Jim LaPierre offers part I of this two part discussion.
The first relationship we need to get right is the one we have with ourselves. I am forever a work in progress. I am healthier than I have ever been and it’s not enough for me. I don’t ever want to stop growing, learning, and healing. I have wrestled with life and what that really means is that I have done battle with me. Somewhere between my youth and my midpoint in life I surrendered. I accepted that regardless of how I feel about it, life is simple: there’s what I can do and what I can’t.
I wanted to change the world. I was idealistic in a way that only the young can be. Today I appear cynical and jaded to the young social workers I meet. Their energy is infectious. They want to organize and rally and advocate. I applaud them. I then ask what their plans are. They share their vision and it’s always beautiful. It’s not pragmatic, well conceived or even feasible, but it is beautiful.
I believe in ripple effects. I believe that I can be of service to one person, one family, and one community. That’s enough for me. What I have found time and time again is that Gandhi was right, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Quite frankly, changing me is a full-time job.
I have accepted that the only person I can change, the only person I can control, is me. I tried to change my family, my wife, my bosses, coworkers, and friends to suit me. All that ever led to was stress. It made my life unmanageable. I was using the word “just” way too much. “I just want…” or “If he/she/it would just do the right thing (what I want them to do)…” I knew they’d be happier if they did what I wanted them to do. Trying to change others is like herding cats.
For most of my life I was a million times better at taking care of others than I was at taking care of me. I have learned that there is a world of difference between caring for (love) and taking care of (codependence). I have seen that trying to change others undermines the relationship. Accepting others as they are was easy to do… five minutes after I accepted me.
Being my own worst enemy was a relationship. I dislike touchy/feely bullshit – I don’t do it as a therapist and I don’t want it done on me. I favor a steel toe boot approach. A good friend gave that to me. He asked me two simple questions: “What the hell are you trying to prove?” and “Who the hell are you trying to prove it to?” That was a wake-up call. What I was trying to prove is that I mattered and I was trying to prove it to people who already believed it. The person who remained unconvinced was me.
Life’s hardest lessons are easy to understand and overwhelming to accept. The things that kicked my ass in life were not about what I knew. They were about how I felt and how I wanted to feel. The guiding principles in my life were not what I wanted to be – they were about what/who I didn’t want to be. That’s not freedom – that’s fear. What I have learned over and over again is that the truth exists independently of how I feel about it. The challenge was, how do I accept what I find to be unacceptable? It starts with simply acknowledging that I am powerless to change it.
You can’t control, change, or truly move past what you refuse to accept. If you choose not to accept you then you’re left with unhealthy coping and the ways you deal with your fear becomes your most defining characteristic. The greatest limitations are usually self-imposed. I accepted that as long as I chose to hurt alone, be afraid alone, or try to figure me out alone, I was screwed.
I have found that there are very few things I want to do alone and most of them are things done in a bathroom. I crave connection. I crave friendship and depth in my relationships. I crave love, laughter, and the feeling of being truly alive. Today I see that investing in healthy relationships is paramount to my happiness.
The key to the very best relationships is vulnerability. It’s amazing the games we play with each other. I am convinced that we could get rid of most dysfunction through simple straightforward communication. It’s as easy as changing the way you start your sentences: What I feel is, What I need is, What I want is…
The foundation for every relationship in my life are the relationships I have with myself and my Higher Power. The simpler I keep things, the more connected I am to good people and the more fulfilling my life becomes.
* This is the first entry in a twelve months series on relationships by Jim & Karen. Stay tuned for part two on the topic of powerlessness and our relationships with ourselves!