POW! KAPLOOEY! BAM! Holy transformation Batman; she’s accepting help! What next? Well folks, it was bound to happen. Or, maybe it wasn’t bound to just happen, and I can actually take some credit for working really hard at this and (for now) succeeding. Yes, I’ll claim this success; hard work got me here. I can say this for certain: small miracles have been happening daily around here and I am rejoicing. It would be foolish not to acknowledge that the transition has been in the works (lots of work) for several years now. I would be a liar if I didn’t say that in some ways it was forced on me. Life has a way of doing that. I do believe that the Universe, Life, gives us messages… But not like some great conscious thing picking me to speak to. More that Life presents lots of stuff and depending on the path you’re walking, you notice it or you don’t. Then, you do something with it or you don’t. So, while it’s taken me a long time and some dark passages (especially in the past 12 months) to work through, I think I’m finally getting it and ready for surrender.
In my defense, I didn’t get here by accident. At ten it became my roll to do much more than most 10 year olds do, to keep my family moving along. Mom became Dad, I became Mom… without the actual perks of having any real control or authority. It’s not like my siblings appreciated my promotion. They weren’t particularly happy to have me telling them what to do, nor was I happy having to do it. But at the end of the day, if the house wasn’t clean and things weren’t running smoothly, it was not pleasant. From that, I figured out quickly that it’s best to do it yourself. Gets done faster, gets done the way you want it done and, well… you don’t trust other people to do it for you, because if the buck stops with you, you can’t take chances that someone else will mess it up and you will be left responsible. And frankly, your ego begins to buy into the fact that you can just do a better job than anyone else. However, over time all of that just became a habit. A bad, unhealthy, unfulfilling, seemingly never-ending, hamster wheel of a habit.
Let’s be real here: I’m talking in the third person, but this is all about me and my own controlling ways. I’ve been working on change for a very long time… I am a lifer in the therapy, helpful books, talk, talk, talk genres. And for as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing about “detachment” and “letting go.” I could gag on how many times I’ve heard the message or had it boldly shoved in my face. Intellectually, I could always see the point; but realistically, it was still much easier to do it myself; complain about it later (hence the passive-aggressive) or let myself be exhausted and run down, but still take on more. Pile it on and forge on: pissed, tired, denying that I was either, and venting in all the wrong places. At this point, whatever the causes or reasons: for most of my life I’ve felt compelled to do it all myself. I don’t need help; don’t accept it very well and I’ve always been willing to pile on more stuff. The fact that I was spinning my own wheels too often and running my battery down constantly didn’t really add up to cause for reconsideration of said tendencies. Give me a holiday and I’d make all the dishes the group likes (from scratch), decline all offers to bring something, and try to slow my pulse as I sat down to eat. Family events, vacations, school functions, community stuff… hand in the air and volunteering before I even heard the details. Phone calls from people who need something, and I’m on board and insisting “No, really I don’t mind” even as my head fills with all the reasons why I will probably melt down in the process, even as I begin to resent each thing I take on. I smile and insist it’s ok, even as I curse it.
One of the saddest parts in all this, is how I made others feel along the way. While I was busy feeling wiped out, put out, put upon, taken advantage of, unsupported (all while cultivating these very things, all on my own… after all, why wouldn’t others ask me to do things, or presume I’m fine, when my battle cry was “I can do it!” ??)— The message to those I love, friends and family alike, was: I don’t trust you to do it. I can do it better. I don’t need you. I don’t need anything. That is what I was saying, each time I pushed the offers of help away or said “Just bring rolls,” “No, really, I’ve got it,” or the endless other control freak mantras. No one could help me because I didn’t accept any help and I consequently found more things to swallow me up because that’s what I noticed in the “Universe.” I wasn’t seeing the messages of Grace, Kindness, Love, Generosity, Humility, Detachment… because I grew up making all of that happen for myself.
So what changed? Why the surrender now? Shit, that is so complicated and so easy. Age. Life. Awareness. The love of good people. A series of really difficult, painful and ultimately life changing events, over a three year period… but particularly this past year. Hitting the proverbial bottom and then waking up. There are enough clichéd explanations to write on and on about… Wait, that would make me Nicholas Sparks and I’d be worth a fortune! Hey maybe I can re-channel all this disfunction and buy a house in Italy. (End of snarky, sarcastic rant…)
Suffice it to say, I’m waking up. However, working on detaching from outcomes is hard, seriously hard work. I’ve always held on like a dog with a bone. Need to fix it; need to have my say; need to see it turn out the way I think it should; need to get involved. Stepping back from that has been no easy task. But, I found that hitting that bottom, I had to either work on taking care of me or continue to drown slowly. Swim! Grab the life rings that were thrown. Accept help and be grateful it’s there. And slowly, over this past year, I realized that it works. Letting go makes it all a lot easier. Sitting with my Mom day after day for the past several weeks, this point has been clearer than ever. There is nothing I can do but love her and sit with her. It’s exhausting some days, and so painful. Friends called and asked to help and I’d say “We’re fine; I’ve got it… thanks.” Then one day, I hung up with one of those friends one day and realized how it must feel to her that I kept saying no, when I’ve helped her when she needed it. I called back and said, “Yes, meals would be great. Thank you so much.” Hubby has gone to Chile, I’m exhausted and overwhelmed many days and I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been to see those meals arrive. To have those days when I don’t have to think about feeding three teens and pulling myself together. I’m so grateful. Period. Grateful. I feel supported and loved and it is so good.
