Tag Archive | emotions

Love, attachment, detachment, and letting go

I have been enjoying a day of silence and solitude today, which has not been as silent as I had hoped, but without the distractions of music, or movies, or too much talk, I have succeeded in being able to listen and hear what I have been needing to hear.  I have needed clarity on the topics of love, attachment, detachment, and letting go.  These thoughts began as a tangled ball of hurt feelings and slowly I have been untangling the ball.  As the knots loosened, I saw that the feelings had to be sorted into different piles, and each pile needed to be named and understood before I could make any true progress towards my goal, which was letting go and forgiving and loving fully.

When we think of love, most of us would be quick to agree that in order to love someone there has to be an attachment to that person.  I am very attached to my children, and I love them deeply.  Siblings, friends, spouses–those people closest to us–we generally feel that in order to love them fully we need to have an attachment to them.  I certainly thought that, and yet I have been forced to realize that the notion of attachment and love may be leaving something very important and valuable out of the mix.  This became especially clear to me as I struggled to come to terms with the Biblical command to love everyone.  Most religions and spiritual disciplines teach something similar.  We are all in this together, and love is the goal we strive to reach.

Love and attachment do coexist in many good and healthy relationships, such as the parent-child relationship, ideally anyway.  The same is true with friends, spouses, siblings, and parents.  There has to be balance in the attachment.  If we become overly attached in unhealthy ways we might become clingy, or domineering, or unable to see and appreciate the person separate from ourselves.  There are those darned boundaries again that tell us where we end and another person begins.  Boundaries are unique within each close relationship, and they shift over time.  If the relationship is a healthy one, this adjusting of boundaries happens fairly easily, as we parents adjust and step back as our children grow older.

We learn to let go and trust and have faith that we have taught our children well enough that they will flourish as adults.  The attachment to the child remains secure, but a certain detachment must come into play if we are going to be able to love them for who they are, and allow them to grow into who they are meant to become.  It is not an uncaring detachment at all, and it is not easy at the start, but it is necessary to maintain healthy boundaries and love in the relationship.  It is respect at the very core of it.  Certainly, this form of healthy attachment-detachment adjusting is far easier with those we are close to, or maybe not…

What happens when someone you love hurts you?  What happens when a marriage fails, and the divorce is nasty, and love is replaced with more undesirable emotions like anger, resentment, and even hatred. The base of all of these emotions is hurt.  How do you love a perfect stranger who has repeatedly attacked you, or someone that you love deeply but who does not show you the same respect that you show them without some overlay of hurt or bitterness to muck up each attempt at forgiveness?  How do I love someone who has wounded me in ways I never dreamed imaginable?  How do I love these people fully, like the Bible tells me to, and do it with purity and compassion.  Here is where the tangled ball unravels, and the three separate piles become more clear.  Detachment is the key to loving someone who has betrayed you, abused you, or hurt you in any form.  Detachment is not an easy place to get to, though.

When I was at the height of my cyber-bullying experience I read a lot of articles on the topic so that I could better understand it, and in order to write an article myself.  One of the best things that I read told me that, while documenting everything, to take a giant step back and to become an observer of the person harassing me.  To be an effective observer, I had to detach from my own hurt.  Once I was able to do that, I saw that the woman harassing me treated everyone the same.  She lashed out easily at anyone who had the slightest disagreement with her point of view.  She often perceived that certain comments were “calling me stupid,” when nothing even close was said.  She had a hair-trigger when it came to feeling slighted, and becoming angry and aggressive.  In short, I learned that her behavior towards me truly was nothing personal.  It was just how she viewed and attacked the world.  This information was liberating is a rather smug, “Well, she is just a miserable person…” sort of way.  I stopped observing and documenting, but I had not reached compassion, love, and forgiveness yet.

