A couple of interesting things are going on in my mind lately.
One of them is that I have felt different for the last three days. I don’t know why. I wasn’t aware of much different over the weekend. I was sick on Monday—it was Teacher’s Day in Country X and some of the kids said nice things to me on Facebook. C did not say anything nice to me, but I remembered she did last year and that this day represented some degree of loss and longing. She was close to IT Ma’am who went to Australia the year before last and hasn’t come back yet. It seems as though this year, they have lost touch. Now, IT Ma’am had a baby in the fall—that might be the reason. But she’s also easily offended and punitive. A kind and authentic sort of person, who doesn’t gossip, doesn’t lie and I trust in a lot of ways. However, if C doesn’t receive her phone calls, she’s pissed. And she also kind of keeps it safe with C, doesn’t show vulnerability with her, actually is not real. On one occasion, she complained to me that they basically have the same conversation and it’s boring. Didn’t cross her mind that it might not be boring for C, and that being remembered and thought of might mean something to C, even if all they ever say is I’m fine, my family is fine. She doesn’t express her anger very much, but it might come back in ways like you didn’t take my call, so I won’t call again.
Anyway, on Teacher’s Day, C may feel that. I was aware of missing C and of generally missing my Y-town students, missing the predictableness of the program even though a lot of it is so predictable it is boring.
Tuesday, I was back at school again, feeling quite normal, which is nice. Except all day, I knew I was bunged up inside. I knew I was numbing my feelings. I knew my heart was all clenched up with longing, and I was numbing it to get by.
Today is Wednesday, and I am not numbing as much, but I am some. Some of that longing is still there.
I don’t know what’s going on with me, why the trigger is more intense lately, what set that off, what the longing is for or about. I don’t feel I have any solid information about my emotional state. It does feel like if I had a chance to relax, I would just cry. The loss just feels so great, but I don’t know what loss I am thinking about.
The other thought on my mind lately has been that the worst has already happened for me. I was reading a book by Brene Brown: Daring Greatly. There was a passage in it about a man she interviewed in her research whose wife had died in a car accident. He said before then, he had kind of always held his breath, not really been willing emotionally to risk fully engaging in life, because he felt he might lose it. There is no logical connection in that, but you might know what he means or have done it. Kind of like this is so great I don’t want to jinx it by enjoying it too much.
The thing is Nata died. The worst has already happened for me. I lost the person who meant everything to me. And for me I think it kind of means I know what it really feel like to lose the person you love. When someone is really important to us, we do sense our vulnerability. The thought of everything that could happen to them does run through our minds. Brene Brown interviewed parents, and many of them mentioned moments when something special happens with that child and they tap into that feeling of how wonderful and precious their child is, and what runs through their heads are visions of their children having horrible accidents or suddenly falling deathly ill.
But I know very intimately what something like that might feel. I’m extending myself into the world carefully these days, forming connections, letting C and other people become important to me. And I know exactly how it feels to lose someone who is genuinely significant to me. It’s deathly. Nata died and it was like dying inside.
In the past, I think I have tried to cope with this by never being vulnerable again, by trying to maintain certainty that it can’t happen, it won’t happen. They can’t die. Well, murder is unlikely, but people do die. I know how it feels when someone important to you dies. I know how it would feel if C died. It would feel like there was no point in life anymore. It would feel like the pain of this is so great, I can’t risk feeling anything, and the lights would pretty much go out in my life. No matter how great my coping skills got, it would still feel that way for a while.
Because it does. It absolutely does feel overwhelmingly terrible when a child or a parent or a significant other dies.
And I’m risking that. I know how it feels, and I’m risking it anyway.
I’m doing it, to some extent, because that keeps Nata alive for me. That keeps Nata inside me. Understanding how the value she placed on my life and my future made a difference for me is communicated to me for the benefit of myself through the value I place on the life and the future of another child who has been traumatized and needs help just like I did. It’s like telling myself I know you’re a mess in some ways. I know you have all kinds of pain inside. I know relationships are hard for you. I know you have all of these problems with regulation and it makes it hard to even think straight, but you’re worth caring about. You aren’t a hopeless case. No one makes a sacrifice for someone who has no hope of being a decent future anyway.
Just like those things are communicated through my actions of taking care of a child with all of the same issues. It’s like saying, I know this was worthwhile, I know I matter, and I know it was worth doing. I know it so clearly I am willing to do the same thing.
I know I was worth it.
It’s hard to stay with that, partly because I feel so vulnerable in doing that. I don’t have any interest in being a martyr. I don’t want to put others before myself. I don’t think sacrificing your needs makes you a better person.
At the same time, I have this profound sense I ought to be doing something else. It makes me feel, in a way, that I have the wrong priorities. I ought to want different things. I could want achievements. I could want relationships. But this is about my relationship with myself. I take care of C in part because it improves my relationship with myself. I can’t explain this adequately. I end up feeling I am talking in circles. How is this different from being enmeshed? How is this different from getting a sense of self-worth by taking care of someone else rather than yourself?
I don’t know the answer. I know there are guidelines that are important.
Am I using other people as objects in order to meet my goals? Or am I treating the people who support me through what I’m doing as people with their own inner lives, who have their own priorities and goals they might prefer to attend to? Do I interact with people as individuals who have a value all their own, or do I consider them as sources of a service I need?
When I need help am I grateful?
Do I use aggression, emotional blackmail, the threat of my dysregulation or anything else coercive to get what I want? Or do I allow people the freedom to make choices?
People in codependent relationships, perhaps—this is my thought—don’t observe these guidelines. They use various kinds of aggression and coercion to get what they need from others, just as the person they are involved with coerces them. I don’t think codependence is about lack of a focus on the self. It’s about how much aggression and force are used to manage the relationship, in place of cooperation and trust. The partner seeking help is usually responding to the coercion: I feel like I have to help my partner, because otherwise my partner does things that make me lose my shit, and I feel coerced into over-extending myself.