A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.
Hey Captain Awkward,
This is the LW of #776. This time my question isn’t about dealing with Toby’s parents, but Toby himself.
Firstly, some good (ish?) news – Toby did make the visit to his parents and came back fine (although I did have to loan him money so he could secretly go pick up the 5 antipsychotics/antidepressants/antiepileptics that they refused to let him go to the pharmacy to get) and his mother is now paying him $50 a week to not talk about his life to her (so they can keep their relationship ‘light and airy’) so at least he’s slightly richer for it.
Anyway, around that time he met a guy, who I’ll call Judas, who at first seemed like a really positive influence in his life – he’d been present for a major dissociative self-harm episode and got in touch with me to work out a recovery plan, he’s quite a lot older than either of us with a good, stable career and what seemed to be his head on his shoulders. After a while he and Toby started a sexual and emotional relationship which was undercut when Judas told him that he was already in a semi-open long-distance relationship with a boyfriend who was coming back to the country in a matter of months. This was a warning sign for me, considering Judas knew about Toby’s BPD and severe abandonment issues from the beginning. Since then, Toby’s had an up and down time which has included another protracted period of homelessness during which he stayed on my couch until I moved cities to focus on some chronic health issues (he was originally planning to come with me, but later decided to stay).
The first week I was here I found out incidentally from a mutual acquaintance that Toby has not only relapsed as an alcoholic, but was only ‘sober’ for around one or two months and had been maintaining the illusion for me that he hadn’t had a sip of alcohol for a year. I confronted him about this – calmly but emotionally – and he told me that he’d never lied to me, that he’d just ‘never debunked the lies I was telling myself’ or something. When I told him that his sister, Jackie, had told me that she thought he’d been drinking again on her last visit, he said she brought him the bottles herself. He also said that Judas has been actively enabling him (in addition to a bunch of other stuff that Toby said he was hurt by – focusing on his weight and dress when he has severe dysmorphia and bulimia, encouraging him to remove the tattoos he got to match his own self-image) by buying drinks unasked every time they hang out. After this I sent Judas an angry letter outlining the ways I thought he was letting Toby down and failing to responsibly manage his addictions. Toby at first agreed with me about the contents of the letter and said Judas was responsive and remorseful, but then didn’t talk to me for weeks and when confronted said that the letter had greatly affected our relationship and that we were still best friends but he’d ‘hated me for it’, that he shouldn’t be surprised that he’s still drinking because ‘he’s an addict and if it’s not one thing, it’s going to be another’, that ‘it’s his life and he’ll fuck it up any way he wants’ and that I’m ‘meddling in his relationships when he has no problem with the way he’s being treated’. When I brought up his past complaints and asked if being strung along by Judas was the way he wanted to be treated Toby said ‘you know it is’.
We’ve had big fights before but they’ve always blown over quickly. Even though at the end of that one we reconciled I still have a huge empty feeling. I feel incredibly disappointed in him for lying to me, in myself for not recognising this, in everyone else he holds close in his life for actively encouraging his addiction despite him being clear he was in recovery. What you said about me taking on the emotional legwork of this relationship resonated but I still feel regret for almost a full year where I could have helped him get back on track if only I’d known. It casts all our past interactions into an odd relief, because I thought he’d changed into a much better person, and it makes me doubt the point of the effort I made to help him through past relationships with similar to much-worse issues. Toby hasn’t talked to me in over a week, since that conversation, and I feel like I’m just out-of-sight, out-of-mind for him and that he has no genuine sense of apology for what he’s done. He’s been my best friend for years and the prospect of being without him makes me feel so alone, but I’m not sure how to come back from this. Is this salvageable? Should I even try?
Hello again. I’m sorry things are still a roller-coaster with your friendship with Toby and that his recovery is compromised.
Once again, you are describing a situation where your instincts about what the best course of action is might be absolutely correct, but Toby is still the boss of how he wants to handle his life. Once again, I’m not sure you really believe that Toby is the boss of his own life. For example, Judas does not sound like the world’s best partner for a recovering addict, but Toby is right that it is his decision to stay, and if he says “No more letters to my partner about me!” or “You have overstepped here!” or “It’s my life to mess up” or even bullshit self-justifications like “That thing where I lied to you wasn’t really LYING-lying, it was just sort of lying,” it’s still his decision.
(Like, the letter to Judas thing really IS an overstep on your part, even if every word of it is well-meant and based on truth. I don’t think you’ll ever get a “thank you” for that one from any of the parties.)
Once again, you can’t control what Toby or Judas or Toby’s family does. You can only control what you do. So how much of yourself do you want to pour into fixing things with someone who sabotages his own recovery and lies to you about it?
Once again, I don’t have access to Toby, I only have access to you, so you are my priority and concern.
I know that it is probably literally the hardest and most painful thing for you to imagine right now, but the best thing for you might be to detox from your friendship with Toby. He is avoiding you, so what if you stopped trying to make things work? You can wish for good things for him without actively engaging with him, especially now when he doesn’t want to talk to you. Channel the energy instead into shoring up your own mental health and physical health. Look into a resource like Al-Anon which supports the loved ones of alcoholics. Nurture your relationships with people who are not Toby. Kick ass at work or school, sock money away in your emergency fund, and try to figure out what “normal” and “happy” and “safe” feels like for you. Stop being the Toby Information Clearinghouse – “You’ll have to talk directly with Toby about that” can be your mantra for family, Judas, and mutual friends. When intrusive thoughts of Toby come to you (and they will), practice saying to yourself “I hope he’s well, I wish him well” and imagine your worried thoughts transforming into little butterflies or clouds that will find him and surround him with positive vibes. If Toby ever needed a place to stay or called you needing someone to talk to, I have no doubt you’d help him however you can, and it’s okay to leave that door open in your heart! But I don’t think it’s helping anyone for you to be on this day-to-day roller-coaster with him.
I know you love him, and I know your heart is broken, I know you have a lot invested in being Toby’s #1 Person, and I wish I had more to say than “It might literally be unfixable right now, I’m so sorry.” You can care about people, but you can’t do their caring instead of them, and I’m so sorry that Toby seems determined to drive that point home just now.
I’ve made alot of mistakes in the last year or more. The biggest was
rushing into a rebound relationship shortly after my marriage ended.
He was way too needy and wouldn’t know a boundary if it smacked him in
the face. I ended it, but life, despite years of infertility, decided
a whoops was in order and I’m expecting. I’m happy about the baby and
she’s due very soon.
Her dad is a constant stress. He’s engaged in behaviour my lawyer says
classifies as stalking, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. He has
some diagnosed mental conditions that he doesn’t really accept,
despite being under involuntary treatment for them and some major
history of stalking his ex wife (all of which I found out after we
My lawyer says if I push, I can probably keep him away from the baby
on a pretty permanent basis (he has a habit of emailing/texting me
clear evidence of all the crap he pulls). However, it will still
likely cost lots of time, lots of stress, oodles of cash and involve
some fairly heavy government stuff, like independent children’s
lawyers, etc. And of course, if I charge him with stuff it has a
really serious long-term impact on his life, which I don’t take
Sometimes he is fine. He can be really helpful and thoughtful. He can
be nice and funny and willingly helps people whenever he can. I (sigh)
do think there is still good in him – though I don’t want any kind of
physical or romantic relationship with him whatsoever.
I also want my daughter to have a Dad in her life if she can have it.
And every website I go to says to try to avoid family court and settle
things yourselves if you can.
But…he pushes so hard he’s almost sent me into early labour a few
times. I use my words, but he just won’t hear me. He constantly tries
to pry into my personal life (jealousy is also an issue with him), he
has threatened to “ruin my life”, to prevent me from traveling back to
where my family lives (another country) by putting baby on a no-fly
list, has tried to trade the promise of sex for a favourable custody
I really struggle with whether by relying on the “good times” when
things are calm and okay, I’m being naive and foolish and letting him
get away with appalling behaviour I always said I’d never put up
with…or if I’m being a good mom and a responsible adult.
How do you know when it’s time to draw that line in the sand that
Turns Out, Rebounds ARE a Thing
I’m glad you have a lawyer, so, please listen to that person above all, but you asked for my opinion and this is it: My instinct is that you should gain full legal custody of your future child, and to have any future interactions between father and child happen at your sole discretion and 100% according to your terms. You should do it now, before the baby is born, before there is time to develop a relationship and before he has any kind of access to her. I am not a legal expert, but my sense is that the longer your ex has a relationship with your actual daughter, the harder it will be to get the court to sever that relationship in her and your best interests.
Right now you are looking at it as “denying my daughter her father, maybe forever!” vs. “giving the father the maximum chance to show his good side!” which is not a decision to be made lightly. Nor is the decision to trust in the legal system or involve it in someone’s life. But really what you are doing is putting in place a legal structure that gives you the maximum amount of freedom and control to protect yourself and your daughter from violence. Your ex is already threatening to use the baby to control your whereabouts and to give him permanent access to your life on his terms, he is already stalking and harassing you and has a history of the same with his ex-wife.He is already ruining your life by adding to your stress and almost sending you into labor! These patterns won’t suddenly change for the better when there is an actual baby involved, they will escalate because now he has the ultimate trump card that he can play on you again and again and again. He feels ignored? He will use the baby. You start dating someone new? He will threaten the baby. He will act like a great dad when everyone is watching but also let you know that he could hurt you and the baby any time he wants to. He will drag you into court (or make you do the calculus of whether court, etc. is worth it to you) again and again and again if it gives him what he wants, which is control over you. When someone says “I will ruin your life,” believe them!
It’s natural to want things to be better and fantasize about a world where your ex behaves much better toward you. However, if you re-cast the “good times” you notice as “moments he is choosing not to stalk & harass & threaten you,” maybe you can start to see the bad moments as moments he is choosing to stalk & harass & threaten you. Does he stalk and harass his boss? His friends? Random men he meets on the street? You say there is mental health stuff going on, and I believe you, but it’s interesting how he chooses to stalk and harass only the women in his life.
I don’t know how you get mentally & emotionally free of this guy, but when you measure “The generic idea of a good dad, maybe” vs. “A man who terrifies and stalks and threatens women, definitely,” please let your lawyer be your advocate and use all the resources available to you. Suggested reading: Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft.
Hi Awkward crew!
My friend and I had sex, hurt each other, and things are messy. I would love for the wisdom of the Awkward community.
This story does not present Friend in the best light, but he has many wonderful qualities.
Friend and I were close and spent a lot of one on one time together. I liked him and also felt obligated to him. I was his only friend, and he was suicidal.
He was veeeeery helpful and kind to me – sometimes too much. He asked if he could give me a Valentine’s day gift, I said no, he brought me one anyways.
We had chemistry, I got a bit of a crush too, and we eventually began having sex. I was clear that I did not want a boyfriend.
I eventually wanted to stop the sex, but somehow we kept going back to it. I was very lonely and worried I would lose his friendship. I felt trapped and so I became unkind. I said many hurtful things to him and I regret this deeply.
After we graduated college Friend took a summer job several states away. Suddenly I felt free. I told him the sex was over. He was upset but eventually seemed okay with it.
We had been planning a post-graduation trip since before we began having sex. I visited him right before the trip. We did not do anything sexual. He was upset whenever I texted my other friends. He followed me step for step around a museum and cried when I asked him to stop. Eventually Friend broke down and said he still had feelings for me. We decided to call off the trip and take a break from our friendship, with the possibility of rekindling a friendship in the future.
This was three months ago. My questions are
- I want us to have a healthy friendship with solid boundaries. Is this possible? How do we get there?
- Should I reestablish contact with him?
- If so, when and how? Any scripts?
- What can I do to alleviate the hurt caused by the things I said to him?
- I blame myself for most of this. Is that reasonable?
- He has reason to be angry at me, but I think I am angry too. How can I navigate that?
- He lives 300 miles away, so our friendship would have to be rekindled long distance. How would we do that?
- How do I stop feeling gross and sad about this?
Relevant: I am a woman (she/her pronouns). I feel like it is also relevant to say, I have been in an abusive relationship in the past.
It’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to still be processing everything that happened between you, but I can’t help advising you to disengage. What if you could say to yourself”I did the best I could to be honest and be a good friend, but it just didn’t work out” and then let this friendship go? What if you told yourself “I don’t have to fix this?” or “I made some mistakes but I won’t make those mistakes again,” and let yourself move on?
It’s time to forgive yourself for any mistakes you made in the past.
It’s time to give yourself your own closure for the things that didn’t work between you.
It’s time for you to see the time apart and the distance and silence as a gift you are giving each other.
It is not time to reopen old wounds by processing all of this with your former friend.
It’s time to take all that energy and effort you sunk into fixing your relationship with him and put it into making new friends or nurturing friendships with people who don’t have all these complications.
I think rituals can really help here. You could write him a letter that you don’t send, or talk to a therapist to process all the old lessons and feelings, or write in a journal, or imagine thoughts of him turning into puffy little clouds that float away. Whatever you do, it’s time to let this friendship (and all the attendant guilt and shame and worry) go from your life, dear Letter Writer. You can want good things for this person and think kind thoughts about him without bringing the work of being friends with him back into your life.
Wishing all of you strength and courage in the coming year.
Thanks for all who contributed to the Winter Pledge Drive, and thanks for the very supportive and respectful discussions last week. You can always donate if you like, but I will stop bugging people about it every day.
192 thoughts on “#825, #826, #827: The Art of Losing Is Actually Pretty Hard To Master”
Oh, Rebounds, my heart hurts for you. Something that I’ve been trying to convince a friend of is “people who scare you aren’t your friends” and I feel like that goes double or triple for people-who-want-access-to-the-tiny-person-in-your-life. You’re trying to think about your baby and that’s excellent! There’s also the question of when tiny person starts getting bigger. The risk is real that if stalker/father is in the picture that your tiny person will start thinking that it’s normal to be around scary people who threaten to hurt you/them/themselves.
This is the only thing that helped me create distance between my abuser and our child. I didnt want her growing up thinking that was normal, and tolerating it in her own life.
Plus the overwhelming statistics say that a man who is abusive to a woman is VERY likely to be abusive to his child as well.
“Plus the overwhelming statistics say that a man who is abusive to a woman is VERY likely to be abusive to his child as well.”
Definitely. I’m the child of a similar arrangement (the abuser had custody of me, though) — he was abusive as I grew up and the process of cutting him off led to me being on the receiving end of the same stalking and threatening behaviour that my mom endured when she left. If he has access to your child, he may abuse them without you knowing, or while maintaining a positive “single father trying his best” image that your child may believe, and he is likely to use visits to lie about you and your life to your child. It is a very difficult position to be between two parents when one of them is lying, and you want to believe both of them.
Rebounds, keeping your abuser away is a very kind thing you can do for your child.
Rebounds, you really do not have to feel obligated to give him access to your child. Maybe go back a few letters and read the comment thread about the estranged (grand) father who husband/boyfriend of LW believes should be in the child’s life. People made a lot of good points why that is not true in the comments.
You are not waiting for the worst of his behavior here, you have already seen it. You do not worry he could be a stalker, you know he is. And as much as social narratives might wanna tell you that “a child changes a person”, this is not true. It’s not true for “the love of a good woman changes a man” and it is not true for this situation. Because only the perpetrator can change, if he wants to change. That guy had ample time after stalking his ex wife, but obviously, he hasn’t changed.
I promise you, your child will not be better off with a scary person in her life that makes her mother afraid sometimes or pressures her or that her mother argues with regularly. Yes, you might meet people in your life who will absolutely Not Get It and tell you how important a father figure is or that he will be heartbroken, but your experience and knowledge of this situation trumps their misplaced feelings of guilt or discomfort.
(Both your child and) You deserve to be save, happy and comfortable. This is not going to happen with a person who harasses you already. Yes, he doesn’t do that all the time, but it is happening and it will keep happening and it might even get worse.
Please allow yourself to protect yourself and your child. There are a lot of great, kind, safe adults out there who would love to have a positive relationship with your child, be it as a father, an aunt/uncle, a honorary grandpa whatever. But you get to choose this for yourself and her. For your child, you get to handpick who is allowed to be in her life. The contribution of genetic material is not enough to deserve a place in her life.
“Yes, you might meet people in your life who will absolutely Not Get It and tell you how important a father figure is or that he will be heartbroken, but your experience and knowledge of this situation trumps their misplaced feelings of guilt or discomfort.”
I want to second this. I am a daughter of a single mom and never had any interaction with my father until I was 33, and I can tell you from personal experience that it was not a big deal at all. Because I never had a father, I never felt that I was lacking anything. There was no absence, because there was no presence to begin with. I didn’t have a “father-figure” but I knew my mom’s male friends and my friends’ dads and have great relationships with a lot of men now, including my father (although he and I do not have a father/daughter relationship, more like a cousin or uncle).
My half-sister, on the other hand, suffered greatly from her interactions with her father, who was not abusive, but who was completely unreliable and full of promises and bullshit. She had to process a lot of abandonment feelings and and misery because he was in (and out and in and out) of her life. It was the unpredictability that did a number on her, and LW, your ex is nothing if not unpredictable. If I were you, I would err on the side of no contact whatsoever. You can always loosen those reins if he ends up getting himself together.
As noted, you (Rebounds) are falling into a common framing pattern for your decision, imagining that the choice is between no father and a possibly-good father. But that’s not the choice – your ex/child’s biological father is an abusive person, as he has already and repeatedly demonstrated, so your choice is actually between an abusive father and no father. No father isn’t inherently a problem (with the caveat that a single parent household might be more economically strained, but that’s a function of our crappy economic priorities, not an intrinsic feature of single-parent households), but an abusive father is. I suspect that you know the right choice and are writing to ask for permission to make that choice.
Absolutely agree. My cousin went through a situation similar to the LW’s with her ex-husband: he was abusive to her, but (come to find out), he also had a pattern of stalking and assaulting previous significant others. She left him while pregnant and cut him entirely out her life, to the point of not listing him on her son’s birth certificate. He later tried to get a DNA test as part of their divorce proceedings, and then didn’t show up for it–most likely, my cousin believes, because the threat of the test didn’t intimidate her the way it was supposed to. He didn’t actually want to be a parent, he just wanted a way to control my cousin.
My cousin’s son has never met his father. And while there were some rough years in the beginning as my cousin figured out how to provide for him as a young single mother, she managed to give him a great life and he’s now a wonderful, bright, well adjusted teenager. He has not suffered at all from his father’s absence. In fact, he has most likely benefited from it. Instead of growing up with the abuse and manipulation his father would have brought to his (and my cousin’s) life, he grew up with a host of other positive male role models–grandfathers, coaches, and, eventually, a great stepfather.
LW, no father at all is much better for your child than an abusive father who brings nothing but negativity, chaos, and pain to her life. There will be other men in her life who can be positive role models for her. Give her–and yourself–the gift of a life free of this man.
“You are not waiting for the worst of his behavior here, you have already seen it.” No. This is not quite true. Once the baby is born, then she will see much worse behavior, because I get the sense that this guy is the guy that kidnaps his kid and/or possibly harms his kid, just to get revenge on the mom. Unless you are willing to get on a merry-go-round from hell, wondering if he will bring your daughter back from visitation, wondering who BS he’s going to try and pull at her school and/or after school program, the best investment you can make in this child’s future is to talk to your lawyer and get granted sole custody, with any visitation being supervised. Save every bit of evidence that you have concerning his erratic behavior. It doesn’t matter if he is perfectly calm and rational 364 days and 23 hours a year. It only takes a few seconds to throw a baby off a bridge, or do some other terrible act. You need to act now.
Oh Rebounds, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this during what should be a happy time for you! On top of what others have said, I also worry a lot about this: “… has tried to trade the promise of sex for a favourable custody arrangement.” Because that to me reads as him saying “I care so little about being in my daughter’s life I’m willing to give her up to have unwanted sex with you,” or even (sorry, this might be too rough): “I’ll trade access to the kid for the chance to sexually assault you.”
You are clear you don’t want any kind of romantic relationship with him. It sounds like he is trying to bribe you to have sex by trading on your fear of him having access to your child. Nothing about this is good. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, and as someone who also had a very problematic father figure (stepfather in my case), I echo what others have said about the benefit of keeping such an influence out of your child’s life.
I second all of this. Men who have no respect for women (as he’s shown he hasn’t got by his behaviour towards you and his ex-wife) should not be allowed to be fathers to their daughters. Growing up as a girl in this society is hard enough without having a parent abuse you, undermine you and use you to hurt your mother. Such men shouldn’t be fathers of sons, either, because they abuse them for not meeting their standards of masculinity and/or raise them to share their attitudes towards women. LW, you sound like a wonderful mother who wants the best for her daughter. Like the others have said, that has to involve getting full custody. You, and your friends and family who you can trust to be good role models, are the only parents she needs.
LW#826, maybe another way to frame getting full custody and so forth is as contingency plans. If things go well, in the event that your ex behaves as a good parent behaves, then those contingencies will not be triggered. If they don’t, well… you have plans and resources in place to call on. Your child should have the best possible life that you believe you can provide, whatever that means for you. My opinion is that plans are best put in place long before they are needed, because then they have the greatest possibility of following through with the least amount of stress.
Also, if you want your child to have good male role models, are there any in your family? Friends? Extended support network? If you are in favour of your child having godparents, who would you be choosing for them – those are people who you trust to act as role models for your child. There is no law that says genetic parents are the only role models a child can have (if that were true, then I’d never have learned to leave the house to make friends). You say that your family is overseas – how’s your Skype connection? (My ex has niblings (niece and nephew) that have a very good relationship with their grandparents via Skype, because they’re in another country. I also have a friend who talks to her mother on the other side of the world at least once a week using Skype – one of them is just getting up and the other is going to sleep, and it’s a part of their routine that makes them happy.)
Seconding the reframing as a contingency plan.
