“Because it’s there” or “Oh, my aching hip gosh darnit!”

Ten years ago I had the great fortune to go to Yosemite with my parents as a college graduation gift. It is a truly gorgeous and awe-inspiring place. Nothing at all could ruin its amazing vistas.

Nothing except for, perhaps, being completely out of shape and unprepared for Real Hiking. Most of the hiking in Yosemite is of the Ass-Kicking® variety and if you want to see the views that truly make the park great, you should not be faint of heart.

The trail head for the three vertical mile trek up to the top of Yosemite Falls is, no joke, boulders. You have to climb over boulders to get to the first steep path. Needless to say, I was feeling done for pretty early in the game, and then I remembered that I’d have to hike back down again. My mother, who has a runner’s lungs and heart, practically flew up the trail. My dad would have also if he had hiking boots on that actually fit him. His shoes made him hobble along and my inferior lung capacity made me do the same.

At one point, I got some stupid idea in my head that running up a few switch-backs would solve some issue I was having. It, unsurprisingly, didn’t, and instead it was the first time in my life I thought my heart was going to explode and that I was perhaps going to pass out and roll down the mountain, hitting every cactus and fuzzy marmot in my path.

marmot

I also somehow managed to yank something in my left hip, rendering me a limping mess for the remainder of the trip. Luckily, this hike was going to be the toughest we were planning on. Impressively, this injury still haunts me whenever I am super active (running, hiking, long walks, etc.).

Back then I said to myself, “Never Again”. Never again would I go to some kick-ass natural wonderland and not be able to fully enjoy it due to the shitty condition of my respiratory system!

Of course, that triumphant statement didn’t seemingly inspire me to actually get into shape. I went to Colorado and hiked (slowly and steadily) to the top of the Continental Divide and managed not to die and enjoyed the process somewhat, but I still was disappointed in myself for not finding the hikes invigorating, and instead finding them on this side of debilitating.

Which brings us up to now. Wes and I decided that we would go to Yosemite together next year to celebrate five years of Wedded Bliss. I think Amber’s going to come too, because hiking around and living in a sweet cabin for a week is much more her kind of vacation than Disneyworld. Wes and I want to hiking every other day with trips to local wineries in between.

Sounds delightful, right? Yes, it does! BUT it will only be truly delightful to me if I can enjoy the hiking and that means get my thirty-four year old ass into shape, once and for all. And by “once and for all”, I mean figure out how to do it, get there, and then maintain it.

To me, being in shape for serious hiking means having fabulous respiratory health and capacity, increased strength, and wicked flexibility. Respiratory health means not getting out of breath after getting over a couple of moderately sized boulders, and it means quicker recovery after harder parts of the trail. Strength means my muscles are prepared to hold me up and get me up those steep inclines. Flexibility means that if I do something weird, or fall, or whatever, I am less likely to get really hurt.

At least, this is my current theory about all this. I haven’t read any books on the subject and am kind of talking out my ass, but these fitness goals seem legit enough to try focusing on.

Yoga is my attempt at flexibility and it’s helping. My hip and other problem joint things feel much better when I’m practicing yoga consistently. The trick right now is to pick a schedule and stick to it. While I like the idea of going to a 6am class every morning and starting my day in such a positive way, it’s really rough to consistently get myself out of bed that early. The studio I go to offers tons of evening classes as well, so I just need to commit to when I’m going just like my art classes or work.

Yoga helps with strength building as well, but I think I also should work in some kind of weight training along with it. I don’t want to do anything super elaborate, but I should learn how to use dumbbells and all that. I have a gym membership that would be good for that.

Finally, Wes and I decided that the most efficient and effective way to get out hearts and lungs into shape was with running.

I’ve tried this before, but my experience has shown me that it is damn hard to get in shape enough for running to be enjoyable. I tried the Couch to 5K program but the fun to benefit ratio was just not good enough. Plus, I was doing the program myself so I had no one to commiserate with. Wes had similar experiences, but admitted that he never felt healthier than when he was running regularly.

And so it was that I found Up and Running. We’re almost done week 2 of their 5K course and it’s hard but better for a number of reasons.

  1. I paid for it, which holds me a bit more accountable to actually doing it. For the price, I get eight training plans, one for each week of the program. I also get access to the course blog, which has a lot of interesting and useful information. For instance, next week I will be learning about nutrition for the runner, and you all know how fascinated with that I am!
  2. Each week involves different warm-up exercises and approaches to the week’s running, so it’s easier to stay engaged.
  3. Wes and I are doing all the workouts together. We do them after work or on weekend mornings. We hold each other accountable for getting out and doing the thing. This is really the biggest motivator for me. We are relying on each other to not weasel out.

So, that’s happening and I’m still slow and get winded easily, but I’m going to keep going! It also turns out that a lot of the feeling lousy issues I was dealing with had more to do with not exercising than what I was or wasn’t eating. Or, at least, if there are some food issues, exercise seems to keep them at bay.

I set some other goals for daily/weekly achievements and have a sticker chart. On it, I have things like eating a bunch of veggies every day and drinking enough water and also a list of household chores that I officially take responsibility for and trying to delegate everything else. We started getting help every other week from a cleaning service (so lovely…there are things I just don’t have to think about now) and we were introduced recently to FreshDirect for online grocery shopping. I “went” shopping this morning and we’ll be getting our first delivery tomorrow afternoon. I’m pretty sure this is completely amazeballs, but I’ll know for sure tomorrow. I’m excited about having ways to free up time for me to do more things like exercise, art, music, silly video games, an, you know, maybe sitting down sometimes.

Last night, Amber was like “did you schedule enough time for putting stickers on the sticker chart?” I told her that I CAN PLAY WITH STICKERS FOR AS LONG AS I WANT BECAUSE I AM AN ADULT AMBER. She asked snarkily, “Won’t that cut into something else???”

Whatever, Amber. There’s always time for stickers.

Capitalization and Polyamory

Jana Lembke of NYmag.com has an article up about capitalization in relationships:

When something great happens in our personal lives, it’s exciting to share the event with people close to us. But at one time or another, you’ve probably disclosed some good news that wasn’t met with the degree of excitement or encouragement you had hoped for. It can be disappointing — even irritating — to expect someone’s ardent interest and get a lukewarm response instead. The process of telling others about our successes and getting a positive reaction is called “capitalization,” and research suggests it has major benefits for romantic relationships.

This concept reminded me of one of the reasons Gina and I decided to open up our relationship in the first place. There came a point, about five years into our relationship, where we realized that when the other had good news, instead of feeling positively, we got jealous instead. The typical example was a time when I got an unexpected day off from work. When I told Gina, instead of the active-constructive response I hope for, she got annoyed that she didn’t get a day off. I often reacted similarly when she got some unexpected benefit, thinking only of myself and failing to take joy in her good fortune.

When we talked about it, we realized that it was a toxic dynamic and we resolved to change it. From there, it was a direct line to polyamory. Once we realized that each other’s gain wasn’t our loss, monogamy no longer made sense. If we were able to take joy in a partner’s day off work, why couldn’t we take joy in a partner’s fun sexual experience? Or in a partner’s new relationship energy? Or in a particularly well-thought-out gift from another partner?

It wasn’t instantaneous of course. It took a lot of work and processing before we were able to stop thinking in terms of “fairness” or poly guilt and get to the point where we could feel real compersion. But it all started by realizing that capitalization was an important relationship skill, and that things that made each other happy should not be harmful to us.

Lembke also endorses the idea of making an effort:

Once you realize the importance of capitalization, there’s no reason not to make a conscious effort to do a better job of it. So the next time your beloved shares a personal success, remember that a heartfelt “congratulations!” goes a long way toward fanning those warm feelings that sustain relationship happiness.

It’s a lot easier to eliminate or mitigate sexual and romantic jealousy when we’re working to eliminate jealousy from all parts of our relationship. While jealousy tends to be stronger when it comes to sex and relationships, there are plenty of places where it can creep into our relationships. Making an effort to capitalize the small things can make it easier to be happy about the bigger things.

My Poly Nightmare

“A lot of unethical behavior comes from people trying to protect themselves by controlling partners”

— Franklin Veaux, Poly Living 2015

This is a story about how the polyamorous community failed me my family. It details our abuse and mistreatment, first at the hands of several of our partners and friends, and then at the hands of community leaders.

I was happy to have this conversation in private, and much of it has been. However, my antagonists have since moved the conversation into the public sphere, and therefore I think a public response is necessary. I am writing this for several reasons. First, I wish to address the public accusations against me, as they are, by and large, false and misleading. Second is purely self-expression. There are a lot of people attempting to shame me into silence, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to give in to those kinds of tactics. But more than anything, I am writing this in the hope that it will help the poly community improve.

I’m hoping that my story can help the rest of the community see how even well-meaning policies can end up furthering and reinforcing abuse if they aren’t well thought-out in advance, and how lazy, irresponsible, or corrupt leadership can mean disaster. Above all, this story is meant to show that we are not building communities that reflect our values, and to hopefully inspire some changes in the way that we do things.

One of my favorite quotes from More Than Two is the following (pp. 51-52):

We keep hearing that polyamory is hard work. We don’t agree-at least not for the reasons that people say. But developing the skills to be successful in poly relationships? That’s a different story. Learning to understand and express your needs, learning to take responsibility for your emotions… that’s hard work. Once you’ve developed those skills, poly relationships aren’t hard.

In the above quote, authors Veaux and Rickert identify two key skills that make poly relationships easy: (1) understanding and expressing your needs; and (2) taking responsibility for your emotions. This is a story about people who do these two things and people who don’t, and the conflicts that arise between them. At different points in this story, I fall into both categories. But if you don’t agree that it’s best to be in the former category, then you can save yourself a lot of reading and just conclude that I’m a jerk and our communities are fine, because that’s all this story is going to show you.

This story is completely true, as best I can remember it. However, memory is seriously unreliable, easily distorted, and even falsely manipulated.  Many of these events took place years before this account was written, making all memories of events especially unreliable. Wherever possible, I’ve relied on written records. Unless otherwise indicated, anything that appears in quotation marks is a direct quote from a written source. Any description of emails, texts, or IM’s has been made after a thorough review of all such communications, and I’ve attempted to give a reasonable amount of context for any such communications where appropriate. I’ve also attempted to verify accounts with witnesses whenever written accounts aren’t available.

Still, several of the events contained in this account are not recorded anywhere, and so rely purely on memory for their descriptions. The necessity of this is unfortunate, but unavoidable. I’ve tried to make it easy to tell which portions are from memory and which are from records, and the portions relying on memory should be viewed with greater skepticism.

This story is told in ten parts. It carries a trigger warning for abuse, sexual assault, gaslighting, victim blaming, and just generally people being awful to each other:

  • Part 1: About Me. Background about my views on relationships, Ask vs. Guess Culture, certain boundaries I have, and how I respond to criticism.
  • Part 2: Opening Up. A short summary of Gina and my early experiences with open relationships, my game-changing relationship with Jessie, and some poor partner- selection decisions that Gina and I made.
  • Part 3: Failure to Communicate. This part discusses my relationship with Ginny Brown and her massive dishonesty, which I consider the worst romantic relationship of my life.
  • Part 4: Gina’s Abusive Relationship with Shaun. The story of Shaun McGonigal’s abuse of my wife Gina for over a year, Ginny’s enabling and excuse-making, and its effects on my household.
  • Part 5: The Community Abandons Gina. A short interlude about the lack of support that Gina received from the poly community after reporting that she was an abuse victim.
  • Part 6: Terry. My greatest regret: my first date with a friend of Ginny’s, my own negligence, and our mutual inability to see each other’s lack of enthusiasm about sexual activity.
  • Part 7: Idealization, Devaluation, Discard. Our ex-friend Hilary Nunes, her unwavering support for us, and her complete 180 after we stopped giving her what she wanted.
  • Part 8: Ginny and Shaun Attack. Ginny and Shaun’s first attempt to blame us for Shaun’s abuse of Gina and Ginny’s dishonesty and enabling.
  • Part 9: The Second Attack and the Community’s Disappointing Response. Shaun, Ginny, and Hilary’s February 2015 offensive and the shameful and counterproductive way it was handled by the Polyamory Leadership Network and Billy Holder of Atlanta Poly Weekend.
  • Part 10: Waking Up From the Nightmare. A discussion of how to establish real accountability in the poly community.

