At 11:30 pm my ego called on the telephone, in the guise of my eldest daughter who lives out of province.
She was having a bad day. Her bad day, unlike the bad days of many of us, was worse. Because her baseline of suffering is worse. Okay, well, I don’t know what you are suffering with, and I like to say that suffering is suffering, it’s not a competition. But she has been dealt one of those hands in life that add to the difficulties most of us face, a constant unbearable difficulty. You wouldn’t want it. I wouldn’t want it. And yet she is the bravest person I know in how she handles it.
She just is. It’s not a badge. It’s not a gift or a silver lining. It just is.
So every once in a while my sweet, pretty ego invites me down the rabbit hole of her suffering, and the impossible unsolvable problems it engenders. I try to say, “no”. In fact, I spend many a sober moment coaching myself for precisely what is to happen at 11:30 pm on a given Sunday, to improve my chances of responding with love and compassion, and in such a way as to preserve my peace of mind. It does not help her when I buy into the hopelessness.
How it typically goes down is something like this:
Hey I feel bad.
I am so sorry.
Here’s why it’s hopeless.
Yep, I get it, so sorry.
No you don’t get it.
You are right, I don’t. I love you.
This is why you don’t get it.
I wish I could help.
You still don’t get it.
Is this one of those calls where you want something I can’t give, and when I say something supportive it’s just going to anger you, and you are going to use me to purge your anger? Because I have a blog to write first thing and I was just going to get some sleep. And I am really tired. Can we skip that part and I just say some nice things instead?
I am not letting you off that easy.
I should go now.
Here are some things that are terrifying for me that you are not fixing.
Here is what I am doing to help in the bigger picture.
Here is why your help is not going to solve things.
Here is why it’s the best I can do.
Here is why the hungry animal of my hurt is eating the head off your weak attempt to help right now.
Here are some ways a miraculous miracle could improve upon my best efforts.
Here is why I cannot engage in your ridiculous miracle hoping-for side hustle.
I see we have reached the part where I offer hope and you shut it down. That should be a wrap.
That’s cute. I have more where that came from.
It’s so interesting that I am falling for this again isn’t it? Maybe I just skip this part next time.
Well I guess I am stupid enough to want your weak hope sometimes.
Sometimes I am right.
Not about real life or important things.
Ouch. This is like a lucid dream, but I can’t quite wake myself up and the monster seems to be moving on from eating my head to ingesting my heart now.
I am sorry, but.
I am sorry to have failed you so badly, which means you should feel badly for being mean to me, you meanie, which I really don’t mean.
I should go to sleep.
Yes, please enjoy your sleep. I will now be enjoying the adrenalin coursing through my veins instead of sleeping, which is, as I pointed out, undermining my ability to help you.
I know. I suck.
No you don’t but you ruined my night and my week.
I am sorry but I had to or you might not know how desperately I need help.
I could never forget. I am your Mom, so helping you the most urgent thing I do.
I don’t get it or believe it but thanks.
More often now I leave Ego with Alice in the rabbit hole and I stay above ground, doing holy work so I can be my most truly helpful self. But sometimes she gets to me.
One time when she was a teenager I wrote myself a sticky note. It went like this:
“Right now I feel really bad about myself. So, I am going to push your buttons until you react in anger and prove to me that I am right to feel shitty about myself.”
I wrote it, and I carried it around, because my years and years of carefully cultivated expertise in understanding the driving force behind emotional pain and all of its clever tricks and maneuvers, are at times no match for the destructive force of it. And never is this more manifest than in the teenager, who knows all your vulnerabilities, has a PHD in your personal Achilles Heel, and will wield that shit against you faster than you can say “my frontal lobe is more developed than yours”, and without any conscious awareness of itself or its own dangerous capacity.
That sticky note lives in my head. It has override privileges. Alas, sometimes I lose sight of it. Cue the above conversation.
It never feels good to react to someone who is obviously hurting.
