A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Ghost Of A Young Man -- Part Two

Cautionary Note:  I wrote this before I had done thorough research.  I may have misdiagnosed my ex-boyfriend.  He may not have been a psychopath.

When Brendan and I met, we both probably had abnormalities in our brains that caused us to feel different from others.  I had been hearing voices for a couple of years on and off, but didn't dwell on that because the voices didn't try to overtake me and also helped me at times to cope.  I was socially withdrawn which made me more self-centered and self-absorbed.  I shamed myself for still being dependent on my family, which in turn made me self-conscious around others and insecure.  By the time I had moved away from New York City to live in Western New York near my brother I had been isolating myself from intimate contact with others and I was lonely.  I was 27 years old, but in my spirit, because I had sheltered myself for so long, not working or forming serious relationships, I was closer to being an adolescent than to being an adult.  For the first time I was living alone; I had a home and a car and a couple of cats and enough money to pay my bills and have a little extra each month.  My plan was to become a freelance photographer because I had been studying photography for several years.  I had saved up enough money to buy a good darkroom sink and I had a darkroom made for me to work in.

The only two people I knew when I first moved were my brother and his good friend Richard who was the soccer coach for the state college in town.  My brother was the assistant coach and he encouraged me to come to practice and watch games.  So I started to do that; I brought my camera and began taking pictures.  Soon I became the team photographer.  I quickly got attached to the team and attracted to some of the players.  One young man on the team approached me one day and began flirting with me.  I must have responded to the attention strongly because soon I invited him over to my house.  I was a mostly straight person; I got drunk on my own occasionally and I furtively smoked around half a pack of cigarettes a day from time to time, but that was it.  I quickly discovered that he was part of the subculture of young college age kids that had decided to commit themselves to drug use, promiscuous sexuality and music.  I was foolish, lonely and horny; I let myself be seduced.  There were several team parties at my house.  I started getting drunk, smoking pot and I became sexual with this one young man.  Most of the time I wasn't around real adults and the adults I did know didn't pull me aside and caution me and so I went blindly on, deeper and deeper into trouble.

To young, manipulative, self-serving men I was an easy target.  I felt so ashamed of myself and so guilty for having more material wealth than other people that I shared everything.  I met Brendan on the soccer field because he was one of the players and also because he was friends with the young man I got involved with.  On the surface I thought they were two pot smoking hippies who loved music and playing soccer.  In reality they were both budding psychopaths.  Very quickly the young man got tired of me.  I was too needy.  At that point Brendan saw his chance and he made a play for me.  He told me that his friend had cheated on me and lied to me.  He presented himself as the more honorable and honest one willing to sacrifice his friendship in order to defend me.

For a while the story got even more complicated, but suffice it to say that Brendan began living with and off me.  Many psychopaths are parasitic, working only intermittently and they lack long term realistic goals.  This was true of Brendan.  It took me months to realize that he was both an alcoholic and cyclically abusive towards me and that this was not a new pattern for him.  So far all this sounds very sick and bitter, but the real truth is that it was bittersweet.  There was a lot of darkness and yet there was also a lot of light.  The portrait of a psychopath that I've found online creates a caricature of real human beings.  Yes, Brendan could be charming, grandiose, manipulative, a liar, remorseless, impulsive, irresponsible etc...etc...., but there were plenty of times when he was down on earth like the rest of us.  It was that Brendan that I was deeply drawn to.  This was Brendan without all his defenses up.  Even if a person does lack empathy for the pain of others, this doesn't mean that that person can't have genuinely good feelings or feel love or attachment or be perceptive.  And not everything is about manipulation.  Some things are just about being in the moment and finding some joy in life.  I'm sure it varies from psychopathic individual to psychopathic individual just how much you lack empathy.  I'm sure that negative environmental factors, especially in childhood, such as poverty and violence, serve to  deaden what is left of empathy making the individual too detached.  Brendan did have a heart.  I witnessed him being good to children and animals and respectful to elderly people.  He responded well to simplicity, honesty and openness.  In the beginning that's why he responded to me.  I gave to him freely and tried hard to understand him and accept him as he was.  I wanted to be his friend and to help him.