When I was two, my mom divorced my biological father and won full custody of me. She absolutely did not use full custody to unilaterally cut him out of my life forever; rather, she made sure that he saw me only under her supervision in a place where she knew I would be safe. She, a broke 26-year-old veterinary assistant at the time, hired a lawyer and paid for his assistance in building an airtight case (that she didn’t even actually have to use, since biodad didn’t show up for the hearing due to an outstanding warrant) to make sure that I was never put in a situation where I would be in danger from him. Not to deny me a father, although he walked out of my life quite quickly after that. Not to punish him for being a bad husband or for having repeatedly put me in dangerous situations while they were still married. She simply did what she had to do to make sure her child was safe.
LW#826, if you choose to seek full custody of your child, please do not think of it as cutting your ex out of her life forever or turning your back on the good moments. You are simply giving yourself more options to act in the best interests of your daughter’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, whatever shape that may take.
Yes, this! Getting full custody of your kid doesn’t mean you’re obliged to cut him out of the picture. You can still let him have time with her as you see fit. If he misbehaves (um, and he’s going to), you’ll be able to protect your daughter and yourself with zero legal obstacles.
My dad was mostly just neglectful, there was none of the drama that you’re describing. My siblings and I still would have been better off without him. I know it’s heartbreaking to think about, but there is no amount of default good that comes from a kid having contact with a parent. There is only the good and the bad that the adult brings into their life, same as it would be with any unrelated person. If you wouldn’t allow a stranger to behave that way and be part of your kid’s life, don’t let this guy do it either. Please keep your standards really, really, really high.
My friend is dealing with this kind of nonsense right now. She likely should have gotten 100% full custody before the child was born, but, hindsight! She just finished up legal proceedings that ultimately ruled in her favor, but it cost her over $10k and a crap-ton of stress. And now she has the added benefit of having to deal with the father on a regular basis because he came out of the woodwork when she began the legal proceedings when he was really uninvolved until that point. Like others have pointed out, he really just wants to cause her suffering and play control games, so the sooner you can cut off his control permanently, the better.
You don’t have to necessarily have to cut the father out of the picture, but knowing that you have the power to do so (and he knows it too!) is a very freeing thing. Constantly worrying about it and the threat of legal battles is way more stress than you should ever have to deal with, LW.
“there is no amount of default good that comes from a kid having contact with a parent. There is only the good and the bad that the adult brings into their life, same as it would be with any unrelated person”
yesyesyesyesyesyesyes thank you
I love this reframing so much. Full custody *does not* preclude the non-custodial parent from seeing the child. It simply gives the custodial parent more power up front in making that decision. In the LW’s case, it sounds like that kind of legal framework is a good and necessary thing.
I wish I had gotten full custody as a contingency plan. That is really the route to go, even if your’e afraid it’s going to make him mad. Especially if you are afraid of that. My ex is very kind, loves animals and babies, is highly intelligent, but was emotionally abusive, threatened me, and had issues with addiction. I have zero doubt that he is a warm and loving father, but that time when she was six that I had to call the police because they weren’t where they said they were going to be on a Sunday night after a weekend visit- and the police did absolutely nothing? Not worth it. I thought I was going to literally die until they showed up.
Two things: many people will say it’s best that you to solve custody with mediation and just present a parenting plan to the court instead of actually fighting it out in court. Those people are not talking about dysfunctional parental relationships. My mediator had no clue how scary my ex could be. He presents as reasonable and highly educated (much more than I do). I wanted my daughter to have access to her father, so I went along with the mediator. In hindsight, I should have gotten a lawyer and fought for full custody. In that scenario- my daughter would have seen him the same amount, but if I had to call the police because I didn’t know where they were- the police would come. Or, if he were being neglectful to her (which I sometimes suspected) I’d be able to stop it immediately.
The second thing is this: “And of course, if I charge him with stuff it has a really serious long-term impact on his life, which I don’t take lightly.”
I never charged him with anything either, because I was worried about his career. In hindsight, that was very irresponsible of me. If I had needed to get full custody to protect my daughter, I would have needed to prove my case with that evidence. You owe it to your child to protect not only her, but yourself.
You asked where the line in the sand is, and reading your letter I think you’ve moved past it far enough that you can’t see it anymore.
“And of course, if I charge him with stuff it has a really serious long-term impact on his life, which I don’t take lightly.”
I want to just highlight this point. If this guy has done something illegal and you notify the policy or courts about that, that is not something YOU are doing to HIM. That is something HE has chosen to do to himself! If he were worried about the long term impacts on his life of stalking and abusive behavior, they he has the full independent choice to NOT DO THOSE THINGS.
This is a completely more trivial example, but I sometimes get this attempt to shift the blame from students. The scenario goes like this: someone doesn’t come to class, doesn’t complete assignments on time, and fails an exam. Then suddenly, in the very last week of class, they come to my office freaking out that *I* am going to fail *them* but they really need this class to graduate. Um, no. I’m not doing anything here; the student is the one who chose not to take the course seriously. And if it is really the case that the class is so important to them, why would they not do the minimum amount of effort to pass? DO NOT FALL FOR THIS RESPONSIBILITY SHIFTING! If someone does something wrong, that is THEIR OWN FAULT, not the fault of someone who might react to that wrong thing in a perfectly reasonable way (in your case, reporting an illegal thing to the authorities).
I like this. Getting full custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the child has no contact with her father, it just means that contact happens at your discretion. If he behaves like a scary asshole (which doesn’t seem unlikely here, unfortunately) you have more options.
Ohhhhhh, Rebound. I am sorry you’re ex is being terrible. He sounds really scary!
I think… I think that pretttttyyy much everyone has good in them. Even truly terrible people. And a house with broken lights and a missing stair often has great wood floors and super built in bookcases. No one would be friends with the people or live in the houses if they didn’t. It’s also the case that we sometimes mistake “doesn’t scream at me all the time” and “fails to have exposed wires at two year old eye level” as *features* rather than *absences of bugs.*
A dad who is sometimes warm and loving but also sometimes terrifying and threatening is a house with a broken stair and exposed baby height wires AND a great patio except and a wrought iron fireplace surround sound so covered in paint you can’t make out the design unless you do all the work to chip it off. Checking, of course, to see if it is leaded first (it will be).
You can make a deal with yourself that this dad can have access that you facilitate *if* and *when* he has health care issues under control, dealt with anger management, and any other court ordered stuff he might need to address first. It’s a reasonable boundary. You’ll still be around and so will your kid and her dad if he makes being well a priority so he can see his daughter. In the meantime let your lawyer advocate for you, and protect yourself and your kid well in advance of her arrival. And maintain reasonable expectations for the future based on the predictor of his past behavior.
Also, there are many ways people can be dads. Providing genetic material doesn’t have to be one, or a centrally importantone. There might be people- partners or not- who will be dad/s to your daughter based on their behavior rather than their genes. It will be OK!
Many good wishes as you navigate custody issues. And many happy congratulations on the forthcoming baby event! May you have much snorgling and joy together.
I know Missing Stair is a super common term around here, but something about your house image relating to your dad really struck me (partially because my own is similar). Thank you for giving me something to chew on…
This. I feel like we see so many letters here from writers who say things like “person does X, Y, and Z horrible things, but they’re also A, B, and C positive traits…”
A few other commenters pointed this out, it is really hard for someone to be 100% evil 100% of the time. Even Hitler was nice to his dogs (at least according to the biographies I’ve read), was polite to his secretaries, and liked fresh flowers. Someone’s positive traits don’t negate their terrible ones.
Someone can be nice and funny and helpful, and also beat, abuse, berate, threaten, and stalk you. Just because they’re nice and funny and helpful some of the time doesn’t mean you have to tot that up in the pros column and continue having them in your life.
If I shot someone tomorrow, getting up on the stand at trial and pointing out that I never forget birthdays and bring candy to our receptionist is not going to negate that.
LW, your ex has ALREADY harmed your child by nearly sending you into early labor. It is clear they do not have your or your child’s wellbeing in mind. All the good times in the past are not going to do anything in the present when – WHEN, not if – he decides to abuse or harm your daughter. He’s already told you he will.
From the second letter (#826, I believe): “And of course, if I charge him with stuff it has a really serious long-term impact on his life, which I don’t take lightly.”
Here’s the thing. I know that this feels like a lousy thing to do to someone you care about. I would be heartbroken to cause someone that I love that sort of long-term consequence. But look at what he’s done: he has shown a pattern of stalking and acting abusive towards two former partners, he has refused to face his mental illness, putting people around him (including you) in danger, and has otherwise acted in ways that are inappropriate and dangerous. The reason those sorts of things have long-term impacts is that we want to protect other people down the road from getting hurt. If he has something like an official total lack of custody with your daughter because of these sorts of things, then you are not only protecting your daughter, but also protecting any other future ex-s and children he might have.
Also, don’t forget that while YOU have a certain amount of control in this situation, your daughter will be 100% helpless for the first few months of her life, and mostly helpless for the first several years. Putting her in potential danger that she is unable to protect herself from is not helping her, even if it’s hard to have her not know her dad.
Dear Rebounds – it’s unclear if when you say he pushes you so hard, if you mean he emotionally pushes you, or if he physically pushes. Both are really bad. But, if you are talking about physically, please instead think of this situation happening to your best female friend – someone making life so hard for this friend that you love, a pregnant woman expecting a child, that she may go into labor early, which sounds like a really dangerous situation.
He wants to prevent you from seeing your family? and to do so by ruining/ensnaring the baby’s life (babyhood, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood) by putting the baby on a no-fly list and preventing them from ever traveling?
It is not being a good mom or a responsible adult to put up with it. You don’t need to put up with it. You are a good mom and a responsible adult, and it shows because I can hear in your letter that you want to protect your child from harm. You will be a good mom!
Dear LW#827, I am super sympathetic and I know how much this has to hurt. But you should NOT reach out to him. You want a good friendship with him, because you’ve been in each other’s lives for a long time and it’s hard to go cold turkey like that. I understand. But give it time. It might take years. It might never happen. But you know what definitely *won’t* make it happen? Trying to be friends again too fast.
I had a good friend. We got involved. It went super poorly. For my own protection, because I was *so* destroyed, I asked him to stop talking to me until I was ready. He asked how long. I told him at least the end of the summer, maybe longer; that I knew where he was and I’d reach out when I was ready.
He waited two or three weeks. I got a message every couple of weeks “are you ready yet?” “I don’t understand why you won’t talk to me” “I just told you how I felt and you disappeared” (How he felt was…extremely hurtful toward me.) After the third one I did respond, and I said “I asked for the summer. Please stop. I really need time.” I refused to help him process his unhappiness about dumping me. I was having enough trouble processing *my* unhappiness about him dumping me.
It took a while. We had some awkward false starts where we’d try to be friends, it would get super weird, we’d retreat. There was also a very ill-advised instance of sex. (I really REALLY recommend you avoid this.)
It’s been seven years. We are really close again. It took a long time, and a lot of work on both our parts, and it also took both of us–*both* of us–really, really wanting it. And you aren’t even going to know if *you* really, really want it for a while yet. You’ve got to get it out of your system before you can figure out if you want him back in your life at all.
Should you blame yourself? Maybe for lashing out. It sounds like you should blame him for talking you into a relationship and making you feel obligated to stay once you were done. But honestly, it’s all shit under the bridge. It happens. Move forward. Do better with the next person. That’s all you can do about anything. That’s life.
LW2: I have had family and friends who have had as their father someone who is abusive to their mother, and it is not pretty. They might have had a relationship, but it was not a positive one, because they knew their father abused their mother, and was still involved in their lives. So, while there was no blame, there was still a certain amount of, “Why the hell do I have to see this asshole?” inherent in their interactions. Kids know when a parent is abusive to the other parent, and chances are, your daughter will sense that friction, and it is going to be hard. My cousins, with their abusive dad, ended up viewing our grandpa as their father, and he did all of the things an attentive father would do, and maybe better. So, your child can still have a father figure, but it might not be your ex. (And it might be better if it isn’t your ex.)
As a lawyer, I will say (and I am not offering legal advice here, but merely commenting on what I understand is the law in most states in the US) prior to birth, a mother can relocate with her unborn child without court interference for the most part. After your child is born, there are a lot of other issues that come into play, like whether you’re allowed to stay in the country legally, and so forth. Please, talk to your attorney about this possibility, and if they’re not competent on the issue, talk to an immigration attorney or other expert. When the custody agreements are international, things can get very, very sticky, and it is so important to know what your rights are, and what your child’s rights are, in both the country you’re in now, and in your home country.
LW3: I have been there and done that. Forgive yourself for maybe not being as kind and generous as you usually are when confronted with FEELINGS. It’s human, and you’re human, and it happens. Maybe you would do things differently now, but as a wise woman said, we do the best we can with what we know when we know it. You know a little bit more about how to handle unrequited affections now than you did before, and you will use that if you’re ever confronted with that situation in the future. Think good thoughts about your the guy who thought he loved you, and hope the best for him, but let it go. It’s easier said than done, I know.
“a mother can relocate with her unborn child without court interference for the most part.”
Dear God, I’d hope so, considering that that literally means she takes her uterus with her when she moved. Like… the alternative is kind of horrific.
Unfortunately, google Bode Miller custody to learn that the alternative exists 😦
I was thinking about that. It was just the framing of “relocate with her unborn child” that made my mind boggle a little because… it’s not like you can leave your uterus behind when you leave the state.
“Hang on, before you go, we’ll just be taking that…”
My exact thought.
You have established that your baby’s father has some really serious red flags in terms of his behavior around you and his other partners. He has stated that he is willing to use your baby as a hostage to fuck with your life. Nevertheless, you want your baby to have the benefit of a father in her life.
My question is this: what kind of father do you think he will realistically be? Will he take care of the baby’s physical needs, like changing the diaper or feeding it good food? Will he take care of the baby’s emotional needs, being kind and loving and patient? Will he talk with the baby, play peek-a-boo with the baby, watch the baby carefully as it explores the house and the world? Will he willingly to devote the time and money that it takes to raise a child well?
Or is he likely going to be a big, whiny man-child, and one more fucking thing that you have to manage while being exhausted and sleep deprived and covered in baby spit-up? Is he actually going to be a benefit to you or your child and any point?
Even if he weren’t abusive, but merely useless, it would still be worthwhile to cut him out of your life.
Rebound this is why I dislike the whole ‘kids NEED mothers/fathers’. No what kids NEED is adults who care for them and will put their needs before their own. Just because someone is a parent that doesn’t mean that they are a good person.
I mean look at the way he treats you, do you think he’d treat his child any better? Do you think you’re kid will be happy with a father who acts this way and treats them this way?
Cutting him off from his child isn’t punishment, it’s the consequences of his own actions.
Yes, I might go so far as to say that kids NEED close, loving adults that are both male and female* so they can learn to relate to different kinds of people, but there’s no reason those close loving adults have to be biologically connected to them.
I’m curious as to what your asterisk was leading to. (Signed, an agender parent.)
Single parents (widowed, divorced, IVF moms, never married / single-parent-by-choice / estranged from other partner, you-name-it) also raise great, healthy, happy kids all the time. Remember, Presidents Obama and Clinton were raised by single moms. Most folks think they turned out fine!
And kids also turn out just fine when they are raised by gay or lesbian couples, even if they don’t have a close relationship with an adult whose gender is different from that of their parents. We live in a country where most people are not living gender-segregated lives, so kids are going to come into contact with and form healthy relationships with adults of all genders (teachers, coaches, clergypeople, babysitters, friends’ parents/siblings).
That was the gist of my first comment, but my second comment showed up first. *shrug* I agree with you! 😀
Kids don’t even need adults in opposite-gender or different gender pairs, as lesbian and gay couples and many other gendered and agendered combinations of parents and guardians raise great,healthy, happy children all the time. It’s OK to disengage from a toxic spermdonor to protect your child and yourself. (For example, if, before you make a final decision, you wanted to subtly get some medical history information from Toxic Guy or his family, no one would fault that, but you don’t even NEED that, IMHO, and he’d probably withhold that information the minute he figured out you wanted it. But withholding that information to keep a boot on your neck is not what a healthy, good parent would do, is it?)
Our culture tells us a lot of lies about what is best for children. “Stay together” was the one that most impacted my childhood. As an adult, I wish my parents hadn’t. I wish my father hadn’t believed these lies. I wonder every so often how different my life would be, if they hadn’t. There might, there might not be scorched earth were once my relationship with my mother lived. I don’t know.
“Every child must have a mother and a father” is another lie. Your daughter is going to grow up in a time where this lie is being disproved, every day. I was used as a weapon in my parents eventual divorce. Your ex is already threatening to turn your as-yet unborn child into one. As a former child-used-as-weapon, please spare your child that. She will have plenty of people to love her unconditionally, who won’t use her in that way.
I totally agree with you.
Thirded, fourthed, whatever number we’re up to. My mom stayed with my dad longer than she wanted to – and insisted that I stay in contact with him, have visitation, etc. – because *her* parents had divorced, and she didn’t want me to grow up fatherless like she had.
But “a father” in the abstract isn’t the same as a *good* or even baseline adequate father. Mine certainly wasn’t, and Rebound, it sounds awfully likely that your ex won’t be either. Keeping an abusive father in the picture for the sake of family togetherness does no one any favors.
Thank you so much for the answer to Rebound. I’m in a very similar situation now, a few days overdue with my baby and I just had to call the police to have my baby’s mother (we’re both trans) removed from the house because of the mental abuse and eventually death threats she was putting us through.
I’m doing most of the things you recommend already and a few other things, it’s just nice to get the same advice from here as I love this site and the commenters. And I don’t feel so alone.
I am so sorry — that had to be incredibly difficult.
You did the right thing in taking care of yourself and your child. I am sending you tons of good vibes and Jedi hugs, if desired.
LW #826, I got full legal custody of my daughter when her father and I divorced during her infancy.
He was not in any way equipped to care for a child at the time (unsafe living situation, major anger-management issues.)
I wanted her father to be a part of her life (he didn’t have as many issues and the track record of your ex, though), so I provided supervised visitation where I did the driving and was in control of the situation, and would leave if he got loud/angry/hostile/nasty.
Over time, he grew up, and his behavior and emotional state improved.
My daughter is now an adult, and has a good relationship with her Dad — but I think it was crucial that I had custody and could have ended the visits if he got angry/abusive/threatening.
I am seriously worried that your ex-partner, from your description, really probably shouldn’t have contact with your child (and definitely not custody.)
I’m sharing this story to say that getting full legal custody doesn’t necessarily mean that you HAVE to cut the other parent out forever — but it keeps your options open, and allows you to make decisions to protect your child and yourself.
Getting custody doesn’t mean that you *have* to decide one way or the other, right now — but it will allow you to be safe while you are doing your best to parent your new baby.
And, yes — I strongly suggest contacting a local abuse organization — you may be entitled to free legal representation.
Wishing you and your little one good health, happiness, and a *safe and secure* life ❤
Thank you for sharing this. (And I hope it convinces LW826)
Good luck, and hugs from an internet stranger if you want them. I hope you and your child can be safe and free of abuse.
I’m so sorry, that sounds like an awful thing to be going through while dealing with a pregnancy. Good on you for getting her out of your house (“death threats”! Augh!) and may your Team You give you all the support you need.
Hey, you’ve already done one brave scary thing in support of your kid, you’re going to rock at being a dad, in the unsolicited opinion of this internet stranger. Good luck.
Rebounds, I wanted to add to the good advice here that there are organizations that offer FREE legal counseling and representation, especially when it’s someone seeking shelter from an abusive (ex)partner. Especially especially with child custody!
Having full custody doesn’t mean that your kiddo will never meet their bio dad — it just gives YOU full control of what and when and if, not him. That’s SO IMPORTANT! The most important thing is your safety.
Hugs and good luck to you, and it will be okay, and you can do this.
Rebounds, please, please, please erect strong legal and emotional barriers against this guy. You can choose to let him in, to give him chances, but he shouldn’t be in a position that ENTITLES him to custody or parental powers at all. That is *incredibly* dangerous for your child. He’s already endangering her by almost triggering early labor and he has plans to continue by using her as a pawn instead of treating her like a human being. And let’s remember that if a kid sees one parent abusing the other parent, that itself is child abuse too.
I know you think your child should have a father, and she should. You’re right about that. But this man is not equipped to be a healthy father to her at all, and he certainly won’t be until he willingly gets medical help (and for a long time after that — psychiatry and therapy are great, but they don’t change dangerous people into benign people overnight). Maybe someone you meet later on will be a dad to her. Maybe you can surround her with other healthfully loving, stable adults — grandparents, aunts/uncles, teachers, family friends, neighbors, and so on can all fill this role.
I was raised with one stable parent, like you, and one parent who was sometimes loving and sometimes abusive, terrifying, inappropriate, narcissistic, and neglectful. Parents who alternate between love and abuse/neglect are very, very hard on a kid, and they can cause serious, long-term emotional and developmental damage, even if they’re not the primary caregivers. It’s not enough that this guy could be loving and good sometimes if he couldn’t be loving and good consistently, and if you can’t count on him 110% to be loving and good to your daughter all the time.
This isn’t about what’s fair to him, to you, or to your kid. This is about your and your kid’s safety. I am sure it will be worth the time, money, and stress to set up strong legal protections as soon as you can. You will be saving yourself from so much agony, and your child from so much damage. I know it’s hard to know what’s right at the moment, and I know it’s hard to enforce your own boundaries, but I hope it will be easier for you to enforce boundaries on behalf of your child.
I say all of this fully believing that this guy does have a lot of good in him, and not demonizing him in my mind. Otherwise, you’d never have been with him at all, right? But there is no amount of good in him, not even potential good, that justifies his actions towards you and the risk of more abuse directed at your daughter.
LW #826, your baby’s father is mentally unstable, and you have ever right to protect you and your baby. I would listen to your lawyer. Get full custody. I wouldn’t even allow him supervised visitation. From what you described, it seems like things are slowly escalating. Eventually, he will become physically aggressive. You and your child don’t need that in your lives. Please, protect yourself and your unborn baby. Your baby can’t defend herself and is depending on you for a stable, nurturing environment.
