It is pouring rain at the ski hill. Yesterday it was snowing and the conditions were glorious but today is just a few degrees warmer, which has made the difference between snow and rain. Snow builds the base and extends the season; rain exposes rocks that chew up skis. Snow is good, rain is bad, and the only difference between the two is one tiny line on the thermometer.
I am not prepared for ski season to end; it’s only been a few weeks since I got the green light to resume usual activity since gallbladder surgery. After all that down time, getting back on skis has been exhilarating. Spring can wait a little longer – I am not ready for this change. I don’t want it, don’t welcome it, and can’t stop it.
So I am snuggled here in this quiet cabin, considering the rain as a metaphor. Some things are inevitable and the only thing we can control is our own response in the midst of it all.
You know how sometimes it seems like bad things happen in clumps? I find myself in one of those mucky, yucky periods. It started at Christmas, and to my continued amazement one crappy thing after another just keeps unfolding. Have you ever experienced that? When every phone call or email seems to bring bad news from someone you care about? Those times when we tell ourselves that “bad things happen in threes”, but then hear of the fourth, fifth, eighth and eleventh bad thing? More than a few nights, the sum total of my bedtime prayers has been Seriously, God? Seriously? followed by a long quiet pause while I wait for answers and settle instead for acceptance.
Three years ago we went through one of these spells, and it was a hard time. Just one shitty thing after another for months on end. Worry, sleepless nights, drudgery of dealing with unwanted (undeserved) problems.We kept going, we got through it. I was glad to be sober, because the temptation to numb out and escape was strong. A lot of readers in early recovery worry about living without alcohol forever, but in my experience it is so much easier to just know that drinking isn’t an option. Numbing with alcohol never really did help, even though it felt like it worked at the time, and only slowed down the process of getting through the tough stuff.
Almost exactly a year ago, I was feeling really overwhelmed and dragged down by sadness because of several readers I’d been trying to help who all seemed to relapse at once. I felt like a failure, and – to be honest – a little resentful. (You can read that post here but then come back and read the rest of this post about what I have learned since!)
I confessed in that post that helping someone who ends up relapsing can feel like a sucker punch, and my subsequent resentments posed a palpable threat to my sobriety. It was a real wake up call to me that I had to examine my thinking. I felt people had taken advantage of me and wasted my time by pretending to want help while living a double life. I felt I had set them up for success and been duped. After a lot of reflection, I came to see otherwise.
Here is a lesson in codependency, people pleasing, and perfectionism: there’s a fine line between helping others and controlling their actions, and that line can separate outcomes as powerful as the one degree of difference between snow and rain.
When we offer help to others, the best we can do is hold space and provide the framework for their success regardless of whether or not they choose to do the next right thing. If someone is offered help and doesn’t make good use of it, that is their choice. It might feel like we have been taken advantage of, but it can also be viewed in the opposite way: that they chose to NOT take advantage of the opportunity provided, or maybe they wanted to but couldn’t.
Thousands of comments on this blog say sweet, kind things like, “UnPickled got me sober!” Those words always touch me deeply and affirm my effectiveness and purpose. I cherish the knowledge that my story has been helpful to others and made a pivotal difference in their lives. However, I came to see that by allowing myself to take credit for some people’s sobriety, I was also setting myself up to feel responsible for others’ setbacks. I had to reframe it to see that each person is responsible for their own outcome and the role of this blog is as a resource for insight and encouragement.
The term “holding space” is often heard in recovery circles. It means creating that safe, non-judgemental place of opportunity for another person to express themselves and heal. It also means allowing that person to proceed as they will, which is not necessarily as we might wish. “Holding space” does not come naturally to me; it is a skill I am learning. My instinct is to decide what a person “should” do and then try to coax them to my conclusion like a lawyer leading a witness. I thought this was the way to help others, and never understood it as manipulating or controlling. I surely could never sit quietly while someone spun an edited version of events or exaggerated their situation. I was the queen of correcting, arguing, setting the record straight. Okay, I still am that but I try not to be – it isn’t usually helpful. Things tend to unfold as they will regardless, so the difference is how agitated and annoying I want to make myself in the process.
I am taking that lesson I learned from the recovery world and applying it to the stuff of everyday life. This mucky murky cluster of unrelated unfortunate events that seems to hover lately will pass, and I am making it through by letting go and allowing others do as they will. I am not trying to control things that don’t belong to me, and focussing on how I respond (with kindness, patience, indifference, silence, compassion). I am trying to remember the drama triangle and assessing which corner I’m casting myself into, so that I can dismantle the tension (really helpful – go read that post if you need help with difficult people!). I am getting to yoga several times a week as a means of healthy escape, one that is good for my body. Things seem easier than they have in the past, I think these tools are helping enormously.
Rain at the ski hill sucks, but in my garden back home tomorrow I may have a whole new perspective. I’ll go hunting for spring shoots and worms. Maybe I’ll do a little spring cleaning and put my winter sweaters into storage. There’s some skirts and boots in the back of the closet I haven’t seen for a while.
I can’t stop the rain, but I can wear something cute and get ready for what comes next.