So this is what 53 looks like

September 14, 2009

When I was 14 years old I had a notion that I would not live to be older than 21. I don’t know why I believed this, but it seemed real, seemed solid and true.

Wherever do we get our ideas about life, and how our life will be, and who we will become?

In recent years I would now and again say, “I don’t know where I am going but I know how I am going to get there.” This was my way of expressing that although I did not (and still do not) know where I was headed with my life, I know a lot about who I am and what my values are.

These days I have been looking more deeply at who I am–because I’m no longer so sure that I know all that much about Me. And, there have been too many times recently when I would figuratively shake my head and ask, “How did I end up here!!?”

“Here” would be a place of no particular shoring.

Now mind you, I am not a weak nor meek nor bleak person. I am disinclined to drama or poor attitude, and I have for the most part fended for myself for the last thirty years or so. So I am not a floundering fool.


But I have landed myself in a life where fundamental factors are amiss, awry. No source of income that is mine. No home that is mine. And no direction that is all mine. Not a comfortable place.

So I have been poking around among my layers. I have a difficult time seeing my flaws, my downfalls. I have a difficult time seeing my sins. Let’s face it, I have a difficult time seeing myself, period; I always have.

But I need to know what is it about me, that I got myself into this spot that I am now in.

This is not an unfamiliar place for me. I have a long history of being out of touch with myself, of losing my grasp on my own life–and of putting myself last, putting others first. This is often labeled “co-dependency” and it is a talent I began developing when I was three or four. I became very, very good at it.


I would combine my natural, keen observation skills with my inherently warm heart, and look for openings where I could use these gifts. Seems innocuous enough, eh?

But concurrently, I was a sensitive thing (shy and intuitive) and my childhood was resplendent with upheaval. It wasn’t a safe place for my little spirit.

I had the classic American childhood of the 50s and 60s. Mom home alone with the brood; by popping Valium she kept from killing us. Dad, off working, in the land where martini lunches were normal. And my family moved a lot, sometimes yanking me out of a school with only a day’s notice.

Did I mention, upheaval? And not a lot of attention from my parents?

So, I would mine for attention and garner control wherever and however I could. I learned to take care of others, and became very good at predicting needs and filling them even before they were known. And I excelled at “perfect”; I learned to revel in precision–neatly stacked towels, carefully folded socks, books tidy on the shelves.

By the age of ten I was very, very good at being Good.

Which is sick.

But in my family it worked. My good deeds were rewarded–like the Easter Sunday when in recognition of my “good” behavior my Easter basket was three times bigger than my siblings’. Someone WAS paying attention to me. And I had made my realm where I felt could feel some control amidst the unpredictability and constant change and get some–albeit whack–recognition of my existence.

The thing is, being Good is good only when things are not good. Being Good works in sick families and sick relationships, not in healthy, healthful ones. So of course I went off into my adulthood and found myself more relationships where my Good girl skills were a good fit.

With sick people–generally addicts and/or poor communicators.

Just as I gradually accumulated my Good girl skills, so too have I gradually seen them for what they are. I have not completed that task, and I still have so much to learn about myself. These days I have (finally!) gone to work with the experts of Good girl skills–the wise members of Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is an organization which offers “strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers.” (Alcoholics Anonymous or A.A. is the more widely known fellowship for people who have given up trying to control their drinking.)

For many years I derided and eschewed both Al-Anon and AA. The meetings that I had attended left me with a sense that the groups thrived on mindless, formulaic dogma. Nevermind that many of my loved ones were repairing and nurturing themselves and their lives by way of the 12-step programs. Nevermind that I could see them go from asshole to nice guy by way of these programs. Nevermind that they were developing some sense of sanity and wisdom. And nevermind that I was finding myself time and time again in relationships with addicts (of one substance or another).

But I recently hit a wall that made it undeniable that my life was out of control, and that in spite of my past efforts to evolve beyond Good girl, I am still stuck with many unhealthy old habits and traits. And so like I said, I went to hang out with the pros of unhealthy habits, to see what I could learn about myself.

An Al-Anon meeting is like a well-run sex party–what happens in the room stays in the room–so I am not at liberty to tell you what I’ve heard said. But that anonymity, coupled with the shared challenges and struggles, makes for a place where I can see my foibles and fouls, and embrace them. And in the embracing I can get to know them, and really see how–while they may have served me in the past–they really don’t serve me well.

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