Amber has also told her story, which people may find relevant.

On Culpability

Culpability is a general theme of this story. Culpability is a term from the criminal law, and generally depends on one’s mental state. I feel that’s a reasonable way to judge what degree of blame someone bears when someone else gets hurt in our personal lives as well as the legal system. Our system generally recognizes four categories of culpability for harm done (in descending order):

  • Purpose: a person is considered to have acted purposefully when the harm done was the conscious goal of the actor. When a person takes an action with the explicit goal of causing harm, their mental state is considered purposeful.
  • Knowledge: a person is considered to have acted knowingly when they were aware that their actions would almost certainly cause harm, but such harm was not their conscious goal. When a person takes an action that they know will cause harm, their mental state is considered knowledgeable.
  • Recklessness: a person is considered to have acted recklessly when they acted in conscious and unreasonable disregard of a known risk. A person is reckless where they are aware that their actions have a substantial risk of causing harm, and such risk is unreasonable under the circumstances.
  • Negligence: a person is considered to have acted negligently when they took an unreasonable risk that they should have known about, but were not consciously aware of. Where a person is unaware that their actions pose an unreasonable risk of causing harm, but they should have known the risk, their mental state is negligent.

Except for the unusual situation where a person announces their intentions, a person’s mental state is inferred from circumstances, which usually requires a rather comprehensive understanding of the facts of the situation. People are presumed to intend the natural and probable results of their actions. Factfinders will properly consider the “totality of the circumstances” in order to determine a person’s mental state. If there is evidence to suggest that someone acted with a certain level of intent, then any such evidence is worth considering.

Outside of certain exceptional circumstances, our legal system does not punish people for actions unless their mental state falls under one of the categories above. The theory is that, unless we are at least willing to say that someone should have known that their actions would cause harm, they are not responsible for the harm done. In terms of degree, a negligent mental state generally carries far less punishment than a reckless mental state, which carries less punishment than a knowing mental state. I consider this a reasonable way to judge how blameworthy a person is, so it is the standard I apply in my personal life as well, and the standard I feel we should use in our shared spaces.

Louisa Leontiades expresses the importance of intentions for reasons other than culpability:

For me there is a striking difference between continuing to be an abuser when it is intentional and conscious and being an abuser when it is unintentional and unconscious. The difference has less to do with levels of culpability, and more with understanding which source to tackle in order to prevent further abuse even whilst acknowledging that all abuse has severe ramifications whether it is unintentional and unconscious or intentional and conscious. The goal must be to become conscious of it, in others and especially in ourselves.

It’s often said that “intentions are not magic,” which is true. Nothing about a person’s intentions erases the harm done by their actions, so a person’s intentions are not relevant to the question of whether harm was done. Such harm should be acknowledged and appreciated regardless of fault or intent. A person’s mental state is only relevant to the question of how much responsibility that person bears for the harm done. If we are unable to conclude that a person knew or should have known that their actions were unreasonably harmful, then it makes no sense to place any blame or fault on that person for harm done. If, on the other hand, we can conclude that a person was aware of the harm they were causing and did not have a good reason for doing so, then it makes sense to hold that person accountable for that harm.

“Abuse” is itself a loaded and vague term. Some people describe any relationship where a person is significantly harmed as abusive. Others reserve use of the term to describe a situation where a person’s behavior was intentional. Some people use it to describe mild irritation. No single use of the term is correct or incorrect, but inconsistent use leads to confusion. For purposes of this document, “abuse” will be used only to describe situations where the abuser has been at least negligent, and a person will not be described as an abuser unless I’m willing to say that, at the very least, they should have known that their actions would be unreasonably harmful.

Culpability, Guilt, and Emotional Blackmail

My girlfriend Amber and I are reading Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. A general theme of the book is that guilt is a favorite weapon of blackmailers. A blackmailer’s favorite statement is “you hurt me,” because it’s an easy way to create guilt which can then be leveraged to control people. From the book (p. 69):

Love and respect are equated with total obedience, and when that’s not forthcoming, it’s as though a betrayal has taken place. The party line of the blackmailer, repeated with infinite variations, is You are only doing this to hurt me. You care nothing for my feelings.

Keeping the focus on culpability short-circuits the blackmailer’s attempt to create guilt by requiring a discussion of facts and competing needs, not just one person’s feelings. Blackmailers are used to a situation where the mere acknowledgment that someone was hurt means that the other person feels guilty and usually gives in to whatever they’re asking.

One of the first points made by the book is that “blackmail takes two.” Because it’s difficult to make me feel guilty unless I also feel culpable, emotional blackmail is mostly ineffective against me. A person can’t just say “you hurt me” to create guilt unless my culpability is apparent. To create guilt, they must say “you hurt me by doing this specific thing, which you should not have done because….” which is difficult to do without a legitimate case. Would-be emotional blackmailers usually give up when it becomes clear that just saying “you hurt me” isn’t enough to create a fog of guilt. I consider this one of my most important defenses against emotional blackmail, and probably the biggest reason that would-be emotional blackmailers have such a problem with me.

Rejecting the idea that one should automatically feel guilty over another person’s pain also helps with good communication. It’s much easier to inform someone that their actions hurt you when you’re not worried about them collapsing into a pile of guilt or getting overly defensive. When both people in the conversation require culpability to assign guilt or blame, it’s easy for “you hurt me” to be the start of a conversation, not the end of one.

The Right Way to Have Relationships

I feel very strongly that people should be allowed, free of negative judgments, to conduct their relationships however they please so long as everyone involved gives coercion-free, informed consent. What is a healthy relationship for one person may be severely damaging to a different person (and vice versa). I know that the relationships that are healthy and enjoyable for me can be miserable for the wrong kind of person, and can even result in feeling abused. The converse also applies: relationships that are healthy for others can be seriously damaging to me, leaving me feeling abused and mistreated. I believe that everyone should be given the choice for themselves about what kind of relationship(s) to have, and how to express them. So long as people give informed consent that is free of coercion, I don’t think anyone ought to tell them how to behave with each other. I also have no tolerance for the attitude that that one’s preferred way to practice relationships is obvious, and that everyone should conform to that preference without even being told what it is.

Because legitimate consent must be informed, I consider it unethical to be dishonest about anything that you know (or should know) will impact someone’s decision to be in a relationship or how to practice that relationship. A person cannot consent to something they don’t know about, so misleading people into forming relationships is a serious consent violation.

On a practical level, it is impossible to give someone all of the information that may impact their decisions about your relationship. Different people care about different things, and nobody can guess everything that’s going to be important to someone else. So just like in any other situation, people should not be blamed for failing to make disclosures unless they knew or should have known that such disclosures were necessary to establish informed consent.

Part 1: About Me

Living with Elephants.

I’ve been wanting to write something about my personal experiences with abuse in adult relationships. I’ve spent the last decade working very hard to become the person I am, and I’ve learned a lot of unexpected lessons along the way, some of which I’ve never written about before.

I’m writing this in part because I ended up in a really good place and I’m proud of the life I’ve built, and in part because I know there are people who believe that the way my partners and I practice direct communication and firm boundary setting is dysfunctional and harmful. I wanted to tell my story so anyone who’s curious can understand how I got here. I want to invite you into my headspace.

This is by no means, a comprehensive list of everything I’ve ever been through or even a complete telling of each of these stories, but hopefully it’s enough to give a decent background.

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and physical and sexual assault.

Lesson 1: Sometimes Love Just Isn’t Enough

So when I was 19 I met my first serious boyfriend. I’ll tell you right off the bat, I was extremely codependent. For as long as I can remember I was obsessed with the idea of being in love, and I thought this guy was amazing. He was smart, he was funny, and he was ridiculously charming. So of course my entire life revolved around our relationship, and I did everything in my power to make it work. I worked very hard to be whoever he needed me to be because I was operating from a place of scarcity. I thought if he left me I’d have an impossible time finding anyone I loved half as much as I loved him. My self-worth and happiness was completely wrapped up in him. It wasn’t a healthy situation.

I quickly learned he was not a good dude. He isolated me from my friends by picking fights with me when I spent time with them, he got into screaming fights with me in public, he gave me the silent treatment and withheld affection when I didn’t do what he wanted, he accused me of cheating on him with every male friend I had, he lied to me all the time, he broke my favorite possessions when he felt rejected, he pushed me into walls, he threw things at my head, he regularly tried to initiate sex with me while I was asleep even though I expressed that it was not okay dozens of times, he pushed me out of bed while I was sleeping, he kept me awake until 4 am arguing with me about sex, he pressured me into sex acts I wasn’t comfortable with, he actually said the phrase, “you’re my girlfriend, you’re not allowed to say no”, he told me I was fat, he scaled a wall and tried to kick down the door after I locked him outside after a particularly nasty fight, he threatened to kill himself when I tried to leave him, and after our breakup I told him to never contact me again and he showed up at both my jobs and had his friend drive him to my parents house at 1am. That’s just what I remember off the top of my head.

The day I finally left him, he shook me awake at 4am and told me that he’d scoured my computer, hacked into my private online journal, and searched through all of my things looking for evidence that I was cheating on him. What he found was that I had a weird website in my browsing history (a website where dudes pay girls to pretend to be their girlfriends that my friend had sent to me as a joke) and an entry I wrote in my private journal where I complained about him calling me fat and said that he was an asshole because he was the one who was 200lbs. (Which was super mean! And I didn’t even mean it. I liked his body a lot…but I was tired of him constantly trying to use my weight – 115lbs, btw – to make me feel bad when I wouldn’t do what he wanted.) So he told me this, and I sat there, and I listened to everything he had to say, and I nodded my head, and I was like…say whatever you have to say to to keep him calm until you can leave for work. (It was only about two weeks before that he’d shoved me into a wall during a fight and punched the refrigerator across the kitchen.) I vaguely recall him crying about the weight thing, and giving me a speech about how he didn’t trust me because I didn’t tell him things, but that he was happy he didn’t find any evidence that I was cheating. When I got to work I begged my coworkers to help me move out.

Breaking up with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Because I didn’t want to leave. When it was good, it was so good, and I was clinging to that feeling. I wanted to believe that if I just changed in this or that way, that he would be the guy I fell in love with all the time. But that morning something in my brain snapped and I realized there was nothing I could do to make it work. That he was a broken person and I couldn’t fix him and I needed to get away from him before he really hurt me. I remember crying to a friend of mine, “I don’t know how to not be his girlfriend anymore.”

Lesson 2: Learning To Be A Whole Person

At 21, I was a person whose entire identity was wrapped up in being this person’s girlfriend. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t have healthy boundaries, and I didn’t like myself very much.

All I really knew at that point was that I wanted to do the hard work be the kind of person who wouldn’t last five minutes in that kind of relationship. I wanted to be the kind of person who would stand up for herself at the first sign of trouble, and who wasn’t afraid to walk away. I wanted to look at a guy like that and say, “Holy crap, I cannot get out of here fast enough.”

Within a few days of breaking up with him I started reading about codependency and I was like yeah, this is why I let it get this bad, and I spent the next SIX YEARS being single and doing the hard work of figuring out who I was, what I wanted, and how to communicate effectively. I knew the first thing I needed to do was learn how to be independent and take care of myself.

