Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.
H. Jackson Brown
I’ve been thinking a lot about time now that I’m almost 39 (on Sept. 10th). When this quote came up on my wallpaper changer, I thought it expressed something I desperately needed to hear. Lots of these people did not hit their full potential until later in life. I have been told since kindergarten that I haven’t been “working up to my full potential,” mostly because my ADD was not diagnosed, and I had a hard time focusing on the tasks right in front of me. Then, in middle school, trauma added to regular ADD to make thinking about my home life 20 times more than I could ever focus on homework, unless I was trying to impress a girl. I got way better grades on their homework than I did on my own… a cautionary tale that would follow me my whole life. I could handle other people’s problems better than I could focus on my own… getting their lives together in a matter of minutes while my own languished behind.
I think that’s why I have been so selfishly inward at this time in my life, because I am tired of trying to make everyone else happy without realizing that I am wasting my own emotional toolbox, because I am directing it it outward without applying everything I’ve learned to, well, me.
If I am going to realize the dreams I have for myself, this must be the case. I cannot bring “my stuff” into the “swimsuit competition” of ordination. I have to resolve it so that I am not directing other people’s problems with what I would do, but able to listen without waiting to talk, waiting to pass judgment, waiting to deal with their problems swiftly and easily, when that is generally not what people want or need. They just want to be heard. This realization hit me over the head, and I realized that I did not have to internalize other people’s problems, I only had to step away and look with clinical separation… in short… Boundaries. Get some.
Pastors are generally called in during the worst times in people’s lives, because that is when they need pastoral care the most. I will never make a good one if I become those problems, taking them on and walking around in them as if they are my own. I know from my past that it interrupts my thought process and my dreams… because while I have never been a pastor, I have been that friend/girlfriend… giving them everything they didn’t need instead of everything they did. In some sense, you’re allowed to walk around in your friends’ problems, because they agree to walk in yours. But is it particularly helpful? You cannot pour from an empty cup, and dealing with others’ problems, no matter how close they are to you, is an easy way to start giving from nothing. Healthy reactions are built on the knowledge that self-preservation is what allows you to keep giving, day by day. Unhealthy reactions are built on allowing yourself to be “emotionally vampired,” and most of the time it happens organically, because you care about them so much that you allow it. Your emotional life is built on what you will allow. Life starts to make sense when you realize you cannot allow other people to drain you and still keep giving at the same time, because again, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
It is not even sane or reasonable to allow yourself to “emotionally vampire” other people because they’re doing the same to you. It just invites co-dependence, so that you are no longer responsible for your own well-being. Relationships are an interdependence, whereas both people have to remain strong for themselves, allowing verbal processing, but not making it where I worry more about your pain because you’re worrying about mine. That experience is hard won, and you can take it to the bank and cash it.
…because if you cannot stand on your own two feet, it bleeds into other areas of your life, particularly if you are in a profession that invites other people to open up to you because they see you as a “safe space.” You cannot have that co-dependence with everyone who walks into your office. Not only is it not healthy, but a power imbalance that is not easily broken, and completely and totally inappropriate.
I process in order to find out who I am, so that by the time I am ordained, I am secure in myself so that “crazy spatter” is limited to my own head and not imposed on others. It’s been a good decision, because the only thing over which I have absolute control are my own actions/reactions and responses. The difference between the two is time. A reaction is knee-jerk. A response is thoughtful, and requires craft.
I think all the time about what might have happened with Kathleen and Dana had I been willing to respond rather than react. It’s the same with close friends, but even more so with intimate relationships because with both women, I wanted to spend my life with them. Who enters into a marriage thinking it’s going to end? If you do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a lot of ways, I should have thought about that before I married Dana, because she was convinced from our first date on that I would leave her… and nothin’ says lovin’ like we’re just going to break up, anyway. I’ve used that line before, and it is still just as true now as the first time I thought it. My relationship with Dana was everything I thought it would be and more, both of us willing to forgive an enormous amount of shit in the name of supporting each other through our trials and tribulations. I don’t know why Argo was different, but she was. Perhaps by that time, we both realized what a shitshow our relationship had become, because we were both hiding behind enormous masks of funny… resentment and anger boiling under the surface, but never bubbling up to the top so we could deal with it together. But it wasn’t always like that. We were a team right up until we weren’t.
Argo hit the nail on the head when she said, “you guys have taken care of each other over the years… this implosion is not good.” No. No, it wasn’t. I have realized over time that falling in love with Argo’s mind was not an action, but a reaction to all the loneliness and sadness I felt over the implosion, because it was an injection of dopamine at a time when I desperately needed to feel good about myself. Argo is so incredibly brilliant logically that it took me away from Dana’s depression and her unwillingness to pull herself out of it. I realized that I could not be responsible for her happiness, only she could do that. I begged her parents to help me, and it worked for a time, but the limitation of them being in DC and us being in Houston could only do so much. If Argo had anything to do with our breakup, it wasn’t the way I felt about her so much as the fact that she helped me see all the pieces on the chessboard instead of always trying to play White.
I should have played Black more. I should have listened more and talked less. I should have kept forgiving over and over, rather than being offended, angry, and resentful… because sometimes it is better to take one for the team instead of being right and alone. It might have kept the emotional swings at bay…. or maybe not. Perhaps our relationship had run its course, and it took stepping away to see it, because there is only so much you can do to pull others out of their depression when you don’t know what to do about your own. That problem might have resolved itself if we’d both learned to deal with anger appropriately.
But we didn’t.
I have talked over and over about the bait-and-switch Dana began to levy at me once Argo came into our lives, because all of the sudden, we couldn’t fight and forgive regarding our own problems without Dana making it all about how she thought I was on my way out the door. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but it was her reality, and I should have paid more attention to it rather than being lost in my own thoughts.
There are plenty of reasons I was mired in that relationship, but I should have been able to step away with some clinical separation rather than taking on Argo’s problems as my own. However, it is less regret and more realizing with the passage of time all I could have done that I didn’t and forgiving myself for it so that it doesn’t happen again.
Because there are things now that I will not allow.