How to deal with abusive friend
March 4, 2010 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I have an alcoholic friend whose behavior is getting increasingly disturbing and abusive. He sent me a frightening e-mail today and I'm scared and not sure what to do.

When I met Jack in grad school, he had put his time in jail and past alcohol problems behind him. We became friends and kept in touch after I moved away. He began to drink again heavily after a breakup and started leaning on me heavily for support. Our friendship wasn't really at that level but I wanted to help, having dealt with depression myself. He started calling very late and in the middle of the night drunk talking about suicide. Some of the things he'd say became creepy, however. He would say inappropriate sexual things sometimes, or ask probing questions about uncomfortable subjects, like details on my father's death or my boyfriend's mother's death. I ascribed these things to his being drunk, but after a conversation where he tried to convince me that my life, like his, was not worth living, I started to feel like I didn't want to help him anymore.

Around this time he added one of my female friends on Facebook and sent her creepy admiring messages. By this point I had mostly disengaged and was no longer answering his late-night calls. One morning my boyfriend and I awoke to voicemails from him where he said he had a gun, was bleeding, and began to scream. We called the police in his city after calling him repeatedly and getting no answer. They did a welfare check and found him just severely inebriated, not injured. He was angry at me the next day (he hates the police due to his arrest record) and posted a foul tirade on my Facebook wall. After this, I deleted the photos of him I had posted and just tried to extricate myself from our friendship without agitating him further. He moved to another state and took a teaching job, but was fired. He sent me e-mails saying he was thinking of moving to the city I live in. I found out he had broken into a house while drunk and was facing more jail time over that. He also had gotten in some fights with his neighbor and the police were called then too. Via Facebook I've observed him writing more creepy and sexual messages on other female friends' walls, until he posted about having a date, then abruptly disabled his account.

Last month he sent me an e-mail asking me to please not abandon him. I didn't reply -- I didn't want to encourage him, and I've been dealing with some very heavy personal issues myself. Then today I get an e-mail from him where he said "die hellish whore" and to "choke on my fucking spleen" for treating him so badly. It was really upsetting and filled with profanity and other abusive language. Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him? I don't want to have any association with him at all now. If I send him something telling him our friendship is over, it might just inflame him more. We also have mutual friends, and one has already distanced herself from me after he told her I had abandoned him and let him down. I just want this to end. If you have any experience relevant that you don't want to post, e-mail Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total)
This sounds like you need a restraining order. I would also document any contact you have.

You have told him to go away and leave you alone, right?
posted by aetg at 2:57 PM on March 4, 2010

Dear god no. Do not write back. Do not engage him at all. There is nothing you can do to impact his downward spiral other than be dragged down with it. Placation of any kind will only be used as pretext for further angry tirades the next time you are forced to distance yourself for your own safety and sanity.

Protect yourself and stay completely disengaged. If you hear that he as been sober for some period of time (in the 6 months or greater range) and wishes to engage you to make amends then possibly consider it. Even then you should in no way consider yourself obliged.
posted by Babblesort at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2010 [22 favorites]

Don't engage with him. You're not responsible for his life.
posted by dfriedman at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2010

Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?

God, no. He's not in a rational place right now. Even if he's sober when he reads the hypothetical email (which you SHOULD NOT SEND), and capable of responding reasonably, his behavior towards you so far indicates that he can't be trusted to not go off the rails for no reason.

You can't fix him. You can't save him. Set a filter for his emails to bypass your inbox and go into a different folder, unread. Save them, in case you need them. Don't answer his calls. If he re-ups his facebook account, block him.

You can't fix him. You can't save him. Only he can do that. I'm very sorry - this is hard, I know.
posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

He seems to be trending away from "recovering alcoholic" to "guy with much larger personal issues who may be fixating on you."

Don't talk to him. Save the emails and document contact in case he does move to your town. Standard MeFi recommendation: read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:02 PM on March 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't write back, and don't feel guilty.

We also have mutual friends, and one has already distanced herself from me after he told her I had abandoned him and let him down.