It was really hard. My relationship with my first boyfriend was terrible, and I didn’t know how terrible it was because I’d never had a good relationship. I thought I was proving my love for him by tolerating my misery. I thought everyone treated everyone badly, and the only way to be close to anyone was to be willing to tolerate treatment you didn’t like.

There’s a quote from Stephen King that fits.

There’s a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.

I was 23 when I started casually seeing someone who was really cool to me and super respectful of my boundaries, and my mind was blown. Omg, is this a thing I can actually expect from people? We dated about a total of five minutes because it didn’t take me long to start acting kind of weird about it.

Before he dumped me for making it awkward (I mean, he claims it was because he was going through his own recovery and was working on himself and didn’t want to get too wrapped up in anyone, buuut I think it was because I was stupid-into him) I remember spending about three hours waiting for him to call and it was giving me terrible anxiety, and I was like, wow, this exactly the person I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be so into someone that I can’t live my life when they aren’t around. And I decided then that I really shouldn’t date anyone until I could handle being with someone awesome and not not losing my mind over it.

So then I was single a bunch more, and worked really hard on not needing other people to validate my existence. I also worked really hard on managing my feelings and learning how to be a decent communicator. I casually dated five or six people between the ages of 21 and 26, but nothing really happened there because I quickly figured out we weren’t very compatible or there were problems I wasn’t willing to overlook.

Lesson 3: No More Nice Girl

When I was around the age of 24 I was sexually assaulted by a manager from work. He invited me to go out bowling with him and a group of his friends, and I almost didn’t accept his invitation because I found him a bit skeevy, but he assured me it was just as friends and nothing would happen. He was laying on the pressure pretty thick and was acting hurt by my resistance, so I confirmed with him three times that it was not a date and that I wouldn’t go if he thought it was a date, and he assured me it was just as friends. I went because we had a ball-busting kind of relationship and I thought it would be really fun to play a competitive sport and shit talk and also because he made me feel guilty. At what I thought was the end of the night he hugged me and asked if it would be cool if we went back to his friends house for an hour or so. He was my ride, and I didn’t know how to express my discomfort with the idea without hurting this feelings and making it awkward, so I said sure. Once we got there, he made it a point to have ONE shot and then claim he was too drunk to drive. Eventually his friends left, and the couple who owned the house left the room and began having loud sex in the next room. A few minutes passed and without any warning, he grabbed me really hard and shoved his hand down my pants, hurting me in the process. He immediately apologized saying he was drunk. He was 250lbs and he was claiming he was losing self control over a shot he’d taken over a half an hour ago. Shaking, I did everything I could to make sure I didn’t upset him until I was able to get him to take me home, then he locked me in the car and begged me not to tell anyone what had happened. For the next few weeks he texted me frantically, “You’re not going to tell anyone, right?” and I told him very firmly over and over again to leave me alone. Not long after he was fired because as it turned out I wasn’t the only female employee he’d assaulted.

This is when I stopped being afraid to hurt people’s feelings. I learned I don’t value other people’s emotional comfort more than I value my own safety. I felt like I’d fallen into a trap designed specifically to prey on girls who valued being nice over being honest and I vowed that night to stop being a nice girl.

Lesson 4: Learning to Put Myself First

Not long after the incident with my manager, my roommate moved out and I had to interview for new roommates. I ended up picking someone who told me that she was trying to escape an abusive relationship. She was a terrible match for me personality-wise, but I really wanted to help her because I saw something of myself in her story. Not long after she moved in, she started seeing her abusive ex again and I was like oh god, what did I get myself into? But she broke up with him for good when she found another boyfriend and things seemed pretty okay. A few weeks in her new boyfriend started stealing from me and I said something and she was like, “Yeah, I know. He’s kind of an entitled asshole.” Then one day I came home to find the living room completely wrecked. Apparently they’d gotten into an argument the day before and he decided to come to our apartment when no one was home and flip furniture to demonstrate his anger. He also put his fist through her bedroom window around this time. I was like, “Okay look, I can’t live like this. You can’t bring him here anymore.” She agreed, but then two days later started telling me I couldn’t tell her what to do. This was my very first experience having to set firm boundaries with someone. I was like “hey, if you want to keep doing this that is entirely up to you, but if you do, you can’t live here anymore. I don’t want this in my life. This is my apartment. I invited you to move in with me. I’m not going to leave, you are.” She responded by harassing me. Trashing my room, breaking things, threatening me…so I told her she had a week to get out, and when she didn’t leave I packed all her shit for her and was like, no really, goodbye. You don’t live here anymore.

I set firm boundaries in a potentially violent situation, and I still can’t decide if that was incredibly badass or extremely reckless, but my take away was if I could set boundaries with her, I can set boundaries with anybody. It’s kind of hard to find dumb reasons to be scared of people after something like that. It was also a lesson in why I shouldn’t make important life decisions based on other people’s problems. I didn’t feel good about choosing her for my roommate, but I thought I was doing the right thing. I let myself feel obligated to save her when my obligation should have been to myself to pick the best roommate.

Lesson 5: Learning to Tackle Problems As Fast As Possible

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last bad roommate situation. When I was about 26 I had a best friend/roommate who I had to break up with because she never talked to me about any issues she had with me and she had so many issues. I was constantly having to guess at what I did to upset her. She was bipolar so the things that would set her off were usually pretty tiny and her reactions were really disproportionate. She was frequently running around slamming doors and being passive-aggressive. Of course, I think she recognized that her reactions were really intense, which is a large part of the reason she didn’t say anything, but at some point I suddenly figured out that I wanted to learn how to talk to people about any and all problems ASAP and never ever let things get like this with anyone ever again. It was the worst friend break up ever because she was my favorite person in the world but I couldn’t take it anymore. I was like look, I have to go become a whole other person who doesn’t get involved in this kind of shit because this is a nightmare.

Lesson 6: Learning to Be the Partner I Want

When I was 27 I started dating a guy I met through some good friends of mine. He was a direct communicator, and I REALLY liked that about him. I never had to guess what was going on with him. He always told me what he thought regardless of the consequences and I loved this about him. He often hurt my feelings by being a little too honest, but I strongly preferred this relationship style to anything where I had to guess at what someone wanted or what they were thinking or I had to worry that what they were telling me wasn’t the whole truth. I quickly realized his honesty empowered me to make informed decisions about my own choices.

A year into our relationship we decided to explore polyamory, but we had a difference of opinion about how polyamory should work (he was more on the mostly-for-the-sex end of things and I was a full on relationship anarchist right out the gate) so we spent the next two years debating how we thought it should work. I dated two other people during the course of our relationship, but neither relationship worked out for reasons independent of our relationship. He “dated” (I feel like that’s maybe a strong word for what he had going on) a few other people, but it didn’t work out because the people he chose were very monogamous. One day he came home and announced, “I really like this woman I met at my kids’ soccer practice and I want to go on a date with her!” and I was like, “Cool. You should! Tell me about her.” and he was like, “Well…she’s monogamous and I think she has a problem with the fact that I have a girlfriend.” And I was like, “Well, let me solve that problem for you.” And that was that.

I was really tired of trying to navigate non-monogamy with him, and by then I was so committed to the idea of polyamory that I found our relationship controlling (he very much didn’t want me to date other men or have serious feels for other people) and it was making me miserable. I mean, there were a lot of other things factoring into our break up (sexual incompatibilities, my lack of interest in being a parent to his kids, etc.) but his desire to go on that date was a clear indicator that it was time to walk away.

But I learned a lot about myself in those three years. He was the most independent person I’d dated up to that point, and he respected my autonomy more than any other person I’d been with before. (Except for with my dating choices, he was rarely trying to manipulate me into capitulating to his feelings.) It actually hadn’t occurred to me that it was possible to have that much autonomy and still maintain a serious relationship.

And it’s important to know that the first year of our relationship was hard for me because I wasn’t used to so much honesty and I often wished he was a little more wrapped up in me. It took me some time to realize that most of the time, I couldn’t actually argue with what he was doing. I realized I thought he was entitled to share things if they were true (because I wanted direct and honest communication), and he was entitled to his choices/boundaries even if I didn’t like them (because I wanted us to be autonomous and in control of our own choices.) And it wasn’t up to me to try to change what he was doing, it was up to me to manage my expectations and communicate my desires so we could both make informed decisions about what we were going to do.

I realized I could be in a relationship with someone who shared their feelings with me and did what they wanted if I stopped expecting them to be responsible for me. I was like…this is it. This is the key to being the person I want to be and having happy relationships.

At the time I had a hard time articulating to friends why I stayed with him despite our incompatibilities and my frustrations, and it was because I trusted him in ways I never trusted anyone else. And truth: he cheated on me several times. People are so outraged on my behalf about that and I’m like oh no. I never trusted him in that way. I always trusted he would stick his dick wherever he wanted. But I also trusted he would tell me about it afterward, and that’s what was important to me.

But eventually I was like man, I can’t deal with your nonsense anymore. I need to go be poly and navigate the scary world of building relationships that feel right for me. I broke up with him and two days later I found Wes. I read his okc profile three times and I was like, “omg, this guy is guy sounds perfect for me.”

Lesson 7: Putting These Lessons To Work

Let me just say right now, I approached Wes with a great deal of skepticism. Because I always assume people are lying about who they are and what they want. (A lesson I learned from my first boyfriend, who figured out what I wanted and pretended to be that guy, and then surprised me with a serious personality disorder.) But the reason I showed up for our first date was that I thought these were weird qualities to lie about since most people probably don’t look for those things in a partner.

I kept some emotional distance from Wes for the first few months we dated because I had this rule I’d made with myself about not letting anyone get too close to me until they’d shown they could be consistent and act with integrity. I absolutely refuse to let NRE open me up to abuse and manipulation. But don’t get me wrong, I knew I liked him immediately.

So a few weeks into our relationship I was contacted by one of his exes through a mutual friend, and she told me he’s a manipulative asshole and she suggested I “run not walk” away. I was like holy crap. That is a really bad sign. I tried to warn someone about my first boyfriend and she didn’t listen, so the fact that this person was reaching out to me said A LOT.

I considered dumping Wes on the spot. Being like, “Sorry bro” and never talking to him again. I didn’t talk to Wes for an entire day while I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I didn’t immediately approach him about it because I figured it would open me up to manipulation. I decided that I would keep hanging out with him, but I would be REALLY careful about developing more feels for him, and I would look even harder for red flags. After two weeks of trying to find red flags and coming up empty-handed I confronted him about it.

He was like, “Oh god, is that why you’re acting so weird?” And he explained to me why his ex hates him, and Gina and Jessie confirmed his story. (Mostly that he argued with her opinions and motivations and she HATED it. And he explained what some of those opinions were and I was like eww. Then he showed me public blog comments she made and I was like yeesh.) I was like, okay. Well, we have a lot of the same opinions and values so…I’m going to keep an eye on you buuuut I’m guessing I’m not going to have the issues she had. I mean, she said he was bad in bed and I already didn’t agree with that. Also, he managed to prove she was lying in the three sentences she shared with me. I was like well, if that was a lie, it calls the rest of it into question.

That was a weird experience for me because I was scared to reject such an obviously bad sign because overlooking bad signs isn’t something I do anymore. I was like, I really hope I don’t feel like an idiot about this a few months from now when I find out you’re a total asshole. But I reminded myself I can walk away at any time. After spending two years trying to navigate polyamory with someone who just didn’t agree with my relationship style, I decided not to let myself get suckered by the sunk cost fallacy again, which is where you keep investing in something even after you learn it’s a bad idea because you’ve already invested so much already. I made a deal with myself right then that I wouldn’t hesitate to leave if I found a good reason.

