In this post, I take responsibility for a choice I made two years ago.
In this post, I get humble.
Come along for the ride!
On September 28th, 2017, I wrote the following:
Last week I had the honor of celebrating 33 years of recovery with a dear family friend. I joined her at her meeting and heard her and the other honorees speak. Much of what I heard resonated with me, for while we are different ages, our vices, and their origins, are the same.
My friend has a sister, who I care a lot about. For now, let’s call her Janey. Janey, like her sister, struggles with addiction and has a high-functioning, active eating disorder. I considered telling Janey that I went to her sister’s meeting. I didn’t want her to rob me of my joy, thus marring my experience. But I did. I called her. And, surprise surprise, she couldn’t have cared less. At least that’s what her tone conveyed.
I’ll admit, I was disappointed by her reaction, but I noticed a flaw in my intentions. I wanted to gain something from her by telling her, perhaps acknowledgement, attention, or praise. I wanted an emotional reaction: gratitude, pride, and respect. But she hardly seemed to care about her own sister’s recovery. Which is…I would say shocking, but it’s not; it’s a facet of her denial of her own addiction.
Some part of me deep, DEEP down wanted her to say, “Oh! I should be in treatment.” I wanted her to think, “this is important to Bella.” I wanted to trigger an epiphany for her, which I simply cannot do. She may never accept her eating disorder, and that is beyond my control.
Janey’s a smart woman, and she knows (?) how I feel about her addiction. She likely did have the thoughts I wanted her to and just couldn’t access them out of self-protection and fear. She’s living a false existence, and I feel sorry for her.
I’ve also observed a second motive in telling Janey about the meeting…I was trying to strengthen her own relationship with her sister. I’m playing “peacemaker” again. I love my friend. And I’m so unbelievably proud of her. 33 years in recovery is astonishing. I wish her sister could experience that, but it’s not my job to force it.
Many months ago, Janey said to me, “you’re going to be recovering the rest of your life,” and just now I had a thought: “Why won’t you, Janey? Why won’t you?” I’m angry and sad and hurt. At least I stopped myself when I did, rather than mentioning my plan to go to a support group for relatives and friends of people with active addictions; the passive aggression in that comment could start a fire. There’s one victory for my boundaries.
I forgive myself for calling Janey seeking a specific reaction. I forgive myself and I work to forgive her and I must let this go. Every time I reach out symbiotically—every time I “interfere,” overshare, and beg for her attention—I’m reminded that I shouldn’t and I wind up full of guilt.
I can’t control other people’s recoveries. I can only control my own.
This lesson is taking a while to learn, but I’m learning it, and I feel today that I have some new clarity. I’m starting to distinguish healthy dialogue from symbiotic discourse. I’m observing my intentions and strengthening my boundaries. And that is a gift.
It’s December 28th, 2019, and I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned that it was and is completely inappropriate for me to take somebody else’s inventory, and that I screwed up by publishing that post.
Janey read it.
She saw right through it.
And she sent me a “scathing email.”
I use quotation marks because I found it “scathing” at the time, but today I know her response was justified. She expressed her feelings, just as I’d expressed mine.
I erred when I published “3.3 Decades.”
I neglected to consider how it would affect Janey.
I neglected to consider how it would affect our shared loved ones.
I neglected to consider the rift it might cause.
I neglected to consider I might hurt her.
I abused my blog. I took a healing tool and I used it as a weapon. I made it toxic for her.
I had a motive when I made the call that motivated that post, and I had a motive when I put the words online. I acted out of anger. And pride.
I love my recovery, but it can make me self-righteous.
It can make me prideful. It can put me on a high-horse.
My life rules.
My life is fantastic.
Everyone should live like I do, and if they don’t, they’re wrong.
Guess what, Asshole?
That is none of your business.
There’s a lot you don’t know.
My critic speaks the truth.
I need this back-and-forth to keep me in line.
Other people’s lives are none of my business.
Other people’s journeys are none of my business.
Other people’s feelings are none of my business.
Other people’s recoveries, if they choose to pursue them, are none of my business.
My life, my journey, my feelings, my recovery and my choice to pursue it – those are my business. Only those are my business.
It does not matter how close I am with a person. Their life is still their own.
I have a tendency to take responsibility for others – not knowing where they begin and I end. That said, I have struggled in relationships.*
*When it comes to my struggles, I always use the present perfect tense. This allows me to take responsibility for what I face without affirming it for my future.
I met two people last week who are dealing with trauma. I wish I could offer them a treatment plan. It hurts to watch people suffering, to watch them live in a way that seems unfulfilling. I wish I could help them, but I can’t. I have to give them the dignity of their own recoveries.
I repeat –
I have to give them the dignity of their own recovery.
To Each Their Well-Deserved Own
There’s a principle in yoga known as asteya. It translates to “non-stealing.” It’s deeper than shop-lifting. More nuanced than armed robbery. In her book Living Life in Light, yogi and healer Nathalie Croix unpacks it as follows:
Are you stealing someone else’s light by always being the one to speak? Can we practice the art of listening and give our loved ones the space to be who they wanna to be? Can we allow other people to have their own experiences without always imposing our opinions on others, because by doing so, aren’t we stealing from their own journeys of self-discovery and personal growth?Nathalie Croix
Every time I diagnose someone, even if I do it silently, I rob them of their dignity and their personal growth. I judge them. I create thoughts of judgement. I did this to Janey. And I do it to others. And that’s inappropriate. As inappropriate as my rapid weight loss.
My role is not to correct others.
It is not even to guide them.
My role is simply to witness them where they are, as they are.
[That doesn’t mean I condone their behavior – I’m allowed to end relationships and I’m allowed to set boundaries – but that’s a different post.]
Other people are simply my mirrors. When I recognize “dysfunctional behavior” in other people, it is because I recognize myself in them. I recognize some aspect of my own experience.
I can’t help but notice familiar behavior, but my observations are my observations. They are not absolute truth. I can note what I see, but then I must focus inward. I must ask myself what that triggers in me and take responsibility for my similar qualities.
I’m triggered by active eating disorders – but that’s not the fault of the other person. In fact, it’s a gift – an opportunity for inventory. My reaction to active eating disorders serves as a barometer for my own recovery. If I am easily triggered because I am vulnerable. My recovery is still new, and while strong, lacks the longevity I need to feel truly secure. And that’s my truth. That’s mine to own.
Since publishing “3.3 Decades,” I’ve begun to practice loving detachment. I always considered myself a fast learner – I guess I was wrong. I use to think detachment meant keeping my thoughts to myself – and that is one component of it. But holding onto my thoughts keeps me in a state of unrest and subtle agony.
I have no idea what is right for anybody but myself. It is presumptuous and egotistical to even think so. Yes, even thinking I know what’s best is harmful. I don’t have to voice my opinions to live in a state of self-righteousness. Even silent thoughts create expectation and resentment.
To truly detach, I have to humble myself by admitting I don’t know what is best. I have to believe that everyone lives their lives as perfectly as they can – that they have something specific to learn from their experience. And I have to give them the dignity of learning it.
If not, can I truly expect that for myself?
Thank you for reading. Here’s a virtual hug.