Selena, a friend for many years, called today. She felt uncomfortable, she said. And sad. She told me about a recent and profound over-reaction she experienced in response to a situation with a long-term friend. Her awareness told her that the depth of her reaction meant that she’s not only dealing with today; her gut-load of emotions are remnants of the past.
We call those incidents triggers. While the current event has importance, the meaning extends beyond that. It’s a situation Life brought to us to bring about a healing.
It’s common for people on a growth path to run into situational triggers – events that are real today, but also remind us of yesterday – a time when we lacked the skills or support to feel our emotions and deal with the dilemma.
So like Selena, we pack the feelings away and save them for a special time when we won’t need to rely on denial. That time may be now.
Selena didn’t go into detail about the problem with her friend; she wanted to keep the focus on herself. She said it involved her friend calling to tell Selena how she felt about something that Selena either did or neglected to do that caused her friend to feel hurt, angry and disrespected.
“But instead of listening to what my friend had to say, I went into defensive mode,” Selena said. “I didn’t feel superior. I didn’t think I was right and my friend was wrong. The truth is I wronged my friend by not listening to and being present for her.
‘When my friend became angry with me,” Selena said, “I felt attacked.
“I’ve been in recovery for a while. I know how to take responsibility for my part instead of focusing on someone else’s behavior. But even though I knew what to do, I didn’t do it. And I didn’t apologize either,” Selena said.
I asked her what she did instead of listening.
“Mid-sentence, I hung up the phone,” Selena said. “Then I didn’t call her back. For a week.”
Time can be a powerful healer but by itself, time may not heal our issues. Time can let us cool heated emotions. We have time to let the hurt or angry moment pass. Sometimes we become so focused on the argument that we don’t recall exactly what we argued about. That thing that was so important becomes a secondary issue to our hurt feelings.
If we’re lucky and give the situation clear thought, we may find we can use the incident as a catalyst for change. It starts by focusing on what’s up with us instead of glaring at the other person, ranting about what he or she did wrong.
After Selena up on her friend and took some time to calm herself, she looked deeper inside herself. She knows what it means when people say, Recovery is an inside job.
“I can see now that for the past couple months my self-esteem has been flagging — almost non-existent,” Selena said. “This insight surprised me – but I’ll take it. It’s an unexpected but welcomed gift.”
She said her self-esteem problem now felt as big and painful as when, years ago, she first began recovery – those months when she felt so fragile.
“Back then, when I discovered I wasn’t crazy I was codependent, I couldn’t endure criticism. Again it wasn’t because I felt superior or right. I had so little esteem that someone criticizing me felt like a threat to my life.
“I feel like such a failure and I have so little self-esteem that if I make one more mistake and someone calls me on it, or accuses me of wrongdoing and I admit it, I feel like there won’t be anything of me left.”
I know that feeling too.
Selena said that’s why instead of making amends as she knew she should, she hung up on her friend.
“I feel awful about hurting my friend and letting her down,” Selena explained. “It’s not about me not living up to someone else’s expectations. I didn’t live up to my expectations of myself.
“A week passed. By then I’d become calm and I saw the situation more clearly. I sent my friend an email with a sincere apology. I would have apologized directly, but she didn’t answer my calls. In my email to her, I included some information about my issues – explanations for my behavior, but I didn’t use these reasons as justifications or excuse. I told her how much she meant to me. I apologized, and I meant it,” Selena said.
I’m waiting for the but, for what Selena wanted from me. Then I got it.
“So ever since I sent my amends to her I’ve been obsessively watching my emails for a response from her, “Selena admitted. “I didn’t apologize to get a response. I know we’re not supposed to be attached to outcomes. But we’ve been close for so long. I wanted her to tell me it’s okay. I wanted to feel peace and closeness between us.”
Selena wanted her friend back. She wanted closure on the event.
I know this story is closer to a meditation than a blog. It would fit in a book of daily readings I wrote years ago — The Language of Letting Go.
That’s what Selena forgot to do: let go. But there’s still one more thing, something important Selena needed to do as part of taking responsibility for herself.
Most of us want to be good, decent people. We try to live by the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we want done unto us. But we’re not perfect and we’re not meant to be. That’s why they invented six short words: I am sorry; I was wrong.
Sometimes after we cool from the heat of the moment, look inside ourselves, take responsibility for our actions and make appropriate amends – including letting go of the outcome of doing that – some circumstances require that we take one more action.
It’s why Selena called me and it’s the point of this meditative blog — that’s how important this piece can be.
If we’ve cleaned up our side of the street but we’re still not at peace because the other person didn’t give us the closure we need, then it may be time to let ourselves off the hook.
From the Desk of Melody Beattie
November 8, 2012