The first year of our relationship went really smoothly. All our arguments were about things he’d said to other people. Because I was like, “*I* know what you’re saying, but I also know what they’re hearing, and I think you should approach it differently.” We didn’t have these fights ourselves because our values are so similar and I can typically figure out his motivations really quickly after just a few questions, but I understand where other people are coming from because I haven’t always thought the way I think. I had to really work to get here. So I often feel I can bridge the gap in understanding.

Of course, more often than not, the more I talked to him about it the more I realize his approach makes more sense than mine even if my immediate reaction is, “Hey, don’t do that ever.” As part of my recovery from codependence, I’ve become someone who’s really big on owning my feelings and being productive, so if something I’m doing doesn’t make sense or is counterproductive to my goals, I want to know. So I want to have these conversations. I figure the end result can only be positive because one of us will come out with a better understanding.

But Wes and I did go through a rough spot a little over a year into our relationship because I started to feel like he was taking me for granted. I was like…what is up with you having a super packed schedule and leaving it up to me to make sure we spend time together? And I straight up told him like yo, I will break up with you if you expect me to do all the leg work to keep this relationship going. That is not something I’m willing to do for anybody. And he was like…wait, what’s happening?

Here’s the transcript of us resolving that fight forever:

Wesley Fenza: I’m really concerned about how you’ve been talking about our relationship recently

More Than Two talks about not seeing people as need-fulfillment machines, and that’s kind of how I feel to you

like, you sound like you’re saying that you need X amount of attention, and it’s my job to give you that, and if I only give you 80%, then our relationship is worthless and you should just leave

and I worry because, even if I do want to give you that level of attention, it feels suffocating to me to feel like I can’t play a video game or go on a date without it upsetting you

 Amber Lea: I feel like what I want from you is really basic and reasonable.

 Wesley Fenza: I still don’t know what it is

from what I can tell, it’s time and exclusive attention

what is it that you want from me?

 Amber Lea: I mean, I basically want you to reach out to me for attention because that’s how I know my attention is wanted.

 Wesley Fenza: but how much and how often?

or are you saying that I never do that?

 Amber Lea: I feel like a bare minimum of like 15 minutes a day would do a lot, and then a couple hours here and there. I mean, basically what you’ve been doing lately.

 Wesley Fenza: ok

I definitely want to do that

I’m just confused because your blog post led me to believe that what I’ve been doing since our last talk isn’t enough

 Amber Lea: Well when I said I felt like you were trying more before and you responded with something along the lines of, “Am I? I don’t know what I’m doing differently” I got the message that you weren’t actually going to do anything, and that the additional attention I was getting was just a temporary increase, and had nothing to do with what I was saying.

Like I want to know that you’re willing to put in a little effort to meet my needs and you’re not going to just ignore me and hope I stop complaining. And it sounds like you are willing to do that, and that makes me feel better.

 Wesley Fenza: well

I get nervous using words like “effort”

 Amber Lea: yeah yeah

 Wesley Fenza: I think if spending time together takes effort, then there’s a problem

 Amber Lea: You know what I mean

I want to know that my needs matter to you

 Wesley Fenza: ok

they do

but not to the point where I’m going to spend time with you when really, I’d rather be doing something else

like, that’s more a hard line I draw

it’s not about how important your needs are. It’s that I think that’s a thing people shouldn’t do under almost any circumstances

but the effort I’m making is to remind myself that spending time with you is an option whenever you’re not in the room, and ask myself if I want to do that

 Amber Lea: And it’s like…I’m not mad at you because you play video games for three hours. Like I am perfectly capable of getting sucked into something (a game, tumblr, GoT) and ignoring the world for hours and I don’t think that’s a terrible thing to do. It’s just when you haven’t hung out with me in a long time and I’m like hey heyheyhey, and I get nothing…and I know you’re going to go on a date later or do whatever and there’s not a lot of space for me in your schedule, I start to feel like I’m less important than pretty much anything else you could be doing. Like man, you can make time for hours of video games and you can’t make 15 minutes for me?

 Wesley Fenza: ok

I think, in those situations, I never understand that you’re feeling that way

like, it’s hard to tell the difference between when you’re just poking me because you think it’s funny and when you’re poking me because you feel neglected

so it would help if you were like “hey, let’s spend some time together” or something

 Amber Lea: If I’m poking you when you’re already engaged with me it’s because I think it’s funny.

Would it help if I just walked up and said, “Fuck you, give me ALL THE HUGS!” and then tackled you?

Because that’s more my style.

 Wesley Fenza: yes

especially if you only want attention for like 15 minutes, you can do that whenever

I’m rarely doing anything I’m unwilling to stop for 15 minutes

 [I deleted talk about lunch.]

 Amber Lea: But yeah, I feel better. I’ll PROBABLY stop writing journal entries about how I hate you.

Maybe.

No promises.

 Wesley Fenza: you can write journals about how you hate me

just write them for better reasons

 Amber Lea: whatever!

 Wesley Fenza: there are like a million reasons to hate me

really good reasons

I was trying to explain this to xxxxx last night

 Amber Lea: Yeah, but none of those reasons bother me.

 Wesley Fenza: she was all “…you don’t SEEM like a jerk”

 Amber Lea: omg, you’re such a jerk

 Wesley Fenza: I KNOW!

I told her you pretty much can’t be an Ask person and not be a jerk

and this was after I’d just spent 20 minutes talking about how social etiquette is stupid!

For the record, Wes is a jerk because he’s a direct communicator and he has really strong boundaries and he doesn’t let people bully him into doing things he doesn’t want to do. Like, if you decide you want to get Wes to put your feelings before his, good luck to you. But this isn’t something I fault him for. This is something I admire about him, because really, we should all be better at asserting ourselves and not letting people push us around just because they had a feeling.

And I’ve personally never felt pushed around by Wes, but that’s because I understand that Wes isn’t trying to cross my boundaries. He’s asserting his own. Like when he said, “I’m [not] going to spend time with you when really, I’d rather be doing something else.”…a lot of people might feel really hurt, or find it abusive, or think he’s a complete jerk. But he’s asserting a totally legit boundary. One most people would be too afraid to articulate. And I don’t want him to spend time with me if he’d rather do something else. That’s not fun for anybody. And it’s obvious to me that if that’s what he’s doing…maybe it’s not because he’s an asshole, maybe it’s because it’s time to break up.

I can look at that statement and say that now, because I’m really good at not being codependent and trying to save the relationship at all costs, or making people responsible for my feelings.

That was our first and last fight about our relationship.

Lesson 8: Revisiting Bad Relationship Dynamics.

But Wes isn’t my only partner. I’ve also been in a relationship with his wife and partner of 11 years, Gina. Not long into my relationship with Wes I realized, uhh yeah, I have super gay feels for her because she is amazing, and several weeks later I learned that Gina was in an abusive relationship with her other partner, Shaun. I hadn’t quite anticipated what it would be being in an abusive metamour situation.

I was there for the second condom-gate, where everyone found out that Shaun was fucking one of his partners without a condom and didn’t tell anyone. Then it came out that he had a pattern of pressuring his partners into foregoing condoms and then pressuring them not to tell. Gina also revealed a pattern of trust violations and poor treatment, and she was struggling with the idea that she should break up with him, but couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Shortly after that I spent New Years with Wes, Gina and the rest of the polycule. New Years is also Wes and Gina’s anniversary, and I spent the night crushing on Gina super hard and the three of us spent the night together.

She woke up in the morning to find that Shaun had sent her a bunch of cruel text messages because he was jealous he wasn’t invited. Shaun had had a long history of carelessly fucking anyone he wanted with total disregard for Gina and had in fact just locked us out of the greenroom at a show to have sex with someone the previous night, so it was heartbreaking to watch him guilt her to tears. At the time Gina was struggling to feel safe being sexual with people, and that fight shut the whole thing down. Eventually she stopped having sex with anyone at all because she’d begun to associate sex with drama.

Living In A Supportive Bubble

I’m not really sure of the timeline here, but Gina also started dating Hilary around this time. Hilary was extremely loving and supportive, and I decided not to actively pursue anything with Gina because I didn’t want to pressure her, and I felt that Hilary was an amazing partner and I found it kind of intimidating.

At some point Shaun snapped over how much shit he was in for the condom situation and he started throwing chairs around the house and he threatened to punch Wes in the face.

I was about two months in at this point and I was pretty freaked out. I was thinking, Jesus Christ, I’ve tried so hard to stay away from this shit…what did I get myself into? I wasn’t sure how to handle it, so I waited and watched how it unfolded. I didn’t want to hold everyone responsible for the fact that Shaun had a violent outburst, so I decided to see how they reacted.

I ended up feeling really good about the way they handled it. They were like, “Okay, that was totally unacceptable. What are we going to do about it?” and they had a house meeting and discussed options. I believe it was decided that Shaun either had to work on getting better in a very real way (therapy) or he had to leave. I was so glad it was not okay. It make me feel really safe to know that this kind of behavior wouldn’t be swept under the rug.

It became pretty apparent that Shaun wasn’t really interesting in trying, and Gina was concerned about the safety of everyone in the house, so she asked Shaun and Ginny to move out.

Throughout all of this Hilary was there, supporting us and showering us with compliments about how well we were handling it and how much she admired us, and I grew really fond of her. She used to come over and start conversations about how terrible Shaun was and how amazing we all were and I found it cathartic because Shaun reminded me so much of my first boyfriend.

Over the next few months I grew really happy and comfortable with my new family, and I felt surrounded by love and affection. The only thing that was hard for me was watching Gina hurt over Shaun, but Hilary was on it, saying all the right things and I felt that between the four of us (Wes, Jessie, Hilary and me) we were taking care of Gina to the best of our ability.

Once Shaun was finally out of the house, Hilary was our cheerleader and our advocate through all his attacks, public and private. And I grew to trust Hilary in a way I haven’t trusted anyone, possibly ever. She was super validating. She made us believe we could do no wrong, and it felt really fucking good.

But she was a super busy lady, and she started coming around less and less. She also started drinking more, and she always drank a lot, and I actually remarked at one point, “Is Hilary okay?” Hilary and I didn’t have a texting relationship or anything so she was fading from my life. At one point I emailed her, sad that she’d deleted her facebook, asking how to keep in contact. I’d generally felt that all my communications with her were getting weirder and weirder, so I didn’t press the issue. She kept us pretty separate from the rest of her life, so I assumed there was a lot going on that she didn’t feel comfortable talking to me about.

Reality Sets In

Then I get this text telling me Hilary blew up at rehearsal. I made them tell me the story about 15 times because I didn’t understand what they were saying. I kept saying something along the lines of, “…first of all, this story doesn’t make sense, second of all, that doesn’t sound like Hilary.” And they kept shouting at me, “I KNOW!”

I’ve probably grilled them on what went down about 87 times by now because I was like, “But no really, what happened? You must be leaving something out.” Because as most people know by now, it turned into this whole big thing about how my partners abused Hilary and I can’t understand how. And I’ve been dying to ask Hilary about it ever since it happened but I never felt like I could because she immediately started stating all these boundaries about us not contacting her and I felt like any attempt on my part to reach out to her would be met with hostility.

Gina broke up with Hilary a few days after her blow-up and I was heart broken. I was like…what happened? I don’t understand. None of this makes sense.

Then Hilary started sending Gina these really shitty emails I was like okay, I can’t even begin to imagine you guys doing anything to deserve that. I watched Gina fall apart. Then I watched Hilary become super good buddies with Shaun, Gina’s abusive ex.

At this point I slowly began to realize she had been treating us all like we were in a crisis negotiation. She was using her training as a crisis counselor on us 24/7, and she never told us what she really thought or felt. And I trusted her completely, thinking she was a good friend.