To get to that place, I had to detach even further.  I had to step so far back that I was in her shoes.  I had to look at what her life must be like, and feel like.  I had to look at who she was in a relationship with, and what she was going through with her children, and grandchild.  When I looked at her life from inside her shoes my heart hurt.  I am a mother, and I know what it feels like when there are serious issues with a child.  It is scary and it hurts like hell and you blame yourself in some way or another.  I had to look at the grandchild and his behavior that so troubles my son—such anger and aggressiveness at a very young age.  Grandma has to cope with that, and that sort of behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  I felt sad for her in a profound way and I finally reached a place of compassion for her, and the entire household.  With compassion comes the ability to love–the kind of love that the Bible teaches.  It does not mean I want to play in the same sandbox with her, but I no longer harbor any ill will towards her.  I love her for the hurting person that she is and that feels a lot better than anger and lack of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, I have had to use the same process recently with someone infinitely closer to me–someone who I love dearly and always will.  I had to step back and observe a lifetime of behavior on both of our parts.  I had to step back even further to get into her shoes, and feel the anger she feels, and the fear, and the sadness.  I know why she hurts, whether intentional, or not, and I know that her pain is deeper than the wounds she inflicts on me.  I have great compassion for her, and I have forgiven her.  At the same time, I have compassion for myself in a new way, and suddenly a fourth pile comes out of the mix, and into that pile goes expectations.

I would, and have, moved mountains out of love for this person.  Because I would, and have done that, I expected the same from her.  Not everyone loves like I do.  Not everyone is willing to move mountains, or feels that they even can.  I had to release my expectations–detach from them–in order to let go of the hurt and love her fully.  She can only love as well as she is doing, like my mother could only love as well as she did.  I cannot expect more.  I can expect respect, and if that is absent, I will let go with love.

Throughout this process of detaching, and observing, and stepping into another person’s shoes, I was certain that what I was doing was detaching from each individual.  To be sure, there is some truth to that.  However, today I realized that what I had really had to do in order to get to the place of love, compassion, forgiveness, and letting go was to detach myself from my own ego and pride.  I had to tie each piece from each one of the four piles together, roll the ball up neatly, and name it what it truly was–pride and ego.  If I had not detached myself from my own hurt ego, I never would have been able to step into their shoes, find compassion for them, and finally love and forgive them for who they are.

My pride and my mouth have been two of my biggest defense mechanisms when hurt.  I have been chipping away at both bit by bit, but these experiences have taken me forward with a huge leap.  I can step away from my ego and my pride and I can love and forgive as God wants me to do.  I have not given up myself in the process.  Quite the opposite, like the Grinch, I feel as if my heart has grown three sizes today.  It is a wonderful, peaceful, gentle feeling.  The silence has truly been golden. The sun will be setting soon, and I will be lighting my candles.  I am full of homemade bread and soup.  I have nothing to defend tonight.  I am free to love fully from whatever distance I choose.  I thank God for that freedom.

Helping someone newly sober…what you can do.

Last week, my friend, El, over at Running From Hell with El wrote a blog post about walking away from a gin and tonic that she saw sitting in HER kitchen on the counter.  It was a brave and honest post and I felt proud and happy for her in the end.  I say in the end, because as I read the post the single thought that kept running through my head was this: “What in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on the counter in her kitchen?”  As an alcoholic in recovery, I was angry for her, and at whoever had made the drink in HER kitchen and left it sitting there.  I was so upset that I almost called her immediately and asked her the question that would not leave me, “El, what in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on your kitchen counter?”  But, I didn’t.  I didn’t want to intrude–her house, her family, her rules.

Today I gave El a call on an unrelated topic.  We talked a lot about writing and then we hit the subject of blogs.  It was at that point that I did ask the question about the gin and tonic.  I asked because El is an alcoholic in early recovery, sitting at about six months, and I remember well what that period of time looks like and feels like.  It is a vulnerable time where sometimes it feels as if you are staying sober minute by minute.  Early sobriety looks and feels a lot different than five years of sobriety does, or ten, or twenty, I suspect.  Early sobriety is a tight wire walk where balance is continuously being reevaluated and reestablished.  It is a very selfish time in a great many respects, because in order to maintain the balance needed to stay sober, we need to ask for help from a variety of different types of people.  The people who we will need the most help and support from are those closest to us…our friends and family.