My guess is that she hasn't been on the receiving end of his crap, and has only seen him playing the victim. As soon as he understands that he can't use you as a punching bag, I have a feeling he'll move onto harassing her. In either case, there's nothing you can do except distance yourself from this horrific, manipulative behavior. Do not attach yourself to or feel guilty about leaving this sinking ship.
posted by blazingunicorn at 3:16 PM on March 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Echoing everyone else: Run away, do not reply, block him from Facebook, stop being interested in him entirely, close the door. You can't help someone that doesn't want the help, so no matter how good your intentions, whatever you could do at this point won't be received well. A reply will just egg him on. You have more important and relevant things to focus on in your own life. Move on.
posted by kirstk at 3:22 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?

No no no a thousand times no.

I had an abusive friend, and I blocked him everywhere without giving him any explanation, since he didn't deserve one. He changed his tone from angry to pleading with me. He eventually figured it out and left me alone. What on earth are you getting out of this relationship?
posted by desjardins at 3:27 PM on March 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

If i were in your shoes, the first thing I would do would be to get a restraining order, because it sounds as though he could be unpredictably dangerous to you, and when it served to him, it would notify him that you are cutting off the relationship. My experience is in California, but I think the rules are pretty much the same wherever you live in the US. He would not be able to contact you in any way without opening himself up to more jail time. I hope you've saved the emails because will back up your fears that he could harm you. But you need to be aware that if you do weaken on not taking his communications without reporting him you can void the protective order. I would also change my phone number and email address and close any other social networking acounts that might give him access. Your real friends will understand why you had to do that if you explain it to them.

The downside would be that it could enrage him to the point that he would decide to stalk you. I went through something similar with a methamphetimine addicted relative who eventually assaulted me. I was lucky that he backed off before it got really bad, and it did allow me to bring charges thatput him away for a few years. If you talk to your local police they may be able to give you more advice.
posted by path at 3:29 PM on March 4, 2010

Like everyone else said, stay away from him. He won't get better only worse until he get serious psychological help. Your post reminded me of a girl who was killed last week in my area by her (psychotic) "friend" that she tried to help and be nice to. Read about it here.
posted by MsKim at 3:30 PM on March 4, 2010

If you do reply, I would only say to tell him that he needs help. The stereotypical MeFi response is to cut yourself off, but I'm a fan of telling people why. He's had problems before and now he's having them again. Then tell him not to contact you unless he's been sober for a year or a month or something. Basically, that if he doesn't want to be abandoned then he's going to have to change his behavior.

Then again, it sounds like you're pretty OK with cutting him off and this latest email is only shaking you a bit and you want people to tell you that what you're doing is OK. It is.
posted by rhizome at 3:30 PM on March 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

This will not, I repeat, NOT end well unless you take action to protect yourself. I found myself in a similar situation a few years back, the guy seemed to want to change and was always apologetic about the weird, twisted things that he would say/do while in whatever state, I wanted to be a support system because I do, somewhat, understand being at a dreadful point in life. I ended up being physically assaulted and have a permanent (physical) scar forever now. Unless you are a trained counselor, which I can only assume that you are not, you are NOT equipped to deal with aberrant behavior at this level. This guy does seem fixated on you, and I am saying this having been in quite a similar situation. Save all the emails, text messages, and voicemails no matter how disturbing they are, and I would second the first post from aetg suggesting a restraining order. At the very least, look into it. You just cannot tell what people are going to do, and anyone who would call you in the middle of the night falsely claiming to be in the middle of a suicide attempt is someone who is completely and frighteningly unpredictable. In the meantime, nthing what everyone else said about completely disengaging. Change your phone number if you must and do whatever you need to in order to not have to have your life dragged down by someone who can't handle their own. You can memail me if you want to talk further about this, and I hope you do. Good luck.
posted by lucky25 at 3:34 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Echoing everyone who says NO. Seriously, don't. And get a restraining order.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:08 PM on March 4, 2010

I just looked up restraining orders, and I don't think you will be able to get one based on phone calls and emails.

Whatever help this guy needs, you are not going to be able to give it to him. And to echo everyone else posting here, nothing good will come of contacting him in any way. Don't answer emails, phone calls, etc. I would even go a step further and tell mutual friends that you are requesting that they NOT tell this guy anything about you, and if you find out they do, you can't be friends with them anymore. If anyone questions you, forward the evidence of that email.

I hope you never here from this guy again.
posted by tk at 4:10 PM on March 4, 2010

"Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?"