I don’t think being mentally unstable is necessarily a reason to prevent someone seeing their child. Lots of people are mentally unstable but still good parents. It’s being aggressive and abusive that is the problem.
You can’t be serious…
Do you understand what a broad spectrum “mentally unstable” is? And for that matter “good parent”?
People, including THE BLOGGER OF THE SITE YOU ARE READING, HER PARTNER, AND MANY PARENTS THAT SHE KNOWS can have mental illnesses and not display violent, aggressive behaviors or be bad parents.
The Letter Writer’s parter is unstable AND violent toward women. You can be stable and violent, you can have mental issues and not be violent. Misogyny and violence is the comment element in cases of violence toward women, and having a mental condition certainly doesn’t help, but one is not necessarily the cause of the other!
YOU cannot be serious that you work in the mental health field/with mentally ill people (as you’ve said in other threads) and not know this! Get your money back from whoever trained you if this is how you actually think!
This is not the first thread where you put out an ignorant and unkind blanket opinion, have had other commenters point out where you went wrong, and you’ve been condescending as fuck in reply. You’re welcome to read the site, but your commenting days are done here.
Thank you. As someone with issues (that I am working on!) who hopes to be a parent one day, thank you 🙂
Even if someone is not explicitly violent towards a child/baby (God forbid), it can be really harmful to have that person in the child’s life.
Disclosure time – when I was much younger, I loved an older woman with all my heart. This was more than just a crush – I wanted her to be my mother. However, she had a baby of her own. The emotional pain from this almost destroyed me.
BUT – it was on me to manage my feelings. She had a new baby – I couldn’t expect her to cope with me as well.
The last kind thing I could do for her and her precious baby was to walk away. Far away.
It doesn’t sound as though the LW’s ex will be that responsible to her and her child.
I am currently in a graduate program in the social sciences, which requires us to take graduate-level courses on human behavior. Multiple instructors of mine have had one mantra regarding behavior: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This man stalks, threatens, and harasses you? And his ex wife? He will continue to do so. He will do it to your daughter.
If your child’s biological father isn’t in her life it will not be a disaster. I have plenty of female friends who have cut out their child’s biological fathers, either by choice or by circumstance (i.e. the dad abandoned the family) and none of their kids are suffering for lack of their biological dad. Their moms have surrounded themselves with friends and family of all genders who are healthy, positive influences. The kids are fine.
You worry about how not having a dad will affect your child’s life. But how do you think THIS SPECIFIC DAD will affect her life? What do you think it will teach your daughter, long term, about relationships, if she grows up with an abusive man as a normal part of her life? So many women end up in abusive relationships because they grow up watching the women in their lives endure abuse from men, and that experience normalizes abuse. This man who abuses you, the mother of his child, who abused his ex-wife, he will abuse his daughter. He 100% will. He has already threatened to, by putting her on the no-fly list!
It sucks so much as women, because we’re so brow-beaten into considering the feelings of men above all else. You are concerned for the long-term impact that taking concrete legal steps to exclude this man from your daughter’s life will have on him. That is admirable and compassionate. But he clearly does not give a fuck what kind of long-term impact his behavior has on you. He threatens you. He stalks you. He is dangerous and disrespectful and why on earth should you provide emotional care that is totally unreciprocated? He’s not entitled to a goddamn thing from you. Your and your child’s health and safety are more important than his happiness.
The best way you can provide an emotionally healthy environment for your daughter is to make sure you have an emotionally healthy environment for yourself. There’s no way that environment includes this man. Give your daughter the gift of growing up free of him. You will both be fine.
I absolutely agree. Well said.
Yes to all this!
Dear Rebounds, I watched a good friend leave a stalking bipolar batterer with their two-year-old daughter in tow. After giving him MULTIPLE chances to “reform” and get medical treatment, she left with bruises. She had the chance to seek full custody, but agonized as you are doing over “depriving” her daughter – because, unfortunately, the girl had already bonded with daddy. By the time her daughter was four, she and the father were inseparable, and the courts saw fit to give him part-time custody to ensure the relationship continued. Part of their reasoning was that the mother had never pressed charges for the battery attempts, so “maybe” they hadn’t really happened.
As long as the girl was a child, the father felt she was HIS, as in HIS possession, his spirit animal, a part of his soul. He never stopped fighting for visitation, and after a protracted court battle, he won full custody when my friend was battling untreated chronic illness and could not work. The daughter was ten.
TW for abusive (not sexual) content:
Now the daughter is sixteen. She has breasts, and hips, and she looks just like her mother. Somewhere in the last year she crossed the tipping point between “his child” and “a woman,” which means she’s automagically a wh*rish, slutty liar who needs to be controlled, just like all the other “women” in his life. He has started abusing the daughter exactly as he did her mother (cutting up her undergarments with scissors, locking her out of the house at night and making her sleep in the car, denying her regular meals). Finally a teacher noticed she was coming to school in the same clothes multiple days in a row and contacted child protective services.
Your ex sounds horrifying in every way, and he hasn’t even had a chance to lay eyes on the baby. Once he does, he will never let you leave the country with “his” child or expose “his” child to other men (ie anyone you try to form a relationship with, ever).
Please, please listen to your legal advice and draw that line in the sand as hard and deep as you can.
That is horrifying — my heart goes out to your friend and her daughter.
Men who abuse women should not have unsupervised custody of daughters (or sons, for that matter — but girls are especially vulnerable because of their fathers’ misogyny.)
LW #825: Disengage, disengage, disengage, ride the NOPE-tepus out to Toby-free land. Honestly, I would consider semipermanently or permanently severing your friendship with him because plainly, he sucks as a friend and has a lot of shit to figure out before this friendship would be considered healthy. Because this friendship is toxic a la Britney. You have been the Helper, the Person Who Has His/Her Life Together, and Toby is the Damaged One, In Need Of Your Protection and Assistance (though he doesn’t want it). Your roles in this friendship are all kinds of wrong. Friendship is a two-way street, but you’ve just been giving and he’s just been taking. It’s not fair to you. You have gone above and beyond in your support and now I think it is time for you to focus on yourself for a change.
Yes, addiction and all the issues he has suck and are hard to deal with and overcome. But they are HIS issues, not yours. You’re taking on a lot of his emotional burden despite that it is dragging you down emotionally as well and that it doesn’t seem Toby WANTS you to take that burden.
Maybe you think I’m overreacting, but I had a lot of friends in high school that were like Toby. Depression, family issues, schizophrenia, refusal to get treatment or therapy, all of it. I had to talk multiple friends down from suicide over the phone, fucking panicking that I was going to fail to convince them to not do it and that I was literally going to listen to them die while I was in college thousands of miles away. I had a friend with schizophrenia refuse to take medication, show me the cuts on her thighs, and do all sorts of risky behavior. Despite me pleading with her to get help, she didn’t and I was afraid that her voices would tell her to do something terrible to herself or others. I was the emotional dumping ground for so many friends because they felt I had the easiest life – loving parents, good grades, etc. – so I would be able to absorb all their lives’ crappiness. When I would try to talk about things that were hurting or worrying me, they would minimize them because “I had it so easy compared to them.” I ended up in therapy my senior year because I couldn’t take the worrying and them unable or refusing to change.
Why do you think I no longer speak to a single one of my high school friends? Because I was sick of always giving and them always taking. I was sick of them not giving a shit about how I felt or what was troubling me. I feel bad that they had issues, but it is their responsibility to seek help and also their prerogative to continue their destructive ways. I was and am not a trained therapist and I was in high school – I had nowhere near the boundaries, maturity, and abilities to keep heavy stuff like that from affecting my own psyche.
The most important thing I think for you to understand is that YOU CANNOT CHANGE AND YOU CANNOT FIX PEOPLE. Whatever Toby has told you in regards to himself and your friendship, BELIEVE HIM. If he says he can’t help his addiction (at least for right now), BELIEVE HIM. If he says he wants to stay with Judas, BELIEVE HIM. Even if you don’t agree. Even if you know Judas or alcohol is bad news from miles away. Even though it fucking sucks to not say or do anything. Even though it’s like watching a sinking ship and you feel like you know the way to plug that hole in the hull. You have already told him what to do and how you feel and he has told and shown you his answer. Now believe him and DISENGAGE.
I totally agree, having been in a situation myself with a friend who really didn’t have his life together, was engaging in all sorts of self-destructive behaviours and I felt like I was the only one trying to help. He needed me, because nobody else really understood.
Wrong. One day he sent me a really hurtful, poisonous message for a really trivial reason, saying I clearly didn’t care for him at all and was a horrible person. This was not the first time he had lashed out at me like this. I thought “well if I make him feel that way, he doesn’t need me in his life.” I disengaged. He has since reached out to me a few times, but I’ve ignored him.
It was only after I disengaged that I realised how much exhausting emotional labour I’d been putting into this relationship. That I never got anything in return; he never so much as asked how I was. I realised that he was expecting and demanding things that weren’t within the remit of a casual, long-distance friendship.
When I disengaged, I felt a huge burden fall off my shoulders: I didn’t have to worry about this guy any more. I’d recommend trying it. It is, after all, generally a reversible decision.
I had a similar experience, only it was just one friend but he didn’t allow me to have other friends so it took up pretty much all of my time. ;(
I’m sorry you had that experience too. Mine still affects me to this day. I have great difficulty with friendships now, and as the whole thing happened over the course of 8-10 years (some with on and off contact) during my teen years and early adulthood, my entire personality changed. I can’t even think about things like ‘what if I could go back in time to being 12 and never meet that person) because I can’t imagine it- my entire life would have been different and I can’t picture that at all.
Having a friendship be so one sided is very hard. It gets to the point where you know absolutely everything about your friend, because they tell you all the tiniest details of their lives, but they know next to nothing about you, because they don’t care to know, it doesn’t matter to them. As a kid it’s easy to fall into a bad, one-sided friendship, and practically impossible to get out of one. Nobody teaches kids how to distance themselves from friendships that are making them unhappy. In fact there is a lot of emphasis on best friends helping each other and being besties forever, especially in young adult books, that kids pick up on. It’s similar to the problem a lot of kids have breaking up in relationships that aren’t making them happy, because staying together is valued way more and breaking up hurts people and hurting people is bad! Even if you’re doing it to help yourself because helping yourself is selfish! I hate all those messages and I wish I could talk to my younger self and give her a hug and tell her to look after herself and nurture her own personality, rather than try and nurture someone else’s.
Thank you for this. My mom has the same diagnosis as Toby, and dealing with her is like walking through a minefield. My life became so much better when I seriously limited her access to it.
Obviously not all people with BPD are emotional vampires like Toby (or my mom), but you can’t save people. Toby is an adult man who makes his own bad choices, not a toddler.
There is no kind or soft way to tell this story, so I am sorry if this sounds scary. It is scary.
2 children in my town lost their lives last year because their ‘mostly good guy’ Dad decided that the best way to hurt his ex-partner was to shoot his kids and then himself. This is not actually that uncommon.
Sometimes people can pull it together enough to be a ‘good enough’ parent. Sometimes they do not.
Your ex is sending so many red flags that I would seriously be considering fleeing the state, changing my name, and making myself as un-stalk-able as possible.
At the very least, let your lawyer help you stay as safe as you can.
Even if he doesn’t kill LW or their child. There’s no way to convey the power that child gives him over you if you let him have any custody.
A friend spent over two years driving to her ex’s house three times a day every other weekend. Because that’s when her ex had their kids, and he would forget to buy groceries, or ‘accidentally’ burn their food when cooking it, or only have things in the house that were unpleasant or inappropriate for them to eat (smoked oysters, sardines, food they were allergic to).
So instead of getting caught up on schoolwork, napping, hanging out with friends, dating, reading, or in any way enjoying her time away from the kids, she was preparing meals, packaging them, driving them over to her ex’s place, serving them, and staying to make sure they actually got to eat it while being badgered and berated by her ex the entire time. Sometimes he wouldn’t let her into the house, and she had to leave the food on the steps, and hope he’d let her come in next time, and that her kids weren’t too hungry.
Three times a day, every other weekend, until he went to prison (unrelated to their situation) and she was able to get full custody.
Abusive stalker types can get very creative in how they torture and control you. They have no boundaries.
This is descriptive of violence (but just want to illustrate how common it is):
Murder and murder suicides involving children does happen more than we want to think about. It happened in a very affluent community that I lived in with my daughter and parents. Two little boys and the father all died. He was a high school teacher and she was a corporate exec. I knew him peripherally. They seemed like a family doing everything right with a negotiated parenting plan and lots of resources. It reminded me that it could happen anywhere, even to me.
A six year old was found in an apartment yesterday morning where I live now. The father was in the room with superficial stab wounds. He initially attacked the mother and she ran down the hall for help. This is no joke.
My ex “has good in him” so I never ever would have thought this could be me, but then accepted that one never knows and you can’t ever not take seriously a threat to your child or yourself. It helped me to think of myself as “N’s mommy” instead of just me- this way I wouldn’t take chances with trying to talk or argue with him about anything. I didn’t want to risk her mommy in a way I might risk myself.
LW #825: CA’s advice is good. The problem with trying to rescue people from their own bad decisions? They already know they’re making bad decisions. There’s a good chance that they already feel bad about that. When you challenge them, it gives them an opportunity to shift from self-recrimination to self-righteous indignation. “She can’t tell me what to do! I’ll show her!”
I’m sorry. You genuinely love your friend, and disengaging is so hard. Unfortunately, it seems as though you’ve reached the end of whatever good you can do by engaging … at least for now. Here’s hoping that a break benefits both of you, and that you can reengage one day as better friends and equals.
LW825; I have recovered from a chaotic lifestyle of untreated mental illness, conpulsive self destructive behaviour and abusive relationships and homelessness. I have a BPD diagnosis. I wish I could tell you that my recovery was a linear process. I wish I could tell you that I honoured those who were loyal and kept away from abusive people in that process. There were moments where I hit a rock bottom (I didn’t several episodes of quality time with rock bottom) before I could really accept what was behind my ‘illness’. Looking back, my mind was protecting itself from horrific trauma that I was not conscious of and the people I relied upon as safe were my abusers. From the outside, I looked like an asshole. I know I acted like a self absorbed person who lacked the ability to relate fairly. I lacked the ability to relate to my own reflection in the mirror.
I didn’t have a rescuer. I had a few soul moments of ‘holy crap, I don’t want to live like this and I *know* deep down that I can give myself better. I have had some tremendously kind folk around me to witness my recovery and encourage me but self responsibility was the meat and bones of my wellness. Discovering that I could tolerate pain – that I was resilient and I was capable of choosing the non destructive option, that was a baby step voyage that no one could do but me.
If it helps, I don’t forget the kindnesses spent on me in the asshole days. Nothing good is ever wasted. Love might not yield the results you hope but it might plant a seed for Toby benefit later. Sometimes the best gift you give someone is your faith that without you hovering, they will find their own truth and their own life worth living. And if and when they do, like me, they will be glad that you did what you could and then stopped. It is those people that I burned out that I regret hurting the most.
Toby has all the opportunity for recovery ahead. He has already had a good health care experience. He has the beginnings of a support network and a whole lot of rock bottom to come. He can do it. Don’t expend yourself to cover his mistakes with your love, trust him to get his shit together.
It’s so helpful to hear this perspective.
This sounds like really good advice. I have a definite tendency to fall into a caretaker role in my relationships, and you’ve given me a lot to think about.
Thank you for this. I think with BPD in particular, and especially for women with the disorder, there’s a tendency of the partners/supporters of a person with BPD to say “well, my loved one’s mental health condition means she CAN’T make different choices, so I have to subject myself to abuse from her and manage her emotions for her” and that does no one any good. What your comment shows is that people with BPD diagnoses can and do take responsibility for themselves, and often with great success. It’s hard, it’s incredibly hard and it takes a lot of courage, but denying people with BPD the agency to choose and manage their own recovery is fundamentally disrespectful. A lot of people hear “BPD” or some other disability label and assume that the person’s disability means they aren’t a capable adult, or that they need a Fixer rather than a supporter. People with disabilities don’t need loved ones to Fix them — if we need that kind of help at all, we get it from professionals.
My mom has BPD, but she’s chosen not to get help. And she’s made that choice repeatedly. That’s her prerogative, now that she doesn’t have minor children anymore, but damn, it hurts to see someone choose the destructive option and not the road to recovery. Still. It’s her choice. Not her neurological destiny. And it’s disrespectful of me to try to change her mind (in any sense). I’m mad as hell at her, and hurt, and grieving, but that’s about me, not her. Like the LW’s desires to heal Toby and sort out his life for him are about the LW, not about Toby.
resili0, thank you for showing me what your wellness looks like (and it’s a journey you’re still on — like all of us, really). I have so much respect for you, because I know how scary it is to look your trauma and fears and “asshole days” in the face and choose to be better than your maladaptive thought patterns. You didn’t deserve BPD. I’m so glad you could become the rescuer for yourself that you’d always deserved. ❤
I think it is worth mentioning that the vast majority of those with a BPD diagnosis are survivors of trauma and BPD is undergoing serious reclassification. It is a diagnosis that is disproportionately given to women and to people who are actually affected by trauma and not disordered in terms of ‘personality.’ The perceptions that sufferers are inevitably manipulative or abusive and that they do not recover is erroneous; several studies show a good recovery rate for those who get the right treatment, over 85% of people recover enough to work and have social relationships. The fear professionals have and the lack of available treatment means many people bounce from crisis to crisis making them more reliant upon the destructive coping mechanisms that are harder to address. I think BPD is a shorthand for people who behave in destructive ways because they were never taught any other way – it is a trauma response. As such it makes sense and I believe the starting point for treatment is to address that fact while also acknowledging that such behaviour is destructive and there is an alternative.
I am sorry to hear how your mother’s BPD has caused her to be so abusive and I hear that grief for what you deserved and did not get, as well as that desire to protect her. I hope you get some peace of mind because it is such an exhausting place to be.
There is a typo there, I *did*have several rock bottom experiences.
I think one of the things that a lot of letter writers to advice columns (myself included) have in common is that they are looking for confirmation or permission to do something they want to do, especially if it will be a difficult or unpopular decision. I also think that by now, the Captain’s style of advice is pretty well known. I wonder if it helps any of the letter writers here to think about why they wrote specifically to the Captain? Maybe all of you already know deep down that you want to disengage from these really painful (and potentially dangerous) situations. In which case, listen to the Captain, and indeed listen to yourselves and your gut instincts and be free of this.
This, right here. LWs, you have ALL the permission to cut out these dangerous, toxic influences completely and feel no guilt or shame in doing so. You’ll probably still feel guilty, because you’re human, and that’s okay, but you’ll find no recrimination here from doing so.
As a recent LW myself (#804), I can attest to the truth of this statement. Though I also sympathize with LW 827, since I occasionally see my Walking Adele Song around town and have a momentary lapse of What Could’ve Been if he hadn’t been the sort of friend who, if you gave him an inch, would show up on your front doorstep with a basket of flowers you’re allergic to, if we’re taking the cliche to its only logical conclusion.
#825: Like biogirl, I have also been a Helper who’s tried to drag friends out of mental illness, suicidality, addictions, and BPD. Sometimes my friends got better; sometimes they didn’t; sometimes we stayed friends; sometimes we didn’t. These days I’m in grad school with an eye to being a psychologist, and I’m paid to work with severely traumatized people. So as someone who is something akin to a colleague and who gets why you’re clinging so hard: you need to loosen your grip. You need to cultivate your sense of being lovable and worthwhile when you have nothing to offer people, and on genuinely accepting people who are fucking the hell up without doing anything to fix or educate them. I can say you need to do those things with absolute certainty because people like us always need to do them. They are continual pursuits, like gardening.
“I still feel regret for almost a full year where I could have helped him get back on track if only I’d known.”
No. You couldn’t have. If he’d been fully honest with you, you could have sat there and watched him drink and struggle, but I honestly don’t think you could have kept him sober all year. That’s the nature of addiction. A lot of groups push the goal of total abstinence as though it’s doable, as though it’s desirable, as though it’s what does the least harm, as though it isn’t actually a toxic and unrealistic idea that we need to get rid of if we’re going to end the epidemic of substance addiction. I want to recommend Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts to you, about a doctor who did palliative care in a drug ghetto with people too addicted to stop taking drugs for two days to receive a treatment that would save their lives; he discusses a lot of the research that shows that we need to start thinking about addiction very differently to actually end it.
Toby definitely lied to you, and lied about not lying, though he might never say so. But here’s the problem–with the way things were, his choices were: Tell the truth and get pressured by the friend who was sometimes 100% in charge of whether he had a place to sleep that night to do something that was painful and impossible to do (stop drinking), or lie. That was you creating a situation where he didn’t have the choice to both keep your friendship, and make his own choices about when and how he was going to manage (or not manage) his addiction. So if you want to be friends with him going forward, you have to be willing to admit that his choice to drink or not is not yours to make, and that if you are going to pressure, wheedle, guilt, hector, or harrass him about it, he is totally willing to throw the integrity of your relationship under the bus and tell you what you want to hear. If he tells you the truth, you have to be willing to hear it.
Great comment and book recommendation. I do hope to see changes in mainstream thinking about addiction one day.
I want to chime in here to point out that it’s totally fine for LW#825 to set a boundary where users don’t get to sleep in her home. Regardless of the impact on the user.
I otherwise agree with you that it’s his choice, not hers, but her needs for what’s happening in her home take priority here.
Yes. Absolutely, and the kind of boundary a group like Al-Anon would help her set.
