One of the hardest things I’ve had to figure out entering my adult life is how to identify my feelings, and then manage them accordingly so that they don’t dictate all my actions. May sound easy for some, but not for this gal.
You see, growing up in an alcoholic home, children often pick up certain traits. The “laundry list” of an ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) can be found here: http://www.adultchildren.org/lit/Laundry_List.php In sum, my happiness often depended on the happiness of others. I struggled with people pleasing and constantly sought outside approval, all while fearing abandonment and stuffing my own feelings and needs. If someone was unhappy or upset, I took it personally and believed it was my responsibility to help fix it and make it better. I often asserted myself in other’s business finding comfort in constant chaos, as it’s all I had ever known. My mood would swing from utter disappointment one minute to extreme joy the next, never knowing or understanding the meaning or need for balance. ACOA’s usually feel lost and confused and often seek a way to escape and numb to feel better temporarily… whether in our own self absorbed addiction or in close relationships with those who suffer in addiction.
Then something shifted. I began to heal. And learn. And accept my childhood, grieve it, and face “adulting” again. I began to identify with ACOA traits and find support within the community of other adult children. I now seek to find my balance daily and realize I can respectfully express what I need while respectfully hearing the feelings, needs, and wants of others. I find comfort in structure and can identify what is my responsibility and what isn’t- guilt free. I am defining a new normal with the help of boundaries that serve to keep my pendulum from swinging too hard one way or another. The balancing act is a never-ending one as traits never go away; they are deeply engraved into my foundation and are always lying just beneath my surface. Certain situations can trigger old reactions, yet I am doing my best to be kind to myself while adhering to new (healthier) habits and learning to trust myself and the process in a gentle and compassionate way. I often fail, but I often succeed. Progress, not perfection.
It’s amazing how this shift has influenced how I approach some recent “mothering” situations. My daughter falls and hurts herself often as she’s learning to explore this big, new world of hers. And as most mothers will relate, any pain she endures makes me extremely uncomfortable. “Mommy-fix-it-superhero-lady” comes out in full swing (red cape and all) ready to save the day. Imagine it looking and sounding a bit like this:
Baby trips. Baby falls. Baby screams/cries.
Momma runs to the rescue.
Momma says “you’re okay.”
Momma continues to say “you’re okay” until the crying subsides or the people stop staring. Or both. Preferably BOTH.
And this would go on day after day.
THEN IT HIT ME.
In the midst of MY discomfort, I found myself telling her that she was “okay.” But what if she’s not? Maybe she’s hurt, scared, angry, or confused?
Here I am working on identifying and trusting my feelings, learning how to express them to others around me, yet I am consistently aiding in the stuffing of my daughter’s feelings. Why? Because I want to fix it and make the discomfort go away. Now. For both of us. But mainly, for ME.
So another shift happened. I decided to stop telling her she’s okay. Because really, what I realized I was doing was telling MYSELF that I AM OKAY. And that I really need everyone to stop staring at us so we can move along in our day being… okay. Or at least looking okay.
But that’s not what this vulnerability, honest and open, raw journey is all about, remember? I am no longer going to pretend to patch it up or fix it if I’m not okay, and I’m certainly not going to do it for her if she’s not okay. I am not going to pass on the message or imprint that she’s not allowed to feel because it makes momma uncomfortable.
Instead, I am going to feel it and walk through it and own it. The screaming, messy, broken, loud, late again, bump on the head moment that it is. And I am going to help my daughter do the same. Whether we are on the playground, at a friend’s, in Target, or anywhere else. Because not being okay, is okay. And I want my baby to know that. And own it too.
So what I instead do now is I try to help her identify what she is feeling:
“Are you hurt? Scared? Angry?”
Because that’s what I needed to hear back then, and still do today.
She may not be able to tell me her feelings now, but she will learn to. It’s good practice for us both. I hope our communication stays open and honest as she ages. After all, one day it may be her first broken heart, a disappointing job layoff, or a scary situation at a friend’s party that we are talking about. I pray she continues to look to me for comfort, all while knowing she may not always find it.
Instead, what she will ALWAYS find is the safe space where she can be hurt, scared or disappointed, and a momma who will walk alongside her through it. Because we can do hard things. We can feel hard things. We can be uncomfortable. This too shall pass.