And now this person who’d only ever showed us with love and support was tearing us apart, and networking with everyone who’d ever felt wronged by us because she wanted us to suffer.

Realizing You’re Not Okay

The situation with Hilary wrecked my ability to trust. I walked around in a daze repeating, “I don’t understand.”

I was resisting the use of the word abuse for myself in this situation until I realized how deeply traumatized I was starting to feel. I watched Gina fall apart, and I was helpless. I was completely unable to shield Gina or give her the tools to deal because I’ve never experienced anything like this. Now not only was she trying to recover from an abusive relationship with Shaun, she was getting vitriol from the person who’d been supporting her throughout it all.

I’ve been trying to build a healthy relationship with Gina for the past year, and it’s been really difficult to establish any kind of stability because her exes don’t stop. We spent six months trying very hard to not engage with them in anyway, and they never stopped. (In all seriousness, Gina is Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim and she has a League of Evil Exes who you have to deal with if you want to be with her.)

Lesson 9: Learning to Put It All Out There

I went through a period of time where I became really worried that Gina was keeping things from me because she never came to me with any issues. I grew super distrustful and pulled away from her without telling her why, and she simultaneously felt triggered by things I was doing because she was worried my motivations were the same as Shaun’s…and we broke up over it.

I was a complete mess. I realized I love this person so fucking much, and now it’s all falling apart because these people will not let us heal.

After curling up in a ball and crying for a week, I went to Gina and told her that I’d been keeping this fear from her that she wasn’t telling me things and that’s why I was acting so distant, and that I hadn’t been talking to her about my feelings because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t pressuring her…and blah, blah, blah I felt like absolute garbage about my choices, and this wasn’t the kind of relationship I wanted to have at all.

We recovered because we finally talked about our feelings around what was happening.

Revisiting A Dark Time

At some point I became aware that Shaun’s history with abuse was a lot darker than I realized and he once hurt a woman so badly she missed three days of work. (I had originally heard he’d put her in the hospital, but some fact checking on Wes’s part revealed this fact was misremembered by the person who originally shared it with us.) The account of what happened reminded me so much of my first boyfriend that I spent three days crying.

At one point I confronted Shaun about it because he and Ginny were trying to tell me they were afraid to be in a room with Wes and I snapped and was like, afraid of Wes?! Shaun physically assaulted someone. He has a history of violence. I’m afraid if I make him angry he might hit me. But nobody’s cowering in his presence… so… excuse me if I don’t feel super sympathetic.

But I, personally, was fully prepared to deal with Shaun’s bullshit. I have spent the last decade learning how to not let myself be manipulated by people exactly like him. The second he started his whole, “I’m the real victim here!” campaign I was like, oh no you’re not.

My first boyfriend also insisted he was the real victim. He hooked me into a relationship with him by playing the victim. I later found out that nothing he told me was actually true, and he’d twisted the facts to make himself look like he barely had a choice but to act how he acted. “Like yeah, technically I did those things…but she DROVE ME to do it! Here is a list of things that didn’t happen at all how I’m saying they happened that totally justify why I did that.” Then you know, I drove him to do all the things he did to me. And the girlfriend after me drove him to do even worse things.

Gina’s accounts of Shaun’s behavior are totally inline with my experience with my ex. And nearly all the tools in my abuse prevention belt are for dealing with the Shaun’s of the world.

This is why I didn’t think twice when Hilary jumped on board the Shaun Hate Bus and took the wheel. She presented herself as an expert in dealing with abusers and manipulators.

My inbox is full of emails from Hilary saying shit like, “Shaun is having his own little autoerotic pity party. I am loathe to add to his pathetic ‘I’m such a martyr’ spank bank. He will counter by comparing his behavior to Wes’ when there was drama over the blog. I have some responses to that but it’s still fucking horseshit that I know that’s what he will do. I have zero interest in Ginny charging in to rescue him from the mean bitch who is sucker punching her husbo.” (The “mean bitch” here is Hilary.)

Here is part of an email Hilary sent to Shaun: “As for me, you’ve officially earned my invective – no small feat, so some congratulations would be in order if I gave anything resembling a damn. Respond however you wish, but consider the gloves off. I will not be kind, loving or considerate with you again. You have given me all the evidence I require to be confident in my assessment of your behavior and character. I suffer fools rarely, but the openly and unapologetically manipulative and poisonous never.”

Here is an email she wrote to Gina: “I love this, and you. What you wrote here took tremendous strength, resilience, and bravery. I am so proud to know you, and count you as one of the dearest loves in my life. Having only been close to you for some of this journey, I cannot hide my admiration for the brave, reasonable, and self-advocating woman I see in you. You are a champion.”

Imagine my devastation when she swiftly exited our lives and reappeared in Shaun’s camp, saying all the same types of things but with the names switched around.

The Aftermath

Both Gina and Jessie are working through their feelings around Hilary with their therapists, and I’m seriously considering seeking professional help very specifically to deal with my trust issues surrounding Hilary. She snuggled up close to us and got us to open up and be extremely vulnerable with her, and she never gave us any indication that she had an issue, and then she flipped out, and she didn’t just leave…she came after us.

Jessie recently said, “once you have no further use to her, you are garbage, an old pair of jeans or a red dress that she now despises, it isn’t good enough to donate you for someone else to enjoy, she has to slash you up to destroy all evidence of the memories.”

And that’s how it feels. Like she’s done with us, so she needs to slash us up and destroy us. She couldn’t just walk away. She needed to make sure we were of no use to anyone else.

I’ve been trying to figure out what happened here and how I can protect myself in the future. I’ve picked up a pretty thick stack of books to try to sort through it. To be clear: this is something I’m currently struggling with and I don’t have a nice neat little lesson I learned. Other than maybe to be super suspicious of anyone who tells me I’m amazing and that they understand all my feelings and never seems to take issue with anything I do.

Lesson 10: Learning How To Be In the Right Relationship

The only people who have consistently treated me well in the context of a romantic relationship are Wes and Gina. We’re nearly to the year and a half mark and going strong. And I think it’s because I was prepared to be in a relationship with them. I showed up with the skills and tools I needed.

I couldn’t have been in either of these relationships 10 years ago. I would have felt completely overwhelmed by Wes and his confidence and confrontational style, and I would have worked way too hard to make him happy in ways he never asked for while never letting him know I was doing any of it, and I would have grown really resentful when he didn’t reciprocate by constantly guessing at my needs, and I think I wouldn’t have had any clue how to treat Gina well. I probably I would have let her do everything for me and then failed to notice how easy she was making my life, and I can’t imagine I would have been able to tell her anything about my feelings. I probably would have sat on them forever and willed her to be clairvoyant and held it against her when she wasn’t.

I had to learn how to communicate and set clear boundaries. I had to learn who I am and what I want. I had to learn to be someone I like and validate my own existance. I had to learn to manage my expectations and take responsibility for my feelings. And most importantly, I had to learn some goddamned self-awareness. I had to learn those things before I could have a healthy relationship.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to meet people who were already where I am in terms of personal development, and not have to meet someone who was part way there and explain to them what I was doing. Wes, Gina and I haven’t had to teach each other much. We started out on the same page.

I feel like everything I’ve gone through has lead me to this place in my life and all the hardships I went through to get here were worth it. I’ve discovered that it’s possible to have exactly what I want even though it’s incredibly unconventional. That because I was brave enough to be the person I want to be and put myself out there, I was able to find people who love and support me as I am.

Reading List

If anyone’s interested here’s a short list of books I recommend:

Facing Codependence by Pia Melody This is the first book I ever read on codependency. There are probably better books on the topic, but this one really helped me.

Looking Out, Looking In. This is an interpersonal communication book. I’ve read it cover to cover three times. If you want to learn how to have productive conversations this book is awesome. (This is a college textbook so I recommend buying an old edition for cheap.)

More Than Two by Franklin Veaux. I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you want to know how to treat your partners ethically.

The Game by Neil Strauss. I recommend this book so you can be aware of common manipulation tactics that pick up artists and general douchebags use on women.

The Community Does Not Need You to Stay Quiet While Your Partner Is Abused

[UPDATE: Ginny has posted a partial walkback, which articulates a substantially more reasonable position]

Have you ever read an article online, and thought “this is great information! I’m going to share this with everyone!” until you got about 3/4 of the way down, when your jaw just drops because you can’t believe the absolute bullshit place the article went? That’s what it was like when I read Ginny’s post on what to do if your partner is accused of abuse. It starts out with a lot of great advice about supporting abuse victims. I particularly like the parts where she notes the difference between actual believing victims and engaging in victim-supportive behavior. As someone who believes very strongly in the value of honesty, I appreciate that there is no pressure to be dishonest, and the pointing out that there are ways to support victims without giving up our skepticism about how we form beliefs.

Then she gets to this:

Sometimes, accusations of abuse are themselves a form of abuse or manipulation. Your accused partner might themselves be a victim, in this case. If you believe that to be true, then it is absolutely appropriate to direct a lot of compassion and support to them — privately.

I’m sorry, what? I’d like you all to read that again so you understand what she is suggesting. What she is saying is that if your partner is being abused, then you need to shut up and take it. She’s saying that if you try to speak up against the abuse that your partner – an abuse victim – is taking, then you’re not supporting abuse victims.

grumpy cat no

No. Absolutely not. Ginny’s solution creates a race to the internet, where the first person to report abuse gets to be heard, and everyone else needs to shut up or be accused of being victim-blaming assholes. It’s well-known that abusers will often play the victim to divert attention, solicit sympathy, and enable further abuse. Ginny’s system gives abuser an extra incentive to play the victim publicly. If you’re the first person to go public, then you’re untouchable! Anyone sticking up for you is an asshole abuse apologist!

Secrecy enables abusers. Abusers know that there is a bias toward victims, and will take advantage of that bias whenever possible. And they will deflect and resist any attempt at honest investigation of the facts. The key to exposing abusers is sunlight, not darkness. Establishing accountability takes effort, it takes investigation, and it takes judgment. It does not require the silencing of abuse victims and their supporters. And to suggest it does is shameful.

If you are serious about stopping abuse in our communities, there is only one solution: actual investigation. Facts must be determined, evidence gathered, statements taken, and defenses presented. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but nobody said it would be easy. Yes, it might take a while, which is why suspensions pending investigation are a thing. Yes, you might get it wrong, and that would be regrettable, but if you don’t investigate, your chances of getting it wrong are way higher.

Investigation can be done in a victim-supportive way. There is no need to interrogate victims, demand evidence, or even reveal their identities (in most circumstances). As shown in the linked post above, often, once you get both sides of the story, the undisputed facts will be enough to make a decision. If not, work with what you have. Respect the alleged victim’s decision to provide or not provide evidence. Allow the victim to be as active or passive in the process as possible. But if both sides are pointing toward each other, recognize that either could be the true victim, and don’t automatically weigh one side heavier than the other just because they came forward first.

But don’t you dare pretend to be supportive of abuse victims and then claim that abuse victims, or their partners, should shut up and take the abuse. If your partner is being attacked by a malicious abuser, you go right ahead and say so, as loud as you want, to whoever you want. Ginny’s system empowers abusers to keep abusing, and drafts the entire community into doing so. Do not fall into that trap.

A Better Way to Ask for An Apology

How to Give an Apology

Last year, there was a really great post going around by JoEllen at cuppacocoa.com about a better way to give apologies. Ostensibly, the post was about how parents or caregivers should ask children to apologize, but it soon became clear that the advice was applicable to anyone. JoEllen’s suggestion for how to phrase an apology takes the following form:

I’m sorry for…
This is wrong because…
In the future, I will…
Will you forgive me?