I’m in total agreement with this, and there’s a further sad irony in how we presently tend to approach addiction: experiments like Rat Park – http://www.brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/148-addiction-the-view-from-rat-park – suggest that when people try to use social connections to coerce behavior in the vein of, “Stop drinking or I’m cutting all contact,” they’re actually making it MORE likely that the person will continue the addictive behavior, becasue social connection is a major predictor of not developing harmful addictions. To be clear, one’s own safety comes first – I’m not advocating maintaining ties with people who are harmful to one in the hopes that it might help them get better. But if you DO want to maintain ties with someone with an addiction, the most helpful course is going to be to refrain from constant judgement or attempts to coerce zir behavior. That doesn’t mean actively enabling zir behavior, either, it means a mostly neutral approach.
“You need to cultivate your sense of being lovable and worthwhile when you have nothing to offer people”
… just… whoa. You explained my life so succinctly. I never thought of it like that and now I have to recontextualize my whole reality.
(Also, buying that book. I teach Drugs and Behavior – thanks for the rec!)
Dear Rebound, speaking as a daughter who has seen her mother abused by her dad, whose mother stayed in an abusive relationship for years “for the kids”:
Listen to your lawyer. Gain full custody of your child. If you can, cut this stalker totally out of your life, for your daughter’s protection. Maybe he won’t abuse her (which I sincerely doubt), but he’s already abusing you (see: threats and stalking) and, as a child, there are few things that hurt more than seeing the people you love hurt by the people who are supposed to love you, time and again, without being able to stop it.
I will be clear: that shit fucks you up for life. Spare your daughter that, she’ll be happier for it. There’s nothing your stalker can give her that will make up for her seeing him abuse you.
Also relevant: kids don’t have the emotional maturity, perspective, or understanding to not take that personally. They WILL think that daddy is hurting mommy because they weren’t good enough. They WILL internalize the message that they’ll never be good enough because they couldn’t stop daddy from hurting mommy. Even if your ex never lays a hand on your daughter, his treatment of you will scar her just as much as any physical injury could.
*examines own set of issues* That’s… a really accurate description, Nanners, thank you.
Plus, it takes a lot of time, effort, and money (through therapy or other coping mechanisms) to unpack and deal with all the baggage before those scars can even begin to fade. That’s a lot of pressure and work to put on an adult’s shoulders, and kids are more vulnerable by far.
Holy crap, Rebound. What a horrible situation – I’m so sorry.
I second and third La Capitaine’s advice to read Lundy Bancroft http://www.lundybancroft.com/. I also strongly suggest you go to his website and read the information there, particularly the section on child custody justice. I don’t want to be alarmist, and it may be that the system works the way it should in your case (it sometimes does!), but the family courts don’t exactly have a stellar record of acting in the best interests of the child.
As for “there’s good in him!” – well, as other posters say, there’s good in everyone. Even Hitler was nice to his mother, and sent his secretary’s mother flowers on her birthday. Does that mean he wasn’t also an evil, mass-murdering monster? Not saying Rebound Guy is a mass murderer, but he’s shown you what a scary, controlling creep he really is. Believe him.
I’m glad you have a lawyer. Take their advice. Organisations like the Protective Mothers Alliance might also be a source of helpful advice. Once you start looking, you will find there’s lots of help out there. I sincerely hope this works out well for you and your daughter, and you get to enjoy being a mother with minimum stress.
I actually comment semi-regularly but I am a coward and so I am anonymising myself for this, because I want to tell you about something that happened in my life.
Because this is no longer about him, or (entirely) about you. This is about your daughter, and giving her the best chance in life. I know US culture (and American TV) writes in huge letters KIDS NEED DADS, with a subtext of “any dad is better than no dad”, but this is a LIE.
A while ago, I sent a man to prison. Did he deserve to go? I honestly don’t know. Does anyone deserve to be in the shitholes that prisons in this country are? No idea. But was it right? YES. YES with the light of a thousand suns, because what I was doing was protecting his next victim. It hasn’t been easy, and I get dreams at night where he’s actually a good person, or he’s back and people doubly don’t believe me this time. But really, any damage that has been done to him is worth it to keep my sister safe.
Maybe getting full custody and restraining orders will ruin his life (I doubt it though, shitbags always seem to land on their feet), but it will be worth it to keep your daughter safe. Your daughter does not need a stressed out mother or a father goes nuclear at the slightest provocation. I’m not saying being a single mother isn’t hard in itself, but I am saying it will be better than trying to navigate around a man who has almost sent you into early labour. My sister is so much happier now.
The online blanket advice assumes that everyone is reasonable. And going to the courts would be dangerous if you did not have substantial evidence (the courts have a nasty habit of assuming women are making up stories of abuse to get full custody). But neither of those things apply here.
I also idly wonder whether it would be feasible to move back to your home country, and get him put on a no-entry list there.
In replying to your letter I am also writing to all the women in my life who give crap men infinite chances for understandable reasons. You are all wonderful, compassionate people. I wish more people were like you, so that I did not have to say please, please, please be cruel for once, for the greater good.
Also: possibly ruining an abusive adult’s life may not be good, but it’s not as bad as letting him ruin your life and your child’s life. He chose to hurt you and threaten your baby; this is not a case of a breakup with an innocent person who just wasn’t right for you. This is someone who chose to stalk and threaten you, and whose approach to custody isn’t what is best for the baby but what he can buy with it. He’s the one who has removed the option of reasonable coparenting from the table.
Rebounds, I wanna flag up that children having to watch one parent abuse another fucks them up. There’s a chapter in Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft on this, and also I was in some respects that child, so — please please please trust your lawyer (and yourself! and him) to believe that having him around will do you both more harm than good.
#827: I get feeling guilty about snapping and losing your temper. But from my perspective? Please try not to blame yourself for that, because to be honest it sounds like he wasn’t listening to anything you did or said short of that. It sounds like he ignored and steamrollered your boundaries into “persuading” you that it was a good idea to have sex after you’d said you didn’t want it (instead of supporting you by e.g. saying “you said that wasn’t something you wanted to do, so I’m not interested right now; let me know well in advance if your mind changes and I’ll think about it”). Well done on taking a break; I agree wholeheartedly with the Captain’s advice to continue it.
Lundy Bancroft has also written the books When Dad Hurts Mom and The Batterer as Parent that continue the theme. The harm comes often less from watching physical violence happen, which is of course bad, but instead because selfish and manipulative people will be selfish and manipulative to their children, so the children grow up with a corrosive influence of contempt, neglect, and unhealthy parenting.
Abusers sometimes have one person that they have power over who they *don’t* abuse, who they have a perfectly lovely relationship with, who somehow gives them whateverthefuck it is that they need without developing those behavior patterns. This is, note I’m very careful to say, not a “healthy” relationship.
My ex-husband emotionally abused me and my (ultimately genderqueer) kid for more than fifteen years before I got out. Zie and I have commonality on the subject of That Person Who Is Not In Our Lives Anymore, Thank God, and I think we’ve mostly worked past zir resentment that I kept us in that situation, and we’ve got a pretty good relationship and we’re both working on our trauma and doing pretty well.
My younger daughter, who Adores Daddy and with whom I can’t talk about the abuse at all, is a bit of a different story. My beautiful, smart, strong, successful, anxiety-ridden, eating-disordered, angry daughter, who was a cutter for years. I look at her and I see all of the ways he damaged her without every laying a hand or making a snide remark to her, and it guts me. I think she has a lot further to go, in some ways, than her sibling.
We were watching Jessica Jones together not long ago and playing the emotional abuser red flag drinking game – I may have actually thrown popcorn at the television at “I’m sorry for whatever you think I did to hurt you” – and at one point I just looked at her and thought, “Where in the world did you think I learned all this?”
So even if he’s a good dad to her, he’s not a good dad.
Hi anon – I grew up in a family where I was the scapegoat and my sibling was the “golden child” – like your daughter who adores her daddy. Today? I’d say I’m in a better place, mentally, than my golden-child sibling. I got to see that the family system was rotten, no doubt about it, and I worked out a way of getting free from it. My sibling grew up with the idea that it was all OK really apart from a few odd kinks (sexual abuse of me – yeah, right) and if xe behaved hirself perfectly then everything would turn out fine.
Now we are both in middle age; one parent has died and the other is incapable of looking after themselves. The “perfect” family has been revealed as an illusion. I knew this all along. My sibling, in hir late forties, is still struggling with this.
I am saying all this to show the LW that even if an abusive parent behaves “perfectly” to one child, that child may still be damaged by the abuse situation.
Re. #825. Your insight and advice are excellent, Captain. I’m commenting to warn the LW about Al-Anon, however. I am the former wife of a former problem drinker and went to Al-Anon meetings for many years. A possible plus point is that you *might* meet some friendly, supportive people at the meetings. Al-Anon advises “detachment”. Its available sources of information are characteristically vague as regards how one should go about this (“Don’t create a crisis!” “Don’t prevent a crisis!” … umm, OK?) Though one more salient point which is made, and something that the Captain stresses, is that adults must be given the dignity to make their own choices, free of others’ attempts to control them. I did get that from Al-Anon when I went and it was helpful, since it is important that friends and family members do not infantilize the alcoholic/addict or try to control them while saying and probably thinking that they are helping them.
But. Al-Anon was grown from the spare rib of AA, which is itself based on the Oxford Group, a dodgy fascist cult from the 1930s. Yes, you may receive some helpful advice and support about self-care and detachment, but the only thing 12-step programs are really all about is converting people to a strange cult religion. As an atheist, I found all the religious discourse alienating and frustrating. I’ve heard that those who already believe in a god experience less discomfort, and yet the “higher power” of the 12-step cult is a peculiar entity which keeps alcoholics sober one day at a time but only if they “work the program” i.e. spend lots of time at meetings, “working” with their sponsor and recruiting for the cult.
These days there are secular recovery programs whose approach is evidence-based. Smart Recovery has a program for friends and families: http://www.smartrecovery.org/resources/family.htm
I see from what Toby is saying about himself that he has probably been to a 12-step program. “He’s an addict and if it’s not one thing it’s going to be another,” – he’s written himself off and sunk into the defeatist thinking much vaunted by 12-step programs and widely believed in the US and other societies. In fact a central message of 12-step programs is that addicts and alcoholics, and indeed their friends and family members, are diseased, defective and helpless, and the only hope for them is to surrender to a higher power in the framework of a 12-step program. This kind of thinking actually promotes relapse and may even have led to Toby’s, and quite possibly to many deaths. I hope that Toby may one day read Recover! by Stanton Peele. http://www.amazon.com/Recover-Empowering-Program-Thinking-Reclaim/dp/073821812X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455098918&sr=1-1&keywords=stanton+peele+recover
tl;dr: Avoid Al-Anon.
I think the nice thing about AA and similar programs is they are /very widely available/ – there’s pretty much one anywhere in the US I believe.
The downside is it’s pretty much run by the group who attends so quality may vary widely. And if it isn’t for you, then it just isn’t.
I am going to say I think ongoing care is inherent in ANY addiction recovery program. I would encourage any recovering addict to keep going to meetings at least once a month even if they’ve been sober for years. IDK, I just don’t think “working the program” is an inherent problem of AA, but rather an an inherent need for radically changing a behavior, in this case addiction.
My own experience is that I’ve found Al-Anon to be a support to me in setting clear boundaries with friends and family who are struggling with addiction, in decreasing my obsession with the alcoholic/addict and with returning my focus to my own life.
The warmth and friendship of people in similar circumstances has been a great comfort to me.
I say this while also being fully aware of the limited success of 12 step-only programs in the recovery from addictions; there is much good science behind other approaches. The addict and alcoholic in my family is currently clean and sober with the help of treatment that is not rooted in a 12-step AA approach.
( In other words, you don’t have to drink ALL the Kool-Aide in order to get rehydrated.)
At any rate, my heart goes out to LW #825, and I think that CA’s advice is spot-on.
Er, someone working the program of AA does not “recruit for the cult”–we explicitly note that people need to decide for themselves if AA is for them. I am sober through AA, as is my partner (both for decades), and neither of us is religious in the slightest. The program itself, the steps, can be the higher power one consults. Just had to add this in as a counter-voice to an awfully negative view.
But in any case, the friend of an alcoholic cannot make the decision to get sober FOR the alcoholic. They need to make that decision for themselves, and until they do, the friend could literally lock them up to keep alcohol away and still fail.
I’m aware that I used loaded language though I can’t help thinking about the people who are court-mandated to attend 12-step meetings and homeless people who lose their accommodation unless they do so. How are they getting to decide for themselves?
I’m glad you found something that worked for you and congratulations on your long-term sobriety. I have sooooo much to say on your points and those raised by others, but I did not want to derail the thread. The LW has seen some different viewpoints. I’ll just say that I hope that those who support the program and actually believe it to be helpful will work from within to improve it. If it’s not meant to be religious, could you consider excising the references to God (a male god at that) and prayers? Isn’t it time to edit the Big Book and delete the grossly misogynist “To Wives” chapter? Above all, could something be done to improve accountability, protecting people from abuse and 13th stepping?
I found Al-Anon helpful. One of my take-home messages was that the other people in the group hadn’t caused their loved one’s alcoholism, nor did they deserve it, so I probably hadn’t caused it or didn’t deserve it either. I’m a Christian though, so the Higher Power idea was straightforward for me.
It used to be said, when someone new started, to give the group six weeks: -very often it’s overwhelming to join; lots of people spent their first meeting in tears, I spent it seething with rage – but in the long run I found it helpful – even just to have people to laugh with, because they can share the black humour in it all.
Experience taught me that alcoholics will tell you anything at all, and possibly believe it at the time they’re telling it – hard to believe someone you love and who loves you will tell you a pointless or dangerous lie, but they do.
Also “I could have helped him get back on track if only I’d known” – you couldn’t.. Al-Anon was good for that too: there were people steeped in regret that they should have done more, cheek-by-jowl with people who were doing stupid amounts – you get to see that even great and consistent devotion and care isn’t a fix. The mantra there is ‘Detach with Love.”
And, not to contradict A_Lopez’s experiences, but just to make the obvious point that YMMV – my dh at various times went to AA, didn’t find it useful, ended up at the traditional rock bottom and went to a facility run by nuns, who made him go to mass daily, and after he came out found an AA group that worked for him. He’s as atheist as you can be – it’s not a requirement to construe your ‘higher power’ as a supernatural entity.
Thank you for the perspective. I had a friend who was in Al-Anon and “in recovery” and I kept wondering why she always had to be “in recovery” and was never allowed to be “recovered.” (At least, that was how I saw it. I hope it legit helped my friend.)
As someone who spent about six months in Al-Anon and *did* find it helpful, I actually ran into the “in recovery” vs. “recovered” shoals myself. It wasn’t that I don’t think my experiences growing up with an alcoholic mother still affect me, because they do. But after those first few months of learning, recognizing my own issues, hearing others’ coping techniques, etc., I began to feel that the meetings were no longer strengthening me, but forcing me to dwell even more on experiences that had already caused me enough pain. Of course, my situation was more “past tense” than most in Al-Anon – I am an adult living in a different state from my mother, who to her great credit has sobered up. She has never really come to terms with the harm she did and continues to see herself as the victim, and that hurts me, but our current relationship, while most particularly close, is friendly and warm. I guess the Al-Anon meetings finally got to a point where I felt like they were reviving the hurt for me rather than healing it.
That said, I still strongly recommend the organization. I understand my childhood, my family and myself so much more than I ever would have without it. But I think it’s important to know that 12-step programs are there to help you rebuild, and you have to know what in it helps you and what doesn’t.
“I guess the Al-Anon meetings finally got to a point where I felt like they were reviving the hurt for me rather than healing it”. Yes, exactly. I found the meetings helpful in the earlier, more acute stages. But I think there comes a time when you’re ready to move on and I find the 12-step programs weak on that – indeed they encourage the “no graduates” approach. Having been encouraged to do so I stuck around for way too long actually getting worse before I finally got out.
Assuming someone finds a decent group I would in fact recommend short-term attendance, if they can deal with the religious stuff – mileages vary there of course.
I attended a 6-week secular version of Al-Anon for couples by myself. The first time was amazing–I’m not alone! These things I’ve noticed are not unique to us and in fact common among alcoholics! I managed to get my alcoholic partner of the time to attend one session. But he wasn’t interested because he didn’t have a problem. The last 3 weeks of the program were hard for me, because so what? I was the only one attending solo, and it didn’t help me in my situation. I already had clarity and knew it wasn’t my problem to fix. I felt worse in the end. And I broke up with him eventually because the alcohol was more important than I could ever be. Even the promise to marry him if he quite wasn’t enough to convince him to quit. It was a safe gamble on my part because I really didn’t want to marry him, but I thought it was the one thing that might influence him. Nope.
LW#825, you’re not even an intimate partner to Toby. You are not going to be able to convince him to get sober. Let go. Let it go. Put your own oxygen mask on and stop trying to breathe for Toby.
Hi, A_Lopez. I had similar experiences to yours when I attended an Al-Anon group because of my parents’ drinking. I found no help there – instead we were given readings from their “special book”, like a Bible study session. I had the sense that they wanted to induct me into their cult rather than give practical support.
From LW #826: [E]very website I go to says to try to avoid family court and settle things yourselves if you can.
LW, please ignore those websites. Websites don’t know your whole picture. By “whole picture,” I mean your life situation, your legal position, the laws where you live and the laws around immigration, and how sympathetic your local courts tend to be toward people in your circumstances.
In my own law practice, about twice a year I come across a situation where parties solved a problem informally and it became a more serious roadblock later on. It was too much “trouble” to hire lawyers, file for divorce, and get a decree because, hey, we’re still getting along OK — until one party passes away and now the not-legally-ex-spouse wants their share of the estate. An amicable divorce would have cost a tenth of what the heirs lost. Or: two siblings share a house, one dies with a will, the other dies a little while later without, and the family doesn’t take the “trouble” to hire a lawyer to take care of the estate — and now there are literally two dozen grand-nieces and -nephews who want their share of what’s left of the value of the house and bank accounts that sat idle for a few years. Again, taking care of that estate back when the dude passed away would have taken a tiny fraction of the time it’s been taking to deal with it now.
Maybe you’ll get a promise now from Dad not to interfere with your taking baby on an international trip, so you forgo getting a judicial order about custody because it’s too much “trouble.” So what happens later when he breaks that promise? It will be more expensive (and quite possibly legally more difficult) to hammer out an after-the-fact agreement with the court.
Your lawyer can tell you whether it’s a good idea to judically establish paternity on your own initiative, explain how much easier/harder it is to take care of issues now versus later, and help you get a child support order backed up by the court. It sounds as though Dad isn’t too good at negotiating reasonable agreements. Let your lawyer and the courts do this instead. A lawyer shouldn’t promise anything, but I actually will promise the court is never going to include “have sex in exchange for favorable custody arrangements” at any point in the bargaining process. It won’t be easy — Dad sounds like a piece of work — but it will be so much easier to get the ball rolling now rather than later.
Yes! It’s scary and annoying to have to go through the legal process now, but now is the best moment to take care of this.
As far as I know- though ask your lawyer- in the US, most of Europe, and many other countries, unless you have full custody you will be prohibited from taking your child out of the country without the other parent’s written (usually notarized) permission. Until the kid is 18. It’s a provision in the Hague convention. You may be unable to even take a job in another city, or move out of the state or region.
Also, without wanting to demonize your ex, you should consider whether you want to allow this person physical unsupervised access to your child. Abductions do happen and the threats (towards you, so far) sound alarming. Plan for the worst and hope for the best, maybe.
A handful of folks are phrasing taking your baby’s biodad to court, etc, in terms of “nice” and “cruel”, and so forth. I understand what they are trying to say but it’s not any of those things at all. There is nothing about being nice, or mean, etc in this. The phrase “you do you” comes to mind; it’s up to ex to manage their stuff and repercussions of their actions. Unfortunately he isn’t behaving like a reasonable person. Unfortunately he’s not likely to change unless he is forced to. Unfortunately you are the one with the evidence and the child, and the one writing, and so unfortunately you must be the one who carves out a safe space for themselves. No one else can be proactive in this the way you can be.
It isn’t about biodad’s needs or feelings, or about being nice or mean to him. It is about making sure someone who has been unsafe for you and other people, and /even told you they will ruin your life/ has as few tools as possible to affect you. If the consequences are trouble for him, that’s on him. That’s not on you. You have plenty to worry about with yourself and your pending baby, please take worrying about his emotions and well being off the plate! It’s okay! Tell yourself and anyone else who may butt in “I wish him no harm, but I have to do what I can to ensure he can’t harm me or my child, because he already has/has said he will”
Exactly! It can’t be about him anymore. He will fight to keep LW’s attention always on him, so use whatever legal means are available to take that power away from him.
He’s already proven he’ll use whatever means necessary to stay in the center of her world, even that means hurting LW and her daughter to keep her afraid and focused on him.
Good luck LW, I’ll be thinking of you, and hoping you and your child are safe.
it’s hard to go from thinking of someone as a person to a problem to manage, but I think it’s the best strategy for coping with this sort of situation. If one keeps thinking “friend/former lover/etc” rather than “stalker/abuser/etc” the temptation will be to keep thinking that they will eventually behave rationally (because who wouldn’t!) and they will just disappoint again and again; I do believe the best management, both for emotional coping and legally and physically protecting oneself when someone has behaved dangerously untrustworthy is to stop empathizing and start analyzing. If they do turn around, then great! No harm done. If they don’t one is protected.
Rebounds, I just want to say that as someone who grew up with mom enforced no contact with my dad (for very similar reasons you talked about) that I never, ever resented or blamed my mom for not having a relationship with him. And I never looked at him and felt like I would have been better off with him in my life than I was without him in my life.
That’s just me, of course, and I can’t speak for anyone else. But I do think that way too often narratives assume that children will grow up feeling A Profound Lack and that very much isn’t always true.
