At Long Last, Comfort
In a mix of impending holidays and the nostalgia that comes from being at this end of my life, I find myself thinking a lot about happiness and comfort. I grew up in a family dynamic akin to a messy pile of pick-up sticks, each person connected to the other in a way that made emotional boundaries tough. My mother suffered most, as mothers often do, because the struggles of her children made it hard for her to feel happy or to move forward in her own life. My job, as the youngest and only female child, was to try and help her feel better and more comfortable. This is too much for a kid, and not really what adults are supposed to expect of children. But that was long ago and—thanks to therapy and my own much more balanced adult life—far away.
On so many levels, this is the life I always dreamed of having—one in which I know myself and where I stand.
Occasionally I go back there, like on a long Saturday afternoon when something seems hopeless, but mostly I feel glad to have done the work to know that I am my own individual person. I don’t have to fix other people's problems and I don’t have to fear for my own emotional safety if something in someone else’s life is going awry. I can be there for them, certainly, but that’s the extent of it. Even knowing that, l still get hooked from time to time when someone close to me is suffering. Some part of me believes that If someone I love is struggling in their life, I can’t be alright in my own. It’s such a basic and almost indescribable response that I know it goes back to a time when I didn’t even have words to categorize events or feelings. Still, I have to remind myself regularly that it’s ok to feel comfort and contentment in the life I’ve created and maintain, regardless of whatever else is happening with other people. Of course, I can support my friends and family members, but I’m working hard to learn that I really do have to put on my own oxygen mask first.
This probably seems like very basic stuff to people who learned good, healthy boundaries in their own families, but for some of us, these are lessons we had to teach ourselves as we grew up and created our own lives. If you know, you know. Letting other people feel what they feel and letting them slog through their own dilemmas is not my go-to move. My first reaction is always to offer advice or an elaborate solution that I swear most people don’t even want. They want to solve their stuff just like I want to solve mine. And when I’m unhappy about something in my world, I don’t need them to be sad along with me. They get to have their own moods and their own comfort.
As with so many other things I’m learning late in life, part of me laments taking so long to make this shift in my thinking and feeling. I wish I’d learned much earlier that we are all separate people on our own paths. We no doubt come upon the things we do because we need to learn a lesson and, if we’re lucky and able to manage our emotions, we actually acquire the skills and information we need. Then, we get stronger, more agile, and more resilient with every event. I also love the fact that life continues to unfold for me. On so many levels, this is the life I always dreamed of having—one in which I know myself and where I stand. I know my strengths, I understand my challenges, I can look at myself in the mirror, and I’m on good terms with the person I see looking back. I’m comfortable with myself in a way I never imagined that I’d be. And really, there’s not much that's better than that.