Each step is important and serves a different function. The first section (“I’m sorry for…”) shows that you understand what it was that you did.

Wrong: I’m sorry for being mean.
Right: I’m sorry for saying that nobody wants to be your friend.

In the “I’m sorry for…” section, apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings is inappropriate, because it doesn’t show show that you understand the specific action you took that was wrong. This section requires that you be specific about your actions.

The second section (“This is wrong because…”) shows that you understand not just that your action was wrong, but the reasoning process behind why it was wrong. It shows that you have a good chance of effectively avoiding causing similar harm in the future, because you know how to recognize right from wrong and apply it to your actions. This is the section where it is appropriate to say “it was wrong because it hurt you.”

The third section (“In the future, I will…”) shows that you are taking the understanding you’ve shown in the first two section, and translating it into concrete action. The fourth section (“Will you forgive me?”) empowers the other person to decide if the apology is accepted. I also think it’s a good idea to add an extra section along the lines of “how can I make it up to you?” This shows your commitment to making things right, and empowers the other person to decide the best way to do that.

How to Ask For an Apology

Effectively asking for an apology is simply a mirror of the effective apology. If you feel wronged by someone, and you are interested in approaching the issue constructively, then it’s important that your request for an apology adequately empowers the other person to give an effective apology. It also sets the tone for the entire exchange, and shows that your goal is constructive dialogue, rather than vengeance or retribution.

An effective request for an apology would look like this:

Here is what you did…
This is wrong because…
Here is what you could have done instead…
I would like an apology [or another specific action]

Be Specific About the Actions That Were Wrong

The first section (“Here is what you did…”) is critically important because it informs the other person of what specific action you have a problem with. Similarly to the first section of an apology, it is inappropriate here to say “you were mean” or “you hurt me.”

Merely saying “you hurt me” doesn’t give the other person the information they need to effectively apologize. In order to be able to give an effective apology, the person needs to know which actions they took that you consider wrong. Be specific. The most effective way to adequately describe a person’s actions is to imagine that you’re telling a third party what happened, who knows nothing about the situation.

Bad: you made it so I couldn’t participate in the conversation.
Good: both times I tried to tell my story, you cut me off and talked over me.

Being specific when asking for an apology helps avoid confusing the issue. I know that I get offended when people lie to me, even inconsequential or “white” lies. However, people tend to lie to me when they are afraid that I will be angry if they tell me the truth. For instance, if a partner has a date with a new romantic interest, but says that they are going out with a different friend, I would be angry. But it’s important that I specifically state that I am angry about the dishonesty, not about my partner going on a date. Demanding an apology for having a date would be controlling and disempowering, and my partner might reasonably refuse to apologize. However, if I’m specific that it’s the dishonesty that upset me, we sidestep that trap. Merely saying “your actions hurt me” is insufficient to let my partner know that it was only the dishonesty that bothered me.

Being specific about the actions for which you want an apology also helps avoid a situation where one or both parties have bad facts. Sometimes, you can say “here is what you did…” and the other person will say “I didn’t do that.” Even if you don’t believe them, it refocuses the disagreement onto the disputed facts. Any constructive conflict resolution requires that the specific conflict be identified, and if it’s factual, that’s really important to know.

It is also important to clearly distinguish between things you’ve observed, things you’ve heard secondhand, and your interpretations of your observations. “You hit me” is a direct observation. “Terry and Jean said that you hit them” is a secondhand observation. “You like to hit people” is an interpretation. In particular, it’s often not helpful to present your interpretations as facts. Your interpretations are not facts, and all observations are open to interpretation. Leaving room for the fact that your interpretations are not certain, and remaining open to alternative explanations, is important in any constructive discussion.

Explain the Problem

The second section (“This is wrong because…”) serves as another way of narrowing the dispute. Often, two people can agree on what happened, but disagree over whether it was wrong.

Merely pointing out that you were hurt by the actions of someone else is insufficient to show that their actions were wrong. Healthy boundary-setting can hurt people. As Emma Fett has pointed out, “‘I was victimized by acts of control’ is not the same as ‘I was victimized by the other person’s resistance to my control.'” As Franklin Veaux has noted:

people who abuse genuinely feel that if they tell a partner to do something and the partner doesn’t do it, they’re the ones being abused. I’ve talked to so many people who complain, “My partner isn’t doing what I tell them to!” It hurts me when my partner doesn’t let me control them! That’s abuse! My partner is abusing me by not obeying me!

Obviously, that is a situation where a party is feeling wronged, but has not actually been wronged. But the larger issue is that people are allowed to have different ethics and preferences in their relationships. Ethics are complicated, and reasonable minds can disagree about what is right or wrong in any given circumstance. While some things are not up for debate (e.g. violating clearly communicated physical boundaries is wrong), much of the ethics surrounding interpersonal relationships is highly debated and not at all obvious.

Much of the process of building a social circle involves finding people whose ethics and preferences align with each other. I like to be treated a certain way, so I look for people share my preferences on how people ought to treat each other and avoid people with conflicting preferences. I try to be as open as possible about my opinions and preferences regarding interpersonal relationships, in part because they’re not shared by everyone and I want everyone to know what they’re getting into. Being so open about my preferences tends to attract compatible people and repel incompatible people.

However, it’s not a perfect system, and no two people ever agree 100% on everything. So even among friends, it’s possible to have pretty substantial disagreements about ethics and preferences. When asking for an apology, it’s unreasonable to expect the other person to already know and agree why their actions were wrong unless it’s particularly obvious. Spelling out the reasons why you feel the other person’s actions were wrong makes sure the other person is aware of your ethics/preferences, and invites them to either agree or disagree. Even if the process leads to disagreement, disagreements about how people should behave can be very informative to future decisions regarding your boundaries with that person, and what kind of relationship you want to have.

Tell People How They Could Have Done Better

The third section (“Here is what you could have done instead…”) is important, in that it’s a way of showing that you respect the other person’s needs, and that you have considered the context. Just pointing out problems isn’t constructive unless you offer a potential solution. And if you offer a solution that satisfies the other person’s needs but also avoids the problematic behavior, then the other person knows that you are trying to be constructive, and that you consider their needs to be equally important to your own.

Bad: you shouldn’t have eaten the last piece of chicken.
Good: you could have asked if anyone else wanted the last piece, and you could have eaten the leftover pasta if you were still hungry.

When asking for an apology, it’s easy to give the impression that your perspective is the only one that matters. When you are in pain, it’s difficult to focus on anything but your pain. This section lets the other person know that their perspective still matters, that you have taken their needs into account, and that you have not committed the fundamental attribution error (where your own actions are seen as a reaction to the situation you’re in, but others’ actions are seen as indicative of their character).

By offering a reasonable solution, you are also communicating your own preferences. While the second section communicates your preferences in the abstract, this section translates them into actions. Often, a disagreement that appears large when it is discussed on the abstract level will turn out to be rather small when it comes to how it manifests as action. It is another way of focusing the disagreement and allowing people to either reach consensus or drill down to reach the heart of the disagreement.

Ask for What You Want

The final section (“I would like an apology [or another specific action]”) is important because it informs the other person how to make amends. If an apology is sufficient, it tends to be helpful for the other party to know that. If some other action is needed, it’s critically important that the other party is aware of what is needed. Asking for what you want is an important part of any interpersonal relationship, and it’s especially important when you feel wronged. If there is a path to healing, draw the other person a map. It’s not always reasonable to expect the other person to be able to find their way all on their own.

Plan for a Dialogue

If the steps above are followed, the other party will have a good idea of where you stand, and will have the information they need to understand your perspective. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will agree with your perspective uncritically. The above steps are meant as a starting point to a conversation. Done properly, they will demonstrate that you are approaching the disagreement from a constructive standpoint, and will provide necessary information. But even the most well-meaning and understanding people can have disagreements on facts, interpretations, ethics/preferences, and the reasonableness of the requested solution. In some situations, consensus will be easy. You will articulate your issues, the other person will see their error, and they will apologize. Other times, it will take some back-and-forth. The thing to remember is that a lot of the areas of disagreement are places that reasonable people can disagree.

Even when it comes to factual disputes, reasonable people can disagree. People’s memories are unreliable, and memories of traumatic events are especially unreliable, so any dispute that relies on human memories to determine what happened is dangerous. In such situations, it may be prudent to consider the other person’s fact pattern, and give the response you would give if it were true. Recognizing the unreliability of memory may mean that it’s never possible to conclusively say what happened, but that’s ok. You can still agree on what should have happened under the different factual circumstances presented, and agree that certain actions would be wrong. It can also be helpful, in those situation, if you are the accused party, to try to make amends regardless, in recognition that your memory is fallible and that the other person may be correct about what happened. At the same time, if you are the aggrieved party, it can be helpful to recognize that your own memory of the events may be flawed, and show understanding if a different person has a different recollection.

When To Ask For an Apology

Like giving an effective apology, an effective request for an apology take substantially more time and effort than the usual variety. When you’re in pain, you may not have that bandwidth, and that’s fine. If someone is hurting you wrongfully, you don’t owe it to them to communicate that fact in the most helpful way possible.

But at the same time, it’s difficult to be sure that the other person is definitely in the wrong until hearing their side of the story. If you can imagine a situation in which their actions may have been appropriate, it’s often best not to treat them as though their guilt is predetermined.

Generally, the quality of your request for an apology should be proportional to your desire to receive an apology and/or have a constructive dialogue. Usually, this will correspond to a desire to have a well-functioning relationship with a person. If your hope is to have a constructive discussion regarding the ways in which you were hurt, and come out the other side feeling positive about each other, it’s to your advantage to make your request as effective as possible. Likewise, if it is tremendously important to you that the other person understand what they did for some other reason, it’s probably best to follow the steps above. If it’s less important to you to get through to the person, it might not we worth the time and energy. It’s always a personal decision, and not every expression of pain needs to be as constructive as possible. However, if your goal is to improve a relationship, it may be worth the investment of time and energy to effectively ask for an apology.

The Broken Record Files: Trying to Figure Out the Wellness of Me

[Content Note: Food Talk, Exercise Talk, Stress Management]

In January, I managed to start and keep up some great habits. Most weeks, I went to a morning yoga class four or five days a week. I was having an easier time with Whole30 eating and reaping more benefits. Basically, I felt great and enjoyed installing some more structure to my life.

totes amaze

Then I went to Disneyworld and was all out of whack by the time I got back. I haven’t been able to motivate myself to get out of bed for yoga. I haven’t been feeding myself properly during the day and am usually too lazy to put lunch together in the evening or any of that. I’ve been going out to lunch a lot and taking everyone out to dinner for food I want when I am stress eating. My non-savings account is negative, a thing I didn’t worry about at all in January.

Grumpy Cat

I guess I figured that would happen. But I didn’t expect to have my entire new program rewritten to the old one! Sigh. Living the healthiest, happiest life for me takes a whole lot of effort! WHO KNEW?!?

Everyone. Everyone knows this.

Anyway, I’m still in analysis mode, trying to figure out the best way to proceed and commit. And I am finding new things all the time that I have to pay attention to on the road to feeling well and energized every day.

I have started by identifying what about January I liked the most and how to best make those things permanent aspects of my life. I liked feeling awake in the morning, and sleepy at bed time. I liked all the stability I had going on, both emotionally and physically. I liked having money to save and to purchase things that were not food. I liked the general feeling of success I had, knowing that I was making kick-ass decisions for my own wellbeing. I liked that I was spending money on things that would last and added to hobbies I enjoyed. I was buying things I wanted to wear, or equipment for working out, or art supplies, or just silly toys that made me happy. I liked that I wasn’t just spending all of my money almost immediately.

In addition to all that emotional stuff, I have just not been feeling great. I assumed that it was because of sugar and bread, and I’m sure they don’t help. But I think this may be more due to very specific foods and activities.

