Content Warning: This piece discusses substance abuse and death.
“You made him do it. This is all your fault. I’m 100% blaming this on you. Kill yourself.”
After Mac Miller died of an apparent drug overdose on September 7, Ariana Grande, international popstar and Miller’s ex-girlfriend, received countless hateful messages on social media, blaming her for the rapper’s death. This barrage of abuse and threats prompted Grande to disable comments on her social media.
Miller’s death is an absolute tragedy. And it’s definitely easier to blame an individual, living woman than to examine the complicated and painful reality of addiction. But Miller’s substance abuse problems began years before they ever met. And still, somehow, because she broke up with him, she’s to blame for his overdose?
Let’s get one thing straight: women are not responsible for the behavior of their exes. Even in relationships, women are not responsible for the bad behavior of their partners. Women cannot, and should not, be expected to save men from themselves.
I left my boyfriend while he was recovering from one serious surgery and awaiting another. And the guilt of doing that will never leave me. The thought of the pain that I caused him sometimes feels like a weight that will crush me if I let it.
I don’t like using the label “toxic” to describe our relationship because some parts of it were so good. He was my first in so many ways, and I cared deeply about him. But it’s not that simple.
I was with him in the hospital during his surgery. I saw him right out of the operating room, bandages over his eyes, yelling in pain. To do otherwise, to remain hundreds of miles away while his life hung in the balance, would have been unthinkable. He whispered to his mother to buy me flowers from the hospital gift shop because his surgery took place on Valentine’s Day.
But just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they’re good for you.
He suffered from severe mental health issues: diagnosed depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. He was an immigrant who constantly felt financial pressure to support his family and the social pressure of the fact that the current administration doesn’t seem to want “people like him” in our country. He dealt with intense shame.
And I was one of the only people he confided in about certain things. When the floodgates began to open, I encouraged it. I was so relieved that he was finally talking to someone, anyone, about all the burdens that he carried, and I wanted to be supportive. I promised I could handle it and encouraged him to talk to me, but in doing so, I didn’t set healthy boundaries for myself.
In fairy tale romances, the woman sacrifices everything to please the man, to win the man, to keep the man, to change him for the better. She assumes all his burdens, and she does it with a smile. And if she can do it, then why can’t I? I thought.
I found myself navigating mercurial moods, as he was easily set off by seemingly little things, quick to prejudge and assume the worst, squashing some of my enthusiasm for things I wanted to enjoy. His depression and anxiety made him paranoid, made him negative, made him lash out at me. He made me feel guilty for living my life, for having fun. Walking on eggshells became exhausting.
When I couldn’t help him cope with depressive episodes, I felt helpless. I felt like a failure for not knowing what to do or say, for not knowing how to make things work, even from hundreds of miles away. I constantly felt like I was falling short because I didn’t know how to “fix” things.
Of course, it’s much harder to live with mental illness than it is to date someone with mental illness, but therein lies the problem: the so-called hierarchy of pain. I felt as though any of my concerns or problems, with our relationship or otherwise, were less important in the face of the burdens he carried.
And we, as women, are taught to be dangerously selfless, to minimize our problems, to absorb as much as we possibly can. We’re taught to prioritize the health and safety of the men in our lives over our own, to give so much of ourselves that we become totally drained and unable to deal with our own problems.
Often during depressive episodes, he would talk about how he didn’t think things would ever get any better, how the world was against him, how he felt worthless. That kind of talk terrified me. He assured me he would never hurt himself, but the doubt was always there.
He always told me that I had to leave him the minute I was no longer happy in our relationship. So I did. It had all become too much. I was dealing with the problems of a married couple at age 20, with a man I hadn’t agreed to spend my entire life with. The negatives outweighed the positives, and I knew that the healthiest thing for me to do was to take a step back, to listen to all the times when he had told me he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but I was special, that his mental health was spiralling and he could only be responsible for himself and not for the happiness of another person. I listened to what I had known all along.
My decision may not be easy to understand. You broke up with him while he was recovering from surgery? Why didn’t you stay with him? Why weren’t you more sympathetic? You promised to take care of him, and now you’re breaking that promise because suddenly it has become too much for you? Don’t you care about him? Don’t you care at all?
I ask myself those questions all the time, even six and a half months later. Those questions will haunt me for a long time.
In response to a tweet blaming her for Miller’s DUI, Grande responded: “How absurd that you minimize female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship… I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be. I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.”
The insistence on holding women accountable for men’s actions is reflected in our society on a larger scale. Women have to stop men from hurting themselves? Women have to stop men from hurting or assaulting women? Women have to stop men from sexualizing women? Women have to dress “appropriately” to ensure men will take them seriously? No, no one is to blame for the bad or inappropriate behavior of men but the men themselves.
Blaming women for the actions of their exes means that we see them as caretakers rather than equals to their partners. And when a man breaks off an unhealthy relationship, they somehow “dodged a bullet” by escaping their “crazy ex.” The double standard is striking.
It’s incredibly painful to watch someone you love engage in self-destructive behavior. But the impetus for helping can’t be on someone else.
An addict is often powerless in the face of their own addiction, so no matter how much you may want to help them beat their addiction, you’re powerless, too. All you can do is support and listen to the person, but only they can change their behavior.
And while addiction and mental health issues are not the same, they can be comparable in certain situations in the sense that they both exercise extreme power and control over the people who suffer from them. My ex never abused substances, but he was beholden to a disease that influenced his actions.
I know my situation is not the same as Ariana Grande’s, that hers is about the most extreme example out there. But the most common cases are often the less extreme ones, like mine. We all need to be a bit more sensitive toward those who leave unhealthy relationships. If the relationship never strictly crosses the line into abuse, then we are quick to place the blame upon the person who ended it, doubting how bad it really was. We need to stop doubting women. When society doubts women, then we doubt ourselves. And then we stay in unhealthy relationships, which helps no one.
Rather than unjustly harassing Ariana Grande, we should all educate ourselves and have honest conversations about the harsh realities of substance abuse. We should publicize resources that may help people battle addiction, instead of posting nasty comments on Ariana Grande’s Instagram.