I’ve been addicted to various substances, some more benign than others. As a child I was addicted to sugar, the only way I knew to regulate my nervous system. The adults were unpredictable – sometimes smiling sometimes raging and I did not know which face I’d meet when I entered a room. Sugar calmed me, elevated me several floors above the fear that lived in my body. Sugar made everything okay.
I fed my addiction by stealing candy from the corner drug store, panhandling for spare change at the local movie theater, stealing my brother’s allowance. I traded the carefully wrapped sandwiches in my school lunch box for Twinkies.
At various times I’ve been addicted to cigarettes, never alcohol, pot, sex, and despite everything I know about nutrition, occasionally, still, sugar.
But lately I’ve uncovered another addiction, swimming silently in the black bottom waters of my psyche. I’m addicted to appeasement, to people pleasing, to accommodation, to self-sacrifice. Saying yes I’d love to see you saying oh really how interesting saying yes tell me more. This may sound like good manners, like being a good friend, but under all that smile and shimmer is the child who feared unpredictable rage, ice cold withdrawal, punishment because mama was having a really bad day. The child who learned to read the weather report on the face of the adult, learned to smile, to joke, to offer an arm, a leg, anything to feed the narcissistic beast. A child who learned to betray herself and hide in plain sight. I became a master at rescuing others from their own discomfort. I’ve eaten meals I didn’t want with people I didn’t like. I’ve had sex with men who wanted me, and who I was afraid of offending by saying no. Three of them showed up in my dream last night just in case I needed a reminder about how accommodating I could be.
This is the addiction that has been feeding off my life force and crashing my adrenals.
So. I’m working on it, but news flash: it’s hard. Setting a boundary means feeling the anxiety that the appeasement was meant to avoid. Feeling the anxiety means resisting the burning impulse to take it all back. Feeling the anxiety leads to feeling the grief and the rage over having given ourselves away. Oh yes really I’d love to see you (lie) please come for dinner, honestly, I’m fascinated by your endless self-referring stories,(bullshit) and I’ll overlook the fact that you never ask how I am because the child still believes appeasement is the way to safety. Wasn’t that Chamberlain’s hope with Hitler?
And yes of course my heart has genuine impulses towards love and connection that have nothing to do with people pleasing. But it means discriminating between the best of me from the survival skills that no longer serve me. I am in the fairy tale castle, sorting grains of rice. What liberates me what chains me. What makes my heart sing what shuts me down. Who talks with me who talks at me. Who do I appease and why.
Look out the castle window and count the stars scratching their way through the coal black night, yearning to shine. Radiant, pulsing, semaphoring the gospel: it’s not too late. It’s never too late to return home, to greet yourself at the door, to rest awhile in the warmth and comfort of your own true self.
This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
Left to us.
No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.
No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.
No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.
That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.