I used to have a knack for attracting the angriest guy in the room, finding him extremely sexy, and starting to date him. One such guy was a sober alcoholic who replaced alcohol with rage. To protect his anonymity, let’s call him Tim. I never saw Tim take a drink, but he had a terrible temper that could flare up at any moment for any reason. Of course he wasn’t like that in the beginning, but as soon as we became exclusive, his true nature revealed itself. Dr. Jekyll frequently morphed into Mr. Hyde, and I felt like I was on “Punk’d.” Where’s Ashton? I spent a lot of my time and energy walking on eggshells, doing my best to make sure everything went smoothly in his day, so that he wouldn’t lose his temper. His outbursts terrified me, and it could be the smallest things that would set him off. I lived with a baseline level of constant fear, and my mood was completely dependent on his.
Then I started attending twelve-step meetings. I remember a woman sharing about a crisis that her husband was going through, and she used the expression, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Hahaha! This was a lighthearted way of reminding herself that other people’s dramas are not hers to solve or fix. Easier said than done, but I started to grasp the importance of setting clear and healthy boundaries between what’s my business and what’s not my business.
One day, Tim asked me to accompany him on an errand to Kinko’s. The Kinko’s girl presented him with his order, which was completely messed up. The printouts were all crooked, and stapled out of order. I could see Tim’s blood start to boil, and he began raising his voice. In the past, I would have immediately jumped into the line of fire, attempting to resolve the situation peacefully. But a voice inside of me whispered, “Is this your circus? Are these your monkeys?” Oh my God! Absolutely not. This isn’t even my errand! I summoned all the courage I had inside of me, smiled at Tim, and said calmly, “You know what, sweetie? I’m going to go wait in the car.” And with my heart pounding out of my chest, I slowly walked out the door. I was sitting in the car, completely astonished that I had taken such a contrary action to what I would normally do. It was revolutionary! In order to soothe myself, I turned on the radio to my favorite station, and took deep breaths. What’s going on in there? Did he start a fistfight? Will the cops be arriving soon? Should I go back in? No! Stay right where you are! When Tim finally emerged from the building and got into the car, he still seemed a bit shell-shocked, but he didn’t appear to be bleeding or injured. He calmly drove us home. He didn’t say anything about what happened, and I didn’t ask. We actually had a nice night together.
The next morning Tim said, “Hey by the way, thanks so much for not saying anything last night about what happened. I caused such a scene. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think I need to find an anger management class or a therapist.” Wow. I realized that all of my previous “enabling” was preventing him from experiencing the consequences of his actions, and learning the lessons he was supposed to learn on his own. When we jump in and fix other people’s problems, we are infantilizing them and taking away the natural evolution of their journeys as adults.
“Freeeeedommmmmm!” It’s William Wallace’s famous outcry. And it’s the exhilarating way I feel when I cut the toxic umbilical cord of codependence between my happiness and other people, places, things, or circumstances.
I can practice detaching, with love. When I left Kinko’s to go to the car, I did it with kindness. I like to think of myself as a helium balloon, and whenever I tether myself to a load of crap, I am not free. Detaching with love enables me to cut the cord and float upward towards my true blissful nature.