain” back online when I’m experiencing the flight and fight energy fueled by shame.

“…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

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