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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Making peace with The Shoulds

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.


Mary said...

Good post. You always give me lots to think about. Have a great weekend, I hope you mend quickly.

threecollie said...

You raise some food for thought indeed...and I hope your knee feels better real soon

Barb said...

Hi June, I feel a connection to your honesty and your musings. Your Eleanor Roosevelt quote and your post reminded me of this:

A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity. -Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)

Recycled Cottage & Garden said...

I always appreciate your posts, but this one really means a lot to me. As I am getting older I am realizing those same things, that I do not have to please everyone all the time or mediate to make others feel better when it probably won't make any difference. Maybe I am more selfish, but I have learned to say no more often and am much happier for it.

Wanda..... said...

These thoughts and feelings in your post and comments from others is just what other friends and I discuss...we come to the conclusion we all just get wiser with age. We live and learn!

June said...

Mary, thank you for being such a faithful commenter. It's nice for me to think of you out there in that Flat Country reading me. :-P

Threecollie, thanks. I'm almost back to abnormal already!

Barb, that is a wonderful quote. Eleanor was a wise, wise woman, not least for having dealt with difficulties...

LadyH and Wanda, thank you. Selfishness is a little bit different from finally learning to honor oneself, isn't it? What a relief to grow old enough to gain some perspective and some wisdom!

Anonymous said...

Time is like away. There are no such places. I wonder if you could turn time back where would you go? Away?

June said...

Quite an existential, thought-provoking comment, Mr. L.!

Von said...

Ah yes Life,we live and learn and who'd turn back the clock.Great post.

June said...

GooseBreeder! I'm happy to make your acquaintance. I'm reading your blog right now!

Susan said...

June, I love this post. My sister has always been argumentative and now I realize why. You touched on many things in this post that remind me of myself, or someone I love. Thank you. Susan.

June said...

Thank YOU, Susan! I am touched that you read something that resonated with you.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Beautifully expressed June. You sound like a very wise woman - who has earned the mantle of wisdom.

Thank you for commenting on my blog and following. It allowed me to find you, comment, and follow too.

June said...

Hey Bonnie, thanks. The wisdom is in there . . . not always as apparent as this post makes it sound. :-P

Joe Todd said...

Great post June. The "old gratitude list" what a great tool. Liked that quote to, will try to remember it.Hope your knee is better and I am glad to be back but I'm still playing catch up. Today I'm grateful I can walk into a container store just to look at model airplanes and take photos for a blog post.