Absolutely. I had no contact with my father at all when I was a kid (not because of abuse, but because they mutually agreed after they broke up–before I was born–that it would be easier on everyone for no contact) and it didn’t bother me at all. Like, literally never gave it a thought as a kid. As I said in a comment above, I never had a presence, so I never felt an absence.
And after seeing all the damage that bad fathers have done to my half-sister and friends, I have to say I’m really grateful for not having one at all. I’m sure a good one would be awesome, but a bad one (as LW’s ex is almost certain to be) can really mess a kid up.
Even when children do grow up wondering about their Real Dad, and feeling that absence – we don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes the greatest gift a parent can give a child is the innocence of not knowing how bad things might have been.
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV or even the Interwebz. But, please follow CA’s advice and listen to your lawyer. This isn’t something that you can try to work out on your own. Your ex is never going to agree with you and will always try to hold everything over your head. Always. The smartest move for you and for your daughter is to listen to your lawyer, go to court, and get legally binding settlements, including full custody. Don’t depend on arbitration, because in most cases the settlements aren’t legally binding. The documents you get from court should be as detailed as possible, giving you the protection that you and your daughter will need.
Make sure you document every single interaction with your ex as many times and as thoroughly as possible. Save all emails, voice mails, etc. Start a handwritten journal so that you can write down what he said, when you saw him, what actions he took, what you did, and so forth. The reason that you want to handwrite is that it is harder for someone to say that you faked it if you wrte it down at the time insstead of putting it on a computer, since it’s all too easy to alter computer documents. Check with your lawyer about your state’s recording laws. You may be able to record everything your ex says when you are on the phone with him or if you are seeing him in person without having to notify him.
Having a father is much less important than having a safe environment to grow up in and not having a mother who is afraid of what is going to happen next.
Congratulations on your daughter, and I wish the two of you a long, healthy, and safe life with lots of love and giggles.
Rebound, don’t keep this guy in your daughter’s life. I was a single mom for 6 years and I wished I could have given my child a dad but the dad he had was not safe for us. I kept the dad away but gave my child lots of loving adults to be in their life and teach them things. Later, when the child was more grown, the child went to visit the dad who lost his temper at the end of the visit and committed violence against my child. My child was able to get help and leave the situation, which could not have happened if the child was younger.
All of this to say, I know what it’s like to want. I know what it’s like to know that YOU would do the best you could with a tiny, vulnerable, innocent being in your care so wouldn’t everyone? I know what it’s like to crave a tripod family with a mom and a dad and the child swinging happily in between. This man cannot offer you this and indeed is showing that he will definitely not give it to you. He’s holding out a bouquet but it’s made of screaming and fear and stress and drama. Don’t let it near your tiny new daughter. It’s only thorns he has, not beautiful fragrance and soft petals.
Would you feed her moldy food? Knowingly buy a recalled car seat? Would you lay her to sleep on a blanket of poison ivy because it’s better than no blanket? Of course you wouldn’t. Choosing who is in her life is similarly important.
Do this for her: Protect her.
This is so well said.
Fathers (even for non cis- het- girls) create the template for a girl’s future romantic relationships.
He could change, and everyone deserves a second chance, and it’s his daughter too, etc. But after all is said and done, you don’t have the option of being objective anymore.
Your job is to be very, very, biased towards the tiny, helpless, person you’ve chosen to bring into the world.
So the only question that matters is: When you close your eyes and dream of her future, is spending the next 20 years learning to be a partner to a person like Rebound what you envision for your child?
Thank you and I totally agree with Your job is to be very, very, biased. This is no time for fair chances and benefits of doubt.
Your child is very lucky to have their mother make the difficult decision to ignore wishful thinking. To bear the physical and emotional labor of those early years on your own while keeping him safe from his father was a labor of love.
My parents divorced over my father’s substance abuse and controlling behavior. These were things that were already an issue when she got pregnant, but love and hope that parenthood would straighten him out took her to the altar. It didn’t work out that way, and I spent years in therapy unlearning those patterns.
As a child, I couldn’t stop loving my father, and it placed tremendous strain on the relationship between me, my mother, and step-father. It would have been much better to have had just my mom, and “lots of loving adults to be in their life and teach them things”.
To her credit, after they split, she joined a loving and supportive church, which stepped in when things got bad between us.
LW#1, I think it’s okay to detach a little from Toby. If this were me, I’d probably send him a short email/text/whatever saying that you’re sorry you got into his business too much, and then let him reach out to you. When he does, work on keeping it light – get together for something fun.
I’ve had friends who have had messy lives, with periods of homelessness and drug use and so on – smart, charismatic, lovable people who have a lot to offer as humans, and whose lives are very hard. (Made harder, like Toby’s by the lack of state support for care.) When you talk about Toby writing back to you that he _wants_ to be treated this way by Judas, it reminds me of some interactions with my friends – they’re not fools, they recognize patterns in their lives, they recognize that sometimes they want stuff that’s bad for them. What I’ve noticed is that getting better is a long process, and sometimes it starts with that kind of noticing – someone may need to notice unhealthy stuff for a while before they’re ready to make changes, or ready to substitute a kind of Judas-lite relationship that provides the thrills without the pain.
You can be there for Toby up to a point – if he wants to talk about Judas sometimes, you can do that (as long as it’s okay for you). You can share your observations about Judas. You can talk through how Toby is negotiating his relationship with Judas. But I think it’s going to be healthiest for you and Toby to accept that dating Judases is where he’s at right now.
It’s a tough balance to strike – figuring out when you should help people because they’re really going to go down the drain if you don’t and when you should step back and let them work through whatever it is. Sometimes I host people, sometimes I give them money; sometimes I don’t, and it’s very hard. For a lot of my friends, though, they have depths of resilience that I didn’t understand at first – I have watched my friends pull themselves up out of really terrible situations through sheer hustle and willpower, even though they were still struggling with addition, mental illness, etc, and that has helped me to step back sometimes.
As I say, it’s tough, because sometimes material help is really, really important.
As I write this, I’m thinking about how to recognize friends with addiction or mental illness as full people, rather than dependents (even if loved dependents). Basically, I think that stepping back except in absolute emergencies and respecting even bad-seeming decisions is part of it. I don’t know, and I can’t know, the exact conditions under which a friend makes a “bad” decision. I try to assume that it’s actually the “best” decision (or at least a “good enough” decision) given their particular constraints – if someone is struggling with a serious issue, maybe the best next step for them doesn’t look great to you, because you’re not living their life. Being a friend and talking through these decisions as you would with any other friend, respecting that a “bad” decision may actually be a good one under the circumstances, is helpful.
Also, I think it’s worthwhile to consider what you’re getting out of helping Toby, and if there’s a way to work through that need or fulfill it in another way. I tend to get a little over-involved with friends’ problems sometimes, and I notice that it’s because I am a risk-averse person who lives by proxy a bit, and because I feel like I need to “prove” that I’m a good person all the time, and because I feel like if my life is happy and stable, then I am somehow spoiled and overprivileged.
Also, you’re not failing to care for Toby if you don’t “rescue” him. It can feel like “rescue” is how you show love, but unless someone is delirious from pneumonia, has fallen out of a boat, hasn’t had a meal in three days, etc, it’s not.
Something else I wanted to say – try to work on being friends with Toby without focusing on his personal struggles. I have my struggles, and I would hate it if my friends saw our friendship as primarily defined by the need for me to work on my anxiety/risk aversion/etc. Be a friend to Toby like you’re a friend to your other friends – focus on being a friend to Toby the person, not Toby-the-person-who-needs-to-fix-himself.
This right here! Ask yourself, if you cannot “rescue him”, if he continues to struggle and make choices that you think are terrible ideas and keep abusive people around and all the things that make you so worried for him, do you still want to be his friend? Can you have great conversations with him and have fun with him and enjoy his company, knowing that he might be drinking and caught in bad patterns and spiralling and that that might be who he is and where he’s going to be right now no matter what you do? Is there something he can give you and you can give him that has nothing to do with a joint project of turning him into the healthy, happy, safe person you want him to be?
You can’t fix him or save him from his choices, no matter how great a friend you are to him and how wise your insights. You will probably destroy the friendship if you keep trying to in spite of his wishes. But maybe you can be someone who wants him around because you like being around him and who has great conversations with him and someone who is his friend because you do fun friend things together. Be friends with him, not his issues.
Or maybe you can’t. Maybe you’re too tangled up in wanting him to be okay to just back off and enjoy the friendship with not-okay him. That’s alright too. It’s not your job to be his friend any more than it’s your job to fix him, so if you can’t just be his friend or you don’t want to, let him go. A friendship that you’re in because you feel like you have to be isn’t a friendship anymore, and I can tell you care about him and think he’s awesome and deserves to have real friendships, so give him the kindness and respect of ending it before it turns from a friendship to an obligation.
This is really good advice. LW #825, these are your two options:
Firstly, you draw right back, and become a friend-friend to Toby, someone who hangs out with him and has a good time with him and nopes out when he gets drunk or high enough that you no longer want to be around him, and tells him that you’ll be around and happy to see him again when he sobers up. You tolerate whatever you can tolerate happily, and you don’t stick around if his behaviour or his speech is upsetting you. If you find you’re getting angry or frustrated or that being with him is making you too sad, you take a break. You perhaps listen when he needs to talk about his problems, but you say things like, “That sounds hard, I’m sorry” or maybe, “Do you know what you’re going to do?” and you never try to fix it or tell him what he needs to do to fix it. When he spends time with you, what you do and how you act (not what you say) reminds him that he is a fun, valuable, interesting person, with the ability to solve problems himself.
That sounds incredibly hard – it would involve totally reconceptualising your relationship with Toby, and it would require you to have a lot of support in your life, probably both professional and non-professional, whilst you re-draw those boundaries and find things to do with the time when you can’t spend it with Toby. It would also, of course, involve Toby accepting the boundary changes and actually wanting to be this kind of friend with you, which is up to him!
If that doesn’t work, the second option is to draw even further back, and take a total break from Toby. Which is probably the more sensible idea, to be honest, because it would take a huge amount of trust and strength between you to reset the relationship, and you may not have that right now.
I suspect you are reading this and thinking, “but you don’t understand!” and “But Toby needs!” There are lots of cultural stories about “I’ll be the person who sees you through this!” and “everyone else might abandon you, but I never will!” The thing is, those cultural stories enable alcoholism. They are frequently focussed more on the feelings of the rescuer than the rescuee. In real life, when someone survives alcoholism and gets their life back together, and they can say, “X always stood by me, I couldn’t have done it without them”, that is often a person who has behaved as in my top example. It’s probably the person who says, “You can stay at mine if you’re sober, but if you’re drunk, you can fuck off”, and stays completed implacable and unemotional about enforcing it, but who is still there when the drunk has sobered up and just says, “Hi, could you get some milk today?” or some other boring normality. It’s the person who recognises that the addict’s inability to say no or stop or to tell the truth isn’t a sign of how much they love or trust or believe in the people around them (even though that never means it doesn’t hurt when they choose booze or drugs over intimacy), not the person who thinks, “if only I love you enough, I can help you.” Supporting someone who is using or giving up an addictive substance means detaching yourself as far as possible from their success or failure, and reflecting back the person they are, despite drinking, not endlessly trying to pull them towards the person they could be, if only they’d stop drinking, which just creates a whole set of standards for them to fail at.
It is really, really hard. I wish you lots of luck and strength and support.
LW 825, something jumped out at me in your letter. You said:
“It casts all our past interactions into an odd relief, because I thought he’d changed into a much better person, and it makes me doubt the point of the effort I made to help him through past relationships with similar to much-worse issues”
It concerns me a little that you said you thought Toby had “changed into a much better person.” Did you mean you thought he was a better person than to lie to you? Or do you mean that you thought he was a worse person before he had started treating his illnesses and (you thought) staying sober? Because, I don’t know, that kind of gets my hackles up, and makes me a little skeptical of your motives in trying to help Toby with his recovery. If you are trying to transform him into a “better person,” then you probably aren’t helping him much, because I doubt he needs another presence in his life who thinks he’s a worse person. I think most people with addiction and mental illness need a voice telling them they are already good enough as they are, warts and all.
I could be way off the mark here, and if so, feel free to disregard. That just really jumped out at me and I wanted to shine a light on it.
You could be right. Though I do worry that the LW might read the last part and think ‘I can be that little voice! I can do it if he’d just give me a chance!’ But…maybe you can’t. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be a good friend to anybody, or that deep down you’re actually a horrible person, it just means that something in this friendship has gone unhealthy, for both of you.
I also think that people who wind up as societal/political talking points need advocates who accept them just as they are. But I gotta say, as someone who found that parts of 825 resonated with me (my BFF is in prison for something that was entirely his fault and he owned up to, and as a result of his imprisonment, contact’s been heavily restricted)…I’ve found that, for me at least, I need to hold onto the belief that things can and will get better if BFF can just work on x and y problem behaviors. Because it is really hard to love someone who is at rock bottom and seems to you like they’re shredding their nails trying to dig deeper. In my best friend’s case, I realize that the demons motivating his behavior will be something he spends the rest of his life fighting, and I think that on some level, I’ve accepted that he might give in, re-offend, and get caught and sentenced to a longer term (not something I try to spend too much time thinking about, though). LW825 is learning the hard way that there are limits to how much support you can offer, and when that support turns into overstepped boundaries, but I wanted to point out why it can feel necessary to grease some friendships with a pinch of willful denial.
Hey, LW here. There’s more backstory behind that comment than I felt I had room to write and I do feel bad about how I phrased it. I’ve known Toby for almost six years, and when we met he was the kind of person who controlled any social situation and who treated his friends as disposable – this was sometimes directed at me, often at others. He lied a lot and could be very unkind. We had our off-and-on periods but we always ended up liking each other again – I’ve always enjoyed his company and the laughs we have first and foremost. A lot of these patterns of behaviour he appeared to have broken free of by the time we really reconnected in 2014, even though that was at the depth of the desperate situation I decribed in my past letter about him. On reflection I think he really has broken free of most of these – he’s a lot kinder, a lot more giving, and none of the ways I phrased either letter should mislead anyone to think that he doesnt give me a LOT in return as a friend, even if sometimes he placates rather than empathises. I feel like if you remove the addiction and my attempts at controlling his recovery neither of us is the other’s sidekick, which might have been the dynamic when we first met (with me as sidekick). I don’t know if this digs my hole deeper or not.
Regarding the ‘relationships’ line – Toby fetishises a dangerous relationship model that often ends up being the model for his own, and he’ll move between reaching out to me to help brainstorm ways to escape it and stating a wish not to escape it. I feel bad for the way I phrased this because I recognise the processes that keep people in abusive relationships, and the ways abusers’ behaviour feed into their victims’ self-perpetuating narratives around trauma and self-esteem… this is really clear in Toby’s case, and the Judas thing comes on the heels of a far more destructive relationship with someone whose abuse and behaviour was incredibly evil and criminal even when it wasn’t applied to his relationship with Toby. And that’s frustrated me heaps because it has been shitty shitty shitty to see him not only in pain but pain that has been actively inflicted upon him by assholes.
Anyway I wanted to stop in and say that I’m really appreciating both the Captain’s advice and that of the commenters, and it’s given me a lot to think about… didn’t notice the response until today after about a week. I’ve gone off the social media grid partly due to the Toby thing and a lot due to other personal reasons and it’s given me breathing room as well as space to think – I don’t like Toby feeling trapped or in pain, I don’t want to encourage him to stay in a rut (thank you to staranise for a really edifying perspective) but most of all I enjoy his company and I love the team we’re in when we’re together, and even if he was lying to me throughout the year he was doing it, if partly out of shame, to protect me. And over that year we had a lot of amazing times together and helped each other a lot in ways completely unrelated to his addictions. No one makes me feel more comfortable or happier when I’m talking to them and I want to preserve that, and I want to live by the truth that his decisions are his to make and that my help should be as needed, not as when I deem it to be needed. I’ve talked to him twice since I wrote the letter (me calling him because he can’t afford to contact me if I don’t have social media – which might be handy in us resetting the terms of our friendship for better or worse) and both times have been able to enjoy the conversation while staying disengaged from his situation with Judas etc. It’ll be a constant process of negotiating with myself about how I approach our interactions but I want to do this because he’s such a close friend and he’s never wilfully exploited me or the help I’ve given in a way that made me feel hurt or used. When I’m ready to go back online and engage with the friendship regularly – it might be a while – I think hopefully we can make it work out. And having some distance will help him to sort through things without having me there to either hand him a ladder or reinforce his feelings of victimhood, both of which I’ve done too much.
Also, for the record, my pronouns are he/his.
I think this advice is letting LW#825 off very lightly. She wrote a letter to her friend’s SO taking him to task for his behavior. That’s not just an “overstep”, it’s controlling wildly inappropriate behavior. My experience is that while some people who are “helpers” are doing it for altrustic reasons, a lot are doing it because they get huge benefits from thinking of themselves as the Healthy One and others as the Broken Ones. So much so that a part of them is looking for wounded birds to control.
I would recommend therapy tbh. To really get to grips with why you feel you have the right to run Toby’s life for him.
What I wonder, though, is if it’s not so much “controlling” as “overidentification”. I’ve never written a letter to someone’s awful SO (or otherwise gotten directly into their personal business), but I know I think too much about this stuff sometimes and get too upset about it, and I feel like for me it has been about identification – instead of saying “hey, this is Toby’s life, Toby has their reasons for doing what they do, and it’s not my job to get in their business”, I think to myself, “Toby is just like me! I have been victimized and no one helped! I will smite Toby’s oppressors as I wish mine had been smitten!”
I do think that therapy would be a good idea if the LW can access it.
I also think that a dynamic can evolve in a relationship where, bit by bit, people get way too enmeshed – so that someone who isn’t, in their ordinary life, an especially controlling person can come to feel way too much responsibility for/control over someone else’s life. What starts out as reasonable helping can become excessive, not because the person is terrible, but because little weaknesses (anxiety, overidentification, etc) build up over time.
It’s a huge risk, and I think it’s why professional help is so great – not that friends can’t help each other, but a professional social services person just isn’t at the same risk of enmeshment.
Been there. Yes. You get to the point when you’re honestly thinking of yourself as a package deal, one doesn’t come without the other, you mess with him you mess with me! A strikingly similar situation happened to me (only we were teens not adults), and I think a key factor is the lack of professional services helping and the irresponsibility of the parental figures. I remember, at the age of 14 or 15, wracking my brains for what services to contact to get my ‘Toby’ help to see his younger half-sister. Why did I feel I had to be responsible for that? Well the main explanation is all the adults in my Toby’s life were totally useless, and no one had offered him any help from home or from school, and he was too upset most of the time to do much thinking and planning, so I did it. My Toby was also not getting any professional help except a half-assed counsellor in school, who was a youth leader and appeared to think of Toby more as a burden rather than a client. (Toby also disliked him, not great when it’s your counsellor, but no alternative was offered.) Toby was about a decade pre- being diagnosed with BPD and even though he clearly needed help, no one thought to take him to the doctor and get him diagnosed with anything when he was a teen.
This comment sums it up better than I ever could.
Oh man, I know this feel. What do you do when something is very much Not Your Job but also none of the people whose job it is are doing it? Also some things are not anyone’s job but need to be done.
The answer is not: get too involved, continually overstep your bounds, burn out and then ghost away. I don’t know what the answer is, and there are some relationships that just have no setting between 0 and ENMESHED (this is relevent to LW #3 as well, I think you may have to go back to 0 to keep from being ENMESHED)
I have also written Letters of Why You Are Shit to people in an attempt to get them to do the right thing and break up with the object of their shittiness. It was supremely unhelpful to say the least, and indeed wildly inappropriate. I guess I’m trying to say, as a recovering Relationship Meddler, that this stuff is difficult and sticky, and while your motives may be beyond reproach, that doesn’t mean your actions are.
Sugar was right when she said “hell is other people’s boyfriends”.
To be honest, that LWs first letter rang some serious bells for me regarding co dependency and similar issues and I think it us with them exploring why they feel that their emotional investment ought to produce recovery in another person.
I work in gender-based violence and spend a lot of time working with survivors, and reading about survivors, victims, perpetrators, and abusers.
One thing I have learned: abusers are people.
When we talk about violent abusers and perpetrators, we are also talking about people who have, themselves, been hurt. We are talking about people who are capable of moments of great connection, of charming and kind instances. People who can make us laugh, make us feel special.
People we love.
NONE of that negates the way they treat you.
Part of the reason I do what I do as a professional is because I believe that, if abusers and perpetrators are suffering the results of their own trauma, it should NEVER be the job of their victims to help them process that. That’s for somebody who HASN’T been hurt by them.
I just… wish I could give permission to all the LWs to live that duality. You can love a person, care about them, feel very connected to them, and those experiences are valid. It can simultaneously be true that you do not deserve to put up with abuse, and that you do not owe them any kind of support if they cannot, in some capacity, return that respect.
Love in all its forms is one of the hardest things we do. I’m holding everybody who wrote in, and all the commenters, with all my compassion today.
I love this.
“Part of the reason I do what I do as a professional is because I believe that, if abusers and perpetrators are suffering the results of their own trauma, it should NEVER be the job of their victims to help them process that. That’s for somebody who HASN’T been hurt by them.”
The work you do and the way you think about it are so, so vital. You are awesome.
Thank you for this
Many thanks for posting this excellent comment. I was in a situation somewhat similar to the LW’s (826) once and certainly did not go about setting boundaries with the father in a neat, self-respecting way. But he absolutely is not a monster but a person. I handled the situation as I did due to a lack of knowledge and insight certainly, but also because he is a good person in many ways and I loved him. Yes, my decency was misguided and my optimism naive but I lacked awareness. People have made excellent comments about how this is not a mean/nice dichotomy and how the child need not lose out on having a relationship with her father while the mother retains full legal custody. I wish I had seen that at the time, though I am there now at least. It is important to honour the pain and the confusion.