It doesn’t even feel good to react to someone whose hurt is so deeply buried beneath a complex system of defense mechanisms that all they ever show the world is ugliness and hate.
Because at the end of that call it’s no longer about the one you sunk or swam with. It’s you, sitting on the sofa with the dog, cracking open a Coke Zero because you know you’re not sleeping anytime soon, alone with your idea that a person you loved drove you to respond with fear or attack. And now that shit is coursing around in your veins, barking orders. Your night is ruined. Your peace is stolen. You are a meanie for reacting. They are a meanie for pushing your buttons. How can you still have buttons after all this living? If you are wrong you feel guilty. If they are wrong you feel angry. Always there is a hot potato of pain being thrown back and forth.
If you are me, you realize that there is no “too little too late”, and you forgive the whole mess within about twenty minutes.
You choose to reach past the notion that SHE is a victim of the world, and that YOU as her mom have failed to protect her, give her what she needs, make her smile, laugh and feel joy.
You stop listening to your ego, the voice of your fear tuning into her fear, and find your eldest daughter in her place.
You join her brave self that knows better.
You send a meaningfully cute emoji.
But it’s hard sometimes.
And if it’s hard for the ones we love with the deep, burning asteroid-love we have for our children, how hard is it to see past the SMUG ASSHOLE who has it in for us at work? Or the narcissist ex-love who lives to punish us for washing up from the shipwreck that was our relationship, one weathered life-jacket shy of complete and utter ruin?
Harder. Hard as balls. Why would you even suggest it, Erin?
Because you ask me how you can excel in your corporate finance position without compromising your integrity and vision, or without ugly crying when that bully twists your emotional ear in front of your peers and you feel angry and powerless.
Because you are a pretty big deal in a leadership position and have inherited the organization’s narcissist who is undermining your ability to lead the rest of the department and is sapping resources and compromising everyone.
Because you have to co-parent with the devil, and you are scared for yourself, your rights, your relationship with your children, your children’s health.
Because you know she was an asshole to you, but you really freaking love her and you can’t help seeing the good in her and what do you do with that?
Because you don’t want to keep having the same relationship, all of the time, the same problems, all of the time, the same doubts, all of the time.
Because you don’t want to carry the heavy burden and shame of the abuse, one more god-forsaken day.
Because Karma, our go to cry for Universal justice, doesn’t resolve a damn thing for us. The idea that someone is getting what is coming to them and that we should take solace in due suffering is a bit like nanny nanny poo poo for grown ups. It’s simply a means of tossing the pain hot potato, an invisible force that does the Godfathering for us, if you will. We\’re back on the couch hurting, and everyone eventually gets shot. Period.
Better to unwind and tend to all of the emotional knots, wounds, conditions, and buttons that when pressed upon, cause you and all of your winsomeness to short-circuit.
Outside circumstances and events (aka The World) depend on our emotional fault lines for impact.
We can’t overcome them. We can’t out bully them. I guarantee you we don’t want to beat them at their own game.
But we can solve for us. And that is an amazing thing.
With some help.
We can show up in our greatest power.
We can lead away from suffering and the aggression it engenders —ourselves, our team, our children toward what I believe we all deserve, “good guys” and “bad guys” inclusive —to know that we are worthy of giving and receiving love.
We can sit on the sofa in the wee hours, and feel the warmth of love and compassion replace the storm of fear.
We can love our loved ones harder and better, until, eventually (and this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed be shockingly annoyed ever) but until, eventually, they are ALL our loved ones. Gasp.
And that, my friend, is a call worth taking.
P.S. Unwinding and tending to your emotional knots, buttons and hurty places? Well hell if that isn’t what has gotten me up in the morning for twenty or so years, Coke Zero notwithstanding. I can help.
P.P.S. There are only two spaces currently available for working privately with me. When those fill there will be a bit of a wait, so if you are feeling a twinge, give me a shout today or send a note and we can plan a cozy conversation about what’s going on, and if it feels right we will save you one of those spots!
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