Some researchers say that psychopaths have a grandiose sense of self-worth, but the flip side of that is self-loathing and a kind of fatalism.  Brendan was smart enough to know that he was not like other young people, no matter how badly he wished he was.  He was different, disturbed...abnormal.  He respected me in part because I was bright and I had a college degree, whereas he didn't do well in school and dropped out of college twice.  His father, a staunch Republican, would shame Brendan by making jokes at his son's expense.  His father was physically bigger than Brendan and he had the status of being a successful corporate lawyer.  Brendan knew he couldn't compete with that and wound up internalizing the shame.  We were kindred spirits; we both knew that we were different from other people, we were shame based, we were socially withdrawn (me more than Brendan), dysfunctional and yet despite the cycles of addiction and abuse, we had a sense of some health in the midst of all that.  There were some good things about both of our childhoods.  Brendan grew up in the suburbs, but often explored the countryside and living with me he had the opportunity to be a simple, country man.  He loved nature, fishing, biking, basketball.  He mowed the lawn, chopped the wood and stoked the fire.  Sometimes we cleaned the house together and took care of our many cats.  He was a pretty good rhythm guitarist and often sang Grateful Dead tunes.  I think he was relieved to no longer be living with his family and he took some pride in me and some comfort in having a home.

But Brendan was a hardcore alcoholic by the time he was 19 and I began to notice that his abusiveness tended to happen when he was rather drunk.  I told him that I thought he was an alcoholic.  It didn't take him too long to agree, but he refused to get help.  I began to see him as a kind of Jekyll and Hyde type of person; sometimes he'd be relatively normal and other times he would fairly suddenly transform into this monstrous, self-inflated, totally remorseless person.  He might start out blaming someone that he knew, but eventually he would start blaming me.  When he got into his psychopathic zone it seemed he became larger than life to himself.  He was this self-righteous demi-god who had nothing but contempt and revulsion for me.  To me, he wasn't Brendan anymore, but a stranger.  That was my first experience with witnessing someone in a psychotic state.  He was way out of touch with reality and on the verge of acting out violently.  I was trapped in a house in the country with a drunken madman.  Not just a few times, but many times.

What exactly was he doing and where did all this rage come from?  He had an incredibly deep ambivalence towards his family, especially his father.  He told me that his father had raped him several times, maybe even when he was a little boy.  I'm sure that he partially blamed his mother for not protecting him.  From what I could gather she always stood by her husband.  He hated his family, but he never severed contact and if I tried to put them down, he would get very defensive.  He was still emotionally bound to them and to whatever abuse happened in that household.  Perhaps they all betrayed him somehow, but they were his only family.  In effect, I became an extended part of that family for him, but that meant I would betray him, too.  Or so he convinced himself.  For him, I probably played many roles in his psychodrama, to the point where he stopped seeing me.  It was terrifying to be used as some kind of pawn in his mental illness.  I couldn't reach him at all and just had to go through what I began calling in my journal "useless torture".

As he got sicker from addiction and unresolved mental illness, so did I.  Repeatedly I left him, only to return.  But while I was away I began reading books about alcoholism and domestic violence.  Somehow I showed up at an Al-Anon meeting and bought a daily reader there.  I learned that I was codependent on Brendan, that I was a part of the problem because I was an enabler.  I was directed to put the focus not on him but on myself.  I was taught to take care of myself as best I could under hard circumstances.  All this gave me permission to begin to detach from Brendan and all his many problems, so that I could study my own problems and work towards some solutions to them.  I wanted Brendan to get help and was even willing to work with him, but he would not and he tried to come between me and the help I needed from support groups and, for a short time, a therapist.  I began to have faith in a higher power.  A year before I left Brendan for good, I started praying to be released from the relationship.  During that time he began doing something that I only learned about later.  He began snorting (I think) heroin.  I could tell he was intoxicated, but I assumed he was drunk and when I asked him he remained firm that he was not drunk, but he wouldn't admit that he was intoxicated.  This flat out denial made me feel as if I were losing my mind.

End of Part Two

(I'm going to work on Part Three today.)

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