— Chinua Achebe: No Longer at Ease
This is going to maybe be longer than usual- and I know, I’m usually pretty wordy. But I am going to break this down into process-able chunks. More for me than you.
There are a lot of things that I used to write about openly. I used to do this, really, without thought for how it might make others feel. I did so, in the name of transparency, in the name of a shamelessness that frankly- was never mine to disavow.
If you haven’t noticed, shame’s not really my thing.
But you cannot force others to be as you are. Ever. I know the state of the world makes it seem that way, often. I know there are a lot of people who confuse simply allowing others to exist with being as they are- even though all it is: is allowing people to fucking exist. Not really our permission to grant, yet loads of people think that it is. It ain’t. And it’s not our place to try to force somebody to be as openly brazen as we are if they’re just not.
But I tried because it was an issue deeply entwined with my own. I tried because- and I am recognizing lately how disgusting that is as I watch things unfold: the impact of that situation on me. How it made me feel.
That is not altruism and it is not love. That is egoism.
I reign myself in a lot because it’s one of the areas I felt were problematic about my own behavior. There is an odd irony to this: in order to remove yourself from egoism and kind of center those bits of your brainpan in balance- you have to focus on your part in it. Maybe it’s just me thinking that’s smirkingly hilarious, I don’t know. It’s like deeply wanting detachment, right? Give that one a minute.
I’d be the last person in the world to tell you I’ve got this on lock down. I decidedly do not. Thing is, sometimes, how it made you feel- is its own very important animal.
Where You Begin, Where I End?
This concept isn’t particularly difficult for me to get my head around in activism. Yes, it does piss me off and upset me for others when they are wronged. But exactly how hurtful and asinine would it be for me to claim I had some right to the same level of hurt and anger as they do?
I mean, seriously.
In relationships, this is harder. It’s harder because when they’re done correctly: this is a person- or people, however you define your relationships, you build and share life with. Possibly a home. Maybe a family- however you define that one, also. You band together for life and against it, you all hold up the rooftree together in the ways you do. So when they’re hurting, it’s so easy to feel you’re taking on that pain as your own.
Relationships are seldom the touted 50/50. They morph and change as needs morph and change. I long ago accepted that because the truth is, nobody can be 100% all the time. Sometimes, you just don’t have it in you to even be 10% and this should be okay. In the context of home, in the context of family, this is the point- no one should ever feel like they’re carrying the load alone.
We talk about emotional labor, we talk about whatever- but essentially, that boils down to: the goal, in any family situation, regardless of how you define it and all the details is, not facing the world alone. Creating safety, stability, and a place of love, of comfort for one another. No longer about just you.
It is easy to imagine that you feel their pain as keenly as they carry it: but you don’t. Your perspective, however, it probably different from one who’s never seen someone hurt by things that just don’t make any damn sense- it’s valid, but it’s not the same as theirs. Often, because of your relationship, you’ll carry that pain to another degree- but no matter how close you are, you don’t feel it as they do.
The answer to that one’s “Two ears, one mouth”- listen twice, speak once. I find that’s actually kinda the answer to a lot.
Shared Joys, Shared Tears
I can’t remember who said it but someone once said and I am paraphrasing because I can’t remember the exact quote but someone once said something like “Shared joys increased, shared sorrows decrease”. I think that is very true.
Last night I had a friend just listen to me rant. Or rather, she just read it. I apologized because I had launched into that shit without thinking. I try not to do that, but find myself still doing it sometimes- particularly now. I cannot overstate how important this kind of thing truly is- even if you don’t know what to say. Nor can I ever overstate that I recognize 100% that this is some emotional heavy lifting- being the listener. Being the “being there.” God, I got hit with waves of all sorts of feelings because for a long time, it was my dog that held that role. I don’t want to talk about that, now. I’ll just say it matters, it matters a lot to be the listener and it, too, is work. I respect and honor that a lot more than I can articulate properly.
For a year or so after I moved here: I was incredibly lonely and I was incredibly lonely because addiction is an asshole that will steal everything you love. Recovery is the choice- not addiction- and recovery isn’t an easy choice. It’s one of those facing-really-shitty-things-realizing a hard path is ahead-but loss is the only end to the one your on choices. I am not really one of the 12 Steppers for a lot of reasons but there’s damn good reason you don’t sponsor til that bronze chip for a year. There’s equally good reason you shouldn’t sponsor a spouse or a partner.
Counselors aren’t supposed to see their spouses or partners as patients. Shrinks do not do that. There’s good reason for that, too.
Finding objectivity in that situation- the situation where the joys, the pain and everything in between is shared: dude, go look for a unicorn. You’ll find it faster.
Messing it up doesn’t mean you’ve ended it, until you have and even then, love still finds a way of having transforming you. It’s the ultimate alchemy- you can be thoughtful, selfless, you can be thoughtless and callous, you can be loving and nurturing- you can be abusive and shitty: no matter what manifests of it, it manifests change.