I still got headaches during my Whole30. I’ve had frequent headaches throughout my life and ibuprofen is one of my BFFs. I assumed that having no processed sugar spikes would clear that right up, but I was still taking Advil every day. Granted, the headaches were less severe than I often get them, but they were still there. I assumed this was due to subpar caloric intake, since when you’re eating whole foods, most of which are vegetables and fruit, it’s easy to not actually get enough calories. I upped my fat consumption a bit which helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

When we were in Disneyworld, most days I took a few doses of Advil. We went through Advil like it was going out of style between my nagging headaches and the onset of Jessie’s cold. I assumed that my aches were due to the sudden change in diet, full days of walking around a lot, and all that stuff that comes along with vacation. Again, I’m sure that all contributed. But when I got back to work, I started having really bad headaches every day!

At first, I thought that it was sugar withdrawal, since I cut back a lot when we got home. But it was so persistent and relatively severe, that I started to think there must be something else going on.

Well, first, there’s always stress and I do my best to plow through, triumphantly bellowing “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” to remind myself that stress is temporary and can be handled in my privileged life. So same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

So, since stress isn’t new to me, there must be some other factors to consider.

Look, the scientific method is awesome, OK? I know you are riveted.  I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must care at least a little bit?

Today, I don’t have a headache at all. Thursday and Friday were nasty and Monday, I almost went home because it was so bad. What gives? Like any red-blooded American, I went to the internet and also consulted with Amber who knows a ridiculous amount about this kind of thing.

Long story short, I have a few things to look into:

  1. Dehydration – This is an ongoing struggle for me, so an uptick in water consumption is definitely needed. Amber has been adding fresh fruit to her glasses of water because it seemingly helps her body actually absorb it. Adding fruit means adding electrolytes and your body is all “hell yeah, I’m thirsty”, so the theory goes. I haven’t tried that yet, but I am intrigued.
  2. Exercise – On Thursday and Friday of last week, I got it together and went to yoga classes in the evening and in both cases, the yoga really helped with my almost ibuprofen-resistant headaches. I tried out Yin yoga on Thursday night and from a stress relief standpoint, it’s great. You hold sitting stretches for five minutes at a time and they are really easy and you can use pillows. It doesn’t do much for strength, but it’s definitely a lovely way to chill the heck out. Vinyasa is more effective for pain relief and has a lot more physical benefits, I think. It’s aerobic and strengthening. So I like having both of them in my practice. On Friday, I was in a miserable mood and an hour of yoga really helped and my head was fine. Then this morning, I shoveled a lot of snow for, like, 40 minutes. I never really consider these physically intensive things we have to do as grownups as exercise because they fall into the category of “chore” before “physical exertion”. But after several days of not getting any focused physical activity, I’m thinking that it really helped with my head.
  3. “Weird” Food Things – The common denominator, other than lack of consistent exercise was that I went back to having some Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar and nuts as the bulk of my breakfast. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, according to the internet, both cheese (especially significantly aged cheese) and nuts (especially almonds) are possible migraine triggers. My guess at the moment is that eating them both together could have given my body a double whammy (I also ate cashew butter and almond butter on the bad days) and make my head scream. I’m also guessing that nuts might be bigger culprit here since I didn’t eat any dairy when I was doing the Whole30 and still suffered pain. Apparently, another big possible migraine trigger is red wine (SAY IT AIN’T SO…just kidding, I have gotten tons of red wine headaches.)

So, given these hypotheses, tomorrow morning I am going to drag myself out of bed, hell or high water, to go to yoga in the morning and then, because I consider my body a science experiment apparently, I’m going to eat some almonds and see what happens. If nothing, then I will eat some cheese and see what I can see. And hopefully I will end this (possibly painful) experiment knowing more about the chemistry of me.

Going back to my original thoughts, seeing that I know that I feel better when I’m eating certain things and none at all of others, why is it so darn hard to only eat those things? Well, that all comes down to emotional eating!

I’ve never thought of myself as an emotional eater, especially because I don’t overeat easily. When I was a kid, I definitely ate out of boredom (this is one of the reasons I got into baking. The process of baking was fun and something to do, and I got a product from it). I don’t do that very much anymore. But I definitely use food as a coping mechanism and as a reward and that’s why my money disappears into the pockets of restaurateurs everywhere. So, no, I don’t overeat, but I definitely overspend!

When I’m celebrating, I always think of food I want first and want to take everyone out to get some. The same exact thing happens (much more often) when I’m feeling emotionally crappy and/or stressed. I want comfort food and I want everyone to come with me to eat it. This is a really unhelpful habit, as you might imagine. When I drink wine as a response to stress, I hardly ever just drink one glass. I usually have two or more without really thinking about it. It’s not really because I’m looking to get drunk (red wine instantly calms me within the first couple of sips). I think I just have some subconscious response that says “What a crappy day. More wine. DO IT”.

I’ve been looking into ways to break this habit by finding better ways to soothe stress or reward myself. There are a lot of options. The key is to figure out how to make those things my go-to things, thus relegating wine drinking for when I just feel like having a tasty glass of wine here and there (like when Wes and I go wine tasting, which I really enjoy). As for comfort food, well, that will be relegated to the sometimes also and if I commit to Whole30 eating for a more extended period of time, it is likely that I will find foods that serve a calming purpose that are also beneficial in other ways.

What are these options, then?

  1. A hot shower or bath, having fuzzy PJs to get into, and trying new and delicious teas.
  2. Evening yoga! This actually feels more treat-like than the morning sessions because I go after a day of work, where stress levels likely increase. It serves as both a stress reliever and a reward because I know I’m doing something good for myself.
  3. Online Shopping! Shopping at malls or other brick and mortar stores isn’t usually all that fun for me. When I go to a mall, it’s because I have something very specific that I need and I plan to go right for it. Big stores tend to tire me out quickly and bring on stress. But browsing dresses on Modcloth or putzing around on Amazon for things I’d like to have is a fun little activity and, since I save so much money not eating out because I’m eating properly, sometimes I can buy one of those things I want.
  4. Art time! Making the conscious decision to set time aside for me to sit at my neato drawing desk and work on a new piece is great. To make it even more special, I often get some kind of aromatherapy candle to have burning while I work and other things to make it cozy.
  5. Television and movies with the Fam and hanging out with my silly dogs!
  6. Hanging out in Amber’s Room! She has a silly cat who amuses me greatly. Also snuggles. Also an array of hilarious objects she has collected over time. Also cuddles.
  7. Crossword puzzles and Candy Crush and other silly games.
  8. Cooking delicious food and knowing that it’s as good for me as it is delicious.
  9. Playing my guitar! I am happy to put this back on the list. It’s been off it for too long.
  10. Personal dance parties in the kitchen or wherever good times (and music) are had.

So there are ten things I can do that don’t require booze or non-homemade food to soothe and celebrate (and really, there’s only tea drinking and making home cooked meals on there that even have anything at all to do with food). So now, I need to just commit to the goal and start the process of rewiring my brain and body to go for those things first.

Does this mean I’m giving up anything for good? Not really. I mean, if I find out specific things make me sick, then yeah, those will generally be avoided…even if it’s cheese. At the very least, they will be consumed occasionally knowing that they may bring on the pain. But I need to learn moderation better in my “old” age. No, 34 is not old but it’s old enough to notice more about how your body works and the better my habits are now, the better they will always be.  I think that figuring how to replace booze and shitty food with fruity water and food that makes me feel like Popeye are good general goals.  Having some stuff (in moderation) at a party is great.  Indulging when I really want to indulge is great.  But the norm, the vast majority of my time should be spent not indulging in things that do me good only for a moment or five.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Yes!

But…I Really Love Baguettes, Guys

[Content Note: Food Talk, Mental Health, Illness]

OK, guys. I know in my last entry I sounded all “Zen” about everything (I think I did anyway), but as the week has progressed I am not feeling at all “Zen” about anything.

For instance, I went on a diatribe to Wes, Jessie, and Amber about how I now understand my work difficulties and simply didn’t know how to solve them (because I feel that I have done about all I can). While I believe this to be true, I found myself in the throes of questioning all of my decisions and trying to make some grand plan for the future where I would be my own boss, being one of the few extremely successful sellers on Etsy.

(I also used to have the delusion that I would totally survive the apocalypse because…I’m awesome or something.  I didn’t really have any argument to back this up.  My survivalist resume is pretty lean.  “Knows some relevant science.  Cooks well over campfires.  Tends to be badass when there is no other choice but to be badass.”  Yeah, I know, I would be dead within the first 5 minutes.)

Again, all of these ideas are ideas that I have, even when I’m feeling stable, but on days like today, I was so in a whirl that the idea of making rash decisions seemed like a great idea and I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire I perceived. Wes pointed out that he knows that these things I feel are based on facts, but also that I have felt like this before and was happy that I didn’t do anything rash. I couldn’t quite see it until I thought on it longer, but I was definitely going sailing in and through a mental storm, the likes of which I have been desperately trying to disappear forever through hard work and food/medication chemistry.

(The spiral also manifested in my engaging in massive word vomit, talking about everything that bothered me about my situation.  This went on for a long time and then I felt bad about it and started apologizing for being a pain in the ass.  These are all things that I rarely do anymore without good reason.)

I have made a tremendous amount of progress on that front. These spirals happen rarely, and even when they do happen, I can see them happening a little more clearly and they don’t last as long. I find now that I only experience this kind of spiraling…

When I eat crap and don’t drink enough water.

Hence why I’m not feeling all that “Zen” right now. I know I said in my last entry that I was just going to have to accept that I needed to eat a certain way for the long term to feel consistently well. But it’s easy to say such a thing. It’s different when you have to face it and say “um, most of the stuff you normally eat makes you feel a little batshit”. Like, you have to actually accept that you are not well if you eat things not on the Whole30 plan regularly.

Basically, what I’m saying is: GOD DAMN IT. You go decades through life having nary an allergy or physical ailment and then you start caring about whether you actually feel well and happy and sane…and then you find that a bunch of shit is making you sick. I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to eat whatever I want and not being difficult to feed.

And no, I’m not equating this with allergies and syndromes. I can eat some sugar, have a slice of bread, and drink some wine once in a while and be fine. None of this stuff is going to land me in the hospital or hugging a toilet (unless I gorge on it, of course).

But mental clarity, general calmness and rationality, and overall wellness is extremely important to me these days. Happiness and being able to address issues with a clear head and pass through them without much drama is pretty much my goals every day. I need to be able to provide honesty without fear and have confidence without guilt. Trading all that for too many donuts and too many baguettes or too many glasses of wine too many days a week doesn’t really seem all that worth it, does it?

I know I sound like a whiney jerk here, but this realization is just straight up frustrating. I have gotten quite used to being able to eat whatever wherever and that’s just not the case anymore. CAN I eat that way? Sure. It won’t kill me. But it’s definitely not the right choice for me, not by a long shot.

Incidentally, this is how I felt about polyamory. When Wes and I first talked about it and made the decision to give it a go, I was all “sure, that makes a lot of logical sense. Easy peasy.” But it’s easy to see the logic and benefits of that particular relationship philosophy when you thinking about it in the abstract. It’s quite another thing to practice it and deal with all the reality of what the decision means and what you have to learn about yourself to make it work for you. The decision requires growth to practice.

Taking care of yourself physically also requires this kind of introspection and growth. It’s like when I finally made the choice to give up caffeine (for the most part…I still have some coffee or black tea from time to time). I wanted to believe that I wasn’t adversely affected by it, because that seemed silly. Don’t ask me what my logic there was, other than the idea that nothing I consumed ever adversely affected me in any obvious sense. But finally I saw that I was way more irritable after multiple days of caffeine consumption than when I cut it out completely. Evidence is evidence.

