Some may call this an epiphany, and they may be right. Who am I to argue?
I was having an emotionally heated conversation with a loved one today and I blurted out this sentence, “Everyone always expects me to give! Give, give, give and give! All the time!” (Okay, so I was having an argument with someone I love, and groping for words to explain how I felt at the deepest level and this is what came out.)
At that moment, I understood what was happening. Instead of choosing to continue fighting, I let my loved one take me in his arms. I was waging an old battle, one that was not only with him but with my past and with me.
So, I found myself back at a calmer place. After the conversation was over I settled down to work on my writing platform (a task I’ve undertaken this month as part of my “figuring out who I am as an author” with helpful advice from Writer’s Digest and Robert Lee Brewer’s Editor’s blog, “The 2015 October Platform Challenge”) and I thought back to that heated, emotional moment.
What I realize now is I have a lot of work yet to do toward being at peace with my past. Obviously there are some things that still gnaw at me, like a quiet cancer, eating away at the cells of my healthy relationships and self-esteem. I also have a lot more to learn about boundaries, setting limits for myself and to others, accepting myself and others, and being me despite what anyone else thinks or feels about the matter.
The moment of clarity showed me that I have struggled with this dynamic since I was a child. My parents were the first “takers” in my life, instead of being the nurturing caregivers they were supposed to be. I took care of their physical, mental, and emotional needs from as early as I can remember. I took responsibility for getting my mother up and off to work, packing her or dad’s lunch, getting dinner started, washing dishes and laundry, making sure my sister was okay and getting her fed, getting her and myself to and from school, and helping her with chores and homework. I listened to my mom or dad when they had a gripe about the other, or about someone else, and offered my undivided attention and support. I let my sister crawl into bed with me every night of our childhood, even when she had her own room, to help her feel safe and alleviate her fears. When my parents argued, I held her in my arms while she cried. No one did this for me.
Since I was so good at this role, I took it up with other people as I grew older, such as my ex-husbands, friends, bosses, co-workers, and my children. Meanwhile, as I was doing my duty as a wife, mother, friend, or employee, I felt obligated to make sure everyone was cared for before my needs were met. It was, after all, a trait I learned at an early age. What I have failed to realize over the years is how intense my resentment becomes when others do not reciprocate to my specific needs—even when I tell them with great specificity what it is I need in exact terms. I keep hoping they will remember what I said, or harken back to what they did before that made me feel so cherished and appreciated and loved, and finding myself so mad I could spit nails because they completely ignored me or forgot about me. For example, I know my mom and sister forget my birthday every year, and I tell myself every year that it does not really matter. However, it does matter. When they forget about me or my kids, and don’t place value and importance on our relationship, my old wounds only fester. The same thing happens when my mom or sister promise to do something with me or for me and then they back out. It’s typical and to be expected, but my heart gets broken anyway.
Furthermore, I find myself hurt deeply when I am being treated by some people as though I have acted in a selfish manner for taking care of myself and doing what I need to do for me. They disapprove of a decision or set of decisions I made and never fail to remind me of how I messed everything up in their eyes. No matter how much I tried to do the “right” thing by them, or someone they love, if I decide to act in a manner with which they disagree because it either, 1) embarrasses them; 2) angers them; or 3) hurts them, then I become the bad guy. Anytime I put myself before others I get this kind of backlash.
Well, I’m tired of feeling guilty for taking care of Kim. No one else has, so why is it wrong when I do it? It’s not wrong, but I have allowed too many people to expect nothing less than my complete devotion to their cause, comfort and happiness and neglected my own far too long. There have been too many “takers” in my life and a woefully absent supply of “givers.”
I guess this is where I have to enact change for myself and as they say, let the chips fall where they may. This is where I have to be the person I needed when I was growing up—my own mother, father, and role model. This is where, as my friend Peggy used to say, “You have to learn to mother yourself.” Although I have started mothering myself here and there along the way over the years, I have not given myself permission to step out of the “giver” role and be a person who receives–not often enough, anyway.
I believe in giving of ourselves to the best of our ability. When we can, we ought to be there for others, no doubt.
Take being a mother, for example. As a mother, it was my JOB to give to my children everything I could give to them—my time, attention, love, acceptance, guidance, and so much more. A parent/child relationship is supposed to be lopsided. Children must be cared for and put first by their parents as much as possible.
Another example of giving more than taking is marriage. Yes, we should have balance, but sometimes our partner is unable to give as much at a particular moment because of good reasons. Sometimes they are sick, or hurt, or they are unable to do more because they are pushed beyond their limits by a demanding schedule, job or family member. Sometimes our partner is suffering a season of loss, where they have lost important people from his or her life, or they have had to change jobs, or they’ve been diagnosed with a disease that takes a lot of energy to manage. I’ve heard it said that marriage is 50/50. I believe marriage is 100/100. With my track record, some may scoff at my opinion on what it takes to have a strong marriage. Let them laugh and belittle. If I have learned anything from all of my mistakes it is this: we are never to give up on our spouse, nor are we to hold back our love, support and time.
But when we are empty, dragging around seeking nourishment from those who can and will only take from us, then we risk losing who we are meant to be—and that is someone more than a caretaker and a person who gives at his or her own expense and well-being. We risk losing that spark. You know…the one that shines from within on your passion. When we give from an empty cup, we no longer recognize ourselves in the mirror. At first glance, our reflection seems the same, but when we look closely, we see sadness and defeat in the dark circles around our eyes. There is nothing more demoralizing and deflating than looking at yourself in the mirror and wondering where you went.
We each have a purpose. I know my purpose is not just giving of myself to care for people I love. As a mother, I have had to put my children first to help them grow, feel safe, learn and become independent adults and now it is my job to love and support them without interfering with their lives as competent young men and women. As a wife, I committed my love, care, time, attention, help and comfort to my husband. As an employee, I am bound to do my job to the best of my ability and when I cannot, be honest about that. As a friend, I cannot expect people to be my friend if I am only thinking of my needs and desires. As a daughter and sister, it is my duty to love and honor my family, to let them know they are important to me by checking in with them on a regular basis.
However, those relationships do not exist in a vacuum and neither are they to be one-sided. I have needs and desires, too. I am also meant to have a voice, to write, and to be creative. That person, the one with a voice, the one who needs to create, has been squelched for far too long. I’ve let the criticism of people I loved determine my course and veered too far off my road to my own dreams. It’s time for a change.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be someone who gives, but with limits. I could not imagine myself as someone who mostly takes from others. I’m content to give what I can to those who matter, and to give of myself to me and to what matters to me as a woman and a creative soul. For those who don’t have a clue, they won’t understand. That is no longer my problem.
October 8, 2015