Responsibility in the wilderness

In my last blog, I ended with the realization that I was responsible for my own life. It didn’t matter what cards I’d been dealt: I was responsible for how I played them.

In victim mode, I’d frequently thrown up my hands in despair. It’s too much. I can’t do it all. I’m overwhelmed. There is never enough. Those words were my mantra, and I believed them.

There was some truth there: I had a lot to learn, and I had a lot to do to recover from my childhood. I needed to learn how to listen to my inner voice and limits. I needed to learn to manage money. I needed to learn how to find work that inspired me (and even to learn that that was relevant) and how to work at a job, even when things got tough. That meant learning communication and negotiation skills, as well as knowing when it was time to leave. I needed to learn how to make choices about housing and work and money, not out of desperation, but out of sustainability. I needed help with very real physical and psychological issues that came from abuse, neglect and not knowing how to eat well, exercise sanely, and get enough sleep. I didn’t know how to keep a neat house or even that it was important for me to care for myself by having one. I didn’t know how to negotiate the on-going relationship with my schizophrenic mother: I felt drawn toward helping her, toward trying to get her approval and simultaneously repelled by her and her on-going abuse and insanity. I didn’t know how to choose romantic partners or friends well.

Phew. That was a lot. And the truth of the matter is, it was beyond me to do alone. So how did responsibility fit with that?

If you’ve ever managed a project of any size, you know that a project often entails many people, working together toward a goal. A good project manager doesn’t do everything herself: she finds the right people to do the right aspects of the job, and she makes sure that things are on-track. Ultimately, she takes the brunt of the blame or the glory for the success for how the project turns out.

A life of recovery and healing is much the same: each of us is the project manager who takes the heat or the praise for the end result. We need to assess the scope of the project, and we need to call in the right people for the right tasks. We don’t need to do it all alone, but we instead need to learn what we can do by ourselves and what we really need help with. 

For me, that meant getting into treatment for an eating disorder shortly after my friend Judy said, “Lora, you’re responsible for your own life!” I needed professional help to get out of the pit of despair I was in. I had to stop moping around, hoping that someone would recognize that I needed help and come rescue me; I needed to fess up and ask directly for the help I needed.

I used my therapist, a mentor, wise friends, the internet, classes and books to learn skills. I used 12-step groups for compulsive bad behaviors that kept me from succeeding. Sometimes I had to pace myself: I didn’t always have the money or the time for everything I wanted to take on. I had to learn to trust that what I had was enough, for today. The more I trusted, the more I realized I got what I needed for the day. It might not be enough to fill the gaping hole of my emotional, physical and spiritual needs for all eternity; but it was enough, for today.