I think it’s the same with processed sugar and all the grains. They don’t do me any favors. I’m sleeping like crap and feel worse now than I have in weeks. I have headaches every day and dragging myself out of bed in the morning in general has been tough, and pretty much impossible to do at 5:30am (when I have to get up to go to yoga). Is eating a bunch of apparently inflammatory lousy things with reckless abandon worth this? Not really.

So I am coming to terms with the fact that a lot of things that I really enjoy consuming are now relegated to special occasions. I feel lucky that I can have them on special occasions. That is a privilege.

And I also must get back into the swing of consistent yoga practice because it’s really good for me and generally encourages me to eat what I should be eating. I always eat better when I’m exercising in some way regularly and unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

I (always) have more to work on and (always) have more growth to accomplish. There are things in my life that are not ideal and I need to figure out how to make them better. But eating stuff regularly that obviously leaves me on the unpleasantly unhinged side of wackiness is just pointless for me. The joy of feeling stable and productive far outweighs the momentary pleasures of candy or bread or booze whenever I want it.

So back to meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, and healthy fats (all things coconut).

Onward and upward, ey?

Backed Up Plumbing Brings On the Tears and Other Anecdotes

Well, friends, it’s February and daylight savings is just around the corner (March 8th this year!). I just got back from a lovely Disneyworld vacation and am trying to get back into the swing of healthy living and getting back to those neat-o goals I set at the turn of the year.

As you’re aware, I did an entire Whole30 for January. I managed to stick to it until about 8pm on day 30 when Amber offered to make me a BLT…with cheese (because that’s how she rolls)…on bread. I gladly accepted the offer because whatever. I had made it and needed to pack for our trip to Florida the next day. It was one of the most delicious sandwiches I had ever eaten.

And thus began my descent back into eating whatever I wanted. At the time, this was a freeing exercise, mainly because I so terribly missed Tex-Mex cuisine. I missed cheese, and refried beans, and corn. It felt good to not have to worry about what was in everything, to be able to eat with abandon as my privileged, non-afflicted physiology allows me to do. In Florida, Wes and I split pretty much everything (which was a very good call and we should continue to do this pretty much forever when we go out together), and I drank fruity drinks with funny names and cheap wine at every amusing location.

We came home on Sunday after a Saturday evening of seeing what the Magic Kingdom is like when it’s becoming “on season”. It was crowded and aggravating. Getting anywhere was a battle of wits and agility and finally, when we had had enough, Wes and I had to get out of the park while the (first of the night) electric parade was happening. Jessie, having been back at the room all day nursing an illness, stayed at the park a bit more to go in search of caramel coated apples and to watch the fireworks. Needless to say, I was pretty tired when we got up to get to the airport.

I was tired because I hadn’t slept all that well the entire week and this was likely directly correlated to eating a bunch of things that I hadn’t been eating the month before. I didn’t really notice the effects until Sunday when I was more agitated than I had been in a long time. When we landed in Philly, I was aggravated by how long it took for our bags to get to us. All I wanted to do was get home. I was snapping a bit and Jessie luckily figured out that I was just in a mood and showed me pictures of dogs getting stuck in couches. It was very effective.

We got home and were greeted by two very excited dogs…and the news that our plumbing was completely backed up. The shower in the downstairs bathroom had 4 inches of water in the bottom and the toilet had coffee grounds in there. This had happened once before, three Thanksgiving weekends ago when we were hosting people at the house. It was a nightmare for various reasons (not the least of which because it was my 4th day ever on Zoloft and I was dealing with brain chemistry like whoa) and the memory of this sent me into a panic that felt very much like the all-day anxiety ride I had been on all that time ago. I guess it was a trigger of sorts, not helped by the fact that I hadn’t slept properly or eaten as I should for 7 days. I found myself alone at some point sitting with not only memories of the relatively silly anxiety associated with backed up toilets, but also being once again haunted by everything that has happened. I was remembering how for at least a year of my recent life was spent in an almost constant state of anxiety, sometimes with moments of straight up fear of emotional and verbal battering and, in the end, fear of violence.

The worst part of the entire thing was sitting there having a sort of conversation with myself where I acknowledged all the things I was remembering and how it would take time to not ever think about those things anymore and to be patient with myself while also echoing some opinions of others who thought I should just get over it already and how I should be better than this. After all, no one except for my qualified mental health professional should have to hear about such things and honestly, she probably doesn’t want to hear about it anymore either. These two warring opinions just swirled around in my head until I let the tears come, knowing that this was a temporary moment of remembrance and that I just needed to ride it out. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
I chilled myself out and then within a few minutes, I wasn’t alone anymore, now being sandwiched in a hug from Wes and Amber. Then we all went grocery shopping for vegetables because we all needed some brain food.

While we were out, the plumber came and Jessie showed him where to start searching for the problem. Dude had a metal detector to locate pipes. I can honestly say that this was the first time I had ever seen someone using a handheld metal detector to do an actual job (other than people roaming the beach in search of gold doubloons and…bottle caps more likely). He was a wonderfully nice guy and had the whole mess fixed by 9:30pm.

Relieved, I went a got some laundry started and starting cleaning up the mess and tried to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I ended up taking Monday off too in an effort to get life and mind in order before returning to the office. It was a good decision.

This morning I woke up anxious and groggy and once again failed to get out of bed in time for yoga. I did make it to work though, so that is definitely something. In between bouts of organization and communications of all things work related, I contemplated why I still felt crappy.

And it dawned on me that I have been in complete denial (again) of food’s effect on me. Sure, doing the Whole30 was ultimately boring and frustrating near the end of that strict period, but I felt even keel the entire time. My blood sugar was completely stable, never suddenly dropping like it does often when I’m eating “normally”. My mood was stable (I was generally calmer and depression was linked to specific events, not just a state of being). And I had a lot more energy and that energy level was more stable. Getting up for yoga was not generally difficult for me to do and I would go relatively strong throughout the entire day.
For a person like me who has never really had any need for dietary restrictions (I don’t have any known allergies or syndromes), I haven’t wanted to own up to the “truth” about how I should be eating. Regardless of whether or not the way I feel eating “off-plan” foods is due to some undiagnosed allergy or whatever else, the evidence is abundantly clear that I feel significantly better when I keep the added sugar, grain consumption, alcohol consumption, even maybe dairy and legume consumption down to minimum. So I think I need to generally follow the Whole30 idea long term, but allow myself to have those off-plan things as treats a couple of times a week.

This fits in well with Wes and I deciding that the money we save cooking at home most of the time is worth finally making a commitment to, well, cooking at home most of the time. I’m a very good cook AND I generally enjoy doing it. We order out or go out a lot though when I’m tired because it didn’t occur to me until recently that a better alternative was to simply say “I don’t feel like cooking. Anyone else want to?” And…someone else has always been willing! So I’m practicing doing that more often because no one declared that it was my responsibility and mine alone to make sure everyone is fed.

Also, no one makes tuna salad as good as Amber’s and no one makes grilled cheese sandwiches as good as Jessie’s and Wes makes a mean pile of bacon and excellent panini, so I am perfectly content to sit down for a delicious plate of any of those.

Trying to eat a specific way helps me stick to not-going-out goals and I was very pleased with the amount of extra cash I had for savings and whatever else during the month of January. So that needs to keep happening.

I’m so far failing at my “read more” goal, but I still have time to remedy that since it’s merely February. Of course, I need to watch how often I say that before I find myself being all “I haven’t really read anything new, but it’s merely December”. I have a pile of books, I just need to choose to read them when I have free time. Sounds easy enough but reading has never been a big hobby of mine. But it’s a hobby I’d like to get more into, so here’s hoping I can get myself to do it. In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin often talks about how it’s easier to do something every day rather than every few days, and that might be the approach I need to take here. Read a little every day and it will become a habit.

I started that digital photography class I mentioned before but after 4 classes, I have decided to drop it. I wanted to like it, I really did but to put it simply, the teaching style was way more laid back than I wanted it to be from 6:30pm – 9:30pm on a Thursday night. When I was taking the screen printing classes, I enjoyed having something like that to do on a weeknight because it was such a hands on class. Other than the first one or two classes of my first class, I was basically paying to have a screen studio with much appreciated guidance from a great teacher. I got to play with ink and make screens as I wished and got to just come in a do art for 3 hours. I enjoyed it so much that I am determined to snag a spot in the class for Spring semester.

This photo class was trouble from the start. Though the teacher is very friendly, fun, and knowledgeable, time management and engagement wasn’t a strong suit. They were going through some life circumstances that caused them to be seemingly more distracted than usual, but the lack of focus presented itself in ways that can be really infuriating to me.

In short, because this post is already pretty long, there was no time management or respect of anyone’s time in the class. Class started extremely late every single time. Stuff got repeated constantly for people who either didn’t show up to class before or got there even later than the really late time we started. And we didn’t really do anything until the last hour of class and when the class is for 3 hours after a full day of work, that is painful and not worth it. I also learned what I really needed to learn to go off on my own within the first two classes (more of a refresher for what I used to know when Kelly and I would take pictures with her film camera).

My classmates did not appear to be frustrated with this at all and it was then that I realized that, well, this just wasn’t the class for me. I was so bored that I almost left during the class to go take pictures of something, anything. Or go find a photocopier in the building to scan pictures of my butt or something.

So yeah, I made the decision to not go back because each class I went to made me angrier.  So I’m going to go to a different style of yoga class on Thursday nights instead and then come home and mess with my camera. A much better use of time and I don’t have to cross the bridge to do it.

So that’s what’s going on with the progress of Gina’s Goals 2015. I’m learning a lot and figuring out next steps, so I’m pretty happy. Tonight we’re going to see Jupiter Ascending because all the reviews says it’s so bad that it’s amazing. Just my kind of film! Possibly my own review to come!

See My FTBCon 3 Panels!

This weekend, I had the privilege to appear on three separate panels at FTBCon 3, the third annual FreeThoughtBlogs online conference. My first panel was entitled “FtBCon3: Kumbay-Ahh-Ahh-Ahhh!!!: Building a Community Around Shared Sexual Interests.” We discussed how communities built around things like poly and kink function, how to have strong communities, and how to keep them safe. It was moderated by Neil Wehnemen, and the other panelists were Karen Hill and Trina Gardinier.

Notice the festive Christmas decorations that are still up!

The next panel was the one I moderated, entitled “Reasonable Relationships: How Does Our Skepticism Influence our Romantic or Non-Romantic Relationship.” This was an idea that grew out of my Skeptical Monogamy presentation. When I gave the presentation at Atlanta Poly Weekend, a lot of the discussion became about how logical fallacies influence and distort our relationship thinking. It was such a great conversation that I thought it would make a good panel discussion all by itself. I was joined by More Than Two author Franklin Veaux, and bloggers Miri Mogilevsky and Chana Messinger. It ended up being a great discussion, and touched on a few topics in my Rational Relationships series.

My final panel, also moderated by Neil Wehneman, was entitled “Did You Remember Your (Love) Life Vest? Polyamory in the Deep End.” At FTBCon 2, there was a panel on polyamory that focused on 101-level questions, and this one was intended as a sequel, to get into some higher-level questions. During this panel, we got into some of the more advanced topics such as when/if to come out, long-distance, and poly misconceptions that grind our gears. Also on the panel were Miri and Karen from the community panel, as well as Heina Dadhaboy and Danny Samuelson.

FTBCon was a great experience, and they have lots of other great discussions up on the homepage. I encourage you to check them all out.

If you’d like to see more of my presentations, I’ll be presenting on relationship anarchy at Poly Living in Philadelphia the weekend of February 20-22, and Atlanta Poly Weekend, June 5-7.