Days like this.
My Achilles' heel has always been over-investing myself in efforts that don't necessarily get reimbursed, emotionally or in any other way. I do believe that being of service is a useful and humbling act, and the benefits are not necessarily what we expect them to be, nor are they plainly obvious. The struggle for me is not knowing when to say when, or how to slow down. For all of the moments I spend being fierce and candid about my feelings, there are many other moments where I stop myself from saying what I want to say and nod in agreement when I don't really mean it at all. I spent last night reading as much as I generally could about codependency and comparing what I'm feeling right now to the symptom checklists available online*.
Once, after a particularly difficult experience with an ex, I was in a family therapy session and was lauded for not being codependent, for not being passive-aggressive and for knowing my limits. The reason for this was not maturity, wisdom or anything rooted in a strong self-awareness. It was, in fact, because I didn't care. When I do care, I sometimes give until I am empty. I hold myself responsible for getting wrapped up in this again, especially because I've managed to stave it off for over four years since the last occurrence. I am a self-professed mama bear, a protector. If there is someone or something that needs shelter, emotionally or physically, I am deeply moved to provide it.
I'm not good at just saying, "no, I can't" and I'm not particularly good at shaking off the guilt when I finally do say what I need to say. I do appreciate the fact that I can speak candidly with my friends and family about these things. When I went over these feelings with my mom recently, she told me that there would always be days like this, times like this, because this is just who I am. The beauty is in the remembering, the discovery that I am tender and delicate just like those I seek to protect, and that it is impossible to be everything to anyone. Of course I have other "mamas" who remind me of this; some of the dearest friends in the world have let me shovel endless amounts of angst and despair at their feet, and I cherish their time and honesty.
I keep learning this lesson again and again. It never gets easier. It never makes me feel better to lay down firm boundaries. At first, anyway. But I do know their value and I do know that days like this get better as they pass, each one lighter and easier than the first. One day I'll get this right.
Image: Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This from ashleyg - $38
* This of course turned into a dream so vivid and disturbing that I woke myself up at 1:30am, parched and incredibly confused. I was dreaming that it was my responsibility to carry a large and delicate lizard across a frozen tundra, through waist-deep snow, and that I injured the lizard. The point at which I woke up was the climax of the dream - seeking medical care for the lizard for which I felt responsible. The rub is that I don't like lizards, I would never carry one around on dry land or in blizzard conditions, and I did nothing reckless or unsafe with the lizard but hold it. Figure that one out, dream interpreters.