Do not do this! You have no direct control over his behaviour. The only thing you can try is not to reward his abusive email by giving him the contact and attention he wants. He only wants access to you in the hope that you will suck up more abuse from him, thus making him feel powerful. If you give him that, he'll keep on abusing you because it gives him what he wants. You need to leave well alone. I have been in similar but slightly less dangerous situation. Disengage but keep and check out the messages in case they indicate immediate danger, in which case contact the police.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:10 PM on March 4, 2010

I would suggest that you not write or call this guy ever again - his disposition doesn't fall to you to adjust. Furthermore, he sounds like a real punk.

On the other hand, you might want to email him back and explain exactly why you are no longer interested in listening to him whimper. You might want to write something like this;

""die hellish whore", "choke on [your] fucking spleen"" - why would I want to have anything to do with someone who is going to throw things like that my way? You're damned right I 'abandoned' you, and that's precisely why I did it. You're being a rude dick; who would want to be around that?"

Of course, I'm being facetious. You shouldn't write him at all.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:11 PM on March 4, 2010

Nthing "Gift of Fear." Read it.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:15 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you've never made it clear why you're cutting him off, it seems perfectly appropriate to communicate to him what the problem is before enacting it, but if you have already had your say, then following through is completely reasonable. You don't have to tell him what you're thinking - your first priority is yourself - but generally I think it's useful for everyone if you're explicit along the way about what he has done wrong. People are asshole drunks, but they are also social idiots, cultured differently, forgetful, unaware, and so on. If he doesn't realize you think he said inappropriate things, asked uncomfortable questions, and made creepy posts, he may come up with alternative theories for why you're ditching him...

Which, again, is not to say you owe anything to him, and disappearing is often recommended if you think he thrives on getting your goat, but sending a brief notice stating that his behavior has become unacceptable before the complete cut-off would be my method - unless you feel you've already made it totally clear in other communications, but I didn't see that in your history.
posted by mdn at 4:16 PM on March 4, 2010

rtha above is right. Have the emails bypass your inbox but keep them unread as a record. Cut yourself off completely so that he is no longer a mental drain on you. Sad to say, but sometimes you can't help people. Don't contact him - it will only feed his anger. He can't be helped until he seeks out help himself. Since he's in another state, I wouldn't bother with a restraining order - it doesn't seem at all necessary to me. But if it would make you feel safer, go ahead. Do cut him out of your life.
posted by Dasein at 4:22 PM on March 4, 2010

"Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?"

No no no. God, no. If you do this you are telling him that his behavior (choke on my spleen, yada yada) is okay and that this type of behavior is the most effective way to get you to apologize and placate him. Purely behaviorally speaking, this is how to build-your-own-stalker.

You did the responsible thing by calling the police after his suicide threat. This is your only responsibility. Do not engage him further in anyway.

You're not going to be able to get a restraining order based on what's happened (or at least I don't think so) and you probably don't need one.

I would save copies of abusive coorespondence by computer or phone just in case it does escalate and you need evidence of his behavior for a judge.

I think you've learned a lesson about boundaries. It's a lesson we all have to learn. Some of us have to learn it again and again. Here's to hoping the lesson sticks.
posted by dchrssyr at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

I just looked up restraining orders, and I don't think you will be able to get one based on phone calls and emails.

You could get one based on phone calls and e-mails, but generally they have to be threatening in nature. Telling someone to "choke on their spleen" is not really a threat, is it? Nor is being disturbing.

But YMMV depending on the state.
posted by jayder at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2010

No no no. God, no. If you do this you are telling him that his behavior (choke on my spleen, yada yada) is okay and that this type of behavior is the most effective way to get you to apologize and placate him. Purely behaviorally speaking, this is how to build-your-own-stalker.

Yes. This is why you do not respond.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:12 PM on March 4, 2010

Do not respond, and change your phone number. Seriously, I'd even consider changing the locks on the house.

Then just let his messages go somewhere, as rtha suggests, where you can have them on hand if you ever need to. Hopefully, that day won't come, and your lack of response will have the desired effect.
posted by misha at 5:34 PM on March 4, 2010

Why all this "you can't fix him" advice? It seems to me the question is "how do I get out of this situation? What will enrage and incite him LEAST?"

