I recently committed to a much needed break to refocus my energy inward.
I’ve forgotten how to matter when I’m not trying to save the universe. There have been mental and emotional red flags, and I have responded to them with “pause.” My good friends and family have been taken hostage, on more than 42 occasions, as I’ve thrown up my hands and vowed to be “done” with the non-profit, and life-sucking vampires, and everything else that has made it impossible to breathe.
Done with all the people – with “helping” everyone who asks. Done with not actually being done with any of it. It’s been like a drug – the validation that accompanies feeling needed instead of like a total failure if I can’t just save the whole world real quick.
There have been clear signs I’ve been headed for burnout, but I’ve shrugged them off, because I’m basically better than Jesus. Adding my own “selfish” needs to the bottom of my to-do list, I have often crawled to the phone or the rescue to save the day. There are far too many people suffering to take a day off. Whatever will the world do without my “selfless” assistance?
Many years ago, thanks to some personal inventory, I learned my desire to “help” everyone is anything but selfless. My motivation – however well-intentioned – is usually based in fear.
For as long as I can remember, my days have been consumed with a hustle for worth. I’ve been compelled to claim my seat at the table, earn my existence, and prove that I have every right to be here. I have made a job of keeping you fascinated by how useful I can be… so you don’t leave. If I can only prove to you every day that I’m worthy of time, attention and love, maybe I can be.
One of the many symptoms of a trauma history is the ability to transform into whomever and whatever people need or want me to be – whatever people believe I am or could be. As a child, the word “potential” was a tight rope.
This “flexibility” served me well during all the years I needed to blend in. Blending in is quite important when standing out is risky. I have (and still can), become absolutely anything, everything, and nothing at all – as needed. I can feel my way around any room and know instantly who I must be to survive every interaction with an impressive ease. I can weave my way through a crowd and leave everyone with whatever impression I think they may want.
Ability (and willingness) to acknowledge and accept these truths about myself has not been easy or painless. The process has taken up a lot of time, money, and emotional real estate. I have struggled with how to swallow these things without poison — without deciding they’re just more evidence that I’m a fraud.
When your main source of esteem is based in how other people perceive you, it’s helpful to lay down a foundation of one-way mirrors. When your foundation is paved with one way mirrors, it’s important to tread lightly. I think this ought to be etched one day into the stone above my rotting corpse.
Awareness can be an invaluable catalyst for change, but it can also serve as an antagonist. “It is what it is.” “It’s not my fault that I’m like this.” And it isn’t. I did not ask to be born into chaos. I did not get a say at five months when my name and circumstances changed. I did not choose to be adopted into a family that would first break and then branch off into another that would inevitably break me. I did not sign up for any of these things.
During absurd amounts of therapy, I have learned of all the incredibly wonderful ways my brain has adjusted to protect me from the trauma I have experienced. For years, the ability to check out from reality was vital to my sanity and survival, and then – once it became unnecessary – it seems my brain adapted again to excuse and justify more acceptable ways to disappear — like human service.
People close to me have been concerned for some time, and I have done my best to convince myself they just don’t understand and push them away. True friends have stayed the course; listening as I’ve justified relationships with people who “love” me only when I have something they want or need. Because I have no idea how to accept love unconditionally. I am not comfortable with the idea of being loved simply because I am lovable. I have years of evidence to confirm that I’m not.
So, I accept the role of “helper,” no matter the cost, and I pretend there is no end or limit to my abilities. And even when my end is reached, I punch holes in the bottom and dig further; desperate to keep the sinking ship afloat.
I have been gifted much clarity recently; regarding how often I have made some really horrible decisions. I’ve been careless with my emotional attachments to the wrong kind of people, and – in turn – have neglected myself and others in the process. Out of fear I’m currently working through, I have knowingly given too much to people I knew could or would never acknowledge limits I’ve been too afraid to set.
Sustaining these relationships – refusing to admit defeat – has been a driving force in my recovery. I’m just now realizing how deeply I have been wired and programmed to believe that giving of myself is the only way not to lose what I have. These planted seeds, however (perhaps) well-intentioned, have sprouted weeds – weeds I mistook for flowers – so I watered them.
It’s time to do some digging. It’s time to understand the consequence of changing these behaviors is happiness and contentment. It’s time to do whatever it takes to get comfortable with the idea of being loved just because I’m lovable. It’s time for me to fight for myself in all the ways I wish someone had years ago. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and truly honor “I am.” as a full sentence, and care for myself without condition.
It’s time I concede that it doesn’t really matter if everyone thinks I’m a great person if I believe I’m a piece of shit. And it doesn’t really matter if everyone thinks I’m a piece of shit if I believe I’m a great person.
What doesn’t break you doesn’t always make you stronger. Sometimes it just calls attention to the fact that you’re not as fragile as you fear.