I’ve written a lot about my tendency to do practically anything to keep chaos from my door. Even the vague thought that something might result in a difficult, messy situation makes me say no to it before a question has even been asked. It started as an early coping mechanism when I could see things in my family heading toward disorder. After that, I became kind of an expert at reading the signs of trouble ahead. It worked well for me for a long time.
Unfortunately, like with so many habits that seem good when we first develop them, this one has turned out to be more troublesome than helpful. Having an uncanny ability to see trouble a mile away is great if there is actual trouble. But, it also develops that trouble-sensing muscle a little too much sometimes. I end up feeling certain that there is going to be a problem when in reality it could go lots of different directions.
This very well-honed behavior almost caused me to jinx the best thing that ever happened to me. When I first met Jodi, she was recently divorced, had two teenage children, and was running her own business. Although I was very drawn to her, the potential chaos screamed trouble and I resisted. She did her best to convince me that getting involved with her would not be as disastrous as I feared, but I held firm. Fortunately, several months later, I gave up my fight. I can’t even imagine how ridiculous my life would be now—18 years later—if I’d let my made-up fears run the show. The minute I gave in, it was like opening a huge door with a million good things behind it. And it’s not that it’s been easy. Many of the things I thought would be hard have been really hard. But each time, we have grown closer, and I’ve become a braver, more open person.
I feel glad to understand now the ways in which this has
been useful and useless at the same time.
And even though I know all of this, it is not easy to change. My dukes go up almost automatically when I sense a problem. “Yeah, we’re not doing that,” is a comment that most people who know me well have heard me say many times. Still, because this is a way of being in the world that I developed early on, it is really difficult to develop new responses. It’s like a bad go-to habit that has become annoying and time-consuming.
Wherever I am, my initial reaction to many, many things is to say no. I may not say it out loud, but inside I think it. I build my case against it in my head and think of every other possible solution so I don’t have to deal with the one that feels like trouble. The crazy thing I’m now realizing, of course, is that those things that scare me and make me run in the opposite direction, are probably the things I should do. And, naturally, I almost always do … eventually. In the meantime, I spend hours and days coming up with alternate plans and ideas. After so much energy is spent on those, that one, big idea that scared me so much often begins to look better and more possible.
Maybe it’s just my process. Maybe it’s what people who grew up as scared kids have to do as grown-ups to manage the world around them. It’s a vestige of control that I created alone in my little twin bed with the flowered bedspread, and in many ways it has served me well. I feel glad to understand now the ways in which this has been useful and useless at the same time. I also hope that this self-knowledge can make me slightly more efficient in my decision-making going forward. I want to be a person who says “yes” to way more things than I do, but I know I can’t change things overnight. So I’m practicing with small stuff, and scaring myself just a little bit at a time.