This is a Polish proverb that says “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” My sister posted it and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s brilliant really.
I’ve never drank alcohol. (I was going to write that I’ve never tasted alcohol but then I remembered the Nyquil I used to drink to get some relief from the flu and if you believe Justin Beiber, sizzurp is pretty much on par with top-shelf liquors. So, there’s that.) It’s a religious thing – I choose to follow the LDS dietary code and abstain from alcohol, smoking, coffee and tea – but it’s also a life thing. Thanks to spitting in a tube (which was way harder than you’d think, I have terrible aim), I know that I carry the genes that predispose me to alcoholism. I also have a family history of it and after watching some of them struggle to fight that demon, it’s pretty much convinced me that lifetime sobriety is my best bet.
There’s also the issue of my addictive personality. While I might not be addicted to booze or drugs, in the past I’ve been addicted to exercise, caffeine, sugar and TV watching (don’t laugh), among other things. (Okay and smelly nail polish. I went through a phase of life where I swear I owned 20 different scents. Until I realized how weird toe sniffing was. It’s hard to sniff your own toes and it’s a rare friend or partner who wants to go around sniffing yours. Strangers definitely don’t want you to stick your feet in their face so they can smell your toes. Not that I’d know from personal experience. Ahem.) Which is how I found myself reading an XO Jane essay called “Are you thinking about quitting drinking?” I won’t say that I totally understand it (because that would not be true and also trivializing people who really are taking steps to be sober) but I still got a lot out of it!
The author, Mandy, talks about how she didn’t need to hit rock bottom in the stereotypical blacking-out-and-waking-up-in-a-foreign-country-after-punching-your-mom-and-stealing-a-credit-card kind of way to know she had a problem with drinking. For her it was mostly that the drinking made her feel passive, acted upon and quitting drinking made her feel in control. “Everything is illuminated sober,” she cheered.
But my favorite part was when she tells how she explains her sobriety to her friends and acquaintances — a tricky thing in a culture that puts so much emphasis on “liquid courage” as both a social and sexual lubricant.
And I discovered that a rich personal after-hours life is in fact possible without drinking. Of course, sometimes it involved me saying, “No, I’m good.” Or “I’m just going to stick with water for now.” Or “I’m going to pass on drinking tonight.” Or “If you are really telling me that I should ‘just go home’ if I don’t drink, then let’s call this blind date a bust, shall we?”
The old me, before I decided to actually make a commitment to sobriety and turn it into this non-negotiable thing, would have seen all these pressuring situations as ones I couldn’t possibly wrestle my way out of, and besides there was probably a good story to be gained, don’t you think? The new me realized that I could respect myself enough to honor commitments that I had made to myself. [Emphasis mine]
What would it look like, to make a commitment to myself and make it a non-negotiable thing? I’m not very good at keeping commitments to myself actually. I, like many people, will give up what I want or need in order to make someone else feel more comfortable. But that’s gotten me some really bad places in the past. At best it’s found me ordering something at a restaurant I didn’t want because what I really wanted to order made my dining companions feel guilty. (I’m sorry, I’m that girl that always orders a salad! In my defense, I genuinely love salads. I always have. And they’re kind of a pain to make so I get all excited when I have someone else to do all the chopping and mixing. Plus I’m a sucker for any type of food that is just a big mish-mash of stuff thrown together with sauce on it. I’m not trying to make some kind of health statement, I just love allll my food to touch!)
At worst, it was watching my abusive ex-boyfriend cross every boundary I set just to see if he could. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it. And I felt completely wrecked when he took it to the dark place he did. But I didn’t respect myself enough to get out of the relationship when things started to get bad. (Note: I’m not blaming myself for being sexually assaulted. He did what he did. But I do think it can be good to look back and realize the choices I made that helped put me in the vulnerable position I ended up in. It helps explain it, it doesn’t excuse it.) In the end I didn’t respect myself enough to honor the commitment of safety I had made to myself. I stayed with someone who had many times expressed violent intentions because I thought he needed me more than I needed me.
Thankfully today I’m happily married and no longer in the dating game. But there are so many other ways that I think others need me more than I need me. Work, children, church, school — all of these things will take as much I will give them and it will still never be enough. They will always want more from me.
So what would it look like to me, if I made some aspects of self-care non-negotiable?
It means not ever feeling like I need to apologize or excuse it. I’m an introvert which means that while I love love love being with people, it takes a lot of energy out of me. I need a significant amount of quiet solitude to feel happy and healthy. So sometimes that means turning down social or volunteer activities because I just can’t. I often feel guilty than I’m turning something good down to just… sit in my silent bedroom. It seems like a waste of time. But taking care of me, recharging my batteries, is not a waste of time. In the past I’ve felt like I need to make up a white lie (“I’m feeling sick, I need to lie down”) or apologize (“I suck as a friend, I’m sorry!”) but I think people would be okay if I just said “I need to be by myself for a bit.”
It means not letting other people “fix” me. Everyone has things they need to feel happy and healthy. Sometimes those things don’t line up with another person’s and that can make us feel like there is something wrong with us, that we’re broken. But being different is just different. It isn’t bad. We’re not broken, we don’t need to be fixed. Or if we do need a tune up, we are the ones that should initiate the fixing! It means standing up for myself.
It means accepting that sometimes other people will feel bad. People hate to be told no! Of course your boss/friend/partner/child won’t like it when you draw a boundary that doesn’t make it so they get what they want. They may be mad, sad, frustrated, mean, silent or histrionic. You can’t control how they feel. And their feelings don’t get to dictate what you do. Of course you should care about other people’s feelings but we need to accept we can’t make everyone happy all the time.
It means knowing what I need and which things are non-negotiable. Of course this is the hardest one! For example, I’m a girl who needs her sleep but that often gets cut short because of work or blogging (like….um, now. It’s 12:20 in the morning! Hi!). So is that something I need to make non-negotiable? Even if it means some things don’t get done? And what about stuff like work that is non-negotiable in its own way? I’m still figuring out my list but it’s already clear to me that I’ve got too much stuff on it! A self-help guru, who’s name I can’t remember, once told me that we should limit our “absolutely must-do’s” to 3 things a day or otherwise our brains get overwhelmed. My ADHD brain might need to just focus on 1 for right now…
TL;DR: Not my circus; not my monkeys.
Help me out – what things are non-negotiable to you? Anyone else struggle with getting addicted to stuff in general? Anyone have a good line to use for telling someone that you can’t do what they want?