“I handled the situation as I did due to a lack of knowledge and insight certainly, but also because he is a good person in many ways and I loved him.”
Yeah, I also believe that people in general make the best decisions they can based on the information they have at the time, which is what it sounds like you did. I also have a really hard time begrudging anybody who errs on the side of being TOO compassionate, even though my heart aches when they are subsequently hurt!
You are so kind which is great to see. While I almost certainly did err, I was able to correct the course later, and that’s an ongoing process. I believe that compassion makes an excellent guide.
Children’s social worker here. I work in the UK and from the way you’re talking about the law I imagine you’re not – so please keep in mind that a) laws are slightly different where I practice from where you live and b) I am not a lawyer. I will keep this generalised anyway.
Firstly, you’re totally right to be seeking legal advice, whatever you decide! You need to know what your rights are and what options you have, so that’s great. Secondly…the Captain is right. You should go for full custody if you can make that happen financially. This man does not seem safe to be around *you* or a child – even if the child is his. I think the Captain is dead on that you are facing a risk of him using the child to control you and this 100% does happen, horribly often.
Having a family network is absolutely beneficial to a child. But a successful family network doesn’t necessarily need to contain both parents (or either parent, or anyone biologically related). What a child needs is safe, loving adults who respond to his/her needs. Your child can have that without having a very-present father. It’s very common for people to feel uneasy with the idea of keeping a child away from a parent, and I understand why you’re so conflicted over this but your daughter doesn’t need a shit dad. She doesn’t need a scary dad. She doesn’t need a dad who is primarily interested in her as a tool to fuck with you. She needs a *good* dad or else no dad at all. Even limited contact with a terrible parent can be really damaging and you are right to want to protect her from that.
A parent can be damaging, abusive even, without wholly intending it (though many who are abusive are 100% aware of what they’re doing and that this isn’t the case is a myth we really need to get past) and think about how his chaos, anger and control would feel to a small child. I mean, think about how being around him makes you feel and then amplify it by imaging what that would be like if you didn’t understand what was going on and if you were too young to have any control over that situation.
If you have full custody you will be in a position to decide what makes a good dad for your daughter and whether he is meeting those criteria. I think considering his behaviour so far that’s a very important power for you to have. You’ve clearly got a good sense of why he might not be able to fulfil that role, so I think you’d be able to handle that decision making in the future. As others have said, full custody doesn’t mean she will never see her dad no matter what. It means you will legally have the power to decide when it’s okay or not and I really think you need that.
However – if you think that will bring down unmanageable crap from him towards you to try to gain access to her, you could also (I think – you definitely can in the UK) apply for a kind of order which specifies when and how he has contact. So you could apply for something like “He sees her once a week for 2 hours, supervised by X trusted family member”. I would say perhaps go for full custody instead of this because you don’t have any evidence of how he’d manage those conditions (is he going to be saying inappropriate things to the baby? Slipping notes to you into her buggy?) but perhaps raise it with your lawyer.
Finally, a couple of points for the future. Ask your daughter (when she’s old enough) how *she* feels about her dad (if she’s seeing him), ask her if she wants to see him, make sure she knows she’s not in trouble if she says no. It seems obvious but it’s surprising the amount of parents who overlook just asking the kid what they want. Really listen if she says no – most kids won’t say no to contact without a hell of reason.
You should always be aware that people – usually men, in my experience – do make vindictive calls to Social Services, and they often double-down on accusations and really go for it. You should be prepared for the possibility he will do this to you. Social workers *know* that this happens but obviously, any individual worker won’t know you or your situation and you don’t want to get into a he-said she-said situation, so keep evidence of his bullshit. Then if anything does come up, you can just go “oh, yeah, he’s a horrible controlling bastard who’s trying to get at me through you guys. Here are all the horrible controlling bastard things he has done.”
Good luck. You’re thinking about this really sensibly and prioritising what your daughter needs, which is exactly the right thing. Don’t forget to look into support for yourself – he’s abusing you right now and there should be services in your area which can offer you professional support.
LW#825: step back from this friendship. Your friend is a grown man who can make his own terrible choices. He gets that right, as you get the right to make choices for yourself. Use the energy you’ve wasted on him making your own life better.
LW#1 – it seems like you have unrealistic expectations – that everyone in Toby’s life is supposed to manage his life for him. This jumped out at me “After this I sent Judas an angry letter outlining the ways I thought he was letting Toby down and failing to responsibly manage his addictions.”. It isn’t for Judas to responsibly manage Toby’s addictions – that is for Toby to do – or not do. Ultimately Toby is responsible for himself and if he isn’t ready to deal with his problems you can’t do it for him. I know it hurts to see a friend running towards certain doom and not be able to stop him, but there is nothing you can do. I agree with CA – take a step back for your own sake and hopefully one day Toby will be able to manage himself.
I want to bring up a couple of legal distinctions that are relevant in Canada, and might be worth asking your lawyer about (if you haven’t already). Please note that this is not official legal advice!
First, I’ve noticed that many people believe that having “full custody” is the end of the story. In Canada, it is not. There is a distinction between custody and guardianship of a child. Custody refers to caring for the child – primarily, it determines where the child lives. Guardianship refers to making decisions for the child – this can include things like what school she will attend and even what kind of medical care she will receive. It is VERY common in Canada for one parent to have full custody, but both parents to share guardianship. This means that the parent with full custody is still legally obliged to consult with the other parent about, basically, ever major decision affecting the child. It is less common for one parent to be granted full custody and full guardianship by the courts, although it does happen.
Therefore: please please please make sure you fully understand the different options open to you and what the consequences of each will be in terms of requiring contact between you and your ex. (I expect that your lawyer has covered this with you. I wanted to mention it mostly for others who might be facing similar issues.)
Second, another common misconception is that parents have the right to have contact with their child. They do not. This right belongs solely to the child. This plays out in a few important ways. 1) a parent who pays child support does not “earn” the right to see their child. Nor can the parent with custody deny visitation if child support has not been paid. Those things are unrelated. 2) If you end up in the position of trying to convince a judge that contact with your ex is not in your daughter’s best interests, you will be making this argument against the legal idea that it IS in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, which means you will probably have to show very clear evidence of ongoing abuse against your daughter. Ongoing abuse against you, to my sorrow and rage, may not be sufficient.
Again, this is based on what I have seen and studied in Canada, so the takeaway is: please please please make sure you fully understand what kind of contact your ex is likely to have with your daughter to begin with, how the courts might be involved, and what sorts of challenges you will be facing if a) you attempt to disallow contact between your ex and your daughter right from the start, or b) you attempt to disallow contact later. As a previous commenter noted, it is more difficult to get a court order for no contact if your ex has an established relationship with your daughter.
Third, I am wondering whether it is open to you to deny that your ex is the father. Kind of extreme, I know. Basically, once your daughter is born, and particularly assuming your ex is not present for the birth, you will fill out some paperwork that will form the basis of her birth certificate, and at this point it may be an option for you to write “father unknown” rather than the name of your ex. The biggest issue that could result from this is that your ex could be furious and become violent. You are the only one who can tell if that is likely, and the only one who can decide if the risk is worthwhile. A distant second issue is the social stigma against “knowing” who the father is. Again, you are the only one who knows how that might affect you and your daughter.
The reason I bring this up is that, if he is not legally known as the father of your daughter, your ex might not having any legal standing to demand contact with your daughter. He may be totally unable to prevent you from leaving the country with her at any point, and the above two points could be made irrelevant. I will mention, he also would not be required to pay child support. I think this option might be worth considering, but I also strongly recommend that it be researched very carefully. You can bring it up with your lawyer, and your lawyer probably will not be able to recommend that you actually do it, but may be able to help you figure out the possible ramifications in your area. One last thing – if you decide to go this route, probably don’t tell any of the medical personnel present at your daughter’s birth why you’re doing it. If they know that you DO know who the father is, they may be legally required to put your ex’s name on the paperwork. I don’t actually know that for sure, I just recommend being very cautious.
Whatever choices you make, I wish for you and your daughter to remain safe and healthy. Please keep talking to your lawyer, your family, and your friends so that you have a kickass Team You on board. This is complicated and difficult, but I believe you can handle it.
Physical custody and legal authority are separate in the US as well. These days, most states use the term “parenting plan” which has separate sections for the child’s residential schedule and who has legal decision-making authority for various aspects of the child’s life.
I see! Thank you, that is very useful.
Yeah, in my state in the US it’s referred to as physical and legal custody instead of custody and guardianship. Under our current order, my brother and I have joint physical custody of my nephew; his mother has the right to visitation. All three of us have legal custody of him, which means that each of us has the right to provide input on major life decisions about him related to education, health care, and religion. In practice, since my nephew lives with me and both of his other parents are not very involved in his life, I am the primary decision maker on his behalf. (I do notify them about major decisions.) However, if they disagreed with a decision I made, they could take me back to court. Presumably I could do the same for them, but I’ve chosen to ignore any demands where I feel that agreeing with them would compromise my nephew’s health or safety. For example, his mother has informed me that she does not want my nephew to receive any more vaccinations, which would be both detrimeintal for his ongoing health and his ability to attend public school. If she wants to take me to court over that one, let her.
An attorney is immensely helpful in negotiating custody issues; I was fortunate enough to have one who knew the court system very well and could explain things to me. I don’t know at what age or stage family courts assign a child a guardian ad litem, but my nephew’s GAL was incredibly helpful as his advocate and was able to ask for things on his behalf that I would not even have known to ask for. Nephew still asks when we are going to visit “Miss Susan” again at her office as he quite liked getting to go talk to her by himself.
I don’t know what the laws are like in the United States, but the LW # 826 should know that in Canada, at least, “full custody” is not a magic deal that gets done once and insulates you and your child for life. Even if it is awarded, it can be challenged *at any time*. Repeatedly. Abusive people abuse the courts, and if they have more money than you do, they can do it more than you can do it. Every indication so far is that you are going to have issues with your child’s father. The legal and social structure around this kind of situation is not great. A lot of reform is necessary, but it is also the case that difficult people are difficult and will game whatever is available to be gamed. I’m not saying this to be a frightening downer, but the invocation of “just get full custody, then you’ll be okay” is not *at all* correct, unfortunately.
Something I would look into (along with legal advice from a good seasoned lawyer on family law, which you will need absolutely) is what kind of programs about “parenting after separation” (or whatever it is might be called in your region) are available in your area. Go yourself, and find a way – and I hate to have to advise you to do this kind of feminine emotional labour, but the risk scenario is serious here — to encourage your ex to go, phrased in as friendly and cooperative a manner is possible “hey, I’ve heard really good things about this, I think it will be good for both of us and for the baby”.
He should go separately from you, of course. Where I live taking the course is required for making any court applications (thank god). But at least some of its messaging will hopefully sink in, even though it is likely to be presented in a way that obscures the gendered dynamics of parenting and abuse via the family court system.
It can be challenged in the US as well. Each state has their own laws about how child custody decrees can be modified, but I don’t think there is a single state where the case not ever open to challenge.
LW1, “Argh”: I want to go even further than the Captain did and say some things that may be hard to hear. Your attempts to help Toby are not only harmful to you, they are undermining Toby’s progress rather than aiding it. He will never achieve a recovery that works and “sticks” unless he is the one driving it – not you. It’s his recovery, not yours. And he won’t learn how to spot good romantic partners or function in healthy relationships as long as you are the one making judgments on his behalf about who is or is not good for him and how they should treat him. This goes for his family relationships as well. Even if you are right about all these other people in his life, that is no help to Toby. He has to learn how to make the best call for himself. You don’t seem to think he has the ability to do that. Do you want him to have the ability?
Remember that the ultimate goal for Toby (as for anyone) is not just to recover from addiction, be in treatment, stay out of toxic relationships, etc. It’s for him to seek and find all these things for himself. When and if he reaches the point where he can do that, he’ll be much better friend material for you. But first you have got to stop trying to set yourself up as his seeker, his bodyguard, his parent, his sponsor, his guiding light. Be those things for yourself. Having been in some codependent relationships, I totally get how you might read the Captain’s advice to look after yourself and say, “but the best and even the only way I can care for myself is to help Toby and fix my relationship with him!” It isn’t going to work, not for you and not for Toby. I have been there.
Of course, the goalpost I see for you is not that you disengage from Toby because a bunch of people on the internet are saying you should. It’s that you disengage because you realize you need to. Again, I’ve been there, and I hope you find your way forward.
To LW #827:
I want to highlight some phrases from your letter, and put them together, and I’d like you to imagine that someone you knew, a friend or acquaintance or cousin, came up to you and said this to you:
I …felt obligated to him. I was his only friend, and he was suicidal.
I was very lonely and worried I would lose his friendship. I felt trapped
took a summer job several states away. Suddenly I felt free.
How do I stop feeling gross and sad about this?
Treat yourself the way you would treat your hypothetical friend in this situation. Support yourself the way you would support your hypothetical cousin or acquaintance. You deserve the same support, love, and consideration that you would extend to anyone else. You deserve the same quality of friendships and romantic relationships that you advocate for your family and friends and loved ones. You deserve forgiveness and love just as much as any of the people in your life that you want to help.
As you look back on this relationship, it’s OK to feel embarrassed and awkward. We all have awkward relationships and moments in our past, and the JerkBrain loves to replay these moments when we’re feeling weak. 7-year-old me will always be tripping and falling face-first in Arby’s while trying to sneak out without being seen by blonde-and-pretty-classmate Farrah. 7-year-old-me will always be mortified that my mother wants to walk over because she’s never met a girl named Farrah, and that face-reddening moment will always be preserved in my mind like a mosquito in amber, ready to loose dinosaurs of insecurity across the unfinished theme park of my mind. (I have no idea where sexy chaos-scientist Jeff Goldblum fits into this metaphor, but trust me, he’s there)
The only saving grace I can offer when those memories rear up and charge at you is to remember that you’re not that person any more. You’ve grown, you’ve changed, you’ve lived more life and seen more things than that doppelganger of you in your memories has. It’s fine to feel a little sad and awkward about the past, as long as you learn from it and know that if the same thing comes up tomorrow, you’ll handle it differently. If you’re not there yet, the Captain’s advice is rock solid: take care of yourself, make new friends. Consider journaling, or maybe a session or two with a therapist; invest not only in relationships with new friends, but in your relationship with you.
LW 776/825_ My heart goes out to you. I, too, have had pleas with vulnerable alcoholics. I tried to shine a light on them and they squinted and told me to turn it off.
One was my mother, and I’ve only recently learned of her trauma as an un-rescued incest victim. She believed the words of the bottle that echoed her mother’s haranguing that she wasn’t good enough. It hurts all over again to have learned of that, though the truth clears up what was wrong with her family dynamics. She went on to keep choosing men who were as abusive as her mother, and who helped her run the same familiar abuse/ self-medicate from abuse script, right to her death. She became a violent abuser and caring for her children’s safety, that they were fed or even housed, was last on her list.
Sometimes despite our best efforts the bottle wins. The voice of the genie in the bottle (pack of cigarettes, etc) is more seductive than life with us. I’ve replayed it a million times in my head, in group meetings and now, in therapy. Your best hope to save them is by example; to put on your own oxygen mask and live your best life.
LW#1, I’ve had a similar experience–been very close to someone who then went into a bad addiction/mental health spiral. I was in the place of being The Person Who Was There For Them. The person who took them to meetings, who put all my energy into pushing forward nothing but empathy, who sat with them through suicide attempts, who waited outside the psychiatrist office while they had their appointments, etc. etc. etc. The thing that starts to happen is that you start to mesh their successes for failures into your own, and then when they fail, it is not just “I’m sorry my friend is having a tough time,” it turns into feeling like they are hurting you. This is a pretty crappy dynamic for everyone involved. It is bad for you, because you are so emotionally tied to what you ultimately cannot control (the actions and choices of another person). And it is also bad for that person, because they start to feel the weight of your emotional investment in a bad way–which I suspect is part of Toby’s anger.
I’ve also been the friend who watches said addicted friend become involved romantically with someone who treats them poorly and does not support their attempting sobriety. I’ve been lied to by this addicted person. It all feels so unfair, because you feel you’ve been The Person Who Was There For Them, a person who deserves to be The One They Are Nice To, The One They Don’t Lie to, etc. etc. I was The Person Who Listens to All the Bad Things Romantic Partner Does, and I listened and agreed and sympathized, but then suddenly I was also The Person Who Hates Romantic Partner and is therefore Against Me.
Toby will make his own choices about how he gets to be treated, whether or not he gets and stays sober. He gets to do this, even if he makes all the wrong ones. Your trying to make these choices for him won’t get him better. Your trying to tell other people how to behave towards him wont’ get him better either.
For me, I had to extract myself from the friendship (or “friendship” as it had become, because eventually so much resentment had built up that it was really quite toxic). I had to walk away, permanently. It was a very big band-aid that needed to come off, and I ripped it off quickly. There was yelling. There were angry social media posts. It was pretty ugly.
And everyone was better off for it. My life improved significantly, and this person also got to a much better place, so I hear. It sounds like this friendship with Toby has gotten to a place where it is a source of stress–for everyone. It’s OK to step back from something that isn’t working anymore, even if it feels really ugly and bad at the time.
I’m speaking here as a child from a single-parent family.
I never, not once, felt like my childhood was in any way lacking during the years I didn’t have a father, or indeed even 90% of my biological fathers *entire side of the family* in my life (My mother lost my biological father when I was an infant and eventually remarried when I was 18). I had a wonderful mother, who loved me and still loves me. I had grandparents. I had aunts and uncles and cousins, so many cousins, and family friends who got called “aunt” and “uncle” because of how close they were. My life was full. If my mother had never remarried, I would’ve been very sad for her because I know she loves to be loved, but I would not have felt any personal lack in my own life.
I know so many people who, as children, were forced to have contact with a parent who was abusive, scary, took advantage of them, used them as weapons against their other parent, or who were just generally shitty. They all hated every moment of it. None of them *benefited* from having a toxic person in their lives that they had no choice in spending time with. Having *a father* isn’t about having this genetic progenitor being physically present. A really good, supportive, present stepfather, grandfather, uncle or even supportive family-friend can be just as good, in terms of the meaningful, concrete things that adult can provide.
Having two parents around doesn’t mean anything if the second parent is terrible at their job. And having one parent doesn’t mean a life will be incomplete. If you want your child to have a relationship with a father-figure for all the wonderful things father-figures can provide, that is understandable and I hope you can find this. But you won’t find the things that father-figures are *supposed to be for* with your child’s biological father.
#1..Maybe this is an odd thing to pick at but LW deciding to call the person who is skipping down the path hand in hand with Toby on their way to hell in a handbasket “Judas” is a bit unsettling – it could just be the religious stuff I grew up with that makes me feel this. Toby sounds like he’s already thinking the friendship is coming apart which he may feel like he wants if it will mean he has one less reminder of how he’s doing it wrong and will never do it right. And when someone else does the ‘heavy lifting’ for them there’s the guilt of letting that person down (hence the lies, in some cases) while potentially making them think that they cannot manage the things they must manage themselves – “Why else would Friend be doing all this stuff?” they might be thinking. Toby’s family and any mutual friends should be going to him directly if they want information about what is going on in his life, but they’ve come to view LW as his ‘handler’ of sorts and though necessary it will be difficult to put this to a stop because they’ve grown used to it (it’s also probably easier and ‘comfortable’ for them and that’s unfortunate but it cannot continue, Toby is an adult and he is the one responsible for making choices for his life and family relationships.) I agree with CA that right now LW needs to step waaaaaay back, or even move on to focus on new/different things.
#2 I am a lawyer and for the most part my practice is in family law. From the legal professional standpoint you have an attorney and I’ll assume they are just waiting for you to tell them what direction you wish to head in on this matter and would be more than happy to answer questions on how specifically your situation would be best dealt with — but you might seem to be on the fence to your attorney and they don’t want to push a particular path on a client before that person says ok let’s start on path A or path B. I am of the opinion that you should immediately begin the process for establishing full custody – your attorney can flesh out the details of what that involves, ask as many questions as you need to.
But from a personal standpoint of someone who desperately clung to any bit of ‘good thing’ that I had seen in a partner at some time no matter how long ago, in the end all the things he did to me inbetween was a mountain that I wouldn’t have lived if I stayed up there on the mountain – my only chance was to hike down a scary trail without a map and all alone…your little baby daughter that you want to protect very much needs you to do that by first protecting yourself. Your ex has told you things that are scary and you can believe him when he says he’ll do those things – because so far your actions are signaling to him that he *can* without you putting up any defensive fortifications around your life and your person (which your baby is part of right now because you haven’t given birth yet). It is 100% ok for you to put the safety and well-being of yourself and your child at the top priority and your ex hasn’t earned the right to unfettered and ongoing easy access to either of you – most especially he hasn’t earned getting this on terms of his choosing. Establishing legal and full custody of your child now may or may not involve a restraining order, if it does then discuss with your attorney the best way to create a safety plan. You do not need to stick around and give him time and opportunity to ‘behave well’, he can easily go the opposite direction and ‘behave badly’ which is dangerous to take your chances with! Maybe down the road he’ll get his issues and problems sufficiently managed to allow him to interact with his daughter, but it should be on YOUR terms and only if he’s made those changes, but still on your terms. Your baby needs you to protect you both and I think in this case it means without him around and eliminated as a serious threat.
Not an odd thing to pick up in. Judas isn’t a commonly used name, and I assumed it was a deliberately blatant reference to the biblical Judas. It’s a pretty extreme pseudonym to use for any human being. I mean, Judas literally took a bribe in order to help get Jesus killed, when he was supposed to be one of his closest friends and followers.
‘Judas’ is more or less slang for ‘back-stabbing, treacherous, traitorous’ etc.
It isn’t clear what Toby’s boyfriend has done that’s triggered such hatred from the LW. Lw feels like being with the boyfriend has made Toby’s addiction worse, but how does LW even know that? And if so, how are they assigning causation or blame? There aren’t any concrete examples of abusive or harmful behaviour given, so it’s hard to tell where Lw’s perception of the BF as a treacherous, backstabbing person has come from.
