It is easy to fall into living on auto pilot. One never knows when a life changing event will occur and old, worn-out, ways of living life might resurface. It has been interesting for me to realize that even with all the studying and therapy I have enjoyed across these many years, that my old dysfunctional behaviors want to leech into the present. About a month ago I made my usual morning wellness call to my nearly 96 year-old mother, who is legally blind, lacks much mobility in her walker, but still lived on her own. I discovered that she was too ill to call for help or even to shift the pillow under her head. She lives less than a mile away. I immediately went to her bedside and got help. There was a five day hospital stay, a surgical procedure, and according to the doctor, a very close brush with death. He thought she had only hours before succumbing had there not been medical intervention.
My sister and I dug in fast, and visited assisted living establishments. We found a roomy one bedroom apartment with a terrace in a nice facility. Over the course of several days my granddaughter, Kate, and I physically moved our mother's personal items into her new place. One of the biggest stressors, upsetting her the most, was what to do with her fourteen year-old cats, one of which is diabetic. After some sleepless nights, I realized that I could have a cattery built on my property. I would take over the cats' care. My husband, Ken, agreed to build the cattery. We soon transferred her cats to our home. I took a deep breath. I thought we had gotten her and her cats to a safe place and settled.
Immediately, however, the calls started coming in on my cell phone. I seemed to get at least one call a day where she urgently needed something. One day she called complaining about the establishment's weak coffee. I dropped everything and jumped into my car and brought her stronger coffee. I reacted like that for over a week, jump jump jumping. On another day when I thought she had finally adjusted to her new life, I went to take her to lunch only to be sat down in a chair and lectured on why she should be allowed to live independently elsewhere. It was not a very pleasant lunch.
So after weeks of sketchy sleep and an anxious stomach, I have had to almost slap myself on the side of my head to stop my "auto pilot" puppet behavior. Across the years, even with her limitations, I have supported her insistence on living independently in her two story house full of stairs. Her recent scrape with death proved that she could no longer live alone.
On a recent Sunday morning, after another comprised night's sleep, I was sipping my coffee and staring at the fire, my stomach still in knots, when I realized that I had fallen into my old survivor behavior left over from my childhood which had been less than ideal. I was trying to "fix" everything, trying to make everyone happy, so I would be safe. I had an intervention with myself. I explained to that little girl who lives inside of me that she is NOT in charge of everyone's happiness. I gave her permission to stop reacting like a puppet on a string. It is not easy to quiet her down as our mother is very unhappy and is insisting on living elsewhere independently. There is a lot of "noise" and it's hard not to react.
I have been blessed with empathy, I feel what my mother is going through, giving up her home, her beloved pets, her vision, her mobility. I feel all of that, but I must understand that I cannot fix it. We must not allow ourselves to be made to be responsible for someone else's happiness. It is hard enough to accept responsibility for our own. Of course this will all be resolved somehow. I must remember to set personal boundaries and keep my eyes open so that I do not slip into old patterns. I must not allow Donna to be a puppet on a string!
I have come to see that I have been guilty of failing to place proper boundaries around myself. I see that I have allowed another's unhappiness to affect my own, and that I have permitted the little girl inside of me to run roughshod over the adult. I am forcing myself to examine my own behavior. I must remind myself of the negative impact of allowing rigid roles from the past to dictate one's behavior. Those old roles can strangle us. I am doing better. I am setting limits even though the stress continues.
I hope that by revealing my struggle that you might heighten your awareness to some of the emotional traps that are out there, and understand that navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters of life is not always easy sailing.
I love hearing from you. My best, donna