This can be very hard for many of us to do—to ask for what we need during that first year.  El told me that she didn’t want any booze in her house, but felt she might be asking too much to demand that alcohol not be present in her home.  She is not asking too much.  In fact, by not demanding that there be no alcohol in her house she is asking too much of herself, and too little of those who need to be supporting her.  Alcoholism is a disease and yet so many people see it as weakness of will, or a character defect.  It is a disease just like diabetes, or heart disease.  Most of us would never dream of sitting down and eating a big bag full of candy in front of a friend newly diagnosed with diabetes, especially not his favorite candy.  We would think that rude, lacking support, or just plain disrespectful of his battle, and his feelings.

Likewise, when a person is newly diagnosed with heart disease, the whole family makes changes.  This was certainly the case when my father was diagnosed with heart disease.  My mother kicked into high gear and changed what she cooked and how she cooked it, and she did not just make the changes for my father.  We all had to make the same  dietary changes.  We loved him and wanted him to live, so we didn’t complain.  We just did it.  We didn’t care if we ate chicken every night of the week.  We could get a hamburger somewhere else.  We could not get another father.

Just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism, if not treated, is a progressive, fatal disease.  People die every day from alcoholism and addiction.  Also, just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism in a family member affects the entire family.  Everyone will need to make changes to support the one who is working to stay well.  Giving up cake, or steak, or a nightly drink is precious little to have to give up if it mean helping to keep someone we love well and making them feel loved, and supported during a time that is stressful by its very nature.  Alcoholism is a chronic disease and anyone living and coping with a newly diagnosed chronic disease will grieve and move through many emotional phases as they find their center again.  In turn, the entire family system will need to lovingly recalculate their choices, behaviors, and roles in the now changed family.  Flexibility, understanding, and love is required of all those involved.

What can you do if you are living with someone in early sobriety?  First off, you can and should give up your nightly drink and keep alcohol out of the house.  If this is a change that you are not willing to make then you need to ask yourself if you might have a problem yourself, of if there is a rather ugly agenda underneath your unwillingness to give up your drink.  It is not uncommon for a partner to miss drinking with his loved one and may, unwittingly or not, seek to have that special bond back.  A relapse would do just that… That is selfishness and it is playing Russian roulette with your loved one’s sobriety and very life.  Certainly, you would never force them to drink, but action do speak louder than words… Oftentimes, a family member may have a hard time dealing with the raw emotions of the newly sober person and might unconsciously want them to drink again so things will go back to “normal.” Examine your own feelings honestly.  Of course, if an alcoholic really wants to drink they will find a way.  I know I sure did, but why place temptation right on the counter?

Also, if you do give up that drink and get rid of the booze in the house, please don’t act put out, as if you’ve made some sacrifice akin to giving up a kidney for them.  Do not talk about “the good times” you had drinking together, and don’t glamorize drinking, or talk about how much you miss booze.  Take the time to educate yourself about alcoholism and addiction.  Read all that you can, and if you need more help understanding, find an Al-Anon meeting and go to it.  Get family counseling, and individual counseling.  Denying this is big for the whole family is a big mistake.

Be respectful of what your loved one is going through–and this goes both ways–and forgive.  Forgive your loved one for being an alcoholic and for causing you to have to give up things that you like, and times you cherished.  Love each other.  Rediscover each other.  Move forward together, gently, respectfully, and with the greatest amount of love and understanding possible.  Be a team because that is what families do.

I know better than anyone that no one ever poured a single drink down my throat when I was drinking, and I am not implying that it is anyone’s responsibility but the alcoholics to turn away from the drink, as El did.  I am saying that if you can make changes that will make it less likely for a person new in their sobriety to have to walk away, then you should do it, and do it gladly, with no resentment.  Over time, things will change and sobriety won’t be as brittle and thread-like anymore.  When that time comes, everyone will know it, but until then, simple changes can make a huge difference, so please make them.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to create health for your entire family, and for generations to come.

