Monday, January 10, 2011

Pulling a Pam

I want to know if you can 
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.

That’s my favorite line from a poem called The Invitation. A dear friend of mine gave me a copy of it once when I really needed it. The entire poem is really beautiful, and as a recovering co-dependent, the lines above especially stuck with me.

You know that episode of The Office when the gang is at Poor Richard’s bar and Pam confesses to Roy that she kissed Jim. That was the episode when Pam decided she was going to start being more honest and being more true to herself. Before building up to the big confession to Roy (and his subsequent smashing of glasses and tables), she started by telling the bartender that he got her order wrong. See, the old Pam would’ve just walked away with the wrong order and not said a word. But the new Pam politely told the bartender that one of those beers was supposed to be a light. The bartender said no problem, and Pam walked away happy with the beer she wanted. And you can tell she was pleased with herself and wondered why she never had the courage to do that before.

I used to be like old Pam. Oh, I talked a big game, though. So big, in fact, that my former co-workers called me LB3, which stood for Littlest Biggest Ball Buster. Busting balls and calling people out on their shit at work was easy, so the nickname was well-deserved. But in my personal life, I was the exact opposite. I was a pleaser.

At one time, in the not-so-distant past, my happiness depended entirely on whether the people I loved were happy, and I didn’t even know it. Without realizing what I was doing, I made their happiness my responsibility, and I allowed myself to be ruled by unrealistic obligations and bottomless needs. I made major life decisions, small dinner decisions, and everything in between, based on what they wanted. I managed to convince myself that’s what I wanted too.

I just couldn’t bear the thought of someone I cared about being unhappy, especially when there was something I could do to fix it and make them love me. Especially when the repercussions of not fixing it meant potential punishment, usually in the form of mean words, the dreaded silent treatment, or that infamous look of contempt that could shrink me down to nothing in a heartbeat. Or worse yet, what if they left me, stopped loving me, if I didn’t do what they wanted.

I could rationalize any sacrifice, making it seem small and not that big of a deal. And usually, that truly was the case. Most of the time, it really only took a small gesture on my part to make it all better. Most of the time. And they usually didn’t even need to ask to me to do it. All they had to do was express a need or desire, and I would instantly swoop in and save the day, red cape and all. We didn’t need to go where I wanted to go for dinner. We didn’t to spend time with my friends. I didn’t need that money if they needed it more.
In fact, I could convince myself that I had no needs at all. My only need was to please others so I could be deemed lovable. Anything to avoid abandonment. And I felt smaller and smaller every day.

I had filled my life with people who expected, often demanded, this behavior from me, who took advantage of my need for love and acceptance. I believed them when they said their conditional love was unconditional, mostly because they really believed it. “If you really loved me, you would ____Wow, I was such a sucker for that one.

Then something changed, a change I can’t really describe yet. I “pulled a Pam” and just decided one day to start being more honest and tell people what I want. It’s like I discovered an inner wisdom that was always there, just below the surface, and it finally bubbled up. I began to speak my Truth. It started with “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” Whoa. And even though it wasn’t easy, I just couldn’t stop once I started. 

“I’m not moving back to Michigan.” That one surprised even me. Of course I would move back to Michigan after my divorce. That was the plan. My ex was the reason I moved to California in the first place, so why would I stay if we were splitting up? I had started looking at apartments back home online. I even talked to my boss about relocating. But then all of the sudden, California seemed more like my home and moving back was the last thing I wanted to do. It’s amazing how the universe works. After I found the strength to make the declaration that I wanted to stay, Matt and I started dating and realized we were as perfect for each other as two people can possibly be.

“I don’t want Chinese food for dinner.” You get the point.

These Truths disappointed some people, “disappointed” being a grotesque understatement in some cases. They told me I was selfish and cold. They called a bitch. They accused me of betrayal and abandonment. I learned the hard way that people who really capable of loving you won’t ask you to do something that causes you pain.  

It’s like mustering up all your courage to face any fear, like finally getting on a roller coaster. You get the courage to go on the ride once and you realize you actually can do it. Then it gets a little easier every time. Speaking your Truth works the same way – it’s scary, but it gets easier once you realize that people actually will be okay even when they don’t get what they want. They’ll act like they won’t be okay, they’ll try to convince you they won’t be okay, but they will be.

“Melissa, So-And-So is not going to like this, and there’s nothing you can do to make them like it... and that’s just going to have to be okay.” Being a recovering codependent, that little mental mantra gets repeated a lot.

With your Truth comes freedom. A sweet and terrifying freedom that allows you to let go of unhealthy obligations and unrealistic expectations and start focusing on yourself for a change. And maybe that is a little selfish, but I believe it’s the healthy kind. It’s the kind I hope to role model for my child so he will have the courage to speak his Truth, too. Even it means disappointing me. I want my child to be his own person.*

I still refer to The Invitation poem often when I need inspiration, when the path of least resistance is tempting. The familiar path of putting my own needs aside once again. The path of giving in, avoiding conflict and greasing the squeaky wheel because it’s just easier. The path that leads to resentment and feeling small again. I have since given the poem to a few other friends, and I hope you find inspiration and strength in it as well.

I’m not saying do whatever you want when you want and screw everyone else. That’s not the case at all. You do stuff you don’t want to do all the time because you love your partner, your parents, your friends, and of course, your children. That’s part of any healthy relationship. But if you’re constantly putting other people’s needs before your own, if you can’t be happy unless everyone else is, that’s not healthy either. Especially if you do it mostly out of fear of repercussions if you don’t, it’s definitely not healthy.

People will accuse you of betraying them. Over the years, they have mastered incredible Jedi mind tricks to make you think you’re the selfish one if you won’t let them be selfish with your life. They actually believe you’re the selfish one. You’re not going to make them see what they’re doing. When you hold up the mirror to prove their manipulative ways, they will only see themselves as victims. So you will just have to let them think that you betrayed them, let them be unhappy with you. It’s not easy to know that someone you care about thinks that about you, but love them anyway and protect yourself no matter how loudly they accuse. Speak your Truth with love. Be happy even if they are not. Remember that no one will be true to your soul but you.

If this post made you ponder and reflect, please share it. Post it on Facebook or Twitter, or send a link to a friend. Most likely, someone you know is also codependent, and maybe after reading this they will finally grant themselves permission to stop making everyone else happy. What blessings have you found from learning to speak your Truth? Please share your thoughts and insights below so we can learn from and be inspired by each other.

*Note: My reference to our unborn child as “he” shouldn’t get anyone too excited. We still don’t know LBK’s gender. I just don’t want to refer to our baby as IT, and saying “he/she” and “his/her” all time gets too difficult. Saying “he” or “she” sometimes is just easier.

Just some of the great things that have happened to me because I followed my heart and spoke my Truth.