Somebody recently asked how I got out of that horrible habit of The Shoulds.
The short answer is that I went to AA and got sober. The longer answer follows.
I got grateful.
I recently read that some study advises counting your blessings before you go to sleep. It concluded that your sleep would improve, and you'd wake up happier than if you'd gone to sleep thinking about your problems.
On my way home from work today I was feeling a little glum. Cloudy afternoon, tired and sore leg, end of the month chores coming up tomorrow at work. That kind of glum. On my way into the house from the car, hobbling slowly and carefully, having left my crutches in the car so I could carry three days' worth of mail inside, I was staring at the ground and thinking, "This is what it will be like when I am decrepit, and have to pick my way carefully all the time."
The flipside is that that slow progress gave me more time to observe, once I picked up my face and looked, the particular light in the sky at that time, in this season, on this day that will never be again. There is no rush except that which I impose upon myself.
At any given moment, I've learned that I can come up with a lengthy gratitude list. Here's one off the top of my head:
- I'm grateful that I'm sober.
- I'm grateful that, so far as I know, everybody I love is reasonably healthy.
- I'm grateful that I can see to write this.
- I'm grateful that my knee is healing.
- I'm grateful that I have friends with whom I laugh. A lot.
- I'm grateful that I'm not twenty-five, or forty, or even fifty; I wouldn't go back for anything.
- I'm grateful that Husband is not here right now and I have this quiet time.
- I'm grateful that Husband will come home.
- I'm grateful that I have the plants inside from the porch and the patio for the winter.
- I'm grateful that I have enough food, comfortable shoes, good pillows on the bed.
Once I start this kind of thing, I kind of lose sight of all the stuff that was making me feel bad.
I've learned to identify the real problem.
I don't have to win every argument.
I learned to honor my feelings and to know that I have choices.
I'm not that important.
I learned to say "I want to" instead of "I have to."
While I wended my way to the house tonight, the dogs were barking and jumping at the door and I didn't know how I would do with the stairs to the porch. Since I hurt my knee until this evening, Husband has been right here to stand in front of me as a brace. The problem was impatience. There's a way to do almost anything I want to do, and I wanted to get into the house. Fortunately now my leg has healed enough that if I take the time to balance my considerable weight I can do a few stairs.
If I did not get onto the porch and get to the door to let the dogs out, neither the dogs nor I would die.
(On Monday evening, I was in the throes of the sudden injury, but I could crawl. And did.)
Thank God for not having to argue with people! I recently read somebody's blog post about a half hour argument she had had with a friend over chasing down bargains at various supermarkets. The friend does that; the blogger does not. Why in the world would somebody waste a half hour of her life arguing about such a thing? What difference does it make where or how somebody else shops? It amazes me now that I used to have just such arguments. And I held resentments for long long times if I hadn't pummeled my companion into conceding my point of view. I know now why I did that. It was that I needed everybody to agree with me because I feared being wrong. In so many areas, wrong is relative. Right for me might be wrong for you. Right for you might be wrong for me.
Learning to honor my own feelings brought me a little way to seeing that it's okay for other people to feel defeated and sad and thorny. It is not a terrible threatening horror to feel lonely or afraid or sad or glum or angry. I remember my sponsor leaving quickly after a meeting, telling some people who wanted her to stay and chat, "I feel mean and miserable today." I watched in awe as she walked away and the others chuckled and went back to their conversation. People feel what they feel. And feelings, while very real, aren't facts.
What still gets me rolling is hearing constant complaining. Some folks' constant seeking for reasons to feel angry and miserable still makes me tired. I try far too hard sometimes to point out the silver linings among other people's clouds. It annoys me that people seem to look so hard for reasons to be unhappy. Life's too short. So . . . I still suffer from wanting to make people see my point of view, and that's useless. Sometimes people need to feel unhappy for a while. It is the valley that makes the mountain high. (I found that quote online a couple of days ago and neglected to note the author, so if somebody can enlighten me, I would be . . . grateful.) Why do I want people to stop complaining? Fear, I guess. Oscar Wilde said, "The basis of optimism is sheer terror." If I stop counting those blessings and looking for those silver linings for too long, I will stop seeing them, just as I conveniently do not see particles of dust on my baseboards, but to worse effect.
It was a major major deal for me to realize that people had topics, other than June, to discuss. If I didn't make supper and went to bed early, my husband would not spend his evening hours thinking of divorce but might actually enjoy having the alone time that I so enjoy. I have responsibilities and I honor them, but if I am sick enough to stay home from work, (a) my coworkers will not spend every spare moment talking about what a slacker I am, and (b) the work gets done. I learned that I could choose to ignore Eleanor Roosevelt's advice that I must do the thing that I am afraid to do. For a while. Until I am ready. And if I truly need to do it I will become ready.
The continuing joyful wonder is that since I have choices and I'm not that important, I don't need to carry around a lot of anger that I am oh so put upon and cheated . . . by others, by Life, by whatever bogeyman I used to pick out to be mad at.
One Saturday morning a couple of years ago (when I was still firmly planted in my fluffy pink cloud of new sobriety), Husband was sitting with hands clenched, looking grim. I asked him what was the matter and he said, "I have so much that I have to do this weekend, and there isn't enough time to do it!"
I smiled, and said, "There's enough time."
I stood smiling until he looked up at me.
"There is, isn't there?" he said.