The Big Lie: It reared its ugly head and introduced itself to me as I was working through Step Four for the first time. There I was, writing frantically in my journal about all the things I do for others that they don’t appreciate. I made note of the imbalanced scales in my relationship with my husband, my parents, my coworkers, hell even my dog. Violins could have been playing in the background as I documented my sacrifices one by one and lamented my fate as the one remaining sane and responsible human being who had to take care of everyone else. I resented being leaned upon so heavily and yet, time after time, I volunteered for what I thought was required duty.
Fortunately, Step Four teaches us to back up and take a look at our part in resentments, and as a willing Al-Anon student, I felt obligated to follow the instructions. So I asked myself, “If you hate carrying these burdens so much, why do you do it?” I did it for them, because it was the right thing to do. Because I loved them and they needed my help. I told myself a lot of things that made me feel both good about myself, and righteous in my cause. After all, without me the universe might stop turning on its axis.
But that particular night, something snapped in me. It was one of the most powerful paradigm shifts I’ve had in this program. That particular night, I couldn’t stop asking myself why. I kept thinking that I must be creating my own monsters – monsters with insatiable needs that dragged on me constantly. It must be me, because wherever I went, they were there. So why was it the right thing to do? Why did they need my help? If I was so angry about how it made me feel, why did I keep doing all these things for other people?
Suddenly it occurred to me that I didn’t do it for them at all, I did it for me. I gave to get something in return. It wasn’t that I loved them so much that I had to save them, it was that I didn’t love me enough to exist without their approval. I played the martyr because there was a payoff for me. It gave me purpose and validation in life. I wasn’t Mother Teresa, I was seriously messed up! In fact, if I looked closely enough, I could see that I actually fed on the neediness of others in order to fulfill my need for righteous approval. How convenient that I had an alcoholic husband! What a perfect venue for me to jump in, save the world, and validate my existence on the planet.
At first this realization filled me with shame, but after a while I was able to pick it up and look it squarely in the face. I remember that night like it was yesterday, even though it was several years ago. It was the night my bubble of self-deception burst – one of them at least. Fortunately, the 12 Steps expose self-deception, identify its causes, and help me to find a healthier way to protect my fragile self-esteem. A way that does not take advantage of the weaknesses of others.
I still hear those violins playing in the background sometimes, and I still run down the long list of things I do for others without getting anything in return, but I’m learning to see the size of that list for what it is; a measure of how far I’m slipping in my program. I suppose if I get in a pinch for cash, I could sell my sad story to some country western singer, but for now, I’m happy just to practice a different approach: reaching out to others without getting anything in return. The trick is that I've got to be a much less needy monster myself to pull that off.
Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/10-11-12 @ suradom
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal