By Kairis Joy Colter Burt
I’ve been thinking a lot in the last year about the role of faith, hope, and trust in my life; and how I apply those elements to relationships. It seems there is an unspoken agreement that whichever person has the most of any of the three, has the job of holding space for everyone else’s emotional balance; By default ability, they take the lead in any personal interaction. In other words, if I feel the most hope for a poor situation, everyone involved has permission to ride my hope through to the end. In my mind, it allows emotional reserves to be recharged and preserved for future challenges. It distributes the pressures of life evenly so that no one person is always drained. Everyone gets to have needs. Everyone gets to be needed. I believed in my rules. They made sense and were fair. I expected my world to function perfectly because of them.
What happens, you ask, when someone doesn’t play by “my rules”? Well in the beginning it just seems like a coincidence. (Wow, how funny! My number got called to solve a problem twice in a row. What are the odds? ) I continue along in the relationship as though all is well until I recognize a pattern: the people who ask the most often for a ride through life seem to be the same folks who never have anything to put back into my emotional tank. It can get worse. They can start to believe they are entitled. Then, it moves into the realm of tragic! I start to believe it too. Empty, drained and tired, suddenly I am no longer able to function properly… if at all. Guilt may have even entered into the equation and kept me from being around healthy individuals who could actually help me recharge, and would do so willingly. If you’re smart, it doesn’t happen to you that way, or if it does, its only once. If you’re like me it becomes a lifetime habit, not easily broken.
Two years ago I went to an “emotional repair shop”. It was a 12-step program called Al Anon for family members and friends of alcoholics addressing their own addiction to saving the world, namely co-dependence. My ‘qualifiers’ were an alcoholic ex-husband, and the now deceased grandmother who had battled with alcohol addiction before I was ever born. The primary symptom of this disease is enabling. There are only two reasons I went to Al Anon (which I had never even heard of before). One, because it was free. Two, so I could have something to tell those people who knew me well enough and loved me honestly enough to say, “You are tripping! These things only grow worse.” Or asked incredibly annoying questions like, “What’s your plan?”
The class literally changed my life! Initially I thought this was a strange group of people whose mission in life was to forever hang on to their “Woe is me” status, wearing ‘social misfit’ as a badge of honor. As it turned out they were actually people with the same habits I had. The only difference was they recognized it and were doing something about it. They were working their steps and walking in recovery and I was still an approval addict. You have to understand: the idea of all my best answers being the source of the problem was not very easy to accept. The problem people in my life weren’t my problem? WHAT? But I had invested so much into their outcomes! Never mind that it never seemed to solve the problem, be enough, or even make them like me. This was my life’s purpose! Had I misused my time and energy? Had I allowed broken people to break me down? Was my entire search for value in righting the wrongs of my world been a waste? Hadn’t I earned some level of success? What about what I wanted? How do I get my me back?! The very first step in my recovery is admitting I am powerless over the choices and decisions of others and that my attempt to make anyone else change had allowed my own life to become unmanageable.
Please excuse me while I step into the next room and collapse into a melted heap of sobbing mess...
Ok, I’m back.
A powerless control freak is not as oxymoronic as it superficially seems. Is it not powerlessness that drives the control freakiness in the first place? I’m learning that it is. I also learned that you don’t get to finish step one, take a test and graduate. It becomes a way of life in which you are constantly tested.
What does this newfound perspective look like in my life currently? I have begun to release loved ones to their own consequences. I used to try to figure out how to get them to drink. Now I recognize it may not always be my job to lead the horse to water. I had been trying to force good outcomes in the lives of those who were most signifcant in my life. Realizing my overzealous volunteer work was beyond my abilities, I had to fire myself. It cost me two longterm relationships. But the loss was actually my gain: my sanity. Who knew? Along with minding only my business came the pressure of having to explain the changes to my former, self-imposed responsibilities. I can no longer operate in the comfortable but painful, enabling yet unhappy, interactive ways of the past. It felt risky! But it got easier with time (of which there seems to be a whole lot more now that I am not solely responsible for solving the issues of the universe). The reactions varied. Some people kept it pushing and didn’t miss a beat. Me not providing transportation, arranging housing for out-of-town guests, paying for and cooking the holiday dinner meant they figured it out for themselves or found somewhere else to be. Either way, the world didn’t end. It was almost insulting that I was not as critical to their existence as I had believed! Others simply respected me for my decisions and applauded me for my strength. In-laws respected relationship status changes. Distant relatives stopped asking for loans. The children, wanting to keep them, cleaned up after their own pets. And yes, there are those who become angry with me allowing them the dignity of their choices. They looked for ways to hurt consciously and unconsciously. They tried guilt, ugly words, barter, manipulation, compromise, stonewalling, gossip, bullying, lies. They were convinced the emotional violence was justified. To say it was hard to deal with the escalations at their peak is an understatement. One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do was call the police on the man I loved… In class we learn that what they really are, is scared. Suddenly they are responsible for their own lives and accountable for their own decisions. This knowledge doesn’t stop their attacks from being hurtful. But it does allow you not to take it personally, and forgive more easily. The more they spiral into negative behavior the more it validates the changes you have long needed to make. By then you have enough hope, faith, and trust to weather your own storms. And you have some in reserve to hold for them, until they come with their own. The most beautiful part of all is that you know they will… just like you did.
B.L.O.G Magazine Contributor and Co-Editor
At 40-something Kairis is a divorced, single Mother of three biological children, and three more born in her heart, preschool to college aged. She’s a Labor Coach, a professional birth Doula who approaches the world from that viewpoint; holding your hand, reminding you to relax, breathe, trusting God with your purpose, no matter what your situation is giving birth to. She’s a volunteer teacher for homeless women, a project manager for a pregnant teen mentoring program, on two non-profit Boards, and a praise dancer. She also has a passion for natural beauty; a self-proclaimed, self employed natural hair artist, escaping only to coach laboring women at whatever hour a baby decides to enter the world. Doulas, like Brides of Christ, are on-call 24/7.