My Addiction to Toxicity
Toxicity comes in all shapes and forms - gaslighting, emotional drainage… Twitter. I've had my share of toxic relationships in the past, most of which I've been able to ween myself off of. I just realized I used the term "ween myself off" when talking about toxic people. Alcohol is toxic. Drugs are toxic. Cigarettes are toxic. Why are they so hard to quit? Because they feel good. They scratch and itch. They provide solace, a high, an escape. They're also sometimes feel impossible to quit. They require some form of detox. Quitting cold turkey? Yeah, okay. Godspeed.
Being in a toxic situation is really hard to gauge when you're in the moment. For me, I've found myself going out of my way to excuse the behavior of others.
They've done a lot for me.
Well, they're going through a tough time.
We've been friends for so long, I can't ABANDON them.
That's a fun narrative, huh? Fear of ABANDONING someone who is consistently sucking the energy, creativity, and positivity out of you. In the world of The Artist's Way, they're called "crazy makers." As someone who prides himself on being kind, there for people, a leader, a mentor, what have you, I have a crippling fear of letting people down. And I have. I have let people way the fuck down. It hurts. It's scary. It's disappointing. Drawling lines and creating boundaries are hard for me because I get a rush from helping people. It's a dopamine drip. Getting to be there for someone in a time of distress makes me so fucking happy.
Therein lies the drug.
Being able to see someone who is misunderstood by others, who has a hard time getting along with people,(or, more bluntly, is a fucking asshole), is something that, as a bullied and abused child, feels important to me. Why? Because of a few things: For one, I really do try to see the good in people. It's part of what makes me a good teacher. But mainly, my old patterns and defense mechanisms draw me to try and make people happy.
As a kid, I would do anything I could to appease a bully, because if I was making them happy, they weren't fucking with me. There was a kid in middle school, who I gave a dollar to every day so he could buy a Snapple. Why? So he would leave me alone to eat my Linden cookies and milk during lunch. The rest of the day? Not so much. Sometimes, if I ran out of paper route money, I would steal a dollar from my dad's wallet the night before so I could pay up. Shit like that happened in so many areas of my life. It was all I knew. There I was, a sponge-brained child, training myself to compromise my boundaries, my sanity, and my pride to keep the bad people from making me feel worse. It was a vicious cycle. Think it ended when I turned 18?
Let's pause. There's a chance that if you are reading this, and I have been toxic with you in the past, it will piss you off that I'm here on my soapbox. I do not have a perfect track record. In fact, I'd be SHOCKED if I haven't been a toxic person, or "crazy maker" in someone else's life. Especially if you were close to me from 2011-2016, when I was a hotel doorman, picking fights every day and being an all-around raging dickhead to everyone around me, I take full responsibility for that.
While a lot of my shitty behavior in life can be linked back to some sort of trauma in my past, that is no excuse. What I did to negatively effected someone else had an impact on that person. Period. My bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety created a circumstance. My point of view, or condition, caused me to react a certain way. Did I at times hurt people? Yes, I'm sure of it. Would I be a responsible adult if I used that as a get-out-of-jail-free card every time someone called me out on something I did that upset them? No. My actions have consequences.
Anyway, back to "people pleasing." Yes, I used that term. It doesn't sound extreme when talking about it in passing, but in this context, it's pretty scary? Of course, I'm speaking strictly for myself. Just about all of the "people pleasing" I do in my life are with people who intimidate me in some way. It could be my fear of losing someone, or something. The funny thing is, after 37 years on earth with 10 of them in some sort of psychotherapy, I'm able to recognize that I'm doing it in the moment. And I still do it. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, when I'm handing over my power to someone else, for fear of not being liked, or for being perceived as difficult, or, and here's that childhood trauma ringing, fear of being retaliated against. A voice inside me screams, but my body reacts differently:
NO WORRIES IF NOT!
THAT'S OKAY, IT TAKES A LOT TO PISS ME OFF!
THEY'RE JUST PROBABLY GOING THROUGH SOMETHING!
I TRY NOT TO LET IT BOTHER ME!
Leaving those interactions while screaming FUCK in my head is a common occurrence.
Another layer here, and I'm speaking strictly for myself, are the laundry-list of moments where I made my concerns, or boundaries, clear to someone. Those moments where I flat-out told someone that what they did to me was hurtful, embarrassing, or abusive, and I was met with indifference, denial, or gaslighting. It's devastating. And I'm sure I'm not alone here when I say it makes me feel really, really stupid. Imagine that? Feeling stupid for addressing the source of something hurting me? Asking to be treated well and being rejected? Then, somehow, it's my fault? What the fuck just happened?!?
Yet to me, those are the early signs of the "drug" wearing off. The freeing notion that I no longer have to suffer in what these people are putting me through - the confusing mixture of the dopamine drip of "doing the right thing", "the patient thing", "the kind thing", with feeling like I've swallowed my pride. That feeling that bubbles up when I find myself, yet again, defending someone else's shitty actions. It makes it just a little bit easier for me to walk away.
However, as you've heard me say before, isn't there some level of comfort in suffering? The safety net of having a friend, having a job, having a place to live… those things are very important. Take that away, risk giving up those things, and you're met with the unknown. That's fucking scary. Sometimes, it's just plain easier to stay in what's safe. And, sometimes what's safe is the thing that's most dangerous to you. Take it from me, a guy who stayed in a job that was eating him alive for five years, simply because it gave me something to write about and allowed me to live in a nice bachelor apartment in downtown Manhattan.
Being years removed from several toxic situations, I'm left with very little regret. I've had some relapses with some… "fool me once" kinds of things. But in the end, I always feel healthier when I make the difficult choice to sever ties when I need to.
Ween myself off the drug.
If you are struggling with your mental health, there is no shame in getting help:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.