Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking Care to Care

The talk around here yesterday and today is about the desert snow! Tucson has received its official “blizzard” and for all of us around here, this is a real memory-maker. I have been remembering my childhood excitement of having a snow day and being able to take a “free day” from school. Weekend snow days weren't welcome, though; who wants a free day on an already declared free day? No, the thrill comes from it occurring on a school day.  It felt like an all day recess pass, which might include some board games or daytime television. There were only a few stations and you soon discovered that the TV choices were pretty limited to game shows, soap operas, and reruns. 

So after becoming bored with TV and games, we might venture out to the snow to go sledding, build a snowman, or have a snowball fight.  My earliest memories of sledding are of loving the thrill and adventure, but this is tainted with my being the one who fell off the sled and/or got hurt. That puts a real damper on the fun, both for me and my brothers because it required going back to the house or stopping the fun to tend to me. It became apparent that it was better to stay safe inside or just stand by and watch (that isn't much fun especially since it is cold . I started doing things like preparing the hot chocolate for the neighborhood kids to have when they got too tired, cold, and hungry. Thinking about it now, how co-dependent of me!  I wanted to belong and be a part of the fun, but I removed myself because I was feeling inept and unsuitable. How coping of little Sara to figure out what to do to still belong or at least get acceptance and love – after all, these are still among my most driving forces. No surprise that the soul soon figured out what to do to appease and please. Caring, caretaking, and caregiving are deep in my tissue.

The lesson I’m trying to learn about caring is when care shifts from giving to taking. That is the essence in my determining whether I'm in the Healthy Lane or not in this area. The caretaking is about me – getting what I need or want. Maybe that is acceptance and love, or to control the situation, or to avoid conflict. When I take care in my giving, it is truly about the other person. It is not about my needs but another’s.  I see how both caregiving and caretaking are evident in my life.  With my attuned awareness of falling into the ditch of caretaking, I can now step back from the situation to examine whether I am seeking approval and love for me, or if I am coming from a grounded place and acting out of compassion and love for the other.  

Melody Beattie’s works have helped me with understanding the difference.  If my goal of being grounded, balanced, and centered is off – and she asserts that co-dependents are among the most caring people – then I am probably falling into co-dependent behavior. That is when I can make an adjustment in my thoughts and behaviors.  I’m working on giving myself some slack about this. It has become apparent that the caretaking tendency is fairly deep in my life patterns and it is a default behavior for me since it has worked pretty well much of my life (meaning I got acceptance and love or approval). Sometimes the behavior really looks the same. Making hot chocolate for the neighborhood kids is a kind thing to do! I’m not criticizing myself over doing this, I’m just looking at things with a new lens. Caretaking can take me down a destructive path if I become resentful to the other for not giving me what I want. This certainly happened within my marriage. My caretaking didn't produce the love and acceptance from my husband that I desperately wanted, and so I kept adjusting my behaviors to get what I sought from him. It became quite the crazy cycle as I continued to do more to get his approval and he gave me less and less of it! I finally stopped seeking his approval, and focused on my own value and worth. This change has required my taking an honest look at my part in the craziness.

I have another realization from revisiting these snow day memories: the sadness that I see in little Sara. I missed out on some fun (the pattern showed up in other activities as well), but it isn't too late! One precious gift of pressing into my recovery is learning the joy in the journey. That journey can include taking care to make up for missed opportunities.  I’m learning to dare greatly, and that just may include a sled ride or some other kind of adventure. And I don’t need to wait for a snow day; all days are God’s free gift, and ours to enjoy.

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