Meet Me in the Middle


 
2010 was an important year for learning for me.  Not fun, mind you, but important.  Life lessons have worked as building blocks for me, learning something about myself or a necessary skill has provided a step up to the next lesson or more detailed skill.  So I have learned that embracing what comes into my life means that I will be open, ready and willing for what follows. 

I grew up in a family where there was never any middle ground.  Ever.  With an alcoholic father and co-dependent mother, we lived in extremes.  There was either total avoidance (which really meant we were just bracing for the next blow up) or full-blown chaos. 

Conflicts were all treated the same, whether small and large, it was as if the world were ending.  Someone would yell and scream, someone got blamed, and then it was over.  There was no further discussion and this pattern seemed to preserve the right to bring up all previous mistakes in future conflicts.  As a child, this didn’t seem unusual to me, it was “normal” in our household.  You can imagine how confusing it was for me to finally realize that this was not normal in a lot of families.  Who didn’t bring up problems from 10 years ago if it was thought to be relevant now?

I spent years, decades even, using this particular set of conflict resolution skills for everything from overdrawn checks to disciplining my children.  It was difficult for me to have stability or a normal routine, because any sort of stability in my life growing up usually meant that there was an even bigger storm brewing.  Provoking situations to force chaos sooner rather than later reduced the terrible anxiety I felt about the chaos I knew would surely happen.  This is very common scenario for Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA).

So, as you can imagine, I was VERY good at creating chaos.  I thrived on chaos, I sprung into action, I solved the problem, I got things done, and I was very good as using my over developed sense of responsibility solving not only my problems, but everyone else’s as well (whether or not they wanted me to solve them).  According to the website Adult Children of Alcoholics,   “Even more self-defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable solutions.”  That was me.

For whatever reasons this past year (it could be because I turned 50, or had both kids leave the house) or just finally the realization of age, I found that operating in my extremes did not work for me anymore.  So in no particular order, here are my 5 life lessons for 2010.

Life Lesson #1 2010:  I looked at what I was doing and my responsibility in provoking the conflict in my life.  (Difficult when you’ve spent a lifetime having a victim mentality)  I did it anyway.  Taking an honest look, I realized that it probably is difficult for other people, friends, family and co-workers to translate my extreme behavior into what I think my behavior is actually conveying, which were usually two totally different things.  It sucked to look at myself and accept that.  I was totally committed to improving how I interact with the world.  I also realized, that despite my best ACOA intentions of being perfect in this process, I would fail, probably often.  What that meant was I had a few apologies to make.  Again, difficult when you’ve really perfected the art of thinking you’re never wrong.  Gulp.

Life Lesson #2 2010:  Publicly acknowledging that you are struggling doesn’t kill you or change how people think about you.  I found that when I explained to people, they very understanding, especially if I apologized at the same time.  However, I also realized that trust and friendship may have been tested and will have to be gained again.

Life Lesson #3 2010:  I learned that apologizing is not fatal.  After carefully considering the situations, I didn’t apologize for anything I didn’t feel led to.  But there were certain situations I know I needed to apologize for.  I felt better and stopped feeling guilty and tortured once I did.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally obsess over who said what and what I could have said.  But for the most part, apologizing truly helped me move on.

Life Lesson #4 2010:  I am still fighting my natural tendencies to create chaos, thinking about every situation and what may be appropriate, but chaos is happening less frequently.  I am hopeful that this continues to decrease as I become more comfortable in stable and calm situations.  I will also develop the sense to discern when a situation actually requires the use of more force or action to solve the problem.  What I’ve learned is that most situations, given a few minutes to process, can be solved with calm discussion and I just need to give myself those few minutes to see that.

Life Lesson #5 2010:  I have been working on my life and improving it for what seems like forever.  This past year I realized that I can’t get to a place and think that I can stop.  Which I did.  I was looking at this process like there was an actual destination where everything fell into place and I no longer had to work on my issues.  Ridiculous, I know.  So I have had to adjust my attitude so that I no longer made a huge effort for a short period and then stopped.  I now look at the smaller actions required daily, weekly or monthly and accept that a small effort can be important and it does count.

I’m looking forward to seeing how these life lessons continue to develop in 2011.  For as painful as learning some of these lessons has been, life on the other side of these lessons is so much better.  Growing up at any age is worth it.

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