Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saving the only life I can

Like many whose nature it is to take care of others, I have an almost overwhelming need to make things 'all right' when I know a friend or relative is having problems, sometimes to the point of obsession and to the detriment of my own sleep and daily life.

I want to 'fix' it. I want to offer advice and care. I want their issues to be resolved and for them not to be troubled with whatever it is.

I've done this all my life.

Over the years I've learned to (mostly) shut up and only offer advice if I'm asked, although I still sometimes venture an opinion if I think it will be received as it was meant -- to be helpful. I don't leap in anymore (hardly ever) with my superwoman cape bearing food, money, or tangible 'help' that might ease the pain of whatever issue it is for the individual.

I am especially guilty of asking too many questions, mostly of my daughters, although I have curbed that urge significantly in the last year or two -- admittedly probably not to their satisfaction. I try not to offer unsolicited advice very often, at least.

But I have mom-radar that works overtime and picks up little things here and there that sometimes can feed my obsessive mind and fertile imagination. Sometimes I'm wrong and everything is pretty much okay. And I hate it when I'm right and things start crashing down.

I want my children (and friends) to be okay, to have lives that are satisfying and reasonably calm and with enough of everything to keep them healthy, safe, fed, clothed, warm, and housed.

But I also understand with everything in me that is rational that I cannot live their lives and make their choices for them. I must be okay with watching them fail sometimes and without trying to fix anything.

(I'll admit that both Tony and I have, in the past, 'fixed' things, at least somewhat: Made it easier to get to a goal, or offered support when maybe it would have been better to stand back, lovingly. But we've worked on reasonable boundaries for our behavior and for their expectations, and it has succeeded fairly well, although not without some occasional pain and angst on both sides.)

When someone you love makes choices that appear to be dangerous either to their health or well-being, setting boundaries becomes far more difficult, and yet even more essential.

I've invested much time and money and worry in our girls, especially as some issues have proven to be so huge and ongoing, even a matter of survival. It's taken a toll on me that I've realized more clearly in recent months, and I've been working on relinquishing control, whether by giving my opinion or taking charge of getting things done, or checking in (asking questions).

I got smacked upside the head last week, though, when I was reading through the new O Magazine issue. It was one of our recently frequent stormy, windy nights with rain and very strong gusts howling outside, and I was reading in bed, just prior to turning off the light (as I do every night).

The issue is about poetry and the importance it has for so many of us, how it's shaped our actions or given us touchstones to live by. (I've especially loved Robert Frost since I first read him so many decades ago and still can recite several, for instance. )

On this night, though, I was reading Maria Shriver's interview with poet Mary Oliver. Shriver had included her favorite of Oliver's poems, "The Journey," which I read after I'd finished the article.

And it said exactly what I've needed to hear in exactly the words that would resonate so deeply that I couldn't rationalize my behavior and feelings anymore.

I've read it every day since, (puddling up every time) repeating the last words over and over to myself: "...determined to do the only thing you could do--determined to save the only life you could save."

That would be mine.

And that's my new mantra. It's making things easier for me, actually. It's on the order of the old 12-step saying, "I am powerless over people, places and things" -- but somehow it has been especially meaningful for me right now.

There is more of my life behind me than is ahead of me. I will not abdicate that in favor of someone else's life, no matter how much I love them and want to make things better.

I still have hopes and dreams and plans to achieve for myself. And nobody else can do that for me except me. No one WILL do that for me except me. And I must allow those I care about to do the same for their own lives, regardless of what I might think about it. It is not mine to live.

So I'm finally moving ahead with my own life: taking care of me first, doing things I want to do, living more in the moment -- my moment, not someone else's moment.

And I'm keeping my head up, watching for the stars to break through the clouds. Because they will. They are.

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