For all we know, Toby just likes being with the BF and feels like he can be himself around him. For all we know he’s playing some positive role in Toby’s life journey in the long run. In any case, it’s Toby’s life, not the LW’s…
There has to be some reason or other for the LW to have chosen the pseudonym, and though I feel a bit of personal curiosity about it, in the grand scheme of things those details don’t really matter because it wouldn’t change the fact that LW needs to leave Toby alone instead of turning him into a human equivalent of DIY renovating the kitchen or trying to. Whether the boyfriend does terrible bad things or not, Toby is the one who gets to decide what to do with *his* life.
If Toby does later come back around wanting to be friends, hopefully LW will have worked through the feelings going on there, especially the ones that led to naming the bf “Judas” (here – and mentally is likely)…Toby and the guy might still be together after all.
OK, reading it again I see that the BF does seem to have acted in some knowingly hurtful or mean ways, so the ‘Judas’ label seems a bit more rational, i.e, seems like a good friend at first, but then uses his vulnerabilities to hurt him. OK. But it’s a pretty strong pseudonym to give the boyfriend of your friend… And not sure how helpful ultimately.
IT’s also a pretty strong role in which to cast Toby: that of Jesus. Sort of indicates his outsize stature in the LW’s life, and possibly her sense of being Peter to him in terms of fearing she will betray him unwittingly. He’s a beloved friend, no doubt, but he’s just a dude and when he’s appearing to her all glowy and crown of thorny it probably is time to take a hard time-out in the friendship to regain perspective.
Judas to me is just slang for “traitor” – it’s divorced from the bible story and doesn’t have the weight of Jesus etc attached (I don’t even know who Peter is in the story). So while I think it’s a harsh insult, I think you’re reading a lot more into it than certainly I ever intend when I use it.
To me it’s a fairly whimsical insult
(whimsical because it’s harsh, like if she’d called him a fascist or something)
Yeah, sorry, I was being flippant about this because I felt like it was a succinct way to sum the guy up – he was a neighbour of Toby’s who went with him to the hospital during one episode and after hearing about me from Toby organised a ‘meeting’ with me to discuss a ‘recovery plan’, I thought it was cool that someone else was looking out for Toby because he doesn’t have a lot of friends he’s actual open with about the rough stuff – the guy’s a fair bit older and everything, ultimately it turned out that he had a boyfriend overseas after he and Toby had started a physical relationhsip + that he was buying booze for Toby unasked and then pretty much only instigating sexual contact once he was drunk. Wasn’t trying to make any grander gesture with the pseudonym than calling him a traitor.
I realised soon after that the letter might not have been the best idea, though I did write it with Toby’s input so it didn’t come as a surprise to him – nor did I interpret it at the time as a “break up with him” letter or anything. This was a guy who had come to me wanting my help in basically organising an intervention (he’s been characterised as a huge ‘fixer’ from mutual acquaintances) and then proceeded to like, harangue TOby about his weight and appearance fully aware of his trauma surrounding an eating disorder, pour drinks for him at every opportunity, lie to him about his relationship status etc… it was less ‘writing to my friend’s boyfriend’ and more ‘writing to the guy who wanted to recruit me in a salvation mission’, though their relationship is obviously the root of the problem and the huge complicating factor.
Or the LW could see themselves as the ‘savior of mankind (Toby)’, and chose to call Toby’s bf ‘Judas’ because LW thought they could trust the bf to not crucify Toby (metaphorically) and that the bf would stick to the plan dictated by LW for Toby’s time out of their physical proximity (the LW’s)…
However, these are speculations which probably might seem to be a little derailing by others here to respond to the various LWs with advice. LW may have all kinds of things they believe to be evidence of how bad the bf is for dear but irresponsible Toby, but the fact remains that Toby is an adult whom LW needs to quit viewing as a project and move on/away from interacting with. Toby may be ‘renovating’ himself with the help of a previously sued in court unlicensed contractor (bf) but that is entirely his decision to make, and until he concludes that bf knocking down load bearing walls and other bad things for successful renovation is not what he wants in his life, nothing will change his mind and the same goes for the addiction, etc.
LWs 825 and 825, you both have my sympathies (you too, 826, but I’m in the fortunate position of never having been in or near your shoes, so all I can really do is heartily endorse everyone else’s advice to cut ties with this man any way you can). 825, I know all too well the feeling of a close friendship that has suddenly gone no-contact. In my case, it was because my best friend went to prison, so there was really no choice about the matter, and communication between us has been limited to about once or twice a month due to the expense of outbound and one-way only phone calls and the near impossibility of traveling interstate to a visit. I don’t have any good advice to add on to the Captain’s about those pesky, intrusive thoughts…in fact, watching the Super Bowl last weekend brought up all kinds of emotions, because on the one hand, I’ve been waiting years for Denver’s return to Super Bowl glory, but I also started crying as soon as I got back from celebrating because my BFF and I used to watch all the games together, even right up until he went to prison, so I sort of felt like he and I had gotten cheated, illogical as that is. Caveat in the obvious difference being that my BFF has made it clear he would like to still be in my life on a steadier basis as much as I would like to be in his, but if it helps, there’s someone else out there going, “Gee, I have this overwhelming urge to share this random thought with someone! I’ll just text my best friend…oh, right.”
827, while I was dealing with the fallout of the guy I consider my platonic life partner heading to the slammer for a few years, I also had Thomas, a “friend” who I can only assume was only trying to “help” by reminding me that he and I are young, the sentence wasn’t that long really, and what was I so depressed about when he was the one going to prison? The kicker was when he kept sending me smiley-laden texts just a few days after BFF started his prison sentence, and for some reason, those smilies made me snap. I ghosted on him for a few weeks, ignoring texts, Facebook messages, and finally an email, but even the cold shoulder and my Facebook de-friend didn’t get the message across. I finally replied to his email with three sentences that were admittedly more vicious than they needed to be, and he responded by blocking me on Facebook, so I chalked my nastiness up to a job well done and haven’t looked back. The point of all this rambling? It sounds like your own “friend” was a purveyor of some toxic BS, and as much guilt and “but it wasn’t all bad!” as you are absolutely entitled to have over him (lord knows I had my share over Thomas), it sounds to me like having both emotional and physical distance between you and this guy are perfectly good things.
Rebounds, your letter hit home for me as it’s been a battle for me to come terms with the choices my mother made about staying with my sometimes-wonderful-sometimes-abusive father. On her honeymoon, my mother simultaneously realized that she maybe made a big mistake marrying my father and got pregnant with me. As my dad’s erratic and abusive behavior began to surface in full, she had this idea that she would act as a sacrificial human shield and absorb my dad’s abuse for the sake of giving me a “whole family”. She thought she could hide the ugliness from me and I that would come through relatively unscathed. That was pretty much all wishful thinking. What actually happened was my dad abused me anyway, I was frequently furious from having to see my mom mistreated, I developed massive anxiety and depression from a home life that was so unpredictable, and watching my parents’ dysfunctional relationship gave me an equally dysfunctional paradigm for how I should allow men to treat me. Even though I always knew rationally the way my dad acted was messed up, it’s taken decades of work in therapy to undo the internalized message that “we tolerate messed up”. My mom never ceased to tell me my father is “a good man underneath.” He does have good qualities, but I wish so badly she had shown me with her actions that I deserve to have men in my life who are a good men PERIOD, not just good men “underneath”, or “some of the time”, or “when he’s getting his way”, or “when the rest of us are walking on sufficiently delicate eggshells”. Just recently, my mom started putting her foot down with the abuse, and even though I’m a 100% self-sufficient, 32-year-old woman living on the other side of the the country, something clicked in my head, and it was a shockingly huge boon for my ability to stand up for myself in my own life. Suddenly, protecting myself was that much more acceptable on a deeper level, not just rationally.
Only you know your specific situation, and you need to do what you think is right, but of all the sacrifices that parents make for the good of their children, please consider the true cost of tolerating abusive/manipulative/inappropriate behavior. I believe it almost always helps no one. Children are constantly absorbing information about how the world works, even if they themselves may not be entirely conscious of it. Whatever you decide, I wish you and your daughter all the luck and peace and happiness in the world!
To each LW, I wish you all of the energy and strength needed to do whatever it is you decide is best for you in each situation. I want to give you all of the high fives (if you want them) for writing in and reading!
Not going to lie: Each of these letters hit me straight in The Feels (I’ll get to this in a moment) and the Captain has addressed each of these situations with grace and aplomb. As have the Awkward Army and those who have posted before me.
I will try and do the same.
General Content Notice: Addiction, Mental Health Issues, Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence (DV/IPV).
LW #776/#825: Thank you so much for the update on the “Toby” situation. I’ve been following the situation with interest for reasons I get into below.
I speak from experience when I say: It is time to take a hard look at the dynamics at play here. Triangulating and/or Splitting with Toby and Judas (telling name, BTW) isn’t healthy for any of you. Also, this “Toby’s Savior” thing doesn’t sit all that well with me, either, to be frank.
Quick Story Time (and Eventual Segue—LW#826 is on deck): I have (now a remote) history of addiction; I am approaching my 3rd decade of sobriety. I have a long history of major mental illness, which was exacerbated by a recent DV/IPV situation I escaped from. The good news is that I have a long history of seeking treatment and professional assistance when things either go Horribly Awry or Slightly Askew.
That said: I am pretty upfront about my struggles once a certain level of trustworthiness and intimacy has been established.
That said (and more unfortunately than not): Being upfront about these aspects of my life attract Rescuers—who speak and who act very much like how you describe—and who ultimately get super upset (and out-of-bounds) when I show them I’m a bad-ass who occasionally trips over their own feet and just needs a hand every once-in-a-while and only when I ask.
Toby is going to do Toby. Toby is going to get better or worse, and then maybe better again, and then stumble and fall, and then get up again on their schedule and on their time. Serious shit like addiction and a mental illness requires serious commitment and stumbling about. I get that it is super hard to watch a dear friend drown, but if they’re not ready and/or able to reach out on their own, there isn’t anything and anyone can do about it—except Toby—and they must come to it on their own.
It is past time to look to your own needs and your own motivations, concentrate on you—and let this all drift away for a while.
LW #826: I speak as the not-so ex whose DV/IPV (read: abusive) partner cheated with another woman, got her pregnant, and who now terrorizes us both.
As much as I hate my former partner for what he did, I fear for the child who is a product of the affair and for the woman who doesn’t have the means to escape him as I did.
I also speak as an adult, who is a product of a home where a father had no business being around a child and having a mother who was incapable of protecting me either from his abuse or from her own narcissism.
The absolute #1 priority is the protection of your child; this holds true even if there is an inkling in your mind (read: Headweasels), which lie to you and tell you that you—personally—are not deserving of such. Whatever you can do legally and as a parent to shield your child from their other parent, please do that to the fullest extent of the law and your ability. Because—true story—learning how to protect myself as a child (even violently) is something no child should ever have to do—or even know how to do.
I get that immigration status adds an extra layer of legal difficulty and/or questions—let alone fear. These are definitely questions to bring up with your lawyer (major high-five for that, if you want it), along with seeking answers to the sole custody and guardianship of your child. These are things to definitely pursue! I also must echo caution that legal remedies aren’t necessarily a panacea because the unfortunate truth is: Jerkwads and Abusers of Means will absolutely use the courts to try and control you through the child.
But, please, please, please find that inner strength and don’t let this stop you from doing all that you are able to do to protect your child—and yourself.
Lastly, can’t recommend “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft enough, which helped me tremendously while recovering from my DV/IPV situation. I also slightly recommend “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker with the following caveats: First, do not read until after you’ve read WDHDT; second, the chapter in TGoF is total garbage and should be taken with a pillar of salt.
LW #827: I feel you. There were times during my late teens and early twenties where I allowed folks—to whom I had little attraction—convince me that *their* pantsfeelings for me are something I should entertain or—at least—accommodate for a while.
Here’s the thing though: Just because someone looks good “on paper” or on the surface, it doesn’t mean that it will work in practice—especially if all parties are not on the same pantsfeelings page. You’ve figured out that this is a person and a situation you Do Not Want! Which is awesome and I want to give you a high five for that (if you want it).
I can also tell you that—at least in my experience—folks who are trying so hard to convince me of something that is counter to what I want and/or is counter-intuitive to me, rarely—if ever—make for good friends—even after the fact. I learned the hard way that these sorts of folks rarely see me or respect my autonomy or my needs as a human person, and make for really lousy friends. And honestly, who has time for that?
Again, I want to commend you for using your words and calling for a break. I also believe it is time to move on to find someone who you’re totally pantsfeelings about and vice versa.
Hi there LW #1,
I related to your letter. I have also spent a lot of time trying to help and fix and rescue someone I love. It very seldom has ended well.
This is a bit of a random thought but– at a certain point I decided to try to put some of my rescuing energy into cats. Right now, for example, I’m nurturing a traumatized little guy who I adopted from a shelter a few months ago. He’s gone from constantly hiding under the bed to being a super-affectionate almost compulsive lap-sitter. Right now I’m working with him on learning that affection can come from people other then me.
I fully believe that the desire to nurture and care for and protect someone I love is one of the best parts of being human. Yet, when it turns into trying to fix another adult, I have sadly learned that it doesn’t work out very well. So I try to channel that energy into animals. You can’t usually rescue a human – but you actually can rescue an animal. It’s kind of awesome.
It doesn’t work completely, I’m still overprotective with friends and lovers, but pouring a lot of nurturing energy into being a great Daddy for a cat who hasn’t had an easy life is a way of helping the world and also taking care of myself.
Much love to you.
I think that the energy that goes into rescuing animals from a shelter is as healing for us humans as it is for the ball of fluff that is rescued – it is a beautiful thing and may you be the exact ‘cat daddy’ in all the ways needed at the right times.
I’m going to go handle this suspicious moisture leak from my eye area.
Friends don’t treat friends as renovation projects. How clear was Toby about being “in recovery”, and to whom? Just you? Maybe “being in recovery” was what he thought was a pre-condition of your friendship – if he could simulate that, you’d be friends with him, but if he couldn’t you’d walk away. So in order to keep your friendship, he agreed to pretend to take part in Project: Make Toby Better! while he was around you.
I suspect this was actually pretty exhausting for him, because not only is he having to pretend a level of “got it together” that he doesn’t have (and probably doesn’t really want), he’s also having to pretend an enthusiasm for your make-over project that he also doesn’t have (and probably doesn’t really want, either). He also has to listen to you effectively telling him how he’s Doin’ It Rong all the time (whether that be through drinking, through his relationships, through dealing with his family, whatever!). I’m not surprised he’s started lashing out at you – what surprises me is that he hasn’t done so much sooner.
Speaking as someone who is mentally ill: “recovery” is a Very Scary Thing when you’ve never actually been mentally healthy before. If I ever make it to mental health, I will not have “recovered” something I once had and then lost – I will, instead, be treading entirely new ground, and heading into uncharted territory. People with things like schizophrenia, chronic anxiety/depression, BPD? They’ve effectively had their conditions since they were children – it is their “normal” (these conditions don’t suddenly swap out our brains at puberty for entirely different ones – they’ve always been there). What insisting on “recovery” does is asks a person to abandon their “normal” (and therefore “understandable” and “real”) life for some imagined far-away place which isn’t on their mental map. It’s like asking you to drive your car to the Norse Valhalla, or the palace of Zeus on Mt Olympus.
(Which explains my main beef with the idea of “recovery” as far as chronic, long-term mental illness goes).
Stop treating Toby as a renovation project. Treat him as an adult. Let his behaviour toward you have consequences, and let him make his own mistakes, even if they do prove disastrous for him. You aren’t his White Knight or his Warrior of Light; you can’t “save” him. At present, you’re probably doing him more harm than you are good.
Either Toby will get his shit together and start fixing his life in a way that works for him, or he won’t.
(Note your total absence from that previous sentence. It’s deliberate.)
I agree with this.
I always worry about the helped. I’ve been the “helped” when I had serious depression years ago. I eventually realized that some of those determined to help me were, in fact, making my job harder. They were wonderful people, but I had to find my own way and could not always do what they thought I ought to do. In fact, there were two very dear friends that I avoided for over a year in order to find my own way.
Those that were really helpful? The person that discovered I was getting harassed while exercising and found a way to put a stop to it. The person in charge of those volunteering to build a building who taught me skills and gave me the immense satisfaction of a job well done. The child of a friend who, at a Mother’s Day event, insisted on getting a flower for me “because I was too special to not have a flower”.
In other words, the real helpers for me were those that supported me in my struggles to find my own way.
Please take the advice of an older, sadder, and semi-wiser someone who has walked many bloody miles in the shoes you are contemplating putting on. 25 years ago I was exactly where you are now.
My advice: RUN! Run away from this man, as fast and as far as you can. DO NOT put his name on the birth certificate. If possible, relocate to the country where your family lives, if only temporarily, BEFORE the birth. DO NOT tell your ex that you are going. At the very least, MOVE, preferably to another state. Have nothing to do with him OR HIS FAMILY.
Here is the reality of child custody with an abuser, EVEN IF YOU HAVE FULL CUSTODY:
1: Take his threat to ruin your life seriously. He can (and will) do it and the courts will let him.
2: If you live in the same state or county, he can prevent you from leaving to try to escape his abuse, EVEN IF YOU HAVE EVIDENCE OF THE ABUSE. If you leave, he can be awarded custody of your daughter just because you moved.
3: Custody battles are wars of attrition. The first party to run out of money, loses. I spent $60,000+ over three years before I went broke.
4: If he abused you, he WILL abuse your child.
5: Documenting abuse is not enough. Some judges consider an accusation of abuse by the custodial parent an attempt to “alienate the affections” of the other parent. They will forbid you from reporting any abuse TO ANYONE–not the police, not a doctor, not a counselor. No one. If you do try to report ongoing abuse, the judge can and will reverse custody TO THE ABUSER.
6: The ultimate catch 22–If you are court-ordered to hand your child over to a known abuser and you refuse, the courts can arrest you, charge you with custodial interference, and give custody to the abuser. If you DO comply with the court order and hand your child over to the abuser, knowing she will be abused, and someone else reports child abuse, you can be arrested, charged with failure to protect, child neglect and/or child endangerment. There’s a better than fifty-fifty chance he or his family would be given custody, especially if your family lives far away.
Abuse is like shit. If you stir a teaspoon of shit into a five-pound bag of sugar, you sure as heck aren’t going to want to eat it, even if it is mostly sugar. Don’t let his sugar tempt you to ignore the shit. Your daughter will be better off without this man in her life. You will be better off without this man in your life.
Sorry, this is really confusing, do you have any source on judges forbidding reporting abuse? Because that goes against everything I know about the law – abuse MUST be reported. I’m not sure how a judge could legally forbid reporting and I can’t seem to find anything on a google search either?
It happened to me.
The first time, after the first overnight/unsupervised visit, my daughter (who was 5; her father wasn’t interested in her until he found out I had remarried) reported that she was sleeping (naked) with her (naked) father and his (naked) girlfriend and remarked that girlfriend liked her to rock on her lap naked, I reported it to the police. The judge decided to continue unsupervised visitations. The second time, my daughter developed a vaginal infection after spending the weekend with her father. The doctor reported that one. The judge continued the unsupervised visits. The third time, her father took her to Mexico without permission and proceeded to do a week-long pub crawl with my daughter (she was 6). My daughter wandered the streets unsupervised while her father and his girlfriend got drunk. I reported it to the police and an abuse counseling center. The judge continued the unsupervised visits and forbade me from contacting the police or the abuse center again. I was only supposed to notify the GAL.
By this time, my daughter would sob all the way to the visitation exchange. When I picked her up afterward, she wouldn’t talk for hours. Just sit, huddled up. The fourth time, she was with her father for a two-week summer visit. She hadn’t bathed the entire time and came home with skin infections and cradle cap (she was 7). I took her to the doctor and notified the GAL. She said it was obvious I was trying to alienate the father and decided I was suffering from Munchhausen’s by Proxy. The judge said if I continued making abuse allegations, he would reverse custody. I refused to hand my daughter over again to be abused, was charged with custodial interference, and custody was given to my daughter’s father.
I was given a list of 5 psychologists by the GAL and required to be evaluated by one of them before I could visit my daughter. I saw 4 of the five (one name didn’t exist; I had one of the other 4 try to track the fifth down, but even he couldn’t do it.) None of them did the type of evaluation the GAL was requiring. Three of them wrote letters to the judge stating that. The judge, on the GALs recommendation, refused to let me see my daughter until I complied with the evaluation. I finally found a psychologist who DID do the eval, but who wasn’t on the list. The GAL refused to accept it (the psychologist said I rational and showed no signs of the disorders the GAL was accusing me of.)
Once her father had custody, he shipped my daughter out of state to live with his girlfriend (he stayed to run his business.) The judge refused to stop this, even though I had previously tried to move out of the county we were in and had been denied. The girlfriend had my daughter sleep on a folding cot in the utility room (her two children had bedrooms of their own.) She was required to keep all of her possessions in a hall closet. The girlfriend told her she didn’t want to know she was there. There was more physical and emotional abuse. My daughter told one of her teachers about what was going on. The teacher called the girlfriend in for a “conference” at the school. The girlfriend convinced the teacher/principal that my daughter was lying. The teacher told my daughter to start keeping a diary about everything. The girlfriend found the diary, locked my daughter up in a room, and demanded her father fly out and come get her. I was never notified.