After the first years, after the addiction had been mostly moved through by way of my making a very conscious choice in understanding- all I could do was either be there, or be something lost. The thing about being the partner of an addict, no matter how intimately you “get it”- you’re a lifeguard, now. One of the first things you learn in lifeguard training is: you never, ever try to swim out to someone struggling. Not without floatation. They will drag you down with them. That doesn’t mean you don’t do your job- but judgement is key.
I have seen some infuriating enabling.
I have seen some things I’ve had to really struggle not to take action on, to resist urges of jumping in- my mouth isn’t always the best at this one. But it’s a near constant battle to remind yourself: the enablers choose to enable but they’re not responsible for this person’s addiction.
God, that shit pisses me off, too.
Watching his mother struggle through cancer, seeing her in so much pain, seeing her suffer- I also see his suffering. Intimately. I see the impact it has. My head ticks on back to other things, too, though. More often than not all I can think is: how fucking dare you rest the bulk of this on his shoulders?! Isn’t it hard enough for them- he and his brothers? You knew what was going on when they were younger, too- yet you allowed it. You know what his being around those pills does, you know how much stress this is, how much it hurts- yet you stand here and you tell me how uncomfortable it makes you?
I offered to help and support because in taking a step back, I thought, you know, it’s overwhelming for everyone- especially his mother. I snapped, last night, though.
Because ultimately, what I was told was: I’m uncomfortable with this, I love her and she is in pain and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. By somebody in a much, much better position to offer more help than we can.
I am not objective in this at all, but I am the most objective one- and I am the most objective one because I do not have decades of shared joys, mistakes, pains, struggles and victories on this one. But I am not objective. I do, however, understand being so overwhelmed you don’t know what to do.
I missed a final assignment and a final exam in a class I was already struggling with last night. Changes- understandable changes of heart and mind, my god, so understandable: I was furious about. I was an asshole for surface leveling it- because I know it’s not that I am furious about at all- that is understandable. It’s the uncertainty, it’s the feeling of running at over 100%- it’s the fact that I’d missed my submission deadlines by just a few hours because my kids were bickering. It’s the fact that I’ve been trying so hard to adjust to going from a one kiddo household to three and I don’t know if I can make this up- which might get me thrown out of school. I was terrified to get back in and terrified I couldn’t make the cut, intimidated this whole time but trying because there just has to be something better.
These kids are my responsibility and their shoulders should never, ever bear adult burdens- yet: they have. More circumstance than willful- my eldest should be able to focus on preparing for college, enjoying his last summer of this stage of his life. He’s already gone above and beyond in helping care for his own grandmother until she died- his stepmother also had breast cancer with a little one about Fish’s age to care for and my eldest stepped in for that, too. My middle child has just lost his father. My 5 year old is a 5 year old and he wants to run amuck, to play with bugs and be a 5 year old. He constantly asks about death because for the past two years- we’ve been confronted with it so constantly, he can’t be shielded from it. He often asks if his papa hates him, because he is gone more than he is here. I do my best to explain, to help him know that’s not the case.
I didn’t want to burden them with the adult responsibility of each-other, of being silent- I’ve done that off and on. I give them responsibilities appropriate to their ages, but on top of all they’ve been through: Here, take my burdens again! Be little adults! made me sick inside. But, I thought I had more time to take my test and upload my assignment: they’re usually due at midnight. For some reason, submissions closed at 4:59 with no warning whatsoever. By the time he’d gotten home from an unexpected extra 6 hours- it was too late.
I needed to cry and be alone because I was angry. I needed to cry and be held because my shoulders ache from holding this shit up alone.
I tried to explain, again, that I know if he just reached out- the others want to help. I’m not sure how it got twisted into what it did: I didn’t have a right to be upset. It was my fault.
If you’ve ever been through abuse- you know: it’s your fault has this insidious way of becoming something you have told yourself long before anybody else ever can, often when it isn’t and in no way could be. Even once you’re long out of the situation.
Except, here’s the thing- for the first time in a very, very long time I recognized that I can in fact, be understanding, compassionate and supportive while at the same time thinking: Oh no the fuck it is not my fault.
The thing of it is in a situation like this: it’s nobody’s fault. What becomes our fault, is how we react, how we engage- and how we recover from that. The thing is, you don’t fix something you broke by telling the other person you didn’t break it or how it’s prettier broken.
By way of an update- though I compulsively refreshed my email, looking for a response to an email about being able to make up for what I’d missed though I was terrified of “No”- this morning I was terrified to check. I knew, surely, somewhere I’d missed where it was said that these closed at 5- and, well, I was right. I had. I mean, the way this week’s been I would have only had one shot at it the other day: but I was so damn tired. Anyway- as is often true: you still have to own your part in the steps you take. Checked this morning and I’ve got 24 hours to do this at 75% credit. Pardon me, I’m gonna go bawl again, straighten my tiara and do this.