Friday, May 7, 2010

Continuing Evolution

I don't know if it's just that I was the most screwed up person on the face of the planet, or (as I prefer to think about it) that I simply refuse to live my life in pain, but my shrink and I are working on yet another chapter of really hard stuff that I'm sharing in the hope that (1) it may help you; and (2) it may help me to verbalize it.

Therapy, when it's productive, is incredibly difficult. It is a process that has change as it's goal. And as I learned from reading Plato, there's a moment in all change when you no longer are what you were before but you're not yet what you are becoming -- a moment in which you are nothing, and it's terrifying. But holding onto the old isn't working for me, and trying to jump ahead of change just makes you back-slide. So I have to slog through the mud of my emotional make-up to make any real progress.

What I've learned is that I'm not taking very good care of myself, and there's a big part of myself that's very angry about it. I'm much better than I used to be; I'm not afraid of feeling abandoned. But I'm not happy. I'm so busy worrying about making everybody else happy that I'm losing track of myself and what matters to me. And that's not okay.

There are enough realistic ways in which I have to worry about other people to have gotten me into this deep hole I'm in. I have funders who have to be kept happy, and some require a fair amount of care and maintenance. I have business relationships -- here, again, I tend to worry more about keeping them happy than they seem to worry about keeping me happy, but we're a small organization, and I feel more vulnerable than they do, I think. And then there are the patients and caregivers who call needing our help. My job is not just to solve their legal problem; it's to make them feel heard, respected, cared for, important. That's part of why I'm really good at what I do; there's nothing clinical about the relationships I have with my clients, even when the relationship is one phone call or one series of emails. I'm committed to making sure they feel they were heard, even if I can't fix things for them.

But then there are other things. For example, there are a couple of business "ventures" that I brought to a partner that we've been working on together. I think they're blowing them and I have felt TOTALLY responsible for it. First, it makes me look bad when we miss every deadline by a month, and when we don't address the other party's concerns. But what was really interesting was that when I talked to my supposed partner's top dog, he said none of this means anything to him because it's not going to bring in any money, and all he cares about now is bringing in money so he can get his cause off the ground. He talked to me like my contribution was meaningless -- while I've been eating my guts inside out trying to keep things on track.

And so it dawned on me (with a little help from my shrink) that letting go of the whole thing -- letting them sink or swim, as they choose -- is the only thing that makes sense. I'm making myself sick worrying over something that doesn't even matter to them! I'm feeling like it's my job to keep things moving when, in fact, it's really not -- I've done my share of the work already, and if they don't care, why do I care so much on their behalf?

Lesson: Letting things go doesn't mean losing control; it means taking control over what matters to me and what doesn't. Letting someone else dictate my agenda and refusing to let things go is losing control, so for a control freak like me, letting go IS AND MUST BE control itself. By giving up control over the uncontrollable, I am taking back control over my life. And if that means that a business "venture" fails, then so be it. It wasn't a business venture for me or for Advocacy for Patients; it was for them, and if they don't care, then why should I?

I pretty well lost it before I figured this out and things clicked in my crazy head. I still feel anxious; I don't like not knowing the status of things, not being in the loop, even if the loop is a failing one. But I don't feel sick with angst over something that, in the end, has little if any meaning. Indeed, stepping back means that, if the whole thing falls apart, it won't be my fault. So there's a real benefit to letting go of a sinking ship when you're the only one bailing water and everyone else is working on their suntan. Just let the ship go and swim ashore, and let the rest of them do the same. In the end, it may even all surprise me and work out. But either way, it wasn't worth what I was putting myself through, who I was being, how I was feeling and sounding and acting.

This is baby steps kind of change. You don't make fundamental changes at age 52.83 easily, without having to reinforce new knowledge, new ways of being and acting over and over. I figured out what to do in one situation. That doesn't mean the next situation will be easy. But hopefully, in time, it will get easier and easier to take care of me. Because in the end, I'm the one to whom I have first and foremost responsibility. Jennifer

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