Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Learning To Take It In
I grew up believing that if I loved someone, I had to do whatever it took to make them happy, and if I didn’t, I risked being left behind. Being secure in a relationship meant I had to earn my place in it and prove my value. One doesn’t start off worthy, value has to be earned. I learned about conditional love, with lots of strings attached, and I bought into it lock stock and barrel. I even became quite good at it. Maybe I completely misread the message as a young girl, but that message has been the foundation of my approach to relationships for my entire life, until Alanon.
If I care about someone, I give and give and give until I feel taken advantage of, then I slip into resentment and poison the relationship until it’s no longer functional. It’s been a predictable pattern throughout my life, one that’s left me isolated for efficiency’s sake. I over-do, and then I expect my giving to result in some kind of return, something I can stockpile for later. But I know now that it’s a false expectation and the source of tremendous unmanageability in my life.
I have also struggled to accept the honest love that has been shown to me. I simply don’t know how to take it in gracefully. Maybe it’s because I am afraid that if I do let someone in, they’ll see that I’m really not all I’m cracked up to be and they’ll drop me like a hot potato. Maybe I’m suspicious of the strings that affection may come with. I fear my own limitations for giving, which leaves me reluctant to receive, and as I write this now, I can hear what a tenuous and fragile place that is to live from.
Al-Anon promised that I would learn to see love differently, and it’s taken me a long time just to get here, but I’m starting to see the shift. I’m learning that love doesn’t have to be traded like currency, with someone always keeping score. I’m learning to set healthy boundaries so that I don’t lose myself in pursuit of something I was never supposed to pay for in the first place. Boundaries are not to keep others from taking advantage of me, they are to keep me from playing the twisted game I used to (and sometimes still) engage in, the game where I try to manipulate others into loving me and thinking I’m important. I thought the boundaries were to keep others out, but they were really there to keep me focused on myself.
It is also this program that teaches me how to take love in. When I practice the Steps, my busy hands are tied behind my back, rendering me unable to manipulate and “do” for others. And when I sit in that completely uncomfortable place, unable to produce the result I need, I begin to see what love should look like, the kind of love I don’t have to pay for. Love that is simply there to soak up like the sun. It’s not currency, it is a precious gift from one human to another, and I am finally learning how to let it creep into my bones and warm me. I am learning it in Al-Anon, and it's giving me the ability to see it elsewhere as well: in the hugs we share at the end of a meeting, in the wet slobber of my dog’s kiss, and in the wink my husband gave me as we left for work this morning.
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Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/01-23-08 © rehmno