Her father wanted nothing to do with her. He gave her $25 on the first of each month for food (he ate in the bar after work.) He told her she was fat (She weighed maybe 100#/size 0, but developed early and has large breasts.) She ended up with an eating disorder. He would go into rages and lock her out of the house. She would end up sleeping on the back steps of a local church. She told me later that he came home after closing time, dead drunk, about 4 times per week. He destroyed her computer by throwing it at her head while he was in a drunken rage. She ducked and it smashed against the wall. When she was 15, she ran away from home after her father tried to break her arm, and ended up with me. By that time, she was bulimic and had trust and anger issues. She went into rages when I didn’t give her money and threatened to destroy things. She tried to alienate me from my neighbors. She called the police and accused me of attacking her. After she took her 10-year-old half-sister (my middle daughter) to stand watch for the police outside an abandoned house while she broke in and vandalized it, I decided I couldn’t handle her. She ended up in a foster home. It broke my heart.
I hope, I pray, that LW gets her and her daughter away from her abuser. The courts will not protect her daughter. No one should go through what my daughter (and I) went through.
I am having a hard time with the idea of contact with law enforcement or abuse reporting/victims services center being forbidden by the court. But unlike the controversial P.A.S. (parental alienation syndrome), case law and statutes have had a greater length of time in which to become more clear about what constitutes custodial interference. Undoubtedly there is more to the story as can probably be said about the circumstances in each LW’s situation.
The courts can only base their decisions and take action to protect according to the case/evidence in front of them and how the laws apply to these things. The legal system is one designed by people, and people are flawed sentient beings, who generally do the best they can with what they’ve got to work with.
(I haven’t finished reading the comments, sorry if I’m repeating already made points)
Argh, a way you might want to look at your relationship with Toby is by evaluating your emotional state after interactions with him. If you walk away feeling good about yourself, feeling good about the friendship, feeling valued and respected, then I believe it would be worth having a small break from the relationship, but eventually putting out feelers to see if he is willing to put in the work needed to build the trust back up in your friendship.
I recently cut off three people who I had been friends with for about seven years because I realised that I had to psych myself up to hang out with them, when they slept over I didn’t feel respected in my own home, and I left every interaction with them feeling like crap and like I was about to cry. (There was also some coercion issues with one of them, the realisation of which triggered the evaluation of my actual feelings of all of them.)
It is entirely possible that at this point you’re looking at your relationship with Toby using the sunk cost fallacy (I know I probably was), or maybe you don’t want to stop being friends with him because of his abandonment issues. This is reasonable, but your other feelings also come into play. From my limited perspective into your friendship, it sounds like he causes a lot of stress and worry into your life, without necessarily anything to balance that out? Obviously he would have qualities that you appreciate, otherwise you wouldn’t have been friends for so long, but you may need to consider that at this point in time the costs of being his friend outweigh the benefits.
I believe you should allow yourself the chance to grieve the friendship you initially had with Toby, regardless of which way you decide to go with dealing with your feelings about him and your relationship with him, because I do not believe you will be able to regain the friendship you had in the form it used to take.
To Rebound–I scanned the comments and don’t think I saw this suggestion yet, so wanted to offer this. I don’t know where you are or how the law works in your location, but I work for a victim services organization in Pennsylvania and we get some domestic violence cases. To be clear, domestic violence includes stalking, harassing, etc for anybody who is or has ever been an intimate partner or lived in the same household. There are restraining orders that can be entered to protect parties who fear their safety, and they can be entered WITHOUT admission of fault, since you mentioned you don’t want charges on his record. Basically, this is a court order for party A to agree to stay away from party B under clear parameters, and any violation of such is enough reason to call the police to help enforce it. You can say you want him to stop sending you threatening messages but that he can see daughter under X Y Z conditions, etc.
Domestic violence hotlines/shelters may have free advocates who can help you hammer out this agreement if cost is an issue. Again, I don’t know where you are, but it could be worth looking into.
All my best wishes to you.
LW825, I have a cautionary tale, if it might help.
I worked in a restaurant in my early 20s and had a roommate who was lonely and a Helper personality. I, too, have a touch of Helper, but not to the same extent. She took it upon herself to come pick me up after my shifts at work because I was walking or taking a taxi home late at night. In the process, she befriended our bartender.
Initially I, too, had befriended the bartender, because he was funny and charming. He was also an addict and an alcoholic. He roomed with about eight other people in a rental house, one of whom was one of our cooks. He also had an explosively bad temper, though it was never directed at anyone who was there to take the brunt, he’d just rant about a customer who had already left, etc. But he would get VERY angry.
Before I knew him better, and he was on his best behavior, he’d hung out with us and slept on our couch a few times. No big deal. So when he asked my Helper roomie if he could stay with us, even though I was starting to see signs of problematic behavior, she said yes, partially because he knew she had a crush on him and was milking that to get in her good graces. She was not conventionally attractive, and he was, so there was that “a boy is flirting with and paying lots of attention to me for the first time ever!” thing going on, too.
We had a minor spat about this, because the cook told me he had been kicked out of the shared house, and whereas she didn’t want to do into too much detail, she said enough to make my antennae go up. Still, we had a guest on our couch who now had no home to go back to. I took the precaution of locking my bedroom door, because I was uneasy.
Long story short, he did the following in a week’s time:
* deliberately instigated fights between me and my roommate, probably to encourage her to choose him as a roommate over me, though I was on the lease, because she was wealthy and likely would have paid his share of the rent without complaint in perpetuity if he continued to flirt with her.
* drank about a gallon of my vodka stored in various bottles in the freezer, then put the empty bottles back so we wouldn’t notice for a while (but we did).
* broke back into his former rental house and stole from his former roommates
* stole our rent money out of my roommate’s purse.
* got fired from work for stealing alcohol and money from the till
* vanished overnight.
My cab driver friend later told me that he had taken him to a known crack house in a nearby neighborhood, and when he let him know he knew me well, as he was my regular ride to work, our bartender friend freaked out and immediately threw money at him and bailed from the cab and ran into the crack house.
He remained missing for three weeks and turned up at the VA Hospital. My roommate, still crushing hard for this turkey, actually took him a care package. After he stole our rent money. And all the other stuff. And she continued to visit him until he disingratiated himself with her.
He was too ill to be charming, and he was cruel to her about her appearance and weight, and ungrateful and probably ashamed of himself, and detoxing/drying out, and so slowly but surely my roommate got the picture, though her crush took much longer to fade, and she continued to reminesce about “the good old days” she spent hanging at his bar waiting for me to finish my sidework for a long, long time.
He didn’t start out in life as that person who was driven by his addictions, and, as noted, I saw a lot of good and positive things about him until his actions outweighed those good and positive qualities. For all I know, he may have gotten better since then, so the good and positive qualities are allowed free reign to define him most, rather than the addictions and emotional and mental issues he was struggling with. But at the time, our kindness–especially my roommate’s, as I was pretty much donezo when he started sleeping on our couch 24/7–was repaid with theft and cruelty.
Recall Aesop’s fable about the turtle and the scorpion, where the scorpion wheedles and begs and turns on the charm, and swears up and down to the turtle that he won’t sting her to death if she will just be kind enough to save the scorpion, who needs to cross a river. The kindhearted, helpful turtle agrees, and then, halfway across, the scorpion can’t control his impulses for one second longer and viciously stings the turtle. “Why did you do that?” the turtle asks, dying. “Now we will both drown!” The scorpion replies, “I’m sorry, I guess it’s just my nature. I couldn’t help it.”
You don’t have to help someone who can’t control their bad impulses right now, even if they scold and insult themselves about how supposedly bad they are and how much they regret the unwise things they have done. You can love them and wish them well, but not risk getting stung and hurt. You’ve gotten stung once, maybe twice, pretty badly. You don’t have to set yourself up for a third sting.
‘he has threatened to “ruin my life”, to prevent me from traveling back to where my family lives’
Full stop. That bridge you didn’t want to burn? He just blew it up. My advice is to take everything you have on him and file charges, a restraining order, whatever it takes. No one who threatens that sort of behavior deserves a place in your life or a chance to hurt your child. Declare a Scorched Earth policy and destroy him.
A Threat is a Plan.
LW#825 – I feel compelled to respond again, because I’m so disturbed by the situation. I re-read your original letter … and I honestly don’t know what do think. I think Toby needs more help than you can give him, but as the relative of someone with his issues, I have to tell you that it’s entirely possible that he’s lying about or exaggerating about the Issues with his partner and family in order to get certain emotional things and money from you. Maybe even more than possible. Probable. I have a family member who has managed to convince the entire extended family that I have done X, Y, and Z, and when I call her on it (because I have not done X, Y, or Z), she pretends to be confused and lies about having done said thing.
The statement about his family not “allowing” him to pick up his 5 prescriptions (and you having the money available to help him, of course, and him contacting you to bail him out, somehow) was bizarre to me. He went for a weeklong visit without all the meds he apparently very seriously needs? And all 5 needed to be filled while he was there? It sounds more like he wanted drug money or beer money or to test whether he still had the ability to manipulate you.
While he’s telling you all these Very Bad Things about the other people in his life, he’s doing the same about you to them. So Judas probably has one view of the situation that is opposite of yours and also not reality, just like your view is probably not reality.
I was wondering about that too – loaning money for meds? Did LW pay the pharmacy themselves?
At the very least the stuff with the family is corroborated by his sisters, who ‘has her life together’ in the traditional sense, compared. I’ve dealt with the family before over the phone and stuff, seen text messages and letters they’ve sent him and… yeah. I’m inclined to trust him on this count. And I don’t think that’s something he did lie about or would lie about, I’ve seen him in actual withdrawal too many times. The parents, as of course they would, booked the trip completely on their terms. He needed to see his childhood GP there to renew prescriptions because he didn’t have a private one in the city we lived in but they refused to drive him because, I guess, they thought that if he had a humongous psychotic break they’d be able to use that as an opportunity to keep him up there. These are people about whom it is safest to assume the worst.
Rebound – all my sympathy to you in dealing with a really tough situation.
I am not sure if anyone else has said this, but I was struck by your worry about the long-term consequences of legal action on your former partner/stalker.
It is 1000% OK to let this adult human face the legal consequences of his actions. YOU would not be ruining his life. The choices HE made were bad ones, and it would not be your fault if he is impacted by his choices in a way that has long-term consequences.
Choosing whether to do anything is up to you, but please keep yourself safe and healthy.
My sister is facing a similar situation. Her husband (they’re still married though she left over two years ago) was physically abusive and unfaithful, and she came back home after a horrible fight. When she found out she was pregnant, she thought she should go back home, that maybe the child would make him change. Eventually she realized that any harm he inflicts on her, he would inflict on the baby as well (she and him grew up with abusive fathers, and I think she recognised that he would continue that pattern), and hasn’t gone back. My niece is eighteen months this week, healthy and vibrant and loved, and my sister is much happier. She hasn’t initiated divorce/annulment proceedings yet, but she’s made it clear he won’t be part of my niece’s life. We live in a very socially conservative country; some of my dad’s friends are still griping about her not going back to her husband, but outside societal pressures won’t protect her and her baby if he raises his fist against them. So, do what the Cap says. Trust me, you and little LW will be happier for it.
Rebounds – as someone whose job involves child safeguarding, and who has witnessed a bitter custody battle between family members… GET 100% FULL CUSTODY OF YOUR CHILD. Do it now. It will prevent him from threatening stuff like No Fly lists and other shit that he will use to control you and prevent you from living freely.
Full custody doesn’t mean that he can’t have a relationship with your daughter, but I would seriously reconsider allowing this man any contact with your child, to be honest. He needs to be kept at arms length, and only be allowed access on YOUR terms, because his terms so far are scary and unreasonable. You need to be able to do that with the power of the law.
DO NOT FEEL GUILTY for imposing tough boundaries on him.
His behaviour is bad and wrong, and he is doing it on purpose, so he is ruining his own chances, and you do nobody any favours by letting him get away with it. He no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, he is known to be a serial abuser. How many strikes has he had already?
DO NOT FEEL GUILTY for restricting his access to your daughter.
It is a complete myth that children need a Mum and a Dad to develop into happy, wholesome, healthy children. The only things children need are stability, security, love, respect and encouragement… none of these things have to come from BioDad, and I’m not sure BioDad has even got these things to offer.
A stalker is not a good father figure, and any protracted custody shenanigens where he’s coercing you and/or child is not good, for your emotional wellbeing, or for your child’s development. Children do not fare well without stability and security, and this man is being an obstacle to both.
If you want your daughter to have a dad in her life, do not let it be this dad. He does not meet the minimum requirements of Good Dad Material (i.e. non-abusive).
Letting a child have a dad for the sake of “having a dad” does not make anyone a good parent. What makes you a good parent is keeping abusive, threatening, manipulative people far away from your child as possible. Your child’s safety is Priority Number One.
A man who behaves like your ex is NOT a good, responsible adult, and should probably not be left alone with children (seriously, he could not get hired to work in a school setting with the crap he’s been pulling, so why allow him access to your child at home?). Remember that the child is 100% dependent on adults, which means the adults must be 100% dependable, or else the child is at risk.
“Sometimes he is fine. He can be really helpful and thoughtful. He can be nice and funny and willingly helps people whenever he can.”
Sometimes is not enough. Good people are fine and helpful and thoughtful ALL THE TIME. And there are a lot of good people who are not this dude who could be a wonderful parental/ role model figure for your child.
I’m worried that I’m coming off as too prescriptive for the CA comment section, but this sets of MASSIVE ALARM BELLS in my head, because the biggest part of my job is to report and prevent child abuse… and if I failed to flag up something like BioDad’s stalking behaviour with my head teacher, I’d be fired.
In any school, there is also a swarm of agencies (Police, funding bodies, social services, teachers, school governors, NHS health visitors, Special Support Agencies) buzzing in a protective circle around the children whose home situation involves abusive adults, and if I could prevent a child being put through some of the crap that requires that level of constant vigilance, believe me I would. Those kids deserve so much better than what they have been put through by unsafe adults in their lives.
So please, if given the option you would cut this man out of your own life, then cut him out of your child’s life before she even has to witness how horrible he can be at his worst.
In terms of the letter with Toby (825), the LW in this case needs to let go and move on. Alcoholism is no joke, and it WILL put a strain on your relationship. It already has. And you need to take care of yourself first and foremost.
The other more important thing you need to understand is, there is nothing you can do or say that will change Toby. It’s not your job to fix Toby. You don’t have any control over him and I’m not at all surprised that he cut himself off from you when you tried to intervene. It’s so incredibly painful to watch someone you love downward spiraling (I know, I’ve gone through this too), BUT it’s their life. Not yours. Toby will end up resenting you and NEVER forgiving you if you try to make him change. For the sake of your own wellness, step away from this friendship (if there’s even a friendship at this point). I can’t tell you how many screaming matches, thrown objects, physical attacks happened in the two years I fought with someone I deeply cared about over their drinking. As terrible as it is knowing the path they’re going down, there’s nothing you can do.
You’ll think and worry about him a lot too. That’s natural. Whenever I started fretting about the person I walked away from, I reminded myself that there was nothing I could do and at that point I was focusing on me. It was a tough pill to swallow, but that’s what I had to do to take care of my own health.
Regarding the Rebounds letter (826), get away from him. Now. End of story.
I understand the importance of having a father in a child’s life, but take it from someone whose biological father abused her in a variety of ways. She will be better off without a father at all than with an abusive one. You can and you WILL find a man who can better provide for your child.
Whether the abuse is tied to his mental illness or not (and I’d be concerned about whether or not he’s currently stable or needs to change his regimen, going by the fact that he’s in denial and being INvoluntarily treated, who knows if he’s even being 100% compliant?) what’s important IN THIS MOMENT is he is a danger to you and a danger to your child, and you need to get as far away from him as possible.
If he takes care of himself and his condition, perhaps then you can re-introduce him into your life, though I must warn you that the abusive behavior might NOT be related to his mental illness and may very well be a fundament of his personality, which would make him even less likely to turn around in that case. The abusive behavior was fundamental to my father’s personality, as he was raised to be a golden child who understands that all relationships are a power struggle and to win was to hold power over the other. He was never going to change.
The good moments are nice, I get it, I know. But there are no number of good moments that make up for the bad ones, because once the bad ones start they’re only going to get more frequent and more severe. For me, it started with name-calling and ended with getting punched in the gut on the street in broad daylight. The good ones only serve to keep you there, putting hope above reason.
And you never know. Walking away MAY inspire change in him. BUT don’t stick around to wait and see. I learned that the hard way with my abusive SO, who had a drinking/party problem that the abuse was DIRECTLY connected to. I waited to see if he’d quit for far TOO long. Once I walked away (and I REALLY walked away instead of threatening to like I mistakenly had in the past), he made a HUGE turnaround and we eventually came back together and there hasn’t been a problem since. He DID change, but he WASN’T going to change as long as I stuck around, because that told him that regardless of what I said, we were still together and he could keep doing what he was doing. When I LEFT, he realized the consequences of HIS actions, made HIS OWN choice regarding his life, made a change, and things have never been better. And I would venture to say my situation was one of the luckier ones, to be honest =/
Protect yourself. Protect your child. Cut him off.
Okay, this is the letter that finally gets me to comment.
Dear Rebounds/LW826: Let me speak from the other side of the equation — the daughter’s. When my mom *skipped the country* to get me away from her alcoholic, abusive-in-multiple-ways, stalkery, violent ex — who happened to be my biological father — she didn’t deprive me of a damn thing. Well, I mean, I could eventually stop screaming and hiding when the phone rang because I was afraid it might be him; I no longer wigged out completely when I saw a car the same make and colour as the one he’d rented the last time he came to collect me for a visit; I didn’t actually have to have her in my eyeline at all times (quite). Oh, and the rest of my family didn’t have to put up with abuse being yelled down the phone at them, random stalking, or threats of violence in the middle of the night. *Somehow we managed*.
She had to go to those lengths — leaving the country when she wasn’t even meant to leave the state (and in these days of no-fly lists she would never have made it) — because they were technically married when I was born, and she *could not*, after that, get a court to take away his access entirely, despite a whole bunch of bright red flags waving all over the place. Once your ex has access/rights, it will be a lot harder to take them away again.
He has shown he will abuse and terrorise women. Without knowing the guy, I strongly suspect he will terrorise a small child under his control — even if he never hurts her directly in any way, seeing him abuse you? Will also terrify her. He will use her as a pawn to try to control you, he will use her as a hostage (my father escalated to the point that Mom *knew* that if she didn’t get me out of there, some day he would kidnap me), he will make her a foothold to prevent you ever ever getting him out of your lives.
There are plenty of good, decent men who can fill the role of “father figure.” It is not genetically determined. As someone who is, admittedly, extremely gunshy, I would say move if you can, before your daughter is born. If you don’t think that’s justified — maybe hold it in reserve, just in case you need to. But as for giving him parental right — for both your sakes, please don’t. To echo the Captain, when someone says they’ll ruin your life, BELIEVE THEM.
My thoughts are with you and your baby girl. I wish you both a life filled with light and joy.
One other thing, just to clarify the history of Toby and I’s relationship – I’ve known him since 2010, he’s been drinking around me all of those years except 2015. When we reconnected in 2014 it was a situation of finding him on the street and putting him up… there was already an imbalance there just due to that but I took my cue from him when he told me he was quitting drinking at the beginning of 2015. So becoming an arbiter of his recovery probably started there but after not seeing each other for most of 2014 running into him homeless and dissociating started off that phase of our friendship on a really desperate and high-stakes note. I’ve been able to accept his addictions as a part of the whole of him for the majority of our friendship so I think I need to put in the work to get back to that mindset, while being able to help him out if he wants it or really needs it
That’s pretty much all you can do. It’s hard to watch someone going down that road, but remember, you’re a friend. You’re not his guide or a parent, but a friend. Be there for him when he wants you to be there for him, but don’t step in just because you think he needs it. He’s an adult and can make his own choices, even if said choices are terrible and damning to his future.
Also don’t forget the importance of taking care of yourself throughout this too. There’s a lot of potential to do harm to yourself through standing with someone struggling with addiction. Drug abuse doesn’t just affect the user, it affects everyone in their life after all. And watching someone you love going through something like that can be emotionally damaging to you. So just be sure to practice lots of self-care.
Good luck and I hope he eventually sobers up and stays that way *hugs*
LW #826: The commenters here have done an awesome job addressing the issues surrounding physical custody (don’t let him have it!). I would like to chime in with some comments about legal custody (legal and physical generally go together, but they are identified as two types; the former is about legal power to make decisions regarding education, health care, etc. and the latter is about where the child physically resides, how much time zie spends with each parent, etc. I want to talk about the legal custodian aspect because I think it’s something that can get overlooked by people who haven’t had to navigate it).
I am a stepmom to a child who had numerous struggles in school, and it has been absolute hell trying to get him evaluated, treated, etc. because both parents have to agree every step of the way. Rebounds, if your child has sensory issues and you think s/he should go to an OT for assessment? Your ex can refuse permission. If you are in a car accident and think your child would benefit from chiropractic care? Your ex can refuse permission. Yes, you can go to the court and try to force a mediator or judge to side with you, but this involves significant delays and you aren’t always assured of winning (hence the examples I provided, which aren’t cut-and-dry “my child will die if she doesn’t get this care” situations).
LW, there are so many places where you can be kept from doing the best you can for your child simply because her father chooses to refuse to grant permission. In our case it was just extreme difference of opinion over whether the child was just willful and unmotivated or actually had disabilities which could be identified and supported (argh) (hint: we finally have confirmation of the latter). Even absent any vindictiveness or controlling behavior, it is very very hard to have to weigh every decision for how much of a fight you are willing to wage, to worry that when you’ve taken a step (like requesting assessment) that the other parent could very well throw a monkey wrench into the works. This is hard to swing when you had an amicable separation, challenging and deeply fraught when you can’t stand each other, and seems like it could be downright dangerous when the other parent has demonstrated abusive and controlling behaviors. LW, please listen closely to your lawyer, and — as someone in this thread said — be biased toward your daughter. She needs you to make this difficult decision now so that you can support her to the fullest over the coming years.
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