Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Common Denominators - Caretaking & Control.

Not sure how far I'm going to run with this, but please feel free to suggest any topics you'd like to see addressed.  A reader asked about "balance."

Prior to my finding Al-Anon, I had none. Over the years, I'd heard it suggested that it was a good idea to have balance in life, but I had no concept of how that might look, or feel. My emotional life was stunted, and largely negative - very rarely did I feel happy, and never, ever content. I was lonely and depressed when I was isolating myself, or put-upon and hard-done-by when I was trying to fix someone else's problems. (More on caretaking later in this.) In order to find balance, I needed to work the first four Steps. I had to admit my powerlessness, accept the concept of a Higher Power, turn my life over to that power, and do an inventory.

I smile with recognition, when I hear people talk about how they didn't work the Steps for a long time, because they "already knew they wouldn't work."  AA's Big Book has a quote about that precise attitude:  'contempt prior to investigation' and I was a master at it. I used that attitude to keep myself stuck in that awful place inside my head. I hated being in there, between my ears, but do any of that silly stuff my sponsor was suggesting to me that I try? I knew it was a waste of time before even hearing what exactly it was that she was trying to express. For someone in such terrible mental shape, I was deeply arrogant.

The first 4 Steps put us into position to rocket off into another, better world. If we don't do them, we never achieve ignition.

On to caretaking. Whenever I was involved in caretaking, I'd start out feeling empathetic and compassionate, (and judgemental) which would trigger my impulse to help (and try to control) and soon I'd be enmeshed in the person's life and problems, trying to make them do what I thought they should, feeling utterly infuriated at the way this person was "taking advantage" of me.

Madness. Complete madness, and I did it time and again, year after year. Before Al-Anon, that's what I thought I was supposed to be doing, but I hated and resented the person I was trying to "help," for their (as I saw it) use of me, and myself for not having the courage to say "No." I'd get caught up in another's problems, because I thought I could see so clearly what the best solution was for them, and also believed that could I just make them see that I had the perfect solution for them, they'd leap to implement it, and their life would be so much improved! Why could they not grasp this simple truth, that I knew better than they did how they should order their life?

When I caretake, I am deciding that my opinions, ideas, attitudes, and habits are superior, and should be implemented.

My own life was a wasteland of rage, resentment and self-pity, but I thought I had wisdom to offer - an excellent example of the insanity of co-dependence. I thought I needed to stop caretaking in order to be free of someone else's unreasonable expectations. I couldn't yet grasp that what I most needed to let go, was my own misguided belief that I, emotional wreck of a person that I was back then, had any useful life advice to be ladling out.

When first introduced to the idea of "caretaking" I didn't get it. Aren't we supposed to be loving and caring and do for others? Loving and caring, yes -  do for others, well, that depends upon the situation, and when I'm trying to force solutions upon someone, I'm caretaking. Enabling is caretaking. Putting someone else's needs before my own is caretaking.

Notice that I said "needs" not wants or desires. I need to eat, sleep, pray, exercise my body and mind, enjoy life, have time alone. I'm a person who needs time alone, to reflect, talk to my Higher Power, think, meditate. If I don't get some time alone in a day, I can feel myself becoming irritable and unreasonable. I used to think that this was selfish of me, when I was involved in caretaking of others. Now, I understand that this is how I am made - I need time alone. I desire it, and I deserve it - it's my right as a human being. I don't have to give up every moment of my time to other people, in a confused belief that being 'selfless' is either attainable or desirable.

Every time I refuse a request which would strain me to my limits to fufill, I am choosing not to caretake. I'm getting a much clearer idea of my own boundaries, and give as much as it is in me to give. Then I stop, and take the time I need to recharge. Doing this allows me to give with my whole heart, joyously, instead of grudgingly, seething with resentment.

When I don't give advice, I allow the other person to find their own way to sanity.


  1. Amazing how this fits into my pattern of trying to control the alcoholic. Nothing I tried worked, it just made the situation worse and made me more nuts...until Al Anon. Things are much better now that I've quit trying to control another's behavior.

  2. For me, the sneaking into caretaking comes when I don't mind my business. I like to say "If it doesn't have my name on it, I don't pick it up". That keeps me where I need to be and away from trying to run someone else's life.