I am a classic Adult Child. I need to please everybody, and my self-worth is measured by my ability to make everybody happy/calm/sober/sane. Between my alcoholic dad and my depressed nonfunctional mom, I was the adult of the family. I spent a lot of time being quiet, being good, being busy, being helpful growing up, but it didn’t make a dent in my parents’ behavior. All it did was make me wonder why they didn’t love me enough to see how hard I was working to make them happy– which then, of course, made me both more depressed and more determined to be better, smarter, nicer, more. (And really, really, angry. But it took me years to figure that part out.) I tried to take care of my younger brother, and mothered/smothered him right into resentment, which is only now beginning to heal. I tried to take care of my mother, but those attempts bounced off the teflon shield of her narcissism. And I tried to please my dad– though this, in part, was “rewarded,” and kept me coming back for more.
None of this helps me have healthy relationships. I am the best, most caring, most sympathetic friend ever, until you don’t reciprocate in a perceived hour of need, when I, exhausted, heart-hurt, depressed and angry, will lash out at you in a sobbing, choking, waterfall of grief and accusation. I am the ideal employee, until the father-figure mentor falls short of my expectations in some way, at which point I will cease to give a shit and start self-sabotaging. I work myself into the grave, then get exhausted, manic/depressed, and start messing stuff up, all the while lacking perspective because I was trying to be perfect and denying that I was falling short. I’m the best boss– always available to help you sort a situation out, giving credit where credit is due, and being truly constructive with my criticism– until I fall apart and am utterly unavailable to you. And I am a pretty good wife, mothering, cleaning up, nudging along, until I get pissed off at whatever it is that I’m annoyed by, because isn’t it enough that I work, and do the shopping, and do the cooking, and do the family organizing, do I have to do everything? All of these traps are hard to avoid, and keeping out of them is as much work as remembering to take my pills every day. That’s why practicing the fine art of Letting Go has been so crucial to keeping my sanity.
Before I met the Better Half, long before my bipolar II diagnosis, it would be safe to say that I was a Serious Person, well on my way to being a Bitter Bitch. I was a prime candidate for a Sense of Humor Transplant. But the Better Half made me laugh, makes me laugh, helped me rediscover my laugh and my sense of humor. And the joy that he brings me every day allows me to lighten up, to realize that my house doesn’t have to be perfect, to let the dishes sit another day, and to air my grievances in a way that will not win me Battleaxe of the Year. It’s still a struggle– decades of being a Control Freak are not easy to let go, and a little bit of perfectionism is OK. But maintaining the balance? Oof. Letting go of getting it right, and just practicing, even if I never make perfect– that’s what’s needed.
Also posted at Real Mental.