Resilience and Life’s Hard Knocks—What Keeps Us Growing

“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on.”   ~Psychology Today~

 

Today, resilience has been on my mind.  Why do some people seem to thrive and grow and keep moving forward despite unfortunate life circumstance?  The answer is that they possess a quality called resilience, that springy, bounciness that has them back up on their feet quickly after a fall, dusting themselves, and moving forward stronger than before.  Resilient people are the Timex watches of the world; They take a licking and keep on ticking.  Resilient people are beautiful, and I know a lot of them.  I am a resilient person, too.  They do not turn to anger, and bitterness, and blame of the world, and everyone in it, when life is less than ideal, either by uncontrollable circumstances, or because of their own mistakes and poor choices.  Resilient people do not just take lemons and turn them into lemonade.  No, instead they make a lemon mousse with a blueberry coulis 😉

What constitutes resilience?  In a nutshell, it is the ability to cope with unfortunate life events without getting dragged down to too long.  Resilience comes more easily for some people, both emotional and physical resilience.  Some people are just born more naturally optimistic, positive, and flexible.  Some people learn resilience along the way, as life provides more experiences from which to recover.  Age plays a factor in resilience, as does experience at surviving and thriving.  When we’ve been through a lot, and we’ve kept going, and remained hopeful, and optimistic, and see that behavior works better than blaming or negativity, we develop more traits associated with resilience.

Yes, resilient people have certain traits.  First off, they are aware of their own emotions, and what causes them, and they learn to manage them.  This may take more time for some, especially the managing part.  I was always aware of my emotions, and generally aware of where they were coming from, but learning to manage them took, and still takes, time.  I am a sensitive, and fairly reactive, very expressive person.  However, I am also easy going.  As my sister says, “For a high strung person, you’re incredibly easy going.”  It’s true.  I don’t sweat the small stuff, and the older I get, the more I realize most of it is small stuff.  “It’s not the end of the world,” is a phrase I say out loud many times a day.  Trust me.  It’s really not.

Resilient people persevere.  They do not give up often, or easily.  I often liken myself to one of those blow up clowns with sand in the bottom.  You punch them and punch them but they just pop right back up.  My ability to pop back up time and again is because I never lose hope.  I often say that I am a “Hope springs eternal” kind of gal, and that’s true, too.  Resilient people, no matter how low they go, always have hope that tomorrow is going to be better, so they keep pushing forward towards that tomorrow.

Resilient people are internally focused.  What that means is that, instead of looking out at the world, blaming and shaming finger pointed at anything and everyone who crosses their path, they know inside that they are in control of their lives, their choices, their outcomes.  This isn’t done with perfection, or 100% of the time, and for many their are occasional missteps where the locus moves to the external, at what’s happening to them.  However, the resilient person won’t stay in the external for long.  They will go back inside themselves, examine their role in what’s going on, and begin problem solving.  They will find a solution, often through a change in their own attitude, or behavior.  That is why resilient people grow from mistakes, and poor choices and behaviors, and from life itself.

A resilient person will always find a bright side to any circumstance.  We are positive, optimistic people.  At the same time, perhaps because of this life view, resilient people have good support systems of friends, family, and others who are like minded, and who help shore them up during those experiences in life that we label “bad.”

Resilience is essential to recovery, whether it be from alcoholism and addiction, loss, trauma and abuse.  It’s my belief that everyone is in recovery from something, whether it be a job loss, a bad work evaluation, a divorce, or a stubbed toe, and bad traffic on the way to work.  Resilience allows us accept even undesirable outcomes, forgive, move on, and finally let go, usually coming out better and strong for the experience.  Resilient people are bright, shiny, and sparkling.  The don’t hold grudges, and they do not look back for too long.  They are not trapped by their past, a slave to their present, and they don’t worry a lot about the future.

I don’t know if I emerged from the womb a resilient person.  I think I probably had the traits on the delivery table.  Life’s hard knocks began early, and I learned some pretty crummy coping mechanisms along the way, though they are probably what kept me alive.  I’ve done anger, and blame at points in my life and I HATED how that felt.  I never could hold a grudge 😉 I have always had hope.  I have always known it was going to get better.  I have always kept going even when others thought it impossible, that I’d never make it through alive this time.  I have learned how to be more resilient with each tough experience, and with each tough experience I have become more myself.

Today, I am celebrating resilience, and resilient people.  Without God and resilience, I would not be here today.  If you are a resilient person, celebrate that today, even if you’re in the middle of yet another storm.  If you’re not the most resilient person in the world, you CAN learn resilience!  It will take work, but it will be worth every moment of it!