Life is. . .
What would your answer be? When I was younger, I would have said ‘Hopeful’. I knew where I wanted my life to go. I worked hard. I pushed and pulled and squeezed my life to fit into the perfect wife and mother category.
Then a few years later I would have said “hard, chaotic, exhausting”, because my life was not cooperating. I had a son who was an addict.
The “hard, chaotic, exhausting” part of life, I eventually realized, was the part where I tried to control people. It was most noticeable when dealing with an addict because they are unpredictable and chaotic, but I soon realized that any time I tried to control others, life got harder. Controlling others is not a skill set, a technique, or Pavlovian conditioning. Quite simply, it is impossible.
When I finally realized that I can only control myself, life improved. I learned to go with the flow when other people’s behavior wasn’t what I envisioned. I created boundaries to protect myself when the flow of someone else’s life started to infringe on mine. Through this, I gained peace. So did my family. No one likes to be controlled or treated like a child (not even children). My relationship with my loved ones became peaceful too.
I see other people making themselves crazy trying to control others and wish there was a way to make them understand the futility. But they probably must learn it for themselves like I did.
Even more frustrating is when people tell me that I need to control, others. For example…
A relative’s girlfriend is pregnant.
- Others say, “Are they getting married, they need to get married. You need to explain….”
- No, not my business.
A relative went into rehab and asked me to help find someone to clean his apartment before he gets out.
- Others say, “His son should do it, he owes it to him. His ex-wife should do it! You need to call them and make them understand it’s their responsibility…”
- No, I told him I’ll find someone, and he will pay me back. I’m not going to try to force others to do something they don’t want to do and clean up a mess they didn’t make.
The rehab unit won’t give out his information.
- Others say, “You need to find out how we can reach him. He needs to talk to us about his situation.”
- No, we know he’s safe and he’s working on recovery. He doesn’t need to talk to anyone till he’s ready to.
A relative has Alzheimer’s.
- Others say, “You need to care for him. You owe it to him. He will hate going into a facility.”
- No, I have other family members who need me too. In a facility, he gets the 24/7 care he requires and we can all visit and make sure he’s not lonely.
Another relative is elderly and lonely living alone.
- Others say, “You need to let her move in with you. Then she won’t be lonely.”
- No, I will visit. I will call. I will take her to dinner. I will take her to doctor’s appointments. The rest of you need to step up and do the same.
To be honest, sometimes my subconscious is the “others” that tell me things I need to do. I can be my own nemesis, using guilt and shame to push myself into unhealthy behaviors.
But with all these situations happening right now in my life. Can you imagine the level of stress and exhaustion I would have if I took on all the responsibilities that “others” or my guilt tells me are mine? I would be so burned out and exhausted that I wouldn’t be helpful to anyone. I’ve learned that I must set boundaries and take care of myself so that I can be a resource – not a savior.
If I am rested, relaxed, and taking care of my needs then I am free to be available to everyone that needs me. But I cannot fix, control, or save any one person, and certainly not all of them.
I am thankful every day for the lessons I learned while dealing with my troubled AS. The lessons of detachment, codependency and self-care are life lessons, not just lessons for moms of addicts.
Here’s the important thing. I’ve led a fairly boring life. I don’t do drugs, break the law, abuse any substances, or pick fights. I’ve spent years in therapy trying to figure out my hang-ups and emotional baggage. Predictably, being a boring, strait-laced person, I have very few crises in my life.
But a lot of people I love live in crisis mode, and they want me to enter their crisis with them. They have a catastrophe looming on the horizon and all I have is a to-do list with exercises, laundry, and cooking. Their life is in shambles so I should drop my to-do list and help them.
Sometimes I say, “yes” and dive in to offer support and hard work. But other days I say, “I’m really sorry but I have a busy day and I can’t.” Because I have the right to enjoy the stress-free life I’ve created. Don’t get me wrong, I help, A LOT. I’m there for the people I love, but when it starts to overwhelm me and I feel unhappy and anxious, I stop and call a time-out. This is a hard boundary for me, when helping others starts to take its toll on me, it’s time to take care of myself. It can be as simple as doing my laundry, cooking a good meal, enjoying some downtime, and recharging. Or it might be a vacation, or a week with no responsibilities, except to myself and my husband.
I try very hard not to feel guilty about it (that’s where boundaries, therapy, Al-anon, TAM, and codependency books come in.) Sometimes I’m blissfully guilt-free and other times I struggle. But It’s a skill I’m nurturing.
As best I can, I make time for my health, my relationship with my husband, my hobbies, and my grandkids. It’s hard sometimes, but I would call life right now “Amazing” and that’s only because of the lessons I learned during the hardest days of my life.