Recovery is Selfish
As those of you following my blogs know, I’ve been prepping to move (hence the lack of Nearly-Daily blogs). It’s time to do so, and my two brothers, my nephew, and myself are going to split up and go our own ways. I’ve looked at six or seven different places to move to, and all seem to have something I want, but more what I don’t. Maybe I’m being too picky?
I have a couple of different things going on in my head. One is the work it takes to move. The other, I feel like I’m letting everyone down.
This is a tough thing for all of us, and I feel like I’m breaking apart a family, but I need to do this or I will just keep doing it and never take care of myself, causing me to crash and burn -- possibly permanently next time.
All my life I have tried to put me last most of the time – excluding the drinking side, I suppose… or maybe I should say, which caused the drinking side.
I didn’t know how to care for just me. From the time I was little I didn’t know how to do this. From helping my brothers with nightmares, to taking care of my family after my mother’s aneurysm, to taking care of my wife, to (more currently) taking care of my brothers and nephew. The only relief I would get from taking care of others was to drink; who was going to take care of me?
It wasn’t until I started my recovery that I finally began to understand what “taking care of me first” meant and who was supposed to do it. I was always raised to take care of others first, to put myself last, to not be greedy or selfish. So I did. I took it quite literally, and it led to a lonely path, one where the only relief from the destruction that was caused by it was to try to erase.
When it finally dawned on me that taking care of myself was a priority if I were to live, it was the following scenario that was presented to me which would make it clear as day:
“If you are on a failing airplane, and the only working oxygen mask came down, who do you give the mask to? The elderly grandmother, the young child, or yourself?”
My first response was to give it to the child, because they haven’t lived a full life yet. But, then who would take care of the child? They would surely die!
But I couldn’t allow the grandmother to die! Surely she deserved to live to take care of her apparent grandchild! If she lived, she might help the child survive.
But… I don’t want to die either.
This concept of being selfish and wanting to live was in direct conflict of what I was taught, and the problem that was being presented to me. It was causing me great distress. My alcoholic mindset had an answer though, the same one that I used for many, many years -- even before I drank. How do we prevent ourselves from being in this situation to begin with?
We avoid it. Just don’t go on any airplanes, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Absurd, I know. But that’s what I thought, that's how I coped with it, and that's how I lived.
Then, I was told something that made complete sense for the first time in my entire life. It was explained:
“You don’t give it to either of them, you keep the mask. Because if you keep it, you can share it between the elderly grandmother, and the young child. You’ll all be able to share the oxygen between all of you, and you can all have a chance to survive.”
It made sense. It made complete sense. And for the first time in recovery, the saying “recovery is selfish” finally made sense. If I take care of me first, then I will actually be able to take care of others! If I die, they might die, too! But if I survive, I can help them survive.
Now, I’m not saying that that line of thinking isn’t flawed – <cough-codependency-cough> – I mean, there’s nothing wrong with helping others. But I’ve got to take care of myself first.
Hence the topic of this entire conversation. It’s time to move on, and take care of me. If I keep feeding the oxygen mask to my brothers and nephew, we’ll all go down. I know it hurts to remove the oxygen from their face, and they feel like they’re going to die, but I have to breath, too. And by me breathing, I can be more helpful to them later, when they are truly out of oxygen and need some air.
So the move is on. It feels frightening to me, because it seems opposite of what I’m supposed to be doing, and it causes me physical distress – I want to throw-up sometimes. <sigh> But it will all be okay.
Why is it just now that I’m learning these simple life lessons? I don’t know – but as my counselor has stated a few times, “Better at 44 than at 64.”
Touché. So be it, this thing called Life.