DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Is there ever a place for flat-out ignoring people? Long story short, I met a girl in AA, I was nine months sober and she was two years in. I went through a situation where six months into our relationship, my girlfriend 1) cheated on me with, and then 2) left me for her ex. THAT relationship then fell apart about six months later because her boyfriend went back out drinking and using (He was in the program, in and out, and once he got four months sober was when she went back to him). And she’s on to guy number three at the moment, whose totally bran new in AA and shows up to meetings high.
What happened when the break up first happened, I went to the use of the silent treatment: refusing to speak to her and acting like she didn’t exist. Same with guy number two. If they ever went for a handshake or said hi, I wouldn’t even acknowledge them. But I went further, putting all sorts of walls up. I wasn’t just acting indifferent towards them but also their sponsors, their friends, anyone who I thought was “taking their side” etc. I’ve since learned that the silent treatment is a combination of isolation and anger, and it was my disease making me think this way, as eventually I would’ve had walls up against everyone and then been all alone and then picked up a drink. So thank God, I found help with this, I learned I can’t ignore people out of anger because I was giving myself depression (because of all the energy it takes).
So I re-connected with all the people I was ignoring and made amends, I’ve been very friendly and polite with guy number three – I don’t have any resentment against him as he’s just some random guy, he didn’t do anything wrong. I shook his hand and told him I hope there’s no bad vibes between us, I just want him to have the same chance getting sober as everyone else.
The only people I still ignore (it’s been a year since the break up) is the ex-gf and guy number two… And this is where my question is: My conscience bothered me for having ignored all those other people but my conscience doesn’t bother me for ignoring these two. I’ve looked into this a bit and think there is a difference between “the silent treatment” and “not relating”. The first one is to do with resentment, but the second is to do with protecting yourself. It’s honestly not out of the whole “I’m never gonna talk to you again” thing. It’s just that it doesn’t make sense to me to acknowledge them. If they come to make their amends, I’d listen. But as for me going to say hi to either of them or shake their hands, no thanks. And I swear, my conscience doesn’t ache about it. I really think it’s “not relating” not the “silent treatment”.
At the moment, I’m studying to become a Catholic priest – a dream I had since I was 16 before I was struck down by booze and self-esteem issues. And people I trust in the AA program and do step-work with etc. they’re all on my case about my need to start acknowledging them. And they use what I’m doing against me (“C’mon you’re almost two and a half years sober”, “C’mon you’re going to be a priest” etc.) But I don’t get it, I don’t see the contradiction or see what’s wrong with acting indifferent towards those two – and like I said before it’s not the “never again” thing, I’d be able to acknowledge them if they made amends for what they did – but until then I act like they don’t even exist, and I don’t see anything morally or spiritually incorrect about that.
So that’s the dramatic back-story. But my question is basically, what do you think? Is there a difference between the silent treatment vs not relating? And how come my conscience bothered me about ignoring all those other people but it doesn’t bother me about ignoring those two, unless the silent treatment and not relating are two different things??
Vow of Silence
DEAR VOW OF SILENCE: First of all, everything you just described — from your relationship to all the guys your ex keeps dating — is a great example of why Alcoholics Anonymous makes a very big point about how you’re NOT supposed to hit on folks in your meetings while you’re in recovery.
(Hell, there’s a reason why people refer to veteran AA attendees hitting on newbies as the 13th step…)
But let’s put that aside for the moment.
There’s a difference between not relating and giving them the silent treatment. In the former, they simply aren’t part of your life. You don’t actively exclude them, but you don’t make a point of seeking them out either. In the latter: you’re driving the fact that you’re not talking to them home by being as obvious about it as possible.
Wanna take a guess which of the two you’re actually doing?
Right now you think you’re just not relating. You think you’re being the bigger man here because you’ve gone and made amends and tried to rebuild connections with the many people you were shutting out because you were angry and you saw them as being “against you”. Those were the easy ones. Your conscience was nagging you about them because you realized at some level you weren’t justified in being angry at them. They were the innocent bystanders (as it were) of the breakup between you and your ex and all it’s attendant fallout.
But – and you had to know this was coming – you’re still angry and bitter at your ex and the guy she dumped you for. This is why you don’t feel any problem with snubbing your ex and boyfriend number two; as far as you’re concerned, you were wronged and it’s on them to come crawling back to beg your forgiveness.
So let me ask you something in all sincerity: what benefit are you getting from holding on to that anger? Yes, there’s always a sense of satisfaction when you’re convinced of your own righteousness but what good is it doing you? Is your sense of moral superiority making your life any easier? Is your anger at them keeping you warm at night? Because honestly, you’re kind of being childish about it. It’d be one thing if you just weren’t making going out of your way to talk to them, but when you’re refusing to acknowledge that they even exist… well, that’s just being immature. You’re not being the bigger man, you’re wielding your indignation and self-righteousness at them. And to be honest, you’re going pretty firmly against the behavior for a Christian in general, never mind someone who wants to be a Catholic priest. The whole point of forgiving those who’ve sinned against you isn’t that you wait until they come groveling before you, it’s recognizing that they may never acknowledge that they did you wrong and forgiving them anyway. Jesus’ forgiveness is unconditional and you’re supposed to model his behavior as best you can. Not so much with the sitting in judgement.
You don’t need to welcome them back into your life with open arms. You don’t need to seek them out at meetings, take them out to dinner or spend a second longer hanging out with them than is absolutely necessary. But you should be willing to be a grown-ass adult about it. Acknowledge them. Say hello when you see them. Shake hands. You don’t need to linger; you can go elsewhere and talk to other people once the basic social niceties are out of the way.
Will you ever get the satisfaction of an apology from them? Well, if they’re doing the steps, then possibly; at some point they’ll hit the “Make Amends” part and hopefully they’ll realize they’ve done you an injury and will try to repair things as best they can. But there’s no guarantee that they ever will and that’s a long time to hold onto that bitterness and resentment – even if you don’t acknowledge or recognize it as bitterness. You’re still hurting and you’re holding on to that hurt with this behavior. It’s time to let it go. Forgive them, let it go and be polite. They don’t have to be a part of your life beyond “people at your meetings”. But it will put you further on your path to recovery.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)