Before I started drinking and using, before my mom’s drinking had become the huge issue it turned out to be, before I fell in love with addict after addict I was emotionally bound to others. It is appropriate as a baby, as a child. We learn to smile by being smiled at, how to laugh by finding things funny, to cry with a sad face in front of us. We become social by socializing ourselves to the people and situations around us. But at some point we are intended to explore and become familiar with our own feelings, from the inside out. It took years in recovery for me to find that ability.
Growing up I learned to give up at games so that others would not experience the pain of losing, to behave in impeccable ways so that no one would have to be angry with or critical of me, do well in school so that others would only feel positive about me and so on. As my mom’s drinking increased I attempted to be the best Junior Mom I could be, taking on her household duties, so she wouldn’t find life so stressful. If life weren’t so stressful she wouldn’t have to drink.
In doing these things I gave up a chance to find out who I was. I was busy adapting to what I thought others needed. At what would have been the correct age to “try on” other ways of acting; I pruned myself to suit others. My heightened abilities to conform to others’ needs had demolished my ability to discover my own.
Something in this process of being there for others had gone wrong. The real me had gotten lost. I was stuck somewhere in wanting to feel and do for others; monitoring their feelings and adapting to them before I could manage my own needs and wants. With the onset of active alcoholism in the home, financial insecurity, an often absent father and frequent moves; this tendency had become a habit and this habit had grown into a defense.
I felt responsible for the behavior of my siblings, for the cleanliness of our home, the status of our finances, and the condition of my mom. And I was nine. Yes, I took this on when I was nine- at the birth of my brother and the decline of my mother’s health and her descent into the disease. I was a very good learner and I took these skills perfected in the home into school, into my friendships and maintained them later in my own family.
At thirteen I started drinking and using and while I still got home in time to make dinner and do the housekeeping and my homework, I got loaded nearly everyday as soon I could manage it.
I pleased my friends by being loaded with them; I pleased my family by going home to take care of the basic feeding and tending obligations. In the process I continued to obliterate my feelings.
Years came and went. I moved deeply into my own addiction and the disease became my boss. I took basic care of my children but catered to my boyfriends, to those around me so that I could indulge my disease of “more”; more drugs, more booze, more sex, more acceptance, MORE. Until I couldn’t do that anymore. I had my first spiritual experience. I got sober.
If only quitting drugs and alcohol had brought an end to otheration! It did not. I was still consumed with how others felt about me. No matter what they advised in the rooms of recovery; “What others think of you is none of your business”, I felt as if I were hard wired to check in with others to see how I felt. Was I accepted? Was as I doing good? I felt guilty when saying “no”. I was unable to tolerate anger or disappointment from others. My tendency to feel what others felt – my innate sense of empathy – would overwhelm my internal wisdom and have me choose what would please others rather than pleasing myself.
“To thine own self be true” is written on our medallions and printed on posters. I wanted to be true to myself, but I had no clue who I was. In fact, as I developed a sense of what I preferred I would feel frustrated and anxious. I didn’t know how to communicate it. I struggled between being obnoxiously self-indulgent and giving in to others in order not to lose favor. Later I would manipulate situations so that I could get what I wanted. I was unable to be direct. There was so much to learn and so much to investigate.
The good news is that the steps that helped me get clean and sober were also the steps to finding myself and letting go of otheration. I was able to learn, a bit at a time, who I was inside, what my choices were, what my responsibilities were, what I caused, what I controlled, what I could “cure”. The truth was that I could control very little in my own life and none in the life of others. I can witness. I cannot manage. I can choose how I will respond, and what I share and how I take care of myself.
With recovery, with the steps and (in my case) with yoga I am learning the art of non-attachment. I am learning to let go of what others think, feel or do. I am learning acceptance: observe what it is that people are doing, listen to what they are saying and then let go. Choose. Choose for myself and learn to be true to that; one day at a time.