In fact it feels so good that I’ve turned this surrender thing on its ear and have been accepting (and even asking for) help all over the place! 1) I’ve accepted rides for my kids several times recently, when I would normally have said: “No, I can drive them; I don’t want you to put yourself out.” People want to put themselves out. They want to help and I needed the help. Win, win. 2) Big day off with a friend, to get my holiday shopping done ahead (for the first time EVER): I always drive (mostly because I hate being in the passenger seat, because I drive better than anyone.); I asked her to drive, knowing I was tired and that I could just practice some more relaxing and letting go. So ok, I did use my invisible brake a few times, but mostly I just enjoyed the company. And, bonus: I got to have a drink at dinner (ok, in case she’s reading: 2 drinks), because I wasn’t driving! 3) Thanksgiving: “Yes, I’d love it if you brought your stuffing, your spinach dish, your whatever you most like to make”… I did ask for rolls too, but only because I didn’t want to deal with getting them. Technically, that should be bonus points: accepting help and asking someone else to do something I knew I didn’t want to do. 4) I did not sit back as Hubby packed for his big trip to Chile and passive-aggressively think of all the things he wouldn’t be here to help with. (Well, ok, a little… but, BUT, I didn’t say it out loud! Bonus points right?) I said: “I need these three things done before you leave. I need your help. This is important, please don’t leave these things for me.” He got them all done before leaving, and I was so grateful.
One of the three items was to arrange for Mom’s cremation. I had the number for weeks, but could not make the call. So I asked for help, and it’s all done. I know it wasn’t easy for him either, but he did it and I was incredibly relieved. Frankly, it was clear that he was grateful too. I could see that my message of trust meant something to my husband after years of hearing me say, “I’ll do it” but then being resentful that he didn’t. Win. win. Friends drove my kids and gave me hugs. Friends helped cook for Thanksgiving and probably felt great when we all enjoyed their food alongside mine. Win. win. By the way, that is four big examples of letting go, in less than a month… In fact, in one week. Can I hear an olé, a three cheers, a woot woot, a BOOYAH! (Perhaps that throws off the humility piece, but the sound effects are fun.)
Like I said, there’s a long history of why I’ve done things this way. And the longer I did it that way the harder it was to really trust that it would be alright to let it go and just accept the outcomes. However, it’s such a relief to venture into the world of letting go and see that there is no fall. I will not fall apart, no rapid drop, and in fact things got much better. I feel supported and I then have more energy for the mountain of stuff I do have to do on my own. I’m learning that I can say to people “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time with that, but I can’t do anything,” even if I only say it in my mind sometimes. Baby steps. I’m trying to just step back and let my kids make their decisions and see the outcomes, without pushing my agenda as much. Message: I trust you to do the right thing, because I do believe all three of you are competent, intelligent, thoughtful people. I’m accepting the dinners and the rides and the words of comfort, with gratitude and humility. This (my Mom, the kids, hubby gone, the holidays, all of it) has been hard and I’m done cracking jokes and denying the help. THANK YOU FRIENDS. Thanks for calling and going to lunch with me; thanks for cooking, thanks for checking in daily, thanks for being there. Despite my black, little sarcastic heart: I am sincerely grateful and humbled by your generosity and support.
So, I surrender and I say with some degree of certainty: I think this is for real. My final answer: “Yes, thank you.” I don’t think it’s a phase, I believe the change is longterm. It would just be foolish to turn back, right? If I say what I really need and I accept help, if I let go and accept the outcomes either way, there isn’t much to be passive aggressive about either. I get the help I need, the people who care feel helpful, we’re both happy with the results… It’s a circular thing that just keeps getting better. Unless of course, some of the people offering are like me, before: offering because they just think they can fix it better than anyone else, and that while they don’t really have time, they should help. Hopefully my progress is not enabling other control freaks. Wait, not my problem… letting go of that too. This letting go thing is addictive. I may be needing some intervention of the opposite kind a year from now. I am certainly not the person I was one year ago, and who knows where all this surrender might take me. God knows, a lot can happen in one year.
What do you need to work on? Is letting go a tough gig for you too, or am I in this alone? Share your thoughts with a comment.
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