That book people keep mentioning --Gift of Fear-- addresses exactly that question. It advises never to respond. It also provides a few warning signs to look for but suggests that the target NOT be the one to do the monitoring, lest they suddenly want to respond. Could you have the emails bypass your inbox and forward somewhere specific, and then get some level-headed relative or friend to monitor the emails?
posted by salvia at 5:47 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing restraining order. Or, if you truly have no intention of involving the police (which I repeat, is by far the best idea), a very large, aggressive male dropping by his house & explaining he needs to make himself scarce. (That's got some potential downsides, but males telling males in unmistakable terms can be ...useful.)

Do NOT open the door on a conversation. Crazy people are just that: Crazy. (And his behavior, alcoholicly motivated or not, qualifies him for that category.) Predicting possible reactions to your actions is useless, since he is not operating on the same standard or sanity as you are.

>>Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?

I just about shook my fist at the screen when I read that idea. DO. NOT. ENGAGE. Speaking to him in any way, for any reason, amounts to opening the door on further conversation. You do not want this to drag on, which it will, if he thinks he can engage you in any way. It encourages further contact because, regardless of what you actually say to him, you are rewarding his bad behavior by reacting to him.

The guy is scary & I'm going to repeat myself and everyone else again & say, APPLY FOR A RESTRAINING ORDER. Even if you are turned down for this, it will put it on record that there is a potential problem between you two, which will come in very handy if things go wahooni-shaped.
posted by Ys at 6:03 PM on March 4, 2010

Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?


I don't want to have any association with him at all now.

posted by flabdablet at 6:18 PM on March 4, 2010

Agree with not answering his e-mail. This guy is out of control.
It would seem to be a good idea to print out all the weird/bad stuff he has sent you and take it to your local sheriff's office. These officials study behavior and will understand the best steps for you to take.
Also agree that better home security would be appropriate: deadbolts, secure window lock,etc. If you live in a house you can purchase strong lights with sensors that light up when anyone comes near. And a yappy dog is one of the best burglar alarms there is. Also inquire about any women's self defense classes in your area. Many are free. It is important not to let him affect your life by being afraid. The above things will enable you to feel empowered.
It is sad one who had so much potential has chosen his path. But, although he is drowning at least you will not be sucked down with him. You are in my prayers tonight.
posted by srbrunson at 7:24 PM on March 4, 2010

Set up an email filter that automatically deletes his emails (or, if you want to save them for evidence, forwards them first to an account you won't check unless you need the evidence).

Block him on Facebook.

Program your phone so that when he calls, his number's ringtone is set to silent. Or consider changing your number.

Don't respond to him in any way, except to get a restraining order if he finds a way around all that.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:21 PM on March 4, 2010

Should I write back to him and apologize in the hopes of placating him?


Bad man. Ignore.

posted by General Tonic at 6:44 AM on March 5, 2010

Everyone is right, you need to protect yourself from this person. I suggest looking into Al-anon for support from people who understand how to deal with drunks and addicts.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:47 AM on March 5, 2010

He's formed a dysfunctional relationship with you that you need to break off, not just for your sake (although it's completely justifiable for you to do so just for your sake; calling you a "hellish whore" has to be some kind of event horizon for unacceptability), but for his, since he seems to be focusing on you at least part of the time instead of his own shit. End it permanently, end it cleanly, and if he tries to contact you or interfere in your life in the future in any way, shape or form, document, document, and then document some more.

Also tell your mutual friends what has been going on, and don't feel like you have to hold back details; direct quotes will go a long way. Some of them may not want to believe you or think that you're in some sort of tug-of-war with Jack. You don't need to keep it up, though; tell them once, and if they accept it or at least acknowledge that you're relaying actual and true information, great. If not, then that's their choice, too. Silence and keeping secrets about someone's sick behavior is part of the dysfunction.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:01 AM on March 5, 2010

follow-up from the OP
Thanks to you all for the excellent advice. I did not write back and have not heard from him any further. blazingunicorn was right, he switched his attentions to my skeptical friend afterward. He flew to the country where she lives and she told me he's covered in self-inflicted wounds, and that he's cut off one of his toes. The second night there he drank an entire bottle of whiskey and passed out on her roof. My friend is not skeptical any more. The Gift of Fear was a great recommendation and the advice from it worked, so far. If he tries to contact me again I will not respond.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on March 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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