There is no place for perpetual cruelty, dishonesty or disrespect as constants in my life, no matter the perpetrator, even when the perpetrator is someone I love very much. Having been all three at times in my life there is nearly always an open door to my life for someone willing to take responsibility and makes amends. Absent that, no healthy relationship with the person is possible. I am a realist. I know the best of us get angry and may say things or do things in a moment of anger (or fear) that are mean and nasty. One is responsible for recognizing these moments, owning them, and meaning it when they apologize. Dishonesty is another ball of wax altogether. And one worthy of real attention.
It is important to note that dishonesty serves a real purpose. First, when someone is being dishonest they are not being truthful about who they are and there may well have been a time when being truthful about who they were was dangerous. Dishonesty became a kind of armor, a survival mechanism that had to be used simply so the person could survive, so the child could protect himself or herself from abuse, for example. What is so terribly difficult to learn is the defense system that was once your greatest protector is now one of of you greatest vulnerabilities. I have great compassion for those who include dishonesty in their life-management repertoire. This does not mean I’m always able to have them be constants in my life, nor does it mean I don’t hold them accountable.
Having a healthy relationship of any kind with someone who uses dishonesty is like to trying to sculpt solid objects out of smoke; it can’t be done. One of the things I am most appreciative of in my life is people trust me because they can. They really can. Believe me when I tell you this was not always the case. I’ve been sober now a few strides past 11 years and I can tell you there was a time I thought no one would ever trust me because there was a time there was little reason to. I remember being dishonest in ways in which raised my own eyebrows. If I’d read 31 books one year and someone asked me how many books I’d read that year, I’d say 32.
It is easy to get angry when someone is cruel, disrespectful or dishonest in their behavior towards you. A former girlfriend of mine (now a close friend) once asked a friend of mine we were having dinner with, What do you see make Peter angry? His answer was spot on. Two things mainly. Being treated with disrespect or seeing someone being treated with disrespect, being denied their rights. It’s true.
A short time ago I wrote a piece for this block called Beware the distance makers. Distance makers are not people, at least not in the context that essay and this one is talking about. Distance makers are habits, patterns of behavior that, by default, prevent others from getting close to us. Individuals laden with distant makers are engaging life with highly edited and twisted versions of themselves. Stepping into the open as our true selves, flaws and all, can be a steep climb. Tragically, too steep for some, or so it seems. But, once achieved, it is a wonderful place to be. Far less stressful. Your relationship with the world around you and those in it becomes healthier, more loving, and more fulfilling.
The most painful thing of all for me is when someone I love, someone I genuinely care about, is trapped in this kind of destructive lifestyle. I can’t be close to them because it is dangerous for me. But, even more painful is witnessing people whose real truths are breathtakingly beautiful go through life trapped in the exhausting and endless task of juggling untruths, and, in doing so, confirming their inaccurate self-image that they’re not worth very much. Many reach the grave that way. I still love them, deeply so, and the door to my life is open. And while I can’t make another person get well, I can always believe in them and pray for their capacity to do so. And, if they do so, or truly start to do so, I will be there to embrace them, encourage them, and help them reclaim, or, perhaps for the first time, lay claim to the life they truly deserve. A life where they can be true to themselves, one day at a time