The Power in Powerlesness
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Our oldest Son told us this week that his girlfriend is pregnant. He is 23 years old.
The good news is that I have done a lot of work around the powerlessness I have over the world around me and I was able to hear this news and be delighted. My past self would have gone into fear about where he is in his life and begin to control the situation to make it the way that I think would be best for everyone. But today, I can look into the eyes of my Son and see that he is both excited and nervous and not let my mind begin to solve it all for him—I can just be present for him and love him.
The first step in 12-Step Recovery is: ”We admitted we were powerless over _______—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
There is no doubt that alcohol had become a problem for me and I was powerless over drinking. I am beyond grateful to have over 2 years of sobriety and am completely free from the craving of alcohol. However, the greatest learning and spiritual growth for me recently, has been my work in Al-Anon and admitting that I am powerless over the world around me, the people around me, and the situations around me. My life had become unmanageable when I lost perspective about what was my responsibility. If you have read my previous blogs you know some of my story and how I came to be where I am today. Being an only child of a single parent, I learned from an early age to be a good girl. I felt responsible for making others lives easier by solving problems. Being a good problem solver is actually a great skill to have and I am grateful for it. However, my preoccupation with fixing situations and people around me was often uninvited, but I believed I was being helpful. I would continue to insert myself and my opinions because I thought it would make things better. I could go on for pages with examples of how I tried to fix my family, my friends, and the companies I worked for. For example, when I left my last job,I called a colleague I’d worked with there for nine years and asked for feedback. Her statement was simple, honest, and humbling: “You don’t always know better.”
When I took this first step in finding recovery from my co-dependency issue, a great weight was lifted from me. I had fretted and worried for as long as I could remember. At last I could take a breath and let it all go. This new possibility that I did not HAVE to fix things was an end to my life-long battle I had been in... with myself. I thought that I was showing people how much I cared about them by the level of my involvement in their problems. I thought that my good advice, opinions, and ideas were how I could make those I loved happy. I used to say with great pride that I was only as happy as my least happy child, and that if everyone around me was happy, I could finally be happy too. Now, I look at those statements and see they were not healthy for me. I am learning to let life take its course and offer advice or options when they are asked of me—and to keep my mouth shut most of the time. My new mantra is “Thy will, not my will be done.” I want to be of service, I want to listen to the voice and intuition of Spirit; the more quiet I allow, the more I can hear the still small voice. We are each such beautiful souls. I believe that I have valuable things to offer—this is not about being small and hiding. It is about taking the time to listen and allow what is wonderful in you to grow and shine. It’s about putting energy on our own growth and not on changing all around us. We each deserve the space to do this work for ourselves. I came to realize that by trying to ‘help’ especially my children, I was getting in the way of their learning. I don’t know what journey they, or others in my life are supposed to take—why would I think that I know better than God? If it is clear that I have a healthy part, I am happy to be involved in this new detached and loving way.
I have had moments when this new perspective can be a way to shut down and not care when I am hurting. It can be a way to not feel my sadness, grief, disappointment, fear, or anger. A cold reaction of “Not my monkeys, not my circus!” But I don’t want to be in reaction, I want to learn to respond with love and clarity. I am still learning how to have empathy and set boundaries in this new world of letting go. For my whole life, caring was the same as “fixing”, but now I am working on having a bigger capacity in my heart to hold the space for the situation, being a better listener with less judgment.
I am also having a lot more clarity about the difference between letting go and feeling that my opinion is the right one—and having boundaries and asking for what I need. It can be easy to become complacent and fall into unhealthy selflessness. Allowing those around you to be themselves does not mean that you lose who you are, or become a pushover. I have learned to ask for what I need instead of keeping it to myself, thinking that those who love me should know what I need—when the mindreading did not work I was angry and resentful, but I now see that I was the one who was not communicating my needs.
I have mentioned that my boys are now in their 20’s and on their own. However, in loving and, I felt helping them, I was often giving them money and paying for the (poor) choices they were making with money. This was becoming a great resentment for me. Since I was working so hard to let go of fixing their lives, I decided to cut off the financial ties and let them take full responsibility for their choices. So, this past Christmas they each were given a box and inside was relief from any debt they had to my husband and myself—and a note that said, “The Bank of Parent’s is closed.” So, almost 4 months later I am free of fretting about their spending and I feel calmer. It does mean that I have to be able to be uncomfortable when they are struggling, but I now believe that this is an important part of their path and I also believe that I don’t always know better. I am trying to not get in the way of their learning. I am learning to be clear about what I need, and our relationships with each other are better because of it.
So, I cannot depend on how my husband is doing, or how my kids are doing, or how my friends are doing, or—even in these times of homebound Covid-19 isolation—how the world is doing for me to feel okay. I am learning to feel okay with myself. I am powerless over their situations and if I try to control them my life becomes unmanageable. So, today, I delight in the idea of a baby coming into our lives. I am happy to offer advice or opinions when asked and I can let go of the outcome. I am learning more about what I need and how to graciously and honestly ask for it. I am able to take time for myself and do self care. I am learning to love myself just as I am—and love those around me just as they are. I am so grateful for this newfound powerlessness, and the relief I have received from the program of recovery. I have found a new power of a life directed by the Higher Power of my understanding. In these strange and uncertain times, I am leaning even more deeply into this world of release, trust, and hope.